Back in January, Cincinnati Reds Vice-President of Media Relations Rob Butcher made his annual pre-season visit to the Sidney Rotary Club. As he addressed the upcoming retirement of 46 year radio voice Marty Brennaman, he revealed the new radio staff member for 2019 who may be sliding into the main chair in 2020.
“You’ll notice a new addition to Reds radio this season in Tommy Thrall who has been our play-by-play at Pensacola (FL) for seven years,” he began. “He’ll host games on the air and also call some. No promises have been made but he could succeed Marty in 2020. This is his audition.” Tommy also worked three exhibitions and three late season Reds games in 2018 so he’s not a total newcomer this year in Cincinnati.
The Reds were off on Wednesday of this week and Thrall proved to be a well received keynote for a broadcasters group assembled at the Ohio High School Association in Columbus.
It was great to meet him in person after closely following his work this season. I think the 34-year-old Kansas City native is off to a fine start. He has a pleasant and distinctive voice and conveys solid baseball knowledge. I also appreciate his interactive skills in interviews and working with a partner.
Thrall grew up a Kansas City Royals fan and always wanted to be a big league play-by-play voice. Along the way he sought advice and guidance from multiple KC announcers. When it came time for college he ultimately located an ideal situation at Northwest Missouri State to learn his craft in multiple sports. He would need that versatility to work year round at various stops on the way to the major leagues. Demonstrating ultimate versatility, Tommy even announced gerbil racing for a charity event.
Before getting to Pensacola (two levels below the majors) he worked independent minor league baseball where he says “things are very different in many ways.” One team’s general manager was also his broadcast partner but didn’t make road trips. “After one trip he called me in and said he’d been listening closely and that I needed to loosen up my (straight laced) style and have some fun on the air,” Thrall recalled.
“At the very next game he enters the booth to call the third inning and brings a tub of iced beer. He definitely loosened up by averaging a beer an inning, and one night we played 18 innings.” However, that underlying analysis proved productive. “I also listened to some of our broadcasts and realized that I did need to be more relaxed on the air but not as relaxed as my boss. The criticism was constructive and valid but I couldn’t address it in the way he did,” Tommy mused.
He embraces the family atmosphere of the Reds organization and is elated to work with a Hall-of-Famer in his final season. “Marty has been great and he still does extensive preparation for each broadcast. I’m learning from a fine teacher who’s also a real character.”
Would it be tough to follow Marty as the primary radio play-by-play? “I guess so but all I can do is be the best version of myself and go from there.”
He was asked about using the newer baseball analytic statistics in his commentary. “I don’t get carried away with that. When I do use them I’ll usually provide context so the listener can grasp my point. If I mention a player with an excellent analytic stat, I might compare his number to that of Mike Trout who’s generally recognized as baseball’s best current player.”
Tommy had lunch with our group before returning to Cincinnati and his bachelor apartment in Mount Adams, just up the hill from the ballpark. He says his situation for 2020 could be decided before season’s end. Those of us who met him in Columbus on Wednesday are collectively rooting for him.
Next Friday: Goffena Training Center at Sidney High School.
Sports Extra appears each Friday. Dave Ross has worked in local newspaper, radio, and television during his 44-year career in Shelby County.