RED WINGS BROADCASTER JOSH WHETZEL

BY JIM MANDELARO
this article originally appeared in the Rochester, NY Democrat and Chronicle in 2003.

Josh Whetzel is happy to be the new Rochester Red Wings broadcaster, eager to work with Joe Altobelli on the radio and excited to cover the first season of the Wings’ affiliation with the Minnesota Twins.

Most of all, Whetzel is thrilled to be alive.

Thirteen years ago, as he was about to enter his senior year at Parsons High in Parsons, Kan., he was diagnosed with cancer.

“I had been coughing a lot,” he says. “I had a feeling something might be wrong.”

Something was terribly wrong. Doctors discovered a football-sized tumor in his right lung, around his esophagus and hooked to the back of his heart.

Whetzel underwent chemotherapy and radiation and endured two surgeries. The second operation was in Houston, where doctors removed the tumor and his right lung.

“The doctors there said it was the largest tumor they’ve ever seen involving the heart and lung,” Whetzel says. “The surgeons were pretty ecstatic about removing it.”

Whetzel’s last chemo treatment was in December 1990. He can’t run long distances since losing his lung, but he wasn’t much of a runner anyway. And he has occasional digestive problems after eating a spicy or greasy dish, but it hasn’t limited his appetite. Tacos, after all, are his favorite food.

Whetzel was born in Colorado Springs, Colo., and moved at age 2 to Helena, Mont. He was 6 when the family moved to Parsons, Kan. His parents, “Dut” and Nancy, still live there.

The illness led to his career in broadcasting.

After his second surgery, some of Whetzel’s high school classmates contacted Dream Factory, which is similar to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Dream Factory’s credo is “creating the moment of a lifetime for a critically ill child.” Whetzel was given a chance to fulfill a dream, and he chose a visit to Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

“I’d always been a big fan of the Dodgers,” he explains.

Whetzel made the trip with his family in June 1990, just after graduation from high school. Pitcher Tim Belcher showed them around and Whetzel met several people, including a pair of Hall of Famers in manager Tommy Lasorda and legendary broadcaster Vin Scully, whom Whetzel refers to as “the best broadcaster ever.”

Upon returning home, Whetzel was interviewed on a local radio station about the trip.

“After the interview, the station manager said I had handled myself pretty well on the air and asked if I wanted a part-time job,” Whetzel recalls.

Soon the young man was working as a disc jockey and a board operator for Kansas City Royals games.

Whetzel went on to attend Labette Community College in Parsons for two years, then spent two more at the University of Kansas, graduating in 1994. He remains a Jayhawks fan.

Whetzel landed a job broadcasting baseball games for the Albany (Ga.) Polecats of the Class A South Atlantic League. One year later, he moved on to Kinston, N.C., where he worked four seasons covering the Carolina League team.

He spent the past three seasons in Binghamton, broadcasting the Double-A Mets.

Whetzel beat 70 candidates for the Red Wings job and was chosen last November to replace Joe Castellano, who was let go after six seasons.

Wings general manager Dan Mason jokes that he hired Whetzel “because he’s shorter than me.” The truth lies much deeper.

“He’s got great pipes and a very easy-to-listen-to style,” Mason says. “He also has a great knowledge of the game and the history of the game.”

Mason says Whetzel “fits in very well” with the rest of the front office.

“He’s just a very personable guy,” he says. “Fans definitely will enjoy his approach to the game.”

Whetzel, who turns 31 on April 15, says this season is going to be “awesome.”

“I’m really excited to be part of this switch (from the Baltimore Orioles to the Minnesota Twins),” he says.

Whetzel promises a straightforward, fan-friendly approach when he broadcasts all 144 games (mostly on WHTK-AM 1280) this season.

“I don’t try to use too many cliches,” he says. “I describe the game as best I can, and I try to make the listeners feel like they’re at the park.

“I want people to think they’re just listening to someone chat about the game with them.”

He is excited to work with Altobelli, the Red Wings legend who returns for a sixth season as color analyst.

“I’m pumped up,” Whetzel says. “I don’t know of another World Series winning manager who is doing minor league radio games. Joe brings a knowledge to the game that very few people are able to bring to the table.”

Whetzel wants to be a big-league broadcaster someday, but he is living in the moment and quite content in his current job. A full-time employee, he will live in Rochester year-round and sell advertising in the off-season and help Chuck Hinkel with public relations.

“I’m happy just to be here,” he says.

Happy to be anywhere, in fact.