Sun. Sep 23rd, 2018

Around the Diamond With Kevin McAlpin

Have you ever attempted to plan out an ultimate baseball trip? A cross-country journey that takes you to various cities and ballparks in America? It’s the ultimate dream for any hardcore baseball fan to experience all the nuances each stadium from Safeco Field to Fenway Park has to offer. For most, that’s a dream that will remain a fantasy. However, for Kevin McAlpin, it’s a daily job.

But to know how McAlpin is traveling the country with the Atlanta Braves Radio Network, you first have to know about his journey. A Temple University grad, McAlpin’s road started at a small AM station north of Philadelphia owned by Eagles play-by-play voice Merrill Reese. 

He was told he would do a little bit of everything, which was meant literally. McAlpin would serve multiple roles, ranging from news and sports updates, to play-by-play for high school football and basketball, to over-night shifts at the station, even when he felt his parents and girlfriend were only ones listening. It was invaluable experience to a young kid that was fresh off an internship with the Philadelphia Phillies in ballpark operations. 

From there, an opportunity with an ESPN station in Philadelphia came about, but it wasn’t the role he was looking for. Strictly dealing with promotions, McAlpin wanted to find a way, whatever the cost, to get back in front of the mic. He did so by approaching his program director and expressing the desire to fill any opening the station had. 

That’s valuable experience to any young person in the business. If you want a larger role in the station, sit down with your PD and show you’re willing to work any shift to make it happen. That’s exactly what McAlpin did, as at the age of 25, he was pulling a Friday night un-paid 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. shift. It wasn’t glamorous, but it was certainly a start in the right direction.

While most of his friends were probably out and enjoying the Philadelphia nightlife, McAlpin was balancing 90-second updates every 20 minutes, with Boston Market dinner dates alongside his girlfriend in a back room of the station. Now his wife, McAlpin calls Melissa the ‘Real MVP’ of the family, as she not only stuck by his side during the tough times, but essentially becomes a single mom during baseball season. 

Wives of successful personalities in the business don’t get the recognition they deserve, but show me someone who’s had a decent run in radio and I’ll show you someone who’s likely had a woman by his side throughout the entire journey. McAlpin is no different. 

Shortly after proving his worth as an over-night update anchor, McAlpin finally got the big break he was waiting for. Meredith Marakovits, who’s now a reporter for YES Network covering the Yankees, left the station, which opened up a position covering the Phillies as a beat reporter. Once again, McAlpin approached his PD and expressed his desire for the position. And once again, he received the new opportunity by showing ambition. 

Though the station didn’t have much money in the budget, McAlpin offered the station a deal. He’d do the first home stand to show his capabilities and a decision would be made following the series. As fate would have it, the station loved what he brought and put him on the beat for the following two seasons. McAlpin didn’t get to travel with the team in either season, but did all 81 home games for a Phillies squad that eventually became one of the best teams in the National League.

In his new role, McAlpin had a chance to meet a lot of the visiting teams, including the Atlanta Braves, who used him as a stringer for 50 bucks per game. The job included obtaining post-game audio from the Braves’ clubhouse and sending it to their post game show. It may have seemed insignificant at the time, but it would turn out to be a major connection. 

After the 2011 season, McAlpin noticed a job posted online for the Braves Radio Network. Wanting to expand its coverage, the network was looking for a full-time radio reporter to travel with the team and be there from the first day of spring training until the last game of the season.

McAlpin then reached out to a few people he had already communicated with at the Braves Radio Network and asked what they knew about the position. After being one of a couple hundred applicants, his previous working relationship paid off, when he was offered the reporter position for the 2012 season. 

For McAlpin, the 2018 season marks year No. 7 with the Braves Radio Network. His career has allowed him opportunities such as meeting Vin Scully, signing his name inside the Green Monster at Fenway Park and even the opportunity to cover the farewell season for Chipper Jones. When it comes to baseball, he’s experienced almost everything the game has to offer. 

If you take away anything from McAlpin’s experience, let it be these two lessons: First, if you’re looking for a new role at your station, make it known to your PD. Amazing things can happen in your career if you simply ask and show the desire to work. Secondly, make as many contacts as possible. Whether it’s at a press conference, game, wherever, make sure you’re meeting new contacts not only from people in your market, but others as well. 

TM: When was the very first time you got in a radio station? 

KM: I always knew I wanted to do radio or TV since I was in middle school. My high school outside of Philadelphia actually had a radio station. I was able to get my feet wet and get on the air by the time I was a freshman in high school, which was pretty awesome because there’s not a lot of high schools that have those type of opportunities. A cool fact about it, It’s actually the oldest high school radio station in the country. I was mostly a music DJ and other little things. I was just trying to get a feel of how the business works. 

TM: What’s a normal game day like for you? 

KM: Typically, I’m in the clubhouse about four hours before the game starts. I’m there gathering sound we use for the pre game show, as well as one-on-one interviews we use for our weekly show. After that, I go upstairs to edit all the sound and send it in to the studio so those guys can have it for the pre-game show. Once the game starts, I’m covering it and doing updates on social media, stuff like that. 

After the game, I’m getting all the audio for the post game show from the manager, starting pitcher and usually a couple of players. We do a lot of different Braves content, here in Atlanta. So, my day actually starts at 7:45 in the morning when I do about a 10-minute segment with our morning show, called Atlanta Braves Today. We do that every week day from the final week of spring training to the end of the season. 

Basically, I get to the ball park around 3:30 most days, if I’m lucky we’ll get a three-hour game and I’ll get home around midnight or 12:30. 

TM: Since you’re in the clubhouse for every single game of the year, how important is it for you to build really good relationships with the players and coaching staff? 

KM: That’s everything. It takes a long time to establish trust with guys, fortunately I’ve been able to do that with basically everyone I’ve dealt with over the years. The one thing, is that it only takes one screw up to de-rail that relationship you spent so much time building up. 

I think a lot of it is just earning their trust and with traveling with the team, some things happen away from the field that you’ll see and hear but keep to yourself, if you know what I mean. I always respect the guys and never run with things I see off the field. I know where our time is and where our place is, I’m lucky enough to go on the team plane and stay in the team hotel, so I just respect that guy’s privacy as much as possible. It takes one stupid tweet to mess up a relationship and it’s really hard to do your job when you do that. 

TM: With that being said, since you’re with the Braves Radio Network, is it your role to ask tough questions to a guy that’s in a slump or not playing well? 

KM: Yeah, I think you have to because the listeners aren’t idiots. There’s only so much you can try and put a positive spin on. That’s always been my personality, it’s always been how I was raised, to be a happy, look at the bright side kind of guy. But look, if a guy is struggling, you have to point that out. 

I think there’s a way you do that without crushing a guy. You can say, look, this guy is 1 for his last 20, but he had a similar stretch last year and still had 200 hits. I think you have to be honest with the fans and people that are listening, but I don’t think you have to go out of your way to bury a guy either. 

It’s easy to say Freddie Freeman is on pace to win the MVP, but it’s not as easy to question what’s going on with Ozzie Albies lately. You’ve just got to find a balance and the players understand we have a job to do. I don’t think many of the players read or listen to what we put out, some do and they’ll tell you about it, but I think you owe it to the listener to be honest and open. 

TM: Is it hard to find a story line for all 162 games during the season? 

KM: It’s hard. Even when things are going well for the team. It’s just so different from any other sport, because it is every day and you’re always trying to come up with new storylines. I think the one area we’ve been lucky with, is all the storylines that have rolled through since there’s been so many new faces on the roster the last four years. 

It can be challenging when the team has won 8 in a row, because even though that’s good, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easier to create a story line from. That probably sounds weird, but it’s just another reason why baseball is so different. There’s some days where there’s not a whole lot going on, so you have to dig and find something worth talking about. 

TM: I’m guessing you have to be really up to speed on every team in the National League? 

KM: Yeah, and with Interleague play, you have to an eye on the American League. We go to Toronto this week, we’ll be in Canada about 40 hours after we play a night game and then we’ll turn around and play the next afternoon and fly out after. 

We played Boston in Fenway Park a couple weeks ago, which was easy because they’ve been killing everyone so you didn’t have to dig too deep for stuff on them. It’s not so easy when you play the Tampa Bay Rays. We played down there a couple weeks ago. 

So yeah, I try to do my homework on those teams a couple of days in advance, so when I go into a clubhouse of a team that we don’t see a lot, I’m ready and having an idea on what’s going on with them. I’ll reach out to guys that cover the other teams to see who’s accessible and best to talk to, as well as who to stay away from. But yeah, it’s not just the NL, it’s everybody. 

Fortunately, all the info you could need is at your fingertips, but you have to do keep an eye and ear on what everyone in the game is doing. To me, that’s the fun part. 

TM: How tough is it having a family and having to leave so much during the season? Is that the toughest part of your job?

KM: I would say yes, it’s tough. I have a three-year-old and for 7 months I’m part-time dad. I think the thing people don’t realize, is even when I’m home, I’ll see him for 45 minutes before he goes to daycare and then on FaceTime after he gets home. 

There’s a misconception, because when we’re home, we’re not really home. I do the best I can when we have an off day. I’ll spend the whole day with my son, turn my phone off and try to disconnect for a while, but it’s just so hard because there’s always something happening. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m so lucky to be able to travel. I went to more cities in my first year covering the Braves than my parents have went to in their whole lives. I put in perspective the fact I’m traveling to places I never thought I’d go. We now know where the best places are to get lunch, or where the best bartender in town is, it’s just cool to be able to go to Los Angeles and have spots that you always hit. 

At the end of the day, I just take the positives with the negatives. I get to be home for the offseason that lasts 4 and a half months. There’s not a lot of people that can say they work every day for 7 and a half months but get 4 and half months off. I’m home for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, all the fun holidays. I would sacrifice a 4th of July barbecue to be with my family for those holidays. There’s sacrifices in every job, mine are just a little different. 

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