There simply was not enough space in my 900-word article on Astros announcers Brett Dolan and Dave Raymond to include all of the great tales about their adventures in the minors en route to their current major league gig.
They each spent 12 years in the minors, enough time to hone their craft in relative anonymity. It was also more than enough time to experience most everything the minors could throw at a person.
Giving plasma to make ends meet, sleeping out of your car, living in the umpire's clubhouse and transporting prisoners from the local jail to help out a short-staffed groundscrew. These were included in the article. Below are a few more details that did not make it into print.
Many of the obituaries running on Tigers legend Ernie Harwell state that he is the only announcer ever to be traded, when Dodgers owner Branch Rickey dealt for him out of the minors. Dave Raymond may care to differ. After all, his stay with the Charleston RiverDogs came to an end when Mike Veeck swapped him with the St. Paul Saints broadcast team.
Raymond had no desire to go to St. Paul, and managed to land a job with the Triple-A Iowa Cubs on his way north, and stayed in Des Moines for five years. Raymond was certain that he was on the cusp of making it, that the major leagues were just around the corner. He applied for a job with the San Francisco Giants in 2002, but came up short. He didn't mind as much since the rejection came from Jon Miller himself.
"One day out of the blue, my phone is ringing and on the other end of the line is an unmistakable voice. 'Hey Dave, Jon Miller, San Francisco Giants. I was just listening to your tape. You do a great job.' But he said they were going to go with Joe Angel for the job. I felt like it was the greatest rejection I could get."
Miller took Raymond under his wing and helped him get a part-time job filling in for him with the Giants. Angel also became a mentor to Raymond and got him a few opportunities to fill in with the Orioles. But even with their help, no major league jobs were coming for Raymond. The final discouraging straw came when Raymond didn't get a whiff at the opening with his parent-club Chicago Cubs.
So Raymond made an unusual, and rather drastic, move of giving up his Triple-A job to go back to his Indy ball roots.
"I realized, if I'm not relevant to the Cubs, I could actually be irrelevant to everybody," Raymond said. "I got so hung up on the end game that I was starting to lose the edge. I was not loving it as much. So I quit my job in Iowa, took a job in Brockton to see if I was still enjoying it. If I didn't enjoy working in Brockton then the fire was out. I took the Brockton job and did the O's summer job . . . and had a ball."
That next offseason, at the insistence of his wife, Raymond sent off a tape to the Astros—not particularly expecting to get the job. A week or two later his dream had been reached.
Raymond takes particular pride in the fact that he ultimately made the leap to the majors from the independent leagues.
"I always felt a kinship to the Indy leagues," he said. "That is where I got my start. All told, half of my career was in Indy ball. I give the Astros a lot of credit. Sometimes you think the labels matter and that you have to reach this milestone. The bottom line is that it wasn't a matter of being a Triple-A guy. I was recognized for being a good announcer, regardless of the circumstances of where I was."
Dolan Has Seen It All
Some of Brett Dolan's most challenging, and at the same time entertaining, time in baseball came during his four years in Beloit. I wrote in the story about how Dolan lived in the umpires' clubhouse and gave plasma to help make ends meet, and how part of his job duties was to shuttle prisoners to and from the park on occasion to help pull tarp. But Dolan also saw some pretty unique stuff from his perch in the broadcast booth.
For example, Dolan is already in the Hall of Fame (as part of an exhibit) after calling a five-strikeout inning in his first month on the job. Kelly Wunsch was the pitcher who accomplished the it when two hitters reached base on breaking balls in the dirt that scooted past the catcher (of course, Jayson Stark documented the feat in his weekly column). Wunsch was just the third pitcher ever to do it, and the first starter, and ultimately became part of a Cooperstown exhibit—along with Dolan.
Dolan continued his life as a walking Stark Triviality footnote when he later witnessed the first time two batters scored runs after being called out. It happened when two hitters had been batting out of order the entire game. They both reached base one inning and the umpire called them out for hitting out of order, but failed to remove them the bases. They naturally came around to score, which caused quite some confusion, Dolan said, when the box score didn't add up at the end of the game.
"It was the theater of the bizarre," he said.
Dolan went on to work in Triple-A Iowa and Tucson. He said Tucson was a particular challenge because, since there so few flights in and out of the city, that the team always took the first flight out on road trips so as not to risk missing a game in case your plane was delayed or canceled.
Inevitably, once or twice a season the team would get stuck at the airport and arrive late to their destination. It just so happened that one of those instances was the night Brandon Webb got called up to Triple-A. Webb joined the team on the road, arriving at the ballpark early. However the rest of his teammates were stranded at an airport and didn't arrive to the ballpark until well after 8 p.m.—leaving Webb to sit alone and wonder where was everyone else.
Like Raymond, Dolan credits his time in the minors for much of his current success but admits he regularly wondered if he could keep it up.
"Almost on a daily basis I would do it," Dolan said of thinking about quitting. "There are so many good broadcasters in the minor leagues and so many guys deserved of opportunities and a break may only come for one or two of us. We would talk about it in small circles — 'Are we going to keep doing it?' . . . Economically, it is a tough way to make a living.
"We would go a couple of years without seeing a minor league announcer hired. Then there started to be a few hired and you started to see minor league guys get their opportunities, but I wondered if I was doing the wrong things. We would beat our heads against the walls. But the more you do this, the more you realize that this what you want to do for a living. The more time you have invested in it, the more you realize it would be a shame to give up now."
Dolan also got word of Astros broadcaster Milo Hamilton giving up road games in 2005, and joined Raymond among the finalists for the position. A recommendation from Thom Brennaman helped Dolan get noticed by the Astros, and ultimately Houston decided to hire a two announcers for the position—minor league lifers Dolan and Raymond.
"I don't know if it takes 12 years (in the minors), but that is how long it took me (to reach the majors)," Dolan said. "That is why there is a bond (among former minor league announcers). We paid our dues, and were lucky and fortunate enough to get a break at the same time."
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