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He Knew He'd Work for the Pittsburgh Pirates Since He Was 7

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
February 1, 2023 3:01 am

He Knew He'd Work for the Pittsburgh Pirates Since He Was 7

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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February 1, 2023 3:01 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, while he didn't have a job offer or even the skills for the job, Joe Klimchak was inspired by a Pirates legend to pursue his MLB career dream.

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Say free this week into your Xfinity voice remote. Hi there, I'm Dr. John White, WebMD's Chief Medical Officer and host of the Spotlight on series from the Health Discovered podcast. In this special episode, we dive into plaque psoriasis, the difficulties, the misconceptions, and the treatment options available. What does it take to get patients to clear skin? Well, if you have a relatively limited case of psoriasis, for example, scalp psoriasis, and you put the clovetazole solution on your scalp twice a day, in three days, you see dramatic improvement in the psoriasis. Now if you're covered with psoriasis, topical therapy is not reasonable.

With an injection once every two or three months, you have like a 50% chance of being completely clear and probably a 90% chance of being nearly completely clear. Listen to Health Discovered on the iHeartRadio app or wherever you get your podcasts. 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 Klimcheck. 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 just amazing. Everybody's happy here. Even when the Pirates are losing. And 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, I was 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 and 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 of news stories, give you the scores from last night. I had to work extra hard because I attended Center School District in Beaver County in Aliquippa. In my class of 186 students, there was only one that needed remedial speech training, and that one was me.

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. It actually says reason for assignment on the sheet, poor articulation. I just generally garbled my words.

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, this was terrible for me. It took me so many practice sessions that I still didn't get. 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, someway, 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. Again, gathering all the communications, announcing experience I could. And that's why for me, Grove City College was a perfect fit because I was hands-on. I was able to do that from 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 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 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. It 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 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. You really, really.

I detailed all my experience. I went into more detail and they sent me another rejection letter saying, no, 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 is actually write a letter to Art McKinnon himself. I wrote to the 85-year-old backup public address announcer, longtime 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 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. And 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. There's a recipe for getting your car running just right. And whatever you're cooking up in the garage, you'll find what you need at They have over 122 million car parts and accessories in stock, all at the right prices. And that can help you turn your ride into something really tasty.

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Once again, that's 855-933-5252. 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 that 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, some way, 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. He has this typewritten letter that I actually have hanging on my wall right now, and essentially the letter said, 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. And I was like, oh. 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 of 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 got 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 like May 16th. I remember the two teams.

It was going to be Greater Latrobe against Derry. And I heard that. And then 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. So I got to my office phone, called the Pirates, obviously thinking like they need 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 had 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. It 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 through 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 still 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 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 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, 2, 3, 4. So 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. He said, grab a microphone. Grabbed the microphone, went down to the field, found the camera guy. And at 642 they cued me.

And I'm a big preparation guy. 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 look into the camera and it went well. And after that rehearsal my director tapped me on the shoulder and he said, 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 of 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 Klimchak's story, a great story.

And thanks to Robbie Davis for doing such a great job on this piece. Joe Klimchak's story here on Our American Story. This February, Xfinity Flex is unlocking premium entertainment for you to try every single week, no strings attached. Celebrate during Black History Month with shows like Unsung the Decades. Snuggle up during Valentine's Day with a Lifetime Movie Club pick like Harry and Meghan, A Royal Romance.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-01 04:23:04 / 2023-02-01 04:35:10 / 12

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