MLB Broadcaster’s Journey To Dream Job is Now Complete
Becoming a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates' broadcast team was always Joe Block's professional goal. How he finally reached baseball's big time is a fascinating story.
It's nearing the end of spring training in Florida. The Pittsburgh Pirates are among the 14 teams comprising the Grapefruit League. The Pirates, like the other 13 clubs playing exhibition games in the "Sunshine State" since February 25th, are putting last minute changes to what is expected to be their Opening Day squad.
For Pittsburgh, this coming Tuesday's scheduled 1:05 p.m. home game against the visiting Minnesota Twins is their final tune-up before Thursday's season-opener in Cincinnati. After the final inning is played at Bradenton's LECOM Park, the Pirates will be shipping off in their charter from nearby Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.
The players put in the necessary work for six weeks, in order to kick off the regular season against the Reds. The same holds true for the Pirates' AT&T SportsNet broadcast crew. The eight-man crew have all taken turns during games televised and heard throughout the club's 38-station radio network getting back into the groove of telling game happenings.
Take Joe Block's story on how he joined the Pirates in 2016 calling play-by-play action on TV and radio. There were many turns, twists, and flat out luck that landed Block with his dream job. Now in his eighth season behind the mic for the Pirates, Block has no desire ever to leave working at PNC Park, and any other MLB stadium for that matter.
Here's the road Block hiked that would eventually lead him to a meeting with Pirates' Principal Owner and Chairmain of the Board Robert Nutting, and the offer to join the club's broadcast team.
Block took baseball broadcasting positions with minor league clubs in the Pioneer League - Great Falls (Montana) White Sox, Billings (Montana) Mustangs, and Jacksonville (Florida) Suns. After graduating from Michigan State University with a degree in journalism and broadcasting, Block set out to find his dream job in sportscasting.
There was also a stop in New Orleans calling college baseball, and three years as a studio host of the NBA New Orleans Hornets' (now Pelicans) radio pre, post, and halftime reports. From New Orleans, Block packed up and headed west.
During the 2011 MLB season, Block was back on radio, KABC-AM, and heard throughout the Great Los Angeles region co-hosting DodgerTalk.
Along with talking to baseball fans during the post-game-call-in show after Dodger games, Block was also a regular contrributor to the pre-game show.
Up next, a four-year run with the Milwaukee Brewers radio team. For four seasons, Block worked alongside a true legend in baseball and broadcasting. His radio partner was Bob Uecker. WTMJ-AM is the flagship station of the Brewers' Radio Network.
All along, with all his building success in the industry, Block continued to monitor the talent comprising the Pirates' broadcast team. In January 2016, Block's prayers were answered.
Pirates' Tim Neverett, calling play-by-play for seven seasons, a Nashua, New Hampshire native, accepted a similar position with his hometown Boston Red Sox. The opening with Pittsburgh finally was a reality. With Block's wife Bethany being a Pittsburgh native, and with her family still there, Block knew this is what he had been waiting for. The Blocks wanted to raise their kids in the Pittsburgh area.
I told him that I'll be here forever. You have a guy for life.
Joe Block wanted an interview with Nutting, who purchased controlling interest of the MLB franchise in 2007.
"I was under contract with Milwaukee at the time, and I received permission to interview. My wife is from South Hills (southern suburbs of Pittsburgh). One month after my daughter was born, is when Neverett announced he was going to Boston," said Block prior to teaming with analyst Matt Capps in calling the Pirates-Philadelphia Phillies game in Bradenton.
When Block met with Nutting, he made it abundantly clear that if an offer was made to join the Pirates' broadcast crew, it would not be "a stepping stone."
"I told him that I'll be here forever. You have a guy for life."
Block knew from an early age that telling baseball stories to the masses, through radio or TV, was what he wanted to do. As a kid growing up in the Detroit area, he would listen to Hall of Fame Broadcaster Ernie Harwell broadcast Tigers games on radio.
Then getting a break to work with Uecker, another radio voice who has a plaque in the Hall of Fame's broadcast wing in Cooperstown, is still an accomplishment Block is beyond proud and privileged to have experienced. He tells of how that interview process went.
"I was living in Los Angeles at the time. The Brewers flew me out to Scottsdale (AZ) to meet Uecker. The job was pretty much mine, as long as Uecker signed off on it," recalls Block, while sitting in the media room at LECOM Park.
What Block remembers most of his initial meeting with the ex-baseball player and Miller Light Beer pitchman is just how comfortable he was made to feel. Wondering how to best break the ice for the meeting/interview, Block arrived first at the designated restaurant, so he waited for Uecker at the bar. He ordered a Light Beer from Miller, as the commercials go, with the label in full sight for when his guest would arrive.
The gesture worked. Uecker kindly informed Block that he didn't have to order a Miller Light. The two broadcasters clicked, and worked together for four seasons.
Working in wooden press boxes in Montanta, being paid $60.00 for each Pioneer League game he called, given a place to stay and food for his belly, Block survived and thrived in the minor of minor leagues.
Sprinkled in with minor league baseball, basketball, a love for hockey (Block is a huge Pittsburgh Penguins fan), hosting a radio talk show in Jacksonville, having to rent a car to drive from Florida to Montana, and host select Montreal Expos games during their final two seasons (2003-'04), as an analyst and play-by-play leader, Block paid his dues.
Labeling himself an "old soul", Block says that he never lost sight that his rise to the MLB level in broadcasting would happen. Listening to him speak, it's clear that Block is confident, humble, and completely committed to everything Pirates. These are all the traits that every employer has high hopes for. Pirates' fans know how fortunate they are to have Block as one of their voices. Nutting surely understands this, too.
Don Laible is a freelance sportswriter living in the Mohawk Valley. He has reported on professional baseball and hockey for print, radio, and on the web since the 1980's. His columns are featured weekly at WIBX950.com. Don can be contacted via email at Don@icechipsdiamonddust.com.