Russ Langer arrives at Cashman Field three hours before the first pitch of every Las Vegas 51s home game. Like the players playing long toss and taking batting practice on the field, he has his own preparation to do before getting behind the microphone.
Now in his 25th minor-league season in the booth—including his 13th year calling games for the 51s on KBAD 920-AM—Langer is one of the most respected broadcasters in all of minor-league baseball. Certainly, as a seven-time recipient of the Nevada Sportscaster of the Year award—winning each of the last five years—the Encino, Calif., native has established himself as the preeminent sports voice in his adopted state.
Of course, like the players with whom he shares an office for five months each summer, Langer aspires to reach the majors. Oh, he’s had a couple of cups of coffee in The Show, and he’s been in the running for several big-league play-by-play jobs, but that full-time gig has remained elusive. Not that Langer is complaining. From the best seat in the house, he gets paid to watch dozens of baseball’s top prospects do exactly what he’s doing: chase their big-league dreams.
When did you decide you wanted to be a baseball broadcaster?
When I got the message I wasn’t going to be a player, which was at a pretty young age, this became the next best thing. … Because I had my troubles playing successfully, it instilled in me a sense of empathy. When I see a guy strike out, I really understand. When I see a guy break a bat or a pitcher walk a couple of guys to force a run in, I really understand, because all of that stuff happened to me.
What’s the biggest misconception about your job?
That there’s no work involved until the game starts. People ask me why I arrive at 3:30 or 4 p.m. for a 7 p.m. game. I do it out of self-defense. If the game is 5-4 in the ninth inning and the bases are loaded with two outs, anyone with any kind of ability as a broadcaster can make that sound exciting and interesting. But when it’s 14-2 in the fourth inning and you can hear radios being turned off, that’s why we prepare. You need to be ready with information, ready with stories, ready with tidbits, anecdotes. That’s the big challenge.
What’s the best advice you can give to a young broadcaster who’s starting out?
It’s so competitive at the major-league level. There are more U.S. senators than there are guys doing this in the big leagues. So you have to work hard, put the time in and bring your A-game every night, because you never know who’s listening. … And if you love it and really want it and have the wherewithal to go lean and live cheap for a few years, then absolutely go for it. And learn how to sell, because if you can sell advertising, that’s going to put you ahead.
What player, the first time you saw him, made you say to yourself, “Wow, that’s a can’t-miss prospect right there”?
I would probably say [Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder] Matt Kemp. It was clear, based on his physical presence and the way he carried himself on the field, that he was going to be a multi-talented superstar. He could beat you with a base hit, with the long ball, with a stolen base, going first to third on a base hit. He could beat you with a great defensive play or with a great throw.
What’s the best out-of-town park in the Pacific Coast League?
My favorite is Memphis. There are a lot of really good ones—Oklahoma City, Albuquerque, Sacramento. But for me, Memphis is a major-league ballpark that happens to have a Triple-A team playing there. It’s a wonderful facility—it’s the Rolls-Royce.
For those coming out to a game at Cashman this summer, what’s the best survival tip you can offer?
The best-kept secret in this town for self-defense from the heat … is in the club-level restaurant at Cashman Field. The misconception is that “Oh, well, you must need a special ticket to get in there.” If you have any ticket, you can get in, the host will seat you and your party. On a big night, like the Fourth of July, it might be hard to get a table, but you can watch the game in air-conditioned comfort up there, you have good food, a full bar. Some people start the game up there, then in the fourth or fifth inning move down to their seats to get the feel of the atmosphere. I think that’s a good way to go.
You’ve done some part-time broadcasting with a few major-league teams, and you’ve also gone through several interviews for full-time jobs. Do you ever wonder if you’ll get that big break?
My friend [who broadcasts] with Sacramento, he has a nickname for me—he calls me “Stieber,” after [former major-league pitcher] Dave Stieb. Dave Stieb came within one out of a no-hitter, then in his next start, had two outs in the ninth with a no-hitter, and it got broken up. I feel like that. Like the Susan Lucci of minor-league broadcasters, because I have come very close with Tampa Bay, San Diego, Kansas City, Philadelphia, the Marlins. That remains the goal. But the thing about it is, I love being here [in Las Vegas], too. There are bigger, nicer ballparks, minor-league affiliations with more of a winning tradition, but the overall situation here is outstanding.