by Chris Kamler
The voice bellowed from the dozens of speakers hung high atop rafters, “The gates to Kauffman Stadium are now OPEN!”
The man behind that voice is Mike McCartney of Platte Woods.
The year was 1997 when McCartney, a long-time radio host with a deep baritone voice, began his new job with the Kansas City Royals as their public address announcer. The team was only a decade removed from winning a world title and with names like Kevin Appier, Jermaine Dye and Johnny Damon, the future still looked very bright.
“Mike's awesome,” says Chris DeRuysher, McCartney’s longtime director, event presentation and production director.
“It's a show, but you've got to be great every night, and Mike does that.”
DeRuyscher is the captain of a team of sound engineers, graphics artists, statisticians, marketing talent and even a couple of guys whose job it is to run the fountains and shoot off the fireworks. He directs from a tightly cramped room full of wires, computers and keyboards overlooking the first base dugout on the fourth floor of the press box.
Twenty-five members of Chris's team are responsible for a fan's experience at “The K” from the time they walk through the turnstiles until they leave the stadium after fireworks on Friday. McCartney says. “We all do this together...”
And then the voice stopped as McCartney taps a pedal with his foot, clears his throat and announces, “Batting third. The centerfielder. Number 32. Josh Hamilton...”
He releases the pedal, turns back and repeats, “We do this all together, but I'm the only one that's heard.”
The voice on the other end of the phone interrupted a rushed father, trying to get out the door to go to work. The nurse on the other end of the line was quiet and spoke slowly, “Mr. McCartney, we have your test results, we'd like to schedule you to meet with the doctor to discuss them.”
“No, you can give me my results right now,” McCartney said, irritated that he was late and starting to get a bad feeling in his gut.
“Well, it's cancer.”
Mike slumped his shoulders and then said, “Are you kidding me?”
The conversation with the nurse continued for a few more minutes as Mike heard phrases like “prostate“ and “caught early” and “chemotherapy” but they were all just noise.
Mike would learn over the course of the next few days, weeks and months that prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer in men. It is more likely in men over 50 and that routine scans, like the one Mike had, can catch it.
But on this day, he had to get to work. It was mid-September 2011 and he had a ballgame to call.
But as he hung up the phone, he stopped. “Then I realized I had had that entire conversation in front of my 12 year old son.”
The voice comes from a small P.A. speaker hung on a chainlink fence in a suburb of Detroit.
“Now batting, Chris Getz.” This was the first time Getz, who would go on to be a starting second baseman of the royals, had his name announced at a youth All-Star Game.
“It feels very special. It's always a lot of fun. There's some prestige that goes with it.”
Getz would hear his name announced thousands of more times as his baseball career took him through Grosse Point South High School, where he was named a three time All-Michigan selection in baseball and also football. All the way through the minor leagues until he played his first Major League game in 2008.
Stadium announcers have a long history in professional sports and are as much a part of the stadium experience as are home runs and foul balls.
Reggie Jackson, Hall of Famer, famously dubbed Yankees' announcer Bob Sheppard, “The Voice of God.” Others might not be known by name, but their voices echoes through baseball cathedrals and shape the game for those that come.
But an MLB game is now more than just a heavy-throated voice announcing a name, it's pre-game packages, fireworks, t-shirt tosses, CGI and, perhaps most importantly, the “Kiss Cam.”
“We love the Kiss Cam. We love the old couples that they show on there,” says Royals relief pitcher, Everett Teaford.
The bullpen pitchers probably have the most opportunity to enjoy some of the ambiance around the stadium because they're not often called on for an hour or two after the game has started. At this point another Royals pitcher, Aaron Crow interrupts him and says, “They're really cute.”
Another important element of a gameday is all of the music that you hear. There's so many musical elements from music between innings, sound effects and the songs players hear when they walk up to the plate or come in from the bullpen. Billy Butler even famously had the sound of sizzling bacon put in under his walk-up music for a week after he got the nickname “Country Breakfast” from Twitter fans.
“I use my buddy's music,” Teaford explains. “He's written country music for several Nashville stars, his name is Paul Swindell.” So perhaps the Royals could also be responsible for a breakout Nashville star, too.
The voice bellowed off of the All-Star 2012 billboard in left field to the 26,889 fans in attendance on a warm, muggy August evening. “Here come YOUR Kansas City Royals.”
The evening brought yet another Royals loss, their 61st of the season by a score of 5-3 over the American League Champion Texas Rangers.
During the game, Mike read over 100 sheets of paper and announced more than 50 at bats. He also had to announce a quickly worded apology to fans who didn't receive a giveaway lunchbox due to a “delivery error.” The game also featured another sub-par performance by Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie as well as the return of Jeff Francouer after being benched for three games. Frenchy would go 0-3 with a walk.
McCartney, now cancer free, hasn't missed a game during his tenure with the Royals -- more than 850 -- and he's still going strong. McCartney has seen some of the worst baseball seasons in Major League history in those years.
The losing hasn't shown up in the quality of work for DeRoucher's team - winning numerous awards for their in-stadium entertainment for several years and the Golden Matrix Award in 2011, which goes to the best all-around stadium experience in all of professional sports.
He also says these teams are different than the clubs that followed his debut in 1997 - the teams that came after Jermaine Dye and Johnny Damon, but brought names like Kit Pellow, Shane Costa and Brian Anderson.
“This team is different,” DeRoucher says, “There is more fan interest in names like Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer.”
But you can tell the crew up in that little sound booth filled with electronics and microphones and lights and buttons has a gallows sense of humor about the team. “We've seen it all,” McCartney says. “We've seen it all.”
At that same moment, Alcides Escobar, the Royals potential superstar shortstop, goes deep into the hole, grabs a hard hit liner, jumps high into the air and throws out a member of the Texas Rangers with three steps to spare.
“And then you see something like that. You get the chance to see something new every night,” DeRoucher says.
McCartney echoes his director's comments, “That's the fun of it.”