Grant McAuley has worked very hard - and as you will soon see - kind of scratched-and-clawed his way to his current position as the Charlotte Stone Crabs radio voice and PR director. Much to my delight, he was very thorough with his responses to my queries (must be the radio broadcaster in him) and because of that we spoke for nearly 45 minutes over the phone a few weeks ago. That being the case, I decided to break up this Q & A into two parts. It was actually one of my favorite interviews that I conducted this off-season and really came about quite organically. That is probably why I enjoyed it so much and is also testament to McAuley's ability to talk about any subject intelligently and on the the fly.
In part one of this exclusive interview, McAuley describes his background and how he got into broadcasting, how he balances his duties as a PR/Media Director and radio broadcaster, the differences between working in the major and minor leagues and how he cherishes the bonds that he has fostered with players the past few years.
Rays Digest: Could you tell me a little bit about your background and how you got into broadcasting?
Grant McAuley: This has always been what I wanted to do. There really never has been a Plan B. I’ve ended up doing other things at different times in my life obviously, doing other work after college and while I was in college, trying to figure out a way to get into this. It’s just always been my passion. I fell in love with baseball at a very young age and it has been a devotion. Like a lot of other things, it’s been an interesting path. I can’t say that I knew where it was going to go at times. I can also say that there have been occasions when I didn’t know if it was going anywhere at all.
Being in love with the game I just tried to look at ways of making myself useful and one of the first things that I found out early on that I could do - and do pretty well - was writing. I got involved in college with the newspaper and our college radio station and that kind of got me into my first foray into media. I was able to do a lot more sports with my writing than I was with our college radio/TV station. I went to a small private college that had 600 people on campus and I can’t really say that our two hour shows were extremely structured - or compelling for that matter. But as things went on in college, I was able to get into sports writing and obviously I gravitated towards baseball.
Once I got out of college I had absolutely no idea how to get into broadcasting, so I decided to go to broadcasting school after a six-month stint selling cars. Which I don’t recommend to anybody, because I don’t think that’s anybody’s passion. Then again that might just be me.
Once I got out of broadcasting school, they were able to set me up with a job in promotions with the Atlanta Braves Radio Network. Being from Atlanta that was obviously a thrill. My first job in the radio realm was actually handing out T-shirts and setting up promotional tents and things like that. Then I was able to - just by being around and really having a passion for broadcasting - offer my services in production. I ended up doing some radio engineering and then in 2007 I noticed that the Braves had a lot of empty booths. I talked to our radio producer for the entire network and he gave me our road equipment and that allowed me to go up and call major league games. I got about 120 or so of those done and that really let me know that this was exactly what I wanted to do.
As fate would I have it, I sent an e-mail to the Stone Crabs and they were gracious enough to invite me to come on down. They liked what they had heard on my demo and I’ve been down here now going on my fourth year. It’s been an absolute thrill to be part of the Rays’ organization and see a lot of young stars of tomorrow on their way to the major leagues. That’s the condensed version of my story. (laughing)
Rays Digest: Wow! That’s a great story. Your also the PR/Media Director for the Stone Crabs. What sorts of things do you do when you're wearing that hat and how do you balance the two? How are they inter-related or are they?
Grant McAuley: They are and they aren’t. I’ve seen and talked to a lot of other broadcasters that have to do the same things that I do. Everybody just assumes that we show up at the ballpark and write down the lineup and that the hardest thing we have to do all day is try and not paper-cut ourselves. It’s harder than that.
There are a lot of duties as a PR person that you’re going to be asked to do, like handling the media, making sure that all interview requests are being taken care of, making sure that our players are also being taken care of in those requests by making sure that they’re being looked at in the right light and being treated fairly. So I really just try and be helpful. Being helpful is the number one thing and trying to make sure that everyone has a nice and productive day at the ballpark.
Being the PR person for a team in the Florida State League - ten or twelve or fifteen times a year - I get to send out a nice a press release about how we’ve been rained out. So there are a lot of double-headers. But that’s typically the hardest job.
Trying to stay organized. I’d say that’s the number one thing. Keep organized, stay on top of things, make sure that people are getting what they need at the time that they need it and just dealing with things as they come up.
I have a lot of website duties as well. Making sure that releases and game stories and photos and special features are all making it on the website and social media, so that the team is getting the proper amount of exposure and that the fans are getting a great amount of access.
Rays Digest: What would be a typical day for you? Do you do a lot of PR duties during the day and then as it gets closer to game time put those aside and go into broadcaster-mode? Or are you pretty much wearing both hats all day long?
Grant McAuley: I kind of wear both hats all day long. I get to the ballpark typically - for a 7 o’clock or 6: 30 game - about 7 or 8 hours before first pitch. It all depends on what needs to be done. We create media game notes, - which I think you’ll enjoy - that are 12 pages long. They have all kinds of information on them. What they’ve (the players) done recently, what the team has done, trends, a little bit of sabermetric stuff for the statistically inclined and a lot of notes on the front page talking about the recent success of the team or specific players or perhaps some struggles that they have been having. It’s kind of a current events trivia page. It’s just like anybody else’s game notes that you see at the major league level and on down.
My biggest thing in PR mode and in broadcaster mode is that I really try and pay attention to details. Like I said early - organization is a huge part of that. I do rotate the two duties throughout the day. There’s no question about that.
We try and get those game notes done in the earlier part of the day and then we create a stat-pack that gives you every thing that you need for both teams - home/away, left/right splits and that kind of stuff. It also has things like trends from around the league and things of that nature. So if you come into Charlotte Sports Park as a media member ,I want you to have everything that you could possibly need on the table there, so that you can come in and say “ here’s my Stone Crabs notes, here’s statistics for all these players.“ You can just sit back and enjoy the game and write up a good game recap or really dive in and have a good day at the park just enjoying baseball and be completely immersed in that. So a lot of my duties during the day is making sure that we have all of that stuff ready and people get what they need.
Obviously I’m prepping as well, to kind of get myself ready. So I really dive into those stats and I commit a lot of them to memory. I do a lot of highlighting and just kind of have some things ready, because as your doing play-by-play there is a lot of airtime that needs to be filled. We’ll talk to the players a good bit during batting practice and just have everything ready to go when the game starts.
Rays Digest: How do you balance with the players being both a PR director and being the radio guy for the Stone Crabs? In other words, on the one hand you are dealing with the media or maybe an issue a player had with someone from the press and then five minutes later you might be interviewing someone for a story for the website. How do you transition back-and-forth when you are dealing with players like that?
Grant McAuley: Luckily - and this really speaks to the quality of players that the Rays bring into their minor league system - we have just a lot of really nice young men and they’ve learned baseball the Rays' way. So I’ve never head to deal with too many problems with media members and players or anything like that. Everyone’s been very "well behaved" I guess would be a good way to put it. I just try and respect their space and time and make sure that not only is the media member getting what they want, but that the player is getting the right amount of time that they need to prepare and be ready, or sometimes just be able to throw a shirt on and be ready to come out and talk to a media member and take care of things.
It’s really interesting because working in major league baseball for four years before I came down to Port Charlotte, it was a lot of guys who had already been trained in ways to deal with the media. If they walked out of the shower and they were still wrapped in a towel and there were people waiting around the locker waiting to talk to a player - well that was just kind of how it went. With us it’s a little bit different. There’s not as much at stake, but we also try and really approach it in a really professional manner. So I usually go into the clubhouse and bring the players out to the members of the media, which lets everybody get set and have a nice, good atmosphere to conduct interviews and for people to meet and speak and pass along information if they need to.
For me though, being respectful to the players. I think that is something that they see and I hope it is something that they appreciate. I know how important their time is because my time is important also. It’s a very good tradeoff as far as that goes. There are a lot of quality men who have made up the Charlotte Stone Crabs over the past three years.
Rays Digest: I just want to talk about actually calling a game for a minute. What are some of the differences between calling a major league game and calling a minor league game? I know it’s just baseball. But is the view different, do you have less equipment, how is it different?
Grant McAuley: Really to be honest, the biggest difference is the stadiums in my experience. If you go to a ballpark and there are 30 or 40 thousand people there it is a different feeling. Obviously they have upper decks as well, so it is a lot BIGGER of an experience too. Like you said - it’s still baseball. There’s 9 guys on the field, one batter at a time, four balls, three strikes and all of that. None of that really changes. I don’t really look at it or approach it that differently.
In the minor leagues though, you see that it is a process and that a lot of players are still growing and learning who they are and making those adjustments. It’s very neat to see that. In the major leagues, you are pretty much seeing guys who are a finished product. They have obviously worked hard to get to the highest level that baseball is played. So if you have Albert Pujols out on the field, he may have a five or six game slump, but you know the guy that you are going to see every night of the week.
In the minor leagues, you may see guys that are doing different things and trying things out. They may getting platooned a little bit, they may be getting their first taste of playing a new position. They may have been drafted as a third baseman and then get moved to first. There are different things like that and it’s fun to watch these players grow and mature and meet these challenges head on. Ultimately - for what I’m hoping - these guys succeed and make it to the next level. That’s a big difference too to be honest with you.
The amount of turnover that is in the minor leagues too. Every year you get a brand new team and there may be a few of the same guys around. In the major leagues you may try and add a few pieces here and there. But in the minor leagues there is a lot of turnover and hopefully for these guys, that is good turnover. Hopefully guys are getting promoted and continuing their careers and having success as they climb towards the major leagues.
Rays Digest: You were just touching on the turnover. That is what I was going to ask you about next. As you said, the team every year is going to be ninety percent different. So obviously every year you have to go through the whole process of getting to know everyone both as people and as players. Can you tell me a little bit about that adjustment and how it affects your ability to broadcast?
Grant McAuley: It’s kind of fun for me to meet new players and kind of get to know the guys. But kind of going back to when we were talking about the media relations - I really just respect their time, respect their space and deal with them in a professional manner and in a way that I would like to be treated. If you’re able to do that, I think that is something that people recognize immediately.
I’ve had a lot of fun getting to know these players, because I get to ride around on a bus all over the state of Florida for quite a few hours at at a time when we go on a seven day road trip. We get to know each other. It’s kind of like making friends anywhere else - like in college or in the workplace. One of the neat things for me - and one of the greatest parts about the job - is when I hear from a player, “Hey my Mom and Dad listen to you every night and they think such-and-such. Or you said something about the scoreboard and that was funny. Or you made an off-color remark about an umpire or the strike zone.” You build a comraderie with the players which is cool because we all love baseball. The thing is they play it pretty well and I can pretty much talk about it. It’s fun. We can always talk shop. Obviously we aren’t the same level in terms of physical ability, but you still kind of form a bond over the course of a season.
John Gregg is Publisher and Senior Editor of Rays Digest. You can follow him on Twitter at @RaysDigest. He can also be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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