Behind the Screen: Sam Brief

Sam in the broadcast booth at Impact Field

Sam Brief is a professional sports broadcaster. He graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He is the Broadcast and Media Relations Manager for the Chicago Dogs.


Follow Sam on Twitter and Instagram, and check out his portfolio. Follow The Chicago Dogs on Twitter and Instagram, and visit the team’s website to learn more about the team.


5 Fun Facts about Sam

  1. My great-great-great-great-great grandfather (I’m not sure how many greats it is, but I think it’s about six or seven) had a wooden leg that was blown off during the Civil War, and is in the one of the Smithsonian museums.
  2. Another great-great- something grandfather was one of George Washington’s aides and was a key role in the Battle of Yorktown – and eventually the winning of the Revolutionary War. The soldiers were on the verge of mutiny and he helped control it. He’s actually portrayed in the musical Hamilton.
  3. I live in a glorified jungle. I have two cats and one dog. I’m an animal lover and can’t get enough of them. Sometimes the four-legged creatures outnumber the two-legged ones.
  4. I used to be a Cubs fan. I’m actually a White Sox fan. I was really a Sammy Sosa fan – just because his name is Sam and so is mine. When he got traded to Baltimore, I became an Orioles fan. Then he got traded away from Baltimore. When I was like 7 or 8, that’s when I became a White Sox fan.
  5. My favorite food is duck. It’s a food that no-one really ever orders. If you ever get Chinese food, try the Peking Duck. In a world of people having normal favorite food, mine is duck.

Tell us about yourself and your background.

I’m from Highland Park – a northern suburb of Chicago. I’ve always been a die-hard sports fan. Towards the end of middle school, I projected my love of sports elsewhere. I had been cut from the basketball team three years in a row. I had started to write about sports a lot more; it was a lot of opinion pieces. I started “Sam’s Sports Brief,” with the pun completely intended.

My freshman year of high school, I started writing for the school’s newspaper. In the Sports section, of course. Then in my sophomore year, I joined the school news station as a sports reporter. I would talk about the school’s sports teams. When my senior year came around, I was shooting games and reporting on them. I had a whole team with me. I incorporated play-by-play into our reports. I knew this is what I wanted to do. I came to realize that calling a game is way more fun than playing.

I went to Northwestern University (Go Cats!), which is about 20 minutes away from me, and I joined the school’s radio station. That’s where I met my Chicago Dogs broadcast partner, Henrique Damour. That’s where I developed my broadcasting skills a little more.

The summer before I graduated, I worked in the Cape Cod League broadcasting for the Cotuit Kettleers. That led me to the Chicago Dogs the summer after I graduated. It’s so great that that position appeared as I graduated.

Sam at a Cotuit Kettleers game.

How did you get into sports broadcasting?

Like I said, I took my love of sports from playing to covering. And really just by doing it. I fell in love with it and realized that this is what I want to do. From high school to college, and the Cape Cod League to the Dogs. Covering 100 games over the summer, travelling across the country for them. Y’know, luckily people make this a lifelong career, and I hope that I can.

What was the inspiration behind becoming a sports broadcaster?

Honestly, no one in my family has done it. They all have more the typical”9-to-5″ job. My grandfather (my dad’s dad) was a newspaper editor in New York. He sort of inspired me to become a writer and helped me with my writing.

As for broadcasting, not too many people inspired me. But listening to people like Hawk Harrelson, Pat Foley – a lot of Chicago sports broadcasters.

Who has impacted or influenced you most in your career?

A lot of people. A person really at the front of my mind is my high school media director. This was actually supposed to be his last year at the school. He embraced me when I first joined the school’s station. He took me under his wing and taught me how to do everything: recording, editing, all that. As I came out with more and better content, he continued to lead and teach me. It helped keep me engaged and he was rooting for me.

It kind of bums me out that this was his last year, and he doesn’t get the proper send-off he deserves [because of quarantine].

Do you have a favorite moment you’ve called?

I’ve been blessed to have had a lot of great moments.

But it’s definitely got to be Keon Barnum’s record-breaking home run at Impact Field last summer. All the anticipation leading up to it, all the hype we were creating around it. Barnum had won the league’s MVP title last summer. The league’s home run record was 30 home runs, and that had been in place for the last 10 years. As Keon approached it, other teams started to take notice and would start to pitch around him. So he had hit sort of a power slump because of that.

It was the 4th inning of the second-to-last game against Minneapolis-St. Paul. I got to be on the call. Every time Keon had come up to bat, Henry and I would record each other on the call. I think it was so incredible. Being a broadcaster for an independent team, I got to be n the bus for road trips with the team. Keon is someone I got to know pretty well. He was given such a great chance with the White Sox, but it didn’t work out. It was great that he got this second chance with [the Dogs] to work on his swing, his mechanics. Now he’s signed with the Nationals and has the chance to impress there.

What kind of advice do you have for anyone wanting to become a sports broadcaster?

Do it. Just plunge in and do it. In this field, there is a lot of technicality and nuance. This field is an art and you just need to do it. A singer doesn’t get better by not singing, a trumpet player doesn’t get better by not playing the trumpet. You have to practice and do it to get better. It’s like Nike- just do it. It’s the best way to learn if it’s for you and if it is, the best way to get better is to just do it. Seek out advice from people in the field that you look up to.

What is your favorite part and the hardest part of your job?

Oh, gosh. I have so many favorite parts. The job itself. There are a lot of aspects of my job with the Dogs. I think my favorite is getting to kick back and call the game. Especially the moment right before the game starts. The moment when we come back from a commercial. It’s the mystery before first pitch- you don’t know what’s going to happen.

As for my least favorite … It’s something I’ve learned to love. I wouldn’t consider it my “least favorite” part of the job, so much as an inconvenience. But the traveling. We’re an independent team, so we travel to road games on a bus. We sometimes leave the field at midnight if we’re leaving right from Impact for a trip. It can be a long bus ride, depending on where you’re going, and can sometimes be overnight. Trying to sleep on the bus can be hard. But once you get there, oh man, is it worth it. Getting to explore places like Winnipeg or Fargo – the experience is great. It’s just the travel to get there that can be tough.

What’s your favorite stadium to visit and favorite stadium snack?

My favorite stadium to visit is probably Fenway. I first went when I was little; my aunt used to live in Boston. Of course, there’s Wrigley, but Fenway was a treat because it was kind of far. Everything about the park is great: the Green Monster, the funky dimensions, and just the history of the park.

My favorite snack is just a big ol’ soft pretzel. I’m not a big salty snack guy, and sometimes pretzels can be super salty. I saw in your interview with Henry that he dissed unsalted peanuts. Which is just ridiculous. In the broadcast booth, we would usually have some almonds between us. Henry would have salted ones, and I would have unsalted. So I guess those are a favorite snack too.

Oh, and Ben’s Pretzels at Gary-Southshore.

What is your favorite part about being a broadcaster for the Chicago Dogs?

The organization. The fans. Everything about the team. For it being such a new team, there’s such a strong and fun fanbase. Not many organizations that re so young have such a strong community. The front office – Shawn Hunter (the team owner), Trish Zuro (our Chief Operations Officer), the rest of the staff. They are all so fantastic. The larger extension of the Dogs family – the summer staff, people like you in the box office. You’re such an incredible help to us when we have [outside] media coming to games. Just all the people around the team.

The park itself, too. Impact Field is such a great park. The view of the stadium from the broadcast booth is pretty darn great. It’s special.

A visitor came to the broadcast booth during a Dogs game.
Henry Damour and Sam in the broadcast booth at Impact Field
















What are some challenges you’ve faced in the industry and how have you overcome them – or worked towards it?

Moments of self-doubt. I feel really lucky. On the way to each “yes,” there are a lot of “no’s” that you’ll get. So rejection can have an effect on you and cause self-doubt. There’s a lot of self-critique that can come from that, too. Those moments of self-doubt – it goes back to my advice. Just get back in and keep going.

What are some of your goals?

Make it to the top. I want to keep doing this for as long as I can, and I want to go as high as I can. I want to work in professional and major sports. I want to get the opportunity to call a Super Bowl, a World Series, a Final Four – that kind of stuff. I know I have to work hard and work smart. I want to soak it all in. I want to get as high as I can and work for as long as I can. It’s so great to see someone like Vin Scully who worked into his 80’s in this field – and that’s because he loved it.

As an announcer/broadcaster, what do you think is your best asset?

I think it’s my care for the game. I know that if you’re listening and we’re in, say Fargo, and it’s late in the game – and season – and the Dogs are down, I’m gonna call the game special. The reason people listen is because they care; about the team, the league, whatever. I’m going to call the game like it’s the World Series. I’m not going to give it a crazy, zany energy; but I’m going to call it like I care about it – like the listeners care about it. I’m not going to sound deflated and uninterested because the Dogs are down by an insane amount of runs in the eighth inning and the game’s basically over. It’s the respect I give the game with how I broadcast.

I broadcast to the fans at home listening to or watching the game, the people who are listening to the game in the car. It’s care and respect for the game and the fans.

When you get to the ballpark, what is your workflow/routine like?

On a game day, I get to the park WAY before the game starts. I have more responsibilities than just broadcasting the game. I make sure game notes, rosters, stat sheets, all that are ready. I make sure the press box is set, making sure all the media stuff is ready. I go up to the booth to make sure that all the tech stuff is ready. We work with the Illinois Media School, and they do the camerawork for games. So I try to connect with them about different shots for the videoboard. Like if it’s a “Bark at the Park” or “Star Wars” night, I try to give them ideas for what would be good for opening shots.

After I make sure that’s all set up, I head down to the clubhouse to chat with everyone. As someone who covers a team, it’s good to get a pulse on the team. There may be players getting extra time in the cage to work on bunting. A pitcher may be getting in some extra bullpen sessions. I sit and talk with Butch [Hobson, the manager] to see what’s going on. That’s the most important part of the day, to me. If there happens to be some peanut butter pretzels, I’ll grab a handful of those before heading out.

I’ll usually stop in the stands to talk with some ushers or fans. Then when I’m up in the booth, I’ll bounce ideas off Henry. Stories for pregame, etc. Then we go on-air and call the game. That’s my favorite.

After the game, it’s doing the recap and getting it online, along with cutting any highlights to accompany it. I make sure we get everything up onto social media before leaving the stadium. Sometimes it can go late and I’m not leaving the stadium until midnight or so.

How are you staying busy during this quarantine?

I’m still working, so that’s first priority. I’m lucky to be full-time with the Dogs, so I’m doing that. I’m keeping in touch with Christine, our new Marketing Director, Trish, and Shawn about our social media posts and calendar. So that’s my Monday – Friday, 9 to 5.

Outside of that, I’ve been spending a lot of time with my family. Going on a lot of walks and bike rides. We’ve been doing a lot of cooking and eating, too. I have a group of about 9 or 10 close friends, and we try to have Zoom calls on Sundays to catch up.

So my quarantine has basically been “work, walks, food, and the occasional movie.”

****

“Doing what I do, it’s important to have a family behind you. You hear a lot of stories of people wanting to pursue art or music, very atypical careers – and not having the support of their families. My parents, from the start, have fully embraced it and supported me. I’m lucky to have a support system like my family.

Sam is incredibly good at what he does in the broadcast booth for the Chicago Dogs. You can definitely tell that he has passion and care for the game, the players, the team, and especially the fans.

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