BayBears broadcaster, Tom Nichols
Tom Nichols has been the announcer for the Mobile BayBears since the team's arrival on the scene in 1997. Nichols, 38, has broadcast every game for the BayBears and earned the Southern League Broadcaster of the Year Award in 1999.
Nichols sounds like Kevin Costner and you envision the witty remarks of Bull Durham. It is easy to tune into a game over the Internet to listen to Nichols create the scene.
Who is the man behind the mike?
Nichols, a native of Muncie, Indiana and a graduate of Ball State University, got his start in broadcasting with the Indianapolis Indians in 1988. Since then he has served as broadcaster for the Fort Wayne Wizards (Midwest League, Minnesota Twins affiliate) from 1993-'96; the Peoria Chiefs (Midwest League, Chicago Cubs affiliate) in 1991 and '92, and the Kinston Indians (Carolina League, Cleveland Indians affiliate) in 1990. He was also the broadcaster for the Mobile Mysticks Hockey Club for the 1996-'97 season.
Since then he has found a steady job calling the Mobile BayBears. In 2004, he will enter his eighth season as the announcer for Mobile, and he has seen the changes in broadcasting since his debut.
“The Internet is such a factor with broadcasts. It creates a scenario where the broadcaster has to make sure you are accurate and fair in everything you say. There is accountability and if the team is struggling, you have to keep your emotions from your words because there is a listener out there, probably the mother or father of that guy who is the worst.
“You have to make sure you are fair and accurate in everything you say, because if you are not, you will hear about it. We are around the player’s everyday on the bus, in the clubhouse, on the field and we have to maintain a level of respect from them. We have to earn their respect and maintain that by being fair and accurate in the things we say. Every player has somebody listening.”
The Internet has made the impossible possible. Friends and family are always on the lookout for more news on their cousin, nephew, son, daughter or whomever it is that is making headlines. The guys you think are obscure are people just like the rest of us. They have a family and everyone wants to tune in to find out what others think and hear for themselves a live performance.
Along the way, there is certain to be a few surprises.
“The funniest thing that happened this year; we were playing the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx and they had a player on the team named Donnie Hood and I remember a player from the ‘70’s, a pitcher with the Indians named Don Hood, and I wondered if he might be related.
“I mentioned it on the air, and this was the opposition we were talking about, maybe there is someone listening over the Internet that would know.
“Not five minutes later his aunt happened to be listening on the Internet and she emailed me that he wasn’t related.
“I thought, ‘My goodness, here is an opposing player that was making his double A debut that night and I mentioned it on the air and I get an immediate response.’ We had listeners in Australia this year, Chris Oxspring and Ben Risinger last year, Australians. They would get up, at Ben’s home, it was like 5 AM and they would get up in the morning and listen to the broadcast. The Internet has really brought a whole new dimension to every baseball broadcast. Gone are the days when just your immediate area could listen to the game. Now every player has a family member who is listening and they are depending on you.”
With the exposure comes a need to be truly journalistic in the approach to broadcasting. The facts must be paramount when painting a story over the airwaves.
Now more than ever, journalistic integrity is a must. Not that Nichols would do it any other way. Energy and emotion is needed, and on the “Net” everyone is expecting to be enthralled by the game. Emotions from the announcer will be picked up by the fans. We have all seen that person who has an infectious smile. They are smiling and suddenly you are in a good mood. The same can be said for a broadcaster. His feelings will be felt by the fans.
“Some believe that a broadcaster should be 100% impartial, I am not that way. I feel like the broadcaster, while he needs to be accurate and fair in his reporting. He also has to be passionate and if he is not passionate about the team, and if he doesn’t feel good when the team does well and disappointed when the team performs poorly, how can you expect the fans who are listening to get excited about it too.”
“There are broadcasters who say they need to be right down the middle, and I am not that way.”
Developing ones own style also comes with signature calls. “Round trippers, that ball is outa here, back, back, back, back…”
“I have my own style, but I don’t have a signature home run call. I always believed that the game is more important than the announcer. People turn in to hear the game, not the announcer. While I have my own identity on the air, I don’t go overboard and try to force things on listeners.”
Harking back to his Kevin Costner role, Nichols recalls advice that was given to him.
“Ernie Harwell was a guy who told me that one time, ‘Never think that you are bigger than the game itself and never assume that people are tuned in to hear you, they are tuned in to hear the game. And don’t get in the way of the game.’
“That is something he said to me years ago and I try to keep that in mind.”
Seven seasons in Mobile is a long time. Winning a Broadcaster of the Year award did not move him closer to the big leagues. He is still plugging away at the dream.
“Most broadcasters would tell you they would like to get to the big leagues one day, and I am no exception to that by any means. That would be a goal that I had from probably the age of twelve or thirteen. If a guy wouldn’t say that I wouldn’t know what they are doing in broadcasting anyway.”
Tom Nichols has been performing at a high level since his career in broadcasting began. He is waiting for his chance to produce at a higher level. Until then, he will continue to do what he loves.
Part II with Tom Nichols
Denis Savage can be reached at email@example.com