Todd Walsh cares more about the stories than the stats in sports. The Arizona Diamondbacks and Phoenix Coyotes reporter for Fox Sports Arizona has covered Arizona sports for more than 20 years and has won seven Emmy Awards for his efforts. The 49-year-old Scottsdale resident has reported on virtually every Arizona sport you can think of, from men’s and women’s tennis, to the PGA. He also covered music journalism and has talked to everyone from Bono to Eddie Vedder. He talked about what keeps him going in his grinding schedule, and keep scrolling to watch a video of him talking about his five favorite things about Arizona.
What brought you to Arizona?
My older sister left Rochester, New York, with her husband when they got married, since he was a grad student at the U of A. I’ve always had this child-like fascination with Arizona. I visited them, and I was hooked, and that was all that I talked about. It was a dream of mine to attend the U of A since junior high school. I was accepted my freshman year, but chickened out. I went one year to St. John Fisher College in Rochester before I transferred for my sophomore year.
What was your time at U of A like?
I had dreams of trying to play baseball at the U of A. When I showed up on campus, I went over and thought I’d walk on, and then realized, “You’ve got to be kidding me. These guys are men.” They had just won the national championship a few years earlier, so I just figured it wasn’t going to work out.
That same afternoon, I walked over to McKale Center and knocked on the basketball office’s door. I said, “Are you looking for announcers?” And the secretary sort of laughed and said, “We’re hiring a new staff for our new coach, so why don’t you come back in a couple weeks?” I did. I had no idea what I was doing, but I came back for an interview and they were putting together a managerial staff for Lute Olson for his first season. I still don’t know how this happened to me.
I was selling plasma twice a week for $15 a bag. I washed dishes at Noodles and Crust Pizza, I sold my baseball cards, I had no money, and in late September, they called back and said, basically, “You’re on a full scholarship for basketball, and you need to hire a managerial staff.” They refunded my tuition, bought my books, and gave me a monthly allowance for food. It was a miracle, and I will never quite understand how it all transpired. I literally knocked on a door, and it changed my life forever.
How did your career in broadcasting come about?
I knew I wanted to be a broadcaster. I was majoring in radio and TV, and as fate would have it, three years later, I was traveling as a senior on the team bus, and Brian Jeffries, who was and is the Voice of the Wildcats, heard me goofing around with (U of A player) Steve Kerr doing a fake interview. I was about to intern at his radio station, and he knew I was trying to get into sportscasting. He put me on the air for the first time. He said, “Why don’t you do a pre-game interview on all of our game days?” And so I did. Soon after I graduated, I got a job there, and a few months after that, I was hosting my own sports talk show and U of A pre- and post-game shows for football and basketball. That’s all because I knocked on a door one fall day in 1983.
What has your professional life since U of A been like?
I started at KNST Radio doing that talk show, and U of A pre and post game shows, but about a year into it, my sister passed away suddenly and tragically. I was too young to really cope with the aftermath.
It was a very tough time. I left the station and was thinking about leaving Arizona to be with my family, but Lute Olson and others helped me eventually find my way to Phoenix and KTAR. I worked on the 620 Sportsline nightly talk show with Jude LaCava, as well as the then Phoenix Cardinals, and of course, the Suns and even ASU.
I ran away from sports for over five years and did PM drive rock radio on 93.3 KDKB. Then, the Coyotes came to town, and my radio station was going to broadcast their games and asked me to be a part of it. I resisted at first, but then realized this was a great way to get back to what I always loved to do. Music was a dream, but sports was my calling. That morphed into me applying to Fox Sports Arizona to work for them and have been with them full-time since 2001.
What’s your first memory of wanting to be a broadcaster?
I used to record the CBS evening news with Walter Cronkite and then mimic his newscast on tape. I loved sports. I was obsessed with all sports and watched every game, on every network, winter, summer, spring, and fall. I knew it was something I wanted to do, and I was the kid in the neighborhood who would literally broadcast our games while we were playing them. I can remember rolling out to throw a pass and describing it as I did it. They’ll never admit it, but the kids in my neighborhood kind of liked it. It added some drama to the backyard games — at least, I hope it did.
What makes a great broadcaster, and why are you a good broadcaster?
Someday I hope to be! You have to be able to write. If you can’t write, forget it. You have to be able to allow the person you’re talking to, to be the story. People love to talk about themselves, and I love to hear it, and that’s how you have to approach it. You have to be able to listen and enjoy listening to other people.
Do you have any tips for strengthening your writing skills?
Do it all the time. I write essays for one of our monthly shows, which are pretty in-depth. It’s long-form television. It’s like an assignment in high school or college for me. It doesn’t come easy if you don’t take the time to work at it. It sometimes takes me a week or more to just gather my thoughts for them. It really is a craft, and you can’t ignore it. It needs to be polished all the time.
Do you have to memorize a lot of sports statistics for your job?
Numbers bore me. Always have, always will. The shows I do or reports are more like a stethoscope than a calculator. For me, it’s about the storytelling and about why something is happening. I know the metrics serve a purpose, but I’d rather tell a story than spew out a mouthful of numbers and stats.
What was your most memorable interview?
It’s Bryan Cranston from Breaking Bad. Unreal experience. He was the most engaging interview that I have ever had. He showed up an hour and a half early for the shoot. He taught me some valuable lessons about career and life. For example, if you aren’t scared of something, then it isn’t challenging enough. Words to live by.
Also, on the Fourth of July one year at Chase Field, we were celebrating the troops as we do on Fox Sports Arizona every 4th, and there was a little old man who served in World War II at Pearl Harbor. His family brought him there, and they wanted me to come up and meet him in the stands. He just reminded me of my dad, who was also in World War II. He embodied the spirit of that generation and their fearlessness and selflessness. He even looked like my dad. It was like talking to my father. I heard he passed away shortly thereafter, but I won’t soon forget him.
I’ve talked to Bono, Eddie Vedder, Peter Gabriel — but that little old man was something else. He cracked me up. I think it was his first ever D-Backs game, as well.
I also get to interview Shane Doan just about every day, sometimes two or three times a day. For that, I am lucky. They don’t make them like Shane Doan anymore. Or ever, come to think of it.
What are some of your tips for live interviews?
I always have a skeleton of where I want to go, but it’s important to be listening and not just focusing on the next question. Nine times out of 10, they are going to answer your second question in your first one if you aren’t paying attention. Every athlete will say, “Like I said,” which means, “You idiot, I already said it.” I always try to make someone smile while they’re talking. Don’t be afraid to go off the path for a minute, but there’s always a right time and a wrong time. Don’t go for the punch line if there isn’t one.
Would you ever be interested in getting in on the play-by-play side?
I was in it a long time ago, when I was doing play-by-play in minor league baseball in Tucson and Phoenix. I probably should have pursued it, but it’s such an art form, and I have fun telling the story of a game before it happens, and then turning it over to guys who have spent their whole lives doing it. I also don’t have enough confidence to think, “Listen to me for three hours every night.” I really appreciate what a play-by-play and color guy do because I’ve done both, and I don’t pine to do that anymore. I love what I’m doing now.
With the grind of the schedule, what keeps you motivated to keep doing this job?
I like telling stories. Tomorrow night, we’re going to go to the ballpark to tell the story of a guy who got called up to the majors on Saturday night, and arrived at 11:30 before a 1 o’clock Sunday game for his first day. I’ve been telling that kind of story for 26 years, and it never gets old.
In hockey, when a guy scores his first goal, I get to give him the actual puck, and I ask him the same question: “Where are you going to put that puck, and what will it mean to your family?” I’ve been to the houses of those guys who are retired now and I see those pucks on a plaque on the wall. I think I know how hard it was to get there, the sacrifices they and their families made, and I love telling that story.
Why are professional sports so important to the public?
Sometimes I think they are a little too much. I’ll be in Kansas City or some random place and think, “What am I doing here? Why is this so important? Why are we acting like a trade for a middle infielder is the biggest thing on the planet?” Then, I realize that sports really is entertainment that can be our collective release. I saw it after 9/11, and I saw it in the wake of the Yarnell fires. It matters. But, sometimes it’s too much. I get the people that yearn for teachers to be able to get paid on par for what they do. But I also think the sports paradigm has changed a little bit. Scores and scores of people went to the Diamondbacks game to help raise money for the Yarnell firefighters. The Dbacks game was their vehicle to help make a difference. There was a proactive side to that, and we need to see more of it from our pro sports teams, their fans and their corporate and media partners. There is a responsibility there. Derrick Hall gets that. He paved the way, and it’s my hope others will follow that lead.
What are the biggest stories surrounding the Diamondbacks now and the Coyotes for their upcoming season?
Can the D-Backs overcome some key injuries? Will their starting pitching respond? Will the bullpen put out the fires, and will the offense give run support? Sound familiar? The Dodgers are due for a let-down, maybe. And the NL Central could beat itself up and create some wiggle room for a wild card. A tall task, but one thing we know is they will not role over. It’s not in their DNA.
For the Coyotes, now they’re here to stay for however long that is. They’ve got their GM and coach back, they’ve got their goalie back, they got a new skill player, and the cloud of uncertainty lifted. They’ve rallied around that for four years, and now they’re here to stay. Will the fans come out?
Why should people come out and support the Diamondbacks or the Coyotes?
That’s the challenge for both teams. We’re watching television at home now that, quite frankly, in HDTV and with all the bells and whistles, makes it really hard for people to leave their living rooms. Technology has changed the landscape of everything.
Another challenge for the Coyotes is the geography of the rink, but they’ve shown an increase in attendance, and when they win, people are going. The league has given them a decent schedule, and now every team rolls into town at least once a year. That had to change, and it did.
I grew up in a minor league town, but I was able to go to games in person. I just think the whole game experience for your kids is the next step. Watching TV at home is nice, but if you really want to invest in your team, you have to be in there in person sometimes. With hockey especially, you have to be at the rink. There’s nothing like it. With baseball, it’s more a social gathering, a community of fans with the game as a back-drop. The sports are so different in terms of the game experience, but I still believe you have to find a way to support your local teams. And they, in turn, have to find a way to make you want to be there. And, that’s part of our job as their broadcast partners.
What are your career goals?
I want to be able to keep doing cool things, like The 10th Inning, which is sort of my pride and joy. Luis Gonzalez was good enough to take us to his hometown in Tampa. We drove around in his rental car all morning and went to the home he grew up in, got together in a coffee shop, and went to his old baseball field and met his high school coach. I just want to keep being able to do things like that. I’m sort of living vicariously through everybody, and as long as I can continue doing that, I’ll be happy. And, with the Coyotes and the Diamondbacks, I have the best seat in the house.
For people who want to break into the professional sports industry, what advice would you have for them?
Respect the medium and what you’re doing. Find a little “old school” in it, and research your stories. I’m surprised to see so many stories without attributions. Don’t just try to go for the jokes or the lowest common denominator. I’d like to see more respect for everything.