Growing up in Detroit during a time in which the Tigers were as successful as ever, it wasn't difficult for Joe Block to latch onto America's favorite pastime from an early age. But it wasn't until Block was eight years old when he realized his desire to keep track of the stats, rather than lace up his cleats 162 times each season, would eventually become his calling to the game.
Fast forward to November 2013, and the Michigan State University graduate now looks toward his third season calling play-by-play with Bob Uecker for AM 620 WTMJ, the Brewers' official radio network.
The process with which baseball statistics are organized and utilized for baseball broadcasters has changed significantly over the last decade -- and as Block can attest, Microsoft OneNote has been a remarkable asset for him in his first two seasons calling plays for Milwaukee. When was the last time the Brewers turned a triple play? At the drop of the hat, Block is able to access the information he compiled earlier in the week to make the listener's experience more enjoyable.
I had the opportunity to speak with him briefly last week, asking him about his broadcasting history, past methods he used to store data for his profession while mixing in a handful of Brewers-related questions along the way. Below is an abbreviated version of our conversation.
Programming note: The Mug is off today and will return Friday morning.
AD: Hey there Joe, I appreciate you taking the time to answer a few questions for us. How's the off-season been?
JB: It's been good just to spend time with my wife and see Wisconsin. You now, just to be a normal person for a little while.
AD: Well that's great to hear. You mentioned in the promo video that you'd decided to switch to the statistics of baseball rather than actually playing the game when you were eight years old. What factors went into that decision?
JB: I don't think anyone is that committed to a career at age eight, but what it was doing at that time was just trying to figure out what I liked to do. We had something in class one day where you filled out a scantron form and it spits out what you wanted to do. I don't think mine said 'broadcaster', but it was something along those lines. And that's where that idea kind of came into place. I took it more seriously once I got to high school, but like other kids, I started to shy away from playing the game at an organized level and spent a lot of my time just talking into microphones. I was really weird.
AD: Did you have a specific broadcaster who you idolized growing up?
JB: Ernie Harwell of Detroit was the first guy that I identified. He's a Hall of Fame broadcaster and had a great southern-style. I got to know him later on in college through a couple of chance meetings and over time I got to become good friends with him. He really helped me out starting things off, and being able to be around Vin Scully when I was with the Dodgers, but there's been no bigger influence I've had in my broadcasting career than Bob Uecker -- learning how to be an entertainer and not just a broadcaster.
AD: What was your primary way of organizing everything before OneNote?
JB: It wasn't very good. For football and basketball I used Excel and created spotting charts, and that works for those sports, but for baseball, that doesn't really work because there's lineup changes too often. It just didn't make sense. I've also kept a physical notebook, which becomes hard to find information as well as it's just cumbersome to carry.
Scott Franzke of the Phillies recommended it to me through a casual conversation about how he used OneNote, and after being able to dabble with it and figure it out, I kind of set up my own way of using it. Then I found because I can type things from my phone when I'm in the cage or around the clubhouse, or I'm away and I can access it from my tablet, I can use it. In the off-season, when there's a story on Yovani Gallardo, for example, I don't need it for four months, but it would be cool to talk about it in spring training -- and that's where OneNote has made my job so much easier and it's made me a better broadcaster.
AD: I have a friend who's interested in going into radio broadcasting, and he was wondering what is the best route to becoming a play-by-play announcer?
JB: I think first off, you need to get experience, and sometimes that's hard to come by. Like I said before, try to just get to a ballgame and just hear yourself practice, listen to a lot of different broadcasters so you can kind of get a feel for what they're saying and what they're looking for. And once you get that experience on your own, then you have to get to a point where you want to start calling some games in college. After that, you just have to have your tapes ready and send your stuff out to get critiqued and land that first job. You get a little better after that and hopefully it all comes together over time.
AD: Switching to more Brewers-related questions, do you think the team regrets forfeiting the rights to its first-round draft pick by signing Kyle Lohse?
JB: I do not. Starting pitching is very hard to come by and it is very expensive. The Brewers came into the season very much at a dearth for starting pitching and I think they were hoping that a lot of things would go right for their rotation to look solid. Any educated observer would know that pretty much everything would've needed to go right for them to feel that way, and it didn't, of course. He was available, and he was available at a reasonable price for today's market. Considering the track record that he had, coming off a 2.86 ERA and the last couple of seasons being one of the top 15 or so starting pitchers in the National League, that's a pretty good market. Mark Attanasio has always been willing to upgrade talent when needed. Coming into the season, the Brewers were still contenders and starting pitching was their major Achilles' heel and if it weren't for injuries, this team would've been awfully competitive.
AD: One question everyone still seems to have is whether Scooter Gennett can be a legitimate second baseman offensively and defensively for the long haul. Do you believe he can be that for this franchise?
JB: I do and I reserved judgment about that until I saw him play this season. Folks would ask that he's hitting .300 in the minors and triple-A, Rickie Weeks is struggling and hey, why not bring up Scooter. Well, my answer was I've seen him swing the bat 15-20 times -- I couldn't make an honest evaluation. But being around him and having seen him play, he's got moxie. Defensively is going to be the question mark with him. He had been error prone in the early parts of his career, but he has really become a plus, I think, defensively. He'll never win a Gold Glove over their at second base, but he has shown, at times, web-gem type plays. All you really need from him is to be an average defender, because I think he can be an above-average hitter. Not in terms of power -- I think that power may have been a bit of an aberration this year. I think that in time, he can become a more advanced hitter.
AD: What do you think Khris Davis must do to make a legitimate case for a starting role on this roster in the near future?
JB: I think he needs to improve his throwing a little bit, and he seemed to do that over the course of the year. I thought he was much more mortal against breaking stuff last year, but the reason I think he's going to be good -- and I was very skeptical in his very short time in spring training -- is he really spun on some pitches that were just off the plate or a good breaking pitch that curled just outside of the zone. He's a really good fastball hitter and most power hitters, like Josh Hamilton, profile the same way -- very good at hitting the fastball, not exceptional at hitting breaking stuff. Someone's going to have to come inside with a fastball and when they make that mistake, he took advantage. He's got plenty of power, he's a stronger guy than he looks and they think he's got a pretty good eye, and so I think his hitting tool could be outstanding. I don't want to go and say this guy is going to hit 30 home runs if he played every day, but he hit 11 in 150 at-bats. so at the very least it's intriguing to see what he might be able to do with some sort of regular playing time. And if his defense in left field is his only major demerit, then he's got an interesting future.
AD: That's all I've got for you, Joe. Again, we truly appreciate the time. Hopefully we can do this again soon.
JB: Sure thing. I'm glad that you wanted to talk to me, and thanks again.