Already a year removed from calling the NCAA Final Four for University of Kansas student radio, Gus Baylow has since traveled with the Kansas baseball team and has handled the on-air play-by-play for most of its games the past two months.
The Marblehead native has a lot on his plate, especially for a guy who is still weeks away from wrapping up the academic year. But Baylow, a junior at KU’s William Allen White School of Journalism, is no ordinary collegian, and his career pursuit is no easy get.
In point of fact, working the bulk of this spring’s 55-game Big 12 baseball campaign actually represents a downshift from last summer, when he shared a 72-game schedule of radio and TV play-by-play and color analyst duties for the Green Bay Rockers in the independent, Midwest-based Northwoods League.
That came on the heels of calling almost two dozen KU softball games streamed on kuathletics.com last April and May. Suffice it to say, the Rockaway Avenue resident is learning a lot, so much so that he will be back in Green Bay this summer for a second tour.
“This past summer was a great, great opportunity, and I’m incredibly fortunate to have had it,” says the St. John’s Prep graduate, who cut his teeth calling some 200 streamed broadcasts of Eagles’ sporting events during his high school years.
Baylow continued, “It’s a lot of games. It’s a lot of work. I knew that going in, and I wanted that — I wanted that experience. The Northwoods League is as much a place for broadcasters to improve as it is for players to improve. When you do this many games, you’re not going to have your best stuff every night, either on the field or in the booth. It’s mainly just a way to get reps. It’s a way to get practice. It’s a way to get motivated. When I got back to school last fall, I had a different level of broadcast experience under my belt, because a (10-week) summer schedule is a real grind.”
Baylow actually got the gig online. In the fall of 2021, he saw the Green Bay listing on a job website called Teamwork Online Sports Jobs. He applied electronically and attached his resume. Within an hour, the club asked for demo clips.
A few emails and phone calls later, he was the voice of the Rockers, along with eventual broadcast partner R.J. Taylor, who will graduate from the University of Georgia’s Carmical Sports Media Institute in May. It was a big step for a sophomore. Then again, the stepping stone of calling KU’s run to the 2022 NCAA men’s basketball championship loomed large in helping him adapt.
Baylow called a couple of football games in the fall of his sophomore year but transitioned to men’s and women’s basketball games in early November. Shortly before the Big 12 Tournament, his producers told him he would be part of the broadcast team to go to New Orleans if No. 3 Kansas reached the Final Four. Baylow tried to stay level-headed.
“I told myself a lot of things would have to happen, so let’s pump the brakes a little bit. Don’t get your hopes up,” he said.
Three weeks later, he got the call after the Jayhawks crushed the University of Miami, 76-50, in the Elite Eight. Five days later, Baylow was in a rental car heading south the night before a semifinal matchup against Villanova. The next night, he was calling a game in the Superdome in front of a crowd of 75,000.
“I definitely felt jitters,” recalls Baylow. “It’s hard not to, on that big of a stage. When you’re calling one of the biggest sporting events on the calendar, no matter how many people are listening to your broadcast (on 90.7 FM Lawrence, KU student radio), it’s an event that millions of people from all across the world are watching. And it’s a big deal for a lot of people. You’re there representing your school. The school is supplying the money for us to make the trip. You’re also representing your own personal brand, your friends, your colleagues and all that kind of stuff.
He continued, “I think the biggest thing that I promised myself, especially in that first game, was not to let the crowd or the moment get away. It was a three-man booth, and all of us tried our best not to let the moment get away from us. I honestly think we did a really good job, for the most part.”
Two nights later, Kansas outlasted North Carolina, 72-69, and Baylow was headed north on I-55 back to Lawrence the next day. It was a fortnight he will never forget.
Far from Cheeseheads
More than 300 Northwoods League alumni have gone on to play in the big leagues, including 2016 Roberto Clemente Award winner Curtis Granderson, three-time Cy Young Award winner and Mets righthander Max Scherzer, two-time World Series champion Ben Zobrist, Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford, seven-time All-Star and Red Sox lefty Chris Sale and Mets first baseman Pete Alonso, who led the National League in RBI in 2022.
The independent league, a 24-team affiliation spread across four divisions, is also well-known for its robust commitment to high-quality broadcasts of games. Every Rockers game can be heard on 95.9 FM Green Bay and WDUZ 1400 AM The Fan (Green Bay), and is also webcast on Northwoods League TV. Some of Baylow’s games last summer made it to ESPN+.
“The league is one of the best, if not the best for broadcasters to come through, because of the resources they put into the broadcasts and the equipment that we have,” explained Baylow. “When you watch the Northwoods League, it’s a four-camera set-up with graphics, replays and a lot of bells and whistles, so it’s very much like a minor league or even a major league game.”
So, did Baylow hold his own?
“Gus does a really, really great job,” says his 2022 booth partner, Taylor, who broadcasts Georgia Bulldogs games on SEC Network+, accessible using the ESPN app.
“When it comes to sports knowledge, I mean, the guy is a savant,” Taylor said. “But with the nuts-and-bolts broadcasting, he paints a really good picture for the radio audience. From what I could tell, he had less experience on the TV, but I think he adjusted really nicely. Obviously, he has a tremendous voice. His voice is a phenomenon.”
Baylow rates the quality of play and the talent level throughout the league as “generally similar to the North Shore Navigators summer team in Lynn and the rest of the New England College Baseball League.” He would know.
In the summer of 2021, Baylow called 47 games in 70 days for the Navs’ streaming broadcasts, and he handled the Fraser Field PA duties for the team during the three seasons before that.
For his part, Baylow is grateful that broadcasters for rival teams in the Northwoods League provide resources about their players and the latest team news to help his broadcast team cram in preparing for the games.
“We have other responsibilities besides calling the games,” he explains. “We make the game programs, and we help out with roster management. In summer ball, you have so many players who come and go. It’s tough to keep track of everybody. Those things take time, so we don’t have time to sit down and look at stats for five hours. In return, we try to prepare as much as we can to give other teams’ broadcasters the scouting report we create.”
There’s no doubt Baylow’s is a summer pastime that lacks glitz and glamor, what with road trips to exurbs like Wausau and Fond du Lac in Wisconsin, Rockford, Illinois, and Traverse City or Kalamazoo, Michigan, particularly when doing games for a team that went 30-42 and finished 27 games out of first place in its division.
Be that as it may, Rockers Vice President and General Manager John Fanta says that what Baylow calls “the grind” did not impact his performance.
“Gus came with the same energy every day,” he said. “He’s very regimented. Regardless of what time we expected certain people to be in here for certain duties, he always showed up at the same time every day, went through his daily routine with writing our pregame notes, and he did a very nice job at putting a comprehensive packet together for the visiting media and our fans.”
Fanta continued, “After all of his pregame and postgame prep, which includes doing the pregame show for TV in the afternoons, swinging by the batting cages to check on any updates that were happening with the team throughout the day or working throughout the evening on the broadcast in addition to writing a pregame and postgame story for the press release we send out to the media. His great work really encompasses a lot of things.”
Baylow will make his return engagement to Green Bay in time for the Rockers’ season-opener on May 29. To get a feel for Baylow’s broadcasting chops, stream KU sports audio on demand by visiting bit.ly/3KlDRtw.
Chad Konecky is a communication specialist for St. John’s Prep.