Born on May 20, 1967 in Oakville, Ontario, Jamie Campbell was an avid sports fan in his youth, following baseball, hockey and auto racing. He was a big fan of Canucks defenceman Jocelyn Guevremont and was heartbroken when Guevremont was traded to the Buffalo Sabres; in fact, you’ll see echoes of Campbell’s fondness of Guevremont in his Batter’s Box handle – gv27.
However, the sport closest to most Box readers’ hearts, baseball, dominated Campbell’s summers. He primarily played third base and shortstop, which he enjoyed because of the actions those positions see, and though he played for a number of years, he admits he admits he didn’t possess the skills to play competitive baseball at higher levels. This didn’t diminish his love of the game and Campbell recalls fondly his trips to Exhibition Stadium, which were undertaken without parental supervision.
“I had a routine: make the 3:45 train and be at the visitor’s hotel by 5:00 to meet players as they boarded the bus (most night games started at 7:30, at the time),” recalled Campbell. “I then caught a streetcar to the Stadium and was usually the first in when the gate opened.
“That way,” he continued, “I could get a good position for batting practise. I always sat in right field directly behind the visitor’s bullpen. It served three purposes: it's a good spot for foul balls; the relievers were always friendly; and I was as close to Jesse Barfield as I could get.”
As has been reported elsewhere, Campbell often attended 30-35 games a year in his youth, a number that rivals some of the most ardent current Cheer Club members. This allowed him to witness some of the most historic incidents in Blue Jays history, from the 1978 triple play to Otto Velez’s four homers in one doubleheader against Cleveland to Devon White’s jaw-dropping catch in the 1992 World Series. He was also present for one of the stranger incidents in Blue Jays lore. “For several innings I sat directly in front of a towel-wrapped seagull that Dave Winfield had accidentally killed,” he said.
Campbell also remembers that he almost had a relatively unique souvenir in baseball history. “Being an opportunist, I thought about asking the ball boy if I could have the dead bird, but realised how mad my parents would have been if I'd hauled it back to Oakville,” he said.
As for non-historic Blue Jays memories Campbell again comes back to Barfield, “I guess my favourite moments came in bunches; that being any time [he] would gun down some opposing runner who thought he had enough speed to get home from second base!”
The love of baseball is something that has been present in Campbell since childhood. “My family can tell you I’m a bit of a freak when it comes to baseball,” he said. “It’s been a passion of mine for so long.” This is reflected in his knowledge of baseball history, to which anyone who’s spent any time talking to him can attest. His interest isn’t just superficial, either. “I have a fascination with the common player. We know so much about Ruth, Rose, and Ryan. I want to find out who Charlie Ripple, Phil Roof, and Gary Roenicke were,” Campbell said.
After graduating from Oakville-Trafalgar High School Campbell went to Ryerson from 1986 to 1989, when he graduated with a BAA in Radio and Television Arts. His first job in the media was at the age of 20, when he worked as a librarian for CBC Sports and a runner for Hockey Night in Canada. He was soon working full-time at CBC, where he experienced one of his career highlights in a sport he loves – working a Grand Prix broadcast. Later Campbell moved on to Sportsnet, where he had the opportunity to broadcast Wayne Gretzky’s final game in Canada, another career highlight of his.
Soon, Campbell was appearing on Sportsnet News, as well as taking on other duties such as reporting from the Super Bowl and the Olympics for the network. He’s also done some play-by-play work, most notably for CFL games. “I've learned the importance of cadence and flow - about how to stay relaxed. I prefer to work on assignments that are unscripted (a show like Sportsnet News, for example, is written in advance),” he explained. “As host of Sportsnet Live, a program that surrounds our NHL, NBA, and Blue Jays broadcasts, I grew accustomed to the working without script. I think it was an excellent training ground for advancement into live events.”
His broadcasting career also includes one Blue Jays telecast on April 8, 2002. “Sadly, Rob Faulds' father had passed away, and I was asked at the last minute to sit in for Rob the next evening at SkyDome,” said Campbell. “A few things stand out. First, John Cerutti was incredible. He took me in like a lost child, providing encouragement and support knowing I'd never broadcast a baseball game before. I'd called Chris Cuthbert that morning for some advice, and he said, ‘Call what you see. Don't get ahead of the play. Don't try and be fancy.’”
The results of the game were less memorable, said Campbell. “The Jays were hammered by the Yankees 16-3, with Luke Prokopec leaving after about three innings,” he recalled. “I remember Joe Lawrence making his big league debut, and remember getting absolutely ripped by some website (Batter’s Box?) because I had suggested Brian Lesher had come from the A's, when in fact, he stopped in Seattle first. It made me realize that baseball fans rarely miss a thing.”
Has he reviewed the tape of that broadcast to evaluate his performance? “I've looked at it twice,” he admitted. “I watch broadcasts for only one reason - to search for improvement. I'm the type who would rather know what I'm doing wrong, so it's important to be made aware of errors.”
This year may have provided another highlight in Campbell’s broadcasting career, as well as the most exciting baseball moment he’s experienced so far. If you recall the 2004 All-Star game in detail, you’ll remember a familiar redhead happened to catch David Ortiz’s home-run in the game, demonstrating Campbell wasn’t a complete loss as a player. Was he surprised to see Ortiz’s ball bounce into his hands? “When I saw the arc and direction of the ball, I immediately thought ‘if it bounces, I'm got a chance.’ And it did bounce once and fell so easily into my hands,” he recalled. “The first reaction was shock, since I had never caught a home run in my life. And then I hoped like heck FOX didn't cut to a close-up, because I had a 16-ounce Miller Lite sitting in front of me,” he said with a laugh.
“Interestingly,” he said, “The seats we were sitting in belonged to the Washington Post. Warren Sawkiw insisted we sit there for some reason, instead of going to Sportsnet's assigned seats, which were several rows back. I kept waiting for writers from the Washington Post go come and kick us out, but they never showed. I assume they'll be there this year.”
After the game Campbell went to the clubhouse to generously return the ball to the man who hit it. “I had a pass into the clubhouse, and Ortiz recognized me immediately - before I could even offer him the ball. He either got a good look at the red-head while rounding second, or saw the replay in the clubhouse,” he said. He didn’t entertain any thoughts of selling the ball, either. “Although I figured some crazy Red Sox fan might give me $1,000 on E-Bay, I dismissed the thought immediately.”
“I told David I'd see him around, and if there was any way he could score me one of his jerseys, then I'd be grateful. Later that summer, the PR guy for the Red Sox told me the guy who caught Manny Ramirez' home run was asking Ramirez to pay him several thousand for the ball,” he said. “I realized I didn't need the ball, because I had the memory. That moment is irreplaceable.” There’s no word on if Campbell got the jersey he desired, but there’ll be plenty of opportunity for him to remind Ortiz this year.
On the Fan 590 Campbell mentioned that his role models in the broadcasting world have been Vin Scully and Dan Shulman. “My familiarity with Scully has accelerated in recent years,” Campbell said. “I work late most nights, so I'll often sit down for a 10:00 (EST) Dodger game.” He added, “Shulman is a star in my eyes, with a wonderful command of the game. He's also become a good friend who I lean on for advice.”
Of course, Campbell said, “Tom and Jerry have long been my voices of summer, and that goes back to the days when Cheek was working with Early Wynn.”
Did they inspire him to enter the field? “There isn't a single broadcaster that inspired me to enter this field. I pursued this line of work because I absolutely had to find a way of combining my undying passion with the ability to make a living,” he said. “I spent so much time at sporting events, I figured it would only be natural to want to try and become a broadcaster some day. I'm glad I took the chance.”
Sportsnet recently announced its broadcast schedule, with TSN picked up more games this offseason due to the NHL strike, leaving Sportsnet with 103 broadcasts. Sportsnet decided to split those broadcasts among a four-man broadcast team. Pat Tabler will work 43 games on Sportsnet, in addition to the 42 he does with Rod Black on TSN, which also leaves 17 Jays games not on TV.
The remaining 60 games will be split up amongst three other former Jays with fan favourite Rance Mulliniks taking 28 games, Tom Candiotti 23 and Darrin Fletcher will handle 9 broadcasts. Many Bauxites reacted unfavourably to this announcement, not necessarily due to dislike of any of those particular broadcasters, but rather because a revolving door of colour commentators is unheard of and will likely makes things more difficult on the play-by-play man, who is new himself.
Batter’s Box General Manager Jordan Furlong summed up many people’s sentiments well. “I have never heard of any broadcast team, anywhere, that uses four colour commentators, least of all with a brand-new play-by-play man who could use some stability and veteran presence beside him,” wrote Furlong. “Campbell deserves better than to spend his first year on the job holding open tryouts for his broadcast partner….[It’s] no way to establish a rapport and chemistry in your announcing team, and it's no way to run a professional broadcast booth.”
However, perhaps not unexpectedly, Campbell disagrees with those sentiments and thinks it will add a unique dimension to the broadcasts. “There is an advantage in that they comprise two infielders, one catcher, and one pitcher, so I will be able to draw on their individual skills.”
There will be some adjustment to each colour partner, Campbell admitted, but he believes things will work out well. “All four have broadcast experience. Getting to know each of them won't be a challenge. I will have to quickly adjust to their respective styles, and learn not to step on things they wish to say,” he noted. “My biggest challenge is to make the viewer feel comfortable with the rotation, because baseball fans enjoy consistency. I worked All-Star weekend in Chicago two years ago with Candiotti, so he and I have an established relationship,” he added.
Perhaps the question he’s been asked the most so far concerns his home run call. “In fact, I've been asked it so often; I've almost started to believe I ‘must’ have a home run call,” Campbell said. “Truthfully, I prefer broadcasters who simply react to what they see. I use the example of Jack Buck calling Kirby Puckett's home run in the '91 World Series, forcing a seventh game: "and we will see you tomorrow night!" If you've heard it, you know it was a sensational call, and perfect for the moment and impact of the hit.
To answer the question,” he continued, “I am not going to develop any kind of a home run call. That said, I would love to hear the opinions of those contributing to Batter’s Box.” This approach is likely supported by the most memorable home run call of most Blue Jays fans’ lives: “Touch ‘em all Joe, you’ll never hit a bigger home run.” That spontaneous call by Tom Cheek has gone down in baseball lore, at least north of the border, and will never be forgotten.
One of the most difficult things for many broadcasters to deal with is how to criticise the team they cover. As they spend six months around the team, more if you make the playoffs or count spring training, if broadcasters are deemed to be unfairly critical by some players it can make for a very frosty relationship. However, at the same time an announcer who never finds anything at fault with the team he covers will lose legitimacy, in the eyes of his peers, the viewers and likely some of the players themselves.
So how does the Blue Jays newest announcer plan to handle this situation? Campbell admitted, “By nature, I am not a critical person, but I am honest. If someone isn't running the bases aggressively (like Delgado in Tampa Bay last year), it will be critically - yet fairly - announced.”
Another example from an early spring training game this year: when Hillenbrand made a heads-up play to freeze Tony Womack partway down the third baseline on a chopper hit straight to him. However, when chasing Womack back to the bag Hillenbrand both held the ball too low, and held onto it for too long, allowing Womack to dive back to third safely. Campbell recalled, “I watched [that play] and practically jumped out of my seat. I will do the same in the broadcast booth.”
Like many things, striking a balance is important, and Campbell believes he can do just that. “Still, if a guy is in a slump, it will be obvious. It's important to point out when people aren't playing well, just as it's important to laud them when they succeed.” He also has a plan to deal with any potentially awkward situations that occur. “If I say something that comes back to me - either from a player, coach, or JP [Ricciardi] - I will either stand by my comment, or assess whether I may have been too harsh,” he said.
While it’s important for broadcasters to remain optimistic, both to appeal to the casual fans and to keep themselves sane, it’s also important not to delude the viewer into believing the team is something that it’s not.
However, Campbell believes his broadcast experience will help him avoid the pitfall of “homerism”, and he compares himself to just over ten years ago. “When the Jays first won a World Series, I was so happy, I helped flip a cab in downtown Halifax. But I was a fan then” he said. “I found as I worked my way through this business, you become less of a fan, and more of a passionate, interested observer. I've covered teams like the Edmonton Oilers, Eskimos, and Trappers or the Ottawa Senators and Lynx,” he recounted. “Though I was always thrilled to see them succeed, my enthusiasm was always tempered by my profession. It's simply ingrained.”
One reader asked about the influence Campbell will have on the production elements of the broadcast, and the new announcer defers to the experts, for now. “Though my creative control is not limited in any way, my first priority is to become comfortable with my responsibility. And since people like our producer Jeff Mather and statistician/columnist Scott Carson have decades of experience, I will lean on their expertise,” said Campbell. “In time, I will offer up suggestions. Until then, my responsibility is to the viewer, ensuring accurate information and an enjoyable broadcast experience.” So, don’t expect tables of statistics about Phil Roof and Gary Roenicke – yet, anyway.
What would Campbell like to see changed about the current state of baseball? “Truthfully, not much,” he said. “I'm old-fashioned, so I've grown comfortable with the current playoff format, and would want to see it expanded.” Outspoken concerning baseball’s most current controversy he continued, “I would love to see steroids eliminated from the game so crooks like Jose Canseco can't upstage hard-working, gifted athletes. Good for Canseco to come clean in his book, but admitting that he wouldn't have been much of a player without steroids ticked me off.” He also added, “I also believe that, if Ty Cobb is in the Hall, Pete Rose should be too. Beyond all this, I wouldn't change much.”
And finally, as for the 2005 Jays? Obviously, the story of this offseason was the departure of Carlos Delgado and Campbell is sad to see him go, but he also sees this as an opportunity for the team’s youngsters. “Carlos was not like some superstars, in that he was well-liked and respected in the locker-room (at least, as far as I know). You hear about some teams improving (Texas?) after their star leaves. Delgado's departure means someone has to step into that role of leader - whether verbally or silently - and I figure that job now belongs to Vernon Wells,” he said.
Can the Jays replace Delgado’s offensive talent with the moves they made in the winter? “My hope is that Corey Koskie can stay healthy enough to at least off-set the loss of Delgado's bat,” Campbell replied. “It would help if someone like Eric Hinske put up some excellent numbers.”
Campbell believes that evaluations of the club’s moves this offseason have to be placed in the right context. “I think did what they could, without getting stupid,” he said. “I was at the Winter Meetings, when talk of acquiring Matt Clement was at it's peak. But then these monster contracts were being signed (Benson, Russ Ortiz, Sexson, Glaus) and the market went way beyond what most expected. We have to remember the Blue Jays are not a club awash in money.
“I liked the acquisition of Corey Koskie, a hard-nosed player with a solid bat. I like what I see of Hillenbrand,” he continued. “We'll have to wait on whether Schoeneweis is effective against lefties, and at the time of this writing, I'm not convinced Koch is going to make the team. Regardless of what I think, if the team can avoid the injuries that crippled them last year, I expect vast improvement.”
Finally, some Jamie Campbell Preseason Predictions:
AL East Order of Finish: Boston, New York, Toronto, Baltimore, Tampa Bay
ALCS Loser: Los Angeles Angels
NLCS Loser: Chicago Cubs
World Series Match-up and Champion: Boston over Atlanta
Darkhorse team to watch: Detroit
Worst team in baseball: Colorado
AL MVP: Vladimir Guerrero
AL Cy Young: Rich Harden
AL ROY: Nick Swisher
NL MVP: Miguel Cabrera
NL Cy Young: Tim Hudson
NL ROY: Jeff Francis
Most Surprising Player: Zack Greinke
Most Disappointing Player: Pedro Martinez
A prediction for an individual player he guarantees will come true: Vernon Wells will steal 25 bases
The author wishes to thank Mick Doherty for his extensive editing assistance. Batter’s Box wishes to extend a big thank you to Jamie Campbell for his willingness to accommodate our interview request and his time and candidness while answering questions. We wish him the best of luck in his rookie year.