Better Know A Broadcaster: John Vittas
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?
Charlotte Stone Crabs (high Class A, Tampa Bay Rays)
Which Other Baseball Teams Have You Broadcasted For?
Myrtle Beach Pelicans (2016, High-A, Chicago Cubs)
Maryland Terrapins (2011-15, ACC/Big Ten)
Gaithersburg Giants (2013, Cal Ripken Collegiate Summer League)
Jersey Pilots (2012, Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League)
What Other Sports Have You Broadcasted?
Basketball, volleyball, football, soccer, softball, field hockey, lacrosse, tennis, swimming, diving, wrestling, gymnastics, cross country
Who Is Your Favorite MLB Broadcaster Of All Time?
Gary Cohen—He is the absolute best, and the crazy thing is that not many people outside of New York have heard of him.
I grew up watching nearly every Mets game there was. Gary, Keith Hernandez, Ron Darling and Howie Rose gave Mets fans the best broadcasts out there. I like to think my style is unique, but would most closely resemble Cohen. His ability to weave in storylines and give the game context is exceptional. He plays off his color analysts well, knowing when to keep it conversational and when to elevate his play by play—it’s all so smooth and seamless.
Where Is Your Favorite Road City?
In the Florida State League, it’s Tampa and it’s not even close. Compared to all of the quiet Florida towns we spend the majority of our time in, the Tampa/St. Pete/Clearwater Beach area has so much to offer in terms of restaurants, bars, scenery and tourist attractions. Lucky for us, we play four teams (Lakeland, Tampa, Clearwater, Dunedin) that fall within an hour of Tampa, so we play seven series in that area each year.
In the Carolina League, Frederick, Md. proved to be an underrated city with a lot of charm. In my NCAA travels, the Raleigh/Durham area surprised me as a great balance of north/south and included some high-quality people.
What Is Your Career Highlight?
In 2015, I got the chance to travel with the University of Maryland baseball team for its postseason run. I had called nearly every game of the regular season and had broadcasted about half of the team’s games in my four years there. The team was absolutely stacked and the players knew they could do damage—we had 20 draft picks on the roster, three current major leaguers and had just gone to the Super Regionals the year before.
A few days after I graduated, we were surprisingly placed in the Los Angeles Regional, and traveled across the country to match up with the No. 1 team in the nation—UCLA.
If we had gone two and out, we would’ve been in California for three days. Instead, we got eight. Here’s how. After beating Ole Miss in the first round, we upset UCLA and got a day off. They now had to beat us twice to advance, something that many thought the top-ranked team would do.
In our second matchup, they beat us, setting up a winner-take-all finale. It aired live on ESPN at 10 p.m. on the East Coast, and I had the radio call from my outdoor booth at Jackie Robinson Stadium. It was a tight, close game the entire way. The stadium was packed and loud and it felt like every pitch could make or break our season. Reggie Miller was in the stands watching his nephew, who was UCLA’s catcher.
We entered the bottom of the ninth up by one—classic. UCLA got runners to the corner with two outs. I still think that inning might be my best ever. I was standing the entire time, literally feeling chills from head to toe as I outlined what the Maryland coaching staff had done to rebuild the program and lead them to the most successful two-year span in school history.
We got the final out and dogpiled. I did the postgame show live from the field, interviewed a bunch of players and coaches and it lasted over 30 minutes. I’ve done about 500 games since that day, and I don’t think I’ve ever felt a game with that type of raw emotion.
Just when things felt like they couldn’t get any better, they did. The hotel gave us one of their private ballrooms, and we celebrated until around six in the morning. Our flight was scheduled for about noon, but we were all fine with getting just a few hours of sleep. But before we even packed our bags, our flight got cancelled. So we got to sleep in and spend an extra day in LA.
The next day, the NCAA sent us a charter flight and we flew home from LAX in style with unlimited food. The catch—we had to share the plane with the Virginia baseball team, who had just upset USC across town. We were set to play UVA in the Super Regionals three days later. It wasn’t as awkward as it sounds, and it capped my best week as a broadcaster.
What Unseen Parts Of The Job Do You Feel People Should Know About?
Other broadcasters in this series have outlined the long, 12-hour slog that minor league broadcasters go through on game days. All of that is true, and days can get long and exhausting wearing the hat of PR director, writer, website editor, statistician, etc. But I’ll mention something else that people struggle to wrap their head around.
Once you work in the baseball industry, you’re no longer a fan.
Some broadcasters feel differently, but I no longer consider myself a fan of the game but instead, an acutely interested neutral observer. After four years of watching professional baseball every day in person, I feel like I’m accurately able to assess players and teams fairly. I root for the Rays, but only because I know so many people within the organization, some of whom now play in the major leagues.
Many of my friends remember me as a rabid Mets fan who scored games at home and literally went crazy on the couch. It’s not like that anymore. Seeing so many professional games in person, you start to appreciate all the teams and all the players. Guys get traded. Some teams get good and others lose a lot. I’m more into discovering why front offices make the moves they do and explaining the financial and long-term ramifications to fans on the broadcast.
It sounds boring, but I promise it’s just as fun.
What's Your Best Story From The Road?
Aside from some fun nights exploring towns after games, this one takes the cake.
My first year in the industry was all I could ask for. I got to learn under one of the best broadcasters in baseball in Scott Kornberg, a friend of mine from college who is the model of class and integrity. I got to live in Myrtle Beach, broadcast some elite level talent (Gleyber Torres, Ian Happ and David Bote were on our team, playing against Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers, Dansby Swanson, Yoan Moncada, John Means and more) and travel to some fantastic venues.
But we definitely saved the best road trip for last. We beat the Lynchburg Hillcats to capture the 2016 Mills Cup Championship, and got fitted for rings on the spot. A pretty wild postgame clubhouse celebration ensued before we boarded the bus for a six-hour bus trip home. Coaches will often enjoy a few beers on bus trips, but this was the first and only time I’ve ever seen players indulge.
And boy did they indulge. Several bottles were brought on board, and players used the bus driver's microphone to compete in a long and painful karaoke battle. It was the perfect ending to a great season.