When you hear Joey Zanaboni broadcast a baseball game, you know you’re entering new territory. The Johnson City Cardinals play-by-play announcer brings a unique — some call it wild — style to the broadcast booth and when you hear it once, it becomes indelibly embedded into your memory.
There’s no turning back.
There’s also no turning it off because once you get hooked, you’re likely to be reeled in, anxiously waiting to hear what might come next.
“Terry Fuller exploding like those dry-erase markers I was storing in the microwave. Boy, those things went up in flames quick.”
When Zanaboni is behind the microphone, a simile becomes as much a part of the game as a sacrifice fly or a grad slam. He can turn a phrase quicker than a slick keystone combination can turn a double play.
“Hey baby, I have to stop sticking my face in the Xerox machine because I’m seeing double as the Cardinals just turned two.”
Zanaboni’s Twitter page tells his followers what his act is all about. “I want to be the first real millennial sports announcer who reflects the endless optimism, relentless anxiety and glorious randomness of this generation.”
It’s a style that’s all his. He’s part stand-up comic, part baseball man and 100 percent flat-out hilarious.
Tune in for the baseball and you’ll be captured by Zanaboni’s schtick.
“Jhon Torres, bashing it like the bouncer at that karaoke bar did with my rendition of ‘Man, I Feel Like a Woman’ by Shania Twain. Boy, she hated that rendition. Didn’t have to duck-tape my mouth shut, though. I’ll tell you that much.”
If your thing when listening to baseball is a monotone announcer droning “And the 3-2 pitch is outside … ball four,” you don’t need to tune in to Zanaboni. He’ll be much too amusing for you.
However, if you have an open mind and really want to be entertained during a game, by all means give him a listen.
“Smacking it like happened to me several times that summer I was guessing people’s weights at the Renaissance fair. Boy, we had a lot of ye old problems that summer, didn’t we?”
Zanaboni knows his baseball so he’s definitely not all comedy. His antics don’t prevent him from describing the action to the listener. You know what’s going on in the game and his play-by-play style is polished.
His home run call — every announcer has a unique home run call, don’t they? — is “Lock it, cock it, rock it, restock it.”
He gets excited — overly excited — at walk-off hits, home runs and game-changing plays. That’s his job, to illustrate the enthusiasm of the moment to the listener.
“He’s smashing it like Miley Cyrus gaining real-life experience at a corporate construction site. (Singing) ‘He come in like a wrecking ball.’ ”
Like most play-by-play guys, Zanaboni is an unapologetic homer. He knows which team signs his checks, although he did say during one game “Of course, they pay me in coupons to the pretzel stand.”
That may or may not be true, although it is a proven fact that he has been seen wolfing down a pretzel before his pregame show and sometimes during the seventh-inning stretch.
“Somebody call my blood pressure specialist, Dr. Dusseldorf. He needs to get a ring right now.”
Zac Clark, the Johnson City general manager, is a big fan. In fact, he encourages Zanaboni to push the envelope.
“People have really taken to it,” Clark said. “We haven’t really heard any negative reaction. I think people understand that he’s doing something a little bit goofy, but that’s kind of the sense of what he’s trying to capture. He wants to do things differently. The reaction has been positive, and we encourage him to keep it going.
“He’s a young guy trying to make his mark. This is how he’s doing it and it’s working.”
“Walker Robbins breaking it off like I had to do when I got catfished by that 54-year-old high school gym teacher. Hey, she said she was a 54-year-old high school history teacher. Had to cut it off right there.”
The 27-year-old Zanaboni grew up in St. Louis, so working for a Cardinals minor league team is a dream job. He learned his craft listening to St. Louis Cardinals announcers.
“The two saddest days of my childhood were 9/11 and the day Jack Buck died,” he said. “I only got the tail end of Jack Buck’s career. For me, it was Mike Shannon, who’s still there. With Mike Shannon, there’s sort of a charm to it. He’s got a lot of anecdotes. He’s got a real personal levity to him. He keeps it light.”
“Michael YaSenka sending them away like Long John Silvers did with me when I pulled up to the drive-through on a Shetland pony.”
Nobody keeps it lighter than Zanaboni, who has spent the last five years working in minor-league baseball and college athletics.
“Some broadcasters try to make you so comfortable they make you uncomfortable,” Zanaboni said. “Some of the similes and metaphors, it’s sort of a joshing way to make people comfortable by making them uncomfortable in a sense.”
“Liam Sabino. Eating it up like we used to do after hours with the dog food when I worked at PetSmart.”
Zanaboni admits to being the class clown-type. It’s a personality trait that follows him out of the broadcast booth once the game is over. In a way, it’s really not an act.
“I was somebody who always enjoyed stand-up comedy and I was kind of a class clown,” he said. “I’d say about a year and a half, two years ago, I was just like ‘You know what? It’s time to just cut loose and start having fun.’ ”
“Chandler Redmond burning them like nine out of 10 Shoe Carnival managers recommend you do with old sandals. Hey, give me an unscented garbage bag full of old Birkenstocks and a canister of gasoline and let me go to town, baby.”
Like the players in the Rookie-level Appalachian League, Zanaboni hopes to move up the ladder with an eye on the major leagues. His biggest challenge might be to come up with enough material for a 162-game schedule should he make it to the bigs.
For the time being, Johnson City should enjoy what it has.
“Hammering it like Hot Topic security did to my fingers after I got caught shop-lifting those pre-ripped jeans.”
For sure, Zanaboni’s act isn’t for everybody. He understands that, but it hasn’t stopped him from moving full speed ahead. If you’re going to be different, you can’t be afraid to be, well, different.
“I think any time you’re doing something that’s different, that’s fun, of course there’s going to be people who don’t get it or don’t want you to have fun,” he said. “For me, it kind of rolls off my back because really the support for it has been overwhelming. People have been waiting for a funny sort of take on sports announcing, especially with younger people.”
“Hotter than a waffle iron give-away in a tanning salon right now.”
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Zanaboni streams all Johnson City Cardinals games online. You can hear him on TuneIn Radio, JCCardinals.com or Appyleague.com.