In The Booth with Curt Bloom
August 3, 2012By John Battle of Sports and Family Magazine
In The Booth with Curt Bloom
Birmingham Barons Play-by-Play Broadcaster
“My hope is that when a team member, no matter who they are or for whom they are playing, put that uniform on, they understand how lucky and how privileged they are.” - Curt Bloom
Standing in the inner sanctum of a broadcasting booth is enough to make any adult feel twelve years old again. Overlooking the Barons’ ball field a story or so above the green grass and tan dirt, starring down home plate leading out to the pitcher’s mound and beyond, with score cards scattered about his desk with names of players, some of them spelled phonetically so he wouldn’t miss pronounce them, Curt Bloom is living his dream as the play-by-play broadcaster for the Birmingham Barons.
Just hours before the first pitch on a pristine Sunday afternoon, Curt, dressed in a black pullover with the familiar Barons’ logo on the left chest and sporting a fresh haircut, graciously and with an infectious pre-game enthusiasm that is a Curt Bloom trademark, sat down to tell his story that never seems to get old to him.
He jokingly compares himself to Eli Gold as, “Two Jewish guys from New York who wound up in Alabama.” That’s the short version of his story. Curt grew up in Westchester County, New York, which boasts to be the first suburb north of New York City. To his own admission, New York made it easy for him to be influenced by sports.
Sports would also become a source of comfort for Curt Bloom.
There are two to three sports teams for every sport when the New Jersey teams are included in the mix. The pickings are many and varied between baseball, basketball, hockey, football and others that one could follow.
At an early age, Curt was influenced by the “blessing” of knowing what he wanted to do. “There aren’t many people who wake up in their twenties or thirties, or even in the fifties or sixties, that say, ‘Man, I’m doing what I want to do,’” he says.
And Curt Bloom hasn’t grown up yet to the final realization of his ultimate goal – to be the voice for a major league ball club.
At the age of nine, he would admire pictures of himself donning Yankees caps and jackets in front of his bedroom mirror, and would line up the perfect ball team, in his estimation, from baseball cards neatly collected in his drawer, and he knew that broadcasting would be his career path. Attending North Salem High School, situated in the picturesque community of North Salem, New York, Curt was the broadcaster, score keeper, team manager, and volunteering to do whatever job was necessary to learn more about the particular sport. Being cut from teams more often than not enabled him to prepare to learn each sport, not as a player, but from the technical aspect; he learned the rules of play that any broadcaster needs to know to accurately portray the game. And one other skill he learned – how to keep a score book.
Curt played baseball and soccer in high school. Neither his high school nor the college he would attend had football teams. He calls it a Daily Double. In baseball as his heart was bigger than his ability; he played second base and outfield, and he was a forward in soccer.
Though he didn’t have the talent, putting on the uniform for game day was a treasure for Curt. “My hope is that when a team member, no matter who they are or for whom they are playing, put that uniform on, they understand how lucky and how privileged they are,” he says. “When I put that baseball uniform on, I would say ‘Wow, I’m a baseball player!’ and it didn’t matter if you were the best or the worst, you were a baseball player.”
His parents divorced when he was three years old, and he was reared by his mother. Sports became his crutch.
“Sports,” Curt says, “was my way of disappearing, it was my fantasy, it was my way of not feeling sorry for myself because I didn’t have the luxuries that my friends had, I didn’t have time to feel sorry for myself because my dad wasn’t home to play catch; I never had a simple game of catch with my dad. So, instead of my parents influencing me, it [sports] was my escape.”
While his friends went out, Curt could be found at home watching a game. Whether it was football, basketball, or baseball, sports was his companion, and broadcaster Marv Albert was his idol. “He was the guy, who has such a huge influence, and everybody wanted to be Marv,” Curt elaborates.
“I knew, as young as I was, as skinny as I was, as little playing talent that I had, broadcasting was the next best thing,” he expresses. He learned players’ stats by studying baseball cards and the ability to instantly recall them came natural.
At the age of nine he had the wisdom to know that with desire, the doing must follow. One of the first things he did was to volunteer for the morning announcements at his high school. Curt Bloom, the future baseball broadcaster, could be heard around North Salem High School practicing his grown up voice: “Good morning, this is Monday, May 20th, please stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, fourth grade, Mrs. Pearson’s class, you will be staying 10 minutes late for a presentation…,” and Curt Bloom was happy.
Every year he tried out for the basketball team, and every year he was cut. So he did the next best thing – he was the public address announcer. “I had the microphone, describing the action as it took place, basket by so-and-so, starting line-ups, and it was easy,” he says.
When he actually made it on the baseball team, but wasn’t playing on the field, he kept the book. And in high school he understood his next step was to attend a college where he could begin this career so perfectly chosen for him.
He attended UNC Greensboro and to his own admission, “I didn’t know what to expect from the South but the school let me on the radio as a freshman. “ He considers his choice of schools to be a great one because many colleges don’t allow freshmen to be on the air. “My program director at UNCG said, here, here’s a shift,” he says with a twinkle of delight in his eyes.
He cannot express his appreciation enough for college radio.
“One day I want to give back to college radio,” he states. “College radio is very important for anyone who aspires to be a Disc Jockey, any news person, any sports person, college radio is very important. And I preach that a lot to college students coming in and existing students. Go to you college radio station, get on the air, get a show.”
At UNCG he majored in Broadcasting and Communications.
“I look back now, and I mention this to a few people, and it is not a regret, but I wish I had majored in English,” Curt says. “After I graduated, there were a few books written by sports casters such as Dick Einberg and Curt Gowdy and Bob Costas, and others, who said you should major in English because you need to learn how to master the English language. And it made sense to me. So when I talk to people now, I advise them to major in English because you need to learn how to talk. Then you take your broadcasting and communication courses as electives.”
He trained himself by recording his own broadcasts. He taped every radio program in college and had his instructors critique his performance. He didn’t realize how thick his New York accent was. “It wasn’t exactly Rocky Balboa,” he describes it, “but it certainly isn’t going to play everywhere you go.” Curt listened and worked at toning his accent to what is now heard on Baron’s broadcasts. And he still tapes his broadcasts and replays them in pursuit of the perfect broadcast.
The method he uses to annunciate a player’s name is to hear it from his counterpart from an opposing team. He listens to that broadcaster pronounce the name and he then repeats the name many times over to secure it in his memory. He then writes the name in the scorebook as he would pronounce it.
With a diploma in hand in 1985, his goal throughout college was to have a job the day he graduated. “You have to be driven,” he says. “We have press box interns and the day they graduate they repeat that infamous question, ‘Now what?’”
He worked as a production assistant at a television station at Greensboro at a CBS affiliate. The day after he received his diploma he had a job running the camera and teleprompter. Though it wasn’t in broadcasting, he was near it.
After a few months he realized the job was not going to avail him the opportunity to advance in his chosen career. He moved back to New York and landed a commercial radio station job. He was the DJ for an Adult Contemporary station, Magic 105, for two and one half years. “I had the 10-2 shift,” he says. “The greatest shift there is; you don’t have to wake up early and you don’t come home late.”
It was there that he not only built an audience, but his confidence as well.
The stepping stone to broadcasting led curt to the Winter Meetings. The Winter Meetings, a thirty plus year annual event, is the networking Mecca for aspiring baseball broadcasters. Every major and minor league club has a convention during the Winter Meeting, and it rotates between differing cities each year. At these conventions s clubs advertise job applicants and openings.
Curt remembers thumbing through a Baseball America directory, calling as many teams as possible, selling himself as a potential broadcaster. This went on for more than two years. “And you don’t start with AAA or major club,” he says. “You start at the lowest rung.”
After two and a half years of calling, a team in Bakersfield, California., called him and invited him to the Winter Meetings to talk, at his own expense. No promises were given, only a meeting.
With briefcase and a suit in tow, begged for and borrowed, twenty five year old Curt Bloom flew to Dallas in 1987 and met with the gentlemen from Bakersfield. He took with him his resume, tapes of his broadcasts, and hope.
The gentlemen said to Curt, “You know, we really haven’t had anybody like you who keeps calling, who keeps us updated, who really wants it. So here is what we are going to do. If you want to be with us, when the team is at home, you have to be what we call the administrative assistant concessions manager; you’re going to be in charge of food. Then when the team is on the road, we’ll send you on the road and you can broadcast the middle innings (The middle innings are the fourth, fifth, and sixth innings. Traditionally, the regular broadcaster calls the first and last three innings, and the back up or number two broadcaster calls the middle three)”.
Curt replied, “When do I start?”
That summer, with his mother’s blessing, though not with full understanding that her son had a real job, Curt Bloom drove from New York to Bakersfield, CA. An eight day journey that is still on-going.
From the Bakersfield Dodgers, in the California League, the year was 1988 and Ken Griffey, Jr. was in his first full year playing with the San Bernardino Spirit and Curt relishes the memories of watching the future hall of famer play.
In 1989 Curt went back east to Woodbridge, VA, below Washington, D.C., announcing for the Prince Williams Cannons, an affiliate of the New York Yankees. He broadcasted the 89-90 seasons. With tapes in hand, he sold his talent anyone who would listen.
The Huntsville Stars heard.
After a brief stint in Huntsville, in 1992, he landed in Birmingham with the Barons and has called it home ever since.
Curt is growing into his dream. One sentence he uses to describe his journey is the Lou Gehrig line, “’Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.’ And that goes back to being nine years old and knowing what you want to do,” he says. “So I wake up every day and I am doing what I want to do, especially April through September.”
He looks out the opened windows of the booth, scans the horizon, and says, “Today is game day, I have the enthusiasm and the passion that I did twenty four years ago.” This year marks Curt’s twenty fifth year broadcasting and he is as excited today as he was in Bakersfield.
He doesn’t consider himself the greatest voice. He doesn’t liken himself to the John Miller’s or Vin Scully’s who are defined by their voices. And he doesn’t feel connected with his last name as others are by theirs. His personal strength, he says, is his passion and enthusiasm for the game.
Curt says of his wife Laura: “It takes a special, special person, probably one that needs to get her head examined, to hang out with a baseball guy. I wouldn’t marry me,” he quips. “And not because I’m not a nice guy, but more importantly, I haven’t been home for more than half the time any other father has been home. When the season starts, I’m no good. There’s nothing at home I can do because I’m either at the ball park or I’m on the road.” He is not apologizing, just answering the question.
He and Laura met at UNC Greensboro. As a child of divorced parents, Curt was acutely aware of the fragileness of relationships and had a rule of thumb. “I tried not to get into a relationship because I didn’t want to get my heart broken,” he explains.
Laura caused him to break the rule.
Upon their first meeting, Curt instantly recognized he was in danger.
“Oh, no,” he said to himself. “This is not what I wanted.”
As his career was chosen by God for him, so was Laura.
“We were so compatible,” he says.
Laura grew up in New Jersey which to Curt was neat; only God could orchestrate that a New Yorker guy and a New Jersey gal would meet in North Carolina at the same Southern college, he argues.
His eyes sparkle as he describes his wife. “I could not be more proud of her,” he says.
Due to him building his career and crisscrossing the country on tours-of-duty, she waited six and one half years before Curt said, I do. They had been going out for three years when he left for California and they didn’t see each other for six months.
They were married on November 18, 1989.
As their marriage grew in responsibilities, Laura had to become extremely independent, Curt says. For a marriage of this type to survive, Curt relates that it takes a special person who knows that they will have to learn to live and make decisions while their husband is on the road for days on end. And they don’t stop their own plans. Laura earned her Masters and PhD at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, while seeing to the majority of the family responsibilities.
And when asked how he juggles his career and responsibilities, he always defers and says, “Don’t ask me, you will have to ask her.”
Laura is Dr. Laura Bloom, a soon to be professor at the University of Alabama, and the mother of their two daughters, Chloe and Alexis.
Curt though, is driven to give his wife a better life.
“We have a very good lifestyle,” he explains. “But I want to give her the ultimate one…she deserves to slow down. “
In that pursuit, Curt is aiming at one of the thirty Big Leagues broadcasting booths, though he realizes it is not on his clock. So in his heart, he has rested that pursuit into the hands of God.
“He will take care of it,” he says.
When that happens, he says he will always be very appreciative of Birmingham to the extent that he wants to remain a residence in the Magic City in an effort to give back to the community that has given so much to him and his family.
Reconciled, Curt now has a weekly telephone conversation with his father.
“It is a blessing,” he expresses. “God came down and said, ‘CB, here’s what you are going to do, this is your path; I’m showing you.’ And places I go, I look around the room and I’m not sure everybody is doing what they want to do, but I am.”
Curt has been recognized by the Hispanic’s United of America for his work to help with Hispanic broadcasting during his years at Prince William County, VA. And he is a two time recipient of Broadcaster of the Year Award for the Sothern League.
He is also fluent in Pig Latin and Spanglish.