By Carter CromwellLike all teams, the San Rafael Pacifics have undergone many changes since their inaugural season of 2012 – players arriving and moving on, different managers, changes in ownership, and more. But at least one thing hasn't changed – public address announcer Mark Carlson has been at the microphone each year and is on board for the upcoming 2021 season.
"I've always had a great time doing Pacifics games, and it will be even more fun getting back into the booth after not having a season in 2020 because of Covid-19."
As with most everyone, the pandemic derailed a lot of Carlson's activities, though he continued coaching freshman and junior varsity basketball at the Branson School, a private institution in Marin County. He also did public address early this year when Dominican University of San Rafael had short basketball and volleyball seasons, and he's currently working the school's softball games.
But he was greatly missed when Covid-19 caused cancellation of the Pacifics' 2020 season.
"Mark has been a mainstay with the Pacifics from the beginning, entertaining crowds and helping create great baseball experiences for years," said Gabe Suarez, club owner in 2019 when it won the 2019 Pacific Association championship. "We loved having him and were blessed to have him as part of our team."
Phil Martino, a long-time fan who became the team's first-base coach in the 2019 title season, "Mark has been around forever and adds a lot to the game experience for fans. He reads the crowd well and has a good sense of humor. His position is valuable because he's the thread that kind of ties the innings together and helps keep the fans entertained."
And this from Soren O'Connell, who served as the team's radio broadcaster in 2019: "I was going to Pacifics games as a fan long before I became the broadcaster, so I knew Mark's voice long before I knew Mark. He's a person who can talk easily with anyone, which makes him more effective in his role as PA announcer."
The San Francisco native got started with the Pacifics almost by accident – when he saw a newspaper brief about an open tryout for the PA announcer role and decided to go for it.
"Growing up, I was always a bit of a ham," he said. "I did some dramatic arts in high school and also some voiceovers and radio commercials later on, in addition to some PA stuff. So, after reading the notice about tryout, I combed the newspaper every day until I saw when the audition was."
He and several others showed up at the appointed time, and (team President/General Manager) Mike Shapiro was there, along with (manager) Mike Marshall and Mary Marshall, Mike's wife.
"They sat in folding chairs at home plate and gave us a mini-script to read, along with a couple of announcements, and then came time to do player introductions. The radio guy at Dominican had told me that there was a chance I'd have to introduce Maikel Jova [an outfielder and fan favorite] and that it might help if I put some special enunciation on his name," Carlson continued. "So I really drew out his last name, and I guess it made a difference because Mike called me the next day and said they loved my audition."
At the time, of course, he had no idea that the gig would last as long as it has – "I hoped I could have a lengthy run at it because baseball has always been my favorite sport, but you never know." He couldn't have known that he would still be in the booth years later and have been at Albert Park for all but three home games during that span.
He was there when the Pacifics won the North American Baseball League title in their first season. Likewise, he was there when San Rafael took home Pacific Association championships in 2014, 2015, 2018 and 2019. Had it not been for Covid-19, he would have been there in 2020.
And he's seen a lot from his perch in the booth at the top row of the grandstands:
- Such as the team's first game. "The place was absolutely packed," he recalled, "even down the lines. Players came in through the back fence in convertibles. There were proclamations; TV stations were there; the crowd was boisterous, and the lines at concession stands were long. That's a great memory.
- There, too, was the night in 2012 that San Rafael native and former major leaguer Bill Lee pitched for the Pacifics and became the oldest pitcher to win a professional game. "The crowd that night was as large as that for opener," Carlson said. "The crowd wanted him so much to succeed. He had major conversations when we were at bat - touching base with a lot of people he'd known growing up. The players would always sign autographs after a game, and probably half the crowd wanted his that night. We must have been on the field for an hour after the game."
- Then there was the leadoff hitter who would dawdle long enough to let his entire walkup song play before he would get into the batter's box. "It was obvious – he'd walk several steps past home plate and then turn around and walk back. After a while, I asked the players if that was really happening, and they said it was."
- He remembers seeing Jova get married between games of a doubleheader – "He had tux on; his wife had the flowing white dress; and several teammates were ushers. Then he went out and played the second game."
- There was former big-leaguer Erik Byrnes, who played a couple of games for the Pacifics in 2014.
- And there was the brief time Jose Canseco played for opponents – "They got him to do a home-run derby with locals. Going into last round, a high school kid actually had the lead, but Canseco then hit like four no-doubters into the tennis courts to win."
- Carlson also remembers seeing the rivalry with Sonoma grow – "Not just on the field, but the fans." He recalled a game in which the San Rafael pitcher threw to first base several times to hold a Sonoma runner. The throws weren't close, but the Pacifics' first baseman nonetheless kept slapping the tag down hard on the runner's helmet. "I could see it building. The guy finally lost it on the fifth or sixth throw-over, and a real donnybrook started. It went on for several minutes, and there were several minutes of yelling and finger-pointing after that. A woman fan on our side finally yelled, ‘There are children here!!' I'd never heard that during a baseball fight before."
Naturally, he's hoping to add to his store of memories in 2021, the team's first in the Pecos League.
"I've worked with a lot of great people over the years and have had a great time," he said. "I'm always excited when a new season comes around, but probably more so this time. I really missed it last year."