As an undergrad at Connecticut, Adam Giardino was on the call for WHUS, the student-run radio station, on April 4, 2011, when the Huskies men’s basketball team beat Butler to win the national championship.
To commemorate his work, he took home a piece of the net and got a chance to take a picture with the championship trophy on the team plane before the Huskies returned to their home base of Storrs, Conn.
And though he didn’t get a championship ring, he wouldn’t have to wait long for a chance to slip celebratory jewelry onto his finger.
Two years later, as the analyst for the Trenton Thunder, the Yankees’ Double-A affiliate in the Eastern League, Giardino was once again a part of a championship run.
The Thunder swept the Eastern League playoffs that year, besting Binghamton in two games and then clinching Trenton’s third championship with three straight wins over Harrisburg.
This time, Giardino got a ring.
Now, as the curtain is set to be pulled back on this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament, the 26-year-old Giardino—and a few other broadcasters who spend their springs and summers at minor league ballparks around the country—has another chance to witness some history.
Giardino is now the voice of Holy Cross, which clinched a spot in this year’s tournament with an improbable run through the Patriot League tournament, then beat Southern on Wednesday in one a “first four” game.
“Statistically, this Holy Cross team was one of the worst teams to have ever made an NCAA tournament,” Giardino said. “And that was just analytics that were done by people much more involved in college analytics than I am.
“It wasn’t a shock, but mentally the team had been preparing to go to Dayton (Ohio, for the play-in game) ever since Day One.”
For their efforts, the Crusaders will travel to Spokane, Wash., where on Friday they’ll meet Oregon, the No. 1 seed in the West Region.
Giardino isn’t the only minor league radio man whose offseason work will culminate on the road to the Final Four. Josh Whetzel, the voice of the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings, has also called games for Buffalo’s men’s basketball team for the past decade.
Quite obviously, there are differences between spending a season with a college basketball team and one with a minor league baseball team. For the most part, the college team won’t change until the end of the year.
A minor league baseball team can change every day, depending on needs or wishes of the parent club. The group you begin with in April isn’t likely to look anything like the group you finish with in September.
The goals, too, are very different in each case.
“In minor league baseball you’re trying to win—you’re never not trying to win—but it’s not the goal,” Giardino said. “Once the calendar turns to August, then it becomes the goal and there’s a certain level of turning it on at the end of the year. The rest of the year, it’s about player development.”
On the other hand, a college basketball team is trying to win from the opening tip in the winter until the final horn in the spring. A college coach certainly does his or her fair share of teaching and developing, but the best players play the most minutes, and often rotations get tighter as the season goes on. Coaches use fewer players, not more, in more important games.
From a broadcaster’s point of view, it can be difficult to remain relatable to a roster always composed of 18- 21-year-olds when you’re in your 30s or beyond.
In the minors, however, especially at the upper levels, the spectrum of ages and talents and personalities often run the gamut. There’s the hot shot prospect, the former hot-shot prospect, the wizened veteran hanging on to hope and the local folk hero who returns year after year simply because it’s better than the alternative.
“I don’t have a whole lot in common with a 19- or 20-year-old kid that’s playing college basketball,” Whetzel said. “Now, some 29- or 30-year-old minor league veteran who’s played for five or six different International League teams, I maybe have a lot more in common with.”
That wide range of people from a large swath of backgrounds makes it a bit easier to mesh with a broadcasters, who also come from a diverse talent pool.
Then there’s the actual playoffs themselves, and the atmosphere that comes along. If a college basketball team is lucky enough to make the big dance and be sent anywhere near its home area, a gaggle of raucous fans surely will follow. And the tension of the survive-and-advance tournament atmosphere of college basketball couldn’t much more different than the day-in, day-out grind of the minors.
Then there are the minor league playoffs. Teams don’t plan for the playoffs, don’t book promotions for those dates and don’t find out the season will extend a couple of more weeks until very late in the process.
These games weren’t on the schedule, the local children have gone back to school, and there’s very little time for the team’s front office to spread the word.
These teams generally have to rely on a small group locals who followed the club for years and have become heavily invested.
“The people who come to the games are very passionate and make a lot of noise, but in general when you get to the playoffs, a lot of the times the crowds are about half of what they normally would be,” Whetzel said. “You don’t have all the season ticket-holders. You might not have the promotions going on. It’s a little bit different from what people might expect.”
Both Giardino and Whetzel have found success as broadcasters in two different sports, and starting today they’re going to have a chance to add even more memories to the ones they’ve already made throughout their careers.