Mike discussed his story with the Local Fix in November 2014
Courtesy of the Austin-American Statesman:
‘Voice of the Express’ speaks his mind
by Brad Stutzman / ACN contributing writer
It is, perhaps, part of the big mystery.
How is it Mike Capps — voice of the Round Rock Express since Day One — came to be talking about baseball and God and all of life — its blessings, curses and redemptions — on a sun-splashed spring afternoon at Dell Diamond?
Is he here because his grandfather, a World War I artillery soldier whose hearing loss on the battlefields of France cut short a promising baseball career, was not one of the 15,000 American dead buried beneath the Argonne Cemetery soil?
Is it because he and a couple of other Hill Junior College baseball players — needing a job to complete their journalism course — had the chutzpah to walk into a radio station and, with absolutely no experience, offer their services for free?
Is he here because in past journeys he’s mucked through too many buckets of blood; as a crime reporter in Houston and a war correspondent in the Persian Gulf and then back home – almost right back to where he’d grown up – for that long and fatal Branch Davidian siege in Waco?
These are not questions we will resolve today. But we may consider them at our leisure.
Because baseball — unique among the major American sports, in that it keeps no clock — sets its own pace. As, these days, does Capps. He counts his blessings and takes his time.
“I have more of an appreciation, than if I had taken a sports broadcasting job right out of college,” he says.
Memories of Fairfield
It started in Fairfield, the Freestone County seat but home to only about 1,500 souls when Capps — Freestone High School Class of 1969 — was growing up there.
He competed in all the basic sports that were offered — because that’s what small-town boys with athletic talent did then — participating in football, baseball, basketball and track.
He was good enough to start at quarterback his sophomore year. Good enough to have a tryout, in 1969, with Major League Baseball’s expansion team, the Montreal Expos. That’s where he met the legendary scout, Red Murff, with whom he would later author a book. Among Murff’s discoveries — funny how these things work out — was Express owner Nolan Ryan.
Capps tells these tales with relish. But some of his deepest emotion is expressed when speaking of his late grandfather — a father figure to young Mike because his dad had passed away, from a heart attack, when Mike was just 17.
His grandfather had survived the 20th century’s first great horror, the First World War. He was a man’s man, in that old-school Gary Cooper sort of way; masculine to the core but never a blowhard.
Capps was 32 — it was literally half a lifetime ago — when the old gentleman sat him down and told him his life story. The session began at 5:30 a.m. and didn’t wrap up until midnight.
“Any sort of descriptive talent I have came from him,” Capps says.
Seeing Texas and the world
So here’s the deal: First baseball got Capps into journalism. And then journalism got Capps into baseball.
After high school he attended Hill Junior College, in Hillsboro, where he played outfield and second base.
He and two other players were taking a journalism class and “one of the requirements was you had to find your own job.”
So off the three of them drove around and knocked on doors, not getting a foot – or any of their six collective feet – into any of them until a radio station manager asked: “How’d you boys like to do two hours of sports?”
“We did two hours,” Capps recalls. “People would call us up and talk.”
From Hill Junior College he moved on to Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, working toward a bachelor’s degree in teaching and landing a radio gig with KSAM.
“I did news,” Capps says. “I did basketball and baseball play-by-play.”
From there it was off to Beaumont and then Houston, where at 23 he was the police reporter for NBC’s local affiliate.
“I probably went on a dozen narcotics raids,” Capps says.
The 1970s and 80s saw Capps practicing his craft, back and forth between Texas and the Midwest. Talk of this brings up another one of those gems — about how so many of the old-timers around here are or were St. Louis fans, because back in the day Cardinals’ games were the only ones they could pick up on their radios.
In the mid-1980s, Capps was part of a broadcast team that broke what was then the worst scandal ever to hit college football: SMU players had, for years, been receiving cash payments from a booster-maintained slush fund.
“The laws of the land, there were none,” Capps says of the misdeeds, which led – among other punishments – to the NCAA cancelling SMU’s entire 1987 season.
Although that scandal even splashed onto Texas’ newly elected governor, Bill Clements (who was then chairman for SMU’s Board of Governors), it turned out that wasn’t going to be the biggest story Capps ever covered.
In 1990 he took his talents to CNN: “Just in time to get over to the Persian Gulf.”
“It was all hands on deck,” he remembers. “Even though I was the new guy on the block, I had been in the business over 20 years.”
But eight months of covering the war and its aftermath – combined with the 1993 events in Waco – took their toll.
“There’s no way to deal with death and destruction, day in and day out,” Capps says. “I had some serious stress issues I had to deal with … I woke up in the middle of the night. I had the bedpost in my hand and my head busted open.”
Capps credits his former wife with convincing him to get therapy. It was all about “just reordering life, reordering faith.”
Looking back on that time – and where his life is now – he says: “There is a God in heaven. There is no question.”
After all that, it was time to leave the daily grind of journalism behind.
Filling in the blanks
Mike Capps has been announcing Round Rock Express games for as long as there have been Round Rock Express games to announce. That’s 16 years now and counting.
Capps is respected by his peers, as well as the Express organization.
When BallparkDigest.com named him Broadcaster of the Year, in 2009, Express President Jay Miller said: “Frankly, we’re not at all surprised. Mike is a big-league announcer working for the Round Rock Express.”
Minor League News also named him Broadcaster of the Year in 2006 and 2009.
These days Travis Driskill is his broadcast partner and the games are carried on 104.9 FM, “The Horn.”
“It takes me five to seven hours to get ready for a game,” Capps says. “It’s not a job. It’s a lifestyle. I do so much reading about the kids, where they’re from and what they’ve done.”
The Round Rock Express website, which lists walk-up songs for each of the team’s personnel, notes that Capps’ is “Thunderstruck,” by AC/DC.
But a visitor, on this spring day, associates him with a portion of “My Way.” It’s the part where Sinatra sings: “To think I’ve done all that. And may I say, not in a shy way ….”
How did it all work out the way it has?
Ultimately, that’s part of the mystery, too. Everybody’s got to figure it out for themselves, in their own lives.
Capps put it this way. He’s looking down on a pastoral field of green and talking about his approach to broadcasting a game. But maybe he’s also talking about something more.
“I tell kids, you start out with an empty canvas. And your watercolors are your mind and your words, as you fill in the blanks on that canvas, which is the field.”
Courtesy of the Dallas Morning News:
Hot air: Ernie Harwell’s protg
Burned out from a professional lifetime reporting about death and disaster, Mike Capps decided to get out of the TV news business in 1995. Witnessing hurricanes and Hunstville executions, abortion battles and crime scene killings, the Gulf War and the Branch Davidian siege can make sleep difficult.
So what if he was making “a boatload of money” traveling the world for CNN. The former national award winning Channel 8 reporter, bureau chief and producer was finished. The diagnosis after therapy sessions: post-traumatic stress.
And so Capps, 44, who always had managed to find refuge from the madness at Rangers games in Arlington, traded his major league career for a minor league one. He became the radio voice of baseball’s Tyler WildCatters of the independent Texas-Louisiana League.
A call to a legendary baseball broadcaster was among the first the baseball rookie made. With the chutzpah of a reporter experienced in banging on doors, Capps decided to call Ernie Harwell for advice. Capps didn’t know Harwell. But he knew he loved Harwell’s artistry of painting scenes with his easy Southern lilt. Growing up in Fairfield, Texas, Capps could often capture Harwell’s calls of Tigers night games on powerful WJR radio in Detroit.
Capps left a message with Harwell’s agent. Six hours later, Harwell called back.
The two men talked for what seemed like hours. Harwell, a former Marine and World War II combat correspondent for the Corps’ Leatherneck magazine, was eager to hear about Capps’ experiences in war zones. Capps was eager to hear anything Harwell had to say.
It was the first of countless conversations they had over the years that were soon supplemented by visits. Capps made annual pilgrimages to Harwell’s spring training home in Lakeland, Fla. Harwell critiqued tapes and offered advice.
As Capps moved up the minor league ladder to Nashville, Sioux Falls, Atlantic City and finally his current calling with the Triple-A Round Rock Express, the two also occasionally crossed paths on the road.
In 1998, Capps worked a Major League Baseball game for ESPN radio. He was invited back in 2005. Harwell called shortly after both games with his analysis.
“He served up chapter and verse about what I did in both games,” Capps said. “Ernie was 87 years old in 2005 and didn’t miss a detail.”
The last time Capps heard from Harwell was via e-mail. It was in September soon after Harwell revealed he was dying of cancer and had only months to live.
“Don’t worry about anything,” Harwell wrote. “I am in God’s hands and I am at peace.”
Harwell, the Hall of Fame broadcaster died this week at 92. Capps, who often mixed faith into discussions with Harwell that began with fair balls and ended with foul outs, felt a “great sadness” but couldn’t help but smile.
“I don’t know many people content as he was to live the life he did,” Capps said. “And the contentment he helped bring to others. He was a blessing.”
BEST IN THE BUSINESS
Back in February, MLB Network ranked the top nine baseball broadcasters of all time. It’s a pretty good list, but I can’t buy the Yankees’ Phil Rizzuto, whom I grew up listening to. With the passing of Ernie Harwell this week, only Vin Scully is still with us. The list:
Rk. Broadcaster Rk. Broadcaster 1. Vin Scully 6. Harry Kalas 2. Mel Allen 7. Harry Caray 3. Red Barber 8. Phil Rizzuto 4. Jack Buck 9. Curt Gowdy 5. Ernie Harwell