Calling Games as He Sees Them
Last May, Davis was in Chicago, handling the play-by-play duties for Fox Sports One at Wrigley Field, a national television audience hanging on his every word.
Davis joined Fox Sports in 2014, and by the end of his first full year, he’ll have called 70 games across three sports: Major League Baseball, college football, and college basketball.
While his career began in his Potterville (Mich.) living room, it was when he was recruited to play football for Beloit that broadcasting became a reality. While most athletes who come to Beloit are wooed by the thought of being able to keep playing the games they love throughout college, Davis said it was the offer to broadcast basketball games that “sealed the deal” on his decision to enroll.
After his first football season as a Buccaneer was officially in the books, Davis also picked up the mic. He asked friend and teammate Zach Poelker’10 to join his broadcast team as an analyst. This allowed Davis to focus in on the action as it happened.
Poelker was a natural choice, says Terry Owens, Beloit’s director of sports information. “A quarterback always has an offensive lineman with him,” he says.
Davis and Poelker began broadcasting before Internet streams of Midwest Conference games were even available. For their early games, Davis and Poelker recorded the sound by running a microphone cable up to a video camera further up in the stands. At first, Davis recalls, “I think we played it back on Beloit Access Television,” the college and city’s public access television station.
By his second semester, big changes were coming to the Midwest Conference. The Conference signed a deal to live-stream all of its games online. With a burgeoning audience, the broadcasts began to evolve. Davis and Poelker wore suits courtside.
“All of a sudden, Joe had a whole crew and three cameras,” Owens says. “It was as professional as he could get it.”
There was also a steady stream of opportunities outside Beloit opening up. Davis just needed to look for them. He’d sit awake in the wee hours of the morning, clicking through the rabbit hole of the still relatively new information superhighway searching for contacts and freelance opportunities.
“I would search for anything I could. At that point there was no opportunity that was too small-time,” he says. “It’s all about being creative so you can get that hands-on experience.”
Davis made contact with Pat Coleman, the head of a digital sports start-up called DIIISports.com. “Being in Beloit, you’re right in the heartland of Division III sports in the Midwest. I’d find games I could drive to and pitch them to Pat Coleman at DIIISports.com,” he says.
Even icy back road drives back to Beloit from Platteville, Whitewater, and other Wisconsin towns in Division III weren’t enough to get all of what he was looking for in terms of experience.
It occurred to him that minor league baseball was the place where he could get the most practice. “With baseball,” he says, “you’re behind a microphone for four hours every single night during the summer.” An unpaid summer internship with the now-defunct Schaumburg (Ill.) Flyers gave Davis a taste of calling the national pastime. His demo tape caught the ear of the Tampa Bay Rays Double AA affiliate, the Montgomery (Ala.) Biscuits. Davis finished his college career a semester early, and the newly minted graduate moved to Montgomery.
With the Biscuits, he learned to do it all. “Press releases, game notes, I even did stadium signage,” he says.
After three years in Montgomery, Davis made the jump to ESPN for two years, but not before racking up two honors: youngest Double-AA baseball play-by-play announcer and 2012’s Southern League Broadcaster of the Year.
Now with Fox Sports, Davis says preparation for a single game takes up most of the week. “What you hear on the broadcast is not a significant chunk of our work week,” he says. “In one week, we have to learn enough about the team to be able to teach diehard fans something new about their team. We need to know not just as much as those diehard fans, but even more.”
Some of the preparation is rather academic. In a week leading up to a baseball or college football game, Davis reads at his kitchen table or pores over newspapers and scouting reports at his desk in his home office. For college football, it’s rote memorization of players’ names and numbers. During baseball season, Davis said he spends about 80 percent of his time reading, proving that Yogi Berra was half right when he quipped that the national pastime is “90 percent mental and the other half is physical.”
These days, play-by-play for college basketball, where Davis cut his teeth with Buccaneers’ broadcasts, is really just survival, he says of the grueling travel schedule.
Life on the road doesn’t discourage Davis. If anything, it keeps him focused on what he’s always wanted to do. Each day on the road, each flight, each hotel room, each arrival at the ballpark, the stadium, or courtside, is “another step towards fulfilling my dreams.”