PAWTUCKET — Matt Swierad caught his first big break in sports broadcasting in true Rhode Island fashion.
When he was a 16-year-old at North Smithfield High, Swierad would secure a press pass and perch himself in the highest possible row of seats at McCoy Stadium. His mission: to practice his baseball play-by-play with the aid of a tape recorder. The pass came courtesy of PawSox execs Ben Mondor and Mike Tamburro.
Now 52, Swierad is still in the habit of visiting McCoy and talking baseball into electronic devices. It truly is the definition of coming full circle whenever he comes to town as the lead radio broadcaster for the Triple-A Charlotte Knights, which happened to be the case as recently as two weekends ago.
“I wanted to play baseball but knew I wasn’t major league material as a player,” said Swierad, who played baseball and basketball for the Northmen during the mid-1980s. “I thought to myself, ‘Hey, maybe I could get there as a broadcaster.’”
For Swierad, the 2019 season marks Year No. 29 as a minor-league broadcaster and No. 22 with the Charlotte ballclub. He estimates he’s been behind the mike for over 4,000 games in pro baseball and over 3,000 with the Knights. In the offseason, he turns his broadcasting attention to the college ranks as the play-by-play voice for Charlotte 49ers football and men’s basketball.
How do you get from North Smithfield to spending nearly three decades in a profession that can be tough to crack? For Swierad, the vocation he decided to pursue led to him attending college at Jacksonville University. He graduated from Jacksonville in 1990 with a Bachelor of Science degree in history with a minor in communications. He was also a fixture in the school’s sports information department, meaning there were ample opportunities to broadcast sporting events.
“I had never been outside of New England before going to Jacksonville University, but I was excited to get a chance to go somewhere new. The fact that it was in Florida and near the ocean was also a big plus. I’m not a fan of snow, so the sunny south was perfect for me!,” said Swierad. “I always knew I wanted to be a sportscaster and by going to a smaller school, but still at the Division 1 level, it was an opportunity to really get my feet wet in the industry at a young age.”
After seven years in minor league baseball’s bus leagues, with stops including Gastonia, N.C. (1991-92), Hagerstown, Md. (1993), and Hickory, N.C. (1993-98), Swierad joined the Charlotte franchise. His first year in 1998, Charlotte served as the Triple-A affiliate of the Florida Marlins. Since 1999, the Chicago White Sox have been known as the parent club of the Knights.
“When I got into it, getting to Triple-A was something I never expected would happen,” said Swierad, who has lived fulltime in Charlotte since 1990. “I just wanted to find a way to be a part of the game of baseball and do something that I loved. I certainly wasn’t a great broadcaster when I started, but game-by-game and year-by-year, I felt I was improving and believed that I could hold my own with most in our industry.”
Official confirmation along those lines came in 2005 when Swierad was chosen as radio play-by-play fill-in broadcaster by the San Diego Padres and Minor League Baseball after a national search that yielded 150 applicants. For one three-game weekend – the Padres were swept by Cincinnati at Petco Park – Swierad sat in for Jerry Coleman, who was being honored by the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
More acclaim for Swierad has followed as the years in the baseball broadcasting field continue to be strung together.
Swierad was on the radio call of the 2005 and 2016 Triple-A All Star Games and also worked the 2014 Triple-A National Championship Game for NBC Sports Network. In 2017, the Knights named the home radio booth at BB&T Ballpark in his honor.
“I was truly touched and very surprised,” said Swierad, who also handles the in-season travel schedule for the Charlotte ballclub.
Whenever Swierad calls the action from the visiting radio booth inside the McCoy press box, he can look out and still see where he sat the night of July 1, 1982 when arguably the most memorable pitching matchup unfolded before a capacity crowd – Dave Righetti vs. Mark Fidrych. Another McCoy moment of note unfolded on June 1, 2000 when Swierad described PawSox pitcher Tomo Ohka’s nine-inning perfect game at Charlotte’s expense.
Swierad’s family still calls Rhode Island home. His mother Livia worked many years for the Woonsocket Call in the business office. When Charlotte visited the PawSox last month, Swierad stayed with his brother Frank in Smithfield. He also has a sister Maria.
“My mom still lives in the same house in North Smithfield that I grew up in,” noted Swierad. “I lived down in Charlotte longer than I grew up here, but it’s fun coming back.”
With wife Amanda by his side, the couple is raising triplet girls – Chapel, Isla and Maty, all age eight – and their son Hobbs, age 5.
“The kids still very young, but they love the game and are constant visitors to the ballpark. They run around like they own the place!” said Swierad. “Each one of my kids makes one road trip with me during the season, so we can get some 1-on-1 time that is tough to get around the house. I try to do as much as I can with them, but my schedule is demanding and I can be gone a lot, so the trips together are great. With baseball and Charlotte football and basketball, I’m away over 100 days a year.
“Crazy life, but a fun life,” Swierad added. “I truly have been able to live my dream.”
As for those who would like nothing more than to follow in Swierad’s broadcasting footsteps, he provided some tips and pointers.
“The advice I would give any aspiring young broadcaster is to practice as much as you can. Never pass up an opportunity to work on your craft and always believe in yourself. You will hear many no’s along the way, but it only takes one yes to land that first job. Work hard, believe in yourself, and keep fighting,” he said. “The industry is more crowded these days, and it’s tougher to break in, but if you want it bad enough it will happen. Outwork everyone else!”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03