Q&A With River Cats' Announcer Johnny Doskow

Last season, Oakland A's fans got to hear what Sacramento River Cats' fans have enjoyed hearing for years: the game of baseball through the lens of Johnny Doskow, as Doskow, the longtime River Cats' radio voice, filled in for A's play-by-play legend Ken Korach for the first few weeks of the 2012 season. Chris Biderman spoke with Doskow about that experience and more...

Chris Biderman: Last season, with Ken Korach out after undergoing knee-replacement surgery, you got your first extended action in the big leagues. What was that like for you?

Johnny Doskow: It was phenomenal. It was a wonderful experience on so many levels. Because I had spent a lot of time in the minor leagues, it was my 20th year in baseball. Everything from the travel to the ballparks to how structured it is up there., I was treated very well up there. I was treated very well by Vince Cotroneo [A's radio announcer], who I worked with. He was awesome. He gave me tough love when I needed it, but was also encouraging. Bob Rose [A's PR Director] was ideal. All the media relations people were great.

I learned a lot. And I think I learned about myself in the process. I remember going to Seattle, I just remembered all the hotels I had been in. I went to the Fairmont hotel, being in the hotel and just putting my bags in there and breaking down. I started crying, remembering where I had been. I walked to every ballpark except Texas – any ballpark within walking distance I walked to. I would walk it just to get a feel for the city. In Boston I walked about 25-30 minutes, but it was worth it. It was great.

Seattle was a nice walk. I really enjoyed it. I tried to soak everything in. All 34 games, I soaked it in. I really enjoyed it. I got a lot out of it.

CB: How was Fenway?

JD: Fenway was amazing. I got a little choked up when I went in there. Watching batting practice and everything. You want to hide your awe a little bit. But when I walked in there I was by myself and in awe. It was pretty cool.

CB: Last year the River Cats won another division championship. It's almost expected at this point every year, right?

JD: So many other radio guys joke and call it the River Cats invitational. It's amazing. The last time the River Cats didn't make the playoffs was 2006.

Each year you have to hand it to Billy Beane and David Forst in the front office. We always have good teams and we always have good coaching staffs. Look at our coaches and managers throughout the years. We're very fortunate in that regard. The bottom line is these guys come here and look up at those championship banners and they tell you – 11 titles in 13 years – they don't want to be the guys that break the streak. They want to continue the tradition.

We've just been very fortunate. They have confidence, they expect to win. I'm sure [new River Cats' manager] Steve Scarsone will do a great job this year. It's pretty fun to watch. You look at the players we've had through the years, these guys want to be in the big leagues but here is a pretty good place to be.

CB: Last year the A's went on a remarkable playoff run while getting considerable contributions from a lot of guys that started off the season here in Sacramento. What was that like to see those guys you got to know really well down here play well up there?

JD: It's part of the whole experience. If you look at what the fans get to experience being able to get so up close and personal to these players, and having the players go up and have some success at the big league level. The fans feel like they're apart of that. When they see Derek Norris hit a walk-off, or Brandon Hicks hit a walk-off, they feel like they're apart of it.

That's the neat part with the fans, being in a Triple-A city and seeing these guys go to Oakland. We're only an hour and 20 minutes away. It's just great for these fans. It's pretty cool.

CB: Josh Donaldson is a guy you've seen for a few years now. When he was in Sacramento, it seemed like he had some maturation issues. But he really matured when he got called up. What has his evolution been like from your point of view?

JD: He did, that's a good way of putting it. They always say, ‘the character of men is revealed not when things are going well, but when you struggle.' He had been up and down. I'll never forget when we were in Oklahoma City and he just got the promotion to the big leagues, and he said, ‘this is the time I'm going to stick.' It was the third time and it was the time he was going to make it happen, and he was confident in that.

Those early struggles I think helped him. He's still evolving at third base and he's still learning the position. He's a tremendous athlete. It was fun to watch his evolution. When he first got here he was in a horrific slump to start 2011, when he was 1-for-29 to start the year. He said, ‘listen, I'm a slow starter.' But whatever he does doesn't surprise me.

CB: What makes Bob Melvin such a good manager?

JD: I think he's just honest. He's always in great communication with his players and he's honest. They're never unsure about anything and he's always so encouraging.

The way he deals with the media, the way he deals with his players, he creates this family-type atmosphere where the players really respect. He's just a solid guy. He just flat-out gets it. Players want to play well for him and they buy into what he brings.

CB: You got a chance to see Yoenis Cespedes in the beginning of his major league career and he came to Sacramento for a brief rehab stint. Obviously you get to see a lot of prospects from all around baseball. Have ever seen anyone with his talent level and physical gifts in your time in the minor leagues?

JD: No. I haven't. I cannot wait to see what he can do this year. He's just scratching the surface. He's got such a quick bat that he can make an adjustment pitch-to-pitch. He's such a hard worker and smart hitter. He only knows one speed. In fact, Bob Melvin said, ‘we have to bring him back sometimes because he's always full bore in batting practice.'

Especially with his family stuff off his shoulders, he should be much more relaxed than last year. The sky is the limit. He could put up some crazy numbers. I enjoyed watching him play on the daily basis. He's worth the price of admission alone.

CB: Michael Taylor is an interesting case. All the talent appears to be there but he's always constantly making adjustments. It seems like we say this every year, but he could be at a crossroads with the organization. In your mind, what are some keys for him to take the next step in his career?

JD: Mike can be a slow starter but he's a talented guy. Who knows when he's going to break through? But he can make some throws from right field to third base that make you say, ‘are you kidding?' He's self-deprecating sometimes, but he knows the time is now. He's 27 now. He's ready to get rolling. I would like to see him get 150 or 200 at-bats up there to really see what he could do.

CB: Grant Green's bat appears to be major league ready, but the power might not be there and it could be prohibiting him from playing a corner position in the big leagues. With his progression as a second baseman still up in air, how do you evaluate his standing right now?

JD: That's a great question. Grant is 26 right now and he's done everything asked by the organization. He came up as a shortstop and they moved him to the outfield, now they're trying him at second base. I don't know, to be honest. I wouldn't say the organization has come close to giving up on him. I believe he's in the future plans, but this will be the year he gets called up and we'll see what he can do at the big league level.

We know he can hit it's just finding a position for him. I haven't seen him play a ton of second base, but I'd like to see him over there in regular season games and see what he can do.

CB: You've seen a lot of good River Cats teams over the years. On paper, is this one of the most talented teams you've seen come through here, especially considering there are five first-round picks on it?

JD: It seems like we say that every year. Of course it looks like a good team with all the highly drafted players. You never know. Things could happen and we don't know how it's all going to shake down.

But there is something magical about Raley Field and there's something magical about the River Cats. It just seems like every year someone steps up, we have talented players and a solid coaching staff that buys into the 'A's way'. I think this is going to be a fun team to watch and fans are going to enjoy it on a regular basis.

CB: What are your early impressions of the new manager Steve Scarsone?

JD: From what I've heard, he's one of those guys that works really well with the players, much like Darren Bush. I got a chance to meet him at spring training. I'm excited to see his approach and see what he's going to do this year.

We've had good managers throughout the years. ‘Bushy' connected with the players so well throughout the year and I expect to see the same from Scarsone. He's a players-type manger, played the game a long time.

CB: Greg Sparks, the team's hitting coach, seemed to do really well when it came to helping players make adjustments and become successful at the next level. From Donaldson, to Chris Carter, Green and others, he seemed to transform a lot of hitters. What makes him an effective hitting coach?

JD: One thing that Sparky does is he doesn't say, ‘hey, we're going to do this my way.' He works on making adjustments with the guys because everyone is different, every swing is different. He's great at making small, little adjustments. That's his approach. He knows how to talk to each player and figures out what work for each player and makes the adjustment there, instead of just saying ‘we're going with my philosophy.' He reads the personality of a player. He knows when to kick them in the butt and when to praise them. He's got a good psychological approach with the hitters.

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