Better Know A Broadcaster: Jeff Hem
With baseball paused for the foreseeable future, Baseball America has decided to introduce you to some of the men and women who work as broadcasters for each club.
What Is Your Name?
Which Team Do You Work For?
Nashville Sounds (Triple-A, Texas Rangers)
Which Other Baseball Teams Have You Broadcasted For?
Battle Creek Yankees (’04), Kane County Cougars (’05-’11)
What Other Sports Have You Broadcasted?
Basketball, Football, Softball
Who Is Your Favorite MLB Broadcaster Of All Time?
I grew up in Illinois listening as a kid to Harry Caray and Hawk Harrelson among others, though I didn’t really consider broadcasting as a career until I went to college. So, from a professional standpoint, while there are several guys who I greatly admire and have significantly impacted my career, I think in this galaxy there’s Vin Scully and everyone else.
Even in his later years, all the times I’d listen to Vin, I never heard him make a mistake. So smooth and effortless. And I swear he had a magical power to make batters foul off enough pitches with two strikes and two outs so that he could finish his stories. Incredible.
Where Is Your Favorite Road City?
This is one of the fun debate questions I love discussing with my fellow Pacific Coast League announcers, usually around 4 p.m. on a game day while we fill out our scorebooks for that night’s game. For me, it’s Des Moines, Iowa, because it ranks highly in all categories of my very unofficial yet highly important grading system: Good downtown ballpark, coffee and local restaurants nearby, hotel in walking distance from the ballpark, running trails along a river right outside the hotel, great views and sight lines from a solid broadcast booth, and the I-Cubs are a well-run operation with some of my favorite people in the league. And as an Iowa alum, I always enjoy being able to say “Welcome back to The Hawkeye State … ” on the air.
What Is Your Career Highlight?
To this point, it would be very hard for me to top June 22, 2018. The Sounds were an Oakland affiliate from 2015-18, and the A’s were kind enough to ask me to fill in for Vince Cotroneo on the radio and call the A’s at the White Sox alongside Ken Korach, marking my regular season major league broadcast debut.
June 22 was a Friday, and I knew about the opportunity a few weeks out, but as luck (for me) would have it, the A’s and White Sox got rained out on that Thursday the 21st, so Mother Nature created the only doubleheader I’ve ever been truly excited about! The whole day was a blast, the A’s and Ken couldn’t have treated me any better, and I’m very proud of the job I did and how the broadcasts went.
What Unseen Parts Of The Job Do You Feel People Should Know About?
I think in general people outside professional sports don’t realize what everyone inside professional sports quickly realizes when their careers begin ... the work involved for everyone in and around the front office. It’s still a job that takes a lot of work and dedication even if it’s a fun job.
Then there are the standard questions from well-meaning outsiders that we all get that never cease to entertain (and sometimes annoy) me. How do you find things to talk about on every broadcast? (I read the phone book if I’m bored) … What does the front office do in the offseason? (We board up the stadium and go to the beach until Opening Day) ... Do you want to come to our 4th of July party? (Only if it’s at the ballpark) ... Would you ever want to broadcast in the major leagues? (Hmmm. Let me think).
And the first ballot Hall of Famer ... have any of your players ever made it to the pros? (Yes. All of them. It began four years ago when they were signed).
What's Your Best Story From The Road?
In this story, best means most memorable, not most enjoyable. In late July 2016, the Sounds finished a road trip in Albuquerque with a day game. The flight plan had a stop in Phoenix and we’d get back to Nashville late that night and start a homestand the following night against Omaha.
Well, we got to Phoenix but then discovered Southwest had a nationwide computer system failure that was leading to canceled flights across the country. We waited and waited, even lined up to board at one point, and then finally our flight was canceled too. After a lot of scrambling for a Plan B, we realized any Plan B was not going to happen that night. There were not enough available seats and flights on other airlines to get anyone, much less 30 of us, back to Nashville that night. Other than a few guys who happened to live in the Phoenix area or have a friend who could come get them for a few hours, we all spent the night in the terminal at the airport.
Even the next day, there were still so many people nationwide trying to find flights, we ended up having to charter a plane to Nashville that mid-afternoon, getting picked up on the runway by a team bus and hustling right to the ballpark to get the game in. Omaha was already there waiting, and the game started about 90 minutes late. The Sounds were zombies at that point, and the game was tied 1-1 going to the bottom of the 9th (extra innings anyone?!).
I’ll never forget Chad Pinder sliding across home plate on a wild pitch to score the game-winning run in the 9th and avoid extras. He just laid on home plate for a few extra seconds as if to say, “Thank goodness this whole thing is over.”
The other thing I’ll always remember is that in the time between us finally getting to the ballpark and the game starting, Bruce Maxwell got his first big league call-up and left. So after all that, the whole 24-hour travel nightmare, we finally get to Nashville, etc., he goes back to the airport for another flight back in the direction we’d just come from. Timing is everything.
Some of my favorite parts of the travel are just the hilarious moments that come from being around the team and clubhouse. I remember my first year in Battle Creek, we were on the road somewhere and staying in a less-than-ideal hotel. A new player from rookie ball had just gotten there and was learning the ropes of pro ball and a new level.
Well, the entire team convinced him that everyone was dressing for the game in the hotel and riding the bus to the ballpark each day in BP jersey and uniform pants so they’d spend less time in this particular clubhouse. They all made sure to get on the bus early the next day (in street clothes, of course) so they’d be ready to erupt when the new guy walked out and got on the bus in uniform.
Was it a little mean? Yes. Was it hilarious? Absolutely.