By STEVE KRAH
Benjamin Kelly knows that it’s not easy to get into professional baseball.
Entering his fourth season as the radio play-by-play voice of the Northwest Arkansas Royals (Double-A Texas League), graduate of Lakeland High School (2009) and Goshen College (2013) is enjoying the ride.
“I really do enjoy the grind of it,” says Kelly, who works for a club that plays its 140 games in 152 days with several off days consumed with travel. “I get to watch a baseball game every night.”
Kelly gets to hear stories from managers, coaches and players and relate that to his listeners. He gets to build relationships is he tries to climb the ladder of affiliated baseball just like the men who pitch, hit and catch for pay.
“We’re on the same path to the big leagues, we’re just in different lanes,” says Kelly. “I’m striving everyday to reach out and meet somebody else — somebody who might give you a chance.
“You have to keep those relationships throughout the course of your career.”
Kelly, who played four seasons at Goshen, relates to the game in ways that not all play-by-play broadcaster can.
“I know what it’s like to field a ground ball, make a throw from behind the plate, stand in against a 90 mph fastball,” says Kelly. “I can bring the small nuances the Average Joe can’t. That sets me apart.”
Kelly spends most of his off-season in Arkansas, but he was at his alma mater recently for a preseason banquet. He offered words of advice to the current crop of Maple Leafs.
“Don’t take the four years for granted,” says Kelly in repeating some of his remarks. “Don’t take a pitch off. Don’t take an at-bat off. You’ll regret the one’s you do.”
Kelly also offered to be a contact for anyone wishing to get their foot in the door in pro baseball.
“I’ll do anything I can to help them out,” says Kelly.
After doing plenty of play-by-play in other sports for the award-winning WGCS 91.1 The Globe (run by professor and veteran broadcaster Jason Samuel) and for Paul Condry at the Regional Radio Sports Network, Kelly began getting his chops as a baseball play-by-play man with the independent Schaumburg Boomers in the suburbs of Chicago. There, he built his resume and his relationships and wound up in Springdale, Ark., with the Naturals, an affiliate of the Kansas City Royals.
“We’re three hours from Kansas City — straight shot up interstate,” says Kelly. “With all the success the Royals have had since I go here in 2014, it’s grown to be more of a Royals area.”
Kelly grew up a St. Louis Cardinals fan, but you won’t notice his Redbird leanings in the way he does his job.
“Whatever organization takes me on, I’ll root for that affiliate,” says Kelly, who does call 32 games a year between the Naturals and the Springfield (Mo.) Cardinals. “I think I’m going to keep that mindset no matter where I go. You rooting interest lies with your employer. That’s the only way to do it.”
The Texas League is a bus league. The miles start to pile up for the Naturals when they cross over from the North Division with teams in Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma to the four Texas-based clubs in the South Division. Northwest Arkansas visits that side a few times in each half of the split season, making a ride that can last 12 hours to Corpus Christi and Midland on one swing and Frisco and Midland on the other.
While the clock is ticking down to Opening Night (April 6), Kelly has been busy working on his team’s 150-page media guide (culling through box scores to come up with all-time lists etc.) and also working broadcasts of University of Arkansas events for Razorback Sports Network — either TV or online.
“I had never really done TV play-by-play until this (winter),” says Kelly. “It’s opened my eyes. In radio, the play-by-play man is like the star of the show and he must create a picture. In TV, he’s the driver for the color commentator. The play-by-play guy is secondary.”