The man in the stands: Todd Kalas is the smiling face of the Tampa Bay Rays

Todd Kalas, the smiling face of the Tampa Bay Rays.

click to enlarge HAVING A BALL: Kalas on the field before the Texas Rangers game Aug. 16. - Todd Bates
Todd Bates
HAVING A BALL: Kalas on the field before the Texas Rangers game Aug. 16.

The pitcher throws a curveball out of the strike zone: ball one.

Next he throws a 92 mph pitch, fouled off: strike one.

Finally, Matt Garza throws a 91 mph, four-seam fastball and the Detroit Tigers' Ramon Santiago swings, sending the ball flying into right field to be caught by the outstretched hand of the charging Ben Zobrist.

Out #3.

Matt Garza has just thrown the first no-hitter in the history of the Tampa Bay Rays. He is mobbed by joyous teammates with congratulations, met first by an Evan Longoria bear hug and, soon after that, by a man with a microphone: Todd Kalas, the ever-smiling, ever-tanned in-game reporter for Sun Sports and Fox Sports Florida.

For the thousands watching at home, Kalas serves as the direct link between the fans and the team; he gives them the inside scoop before the game, talks to the players afterwards and helps illuminate the outcome. And as the Rays' man in the stands, the self-described "conduit" for a team that's having trouble filling those stands, he plays a role that's potentially as important as that of the guy in the broadcasters' booth. Because, while attendance at the Trop remains problematic, TV ratings for the Rays have skyrocketed: through July, the Rays on Sun Sports are averaging a 5.7 TV household rating in the Tampa/St. Pete market — a 73 percent increase over last year's average of 3.3. That means one in every 18 Bay-area folk is watching, as opposed to 2009's one in every 30, which was itself a jump from the year before.

And that means one in every 18 Bay area residents is watching — and by all accounts, liking — Todd Kalas.

Yet Kalas is also something of a paradox; Rays fan feel like they have a personal relationship with him, yet they know little about him personally. Is his upbeat demeanor for real? What was it like entering the baseball biz as the son of one of the most famous broadcasters ever? And what if he were to win his dream job?

Kalas doesn't have too many bad days at the office. But having worked alongside the Rays organization for its entire 13 years (in addition to his current duties, he has filled in as play-by-play announcer and color analyst for both the TV and radio broadcasts), he remembers the Devil Rays' hellish opening decade.

"There were a few days there, when our high-water mark was 70 wins for the first 10 seasons, when you're just like, 'Man, I wish I could just have the night free and do my own thing,'" Kalas recalls.

He used to patrol the stands of rival ballparks with a mic flag that said "Rays" on it, making him an easy target for the harassment of Yankees and Red Sox fans. Perhaps it's because these days his microphone is different — emblazoned with "Fox Sports" — that he gets less abuse. Or, perhaps it's something else.

"It's eventually gotten better in the last three years," Kalas explains. "We're getting more respect."

And as host of the Rays Live! pre- and post-game shows as well as in-game reporter, Kalas is getting more and more notice.

"I get asked a lot, 'Hey, what's Todd Kalas like? Is he as nice as he is when he's out and about?'" says co-worker and broadcast partner Brian Anderson. "I'm like, 'Bro, that's it. That's the guy I know.'"

At the July 29 sweep-clinching matinee against the Detroit Tigers, Kalas' first order of business after arriving to the set for the pre-game show is signing a few autographs for some children in attendance.

Anderson, a former Rays pitcher who spent 13 years in the major leagues and serves as pre-game co-host and color analyst for Rays away games, concedes that Kalas just might receive more autograph requests.

"I would have to say at the Captain Morgan Deck, slight edge Kalas, 22-20."

Kalas is always prepared and always working. The evening prior to the July 29 afternoon game, he was reading up on game stories and box scores from across the league; by contrast, Anderson was up until 3 a.m. playing EA Sports NCAA Football 11. But Kalas is quick to come to the defense of his friend and colleague.

"B.A.'s an early riser, whereas I'm not," he explains. "For a day game at 12 p.m., he's probably getting a lot of work done between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. and I'm probably still asleep; or I'm probably just leaving my house at 9 a.m."

While colleagues are hard-pressed to recall anything that is both particularly embarrassing and also true, Kalas happily volunteers the following about what happened while he was working for Vision Cable in Clearwater:

"We had a story about the Buccaneers defense. Back then there were a lot of guys that hit hard on the defense. Over my shoulder, they had a still of the beginning of the video that we were going to roll in; it was about the Bucs defense, set to Janet Jackson's song 'Nasty Boys.' The lead-in was off the cuff, but the start of the video was a shot of a Buccaneers cheerleader who was fairly well-endowed. So I said, 'Coming up next with a compilation of some of the best hits of the Bucs' season.' 'Best hits' kind of flowed together..."

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