Astros Announcers Take Hard Road To Majors

When things get a little slow on the road, Astros radio announcers Brett Dolan and Dave Raymond like to compare the paths that brought them to the major leagues.

It is a fitting game for the duo, as each of them labored through 12 years in the minors, making stops in cities like Sonoma, Calif., Beloit, Wis., and Brockton, Mass., before finally getting their big league broadcasting breaks.

Yet as they try and outdo each other with tales of the bizarre that could happen only in the minor leagues, it becomes evident that declaring a winner is neither possible, nor their goal. Briefly reliving a colorful past is enough.

A Rough Beginning

Raymond's career almost ended before it got started. He and a friend accepted a job out of college in 1995 as the broadcast team for the Southern Oregon A's (Northwest). However, the $500 a month salary turned out to be for both of them, and the free housing was a dump. After living out of his car for a few weeks, and getting shooed out of parking lots by police, Raymond quit before the season started, and left town with the team owner promising he would never work again. Ultimately, he landed a better gig with the Sonoma County Crushers of the independent Western League (now defunct).

Dolan's career got off to an equally shaky start. His first broadcasting gig was with Beloit in the Midwest League. When his paychecks dried up in the offseason, Dolan resorted to living out of the umpires clubhouse at the ballpark and giving plasma twice a week to help make ends meet.

"A lot of the people I was giving with were homeless. I said, 'I'm not homeless, I'm living in the umpires dressing room,' " Dolan recalls with a laugh. "I had a lot of closet space because of all the lockers, but there was no heat."

It is a small fraternity of major league broadcasters who spent significant time in the minors. Dolan, 40, and Raymond, 38, agree that it was equal parts humbling and educational. The minors were lined with roadblocks like low pay, long hours and no promise of a future job. But it allowed them to practice their craft in anonymity while getting baseball tutorials from coaches and players during long bus trips.

"It's not like (the job) offers you a lot of encouragement, like at every turn someone is rooting you on," Raymond said, recalling a meeting he managed to arrange early in his career with Chuck Armstrong, who was president of the Mariners at the time. Raymond expected a heart to heart, perhaps some wise words (and a few contacts) from someone in the know. But that's not how it played out.

"At the end of the meeting Armstrong tells me, 'If I were your dad, do you know what I would tell you? I'd tell you to give up your kooky little dreams and get a real (expletive) job,' " Raymond said. "But I was like the ugly guy trying to get the cute girl to notice him. You're just too stupid to take criticism to heart. You see the positive in all the negatives."

Strange And Stranger

Dolan did a little bit of everything during his four years in Beloit, including helping out the grounds crew on windy nights. And when the Snappers needed more bodies to get the tarp off the field, Dolan's job was to grab a team van, drive over to the local prison and load up a few inmates to help out.

He also got to coach first base once a year when the Green Bay Packers' first game of the season pre-empted his broadcast. "The last Sunday of the year, I would get in uniform, take batting practice and coach first base," he said. "It was fun stuff I never got to do at the Triple-A level or anywhere else."

Raymond's second job took him to the Charleston RiverDogs (South Atlantic), which he loved because of the creative atmosphere of the Mike Veeck-owned team. But before his second season started, Raymond was traded to another Veeck team, the St. Paul Saints of the independent Northern League.

"They told me that they wanted to trade me to the St. Paul Saints for the blind announcer (Don Wardlow) and his partner Jim Lucas, and they threw in some crab cakes and a wind machine," said Raymond, who landed a job with the Iowa Cubs (Pacific Coast) on his way to St. Paul.

Dolan and Raymond got their big breaks in 2006, when longtime Astros announcer Milo Hamilton decided he would no longer travel with the team. Life is certainly easier in the big leagues—first class travel and accommodations are nice, as is having a team of engineers and a large audience—and then there is the pay.

"I think I made more in meal money here in my first season than I made in half a season in Triple-A," Raymond said.

And like the players they watch every day, the duo credits much of their success to time spent in the minors.

"I hear people say that it takes 500 games to develop a style and a rhythm," Dolan said. "It took me three years to get into a flow. There was no doubt having that background was important."

Added Raymond: "Some people can roll out of bed and be incredible singers or artists, and some people take a long time to figure out their craft and hone it, and I think that may have been me. The greatest thing you can learn is to trust yourself. Be yourself. You don't have to be anybody else . . . By the time you do 12 years in the minors, you have no choice but to be yourself. You can't fake it for that little money."