When he was a teenager, Bill Brown dreamed of one day becoming a baseball broadcaster. It wasn’t an easy journey, but perseverance paid off, and he achieved his dream in 1976 when he joined the Houston Astros broadcasting team.
Born September 20, 1947, in Sedalia, Missouri, Brown took a job at the local radio station while still in high school, hosting a weekly show reporting on school news.
Brown absorbed as much information as he could about the broadcast business and eventually expanded his duties as a disc jockey and doing sportscasts.
“I just kept hanging around the radio station and talking to the people who worked there. Whatever I could do to get on the air was what I was interested in doing.”Bill Brown
One day, Brown met the station owner and told him he wanted to be a baseball broadcaster. The owner didn’t mince words: “You’d be better off going into sales. If you want to be a baseball broadcaster, the odds of you making it are horrendous.”
As much as Brown respected the man’s opinion, he was determined not to let it spoil his dream. He didn’t realize at the time how prophetic those words would become. In 1969, Brown graduated from the University of Missouri with a degree in journalism. Three years later, he got a job at a TV station in Cincinnati as a booth announcer and weekend sportscaster.
Honing His Craft
Brown honed his craft by going to local games and using a tape recorder to practice doing reports. In 1976, Brown became the full-time voice on Cincinnati Reds television broadcasts. He stayed for six years before being let go.
That’s when he remembered the words of his former employer in Sedalia about the broadcast business.
“Young people are usually a bit headstrong and determined to do what they want to do,” Brown explained. “Certainly, the advice that gentleman gave me was sound advice. The odd thing about it was, as my career progressed, I understood more and more what that guy had been telling me… I came to realize there’s a really good chance I will never get another shot at a baseball job.”
Brown didn’t give up, however. He had several short-lived TV jobs over the next several years. In 1987, the Houston Astros hired him to do play-by-play for their TV broadcasts, a job he kept until retiring in 2016.
Mimicking Batting Stances
Houston has become home to Brown and his wife Dianne, who have been married for 54 years. They live in Cypress, a suburban community just northwest of Houston. Brown was recently inducted into the Astros Hall of Fame as well as the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame.
Baseball was Brown’s favorite sport growing up, although he played other sports. He and his friends would often mimic the batting stances of major league ballplayers. They played games wherever they could find space and used wiffle balls for baseballs. It was during an era when parents weren’t afraid to allow their kids to roam the neighborhood.
“We were outside all day playing,” Brown recalled. “You’d go out and play whatever was in season.”
Brown played tennis during his years in Cincinnati but eventually gave up the sport due to numerous leg injuries. He first discovered pickleball several months ago and was intrigued. He liked the fact he could play despite his reduced mobility; plus, it was fun.
“We don’t have tournaments or anything like that,” Brown said. “We’re actually getting two pickleball courts built in our retirement community where we live.”
A Big Mistake
Brown began playing at the Weekley Community Center in Cypress. He will never forget his first attempt at playing pickleball. He constantly swung and missed the ball, having been used to using a longer tennis racket instead of a paddle. He also came to the court in cross-training shoes, which he quickly realized was a big mistake.
“I fell on the court,” he recalled. “I had been warned about (wearing the proper shoes), but I thought the shoes I had would be sufficient. They were not. They weren’t stable enough, so I wound up purchasing some tennis shoes. You need that ability to grab the surface and stop quickly.”
Brown’s community has not been immune to the anti-pickleball sentiment many cities and venues around the U.S. are facing. There were concerns about noise and where courts would be placed.
“For some people, it blocked their view of this little lake,” Brown explained. “I think honestly that was legitimate. So the HOA Board met and listened to all the sentiments at an open meeting and changed the location to reposition the courts over by where we had some bocce ball courts. There’s a horseshoe pit there, too.”
A Batter’s Weakness
While pickleball and baseball are obviously different, Brown does see similarities between the two sports, particularly on the mental side. For one thing, where you want to position the ball in the box can be likened to a pitcher wanting to hit a certain part of the strike zone. Then there’s the guessing game aspect.
A batter and pitcher in baseball are always trying to outguess each other, with the pitcher looking for the batter’s weakness. In pickleball, a player must figure out where their opponent’s weakness is and serve to that weak side.
In one of the toughest years for the world in a long time, this might be the toughest day of all for baseball fans. Vin Scully is not with us any more. He was the best. He is now in the best place.— Bill Brown (@BrownieTw) August 3, 2022
“The thing I really picked up on is putting a spin on the serve,” Brown said. “Cutting it, putting over-spin on it, just making it move in different directions and trying to create more confusion in the opponent’s minds. That, to me, is a big part of the enjoyment of the sport.”
“I Really Enjoy The Strategy”
Although he is retired from broadcasting baseball, Brown can still be found at the ballpark on occasion, even filling in on Astros radio and television from time to time. He also loves photography and has authored or co-authored several books, including, “My Baseball Journey: A Sportscaster’s Story,” “Altuve and the Astros,” “Houston’s Team Houston’s Title,” and “Astros Golden Era.”
A recent heart condition has temporarily sidelined him from playing pickleball, but he hopes to get back on the court once he is fitted with a pacemaker. He finds that he enjoys playing doubles as opposed to singles.
“I really enjoy the strategy. I enjoy the teamwork; it’s just fun,” Brown said. “It’s a game of mistakes like any other sport. You have to laugh at yourself sometimes. That’s part of it.”
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