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Jim Rosenhaus ’86 is on the air for the Cleveland IndiansBy Kevin Gray

Many sports fans have visions of minor league baseball as akin to the gritty, often peculiar brand portrayed in the movie Bull Durham. According to Cleveland Indians radio broadcaster Jim Rosenhaus ’86, that assumption is as dead on as a Roger Clemens fastball.

“In 1991, it was my first year in Kinston, North Carolina,” recalls Rosenhaus, who was the play-by-play announcer for the Kinston Indians, the Class-A affiliate of Major League Baseball’s Indians. “Our first road trip was to Lynchburg, Virginia, to play the Lynchburg Red Sox. I thought the hotels would be somewhat reasonable, and we pulled up to a place called ‘Harvey’s Motel.’ It was just a sprawling parking lot. Oh man, it was bad.

“The whole experience was similar to Bull Durham. It’s the same league [that was depicted in the movie] and in terms of the baseball, the type of ballparks, the travel by bus overnight, it’s very, very similar.”

At that level, Rosenhaus explains, most of the players are one or two years out of high school and still a few years away from a shot at the majors. The smaller setting allowed the announcer to become closer to players, coaches, and managers, which was important since information — from, for example, game notes and media guides — wasn’t always readily available. It had its own charm and wasn’t threatening, perfect for someone starting out in the business.

“It’s a small town,” says Rosenhaus. “If you make a mistake in a large market, people are going to hear it. So, Kinston was a great spot to make mistakes and learn to be better. The time that I spent there was invaluable.”

Despite the bad motels and long bus trips, Rosenhaus loved what he was doing and hung with it. He moved on to the Wilmington (Del.) Blue Rocks before spending 11 seasons as the radio play-by-play announcer for the Buffalo Bisons, the Indians’ Class-AAA affiliate. Throughout his travels, he met some outstanding players.

“Some of the biggest names in the majors played for us or in the same league, and have gone on to have great careers,” says Rosenhaus, who grew up in Morristown, N.J. “Manny Ramirez was on our team in Kinston. When I was in Wilmington, Johnny Damon was on the team, and another team in our league had Bartolo Colon and Richie Sexton. Back then, you knew they were good and you knew they were going to make it someday.”

In Buffalo, Rosenhaus was “The Voice of the Bisons” from 1996-06, during which he broadcast 1,628 games. He called three league championships, more than any other announcer in team history. Later in his time with the team, he also served as director of baseball operations, responsible for travel and road accommodations.

In 2002, Rosenhaus was the play-by-play radio announcer for the Triple-A All-Star Game in Oklahoma City, Okla., which was broadcast on ESPN Radio. And, in 2004, he made his Major League broadcasting debut when he filled in for two games on the Toronto Blue Jays’ Radio Network.

Rosenhaus finally got the call up to the bigs last year, an offer from the Cleveland Indians to be the team’s pre-game show host, producer, and engineer for broadcasts on the team’s radio network and flagship station WTAM. But was it the call he had been waiting for?

“What I had to weigh was that Buffalo was comfortable,” says Rosenhaus, who also served as radio announcer for the University at Buffalo’s men’s basketball team. “I was doing play-by-play for 140 games. I liked the city. I met my wife there. And I really wanted to do play-by-play in the major leagues.”

But Rosenhaus wasn’t getting as much response for a major league position as he had hoped for. While the role offered by the Indians was not his career objective, he saw many benefits in accepting.

“I thought that if I tried something different, that might make a difference,” he notes. “I still don’t know if it will or not; that remains to be seen. If there are three [play-by-play] jobs open this year, they could go to three guys from Triple-A. But over the years there have been a fair amount of people in my position who have been selected for openings. When you travel with the team to the different cities, you get to meet the people who make the decisions. When you are in the loop, it helps. If I didn’t get to travel with the Indians, I don’t know if I would have done it.”

The importance of having an opportunity to network among Major League Baseball’s decision makers was underscored by Indians’ manager Eric Wedge, one of Rosenhaus’ friends in the business. Wedge spent two years as manger in Buffalo while Rosenhaus was there.

“The second year Eric was there, I became the team’s travel coordinator,” he says. “He helped me a lot because there is so much movement between Triple-A and the majors, where you have to get guys up to the majors and get guys back, and you have to do it efficiently and economically. Eric was really good about helping me to do things the right way.

“When this job came open, I asked him about it and he said that I need to be in the major leagues. You always want to grow in your career. I was comfortable in Buffalo, but sometimes you just have to make that move.”

So far, things have been great in Cleveland, a city Rosenhaus says is like a “bigger Buffalo.” During a phone interview, Rosenhaus he explained that it was the first day of an Indians’ home stand. That day, he got to Jacobs Field at noon and rounded up the broadcast equipment that was with the team on its just-completed road trip. Fulfilling part of his duties as engineer, Rosenhaus set up the equipment in the booth for the broadcast team. He went to the clubhouse to interview a player from either team (“I interview whoever is the story,” he says), and later worked on a segment that included scouting reports on the Indians’ and opposing team’s pitchers. His pregame show — which would run later that evening — was 30 minutes long.

“You have to be patient because players and coaches are in meetings, at batting practice or lifting weights,” he notes. “So you have to work around their schedule. But there really hasn’t been that much of a difference between Triple-A and the majors. I would say 80 percent of the people I work with now, I have worked with in the past. The one difference is that up here, people expect that part of their day is going to be spent dealing with the media. In fact, I don’t think I have been turned down for an interview so far, and that goes for players and coaches from the opposing team, as well.”

Always a sports fan, Rosenhaus, who is married and has a five-year-old son, says that his time at Lafayette helped to further stoke his interest in sports broadcasting and provided him with other positive experiences that he has carried forward.

“I got into Syracuse University, which has a real good communications school and an excellent reputation of turning out top-notch reporters and sports broadcasters,” he says. “But I wasn’t 100 percent sure that it was what I wanted to do. At the time I was making my decision, Lafayette just seemed like a better fit for me. I went for a campus visit and the size of the school was perfect.”

As it turned out, Rosenhaus did find his calling, well, calling games.

“My junior and senior years, I did a couple of football games and a fair amount of basketball games on the student radio station,” Rosenhaus recalls. “It was great experience. I hear from so many people who went to bigger schools where there are very few opportunities to get on the air. It was so low-key at Lafayette that if you said you wanted to do it, you were able to.”

Rosenhaus also participated in athletics as a member of Lafayette’s Division I track & field and cross country teams.

“That taught me how to manage and organize my time,” he says. “And even though I was an economics and business major, those courses helped me a ton when I was organizing the travel for Buffalo. I did a lot of bookkeeping and bill payment there, too. And, in terms of the broadcasting, the English courses I took at Lafayette helped a great deal.”

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