(This post originally appeared on Bus Leagues Baseball.com)
Last season I did a lot of work in Dunedin with the Dunedin Blue Jays staff. Craig Durham, a man who wears many hats as you will soon find out, was instrumental in coordinating interviews for me and helping me find my way around the ballpark when needed, to include the first time I ever covered a game from the press box. For whatever reason, however, I failed to ask Craig his story. This season, I figured we would fix that.
Bus Leagues Baseball: So how is the season going so far?
Craig Durham: The season is off to a great start. The team is 16-4 through its first 20 games, and they have simply been awesome. There is a lot of young talent in the Blue Jays organization right now so being able to be a part of it night in and night out is really a blast.
BLB: How did you get into broadcasting? Was it a lifelong dream or something you fell into?
CD: I wouldn’t say that it was a lifelong dream, but it is something that I’ve been interested in from a very young age. My first year in broadcasting was in 2009, the year after I graduated college, when I worked for the Brewster Whitecaps of the Cape Cod League. I had been with the Whitecaps the previous summer, but not as a broadcaster. Fortunately the same two guys came back to broadcast in 2009, I asked if I could join them and they said yes. I definitely wouldn’t be here today if they hadn’t given me that first opportunity.
BLB: How long have you been with the ballclub?
CD: This is now my second season with the Dunedin Blue Jays. I started here in January of 2011.
BLB: Do you announce games for the major league club during spring training? How does your role change from spring training to the Florida State League season?
CD: I don’t get to do any broadcasting during Spring Training, and it’s almost as if I have two separate jobs – one from April-September when the Florida State League is in season, and one October-March when it’s not. In the “offseason” I spend most of my time preparing for, and selling for Blue Jays Spring Training.
The consistent piece between the two seasons is that I run dunedinbluejays.com, handle the Dunedin Blue Jays facebook and twitter accounts, and send out press releases about the Blue Jays Florida.
BLB: How much research do you put in to your job? How much time do you take to look at other teams and their players?
CD: Not as much as I wish I could! I usually get to do most of my research in the few hours before the game, as I have other office responsibilities during the day.
BLB: What visiting player are you looking forward to seeing play the Dunedin Blue Jays?
CD: One guy I’m very excited to see is Gerrit Cole, last year’s first overall pick who is currently with the Bradenton Marauders.
BLB: What game that you were in the booth for stands out the most and why?
CD: The last game of last season when we were eliminated from the playoffs definitely stands out as a game I will probably never forget. It was a winner take all game 3 of a 3 game series, and we led 3-0 going into the 8th before it all fell apart. Daytona scored 4 in the bottom of the 8th, and in a flash we went from being favorites to win it all to being eliminated. The suddenness of it, and the realization that it was all over for at least six months was tough to take.
I also called a no-hitter in the Cape League in 2010, but I did mostly color commentary for that game, and it was the pitcher on the opposing team that threw it so I don’t have as many memories from that one.
BLB: What players have stood out the most during your time in the booth?
CD: I love watching good pitchers, and last year we were blessed to have a ton of them. I really loved watching Nestor Molina pitch because he worked so quickly and threw lots of strikes. I also enjoyed watching our closer from last year, Wes Etheridge, for the same reasons that I liked watching Molina.
From the Cape League, I really loved watching Jed Gyrko, who is now in the Padres system. He is a smaller guy, but he can hit the ball a very long way.
BLB: Do you root for guys to get promoted or secretly hope they’ll stay in Dunedin so you can keep announcing their games?
CD: Haha, no comment …
BLB: Do you travel with the team?
CD: I go on most of the bus trips, yes. If we go on an extended road trip I prefer to drive so that I have a little more freedom and flexibility in terms of what I can do with my “down time”. Having my own car also allows me to seek out better food than whatever is available within walking distance of the team hotel!
BLB: Being that Dunedin is one of the smallest towns in the Florida State League, I’ve noticed there is a strong community vibe to the team and the organization. How does that effect your announcing? Are you recognized in town outside of the ballpark?
CD: Haha if I am recognized in town it’s certainly not because I am the broadcaster. Dunedin is a great little town with a lot of owner operated businesses and restaurants so I have gotten to know a lot of people here through the team and also just by living right downtown, which I am lucky enough to be able to do. If people know me as a Blue Jays employee its likely because I’ve tried to sell them an ad or some sort of sponsorship at one point or another!
BLB: How important is your broadcast to the community? To the families of players who might listen online?
CD: I know a lot of our season ticket holders appreciate the broadcasts of the road games because they are an extremely loyal group of fans. I’ve also had fans tell me they like listening because that’s how they really learn about the players.
I know that the broadcasts mean a lot to the families and friends of the players who are often very far away from home. The broadcasts of the games are, in some way, how they keep in touch with their loved ones, and frankly I am most proud of the fact that I am able to provide this link for them. Many of the player’s families have emailed me at one point or another to thank me, and it truly means a lot to me.
BLB: Before the season, you wrote a passionate plea in a local newspaper for fans to come out to the ballpark and see the Dunedin Blue Jays. How important is it for the community to support the team?
CD: It’s extremely important! Seeing empty stadiums night after night last season was a real shock to me, and it was incredibly disappointing to see. It’s not just Dunedin that struggles to draw fans in the summer, it’s 75% of the teams in the Florida State League, and 100% of Florida’s teams in Major League Baseball. It’s sad really, there is so much good baseball being played and nobody watching it.
BLB: Why do you think attendance struggles so much in the Florida State League?
CD: There are a ton of factors, and having only lived in Florida for 16 months I don’t want to pretend to be an expert, but I think the economy and the weather are two big problems. The economy in Florida isn’t doing all that well, and people are very careful about how they spend their money. Unfortunately it seems like baseball is one of the first things they cut out, despite the fact that tickets to Florida State League are so inexpensive.
The weather is the other big one. It’s really really hot here from May-September, and people would rather be inside with air conditioning than out in the sweltering heat and humidity. The fact that it rains almost nightly (and right around gametime) doesn’t help either. While it really stinks, I can definitely understand people who just can’t stand the heat enough to stay home instead of coming to a game.
BLB: Lastly, what are you looking forward to this season?
CD: I’m looking forward to everything. Being back in the booth, getting better at calling games, getting to know the players, eating stadium food, and 1,000 other things.
I also believe that the D-Jays have a great chance to win the FSL Championship this year, something that’s never been done in the team’s 27 year history, and to be a part of that would obviously be an amazing experience.
We would like to thank Craig for his answers and wish him and the Dunedin Blue Jays the best of luck this year.