In the Minors, it’s not just the players and coaches who are grinding toward a big league opportunity. This "Getting the call" series tells the story of Minor League broadcasters receiving their own Major League experience this season. Check out the first edition, featuring Birmingham’s Curt Bloom, here. Next up, Triple-A Omaha’s Jake Eisenberg.
Where in the world is Jake Eisenberg?
This season, that hasn't been an easy question to answer. By day, Eisenberg works as the lead play-by-play broadcaster for Triple-A Omaha. And by, well, other days, he fills in on broadcasts of Mets games for WCBS 880 in New York.
“I've literally been in six different cities in the last three weeks,” Eisenberg said in a phone interview last week. “It's a little crazy. Kind of got to figure out what time zone I'm in when I wake up. But, all for the right reasons.”
The hectic schedule is a worthwhile challenge, and so far Eisenberg has been up to the task. He’s already worked most of the nearly 30 Mets games that he and the station had planned at the start of the season. Longtime broadcaster Howie Rose, the Mets' lead voice on the radio, took a medical leave before the end of last season and had earmarked some days off during longer, West Coast trips in the early part of the Mets schedule this year.
But even in a limited capacity, Eisenberg has accomplished something that practically all of his Minor League contemporaries are working toward on a daily basis. He’ll work fewer Mets broadcasts as the season winds to a close, but his stint has already provided an invaluable education.
“Understanding the rhythm of how each day flows, and the times for press conferences and interviews and preparation and things like that,” Eisenberg said. “There's [definitely] a lot more comfort now.”
While he’s worked more broadcasts than the average fill-in for the Mets, he also stood in for two Royals radio broadcasts this May when three of Kansas City’s announcers came down with an illness for a series against the Cardinals. Eisenberg stepped up and was on the call for two of the biggest moments of the Royals’ season: Bobby Witt Jr.’s first Major League homer and MJ Melendez’s big-league debut.
The call-up to the Royals from Omaha was more of an emergency, but seeing players like Witt and Melendez on the roster provided a certain familiarity for someone in Eisenberg’s position. Having called Storm Chasers games since last year, he’s worked to learn the entire organization and develop personal relationships with players and coaches that have passed through Omaha.
But stepping in for a broadcast in New York? It’s like a quarterback that has to memorize two playbooks.
“When I'm in one world, and I've stepped out of the other, I can jump right back into the other without having missed a beat,” Eisenberg said. “It's really just following two teams and making sure that I'm as fully prepared as I need to be, and should be, for whatever games I'm calling.”
His stops from Triple-A to the Majors have him in an uncommonly similar position as the players he’s covering. He’s able to better empathize with the back and forth but also appreciate the euphoric feeling of a call to The Show, all while trying to stick to a routine and improve his craft.
“That's what this is, all about getting a little bit better every single day,” Eisenberg said. “I've been able to go back and forth like some of the players have with the Storm Chasers, [and it] definitely gives me a little bit more of an appreciation of how challenging that can be.”
Eisenberg, who counts Rose and Mets television play-by-play man Gary Cohen as his biggest influences, has mostly partnered with Wayne Randazzo on the WCBS broadcasts. For four years before he took over a full-time role in 2019, Randazzo was the host of the pre- and post-game radio show but also filled in on play-by-play duties for Mets broadcasts on both radio and television.
Randazzo remembers a smooth transition during his fill-in days on the radio -- largely because he was a familiar voice in the pre- and postgame shows. But television, at least in the beginning, was a different animal.
“That's when you feel like you have to calm the waters,” Randazzo said. “That was a tougher job to climb into, because of the stature of the TV broadcast.”
By now, Randazzo is engrained in all aspects of both broadcasts. But Mets fans’ familiarity and appreciation for Rose and Cohen presents another challenge for Eisenberg. Fortunately, he’s spending a lot of time in the booth with someone who's been there before.
“In Jake's case, [the biggest thing] is really to treat it like, that's his job,” Randazzo said. “If you have that mind-set when you're filling in, I think that really calms you down and makes you understand that you're just there to do your job. You're not there to replace Howie. You're not there to be Howie. You're there to be yourself and broadcast the game and make sure you do the best job you can. And as long as you approach it that way, it'll be fun.”
There has been plenty of fun for Eisenberg, a Long Island native, in his first season covering the team he grew up following. For a variety of reasons, however, his first Mets broadcast is one he won’t soon forget.
New York was opening a series in Arizona and looked to have a victory in hand before Daulton Varsho’s two-run homer in the ninth forced extra innings. When the ninth began, Eisenberg made his way from the booth to the field level to conduct a postgame interview. But after the game-tying homer, he had to reverse course and head back to the booth.
“I turned around and started sprinting back to the press level,” Eisenberg said, retracing his steps up a staircase that led to nowhere and a locked door that set him back to the concourse. “I'm starting to freak out a little bit because by this point, the [ninth] inning is over, and there's only about 90 seconds or so between innings."
Eisenberg got back to the booth in a nick of time and made good use of his microphone's cough button as he continued to catch his breath between pitches. But he was able to deliver the call that the Mets had taken the lead and then ultimately, in the bottom of the 10th inning, that they had won the game.
Since that first game, Eisenberg and Randazzo have noticed his increased comfortability in the booth, which can only come with experience. Eisenberg called a variety of sports in college at the University of Maryland and in the Cap Cod League. He went on to work as the play-by-play voice of the Brooklyn Cyclones during the summer of his graduation in 2017 and quickly became well-traveled in the Minors. After Brooklyn, he held the same role in each of the next two seasons with the High-A Winston-Salem Dash and Double-A Richmond Flying Squirrels.
Randazzo also got his start in the Minor Leagues, calling games for the Kane County Cougars and Mobile BayBears and touring the Southern League with other Minor League broadcasters who have since hit it big in the Majors, like Joe Davis and Ben Ingram.
There’s a bond that develops among people in that position, connecting the younger guys like Randazzo, Davis and Ingram and the more veteran broadcasters like Birmingham’s Curt Bloom and Chattanooga’s Larry Ward. It’s a deeper friendship that not only happens because these employees in smaller Minor Leagues see each other more often, but they’re also working to help each other get better at their craft and succeed at the next level.
That accommodating nature is common practice among broadcasters. Randazzo remembers sending clips to established broadcasters when he was in the Minors and getting invaluable advice from people like Joe Block and Len Kasper. Even Rose sent tapes to Marv Albert before he got his break.
“It's something that is kind of a time-honored tradition,” Randazzo said.
When Eisenberg was hired by WCBS, he wasn’t an unfamiliar name or voice to Rose and Randazzo. He’d been sending tapes of his calls and ringing them for advice since he started in Brooklyn. But Eisenberg also recalls receiving indispensable advice after reaching out to some fellow Minor League broadcasters, like Jesse Goldberg-Strasser in Lansing.
“It's amazing that we all root for each other and support each other the way we do,” Eisenberg said. “It is a collective victory when one of us gets the opportunity at the biggest level because that's the goal we're all striving toward. Whenever there's somebody who's cut their teeth in Minor League Baseball, that gets a Major League opportunity, that really is a win for all of us.”
Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for MiLB.com.