For Payne Patchett, being a baseball broadcaster has always been the dream. Beginning when he was in middle school, he kept score at Lake Stevens (Washington) High School games while making emphatic calls into a handheld recorder given to him by his parents. He uploaded his play-by-play to YouTube for players and their families to enjoy. That was his first foray into what he hoped to pursue professionally one day, a career he aspired to start in the years after finishing high school.
Or, as it turned out, the very next day after he finished high school.
The 18-year-old Patchett is a little under a month into his first season as the official radio voice of the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, the Class A Short Season affiliate of the Giants. He landed the job toward the end of his senior year, when the high school baseball season was winding down and he was thinking of ways to kickstart his broadcasting career. With the Northwest League's Everett team about 10 miles away, an idea came easily enough.
"The season was almost over, and I decided that I was going to send those clips that I posted onto YouTube to all the Northwest League teams," he said. "I did actually send it to my hometown Northwest League team, the Everett AquaSox, but they said that they weren't open to any internships."
Of the eight clubs, one showed interest in hiring Patchett: the Volcanoes. Over the next few weeks, Patchett exchanged emails with owner and general manager Jerry Walker discussing logistics. He eventually got an offer, which he naturally accepted. The job would start a few days before the team's first game, an exhibition contest on June 12.
The only problem? He was supposed to graduate high school on June 11.
That presented a dilemma for Patchett and his family. The first game wasn't until the morning after graduation, but he needed to be down in Salem, Oregon, a few days before the opener to learn the ropes and get his living situation squared away. He finished classes on June 7, so, technically, he didn't need to be in Lake Stevens after that.
Still, graduation is a memory almost anyone would be apprehensive about missing out on. But at the end of the day, no matter how much he wanted to be there to walk across the stage with his friends, it just wasn't feasible.
"My mom already paid for ... a cap and gown and everything," he said. "There was no way that we were actually, logistically, going to go [to graduation], because I had to prepare. We had to get the station ready to get ready for that exhibition game, which is the day after the grad walk."
Payne Patchett is at home in the Salem-Keizer radio booth. (Jared Ravich/MiLB.com)
So, he packed his bags the morning after his last day of school and set off 250 miles south to Salem and the start of the rest of his life. It would be a tough decision for many -- leaving behind friends and family for a summer of bus rides, motel beds and working late nights -- but not for Patchett.
"It was something that I've wanted to do since I was in middle school," he said. "It was a no-brainer to me."
While it's only been a few weeks, Patchett already feels comfortable in his role as a professional broadcaster. Calling a high school game and calling a Minor League game are similar in a lot of ways, so his past experience has helped him ease into the role.
There is one major difference, though: these players are just straight-up better. That was crystal clear on June 24, when the Volcanoes homered five times in one inning, including back-to-back-to-back-to-back jacks.
"At the beginning, I underestimated how talented these guys were. … Earlier this year, our high school team didn't even make it to the district playoffs," he said. "And now I'm broadcasting a team with a bunch of guys that got drafted by a professional baseball team."
One thing remains the same. Just like the players of Patchett's high school team were all his peers, most of the guys on the Volcanoes roster are young enough to have gone to school with him as well. That's made it much easier for him to integrate himself into the team and has helped him begin to form relationships that will benefit him both personally and professionally.
"It's definitely been easy," he said. "Going to these road trips, like going to Boise and Spokane, it's actually a perfect time for me to take advantage of that time and talk to them a little more. There's a few players that I talk to pretty frequently. I plan on doing that a little more, especially when it comes to ... interviewing people and putting them on the radio. ... I'm going to have a really fun time for the rest of the year and hanging out with the team."
Patchett is planning on returning home to attend Everett Community College in the fall. The Volcanoes' season ends on Sept. 2 and classes begin on Sept. 23, so he'll be able to ride out the rest of the season and still make it back in plenty of time to get ready for school. He's keeping his options open, however, knowing that this experience could have a ripple effect and lead to opportunities not yet on the horizon.
"In the next month or so, anything could happen. I might get another job with ... a higher-level Minor League team. I might get an opportunity to go to a university. I really don't know. I'm just thinking about what happens for this year."
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Regardless of where he winds up in September and beyond, this summer with Salem-Keizer has already provided Patchett unforgettable memories as he sets sail into the early stages of his career. To have gained such direct and substantial experience working a dream job is a rare feat for anyone his age, regardless of profession. So while he may not know what the future holds, he's focusing on what he has now, and how grateful he is for it.
"This experience is better than college because I get first-hand experience, and I don't pay student debt for two-to-four years," he joked. "This is definitely going to be helpful. ... It's definitely cool that I'm knowing all this stuff now, that I'm working all this stuff daily so I basically remember this by heart at this point. [I'm] very grateful that this team has definitely helped me give me a spot and jump start my career out of high school."