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Delta, Ball State alum Nichols nearing baseball broadcast milestone with Dayton Dragons

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

An Indiana native is about to reach a baseball broadcasting milestone with an Ohio-based team in Michigan.

Tom Nichols, a Muncie native, will work his 4,000th minor league game (radio and television combined) on Wednesday, Aug. 8, if the Dayton (Ohio) Dragons of the Low Class-A Midwest League are not rained out between now and then.

All Dragons games (140 during the regular season) are broadcast on WONE 980 AM and http://www.daytondragons.com.

In his 31st season as a baseball play-by-play announcer and his 11th in Dayton, Nichols is in some rare company.

Jim Weber (Toledo Mud Hens) and Howard Kellman (Indianapolis Indians) have been at the mike for more than 40 years and have done upwards of 6,000 games apiece.

Larry Ward (Chattanooga Lookouts) has been on the call for more than 35 years.

By his calculations, Nichols trails Curt Bloom (Birmingham Barons) by a few games. He counts Bloom as his longest friendship in the business. Though Bloom is a year older than Nichols, they share the same birthday — Feb. 9. They first crossed paths in the Carolina League and then for years in the Southern League.

“I’m sure I’m in the top 10, but not sure if I’m in the top five,” says Nichols of the longest current radio voices in the minors.

Nichols, 54, was born in Muncie, Ind. At age 7, he became a fan of Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine.”

Al Michaels was the Reds play-by-play from 1971-73 and young Tom only missed games when he was playing himself.

Marty Brenneman took over Michaels’ role in 1974 and is still the No. 1 man in the Reds booth. For years, he was paired with former Cincy pitcher Joe Nuxhall.

“You used to be able to your ride bike through neighborhood and listen to the game because someone would have Marty and Joe on there porch,” says Nichols. “In those days, only 10 or 15 games were televised.”

Another way to keep up with the Reds — and baseball — in the ‘70s was by subscribing to The Sporting News. The publication came in the mail each Friday and Nichols devoured the box scores and stories after getting home on the school bus.

He played baseball at Delta High School in Muncie, where he graduated in 1982.

While at Ball State University, where he got his diploma in telecommunications in 1986, Nichols called high school football, basketball and baseball for WWHC in Hartford City and one season of Ball State baseball for WERK in Muncie.

He was the news director WLBC in Muncie for almost three years after college when he got his professional baseball broadcasting break.

Getting up the nerve to call Kellman for some advice, he was presented with the opportunity to be a No. 2 voice when musician duties took away.

Nichols did that during the 1988 and 1989 seasons.

“I’m eternally grateful to Howard Kellman for giving me that opportunity,” says Nichols, who has taken the opportunity to pay it forward mentoring young broadcasters as they serve as his second during Dayton home radio broadcasts, take the whole game when Nichols is on the TV side and work extensively in media relations.

“I do that because somebody did it for me,” says Nichols. “We’ve had one every year. Many have gone on to be No. 1’s.”

Owen Serey was in Dayton in 2008 and went on to be the voice of the Midwest League’s South Bend Silver Hawks.

Jason Kempf was with Nichols and the Dragons in 2017 and 2018 and is now the No. 1 for the MWL’s Quad Cities River Bandits in Davenport, Iowa.

Others who assisted Nichols in Dayton and moved on to lead play-by-play roles include Mike Couzens (Fort Wayne and now with ESPN), Brendan Gulick (Delmarva and now in Cleveland area radio), Keith Raad (Staten Island) and Alex Vispoli (Winston-Salem, Frisco and then the Ivy League).

Bill Spaulding has carved his niche in the broadcasting world by calling Olympic sports for NBC.

While Nichols is with the Dayton all-year and does many things including speaking engagements and has come to thoroughly enjoy audience Q&A’s, the Dragons No. 2 position is seasonal — March-to-September.

Nichols’ first No. 1 gig was with the Kinston (N.C.) Indians of the Carolina League, where he worked for the 1990 season. Jim Thome (just inducted into the Ball Hall of Fame) led the future big leaguers on the Cleveland Indians-affiliated team. A couple others of note were Curtis Leskanic and Robert Person.

He came the Midwest League to lead airings of Peoria (Ill.) Chiefs games in 1991-92. There, he got frequently have former Harry Caray sideman Jimmy Piersall as his analyst.

“He had a tremendous knowledge of the game and was very colorful person,” says Nichols of Piersall. A Chicago Cubs farm team at the time, Nichols followed the exploits of future MLB players Brant Brown, Mike Harkey and Amaury Telemaco.

Moving over to the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Wizards (Minnesota Twins), Nichols surveyed action from since-razed Memorial Stadium — aka “The Castle” — and saw future big leaguers LaTroy Hawkins (who went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January), Torii Hunter, Corey Koskie, Matt Lawton and A.J. Pierzysnki come through town from 1993-96.

Nichols’ career path took him south to present diamond descriptions to fans of the Mobile (Ala.) BayBears (San Diego Padres) from 1997-2004. Matt Clement, Doug Dascenzo, Brian Lawrence and Jake Peavy were among those on their way to the majors. Lawrence is now the pitching coach for the Midwest League’s South Bend Cubs.

During much of the time Nichols was in Mobile, he was also an executive director for a franchise management company — Victory Sports Group.

From 2005-07, Nichols was director of broadcasting of the Gary SouthShore RailCats of the independent Northern League. Jermaine Allensworth, an Anderson, Ind., product who had played in the bigs, was with Gary in 2006-07.

Nichols took his current position — Director of Media Relations & Broadcasting at Dayton Dragons Professional Baseball — prior to the 2008 campaign. Dayton’s affiliation with the Reds was one of the things that attracted him about the job.

Over the years, he has got to have former Reds sit in with him. That list features Todd Benzinger, Tommy Helms, Lee May, Ron OesterJim O’Toole and many more.

Hall of Famer Joe Morgan was on the TV broadcast with Nichols this season.

“That was a thrill for me,” says Nichols, who was also pleased when he got to regularly interact with one of his boyhood idols — Ken Griffey Sr., when the former Red was Dayton’s hitting coach in 2010.

Indiana’s own Tucker Barnhart (who was with Brenneman and others for the 2018 Reds Caravan stop in Muncie) plus Zach Cozart, Didi Gregorius, Billy Hamilton and many others have been Dragons and later big leaguers during Nichols’ tenure.

When a Cincinnati player makes a rehabilitation appearance with Dayton and the Reds don’t play at the same time, flagship WLW often picks up the Dragons broadcast.

In his one game on the Reds Radio Network, Nichols worked the 2017 Reds Futures Game with color man Jeff Brantley and former Cincy broadcaster Jim Kelch.

“Put this one in the win column” is the phrase Nichols uses to cap every Dayton victory.

He says he may have subconsciously picked up descriptive phrases from all those years of listening to Reds broadcasts and recordings of them on his parent’s living room stereo.

But other than the win-capper, Nichols makes it a point not to have signal calls.

He had the belief reinforced by Ernie Harwell when they spent the day and worked side-by-side with the Hall of Fame broadcaster for the 1994 Midwest League All-Star Game in Fort Wayne.

“He told me, ‘People tune in for the game, not for you,” says Nichols of Harwell. “When you put yourself ahead of the game, you’re cheating your listeners.”

Nichols does not cheat on his homework either.

“Preparation is key,” says Nichols. “I believe in that strongly.

“That’s the most important thing. The more experience you get, the better you get at preparing.”

Nichols gathers plenty of facts and has them at the ready to use during the game. He knows that he has a three-hour broadcast to fill. On the road, that’s solo. He familiarizes himself with players and coaches and any pertinent storylines around the Dragons or the opponent.

He has at his ready a sheet full of the “last time” nuggets. Who was the last Dayton player to go 4-for-4 or hit three home runs in a game? His list tells him.

For the past two decades, Nichols has been using a ledger-sized scorebook that he devised with the help of veteran Adams, Blackford and Wells County radio man Bill Morris. It gives him room to right in facts about each player, including key statistics. For opponents, he will list things like their college and draft round.

“This way you’re not looking through a media guide,” says Nichols. “Without wasted time, you can quickly mention how many homers has if he just hit another one.

“It is time-consuming. But if you’re willing to put in the time, there will be rewards.”

The most rewarding thing to Nichols is spending time with family.

His parents — Tom Sr. and Fran Nichols — are retired and live in a country house outside Muncie during the summer months and in Marco Island, Fla., other parts of the year. He was a firefighter in Muncie and she an accountant.

Tom Jr. is the oldest of three. There’s also brother David Nichols and sister Kelli (Nichols) Dulaney.

David Nichols is a former Delta basketball player who was one year ahead of Matt Painter (now the Purdue head men’s basketball coach) and played hoops at Huntington University. He works in claims resolution in Indianapolis.

“David is the better athlete,” says Tom Jr., who was inducted into the Delaware County Athletic Hall of Fame in the coaches, contributors, media, officials category in 2009. “I was very average.”

Uncle Tom is close with David’s two children — Kaylee Nichols (a volleyball player at DePauw University in Greencastle) and Matthew Nichols (a former Delta basketball player).

Kelli is employed by Delaware County 911.

TOMNICHOLS2

With his trusty ledger-sized scorebook in front of him, Tom Nichols broadcasts a Dayton (Ohio) Dragons baseball game. He is in his 31st season as a play-by-play man — 11th with Dayton — and is nearing his 4,000th game broadcast, most of those on radio and about 200 for Dayton on television. (Dayton Dragons Photo)

TOMNICHOLS1

Tom Nichols, a graduate of Delta High School and Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., does a stand-up during a Dayton Dragons telecast. Nichols has been doing minor league baseball play-by-play since 1988 and has been a No. 1 voice since 1990. He started in Dayton 2008. (Dayton Dragons)

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Baseball scout Machemer keeps eyes peeled for talent

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dave Machemer’s eyes have seen a great deal of baseball.

A Benton Harbor (Mich.) High School graduate, Machemer played at Central Michigan University and was selected in the fourth round of the 1972 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the California Angels.

Used mostly as a second baseman, Machemer played in 29 MLB games — 10 with the 1978 Angels and 19 with the 1979 Detroit Tigers.

Machmer’s manager in California was Jim Fregosi. His only career home run came in his first big league at-bat — a lead-off shot against Minnesota Twins left-hander Geoff Zahn on June 21, 1978 at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minn. That was one week after Sparky Anderson took over as Detroit manager.

Over 11 minor league seasons and stints with the Angels, Tigers, Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins organizations, Machmer batted .277 with 1,078 hits in 1,126 games played. He spent short stints with the Jim Leyland-managed Evansville Triplets in 1979 and 1980.

Leyland went on to manage in the majors with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Florida Marlins, Colorado Rockies and then the Tigers.

Cal Ermer, who won more than 1,900 games in the minors, was Machemer’s manager in Toledo.

Machemer would win nearly 1,700 contests as the main man in the dugout from 1985 to 2013 and also was employed five years as a coordinator.

His managing career began in the Midwest League with the 1985 Beloit Brewers. He went on to manage clubs in Stockton, El Paso and Denver for the Brewers, Delmarva, Rochester, Frederick and Bowie for the Baltimore Orioles, Clinton and Harrisburg for the Montreal Expos and Norwich, Connecticut, Arizona, Augusta and Richmond for the San Francisco Giants.

He took the 1986 Stockton Ports to the California League title, skippered Mexicali to 1989 Mexican Pacific League title and the Caribbean World Series, earned Texas League Manager of the Year with the 1996 El Paso Diablos and guided the 2008 Arizona Giants to the rookie-level Arizona League championship.

Machamer managed a number of future big leaguers, including Gary Sheffield at High Class-A, Double-A and Triple-A, Brian Roberts at High-A and Double-A, Jayson Werth at Low-A and Double-A and B.J. Surhoff at Low-A.

“I loved managing the game and the strategy and competition that I had with other managers,” says Machemer. “I thought I did it well.

“Managing is all about development and winning. Nowadays, the focus is not on winning. It’s about player development.”

Bruce Manno, minor league director when Machemer was with that organization, was liked to win.

“He said, ‘Mac, winning and player development go hand-in-hand because when you win those players get developed,’” says Machemer. “I always believed in that.

“You always had more fun when you won and you developed a winning attitude and a good solid player at the next level to eventual help you win in the major leagues.

“If you don’t win, what’s the game all about?”

The baseball lifer is now in his fifth year as a scout for the Orioles — the first on the amateur side tracking the best high school and college players for the MLB Draft and the past two on the pro side for trades and acquisitions.

In 2017, he traveled from coast to coast and in Latin America and racked up 120 nights at the Marriott while seeing players from Low Class-A to the majors.

“It’s not all bad,” says Machemer. “I get a lot of frequent flyer miles.”

Most of that flying is out of South Bend International Airport.

Machemer, who turns 67 in May, spent a month in Arizona for spring training intently watching players — using those eyes.

“(The Orioles) do a lot of sabermetrics and analysis through computers,” says Machemer. “I don’t. I go with my eyes and my heart and my experience.

“(Executive vice president) Dan Duquette believes in that and we’re still doing it a lot that way and I like it.”

Machemer notes that MLB organizations let 60 scouts go at the end of 2017 that do what he does.

“They’re handing the ball off to a lot of people who sit in the office and go over the numbers and watch a lot of it on television,” says Machemer, who worked with Duquette with the Expos and again with the Brewers. “Dan hasn’t done that yet and I hope he doesn’t.”

When Machemer joined the Orioles scouting staff in 2014 and began taking marching orders from scouting director Gary Rajsich, he was made a national cross checker. He spent three years assessing mostly players who wound up being drafted in the first two rounds.

His role changed last year. He recently returned from spring training where he followed key players on five MLB teams, but was also responsible for everyone he saw on the field. Players might have been out of options or would help the O’s with their Triple-A depth.

Machemer, who got his first taste of scouting in 2007 when the Giants sent him on the road for three months with renowned advance scout Ted Uhlaender, was looking for things like athleticism, arm strength and bat speed and submitting reports.

Since teams do their pre-game work on back fields during the spring, Machemer had to rely on just what he saw in games.

“You have to be very, very astute to be able to evaluate a guy on a couple different plays or couple at-bats,” says Machemer. “It’s not an easy job. It’s hard.”

Machemer would watch teams for five or six games in a row and then move on to the next team.

“I’m hoping to see something in that five or six games that excites me a little bit,” says Machemer. “Maybe I don’t see that this guy’s skills play to the level he should?”

The player in question might be heavy or light on his feet, have a weak or strong arm, slow or quick bat.

“All I can tell them is what I see,” says Machemer. “I pull the trigger and that’s what we all do as scouts. You’ve got to pull the trigger.”

Scouts have to have the ability to project what they think a player is going to be and how they fit into the organization’s plans.

“Every player in this game as they come up is going to have a role,” says Machemer. “As a scout, I put a present role on them and a future role.

“That’s what this game is all about. Can he help us in the big leagues?”

That’s what Machemer’s bosses want to know.

Fernando Tatis Jr., who played for the Fort Wayne TinCaps at 18 in 2017, impressed Machemer in Cactus League play and sees him as a talent that could become an everyday big leaguer.

“When you see guys like a Tatis, you know he’s going to be something in the major leagues,” says Machemer. “It’s for you as a scout to determine what he’s going to be

Machemer was also projecting as a minor league manager.

“Those skilled players I knew were eventually going to start in the big leagues,” says of players like Sheffield, Roberts, Werth and Surhoff. “That was going to be their role.

“Not everyone coming up is going to be an everyday player in the major leagues. I had to zero in on what they needed to get better at and what their role was going to be.”

The player’s idea of their role and the team’s is not always the same.

Such was the case with Machemer as a player. He didn’t always see eye to eye with his managers, including Leyland, about his playing time and his role.

“As a I graduated into managing and player development, I understood it a little more,” says Machemer. “When I got into scouting, I really understood it.”

Machemer learned much for many people over the years. His baseball and football coach at Benton Harbor High was Al Ratcliff.

“He taught me so much about the game and about life,” says Machemer. “That man taught me to the believe in myself and to overcome adversity when the trenches got real deep.”

Ratcliff died March 7 at 93.

Machemer also looks back fondly on his time with his minor league majors Ermer, Jimy Williams, Deron Johnson, Doc Edwards and Joe Morgan. Williams (Toronto Blue Jays, Red Sox, Astros), Edwards (Cleveland Indians) and Morgan (Red Sox) all managed the majors. Johnson was an MLB hitting coach.

“Those guys gave me a piece of them,” says Machemer. “I learned a lot from each and every one of those guys. From them, I kind of developed my own style.

“I’ll never forget those guys. I pay tribute to them for my career. They molded me into who I am.”

While he was managing in the Midwest League, he was approached by South Bend coach Jim Reinebold and the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame took him back to the days that he led his South Bend Clay Colonials against Benton Harbor.

“‘Dave, you played the game as hard as any player I ever saw,’” says Machemer in repeating Reinebold’s comments. “That meant a lot to me. That guy’s a legend and those kind of people are hard to impress. They are cut from a different cloth.”

Does Machemer have his eyes on another managing job?

The only jobs that would pique his interest are managing at the Triple-A or the majors and coaching the bigs.

“I like what I’m doing right now,” says Machemer. “I have a good feel for scouting.”

DAVEMACHEMEREVANSVILLETRIPLETS

Dave Machemer’s long baseball career as a player, manager, coordinator and scout includes two brief stops with the old Evansville Triplets in the Detroit Tigers organization. The Benton Harbor, Mich., resident is now a pro scout for the Baltimore Orioles.