It’s 1,094 miles from Pittsburgh to New Orleans. That’s how far Tim Grubbs had to travel to get established in his profession as a play-by-play baseball broadcaster.
It’s 1,010 miles from New Orleans to Des Moines, Iowa. That’s how far Tim Grubbs had to travel to find his wife, Emily, back in 2006 while the Triple A New Orleans Zephyrs were exiled from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. They’ve been married since 2008.
It’s 1,720 miles from New Orleans to Las Vegas. That’s a typical road trip for the Zephyrs in their Pacific Coast League, which Tim Grubbs has to also coordinate as part of his duties, even though New Orleans is nowhere close to the Pacific Coast.
“It’s not easy to book a group of 34 guys to fly commercial around the nation on a budget. We play 144 games in 155 days, that includes the three day All-Star break,” said the 43-year old Grubbs in an email interview. “So it makes travel hard. Play a night game in Las Vegas tonight and fly back on the first flight in the morning to play a night game tomorrow night in New Orleans. The good thing is, when we get to a city its usually for a four day stay.”
To complete his full service, Grubbs also handles the coordination of TV and radio agreements in the offseason for the Zephyrs. “I set up agreements in the offseason for the radio, internet streams, TV stations. It’s great fans can listen on the smartphones on iHeart or Tune In Radio everywhere. It’s all about managing time, the sales aspect, and selling corporate partners and promoting them on the air,” stated Grubbs.
Grubbs has called The Big Easy his home since starting with the Zephyrs in 2002. At the time, they were the affiliate of the Astros, then the Nationals, the Mets, and for the past eight seasons the Marlins. The major inflection point for the city during his tenure was obviously Hurricane Katrina, back in August 2005. I asked Grubbs what it was like to be in the city in the direct aftermath.
“The team evacuated for the hurricane. So I was on the road with the team. It was a crazy time. Watching baseball and following the coverage on CNN. Our cell phones didn’t work, we could text message but struggled to make phone calls. It was the first I really texted people. I got thrown right into that.
“I didn’t get back to NOLA for about a month after the storm and the city was unrecognizable. It took a while to get back to normal. Over a year I guess. I remember everyone being so unhappy and stores, restaurants had limited hours for the longest time. But it came around for the better.”
In his words, New Orleans is even better today than pre-Katrina. “The city has bounced back and, yes, it still has some issues, but it’s a great place to live,” said Grubbs.
I’ve been to New Orleans four times, myself. It’s a magical place that holds a sway over me and many others that visit. Grubbs lives in a suburb of New Orleans called Metairie, about 15 minutes outside the city. He has his favorite elements of New Orleans, such as charbroiled oysters from Drago’s. But he also said, “you can’t go wrong with a good cup of gumbo, and some red fish.”
To no surprise, Grubbs said that the most over rated part of the city is Bourbon Street and the French Quarter. “Locals rarely go there. It’s mostly just the tourists.” In his opinion, the area that never gets talked about are the city’s museums. “The World War II museum is incredible.” I would also add to that the U.S. Mint, where I saw an exhibit about Napoleon back in 2008 that referred to one of his battles as ‘competitive homicide’, a phrase I’ve been trying to incorporate into casual conversation for the past eight years.
Every player that toils for years in the minor leagues dreams of making the Majors one day and the same is true of minor league broadcasters. Grubbs has only positives to say about the Zephyrs and his overall journey to date, from Hickory to Winston-Salem to Tennessee to New Orleans, but still dreams of working as a play-by-play broadcaster for a Major League baseball team. And, of course, he would love to do that in Pittsburgh for the Pirates.
“I have applied for MLB jobs. It’s been disappointing to not get the Pirates job or others, but hopefully my time will come. I have a blast doing the games in Triple-A and if I never make it, it’s not like I didn’t accomplish my dream. My goal in high school was to be a professional broadcaster. The major leagues is the highest level, but Triple A is right behind it. So I am in a group of very talented and experienced broadcasters. All of these guys want to be in the majors, just like the players. We go to the ballpark everyday, work hard and I enjoy my job. Not sure I would love going to work and selling cars, or something like that. I sell baseball; it’s not a bad gig.”
Grubbs, a Shaler Area High School graduate, started at Robert Morris before transferring and graduating from the Broadcasting Institute of Maryland, located in Baltimore. He says he tries to get back to Pittsburgh twice a year to see family and friends. What’s on his to-do list every trip? “Get a good Primanti’s sandwich. It’s a must every trip.” Even in a city surrounded by great food, including the New Orleans signature sandwiches of po’ boys and muffalettas, the siren call of Primanti’s brings him back.
Even though Grubbs doesn’t play on the field, that doesn’t mean that he isn’t immune to having pre-game rituals or quirks. “I use unique four color pens from Bic. The kind that kids used when we were in 4th grade. I have to use that pen. I get comments all the time, like ‘I have not seen that pen in years.'”
When you’ve been doing this as long as Grubbs has, you can start to identify characteristics of a player to determine if he has ‘it’ to make the Majors. But that doesn’t mean he’s always right. “Sometimes the guys really jump out and I say that guy is gonna be a star. Some players I see and say he will contribute at the MLB level. Sometimes I am right, sometimes I am wrong. Just like scouts.”
Many stars have passed in front of his booth doing his tenure. “The best Zephyrs I have seen are Carlos Gomez [with the Mets], he was a young flashy outfielder that was fun to watch. Made some fantastic catches. Pitchers Mike Pelfrey and Phil Humber [also of the Mets] were impressive on the mound.” Many current Marlins, such as Justin Bour, Adam Conley, Marcell Ozuna, Derek Dietrich, and Tom Koehler have been recent viewings by him, as well.
But even more impressive is the list of current Major League stars that have played against the Zephyrs over the years. For the Cardinals, Grubbs has seen Michael Wacha, Kolten Wong, Yadier Molina, Matt Carpenter. The Iowa Cubs have been “loaded the last few seasons”, per Grubbs and have featured Jake Arrieta, Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, Addison Russell, Anthony Rizzo, and Kyle Schwarber. He’s seen pretty much the full Kansas City Royals World Series roster like Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, as they all played for Omaha. Over the years, others such as Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, George Springer, Buster Posey, and Madison Bumgarner have caught his eye.
Perhaps one day in the near future you’ll be watching ROOT Sports and see a new face on your screen. Maybe it will be in the Pirates booth, as Steve Blass isn’t going to be around for too much longer. Or maybe it will be when ROOT cuts to the opponent’s booth to highlight the local Pittsburgh guy now calling games for that other team. But either way, hopefully you’ll see Tim Grubbs on your screen soon.