Zerhusen's voice a constant for Reds fans
Great American Ball Park announcer prepares carefully for games
CINCINNATI -- Since Great American Ball Park opened for the 2003 season, there has been only one enthusiastic and resounding voice that has greeted fans as they enter, informed them about that day's lineups, told them who is batting and announced information between innings.
The name that goes with that unique voice belongs to public-address announcer Joe Zerhusen, who started with the Reds the same year their new stadium opened.
Almost as much as the plays seen on the field by fans, Zerhusen is a large part of the atmosphere and what they hear off it.
"It isn't like there is a responsibility so much but a realization that it's part of what the fans experience, just like everything else going on in the game," said Zerhusen, who spent the 10 previous years as the football and men's basketball PA voice at the University of Cincinnati.
"That gameday experience is very important to the Castellinis -- from the moment a fan gets there and until they leave, they want to make sure they are having a good time."
It's probable that fans, while having a good time, won't necessarily remember the way Zerhusen pronounces a player's name. It would certainly be more memorable and infamous if he said a name wrong or made a mistake.
Hence, there is preparation for each game to make sure Zerhusen gets everything right.
Each afternoon as he wraps up duties for his other job as the Reds' radio affiliate and broadcast manager, Zerhusen will get the scripts for the game from senior director of promotions Zach Bonkowski. They go into a book that lays out every detail of what will happen -- pregame announcements, on-field events, ceremonial first pitches, the national anthem, lineups and between-inning announcements and promotional contests.
If it's the start of a series or homestand, Zerhusen will meet with the visiting team's public-relations person or broadcasters to get proper pronunciations.
"Especially growing up with a name like Zerhusen, it was mispronounced all the time," said the 59-year-old Northern Kentucky native who grew up a Reds fan going to games at Crosley Field. "Not only at this level is it very unprofessional if you're saying it wrong but it also has been ingrained in me since I've been a kid to just get it right."
Zerhusen, who has missed only three games in 12 seasons, also keeps score during each game.
"It's so I'm following along because it is something where you have to keep your head in the game and know what's coming up," he said. "Every inning is different. Between innings is different for each one."
The players themselves certainly take notice of Zerhusen's work. Reds reliever J.J. Hoover admitted he doesn't pay attention to hear his own name called when he enters a game to pitch. But Hoover spends enough idle time in the bullpen to hear how Zerhusen works.
"He does a great job. He sets the tone," Hoover said. "A good announcer excites the crowd with his announcing. He gets the crowd amped up."
Zerhusen has gotten to know some Reds players by traveling with them on the annual winter caravan. Once early last season, Billy Hamilton felt comfortable enough to say something to Zerhusen about how his name was called.
"He mentioned in kind of jest -- 'You don't give me as much emphasis as you do Todd Frazier. You give him a little more,'" Zerhusen recalled. "The funny thing was the next night when he came up to the plate for the first time .. I gave him a little bit of an extra push. It so happened that when I looked up, I glanced up at the scoreboard. The camera [on Hamilton] showed a smile come across his face. I could tell he actually heard it."
How Zerhusen says a Reds player's name is a process that develops over time as he gets a feel for it -- whether it's the way he punches out the shorter-named Jay Bruce or adds a little panache to Frazier and Devin Mesoraco.
"The first few times you say a name, some just come naturally. You really don't think about it, but you know if something feels right," Zerhusen said. "Each name has its own unique style and kind of flow that goes with it. Once you find something that sort of fits and kind of works, you stay with it and it becomes what it is."
During the more buttoned-up earlier eras of Major League Baseball, PA announcers' voices -- such as Yankees great Bob Sheppard and his more elegant cadence -- were without enthusiasm for the home team. Teams and players were announced in similar tenor.
That is no longer the case at most ballparks and Zerhusen makes no bones about who he is pulling for. On the day of being interviewed by MLB.com, he was wearing a jacket with a Reds logo and a watch that had the familiar wishbone "C" on the face.
"Come on, this is their home field," Zerhusen said. "They should be introduced a lot differently than you're going to introduce players on the other team. I work for the Reds. This is the Reds' ballpark. I think that's the way it should be. The home ballpark should be an advantage for a player. I also believe in having the walkup music and the whole presentation. That's a part of it. I have no problem with it at all."
Come April 6, when the Reds hold Opening Day vs. the Pirates, the sights and sounds of baseball will be back for fans. And Zerhusen's distinct voice cadence will be part of the soundtrack.