There isn't much that remains consistent from year-to-year in minor league baseball, but one area that has been a constant for Stockton Ports' fans since 2006 has been the voice of Zack Bayrouty. Bayrouty will be starting his seventh season as the voice of the Ports this April. He brings with him to every broadcast a wealth of knowledge about the Oakland A's system, as well as baseball in general.
A native of the New England area, Bayrouty graduated from Northeastern University in 2006 and has been working in baseball ever since. Recently, he has added college basketball to his resume as the radio voice of the University of Pacific men's team.
We caught-up with Bayrouty this week to reflect on the 2011 squad as well as a variety of other topics.
OaklandClubhouse: Last year's team kind of came out of nowhere to make it all the way to the Cal League finals. How did that team compare to the teams you've seen in your first six years announcing for the Ports?
Zack Bayrouty: Definitely, like you said, it seemed like the team came out of nowhere. In 2008, the year that they won the championship, everyone expected them to do that because you had the pitching staff with the [Brett] Andersons and [Trevor] Cahills and the hitters like Chris Carter and Sean Doolittle – who has obviously moved to the other side now – and Josh Horton. You had all those guys in the line-up, [Matt] Sulentic was another. So in 2008, I think we expected it.
Last year, they had such a mediocre first half that you didn't really expect it. But then midseason, including overlapping the All-Star break, they won 17 games in a row and 22 of 23. That stretch kind of propelled them. It was a fun stretch and one that everyone came together on that roster in a good way.
OC: Had you ever been part of a winning streak that went on as long as that one did?
ZB: No. It's funny you ask that because in 2010, I think it was 14 games in a row. At the end of that year, I think I kind of reflected on what happened like I do every year. I was reflecting on things I might never see again and I thought, ‘I bet I'll never see a team win 14 games in a row again because it's so improbable' and then this team rattled off 17 in a row and then 22 of 23. I'll say it again, ‘I don't know if I'll ever see anything like that again.' But who knows? I might be surprised again sometime down the road.
OC: What was the team like during a streak like that? When you are covering a team in a winning streak, do you get into the superstition of not talking about the streak or do you ignore all of that kind of stuff?
ZB: On the air, I will talk about it because I think that is your obligation to the listeners. But when I was interviewing players or coaches, I didn't reference a number. I referenced it like ‘hey, this is going on,' but I wouldn't be so direct as to say ‘hey, you guys have rattled off 12 in a row or 13 in a row.' I didn't want to be the guy to do that because I know that even if I'm not that superstitious, there are people who are and I didn't want to be the guy who ruined it all.
It's fun. I can tell you that there is a lot of bonding that goes on between teammates when you are in the middle of a streak like that. The clubhouse is fantastic and everyone is on cloud nine. In terms of player development, when you have a streak like that, you kind of know that the players are developing along with it.
OC: The team got a boost on the pitching side during the season with the addition of A.J. Griffin. He had two different stints with the team. What did you see from him during this past year?
ZB: He just threw strikes and competed. It's funny because he didn't have over-powering stuff, but he just located extremely well and stayed within himself. His curveball was obviously fantastic and his change-up was too. Sometimes you see guys try to do too much or try to pitch around the strike-zone instead of doing what they do best working within the strike-zone. A.J. always maximized what he did and pitched to his strengths and stayed within himself. I think that was the key in that he developed a lot over the course of the season. He was a lot of fun to watch.
OC: Michael Choice was obviously the big story for the team coming into the year and he didn't disappoint. How does he compare to some of the great players you have seen either on the Ports or throughout the Cal League over the years?
ZB: The most natural comparison for me to make is to a guy like Chris Carter because both guys were talked up so much going into the season and both guys have this raw power that you don't really see every day. I think the thing that separates Michael and Chris is that Choice was just so consistent throughout the year. Chris had ups and downs – and when he was on his highs, there was nobody better and he just couldn't miss – but with Choice, he hit .285 for the year. I think what illustrates his potential most is his 47-game on-base streak. To be a hitter like that and reach base 47 games in a row, I think that means that you are playing with a lot of intelligence at the plate as opposed to trying to hack at everything and use your raw power.
I think for a guy like that to hit .285 and reach base that many times in a row with 30 homeruns, he was very consistent. Hopefully he'll grow to be even greater this year.
OC: I listen to a lot of your broadcasts on-line. There was one play this year when I believe Conner Crumbliss hit a ball that you called being clearly out before the ball bounced back on the field and the umpire called it a double. Was that the craziest play that you've seen live, or are there too many to count?
ZB: [laughs] There are a lot to count, but I will tell you to this day that that ball went out. I will swear to you that that ball left the yard. You will find people who say it left the yard and you'll find people who say it didn't. Conner thinks that it didn't, but a bunch of us think it did. I know what I saw and it may have hit some of the concrete near the grass berm and bounced back, but I saw it leave the yard. People who were back there claim they saw it clear the fence, too. When it came back over, I just thought it bounced back over the fence onto the field and that was that. But to this day I'll maintain that it was a homerun.
I don't think I've ever had another play that I've watched where it is still being disputed. There are oftentimes a resolution, but unfortunately that game wasn't on TV so there is no replay to go back to.
OC: Crumbliss ended up hitting for the cycle in that game right? I guess the missed call actually helped him in the end.
ZB: Yeah, it helped him. He was going to thank the umpire no matter what the call was because it helped him hit for the cycle. I can't remember another year where two guys hit for the cycle because Kent Walton did it at the beginning of April. That was really neat for Conner. That speaks to his well-rounded play. You talk about a guy who reached base consistently and was willing to take a walk every time and grind it out every at-bat. It was pretty special for him, I'm sure, to have a cycle under his belt.
OC: You had a chance to see Andrew Carignan pitch for several years, including the beginning of last year. You saw him at his best and when he was struggling through injuries. Was it nice to see a guy like that make it to the big leagues, especially in the same year that he pitched for the Ports?
ZB: I felt so happy for him when he made the big leagues at the end of the year because I don't think even he could have conceived that. I interviewed him in May when he first arrived [in Stockton]. I've seen Andrew now every year since 2008. We're both New England natives, so we've always had that New England connection. I was very happy to see that take place for him because he worked so hard and he put his body through so much to get back to the point to where he could actually throw again. And then he went through kind of a mental hurdle in 2010. To see him overcome that in 2011 and see him throw strikes and ultimately be rewarded, it couldn't have happened to a better guy.
OC: Were there other guys on the 2011 squad who maybe people aren't paying that close attention to who could make a big splash this year?
ZB: From a pitching standpoint, I don't know if you can say he flew under the radar but I don't know that there is as much buzz about him at this point, it's Dan Straily. Straily had a 3.87 ERA and he made 28 appearances and 26 starts. To throw 160 innings in the Cal League and have an ERA under 4.00 is pretty special. His development coincided with the development of his change-up. I don't think I've ever seen the development of a pitcher go as one pitch goes for them and it not be the fastball.
Straily had a change-up that started off a bit slow for him, but once he got comfortable throwing the change-up – and I know that he and [Ports' pitching coach] Craig Lefferts worked on a new grip for it – he was unhittable. I think it was in the month of May when he put up some crazy, outstanding numbers. To have that one pitch be kind of the barometer for his success, it was pretty neat to see. You knew that if his change-up was on early, he'd be tough to beat. He did a great job developing that pitch. I don't think I've seen anyone work harder as a starting pitcher at understanding the craft than Straily.
The sky's the limit for him and if he keeps working as hard as he does with the stuff that he does, he's a guy who could definitely make it.
On the offensive-side, Anthony Aliotti, the numbers don't scream at you. But he had 11 homeruns and he consistently hit to the opposite field. I think that most of his homeruns were the opposite way. He reached base 46 games in a row, which was one game less than Choice's streak. Offensively, he went on a good run at the end of the year. Defensively, he was the best defensive first baseman in the Cal League. I think he definitely is a guy who flew under the radar. I'll be interested to see what he does at the next level too.
OC: You and I talked during the season about Dusty Coleman's defense at shortstop. People tend to focus on his offensive numbers more, but is he one of the better defensive shortstops that you've seen at that level in terms of his range and his arm?
ZB: Absolutely. Definitely a true shortstop. You can definitely see the difference from going from Grant Green in 2010 to Dusty last year. And that's no knock on Grant but you could tell that Dusty is a true shortstop with his range. To see him come back from his injury and from that surgery to do what he did and throw the ball pretty well and, at points, hit the ball decently, was good to see. To be sure with Dusty Coleman, the healthier he gets, the better he will be. He hit .240 after missing an entire season, which isn't too terrible, and he hit 15 homeruns. I think he's definitely a true shortstop and hopefully he'll be able to continue to improve and get healthier.
OC: You didn't get to see him last year, but you did see Jermaine Mitchell with the Ports for parts of three seasons. Was it pretty amazing to see him put together that break-through season last year?
ZB: Yeah, it was fascinating because – and I think you had seen this too – he was a guy who had an on-off switch. I don't think he ever meant to turn his switch off, but when he turned it on, he was incredible. You saw all of his tools right there in front of you when he used his speed and started bunting for base-hits instead of trying always to hit for power and when he willed himself to steal bases and do all of those things. You could just see the raw athleticism. It didn't shock me to see him do what he did, but it was good to see.
If you are toiling in High-A ball for as long as he did, you can easily give up. But Jermaine obviously kept persevering and I think every A's fan should be glad. We knew he had the tools. You'd see Sparky [former A's minor league hitting coordinator and current River Cats' hitting coach Greg Sparks] come in and talk to him about bunting for base hits. He'd say, ‘Jermaine, you could easily have one or two base hits a game if you just played it smart. If you see the third baseman back, your speed will get you there.' I think the message finally got to Jermaine and it's great to see that he put it all together. I think he's definitely going to be in the big leagues this year if he continues along that path.
OC: In addition to the Ports, you get to see teams throughout the Cal League. Any prospects from other organizations really standout to you last year, especially from the teams you see the most in Modesto and San Jose?
ZB: Yeah, absolutely. Modesto's Nolan Arenado at third base. I think he's going to be tremendous for the Rockies at some point not too far down the road. I'm not sure if he finished the year leading all minor leaguers – or all professional hitters, for that matter – in RBIs with 122, but he also hit .298 with 20 homeruns and only 18 errors at third base, he's a well-rounded player. He's definitely going to make his presence felt in the NL West sooner rather than later.
From a pitching perspective in Modesto, Chad Bettis was another guy who was impressive. He just has raw power on the mound. I think he got up to 100 MPH a few times and he had a 3.34 ERA in the Cal League and went 12-5. He's definitely on the fast track and is one to definitely keep an eye on for Colorado.
As for San Jose, Tommy Joseph really turned it on at the end of the year. A catcher for them. He hit .270 with 22 homeruns and 95 RBIs and he had a surge late in the season. They always have great pitching in San Jose, too.
OC: Is the good pitching in San Jose a function of the ballpark there or do the Giants concentrate on sending their best pitching prospects to San Jose?
ZB: I think both. I think San Jose is in an advantageous spot because they are so close to San Francisco. But the park plays well to pitching. The Giants have had great pitching and great defense in every year that I have been in the Cal League. Every year that I have been in the Cal League, they have won the first half title in the North. That park has definitely played to their strengths.
Zack Wheeler obviously was traded during the season but he is definitely a guy to keep an eye on. But it's funny, now that I'm thinking about it, other than Wheeler, they didn't really have anyone else who made your eyes bug out. As a team, I think that ballpark definitely helps them.
OC: Is Gary Brown the fastest prospect you have covered?
ZB: Yeah, 53 stolen bases and he hit .336. As an opponent, I think you are afraid every time he comes to the plate because you don't know what he is going to do. He can beat you in so many different ways. Even a routine groundball, he's going to force the defense to make the play. As a pitcher, it's got to be frustrating to face a guy like that because how do you attack him? If he puts the ball in play, there is a good chance that he is going to reach base and make you pay by stealing second. Gary Brown is definitely the fastest guy I've seen in the Cal League.
OC: Turning to your career personally, you've been the voice of the University of Pacific men's basketball program the past few years. How is it different covering college sports as opposed to professional sports and basketball as opposed to baseball?
ZB: Basketball is just so fast. You don't have time to get into stories. You are describing the action and you are describing where everything is on the floor when it is happening. You are just trying basically to keep up. I love doing basketball. It's a great change-of-pace, but sometimes it's frustrating because it's a sport that wasn't meant for radio. Baseball is the exact opposite; it's a sport that is made for radio. With baseball, you can talk about whatever you want and you have the time to do it.
I took a sports broadcasting class from Joe Castiglione, who is the voice of the Boston Red Sox. He said you spend a lifetime preparing to call a baseball game. It's so true because every single baseball game you see something different, whereas in basketball, it's so rhythmic and so quick, you don't really have much time to talk about anything but the action. Baseball you can get into anecdotes and talk about players that you have seen and tell stories. That's the big difference. I love doing both, but I think that baseball on the radio is easier, at least for me, because the pace lends itself to being able to talk and have a conversation with your listeners.
OC: It seems like every year there have been more Ports games added to the TV schedule on the Comcast Hometown Network. What is the biggest difference for you between doing a game for TV as opposed to radio?
ZB: Television, I just try to stay out of the way. The pictures do all of the talking. The last thing that I would want to be is that guy who you are turning down the volume on because you are tired of hearing him when you are able to see everything in front of you. For TV, whoever is doing color commentary with me, I try to chat with them a little bit about whatever would add a little color to the game rather than staying on top of the action.
It's easy to do a game on TV because the pictures are right there, but I actually prefer to the radio because that is what is most fun for a baseball broadcaster. I think most broadcasters would agree with that.
OC: You get to do a lot of your radio broadcasts Vin Scully-style. Is it hard to come up with those stories throughout a game when you are broadcasting by yourself and don't have a color commentator to bounce stories off of ?
ZB: It's funny because people always ask when they find out what I do for a living, ‘oh, wow, how do you know what to say?' You just kind of laugh. You just kind of know. You get experience. It's not always telling stories. The great thing about doing baseball on the radio is that you are trying to paint the picture for everybody. You're describing where the shadows are and how far the corner infielders are playing from the line. Every single little detail. Where the wind is blowing. There are a lot of things to talk about to fill time. It's never going to be dead air if you do what you are supposed to do, which is to be the eyes and ears for everyone. As far as stories go, I'm lucky enough that I think I've accumulated some over seven years now. It's getting easier and easier to tell the stories with each passing year because you pick up more as each year goes by.
OC: Any predictions for how Andrew Bailey is going to fare as the closer for your Red Sox this year?
ZB: [laughs] It frustrates me because sometimes I listen to Boston sports talk radio when I'm at the gym or whatever and the hosts on those shows have all of these questions about Andrew Bailey because they are really unfamiliar with him. They want to know if he has the make-up to pitch in an environment in Boston. There isn't a guy who is more cut-out for pitching in that environment than Andrew Bailey. He's an East Coast guy. He's from New Jersey and he knows what it's like on the East Coast, especially in the AL East with all of those tight games.
He's so cut-out to be the closer for the Red Sox. I'm actually really excited for him because if he does well, he becomes a folk hero there. I hope he does do well there. Obviously I have my selfish reasons, but he's a great guy and I'm glad to see him in a situation where he has a chance to really succeed and to become a special player.