Brian VanderBeek

VanderBeek: Suchon enjoys a career move

The epiphany for Josh Suchon came during the 2006 American League Championship Series, when the seven-year major-league beat veteran found himself caught in the grinder of the great Bay Area newspaper merger.

Instead of writing exclusively for the Oakland Tribune, he also had to answer to editors at the San Jose Mercury News and Contra Costa Times, with each having their own idea about the perfect angle.

"My main story ended up being edited to the point where I had three different leads in three different newspapers," said Suchon, who covered the San Francisco Giants from 2000-03 and the Oakland Athletics from 2004-06. "The Mercury must have thought my lead was horrible because they completely rewrote it. That was the event that signalled to me that it was time to get out of the business because it was getting harder and harder every day."

Suchon didn't have another job on which to fall back. But it was in the back of his mind for years that he would like to make a run at a different branch of the sports journalism tree, having worked in campus radio at San Diego State University. And since he was single with no family to support, he could live cheaply.

That's why Suchon traded in his notebook, laptop and jets for a voice recorder, microphone and the team bus.

Suchon, 34, finished his first year as the voice of the Modesto Nuts in September, and last month joined J.J. Stokes and "The Mouth" in the studio for the noon-3:30 p.m. show on ESPN Radio 970. He also handles play-by-play for Friday night high school football.

These days, he's growing more and more comfortable in his new job as a radio personality, and he's happy with his decision to walk away from what more than half the males in journalism school would consider a dream job.

On the other hand, as much as Suchon likes his situation in Modesto, his goal is a return trip to the major leagues.

The hierarchy within professional baseball is strange and unique. With few exceptions, everyone with a role in the minor-league game is looking to move up the ladder -- from the players to the coaches to the front office to the umpires to the play-by-play guys in the press box. All, in some manner, are honing their skills and hoping to attract the attention of someone in power.

Modesto's situation is a little different in that Suchon is employed by the station and not the team. Team-employed play-by-play guys sell outfield fence ads in the offseason. Suchon gets to avoid sales, but some nights still force him to question his lot.

For instance, Suchon's first trip with the Nuts to Visalia and its open-air press box in early May was heralded by a rainstorm -- heavy enough to drench but not enough to force a postponement.

"That was the first time I began to wonder if I made the right decision," Suchon said. "There was no food, so I was sending the (clubhouse attendant) a text message asking if he could save me a sandwich. I was used to having a room with a king bed to myself at a Marriott, and here I was splitting a room with the clubbie at the Lampliter Inn.

"I'm outside, I'm soaking wet and was wondering if I was expected to keep going. The towels I had were covering the equipment, because I knew the equipment was more valuable than me. Everyone finds that story very amusing except me."

Years from now, when Suchon -- the major-league guy -- is doing the MC gig at his 15th hot-stove dinner of the offseason, the Visalia story will come in handy.

Right now, it remains a grimace moment and another example of his ongoing on-the-job training -- one in a series of lessons Suchon is learning the hard way.

In two parts, here are Suchon's major differences between newspapers and radio:

1. Prep time. "For every minute on the air, you should spend at least two minutes preparing. If not, it's going to show. I was used to spending 90 percent of my brain on baseball, then following the other sports at my leisure. It takes time to sound spontaneous."

2. Word selection. "There's no delete button in radio. When you say something stupid on the air, you can't press the delete button eight or nine times, or start all over again. You're on the air for three hours, and you will say something dumb during that time."

And, in Suchon's case, there will be no turning back. He says radio is his career now, and he's in it for the long haul. It doesn't mean he longs to be the voice of the 2017 Nuts, but for now Suchon is content to push radio's learning curve.

"The Nuts season was a grind, and it was every bit as fun as I thought it would be," Suchon said. "I know I didn't embarrass myself this season, and I'm at the point where I still don't know how good I can be."

To comment, click on the link with this story at www.modbee.com. Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at bvanderbeek@modbee.com or 578-2300.

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