ALTOONA, Pa. (AP) — Little 2-year-old Preston Shoemaker of Hollidaysburg would look up at the video board at Blair County Ballpark back in 2002 and recognize all of the Altoona Curve players.
“He’d see the players come up on the scoreboard, and it was, ‘Daddy, Tony Alvarez. Daddy, Carlos Rivera. Daddy, Kevin Haverbusch,‘” Brad Shoemaker said of his son.
A lady sitting behind them on the third base line leaned over and said, “Excuse me, sir, can he read yet?”
“No, he just knows every player on the roster,” Brad Shoemaker told her.
Little Preston grew up at the ballpark in Lakemont, watching countless Curve games with his dad, keeping score and asking third base coaches for foul balls.
Fast forward 19 years, and Preston isn’t so little anymore. But he’s still hanging out at Curve games, only now as a team employee living out his dream as a professional broadcaster.
Preston is in his first season calling Curve games on the radio, as the assistant to lead play-by-play voice Jon Mozes. A 2018 Hollidaysburg Area High School graduate and current Penn State senior, Preston is the first person from Blair County ever to serve as one of the Curve’s everyday broadcasters.
When he thinks back to all those games he attended as a little kid and how much the Curve have always meant to him, it gives the young man a pretty special feeling.
“I’m an emotional guy. It means a lot to me to kind of start my career here where my love of this game kind of came from,” Preston said this week, which marked the opening of the Curve’s season.
“I grew up here at Peoples Natural Gas Field, back when it was Blair County Ballpark. My dad and I had season tickets, came to so many games right down on the third base line, second or third row off the dugout. I just have so many great memories here, so many fun stories growing up here as a fan. I was a Little Leaguer who got to run out on the field, I’ve thrown out the first pitch, sang ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game,’ I played here in high school.
“To be back now with the Curve and really see it go full circle … it means a lot to me to be where I am.”
The Curve opened their season Tuesday night, and Preston admitted it was an “emotional time” for him as the game drew near.
He vividly recalls looking out over the field from the broadcast booth and hearing the announcement of “Let’s go to the pregame show with Jon Mozes and Preston Shoemaker.”
“It was surreal. Chills on the arms,” he said. “Just got to take a deep breath and then go out there and do the job that they’re hiring you to do.
“But to look down from the broadcasting booth and see those seats on the third base line where I came in as a kid every day and sat and kept the book in my program and would yell out to get foul balls from third base coaches and go find Steamer and Diesel Dawg, it’s wild. It’s so cool to have it come full circle for me and be able to be on this side of things now and looking out and seeing kids out there enjoying themselves and know that was once me.”
Road to here
For home games, Preston does play by play during the third, fourth, sixth and seventh innings, and adds color commentary for Mozes during the other innings.
Mozes is in his first season as the Curve’s play-by-play voice after spending the past six years with the Trenton Thunder.
He is a minor league veteran who can help Shoemaker learn what it takes to succeed in the broadcasting industry, and he said this is the best advice he can give Preston:
“Start a meticulous process of building a network of relationships that you can use to your advantage down the road,” Mozes said. “As a young broadcaster, you can’t be shy about blindly sending out your tape to decision makers and other broadcasters in the industry, and you have to be open to implementing their feedback into your play by play.”
Shoemaker first started doing sports broadcasts when he was at Hollidaysburg, calling high school basketball games. He’s a broadcast journalism major at Penn State and has called Nittany Lion games in basketball, hockey, volleyball, football, baseball and lacrosse.
When a position with the Curve came open, general manager Derek Martin reached out to Preston, who wound up getting the job.
“The fit’s great,” Preston said. “I love being here, love being able to give back to this community and to this team and just to tell the stories of the Curve.”
Preston also has two great stories of his own.
As a 10-year-old, he was on hand for one of the great moments in Curve history, as New York Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte was on a rehab assignment with Trenton and started Game 1 of the 2010 Eastern League Championship Series in Altoona.
Preston, a Yankees fan, was down the left field line when Pettitte finished pitching in the game and went to throw a bullpen session. The pitcher gave him the baseball when he was done. Preston also got an autograph, as did hundreds of Curve fans, as Pettitte signed autographs during the game in a great show of respect to fans.
When Preston was 2, he was handed a foul ball from Reading player Anderson Machado. When his dad asked him, “What do you say?” Preston said he replied, “I don’t want a ball, I want a bat,” complete with a pouty face.
Lo and behold, a couple of innings later, Machado broke his bat on a foul ball, then came down and gave the bat to the determined little fan.
Now, that little fan is grown up and has a dream job of calling games for his hometown team, in the ballpark where he developed so many cherished memories.
“It’s an incredible feeling,” Preston’s dad said of his son’s cool job. “My wife (Gina) and I are so proud of him with everything that he’s done.
“When I turn on the radio and hear him talk, it’s definitely a surreal feeling to hear him calling the games that he loved as a kid. It’s a thrill.”