The Marlins 2019 Top Prospects list is loaded with young players acquired over the past year. Víctor Víctor Mesa, Monte Harrison, Isan Díaz...these minor leaguers will eventually need to realize their full potential for Miami to return to World Series title contention.
Paul Severino is decades removed from pursuing a baseball playing career, but he’s a part of the talented Marlins core, too. Becoming the television play-by-play announcer for a major league team “is something I dreamt of my whole life,” he admitted Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald last spring.
Much like the stars on the field, broadcasting at this level requires thick skin and an ability to perform under pressure. Should this Marlins rebuild meet expectations and yield a consistent winner, he’ll be responsible for reacting to many of the biggest moments in franchise history, his voice preserved in highlights for generations.
Now with a full season under his belt, Severino spoke to Fish Stripes about his unique position and what it will take to endear himself to the fanbase.
MLB free agency ain’t as glamorous as it used to be. Teams are more deliberate than ever when it comes to finalizing their plans for the upcoming season. Even elite talents often find themselves in limbo after the calendar flips to the new year, unclear about who they’ll be working for, where they’ll live or how much they’ll be getting paid.
Severino can relate. FOX Sports Florida formally cut ties with longtime play-by-play guy Rich Waltz in November 2017. The network identified its top replacement candidates during the first week of January, spent another couple weeks on in-person interviews and auditions, ultimately announcing their new television voice on Jan. 31.
That was the desired outcome for Severino, of course, but it was an anxious time for his family. These jobs rarely become available—Waltz spent parts of 13 seasons calling Marlins games—and actually getting it meant relocating from the northeast with Spring Training rapidly approaching.
Steve Tello, Senior Vice President/General Manager of FOX Sports Florida and FOX Sports Sun, explains the hiring decision:
“What impressed us most about Paul early in the process was his deep knowledge of the game. We could tell right away this was someone who grew up around baseball and could use that background to reach our viewers. The experience he gained while working at MLB Network really gave him a great foundation to thrive as a play-by-play announcer. All of his best qualities came through during his audition with Todd Hollandsworth and it became apparent to us right away he was the man for the job.”
Severino sharpened his play-by-play technique through the years at Triple-A All-Star, Arizona Fall League and World Baseball Classic games. But MLB Network utilized him primarily as a studio host, pairing him with accomplished athletes.
“It’s kinda cool to be a sliver of that,” Severino says. “Somebody would ask me, ‘Why would you want to do [broadcasting] every day with the travel and everything else? I’m like, ‘Dude, are you kidding me?! You got to play in the major leagues for a living—this is my opportunity to be a big league player.’”
“There are these moments where you pinch yourself,” he says. “You think, ‘That’s pretty cool,’ but then at the same time, ‘Alright, it’s time to get to work now.’ As much as your 10-to-15-year-old self would be in awe right now, you’re 35 years old, you’re balding, you’ve gotta grow up, you’ve gotta move on.”
Severino also had to deal with the backlash to Rich Waltz’s departure. FOX never provided a satisfactory explanation for the change. A genuinely enthusiastic and community-oriented announcer, Waltz left enormous shoes to fill.
“I always had great respect for him,” Severino says.
“I even had more respect for him on Opening Day, 25 minutes before first pitch when I looked down at my phone—I got a text, and it was actually from Rich Waltz. He wished me luck. That just goes back to his professionalism. From what I had seen from a distance, he was a true pro, a consummate pro, on and off the mic.
“Somebody told me one time, ‘A national broadcaster is liked, but a local broadcaster is loved.’ For good reason, people enjoyed Rich. Hopefully, they’ll enjoy me just the same.”
Severino prides himself on originality. For as much as he cites other play-by-play veterans as positive influences, he doesn’t want to adopt their familiar gimmicks and catch phrases.
“People ask me all the time, ‘What’s your style?’ I don’t really know.”
“Paul’s calling card is really his preparation,” Steve Tello says, “but what we learned most about him during his first year in the broadcast booth was that his enthusiasm never wavered.”
Severino’s childhood circumstances may have put him in a “never take anything for granted” frame of mind. Road trips to Yankee Stadium were about 100 miles each way, so on the rare occasions that he got to go, he savored every detail of the experience:
“When I was a fan, I was the guy who was waiting at the gate two hours before the game for the gates to open. I’d go there and try to watch as much batting practice as I could and not get up from my seat, and pray that there were extra innings.”
His delivery as an announcer tends to be very matter-of-fact, but he picks his spots to inject some silliness.
FOX Sports Florida’s Jessica Blaylock joined him on the majority of game broadcasts in 2018. She reflects on a moment early in the season when the Marlins were facing the Mets. Outfielder Yoenis Céspedes stepped to the plate, and Severino referred to his huge gold chain as a “Mr. T starter kit.”
“It came across as the most normal game observation,” she says.
No doubt, the most lasting image of Severino on FOX was captured on the Marlins’ final road trip. All of the “rookies” had packed Minion costumes for a team activity in New York. Stranded in Washington, D.C. for a few extra hours due to rain, he gave it a test drive:
Even though the season itself was relatively uneventful (the Marlins spent zero days above the .500 mark and lost 98 games, almost precisely what oddsmakers and projection systems anticipated), Severino is grateful for the reps. This more than doubled his workload from the summer of 2005, his only previous daily play-by-play gig with the now-defunct New Haven County Cutters of the independent Can-Am League. It included a lot of “firsts,” both for him and the young roster.
On the business side, FS Florida has nowhere to go but up. In 2018, Nielsen estimates that Major League Baseball broadcasted by regional sports networks was the top-ranked cable program in primetime in every U.S. MLB market...except Miami. Prime ratings were down about 19 percent from 2017 (h/t Maury Brown, Forbes). Outside of team functions, Severino rarely gets recognized in public.
“It starts with the performance of the team, but it is our job—myself and Todd, but all of FOX—to relate the players to the fans,” Severino says.
It’s a unique market, to say the least. The Spanish language is nearly as prevalent as English. While a large segment of Marlins fans chooses to listen to announcers who share their native tongue, others use baseball to expand their vocabulary, as Sung Min Kim detailed for The Athletic.
Severino admits that he hadn’t considered that responsibility last year, but he’s willing to adjust:
“If you can hit three different groups of the audience every night, then you’re doing your job: if you can reach that person who’s watching the baseball game for the first time and inform them in a way that gets them back tomorrow, then you’ve done your job; if you can talk to that viewer who watches a number of games, knows everybody at their position, but doesn’t know why a certain pitch is thrown in a certain count, then you’ve done your job; and if you can reach the fan who thinks he’s Abner Doubleday and invented the game and knows everything about it, then you’ve done your job. If there’s now a fourth group to that, somebody who’s trying to learn a new language, then maybe I have to fill that up on a given night.”
Heading into 2019, Severino has a much deeper familiarity with the Marlins. Plus he benefits from a full offseason, which included watching his son Jackson play Little League and enjoying a luxurious cruise to celebrate 10 years of marriage to his wife, Heather.
“I’ll miss the time at home for sure,” he says, “but it’s an awful lot of fun to do it. Being at the ballpark every day—as I always say—beats having a real job.”
FOX Sports Florida will televise seven Marlins Spring Training games, beginning with a Marlins/Cardinals matchup on Saturday, Feb. 23.