The clubhouse doors burst open and euphoria poured in. Chris Garagiola had positioned himself to soak in the joy and embrace a fairytale dream.
The Arizona Diamondbacks on this night in late October had just beaten the Philadelphia Phillies to reach their second World Series in team history.
And Garagiola, 31, who worked four seasons with the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, including 2019 and 2021 (with 2020 wiped out by Covid-19) as the sole broadcaster, was now working on the radio network for his hometown team. He was inside the visitors’ locker room in Philadelphia, getting players’ reaction about the Arizona going to the 2023 World Series.
“It was such a happy moment, such pure emotions,” he said. “There are lot of people who still work for the team that were there in 2001 (when the Diamondbacks went on to win the World Series). So, without anyone saying anything, we all just understood, hey, this doesn’t happen very often.
“This is one of life’s treasures, to be able to experience something like this. Because for franchises like ours, it doesn’t happen very often.”
While the Diamondbacks didn’t win the World Series, falling in five games to the Texas Rangers, another treasure soon presented itself into Garagiola’s life.
He was recently named the new voice of the Diamondbacks, succeeding Greg Schulte, who had been the team’s main radio voice since the first season in 1998. Schulte, someone Garagiola long admired, had earlier announced his retirement after broadcasting nearly 4,000 Diamondbacks games.
In the span of a month, Garagiola lived two dreams.
“I think if I had to come up with a quick memoir and give it a title, it would be “Found A Little Bit Of Luck.’ I always hoped and it was always the goal to get to the major leagues,” he said.
“And being with Arizona would have been a very amazing thing (to envision), but with these jobs being as hard as they are to come by, you can’t be selective about the ones you want.”
But he landed the one he wanted the most.
“As Chris takes to the airwaves for the 2024 season, we are thrilled to have a familiar voice on D-backs radio,” said Diamondbacks president/CEO Derrick Hall in a statement hailing the official announcement on Dec. 1.
“Chris is an appropriate selection to take the seat in the radio booth an carry on the legacy of exceptional storytelling that Greg Schulte started 26 years ago.”
After long bus trips and even longer days in his time with the Blue Wahoos, Garagiola honed his craft and earned his mountaintop climb.
He began as a trainee with the Blue Wahoos, mentored by Tommy Thrall, the Blue Wahoos’ original broadcaster, who just completed his fifth season as the radio voice of the Cincinnati Reds. This now incredibly gives the Blue Wahoos distinction of their first two broadcasters in franchise history now being among only 30 lead voices for Major League Baseball teams.
Garagiola’s background makes this so unique. His grandfather, Joe Garagiola, was an American icon in broadcasting.
The former MLB catcher (1946-1954), who grew up on the same St. Louis street as baseball great Yogi Berra, earned Hall of Fame status as a baseball broadcaster for NBC Sports, partnering on Saturday game of the week telecasts with fellow legends Curt Gowdy and Tony Kubek.
Joe Garagiola’s storytelling style and his one-of-a-kind delivery was further made famous when he became a long-time co-host of the NBC Today Show. That was followed in the twilight of his career when he worked 15 years as analyst for the Diamondbacks, after he moved to the Phoenix area.
Chris’ father, Joe Garagiola Jr., was the Diamondbacks general manager from 1997-2005 and is now special advisor to the team president.
Chris Garagiola was 9-years-old in 2001 when the Diamondbacks won the World Series. He was sitting two rows up behind home plate when Diamondbacks infielder Jay Bell, who grew up in Pensacola and became a star at Tate High, scored the winning run to beat the New York Yankees in Game 7.
“In the video, you can see my grandfather in front of me, leaning over the railing,” he said.
Before he passed away in 2016 at 90-years-old, Joe Garagiola knew his grandson planned to go into broadcasting. It was not Chris’ original intention. He went to Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, on a baseball scholarship as a pitcher, while planning to major in a different subject.
But he gravitated into broadcasting and helped found the school’s own sports broadcast network. That’s how his path was launched.
“I tried to just keep grinding, keep getting better, keep networking and keep my head up and thought if you do that, then hopefully a break happens one day and I might be able to cash in on that,” Garagiola said.
“To me, after five years and four seasons with the Blue Wahoos that was just it… a lucky break,” he said. “The job happened to be open and I happened to be talking to the person who hires for that position, getting some great career advice.”
During his first two seasons with the Diamondbacks, Garagiola’s responsibilities included producing the Diamondbacks pregame and postgame shows. He also did play-by-play during the middle innings of home games to give Schulte a break.
He also traveled on road games as the main play-by-play voice when Schulte couldn’t make it.
“It just happened that Greg at that point wasn’t traveling and I lucked into doing 81 road games when most people (in No. 2 broadcaster role) do between zero and 15 games,” Garagiola said.
In 2021, the Diamondbacks finished dead-last in the National League West with a 52-110 record, their second-most losses in franchise history. In Garagiola’s first big-league broadcasting season in 2022, the team finished 74-88 and fourth in the NL West.
This year, Arizona went 84-78, battled their way into the playoffs as a wild card team, stunned the Milwaukee Brewers and Los Angeles Dodgers in the first two rounds, before taking down the Phillies, who reached the 2022 World Series, in the National League Championship Series.
One of the architects of the Diamondbacks’ rise was Deric Ladnier, another former Pensacola prep baseball star from Tate, who was the Diamondbacks amateur scouting director from 2014 through this season. Ladnier was recently hired by the Houston Astros as their new senior director of amateur scouting.
“There always seems to be some really unique baseball connections -- in this case -- with Pensacola,” Garagiola said. “For me, it’s my boyhood club. I take such pride being from Arizona.
“And being an Arizona sports fan might be one of the more tortuous fan bases that isn’t talked about. And (Arizona sports teams) have often lost in heartbreaking fashion, except for 2001.
“But the belief this team had in one another, it really was a band of brothers celebrating with one another in that clubhouse (in Philadelphia when winning NL pennant), and I have never experienced anything like that in my sports life.”