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The Confederate Soldier Who Risked His Life to Aid Union Wounded, The Angel of St. Marye's Heights and Boyhood Dream Turns into Career, Joe Klimchak KNEW He'd Work for the Pittsburgh Pirates Since He Was 7

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
July 5, 2022 3:00 am

The Confederate Soldier Who Risked His Life to Aid Union Wounded, The Angel of St. Marye's Heights and Boyhood Dream Turns into Career, Joe Klimchak KNEW He'd Work for the Pittsburgh Pirates Since He Was 7

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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July 5, 2022 3:00 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Richard Hood from Valencia, California, takes us back in time to the Battle of Fredericksburg and tells a story about compassion in the midst of America's deadliest war. Joe Klimchak tells us how he was inspired by a Pirates legend to pursue his MLB career dream.

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Time Codes:

00:00 - The Confederate Soldier Who Risked His Life to Aid Union Wounded, The Angel of St. Marye's Heights

25:00 - Boyhood Dream Turns into Career, Joe Klimchak KNEW He'd Work for the Pittsburgh Pirates Since He Was 7

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This is Lee Habib and this is Our American Stories, and we tell stories about everything here on the show, including yours.

Send them to OurAmericanStories.com. They're some of our favorites. For a long time, and he wanted to share it with us.

Take it away, Richard. You've probably heard that the darker the place, the brighter any light appears. Well, I'd like to share with you a story about a very dark place and a very bright light.

In fact, an angel of light known as the Angel of Mary's Heights. It all happened back in the month of December 62, and I'm talking about 1862, during our country's bloodiest war, the Civil War, officially known as the War Between the States, but more poignantly as the Brothers War. One reason why it was called the Brothers War is because the war actually did pit, in some cases, brother against brother. You can imagine, you know, if you have an older brother and he's gone off to Afghanistan to fight, that's one thing.

What if he was going off to Afghanistan to fight you? That kind of changes the whole familial situation. And in the Civil War, the Brothers War, that not only happened on occasion, a father was sometimes pitted against son.

So complicated. So let me tell you more about this angel though, because at the Battle of Fredericksburg, there was an important vantage point, a cliff top called Mary's Heights. The Southern Confederate Army was wisely using it as a cannon emplacement. Below this cliff was a protective wall, keeping the Northern Army from gaining that cliff top.

Hunkered down behind this wall, protecting the stronghold, was one of many soldiers, in this case, a Confederate sergeant who had, during America's bloodiest battle to come, Antietam, would later lose his life. But he will survive this day, and a good thing for you, because otherwise you won't survive either. So are you ready to do a little pretending? Ready to travel back to your fateful day in time?

Okay, well, here we go then. So you're up before Reveille today. You've only had a thin dirty old blanket to cover your deer in the night. You can't really sleep that well anyway.

But the bugle does sound. You hear Reveille, and so you get up, splash some water on your face to relieve yourself of the dust that covers everything and adds to the dry mouth of battle that's to come. You look down at your socks, filthy socks, barely holding together, and you put on your boots that have holes in them, but you're grateful because you actually have boots. You start to smell the coffee that someone has started, and that's going to be one of your sole pleasures today, and you're grateful for that too.

Little comforts are pretty big when that's all you've got. You're in the Army now, as they say, and you're an infantryman in the Army of the Potomac, the Northern Army of the Union. Abraham Lincoln is your president, and you're facing off against the Confederate States of America, the Southern States, whose president is Jefferson Davis. I want you to take a moment and notice the coarseness of your blue uniform. You also want to put on that rucksack again today, and as you do so, you try and adjust your shoulder straps to find an area of your shoulders that hasn't been rubbed raw yet.

This is going to be adjusted throughout the day. You're going to be trading minor pains for greater pains, and you're also going to notice that pack smells strongly of salt, and you come to realize that's from your own sweat, and within an hour, your pack's going to be soaked again, just as will the back of your uniform. The enemy sergeant behind that wall that you're approaching, he was promoted on the battlefield, having survived the Battle of Chancellorsville, the fabled Gettysburg, and then Chickamauga too, and his luck better not run out today because it's tied directly to yours. You're up against a real hero, the last thing you're feeling like being, and a hero not due to what he's already done and survived, but what he will do from the other side of that wall he's hunkered down behind, from behind that wall separating today not just the quick from the dead, but the quick from those not very quietly or quickly dying. So on that cheery note, let's load up and start marching in the direction of that enemy wall. It's not until around noon that the first wave of your assaults begin in front of that wall, and no wave reaches as far as that wall. They continue though, one after another, and they're also mowed down one after the other.

The reports are not favorable. Your comrades get as close as 75 feet away from that blasted wall and that's it. It's going to be your turn any minute, but before you go, you get the chance to look around and see all the carnage that has gone on before you, and you see how it's likely to go for you.

You see the killing field between you and that wall, and you see a bottleneck at a ditch that has only three possible crossable bridges, and no matter which one you choose, it appears to be nothing but a slaughter pen. And you've been listening to Richard Hood, and by the way, he is a listener, as we said before, from Valencia, California, and a heck of a storyteller, putting us in the spot, in the time, in the context, which is so important as a storyteller, how we should always look at history. No one knew what was going to happen in that war when it started. No one knew what was going to happen when they charged the next wall or the next hill, except from what happened in plain sight from the other guys who had just charged. And it's so true, this civil war, this war between the states did pit brother against brother, father against son.

The Revolutionary War did the same thing in large measure too. When we come back, we're going to continue this remarkable story, the story of the Angel of St. Mary's Heights, here on Our American Stories. Folks, if you love the stories we tell about this great country, and especially the stories of America's rich past, know that all of our stories about American history, from war to innovation, culture, and faith, are brought to us by the great folks at Hillsdale College, a place where students study all the things that are beautiful in life, and all the things that are good in life. And if you can't get to Hillsdale, Hillsdale will come to you with their free and terrific online courses.

Go to hillsdale.edu to learn more. I know everything there is to know about running a coffee shop, but for small business insurance, I need my State Farm agent. They make sure my business stays piping hot, and I stay cool and confident. See, they're small business owners too, so they know how to help you best. State Farm is in your corner, and on it. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.

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Simply go to Geico.com or contact your local agent today. And we return to Our American Stories and Richard Hood's story of an impactful moment in the Civil War. When we last left off, Richard was taking us back in time to the Battle of Fredericksburg.

Let's pick up where we last left off. You're exhausted from marching and fighting and you're fighting off exhaustion. Now you have to fight with absolutely no adrenaline left.

It's almost gone. And your mind is shifting gears down to its most basic and primal functions. While the world around you appears more and more like some kind of outdoor insane asylum. Above the wall, up on Mary's Heights, the opposing Confederate cannons begin to let loose. So when you hear the order to charge, you're going to not only face a continuous sheet of flame from frontal small arms fire directed at you, but dismembering and deadly artillery fire raining from above as well.

And later, one of the Confederate artillery men would remark that not even a chicken could live on that field. You're looking for some way to increase the odds of your survival and you can't think of a thing. And the insensible amount of death along with its apparent utter randomness sickens you. From what you can see, you should be one of this day's 12,600 casualties. And it doesn't look like you're going to be evacuated should you become wounded, which is likely. Nor does it appear that you will receive first aid.

But instead, it does appear that you're going to lie there unattended becoming just one more member of the choir of moans. You can ask veterans of any war, and they'll tell you that of all the horrors of war, the psychologically worst may well be the tortured cries of their brothers in arms in insufferable agony when there's nothing they can do to come to their aid, without exposing their position or putting others in danger or becoming just like them another screaming casualty. And whether it's medieval or modern weapons used to cause this carnage, you will always hear cries for one thing, for water. But this dehydration is caused from blood loss. Now, as in any fight, your mouth is dry, and at any moment it might become drier still from the loss of your blood, and then surprisingly to you, despite its overwhelming odds and predictability, that indeed happens. And with the realization of your fears having come upon you, pain and its companions of shock and immobility join forces against you. You're now one casualty among the day's 8,000 casualties. So you're asking yourself, what was so important about that wall?

Why couldn't your commander simply have gone around it? As you drift in and out of consciousness, whether half dreaming or awake, thoughts are distilled for you and reduced to one thing and one desire only for water. Finally, night comes on, and though your groans and pleas are lost among the thousands of the others around you, you have never felt more alone. No one is coming.

No one will be coming in time. So, weary from battle himself and desperate for rest, the Confederate sergeant has been kept from sleep all this same night, thanks to yours and all the other pitiful, disturbing and debilitating cries of those not quite yet dead. By morning, he can't take it any longer. And so this enemy soldier asks permission to put you out of your misery and end both his sides and your own sufferings. He's just stared at. He's stared at as if he's lost his senses or has battle fatigue. Sniping at the wounded is just not done. But he's no sniper, and what he's asking his commanders for is permission to go over that wall and meet you head on, to come not to silence you, but to bring you water. His commanders tell him of the bullets awaiting him on such a fool's errand, making him a casualty of, well, either enemy or mistaken friendly fire. And they tell him no, but he is totally aware and totally determined and persistent. Yes, most of the wounded are, like you, his enemy or were.

Now you seem more like fellow mortals just bleeding out and drying up. He requests to carry a white handkerchief as a sign of ceasefire. And he keeps asking until he gets permission he seeks. But he is told that no handkerchief, no flag of truce will be allowed. He'll be on his own, and he'll be all you've got.

Your last chance for tomorrow. Meet your sworn enemy, Richard Kirkland, Confederate Army Sergeant, age 20. The odds of help coming to you via Kirkland are less than the odds were of being wounded.

There are just too many wounded sprawled in front of that wall. And Kirkland has, well, he's alone and he has no plan, except for the filling of every canteen he can find. And it seems time itself holds its breath as over the wall he slips, with you in that no man's land between earthly consciousness and eternity. Eventually, he does indeed stumble upon you, literally falls over you, and reaching down to support your head, he gives you all he can from the canteen's left. He takes off his jacket and covers you with it. You try to raise your hand in astonished thanks, but there's no need as he can read the gratitude in your eyes. Not a shot is heard in that hour and a half that Kirkland spends racing from soldier to soldier, as if in respectful awe of what is happening and what he's risking.

All that is heard are the plaintive cries for the water that is now at least a possibility. He attends to friend and foe alike, both sides Americans, both sides brothers of a sort once again, even if only brothers of the dust. Years later, some will claim it wasn't Kirkland, but someone else or many other someone else's. Others will claim that he was sniped at, even wounded.

But you know better because you were there, although you'll wonder for the rest of your life why he did it. What was it that was worth more to him than his own physical life? How could he be so certain there was something even more important than his own fears?

What or who puts that instinct or knowledge into people that results in bringing the kingdom of heaven, not just onto earth, but overcoming a hell on earth? You won't hear Kirkland's name mentioned nowadays, but you see, it doesn't matter he's not a household name because heroes don't do heroic things for the fame. Their selflessness can inspire us to other, if lesser, acts of love.

Love, we must remember, is an action. While Kirkland indeed survived this day, as a result you did as well, his eventual dying concern was still for others, particularly his father whom he wanted to know that his son had died right. Perhaps more important is living right, day by day, and to do that you and I must know what we are living for, why we were given life. This is everyone's foundation so that building up and out from that foundation brings meaning and purpose to our lives so that as much of our lives as possible bring relief and life to others. You know, you have to wonder why such stories of heroism create such a unique response in us, psychologically, physiologically, spiritually. It seems to contradict a spirit-less, self-serving, survival of the fittest and purposeless worldview.

Perhaps The Brothers' War was but one act in a long play designed to help us recognize and appreciate the true cost of love, of redemption, and reconciliation. And a special thanks to Monty Montgomery for the production, Richard Hood's story, the Angel of St. Mary's Heights story, here on Our American Stories. I know everything there is to know about running a coffee shop, but for small business insurance, I need my State Farm agent. They make sure my business stays piping hot, and I stay cool and confident. See, they are small business owners too, so they know how to help you best. State Farm is in your corner and on it. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.

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Purchase all free clear mega packs today and conquer any laundry load for all fabric types. And we continue here with our American stories, and we tell stories of all kinds, and particularly the kinds that reveal character, and in this instance, perseverance. Today we bring you the story of a man who dreamed of being in Major League Baseball, but not on the playing field.

Here to tell his story is Joe Klimchuk. The love for baseball came from attending my first Pirates game when I was seven. My dad took me to my first game at Three Rivers Stadium.

It was love at first sight, it really was. I walked in and it was everything about the ballpark. It was the bright green turf, it was the lights, it was the sound of the organ, it was the smells of nachos and popcorn and cotton candy and peanuts, and you were allowed to smoke then, so it was actually the smell of cigars I liked, and beer all mixed up into one, so that was great. It was the big jumbotron in center field, it was sensory overload, it was just amazing. Sometimes it just clicks, sometimes you're just like, this space makes me really happy. And I thought, this atmosphere is amazing, everybody's happy here, even when the Pirates are losing. There were years that we lost more than we won, but there were obviously championship years too, but in the mid-70s we were good, we were called the lumber company, I have my program from my first game. And then of course, and then the big thing for me was this voice then that came over the PA system that was rich and deep and beautiful, and I thought, wow, I heard that voice and I said, that's it, somehow, someway, that's the job I want, I somehow have to be an announcer in a big league ballpark.

At the age of seven I knew exactly what I wanted to do because I thought, this is definitely the place and that's definitely the job I want to do. His name was Art McKinnon, the public address announcer. He was a PA announcer for almost 50 years.

It was like the tones of a Stradivarius is the way his voice has been described. It was just so beautiful and I made that connection and my dad would say that when we went to games after that, I would spend as much time in my seat twisted around watching Art on the fourth level make the announcements, or watching the radio and TV guys on the third level, and I was just locked into the announcers. First Steps, it was researching these guys and reading about them. My first book was Voices of the Game and I read about all the, that was more about not public address, but the radio announcers, the Harry Carries, the Harry Calluses, the Vince Scullys, and then it was really just watching these announcers on TV doing games, sportscasters, game show hosts. I was a big Richard Dawson fan, Bob Barker fan, Alex Trebek fan. It was more about the show and less about the game. It was like what they did, it was their nods, it was their winks, it was their gestures.

I was just absorbing all of that. The evening news and network news would be Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather, watching them, their voice inflection. I just would study that constantly.

It would memorize their scripts, I would rehash them. I remember being in our house and actually my two younger sisters, what a blessing it was that they would actually play along with me for at least five minutes, I believe. I was in my bedroom, they were in theirs, and I would actually do a little radio show through the heating vent of my bedroom.

Just kind of say, okay, you guys sit here, I'm going to make a couple announcements, read a couple news stories, give you the scores from last night. And I had to work extra hard because I attended Center School District in Beaver County in Aliquippa. And in my class of 186 students, there was only one that needed remedial speech training, and that one was me.

And my mom actually saved that intermediate unit form, and I have it, from 1979. I was 10 years old. And I had a bad lisp, couldn't say my S's clearly, and it actually says reason for assignment on the sheet, poor articulation. I just generally garbled my words, so not a good start for a guy who wants to be a Major League Baseball announcer, so I had to work extra hard. The lisp thing just was terrible for me. It took me so many practice sessions, and I still didn't get it. I remember I was in this session with another girl who was in another grade, she wasn't in my grade, she was actually a little younger than me, but she got it right away, and I was like, I just couldn't do it.

For me to make an S sound, I actually had to bite down, and my S's were, which is still kind of sloppy, but that was the best I could do until it finally clicked like a year later. Constant repetition, constant studying announcers, memorizing scripts, rehashing scripts. Art McKinnon had a drill that he would actually, he's a long-time PA announcer, he had a drill where he would read through magazine articles, and if he skipped a line or had a hiccup or messed up, he would have to go back to the beginning and start again. I would read every article in my Sports Illustrated magazines, and when I read through all those, I grabbed my mom's Woman's Days and Family Circles, and I read all those out loud, so again, I just wanted to get as much repetition as I could because somehow, some way, you know, I wanted to be an announcer in a big league ballpark. So I'm at Grove City College and majoring in communications, I'm on the radio station staff, and I kind of carried that passion for announcing to college because I wanted to get as much experience now that I could there, and with the radio station, I became the sports director, the news director, I hosted a morning show, they had a production studio there, I was always doing announcing in that station, spent most of my time there, most of my time was spent there. I was also the public address announcer for all the sports, not just football and basketball, but the Olympic sports too, I did PA for soccer, for volleyball, for swimming, for baseball, and gathering all the communications, announcing experience I could, that's why for me, Grove City College was a perfect fit because I was hands-on, I was able to do that for my freshman year, for four years to do all that announcing, I collected all this great, great experience, and it was because of that that I was actually, when I was a sophomore, I said, okay, now with some real experience now, now I think it's time to let the Pirates know that I'm interested in working for them, because I know in a couple years there will be time to graduate and I would love to roll right into a big league announcing job, but those jobs don't come open very often, so I remember writing them a letter, and at this time now, Art McKinnon, the long-time PA announcer who I heard at the age of seven, he was the backup public address announcer now, he was the backup because he was too old, he was in his 80s, Tim DeBaca was the regular announcer, Art was doing the games on Sundays, Tim was doing every other game, but I decided to write a letter to the Pirates and say, Pirates, dear Pirates, my name's Joe, I've collected all this announcing experience, I know you have a regular public address announcer and a backup public address announcer, but I really think, I really, really think you need a backup to the backup public address announcer. That's what you need, because just in the event that Tim and Art can't work a game, you need somebody reliable to fall back on, and I'm your man because I've been listening to these guys for years, memorizing their scripts inside and out, would you please hire me?

Or at least give me a listen, or keep me on the list. So a couple weeks later they wrote me back, I was like, no, thank you for your interest, but we have two announcers already, we don't need a backup to the backup announcer. And I remember the last line, I actually saved the rejection letter, it said, best of luck in your efforts to work in baseball. And I was like, ah, for me that sounded like a crushing line, because all my life all I wanted to do was work for the Pirates, it almost sounded like, no thanks, and good luck, try somewhere else, we don't have any interest in you. But of course I was obsessed with getting this job, so I wrote them another letter, I said, no, you really need to hire me, I detailed all my experience, I went into more detail, and they sent me another rejection letter saying, no, really, we really thank you, best of luck on your efforts to work in baseball.

So I was crushed, two rejection letters now. But I was going to be persistent, I was going to keep trying, I was going to keep going after this, so what I decided to do was actually write a letter to Art McKinnon himself. I wrote to the 85-year-old backup public address announcer, long-time PA legend announcer, Art McKinnon, and I said, Art, I really appreciate what you do, you're amazing, you inspired me to do this, I heard your voice at the age of seven, and I said, that's the job I want, is there any chance that you can work me somehow into the organization, I've tried through the Pirates, they've sent me some rejection letters, I would love to get on a list of announcers, or if you can give me any guidance, any help whatsoever, I'd appreciate it. And when we come back, you're going to hear more of this remarkable story of perseverance. We learned early that he didn't have the talent for this, certainly not naturally, he had a lisp.

And if you've ever seen the movie The Natural, and again, he's not a natural, in the movie The Natural, a great baseball movie with Robert Duvall, and with Robert Redford, Bernard Malamud's classic novel, it was all about a guy who had everything come easy to him, and how he squandered it through a couple of mistakes. This guy, boy, he had to stick at it, and stick at it, and stick at it, and when we come back, you're going to hear the rest of this remarkable story of perseverance and persistence, overcoming objections and rejection. We continue with Joe Klimchak's story, a great Pittsburgh story, a great baseball story, after these commercial messages. I know everything there is to know about running a coffee shop, but for small business insurance, I need my State Farm agent. They make sure my business stays piping hot, and I stay cool and confident. See, they're small business owners too, so they know how to help you best. State Farm is in your corner, and on it. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.

Call your local State Farm agent for a quote today. Doing household chores can already be time-consuming and tedious, and there's nothing more daunting than facing piles and piles of laundry that need to be done. I mean, that can be overwhelming for anyone. So, if you want to get those larger laundry loads done right and get back to your life, try all free clear mega packs. All free clear mega packs are bigger packs with two times the cleaning ingredients, compared to a regular pack, so that you can tackle any laundry load without the worry. All free clear mega packs are also 100% free of perfumes and dyes, and they're gentle on skin, which is great for any family's sensitive skin needs.

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Viator, one site, over 300,000 experiences you'll remember. And we're back with the rest of Joe Klimchak's story here on Our American Stories. At the age of seven, he knew he wanted to be a big league announcer for the Pittsburgh Pirates. When we last left off, he'd written a letter to the man who inspired his dream, longtime Pittsburgh Pirates announcer Art McKinnon.

Let's get back to Joe. I'm now working at Grove City College. I've graduated and the college, it was a real blessing, they hired me to work as their sports information director.

I met my wife of now, 27 years, Jennifer, at the college, and we were going back to my apartment one night, and this is back in the days of answering machines that flashed when there was a message, so there was a big red one hit play, and I can remember like it was yesterday. Joe, this is Art McKinnon. I have your letter here, your very nice letter.

I'm under the weather, but I promise to write you back. Goodbye, Joe. I remember I cried when I heard that. I was like, oh my goodness, Art McKinnon has called me, Joey Klimchak, up here in Grove City, Pennsylvania, and he's going to write me back. And I remember turning to Jen and I said, that's the crack in the door I needed.

Somehow, someway, one day I'm going to be an announcer in a big league ballpark. It's going to happen. Art did write me back. He was true to his word. He wrote me back. Actually, he didn't write me back. He typed me back. It was this typewritten letter that I actually have hanging on my wall right now, and essentially the letter said, I appreciate your kind comments, and you appear very qualified to do public address, but my connections aren't what they once used to be, and I really can't help you.

But don't pass up on any bets. Work hard, and essentially saying, not in so many words, best of luck on your efforts to work in baseball. I felt like it was the same thing from Art who would say, I can't help you, but thanks for writing and good luck. Again, I felt a little crushed again, but was not going to be deterred. Kept pushing. I wrote Art back again, and I said, Art, thank you so much for the letter.

And I'm not a pushy guy, but I got a little pushy with Art in a way. I said, Art, is there any way that I can actually watch you do public address for an inning during a Sunday game? I actually picked out the game.

September 20th, Pirates against the Phillies, 1992. Can I show up at the ballpark and watch you do public address? I didn't know what he would say. He wrote me back. Received your letter.

Don't buy tickets. Report to press gate A, and I'll see you on September 20th. I was like, wow, this is great. So Jennifer and I show up that day. It was a beautiful day. I remember Mickey Morandini, the Phillies, turned to triple play that day. I remember everything about that day. It was only for six outs, but it was amazing. I felt like it was out of body. I was on cloud nine.

But those six outs came and went. He turned around. He shook my hand. He said, thank you.

Walked me out the door. And then Tim DeBacco, who's the regular announcer, he was there, shook his hand. He said, nice to meet you.

And he said, good luck. And next thing you know, I'm out in section 600-whatever, sitting there with Jennifer saying, well, okay, that was great and all, but I made some good contacts, I suppose, but I'm really not there. I haven't gotten my big break yet. I was still waiting. I have not gotten my big break yet. So I was still a little frustrated.

But my big break did finally come months later. I'm working at Grove City College, Sports Information Director. It's lunch break. And I was going to head down to get a sandwich on Main Street. And I turn on an AM radio station, a small Mercer County radio station, WPIC. And the announcer is Dave Hanahan.

And he comes on the air. And why he read this announcement, I have no idea. This is Mercer County. This is like 60, 70 miles north of Pittsburgh.

But he read this. He said that the Pirates have decided to, this upcoming season, have high school games after Pirates games on Sundays. And the first one was going to be, I believe it was May 16th. I remember the two teams.

It was going to be Greater La Trobe against Derry. And I heard that and instantly I was like, oh my goodness, light bulb went off. I'm not going to get a sandwich today. I'm going to double back to my office. This was before cell phones. I got to my office phone, called the Pirates, obviously thinking they needed an announcer for these games. So it took a long time to find the person in charge. Finally, they got on the line.

They said, we actually hadn't even considered having an announcer for those games. Since you're interested, sure, we'll listen to a tape. Got to the production studio.

Of course, I memorized the scripts inside and out, knew all the formatics and everything, the pauses, the inflections. The lady's name was Jackie. She called me back the next day.

She said, Joe, we heard your tape. And if you're willing to work for free, congratulations, you are the announcer of our high school games after Pirates games on Sundays. I was like, wow, that's great. I'll see you there on May 16th. I'll show up.

I can't wait to do this. So that was a big break for me. That was huge. I mean, I would have done anything for free.

I would have swept the floors for free. But the chance to announce in the big league ballpark, that was amazing. I'm in the same booth, not just in the booth now, but I'm at Art McKinnon's microphone. That was crazy. Announcing in this stadium with 60,000 seats, never mind that only 60 of them were full for my games, but it was still a great experience. I did that for a year. Months later, the Pirates gave me a call, and they let me know that the Pirates are going to be soon having an audition for the backup public address announcer position.

Art McKinnon is now too old to be the backup PA announcer. So they asked me if I'd be interested in showing up. They knew that I had written those letters years ago. They knew that I was a high school announcer. They expected that I would be interested in it, and obviously I was.

They said, sure, I'd love that. So I showed up for this audition, hoping it'd just be me and a couple other people, but it was me and eight other people. And they were all people from the Pittsburgh media, and I was like, oh no. So on paper, I really had no chance at winning this audition.

I was a kid just a couple years out of college. These were all seasoned professionals. They probably actually hand-picked these people to come in.

These are guys I've been, and actually there was one lady too, that I've been listening to and watching for years. So we're all assembled, nine people, auditioning to become the backup public address announcer for the Pirates. They take us up to the booth one by one, got to be my turn, and they said, okay, Joe, here's your first announcement.

It's the crowd control announcement. And I actually said, I don't need this script. Actually, I know that one by heart, so I opened up the microphone. Ladies and gentlemen, we remind you, please do not go onto the field or in any way interfere with baseball still in play or with objects of any kind. So I knew that one by heart, did it, it went well. I actually knew that one backward, I knew that one backward.

Play and steal baseballs with interfere, weigh any in or feel the two on go, not do please, you remind we, gentlemen and ladies. It was crazy. Like, when you want something that bad, you get a little freakish about it. And I was freakish about getting this job. This is a week after the audition, and my director came over and said, Joe, congratulations, you won the audition. You're now the backup public address announcer for the Pittsburgh Pirates. That was huge. I was excited.

I was like, wow, okay, I finally did it. But I'm just the backup. And when you're the backup, you don't get many games. I got my first game, they actually gave me my first game. Usually, I would only get a game when Tim can't make the game.

He'd have to be sick or have some kind of family emergency. But they gave me my first game, May 26, 1994. Again, remember, like it was yesterday, it was a 13-inning game. Pirates won 11-10 over the Mets.

And it was just, it was just, ah, it was a dream come true for me. The next season, I worked three games, but after seven seasons as the backup public address announcer, I'd only done seven games. It's the late 90s now, and then we're rolling over 2000, and they're building PNC Park. And they opened it up in 2001, and I went to my director and I said, Eric, I'm obviously as the backup PA announcer not working many games.

Is there any chance there might be a new job in the scoreboard department that I could do to work more games? There was a Pepsi bottle that sat over the Clemente wall when they opened up PNC Park. And when the Pirates hit a home run, smoke came out of the Pepsi bottle. It was my job when the Pirates hit a home run to hit the button that made the smoke come out of the Pepsi bottle for 81 home dates a year.

In 2001, two, three, four. The 2005 rolls around. And what we do before every season is we have a rehearsal at the ballpark before opening day. It's an empty ballpark.

It's late March. I'm in my Pepsi smoke chair. We're going to play a simulated game up on the video board, and if the Pirates hit a home run, y'all hit the button.

But otherwise, I have nothing to do. I'm going through the pregame script, and I see there's a little line that says Radio MC. That means that somebody from the Pittsburgh media comes to the ballpark, and they stand on the field and address the crowd and say, like they say their name, the station they're from, when their shift is. And I said, okay, it's snowing.

It's late March. It's an empty ballpark. Nobody's showing up for this position. I went to my director. I said, Eric, since I have nothing to do in the pregame, can I go down? Can I be the Radio MC today? And he looked at me and he said, do you want to do that?

I said, I'd love to. And he said, grab a microphone. Grabbed the microphone, went down to the field, found the camera guy, and at 6.42, they cued me.

And I'm a big preparation guy, but I really hadn't prepared for this. All my announcing really had been not on screen. This was the first thing on the video board. So I got a camera.

I didn't even know where to look, but I assumed to look into the camera, and it went well. And after that rehearsal, my director tapped me on the shoulder, and he said, Joe, we watched you there, and we thought it looked really good, and we would like you to actually, if you're interested, host one of the games we play between innings on the video board. At the end of the fourth inning, you'll leave your Pepsi Smoke guy position, you'll go down to the Riverwalk, and for that half inning, you'll play a game with a fan, and then come back to the scoreboard room.

I said, that'd be great. So now I'm actually announcing it all 81 games. And then a couple years later, now I'm doing like five inning breaks. The next year I'm doing all of pregame, and now I sit here 15 years later. I've been the in-game host of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and I have about nine in-game breaks, all of pregame.

I don't take a single day for granted. And this is 15 years later, and I'm just as excited 15 years later as I was the first day I did this job. When I walk onto the field, and the first thing I actually do, I walk onto the field, I look over my left shoulder, I do this every game to remind myself, at the top of the video board, it says home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and it's just a reminder.

I'm like, it still hits me like, wow. I don't look at myself as an announcer as much as I do more like a fan with a microphone. I want that to be my persona here. But I treat every day like it's opening day because I feel like it's opening day.

I'm that excited. And it wouldn't have happened if his dad hadn't taken him to a ballpark. So you dads out there who think you're not making a difference spending time with your kids. And he's not rejected once, folks, or twice, or three times, and he just kept at it. Joe Klimtchak's story, a great story, and thanks to Robbie Davis for doing such a great job on this piece. Joe Klimtchak's story, here on Our American Story.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-16 20:36:19 / 2023-02-16 20:54:41 / 18

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