When you’ve landed your dream job, you show up early.
It’s more than 90 minutes before game time on a cool, breezy late May evening and Mike Marando, the Sacramento River Cats’ public address announcer, sits hunched over a table in the press box at Raley Field and begins his fastidious pre-game preparation.
Marando, 61, is in the second season of a job he’s coveted his entire life. He’s the voice you hear that provides the familiar and soothing live background soundtrack to a place many consider heaven on earth — the ballpark.
While most other baseball fans wanted to emulate the higher profile radio and TV play-by-play announcers who entered fans’ consciousness on a nightly basis, Marando, the fourth public address announcer in the River Cats’ 17-year history, had other ideas.
“I’ve had a 50-year itch to do this,” he says as he studies the night’s lineups for the game against the Memphis Redbirds. “I always liked the PA guys like Roy Steele, Bob Sheppard, John Ramsey; the Giants had a guy named Jeff Carter who sang the National Anthem on occasion. Those distinctive voices caught my attention.”
Marando spent 30 years working in government public information, and says he isn’t doing the baseball job for the big bucks. The PA announcer position pays $12 an hour, an average of just over $50 a game for the 72-game home schedule. Marando calls it the “opportunity of a lifetime.”
An Illinois native, 1973 Cordova High School graduate and former sports writer for the old Sacramento Union newspaper, Marando prepared for the River Cats gig by calling local sports and other events going back to his own high school days. Marando, who is married with three adult children, retired with the State of California in 2012 as the Governor-appointed communications director for the DMV. He eventually went back to work almost full-time as a media relations specialist for Randle Communications, who he says continues to be “very supportive” of the demands needed for the River Cats position.
Marando’s lineup analysis is complete — the game will feature the River Cats’ debut of heralded outfielder Chris Shaw — and he moves next door to the control room, where he’ll work the rest of the night. Marando is scheduled to start booming to the stadium’s early-arrivals at exactly 6:15 p.m., 50 minutes before game time.
The control room is where the nightly stadium production happens. All of Marando’s pre-game and between-innings patter, coordinated with player introductions and walk-up music, are tightly scripted, and the PA announcer must be in sync with the rest of the room to keep his announcements flowing around the action on the field and scoreboard.
Marando sits between entertainment coordinator Trevor Levine — who essentially runs the show — and official scorekeeper Jason Morris. To Morris’ right is Mike Matus, this night manning the video camera from above home plate. On the other side of a wall is a group of four that usually changes nightly, coordinating all of the scoreboard and TV video graphics.
“Each night is a unique production,” Marando says. “Our control room team is top-notch and I couldn’t work with a better group of people. I’m grateful to just play a role.”
At promptly 6:15 p.m., Marando welcomes the fans as the Sloppy Moose Running Club enters from center field. It’s the first of several dozen announcements he’ll do during the night, including sponsor promotions, lineups, special recognitions and game “situationals,” which are promotions dictated by circumstances, like a first-inning home run. Most announcements are accompanied by scoreboard video.
When Marando saw the ad for the PA position in February 2016, he sent in a demo tape and was selected just days before the River Cats opened against the San Francisco Giants in a highly-anticipated, sold-out exhibition.
“I was up all night before the Giants’ exhibition, I was so fired up,” he says. “Here I was, calling names like Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford; Johnny Cueto was the starter …”
Fortunately, that first effort went well, and deep into his second season, he hasn’t missed a game. The most important part of the job, Marando says, is correctly pronouncing names. His favorite is shortstop Orlando Calixte.
“I’m a stickler for names, whether it’s the players, a Little Leaguer throwing out the first pitch, or whoever’s doing the National Anthem,” Marando says. “Sometimes this will be the only time they hear their names over a public address system.”
It turns out to be a successful, action-filled night for the River Cats, with closer Kyle Crick staving off a bases loaded ninth-inning scare to preserve the 5-3 victory. “Buckle up and drive safe,” Marando tells the hearty few remaining, as he turns off the microphone for the last time.
“This job is an absolute thrill,” Marando says, as he looks back out onto the cleanup crews on the field. “It’s everything I ever dreamed of and more.”
When River Cats season ticket holder Jared Pane and his family lower their kickstands at the Raley Field stadium bicycle valet, he breathes a little easier. He knows their fanatic support of the West Sacramento minor-league team is not only a fun tradition, but also good for the environment.
In September 2014, the River Cats signed a two-year affiliation agreement with the San Francisco Giants, effectively ending the team’s 15-year partnership with the Oakland Athletics. Less than two years later, the two clubs have inked a new four-year deal, extending the agreement through 2020, marking one of the few times the Giants have signed a four-year agreement with a Triple-A affiliate.