This interview was featured in the March 31 issue of Midway Minute, an original newsletter about Chicago sports. To join our list for free, enter your email below.
Andrew Belleson was only 24 years old in 2011 when he beat out 3,000 fellow applicants for one of the most desirable jobs in sports: Public address announcer at Wrigley Field. The next decade was something out of a storybook for the Lombard native. Belleson had a prime seat to watch the Cubs rise from 377 losses over his first four seasons to the first World Series title in 108 years. In 2017, he became the first announcer in Wrigley history to introduce the Cubs as World Series champions. He was awarded a World Series ring.
It was a dream job, but it wasn't necessarily Belleson's dream. He had grown up wanting to become a broadcaster, even sleeping under a Wrigley Field mural that featured a painting of him sitting next to Harry Caray. So in early March, Belleson surprised many by announcing he was leaving his spot behind the mike at Wrigley Field. His goal?To find the broadcasting job he's always wanted.
I caught up with Belleson last week to talk about his decision. He's still working his "day job" — running a manufacturing company he helped found — while also looking for the next great spot to bring his big voice.
MM: Well, let's just get right into it: What caused you to make such a big life decision by leaving the Cubs and pursuing your dream of becoming a play-by-play announcer?
Andrew Belleson: A lot, a lot of time and a lot of back and forth with my wife, It was a really hard decision. I mean, 10 years with the Cubs was awesome. I was just a kid when they hired me and I was lucky to be in that position. But I really always loved to broadcast and that was my true passion. From the time I was a little kid sitting in front of the TV in the living room of my house, doing Cubs games, when I was growing up in the mid '90s.
So, you know, having the opportunity to work with the Cubs and do PA and then kind of parlay that into opportunities with voice and on-camera work with Marquee Sports and some on camera work with Cubs productions ... I loved all of that. But the public address part of it ... I just wanted to return to broadcasting games because I love that challenge. It's different every day. I wanted to try to pursue that opportunity again before before I got too old, I guess. And I figured that, you know, now was the right time to do it. It was kind of now or never. That's how we ended up where we're at.
MM: So in the past year, I think a lot of people have gone through some level of introspection and thinking about what they really want to do with their lives. Did the pandemic play a role at all?
AB: You know, that's a good point. I don't think so. This is something that has been in the back of my mind but I guess it's been hard to pull the trigger on. Now just seems to be kind of the right time. And hopefully it's not already too late, you know?
MM: You're 34 or 35 now?
AB: I just turned 34
MM: OK, that's not too bad!
AB: Well, I'm an old man now playing a young man's game. It's a little easier when you're 20 years old and you can move in wherever you need to and you're not rooted in one place. But we'll make it work.
MM: Do you have anything lined up right now?
AB: There are a few things that I've got on the burner. Obviously, the job market in that industry is much different than it was two or three years ago giving everything going on, right? I told my wife you don't want to go too far backwards, but I'm willing to do what it takes to get where I need to be.
MM: What's the ideal job for you?
AB: I love baseball. I'd love to be in the booth somewhere, but doing basketball was always great fun for me as well. There are so many great college programs around here that I would love to have the opportunity to potentially call if I was ever fortunate enough.
The reality, though, is that I just want to be a radio or sports broadcaster again, regardless of sport. Some of the other roles that I got to fulfill with the Cubs — the on-camera stuff (with Marquee) and the hosting duties — I love the on-camera work. I loved preparing the interviews and I loved the daily challenge. I love that challenge, the back work that goes into it, which you know, you didn't get for PA.
Look, PA was great. I had the best seat in the house for 10 years. And that's no lie. But the position itself doesn't really change and to me it'd gotten a bit mundane at times. And I'd like to be able to express my creative palette a little bit more. Broadcasting lets you do that.
MM: Hearing you talk like that makes me bring up an off-the-wall question I was going to ask later. Do you ever think that PA announcers will just be outsourced to artificial intelligence?
AB (laughs): God, I hope not. But the way we're going lately, I don't think we can count anything out. But I sure hope not. I was very proud to have that position. And I think when you when you have someone who's the right fit for a stadium, you can add so much to the game day experience without ever being the focus. I think that's the job of a good PA announcer. You should never be spoken about, essentially. If you are spoken about, it's probably because you made a mistake. That's really the only the only reason you should be spoken about, because you're just kind of there. But in a good way.
MM: I was actually surprised to find out it had been only been 10 years for you, because it felt to me, like your voice had become a really integral part of the game day experience at Wrigley. And I'm sure a lot of other Cubs fans would agree. Was there any ever thought in your mind you were going to do that job forever?
AB: First of all, that's really nice and a really big compliment. Thank you. And yeah, I think that's always the intention, right? You have to be 1,000 percent committed to whatever you're doing. Someone said to me after I stepped away and was like "Hey, these are the jobs that people decide to keep for 40 years!" And I said to them, "Well I'm pretty sure it's too late now" (laughs). But I probably did think that at the time I took the job. I was so young and the Cubs took a chance on me and I will always be eternally grateful for that.
MM: But it didn't end up being everything that you wanted?
AB: Yeah, I suppose that I suppose that is kind of the thought process. I honestly thought that maybe this would this would scratch the itch of my broadcast passion. And then as time went on, I knew I would rather be down the hall calling the game if I was ever given an opportunity. That's when I knew it was time to take the plunge.
MM: Do you think your ties with the Cubs will help you in your search?
AB: I hope so, I don't think it'll hurt. I joked with them that got hired about a week before Opening Day (in 2011) and I gave them almost a month (notice) so I said you've got light years to replace me. They didn't think that was as funny as I did. But I have a lot of really good relationships with people over there. They were very good to me, you know, throughout the 10 years and everybody kind of said, "Hey, if we can do anything for you, let us know. There's nothing here that we can help you with that you want to do, but if you need anything elsewhere, let us know." And I appreciated that.
MM: So looking back at your 10 years, you started off with some of the worst Cubs teams and ended up being the PA announcer for some of the best.
AB: You hit it on the head. I grew up in the western suburbs and I was a huge Cubs fan. I was talking to Len Kasper about how fortunate we were to be able to be with the organization for the greatest stretch in the team's history. And growing up here, it was that much more special for me. The first few years were rough, but coming into 2014 and then 2015, it was like "Hey, this thing is kicking into high gear quicker than we might have thought."
MM: What's your favorite memory?
AB: For me it was the NLCS clincher against the Dodgers, when Kershaw pitched and the Cubs beat him. My wife and our older daughter were there and the atmosphere was insane. The couple of World Series games weren't the best atmosphere, just because we were kind of behind the eight ball to say the least. But that clincher, man, the place was rocking and the atmosphere was like nothing else. I came out of the booth after the game and literally bumped into my wife and daughter in the concourse while trying to find them. It was the perfect family moment as cheesy as that sounds.
MM: What will you miss most about the job?
AB: Nothing about the job itself, I'll be honest. The public address work for me has kind of run its course. I didn't find the joy in it that I had when I was hired, so I knew it was time to pursue my passion. But working at Wrigley Field, man, that's as good as it gets. I know everyone who goes into that ballpark remembers the first time they ever stepped foot in there and every time after that for me it's just as cool and I still get the same jitters. Being able to call that the office for 10 years, I don't know if I'm ever going to beat that.
MM: Favorite names to pronounce?
AB: Oh man, there were a lot of fun ones. I love all the Latin American players. Aramis Ramirez was a favorite of mine when he was here. Alfonso Soriano. That rolled just really well. There was a middle reliever with the Padres and other teams, Odrisamer Despaigne, that I really liked. Any name that really rolls up like that is always fun to announce.
MM: I am terrible at pronouncing things, so I have no idea how you did this day in and day out.
AB: Well as time went on it got easier. When I got hired there weren't as many resources, but now you can punch up videos online or on MLB.com that would have all these player highlights so you could just watch the highlight and you would hope the broadcaster said it right. Then the league started putting out what they call a "red-blue" guide, which is essentially pronunciations for every organization top to bottom and you get about 90 percent of the guys you'd see at a major-league level.
MM: I was making the joke yesterday that the Bulls went from some of the easiest names to pronounce in Wendell Carter and Otto Porter and now they've gone to Nikola Vucevic and Daniel Theis, which isn't pronounced how it looks.
AB: Right! That was a crazy day for them! And those can be mouthfuls for sure. I always joke that back when I got hired, the Wrigley PA system was so crappy you could just kind of say whatever and nobody could understand anyway. But then they upgraded to a great system so I really had to figure out every name because everyone could hear you loud and clear.
MM: I saw the Cubs have your old job posted on LinkedIn. What advice do you have for people who are applying?
AB: There's a lot that goes into it that people don't don't know. There's obviously a lot of prep work. You work in a live environment and so being comfortable with that is super important. On top of the game aspect, the pregame routines every day is probably what changes the most so there's coordination with the people on the field for presentations and certain sponsor videos and things. Being flexible and comfortable on the fly is something anyone in this job needs to be have.
I grew up listening to Wayne Messmer and Paul Friedman at Wrigley and I got to know them and there they were there for me as a great example. They both had a very simple approach; their voice was, to me the sound of Wrigley Field as a kid. But it never overtook anything else that was going on. Whatever route the Cubs go, they'll be in good hands. But I sure hope that it's someone who has that respect for the tradition of the ballpark and trying to just fit into the surroundings and not be the main part of the show. Because that's how I think of Wrigley Field and the sound of Wrigley Field. And that's how I always tried to do my job.
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