John Sterling. Michael Kay. Bob Uecker. Vin Scully. Fans recognize their teams by the players just as much as they do the voices that bring them to us everyday. The majestic voice and patented calls are what make watching baseball fun. “It is high, it is far…” We all know the rest. It’s what we live to hear every night of the season.
Yet, the announcer isn’t just there to rattle off witty catch phrases. They do something a lot of fans and even some team executives don’t get to do: they watch every play of every game. They know the team’s roster personally and statistically like the back of their hand. Who better to ask about the future of the Yankees than one of the men who brings us the Baby Bombers on a nightly basis?
John Sadak is the voice of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. Prior to joining the RailRiders, Mr. Sadak was the voice of the University of Delaware women’s basketball team as well as the local minor league team the Wilmington Blue Rocks. He arrived in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre with the 2012 Carolina League Broadcaster of the Year award under his belt, and wasted no time in adding his name to Yankee lore. Mr. Sadak, in just his first season with the RailRiders, took home the 2013 Ballpark Digest’s Broadcaster of the Year. Ballpark Digest’s publisher summed up Sadak’s talents in three short sentences: “Talk about commanding a presence on the airwaves. John is the ultimate professional in calling a game. He tells a great story and is always compelling in his descriptions of the action.” He also has a great eye for baseball talent.
I had the privilege of interviewing Mr. Sadak recently. We discussed his most recent achievement, what youngsters the RailRiders can look forward to, what prospects are going to make an impact in the bigs, and of course, Derek Jeter.
Wayne Cavadi: Thank you so much for taking the time to meet with us at Yanks Go Yard and share your insights and experiences. Let’s cut to it. One year on the job and you take home the 2013 Broadcaster of the Year Award. Firstly, congratulations, and secondly, what was that experience like?
John Sadak: It was unexpected, humbling and a lot of fun. Like most announcers, I only hear my mistakes when I listen to my tapes. It’s a constant pursuit for something that’s, well, unattainable – the “perfect broadcast”. In truth, the blank canvas that is the broadcast means the announcer has nearly limitless ways to paint the picture in a descriptive, accurate and entertaining manner. Add in the subjectivity this art form brings about, and opinions can wildly vary. This award has been held in high esteem with some tremendously talented voices receiving the honor over the years, so it means a lot. I had no idea my boss even created a submission on my behalf. Most of us don’t call games for awards. We do so because we love the game. But if and when we’re lucky enough to have something like this come about, it helps reinforce your efforts to constantly try and get better.
We then shifted gears to some of the bigger-name prospects at Triple-A. Mr. Sadak answered my questions on the Yankees of the future.
WC: Dellin Betances finally cracked the big league roster this season. You had the luxury of watching him as he transformed from starter to reliever. What are your expectations of him this season?
JS: I think the ceiling is the limit for him. When he moved to the ‘pen, his stuff sizzled, gaining a few mph on his already potent fastball, but moreover, his command became truly crisp. He was honest about his disappointment when the news first came that he’d move to the bullpen. He wanted to be a starter. But our pitching coach Scott Aldred did a great job of pointing out the positives of the switch. Then, you add in the success he enjoyed, and he embraced his role relatively quickly. His confidence swelled and the more confident he became, the better he got. With his velocity and the depth/quality of his breaking ball, I think he can be a late-game guy. Ultimately, I think he’ll challenge for closing duty at some point in his career. He’s a huge human being, but he’s also very smart and surprisingly quiet. When he gets on the hill though, even more so after the bullpen move and as his successes started to snowball, he becomes a man on a mission. He gets locked in. He showed in spring training that 2013 was no fluke. And his early return this season continues to prove that.
WC: Do you think there are currently any arms in the RailRiders’ bullpen that could potentially help out the current Yankee bullpen situation? Yankee fans have heard a lot about Mark Montgomery, Fred Lewis, and Danny Burawa, especially after their strong springs. How close do you think they are?
JS: I think the bullpen is the greatest strength of the SWB team. There are a lot of great arms in there and I honestly believe the majority of those guys could go to the bigs tomorrow and produce. Burawa is probably the biggest eyebrow raiser for me early this season. Keep in mind, we’ve had a sea of rainouts (five* including the night before with only 10 games played), so the sample size is small for everyone. But Burawa is nasty. He throws very hard with noticeable movement. His breaking ball is a dominant pitch and he consistently keeps the ball down. His first few showings this year remind me a lot of what Preston Claiborne looked like out of the gates last year, but with perhaps even a tick better command. He’s the guy scouts have asked about more than any other the day after he throws. Montgomery’s slider is a filthy pitch. His issues last year revolved around commanding his fastball and getting into advantageous counts so his slider could be a put-away pitch. Early this year, he’s doing a better job of commanding that fastball and getting strike one. Once it clicks for him, that slider will get a lot of Major League hitters out for a long time. Lewis hasn’t had a great start, but it’s after a slim three appearances. I think you need to give him another few weeks. It’s been tough on the bullpen when you play so many seven-inning games due to the volume of weather-prompted doubleheaders. When you throw three times in a season that’s already a dozen days old, in my mind you’ve got to put an asterisk on things. I also believe that Matt Daley has had a great start. He hides the ball very well. He doesn’t light up the radar gun, but his pitches move with purpose. He has handled closing duties early. On Saturday, he inherited a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the seventh and final inning of a doubleheader nightcap. Tied 1-1, he kept Syracuse right there when he struck out back-to-back men. He then repeated the effort with consecutive strikeouts to strand two in the eighth before Russ Canzler delivered the walk-off contact in the bottom half of the frame. I also like Jim Miller’s game – lively fastball that’s a swing-and-miss pitch. He’s gone more slider this year as he phases out the curveball, and I think as the year goes on you’ll see some very good numbers emerge along with an approach that should work better in the bigs.
(* — The RailRiders were once again postponed, this time due to snow, for a sixth time this season by the time this was published!)
WC: SS Zelous Wheeler made some noise this spring but left the game with an injury the other day and had the night off on Saturday? Should the RailRiders be concerned? Did it appear bad?
JS: He hit our disabled list. He left the game after making a throw to first. I honestly did not notice anything on the throw itself, beyond that it wasn’t quite on target. Our athletic trainer did see something though and went out there to check on him. Shortly thereafter, he came out. But I don’t think he’ll miss too much time.
JS: Great guys and very good receivers. Murphy, who has asked we refer to him as John Ryan Murphy going forward, has taken to the catching ranks well. He was leading the Double-A Eastern League’s backstops in caught-stealing efficiency at the time of his promotion last year. He displayed tremendous maturity of a young man of his age and experience level while working with what was a very veteran pitching staff. He works hard at gaining the trust of his pitchers and selflessly truly wants them to shine and the team to win first and foremost. Romine has those same qualities. Our Opening Day starter, Bruce Billings, pitched on Sunday. He said after the game that he did not have his best stuff. He confessed there were many moments of doubt. But he gave all credit to Romine for staying positive and guiding him through a day that, in his mind, could have been ugly. Instead, he became the first RailRider to go seven innings this year and allowed just one unearned run on one hit. I think both Murphy and Romine are Major League catchers. Romine had his well-documented troubles offensively when he first went up last year, but ended the year well. He was a .271/.343/.407 hitter after the All-Star break in the bigs. I think Murphy is a very solid bat who will only get better in the coming years.
WC: Which current RailRider do you think will eventually make the biggest impact in the Bronx?
JS: That’s a great question. Specifically in the Bronx is tough to say because that will depend so much on the team’s evolving needs. The position player that I think can make the most noise is Zoilo Almonte. I love his left-side swing – one that I think could play very well at Yankee Stadium. He’s a solid defender too. But how much outfield need will there be with Ellsbury, Gardner and Beltran over the next three years or so? With that in mind, I think the most impact will come from the bullpen. It’s early yet, but if Burawa keeps up his brisk beginning to this season, he has the potential to be a very impactful big leaguer.
WC: And lastly, you knew this was coming, but I had to ask. You got to see a few Derek Jeter at-bats last season. Do you have any Jeter stories or moments that stuck with you?
JS: A few, yes. The first – he’s the genuine article. A pro’s pro. Shortly after he arrived, I went into the clubhouse to greet him along with our baseball ops VP. After a sincere and warm hello on his behalf, we asked how he wanted xyz things handled during his stay. His response – “whatever you guys need”. He’s Derek Jeter. He could ask for anything he wanted. But instead, he was completely cooperative and understanding. Another tale, we had the lights go out during one of his rehab games. When stadium lights go out, it takes 10-plus minutes to get them back on since they run so hot. What did Derek Jeter do during that impromptu delay? He immediately went to the stands and starting signing autographs. He was engaging, amiable and displayed a keen sense of humor while connecting with seemingly everyone that came his way. He also took fantastic care of his teammates in the clubhouse in terms of postgame spreads. One night, there was an entire Cold Stone ice cream station for dessert.
You can hear John Sadak bring you the rest of the RailRiders’ season on NEPA Sports Radio – The GAME, Northeast PA’s largest sports radio network: 100.7 FM, 1340 WYCK-AM, 1400 WICK-AM, 1440 WCDL-AM and 106.7.