San Jose Giants announcer finds silver lining in year with no baseball

San Jose Giants announcer finds silver lining in year with no baseball

Joe Ritzo should be at a ballpark today. For the last 13 years, he has served as the San Jose Giants' play-by-play announcer, making minor league stadiums his second home for half the year. 

This year, however, press boxes and snack shacks will be a foreign land to him.

Minor League Baseball being canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic was far from a surprise. The news was inevitable. For Ritzo, though, it meant a whole new way of life. 

"It’s just been my life every spring and summer for over a decade," Ritzo said in a phone interview with NBC Sports Bay Area. "To have it all just go away -- hopefully temporarily -- it’s a bit of a shock. One day I was calling a Giants spring training game down in Arizona and the next day baseball stopped. You didn’t know when you'd have a chance to get back, and in many ways, you still don’t.

"Pretty wild to think about."

As a minor league broadcaster, Ritzo has to juggle many jobs. For a 7 p.m. game he usually arrives at the park around 1 p.m. He'll spend some time in the clubhouse with players and coaches, maybe do an interview or two for the broadcast or San Jose's social media account. Then it's time for batting practice before he grabs some food, chats with the other team's broadcaster and does game prep in the booth. That's all prior to the first pitch. 

For Ritzo, a typical workday during the season ends around 2 a.m. He does a postgame show, goes home to write the game story, makes the game notes for the next day's contest and finally flips on a replay of the San Francisco Giants game. It's a long day, to say the least, and he loves it. 

"It’s a long, grueling day and you do it every day for six months basically," Ritzo said. "But it’s all I know since I graduated college in 2006."

After years of juggling different roles for the San Jose Giants, Ritzo now holds another title. This is a new one for him and his wife, Emily, alike. Every day is a curveball for all us right now, especially with the Ritzo family's new responsibility. 

Joe now can proudly be the owner of a dad hat, no irony included.

"There’s been a silver lining in that we have an eight-month-old at home, our first child," Ritzo said. "The silver lining is I get to be around now really for his first full year-plus. I thought I’d be working throughout the spring and summer. It keeps me busy. My wife works, so I’m  home during the day taking care of Benjamin.

"It’s been a lot of fun."

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

Ritzo's routine before -- and after -- a San Jose Giants game is gone this year. Now he has a new one with his baby. No, scratch that. Raising a baby isn't so much a routine as Ritzo has learned, it's about adapting on the fly. 

That's what makes Ritzo so good as a broadcaster. No matter how much you prepare before a game, he has to react on the fly. Early on, he's also learning that about raising Benjamin. 

"It’s funny you say ‘routine’ because just when you think you’re getting a handle on the whole situation everything changes, because he starts doing something completely different," Ritzo said. "You don’t really have a routine with an eight-month-old. You’re kind of just trying to learn on the fly. It’s been a really great experience to bond with my son.

"I figured I’d be not around a whole lot for six months, as is usually the case. That has been a nice silver lining. It’s fun. It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun."

Ritzo still has found a way to stay involved with the San Jose Giants and the rest of the California League. One of the few routines he does have at home is he and fellow broadcasters around the league do a weekly Zoom call. It started in April on what would have been Opening Day in the minors and continues to this day. Ritzo calls it their way of chatting baseball and just catching up. 

But not much is normal these days, especially the environment MLB players are putting themselves in. There already has been a coronavirus outbreak among the Miami Marlins, postponing multiple games for more than just Miami. Ritzo can't imagine the emotions players, families and everyone else involved are going through.

"I left to go to spring training in February to do the spring training games, and it was hard being away for just a few weeks," Ritzo said. "It’s gotta be very difficult. They’re all putting themselves at risk and potentially putting family members at risk when they do go home.

"It’s the times we live in. It’s unsettling, it’s scary and I’ll be very curious to see where we are next year as it stands in terms of my situation and what I might have to go back to."

When Ritzo is back in the booth, he surely hopes fans can attend games at Excite Ballpark and all around the California League. While he's not in front of a microphone this year, he does have something in common with Mike Krukow, Duane Kuiper and the rest of MLB broadcasters. San Jose and other teams can get a large number of people at games, however, there have been plenty of games Ritzo has seen with a crowd that didn't even reach triple digits. 

Through 2016, Bakersfield had a team in San Jose's league. And on weeknights, there were a handful of games where Ritzo could count from his booth how many people were in attendance. 

"It’s kind of just an eerie feeling and experience because it’s a professional baseball game -- you’re watching these young, talented baseball players but you felt like you were on the back field in high school," Ritzo said. "You could hear everything that was going on in the field." 

[RELATED: Kruk and Kuip recall best sayings from 30 years in the booth]

He even told a story about former Giants shortstop Brian Bocock to show just how much players could hear. It's a situation Brandon Crawford would be dealing with right now if it weren't for fake crowd noise being pumped into Oracle Park. 

"After games, there would be instances where our shortstop would come up to me and say, ‘Boy, I heard everything you said on the broadcast tonight,’ " Ritzo remembered with a laugh. "Brian Bocock, there was a ground ball hit to him and he kind of bobbled it momentarily and he’s hearing my running play-by-play as he’s kind of mishandling the ball. He collects himself and eventually throws the guy out at first, but he pulled me aside laughing after the game and was like, ‘Joe, don’t worry. I had it all the way.’

"It’s tough, you kind of have to generate your own energy as a player, as a broadcaster. It’s not something you’re used to."

As Kruk and Kuip come up with ways to create energy night in and night out for Giants games throughout this strange MLB season, Ritzo has a new reason himself to never run out of energy: Keeping up with his son. 

Ritzo's life for more than a decade has been sharing every moment of San Jose Giants games. Minor League Baseball has gone away for now, giving his life new meaning in baby Benjamin. 

He knows, no matter what, that will never take a break. 

Giants' Farhan Zaidi reveals why A's job was 'best' of MLB career

Giants' Farhan Zaidi reveals why A's job was 'best' of MLB career

Farhan Zaidi has been at the helm of the Giants' front office since 2018, coming over after a stint with the rival Los Angeles Dodgers as the general manager.

He's transformed San Francisco's farm system from one of the league's thinnest into a group that ranked tenth in March. 

Although Zaidi is at the top of the baseball operations department for the first time in his executive career, he revealed to 95.7 The Game on Wednesday that his most enjoyable experience in an MLB front office came when he carried much less responsibility.

"I joke a lot that the best job I've ever had in baseball was when I was working with the A's," Zaidi said. "Because I basically just got to spend my time evaluating players, going and watching amateurs play, I had basically no management responsibilities, poor (A's vice president of baseball operations) Billy Beane and (general manager) David Forst actually had to run the organization.

"I just kinda got to hang out on my computer, watch videos, go watch games and that was really the fantasy baseball job. The jobs since then, have unfortunately required a little more responsibility."

[RELATED: Zaidi explains COVID-19 impact on Giants player evaluation]

Zaidi started his career in MLB with the A's, joining the organization out of college after graduating from UC Berkeley.

Although his run in charge of the Giants hasn't been without hiccups, Zaidi seems to have the organization positioned well for the future with a deep farm system, something a lot of teams around the league can't say at this point in time.

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

Giants put Jeff Samardzija on injured list after bad start vs. Dodgers

Giants put Jeff Samardzija on injured list after bad start vs. Dodgers

Jeff Samardzija hasn't looked right through his first three starts. On Saturday, the Giants and Samardzija decided to try and figure out what's physically wrong.

Samardzija was placed on the 10-day IL with a right shoulder impingement and will have an MRI on the shoulder, which was an issue throughout the 2018 season when he made just 10 starts. Left-hander Andrew Suarez was called up from the taxi squad to take Samardzija's spot. 

Samardzija has a 9.88 ERA through three starts and gave up three homers and five earned Friday night against the Dodgers. His fastball has averaged just 90 mph this season. 

"Jeff came out (Friday) and reported shoulder soreness and that he wasn't really able to get loose and let his pitches go the way he wanted to," manager Gabe Kapler said. 

It's possible that the pitch that grazed Kiké Hernandez to load the bases in the fifth inning will end up being Samardzija's last as a Giant. The Giants have 45 games left in their season and Samardzija's five-year deal is up after the final game. 

For now, the focus is on finding out what's keeping him from letting loose, and also filling a second open slot in the rotation. The Giants already are without Drew Smyly (finger strain) and seem poised to slide left-hander Tyler Anderson into that spot. They could patch it together in Samardzija's spot, or eventually turn it over to another veteran who is getting up to speed. 

[RELATED: Why Zaidi is shrugging off Giants', Kapler's early hiccups]

Kapler said right-hander Trevor Cahill threw three-plus innings at the alternate site in Sacramento and looked good. 

"He looked sharp with all his pitches and really carved," Kapler said. "It was among the better outings we've seen since we had Cahill."

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]