Jeff Levering’s view of this week’s Giants-Brewers series still feels “very surreal” to the Sacramento native and Jesuit High School alum. It comes from behind a microphone in the visitors’ radio booth at AT&T Park, where Levering is in the middle of his rookie season with the Brewers’ broadcast team.
Levering was hired last winter to fill in for Hall of Famer Bob Uecker on select Brewers radio broadcasts this season. The 31-year-old, who spent the past two seasons as the radio voice of the Boston Red Sox’s Triple-A affiliate in Pawtucket (R.I.), interviewed for the job in December, then was told he needed to fly to Arizona to meet one more person: Uecker himself.
“I told my folks and everybody else, even if it doesn’t work out and I don’t get this job, at least I got to say I had dinner with Bob Uecker,” Levering said Tuesday.
It worked out. Minutes after Levering met Uecker at a Scottsdale restaurant, former MLB Commissioner Bud Selig happened to walk in and approached the table.
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“(Uecker) goes, ‘Hey Al, I want to introduce you to Jeff Levering. He’s going to be working with us next year,’” Levering said. “I kind of wanted to hear it from the actual decision-makers, but hearing it from Bob felt pretty good.”
Levering didn’t always want to be a broadcaster. Naturally, he grew up wanting to make the majors as a player, and he did play at Chapman College in Orange, winning an NCAA Division III national championship as a sophomore in 2003.
But he said reality kicked in and, “If I would’ve had an opportunity to play in the minor leagues, it wouldn’t have lasted forever. There’s a little more longevity with this career.”
Levering’s first job calling games came in 2007 as the radio voice for Advanced-A Rancho Cucamonga. Early on, he said, he was catching grief from players, who wondered what the new guy knew about baseball. His response: Let me take batting practice.
“So we’re in High Desert about May of my first year, and our pitching coach goes, ‘All right, let’s do this,’” Levering said. “I grabbed a bat – wood bat, not metal – and second pitch, I went deep.
“All the guys that were playing catch and getting loose and stretching just kinda stopped and looked at the cage and started screaming all the obscenities they could think of at me. From that point on, I had some cred.”
After three seasons with Rancho Cucamonga, Levering toiled at Double-A Springfield (Mo.) from 2010-12, then became the radio voice for Pawtucket in 2013. The latter move got him out of the Texas League and its notoriously brutal travel.
“Our (Springfield) manager didn’t watch any movies other than horror movies, and I was in charge of getting movies (for bus trips),” Levering said. “Sixteen hours of blood and guts. It was terrible.”
Perhaps as a result of those trips, Levering said his eight years in the minors “felt like a long time … but in this industry, it’s a really short time.” At 31, Levering is the second-youngest radio play-by-play man in the majors, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. He’s mostly calling road games as Uecker, 80, scales back on travel.
Levering’s debut came May 18 in Detroit, and in his first inning on the air, Milwaukee’s Aramis Ramirez hit a home run. The next day, the Brewers hit back-to-back-to-back homers with Levering behind the mike. It would have been a perfect chance to introduce his signature home run call – if he had one.
“My first year (in the minors), I had really terrible calls,” Levering said. “I tried saying ‘Goodbye’ in like four different languages. It was like, ‘Arrivederci Roma, Ciao Baby; however you want to say it, that ball’s gone!’”
Somehow, that didn’t catch on.
But Levering doesn’t see the need to force any catchphrases.
“I try and call it as I see it,” he said. “I want everything to feel authentic, like everybody’s hearing it for the first time.”
It’s been a year of notable firsts for Levering. He called his first game at Dodger Stadium, a few booths down from Vin Scully, and this week is calling his first games featuring the Giants – the team he grew up rooting for – with family and friends traveling from the Sacramento area to see him.
“I’m extremely fortunate to be where I am,” Levering said. “Just enjoy the ride; that’s the biggest part for me. I’ve always had fun, whatever I’ve done going to the ballpark.”
Finally, Levering and his wife, Ashley, welcomed their first child, Brock, last Oct. 1. And the first game Levering watched with his son came a few days later, when the Giants beat the Washington Nationals 2-1 in 18 innings in Game 2 of the National League Division Series.
“My wife went to sleep, but my son woke up in the middle of the night ’cause he needed to be fed,” Levering said. “He was up and we were watching the game together, so that was a cool moment.”
Without a word needing to be said.