Pitch Perfect: The Voice Behind the Bulls

Pitch Perfect: The Voice Behind the Bulls

Tony Riggsbee – the Bulls’ PA announcer – on his process, how a teacher at the old Durham High helped discover his talent and his undying love for the game


Photo by Briana Brough.

Could there be a more perfect person for the job? Tony Riggsbee was born at Watts Hospital in 1953. He grew up on Trinity Avenue. He went to Bulls games as a kid. He graduated from Durham High – where he served as official scorer for the baseball team. He’s been behind a local microphone since 1972. He’s covered the Bulls for radio and television. He took the job as PA announcer in 2007, after Bill Law retired. Today, Tony lives in his grandparents’ old house in Duke Park with his wife, Bambi, who teaches dancing and works in costuming for DPAC and the Carolina Ballet. He often walks the more than two miles to the game. In his rare free time – between a part-time radio job and spending much of the off-season being on for spring training and the Fall League in Arizona – you’ll find him reading books about baseball on his 1920s porch. He also loves historical non-fiction. That’s helping him this election cycle. “I think if you know history, nothing bothers you as much because you see everything is cyclical. And we’ve always survived,” he says. More, now, in Tony’s own words:

“I always go to the ballpark three hours before game time. And the first thing I do is go through the script – it’s usually waiting for me at my desk. Krista Boyd, our director of marketing, usually has that ready. I’m very set in my ways. I have to put it in a three-ring binder. That’s the way I like to work during the game. Then as soon as the lineups are there, I set up my score sheet. I don’t like being rushed. That way I can ease into it a little bit. Then I have a chance to chat with the other people in the press box, particularly visiting radio folks and the scouts, and sometimes I have the chance to go down and speak to the umpires. So, by an hour before game time, I’m ready to go get the pre-game meal, and then about a half-hour before game time is usually when we start our announcements.

During the game, I have two functions. One, to keep up with the batters, announce each batter as they come in, any pitching changes, any pinch hitters. Anything that’s game related. And then between innings, it’s a matter of handling the commercial and the promotional situations. Jatovi [McDuffie, the on-field announcer] does some of it, but if it’s a commercial read that’s involved, I do it, and I’ll throw it down to him to handle the contestants and that sort of thing. He’s very good to work with.

As with everything, it looks smoother from the outside – if you’re doing your job – than it does internally. I’ll know if there’s a mistake. But hopefully a fan sitting in the stands doesn’t know there’s a mistake.

I leave when the game is over. The longest game I have done is 18 innings. I’ve done that on four different occasions. I’ve had 17 innings on three occasions.

I love baseball, first and foremost, and I love being an announcer. My first job in radio was in 1972. I love combining the two. I like having the chance to do PA the way I think it should be done. Bob Sheppard was the legendary PA announcer for the New York Yankees for so many years and had a saying that I agree with completely. He said, ‘I am not a cheerleader or a carnival barker. I am a reporter.’ I’ve always tried to keep that in mind. My job is to report what is going on–not to lead cheers. But there are a lot of parks now where they do have the carnival barker-type announcers. I’m just lucky that I have a chance, in this job, to do it the way I think it should be done. And also to do that through my other baseball jobs, in spring training in Arizona and in the Arizona Fall League.

I spent so many years as a reporter – there’s no cheering in the press box. I want the Bulls to win, obviously – I want another ring! – but I try to think professionally first. I try not to let it affect my demeanor any more than a loss would. You’ve got to keep it at an even keel.

[The Bulls experience] is, in some respects, apples and oranges from what it was in the early to mid-1960s when I started going to games as a kid. We’re Triple-A now instead of Class A. And Triple-A is a lot different in terms of how it’s handled, the mature players you have and that sort of thing. Promotionally, it’s light-years ahead of where it was in the ’60s or even the ’80s or ’90s. But the game itself is still important. And I think the Bulls put more emphasis on the game than some minor league teams do. We don’t do anything that disrespects the game, and to me, that’s vitally important.

“To me, minor league baseball is whatever you want it to be. You can go to see Wool E. Bull. You can go to have a good time with your friends. You can go for business reasons, to entertain a client. Or you can go, as many of our fans do, solely for the baseball: to keep score and be a very serious fan. We have a lot of those. We just try to make it possible for you to enjoy the game however you want to enjoy it.”

I have missed one game as PA announcer. It was in 2012. I was emceeing the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame induction in Raleigh that night. I’ve done so many of those – that was the only one to conflict with a Bulls home game. Bill Law, my predecessor, came back and did that game. I’ve been sick. But I’ve never missed a game.

Normally, we have 72 regular season games at home. If we have playoffs, you can extend that up to six games. We also do the ACC Tournament. That’s 15 games.

I did 72 regular season games for the Bulls last year, and then 31 games for spring training for the Rangers and the Royals. And I did 30 Arizona Fall League games and about 31 college games last year. So it’s a lot of games, but I love it.

I still have my hand in radio. I was with WPTF for 25 years as a full-timer. I’m a part-timer there now. I go in at 4 a.m. on Saturday mornings. I like doing radio, and I like doing news. Occasionally, I have days off here and there between my radio gig and the Bulls.

My favorite team of all time as a fan was the 1969 Raleigh-Durham Phillies, as they were called then. As an employee, it’s been more about the people than the teams. The memories are the championships in 2009 and 2013. The chance to work with two Hall of Fame managers: Bill Evers and Charlie Montoyo. My two favorite players are probably Chris Richard and Pat Borders.

When I was in high school, my English teacher my sophomore year at Durham High told me: ‘When we do oral reading, I want you to do the bulk of it because you have the best voice and the best delivery of anybody in our class.’ I hadn’t thought that much about it. That started me thinking. And then, I love baseball so much, so I put the two together. I was going to have to be in the press box if I wanted to be in baseball. I loved it, but I had no talent on the field.

You’re either lucky to have a good voice or you don’t. There’s not too much you can do about it. You work to preserve it by speaking from the diaphragm rather than the throat. That way you don’t lose your voice very often. I actually credit one of my music teachers in high school for teaching me that. (But I have no singing talent.)

I consider myself very lucky because there’s so many jobs in baseball where you don’t get to watch the game, and I have to watch every pitch. My job is to focus on the game. To get paid to do that, I think it’s the best job you can have. As long as I can do the job and do it the way it’s supposed to be done, I have no desire to retire. I always like to say the worst day at the ball park is better than the best day any place else. It’s still fun to me, and I hope it always is.”

Photo by Briana Brough.