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..."

Well, if you were looking to compile the best tits in Tampa, there are probably worse places to start than the Buccaneers cheerleading squad.

The Bucs were among several organizations Kalas worked with upon graduating from Syracuse University with a degree in broadcast journalism in 1987; others included the Tampa Bay Lightning, New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies. Now, in addition to his work with the Rays, he spends the baseball off-season calling USF basketball games and college football games for the Sun Belt Conference.

While Kalas would not call himself a workaholic, he laughingly concedes that several ex-girlfriends might disagree. But the off-season gigs are important: they afford him the opportunity to pursue his passion.

"Play-by-play is still my favorite thing to do in broadcasting and where I get my play-by-play fill is in the offseason," he says. "I think I have one more big step. I think the big step would be to find a full-time play-by-play job in the major leagues somewhere.

"I would be very happy to be in one organization, one city, just calling games on a regular basis for the rest of my baseball career," Kalas says. "I really think my abilities are at their best when I'm doing play-by-play."

His abilities may well be hereditary. As the son of Harry Kalas, the Hall of Fame voice of the Philadelphia Phillies, Todd virtually grew up at Philly's Veterans Stadium. "Seeing how much he loved what he did for a living made me think that this was a pretty cool gig," Todd remembers.

But he has always tried to stay away from his father's signature calls, in an attempt to carve his own niche. And while being Harry's son may have opened a few doors for him faster than they would have opened on their own, it's always been up to the younger Kalas to keep a job, regardless of how it was secured.

"As long as I'm in the broadcasting game, there are always going to be people who think of me as Harry's son, which is a great compliment," says Kalas.

In 2008, the Kalas men got the opportunity to work across the aisle from each other when their respective teams faced off in the World Series. When Tampa Bay met Boston in Game Seven of the American League Championship Series, the younger Kalas knew more than a championship was at stake because, if Tampa won, it would mean they'd be facing Philadelphia in the Series.

"I have to admit that that was probably the most intense and nervous I've ever been in terms of watching a baseball game, because I knew that if the Rays won, not only were they in the World Series, but I'd be able to share it with Dad," Todd says.

"That was the ultimate. I don't think there's ever going to be anything that can top that for me in broadcasting."

Harry Kalas died on April 13, 2009. He was in the press box at Nationals Park, in Washington D.C., getting ready to do what he loved. The next day the Phillies were scheduled to be honored at the White House for their 2008 World Series victory; they postponed their visit and set the day aside to pay tribute to him.

On Friday, April 17, the first home game since Harry's death, Todd and his two brothers, Brad and Kane, threw out ceremonial pitches. Todd threw his to former Phillies third baseman Mike Schmidt, his favorite player growing up.

Though Kalas is thrilled to have his current job, he's reluctant to assign it too much importance. He calls himself "the extra guy" behind play-by-play announcer DeWayne Staats and color analyst Anderson.

Staats disagrees. The job used to be third- or even fourth-tier years ago, but now it's viewed as an emerging position, one of which the broadcast industry has taken note.

"I've always been an advocate of faces on the broadcast because the human face tells a great story, and whether it's a fan's face or a player's face I think that's important. Todd's is an open and friendly face that I think people feel very comfortable with."

Anderson says Todd is "almost like a bathroom break."

Say what? Anderson describes how viewers are essentially stuck in the broadcast booth with the play-by-play announcer and color analyst for the duration of the game, with only their perspectives.

"It's like, 'Okay, let me get out of that stuffy room for a minute and go down on the field and let Todd give some good information out there..."

And Kalas' "extra-guy" role also poses a unique challenge: He has to talk to players post-game who may not always want the attention. Anderson, with more than a decade in the majors and his fair share of ugly press, says Rays players, as closed off as they might tend to be, trust Kalas to report the news rather than make it up for himself.

"I do know that players respect him and feel that they are going to get a fair shake if they're interviewed by Todd."

Mike Griffin, a producer for Sun Sports/Fox Sports Florida, contrasts Kalas with the type of sideline reporters who talk about minutiae like the birthday of a player's mother. Kalas provides substance instead of fluff.

"He's a baseball guy first, so he brings you that baseball knowledge," Griffin says. "To be able to play off of Brian Anderson or Kevin Kennedy or DeWayne... he can play off of what they're saying or add to the conversation without just being an extra piece. He's never an extra piece."

And face it — the fans love him.

Sentiments about what a great guy he is echo throughout Tropicana Field and cyberspace, including a "Tampa Bay loves Todd Kalas" Facebook group.

"Todd has a tremendous sense of humor, self-effacing, and great with the fans," says longtime fan Glenn Klein. "I think he does a terrific job."

Projecting a sense of ease before the camera is key, says Kalas. "You have to be able to communicate like you're just hanging out with a person watching the game." But he's also good in person. "I met Todd while I was with my family in the Checkers Bullpen Café," says Rays fan Abby Moon. "I think he was trying to take a break and get away from the fans for a minute when I asked him to take a picture with me, but he was more than willing to pose and smile."

Staats suggests that Kalas is particularly popular with female audiences. "Any time he's in any kind of a party deck, it's a recurring theme that he's surrounded by 10 to 20 young ladies who are absolutely giddy just to be in his presence," says Staats. "We see that frequently."

Most important, though, is Kalas' palpable enthusiasm for his work, as when he lists his favorite moments on the job (his pre-game interview with Hank Aaron; his post-game interview with Wade Boggs after his 3,000th hit; that momentous ALCS Game Seven in 2008), or his favorite Ray interviewee, Jonny Gomes: "In the history of the team, the best guy on camera, just because he was so off-the-wall." He's also not afraid to express his concerns about attendance and the future of the Trop.

He describes the crowds currently attending games as "nice," but not what should be expected for an American League Championship team, and that at some point the team will end up playing closer to the bridges or maybe even in Tampa to get closer to the center of the population base. While he says the ideal site does not necessarily have to be in Hillsborough County, it is clear he feels that a new ballpark needs to be more accessible to its residents. Kalas loves Tropicana Field and thinks the facility is very underrated, but says it's not in the right location.

"On one side to the east, you have water. To the south you have water. To the north you have Pinellas County, but then you have a lot more people across the other side of the bridge, in Hillsborough... You may lose a few people from Sarasota-Bradenton [if the site changes], but I think the positives by far outweigh the negatives."

Whether or not the Rays move, a question remains for Kalas. With his play-by-play aspirations, how long will it be before he gets snatched up by some other town?

To recap for any heads of broadcasting who may be interested in hiring a talented and professional play-by-play man to call Major League Baseball games, Todd Kalas is not interested.

OK, he never said that.

But his fans in Tampa Bay (including this one) hope he's not.

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