PENSACOLA --Kyle Tait's Fourth of July will be spent the same way as the rest of this holiday week --at a minor league ball park.
It's how the 2006 South Gwinnett grad's life has gone for close to three years now, since he improbably landed the Mississippi Braves' radio play-by-play job fresh out of college. He's at the ballpark for 140 games per year, including a four-game series that starts today in Birmingham, but he wouldn't have it any other way.
"I'm lucky because a lot of people my age are trying to get their first break in pro ball," Tait, who recently turned 25, said last week after an M-Braves game in Pensacola, Fla.
Now a stable radio voice for the Atlanta Braves' Class AA franchise, Tait has settled in after his swift rise from calling Georgia Tech baseball games as a student on WREK (a role that incredibly came to him when a last-minute fill-in was needed for a 2007 game) to being two steps away from the major leagues. He went to Tech with plans to be a high school calculus teacher, but the broadcasting path opened up, much like the road to his current job did.
Some handy networking that began with one of his mentors, longtime Tech and Atlanta Falcons voice Wes Durham, landed him the gig with the M-Braves in 2011, when he was just 22.
"That first year in 2011 was such a whirlwind, 22 years old and living my dream, sort of thrust into this minor league baseball thing," Tait said. "Since then, it's been a blast. The game has slowed down for me a lot, which is good because when you're talking about it a mile a minute and keeping people up to date on what's happening, it's important for the game to be coming at you a lot slower. I feel like I've made a lot of strides in my broadcasting."
The improvements have come predominantly thanks to practice.
Tait will have called more than 400 M-Braves games by the time this season, his third, ends. In four seasons at Tech, he worked just 200 games total, typically with off days in between, so the rapid-fire attack of pro games has been a big adjustment.
Like most announcers at his level, Tait works nearly every broadcast by himself. He was solo the first two seasons, but has an intern for two innings per game this season for home games.
But most of his time is spent keeping the broadcast flowing, whether it's a blowout or a rain delay.
"If you're having a bad day in this business, the listeners don't care," Tait said. "The listeners want their baseball and you have to have the same personality on the air every night. There are nights when you're sick, nights when you're tired, nights when you frankly just don't want to watch baseball. It's a long schedule. But you have to find a way to stay entertaining and stay chipper on the air and find positive things to talk about. It's not about you, it's about the games and the players."
Speaking of the players, Tait is like them in at least one way. His aim is to reach the major leagues as a play-by-play voice.
The good news:an announcer's longevity in the business stretches decades longer than a player's career.
The bad news: play-by-play openings in the major leagues are even more limited than a player's spots.
"Everybody's goal, the players, the coaches, the umpires or me, everybody wants to make the big leagues," Tait said. "The show is the ultimate goal. That's been an adjustment to me. When you're in college baseball, the goal is to make it to minor league ball. You don't realize that the next step after that is the big leagues because that seems so far away. For me, that first year I had to readjust and figure out what my goals from that point on were and move along.
"It was tough for me to make that transition out of college and into AA so quickly, and for me to figure out everybody around me is interested in getting to the big leagues. For me, I'm living my dream. I'm in the minor leagues. Eventually those goals switched when I realized I was good at what I did here, but there was that learning process.
"It's the same thing for a college player being drafted and immediately put in AA, there's a learning curve. I feel like I'm at a point where I'm happy with my broadcasts. Every day is a chance to improve and I hope I can keep working hard, covering the team, networking and hope that leads to a major league job. But there's no guarantee. The good news is I have a lot longer to develop as a broadcaster than the players do."
Most of Tait's family is still in metro Atlanta, save for his brother, who listens to his game broadcasts and watches him on Skype because he currently lives in China.
Meanwhile, Tait has found a nice temporary home in Jackson, Miss., where he and his wife, Megan (they were married in March), call home. She is understanding of his job and the travel it entails, the long bus rides that he faces all season long.
Professionally, Tait is in a good spot as well. He will be 25 with three years of AA play-by-play experience, a good jump on his peers and a nice start to what he hopes is a long career of broadcasting.
"I love the baseball," Tait said. "I love getting paid to watch the game every day."
Will Hammock can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Thursdays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willhammock.