The Long and Winding Road

Matt Hicks took an unusual route to Rangers broadcast booth. Photo Courtesy: Darryl Briggs
Matt Hicks took an unusual route to the Rangers broadcast booth. Photo Courtesy: Darryl Briggs

By Mark Miller

Never in his dreams could Matt Hicks imagine working at baseball’s highest level and while his chance came under difficult circumstances, fate had to be why he’s now in the Texas Rangers radio booth.

When Dave Barnett couldn’t return to television following stroke-like symptoms last June and radio analyst Steve Busby switched sides, Hicks was summoned from the minor leagues. Though in the middle of the season, the director of  broadcasting and media relations and radio voice of the Corpus Christi Hooks, the Class AA affiliate of the Houston Astros, was on a planned vacation with wife Estelle and 10-year-old son Nathaniel.

“I was at the Ramada Inn in Carlsbad, Calif., getting ready to go to Legoland when I got the call,” said Hicks, 52. “Obviously I wasn’t expecting any kind of phone call.”

On the line was his boss, Reid Ryan, then the chief executive officer of Ryan-Sanders Baseball, owner of the Hooks and Round Rock Express, the Rangers’ Class AAA affiliate. The oldest son of Texas Rangers chief executive officer Nolan Ryan now is president of the Houston Astros.

“He didn’t know that was my one series vacation so since the club was in Frisco, he thought I was in Frisco and could just drive over,” Hicks said. “I said, ‘hey Reid, it’s my one series vacation, I’m in California’ and he said fine and just wanted to know the earliest I could get back to Corpus so I could get up here.

“When Reid first called me, he said ‘I don’t know how long they’re going to need you. He said it might be a week. It might be two weeks, but the sooner you can get here the better.”

The call came on a Monday and by Saturday, Hicks was sitting next to Rangers Hall of Famer Eric Nadel at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Their meeting in the press box was the first time they ever spoke.

“It was a little bit intimidating, no question,” Hicks said. “And not truly knowing a whole lot about this club and in general not a whole lot about the American League because for many years the teams I worked for were National League affiliates.”

Not only did Hicks need to quickly learn about the team and league but also how to work with Nadel.

“What I’ve learned from being here a little more than a year is there’s so many Ranger fans and so many people who listen to the broadcast that the toughest part was figuring out how to fit in the broadcast,” said Hicks, who does play-by-play in the third, fourth and seventh innings. “I didn’t want to be the anvil bringing it down and that I guess is what’s always motivated me is to do what can I do to make the broadcast as good as possible. I still think about that every day.”

Hicks has had plenty of time to mesh with Nadel this year after the Rangers hired him full-time in October.

“Chemistry is something you can’t talk about,” Hicks said. “You just have to sort of experience it on the air. That’s something that also is an ongoing process. I’ve got a better idea when I can talk, when to be quiet. I try not to step on his toes and vice-versa. I get upset at myself when I do.”

The Washington, D.C, native called baseball, football, basketball and lacrosse action at the University of Maryland and wanted to work his way into the National Hockey League, preferably with his hometown Washington Capitals. While he’s broadcast minor league hockey and college basketball, it’s been baseball that’s been his ticket to the majors.

“I didn’t have in mind any major league baseball or any particular team,” he said. “But once I got into baseball and was in it for a number of years, I got encouragement and support from a lot of people who told me they really enjoyed my baseball work. I never really thought about having a realistic shot of being a major league broadcaster.”

He broke into baseball broadcasting in 1989 when he started a five-year stint with the Carolina League’s Frederick Keys, Class A farm club of the Baltimore Orioles. He later spent eight years with the former El Paso, Texas, Class AA team in the Texas League before joining the Hooks in 2005.

With more than a year in the majors, he can easily tell the differences between levels.

“No. 1 here everything at the major league level seems geared to winning,” he said. “That’s not to say teams don’t try to win in the minor leagues but in the minors, a move might be made based on development where a move here is made to win the game.”

Another difference is being part of a 60-station network versus one. And he gets to travel to much larger and farther away cities where he can visit his many friends in the business and work on improving his broadcasts.

“It’s a constant process because I don’t think I’ve walked away from one broadcast where I felt like ‘whew’ that was really good,” he said. “And I may never have that feeling. Don’t think you can strive for the perfect broadcast just strive to be better.”

Hicks hopes his mix of statistics and stories informs and entertains his listeners.

“Some days I enjoy it more than others but that’s probably one of the major goals of all of this is to try to have as much fun as possible,” he said. “It’s baseball. It’s not real estate tax or heart surgery. It’s baseball. If you can’t have fun with this you probably shouldn’t be doing this.”

As his family prepares to move to North Fort Worth, he can finally have fun at and away from work.

“One of the reasons I’m looking forward to this off-season I will have finished this transition to the Metroplex and can concentrate on preparing for next season,” he said.