It was a normal day for Joe Klimchak. He was just out of college and living in Grove City, PA. He was married to his wife Jennifer and was working as the sports information director for his alma mater, Grove City College. It was normal, until his answering machine started to beep.
On the other end of the line was his idol, Pittsburgh Pirates public address announcer Art McKennan.
Some time earlier, Klimchak had written McKennan a letter, expressing his admiration for his work and desire to watch him in action at a Pirates game.
“He [McKennan] told me had my nice letter and that he could make it possible to watch me do public address announcing,” Klimchak said. “I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, I am in the door. Somebody is going to see me and see my enthusiasm.’
“I predicted to my wife that night that at some point I was going to get my shot.”
Klimchak took advantage of his opportunity and cashed it in 1994 as the team’s back-up public address announcer.
To get to where he was, Klimchak first started with an internship with WBVP, a radio station in Beaver County. Klimchak grew up listening to AM radio and idolized Chris Shovlin. In 1990, Klimchak had a chance to call a high school championship game by going out to Shippensburg, PA. The next year, he was an intern doing copy and filling in whenever asked.
After graduating from Grove City College, Klimchak was an SID for the school and the conference it played in from 1991 to 2000. Klimchak credits the experience for shaping a lot of things, but admitted that the job was not his first love.
It was, however, a chance to get closer to his dream job.
“Very few people get married right out of college, so I needed to make some money,” said Klimchak. “I could have been a disc jockey at a radio station, but it was sports, and it was communication. I was doing stats and that’s right up my alley. I always knew that my dream job was to work for the Pirates.”
Klimchak met McKennan, who was in his mid-80’s, on Sept. 20, 1992, a game in which Mickey Morandini recorded an unassisted triple play.
That day, Klimchak also met Tim DeBacco, which was an important step. DeBacco was the team’s PA announcer with McKennan serving the same duty on Sunday games. DeBacco and Klimchak began to hit it off and when McKennan became too old to be a PA announcer, DeBacco alerted Klimchak, who was one of 10 to audition for the back-up PA announcer.
Klimchak competed with media members among others, and considering his background, which at the time was Grove City SID, he was surprised to find out he was chosen.
On May 26, 1994, Klimchak made his first ever appearance as a PA announcer. The Pirates defeated the New York Mets that day in 13-innings and he never forgot the moment, calling it a lifelong dream.
Though Klimchak was thrilled with the opportunity, he would only work 1-2 games a year as a PA announcer and wanted to be at the ballpark more; after all, he was a Pirates fan. In 2001, his request was honored, and he worked the LED boards at the ballpark while still serving as back-up PA announcer, which allowed him to attend 70 games a season.
In 2005, his role increased even more, as Eric Wolff, the Pirates director of in-game presentation, put him out on the PNC Park river walk to host “Baseball Quiz”.
Klimchak had long wanted to be a game show host, idolizing Bob Barker and Richard Dawson, however this was a new experience. He had no prior TV training, and it was his first time out there. Suddenly, he was assigned to host a game in which a fan had to choose a box which could contain a jersey or either pigs feet or an octopus.
He performed well in the role and it grew in 2006 withe a few pregame responsibilities. Since then, it has expanded to either a promotion or game just about every half inning.
Many see Klimchak as the face and voice of the team as he maintains an upbeat, excited attitude while hosting games or reading promo spots.
“I love the Pirates; that’s been my team growing up,” said Klimchak. “There is not a day I dread coming down here. I don’t take a single game for granted. I look at the scoreboard and it says home of the Pittsburgh Pirates and I still can’t believe I’m doing this. I don’t have to pretend, it comes it out. It’s in my blood. I’m very blessed to be a part of this organization and humbled to be with these guys.”
Klimchak makes sure each contestant feels welcome.
“With the contestants, it’s their big moment,” Klimchak said. “We’re going to get everyone like it’s the one, like Buctober, like it’s the last one.”
One thing Klimchak takes pride in his work and also that he is not known by name, but rather by the energy and passion for his favorite team.
“I don’t want to be the guy who’s trying to be a hot shot or is about himself,” said Klimchak. “I hope I come across as easy to watch. I never use my name. Sometimes Tim [DeBacco] will say it if he throws it to me but nobody knows my last name and very few know my first name. People say ‘there’s the guy’ and I want it to stay that way. I’m just another fan cheering on the Buccos.”
Photo credit: The Bucco Zone