Durham Bulls

A young boy in the heartland talks into a tape recorder. And a career is born.

Voice of the Durham Bulls calls it like he sees it

Patrick Kinas, radio voice of the Durham Bulls, brings Triple A game against Yankees' top farm team, Scranton-Wilkes Barre, to live from Durham Bulls Athletic Park on Friday, Aug. 11, 2017, in Durham, N.C.
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Patrick Kinas, radio voice of the Durham Bulls, brings Triple A game against Yankees' top farm team, Scranton-Wilkes Barre, to live from Durham Bulls Athletic Park on Friday, Aug. 11, 2017, in Durham, N.C.

An image that retains great clarity, in spite of all these years, comes back to him.

He is 11 years old. The Chicago Cubs are playing, and he sits cross-legged in front of the television. The sound has been turned off. Outside a fluke summer snow storm could be hitting the Illinois town of Pontiac where he grew up, and he wouldn’t know it. This would-be broadcaster is calling balls and strikes, describing fielders’ scooping up grounders, easily caught pop-up flies in the outfield, and pitchers trying to outwit unsuspecting batters.

The world of baseball, at that moment, over thirty-five-years ago, only existed for the young boy.

That was the beginning of Patrick Kinas’s broadcasting career.

It was that two-minute cassette tape, calling a soundless game on the TV between the Mets and Kinas’s beloved Cubs which, Kinas humbly admits, launched a career that has now spanned over thirty years. His mother entered that tape in a contest. His prize was the right to call a game for his high school.

From then on Kinas knew he wanted to make broadcasting sports his life’s work.

Although Kinas has broadcast many sports, including events in the Summer Rio Olympic Games, his first love has been baseball. He is in his sixth year as the “Voice of the Bulls,” and Kinas readily admits that broadcasting baseball outside of the major leagues, the gig with the Durham Bulls is the best in all of minor league baseball. He describes his style as “down the center as best I can,” meaning though he certainly wants the Bulls to do well, calling the game the way he sees it is the primary goal.

“A good play is a good play,” Kinas says.

Kinas is quick to point out that his love of the game goes well beyond the play on the field. Like a good storyteller or writer, he sees character development as crucial to his play by play. He loves talking to the players, including the Bulls’ opponents, and finding out about the them is part of his role, a critical one in fact, as there is always a story of how a ballplayer got to Triple A.

And beyond that, “humanizing” the ballplayer, talking about where they grew up, perhaps sharing something about their family; all lets the listener know that the player on the field is much more than a second baseman, or a thrower of fastballs.

What Kinas knows, is that not every baseball enthusiast—dare we call them fans—listening at home treasures the game. For them the game isn’t everything, but a story about a person (mother, father) behind the ballplayer keeps them interested. Baseball lends itself to thought, to ruminations, which Kinas is delighted to provide.

Growing up Kinas played baseball, predominately pitcher and shortstop. This fact, alone, though he isn’t a big man, probably says something about Kinas. The best ballplayers are frequently routed to these positions. But, of course, this happens to thousands of different boys in thousands of different communities all across America and transforming those skills into a professional career is, at best, a less than one percent proposition. Still, Kinas is an excellent tennis player, and, though he doesn’t get to play as often as he would like, it is the sport that he has continued to play.

Another point Kinas is sure to make to anyone interested in broadcasting baseball, is that happenstance occurs when you least expect it.

He went to Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois, as a communications major. It was as an intern at WGN in Chicago where he attended a party that was frequented by a number of dignitaries, including Harry Caray. While retrieving a beer for his girlfriend, Kinas was accidentally bumped, causing his beer to spill onto an attendee.

That gentleman ended up connecting Kinas to Gene Kauffman, the new owner of KCLN-FM radio in Clinton, Iowa. This relationship would directly lead to Kinas’s first pro baseball job after he enrolled in graduate school at Northwestern.

Meanwhile, back at Millikin, Kinas was invited to the football broadcast booth to sit in with his academic advisor, Jimm Seaney. After calling one quarter in the season opener, Seaney, the longtime “Voice of the Big Blue”, surprisingly turned over the reins to the freshman Kinas, who then called Seaney his on-air partner for the next four years.

Fifteen years later, as he sat in the booth as the broadcaster for the Carolina Mudcats, Kinas received an email from Seaney’s wife, Anne, stating that Seaney had died. Kinas chokes up a bit when he thinks of the man that provided him with an opportunity, one of many such persons in the business that have helped him along the way.

Kinas readily admits that the life of a broadcaster hasn’t always been easy. The travel has its plusses, but it can be wearing. He has little down time. But he wouldn’t trade the job for anything.

He has spent a lot of time in the Midwest in various baseball leagues, and he would be happy to stay right where he is with the Durham Bulls, if that is what it comes down to. Of course, if the big leagues ever came calling, that would certainly be something he wouldn’t pass up. Ultimately, Kinas says, his dream job would be to broadcast for the Northwestern Wildcats, his graduate alma mater.

The challenge for Kinas, whether he’s broadcasting a Durham Bulls game, football, basketball, or any other sport, is to tell a story.

“I love words,” Kinas says. “I’m always thinking of phrases.”

Perhaps that’s why his favorite baseball movie is For the Love of the Game.

“I know I should say Bull Durham, he says.

But to Kinas’s eyes, For the Love of the Game has the right mix of baseball, romance, conflict and character, which makes a perfect baseball movie. Kinas says The Rookie was his closest moment to fame. In the scene where Jim Morris, the real-life pitcher who was plucked away from teaching science to high school students, was on the mound against the Carolina Mudcats, and the Mudcats announcer says in the movie he had no information on him.

“That’s me,” Kinas says. “Or at least it could have been me,” as he was the real-life announcer that night.

On a beautiful Thursday evening earlier this month, as Kinas gets ready for the Bulls game with the Charlotte Knights, gathering notes and papers full of stats and information, he stops and takes in the field, so impossibly beautiful that it appears painted by Monet, or perhaps Picasso, the grass cut in cubist green squares.

Before the first three innings are over, he has already used phrases like “fastball professor,” “double-body shot,” and “pinball infield single” when describing the action on the field. He has also managed to sneak in a story about growing up in central Illinois and picking blueberries with his siblings on a self-pick farm and managing to only gather half a bucket in three hours because of eating so much.

Scott Pose, Kinas’s color-commentary partner, calls him the “consummate professional.” And he describes Kinas’s preparation as “second to none.”

We care about baseball games because they are played in our backyards. Perhaps he thinks about this from time to time, his memory of himself at the age of four donning a Peanut League All-Star uniform, Dairy Queen spread across his diminutive chest, or the many days of riding his Huffy bicycle, scuttling across his town’s landscape for a sandlot game.

As the game between the Bulls and Knights progresses, ultimately, for Kinas, a story unfolds. It is that story which he sees as his responsibility to bring to listeners: the voice of the Durham Bulls, a baseball bard on the air.

Robert Wallace can be reached at bwallace@nc.rr.com