Photo: Tim Cattera/San Jose Giants
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Joe Ritzo didn’t even get the chance to be nervous.
In the first at-bat of the 35-year-old broadcaster’s first-ever Major League game, Brandon Belt lined a single to right field. Buster Posey whacked a ground ball up the middle. After a sacrifice bunt, Alix Dickerson drove in Belt with a single to right. Brandon Crawford cleared the bases with a three-run homer. Five runs were on the board before Ritzo practically had a chance to breathe.
“I wasn’t expecting (so many) runs in my first half-inning of play-by play in the major leagues,” Ritzo said. “It all happened really fast. I didn’t have a chance to overthink it.”
After 13 years of full-time announcing, Ritzo had made it. At least, for one day. Dave Flemming, KNBR’s regular play-by-play guy, was called away for an ESPN game prior to the Giants’ doubleheader against the Rockies at Coors Field. Ritzo, to his surprise, was tapped for the gig.
Ritzo’s full-time job is serving as the announcer for the San Jose Giants, the big-league team’s Class A-advanced affiliate. San Jose’s Excite Ballpark seats 4,200 people; Oracle Park, where the major league Giants play, is nearly 10 times larger. The players are largely in their early 20s and make roughly $1,500 a month. The majority of San Jose Giants will not make the major leagues.
It’s rare for someone in Ritzo’s position to earn an opportunity to call a major league game. Most teams don’t have an announcer like Flemming, who supplements his local work with frequent national appearances. This unique situation opened the door for Ritzo to get a glimpse at the job in its most prestigious form. After all, just like the players, every announcer dreams of one day getting to the big leagues.
San Jose is a world away from the glamour of the majors. Ritzo, who’s been a full-time of the team for 13 years, doesn’t just solely focus on calling the game. It’s a small operation in San Jose. Everyone in the front office wears multiple hats. He’s not just the play-by-play guy and the color commentator; sometimes, he’s the social media guy. Other times, he’s on media relations duty.
In one sense, then, his one day call-up was a bit of a relief: the only thing he needed to focus on was calling the game in front of him. Everything else was handled.
“That was a striking difference,” Ritzo said.
Thankfully, Ritzo had an idea of what to expect thanks to an impressive mentor: legendary Giants announcer Jon Miller. Ritzo knows Miller from their yearly sojourns to Arizona, where the two hang out and occasionally catch dinner together while working spring training. Miller would share stories with Ritzo from his long career in broadcasting, but from time to time, Ritzo picked his brain about the craft.
“I have a great relationship with him, and he’s always been very supportive and has helped me out significantly, especially these last few years,” Ritzo said. “I know he was really excited for the opportunity I was given.”
Ritzo had no idea his Giants call-up might be happening until roughly two weeks ago, when he took a call from Mario Alioto, the Giants’ executive vice president of business operations.
“It was a surprise,” Ritzo said. “I certainly wasn’t expecting that phone call.”
When the news emerged publicly, Ritzo was overwhelmed by a deluge of congratulatory texts, calls, and emails. One of them was from Dave Flemming himself.
It wasn’t so long ago Flemming was a Class-A play-by-play guy, calling games and washing uniforms in Visalia. A promotion to Triple-A Pawtucket followed and then, eventually, to a full-time gig calling Giants games and even some of the national games on ESPN. Perhaps Monday’s game is the latest chapter in the story of Ritzo’s own ascent.
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/giants/article/Joe-Ritzo-san-jose-giants-announcer-14110617.php.