Hillsboro Hops Rich Burk balances dual gigs as baseball announcer, family man

There was only one worry on Rich Burk’s mind as he drove to Volcanoes Stadium in Keizer Friday afternoon for the Hillsboro Hops' inaugural game: a possible microphone malfunction.

“I’ll be working with new broadcast equipment for the first time,” said Burk, a Hillsboro resident with deep roots in western Washington County. by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTOS: DOUG BURKHARDT AND CHASE ALLGOOD - Heather and Rich Burk and their children, Dalton, 10, and Madeline, 13, are happy the Hillsboro Hops season has begun. Rich will be on the radio microphone for most of the Single-A baseball teams home games (inset).

With his 10-year-old son Dalton riding shotgun, Burk, the Hops’ radio play-by-play announcer, tooled down I-5 to set up for the Single-A baseball team’s away game against the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes.

It would have been natural for Burk, 48, to experience a few jitters — after all, he hadn’t called a professional baseball game since the Portland Beavers played their last inning at Portland’s PGE Park in 2010 — but the seasoned announcer was taking things in stride.

After all, his concern about audio glitches was a small blip on the airwaves of his professional life — a dream life he'd nevertheless been ready to give up for something more important.

As Dalton, a rising fifth-grader at Imlay Elementary School in Hillsboro, took a break from reading a young-adult fiction book to his dad on the ride down, Burk reflected on the serendipitous turn things have taken since team managers pursued him to become the voice of the Hops.

“It’s exciting,” said Burk, who also called the play-by-play Monday night from a sparkling new press box inside the ballpark at the Gordon Faber Recreation Center. “I thought my days announcing professional baseball were over, because even if the Beavers had stayed in town, I probably would only have been with them two more years.”

He would have quit, he said, for love of his family.

At that point in his life — with his daughter Madeline about to turn 10 and Dalton entering first-grade — Burk felt as if he were watching their childhoods go by in a blink. His contract with the Beavers required him to call 144 games in 152 days during the long season, almost all of them in the summer months when his kids were out of school.

Due to the intensity of the schedule and required travel, “even when I was at home, I was on the road in a sense,” he says now.

With the Hops, things will be much different. Burk worked out a flexible calendar that has him announcing 58 games between now and September, 38 of them at home.

“The reason I did this is because it’s a shorter season — and I get to coach Dalton’s baseball team,” the Glencoe Junior Baseball Organization Roadrunners, Burk said. “It’s the best of both worlds.”

He’ll also be able to attend Madeline’s music recitals and other events at Brown Middle School, where she’ll be an eighth-grader in the fall, and spend more time with his wife, Heather, an Intel employee whom he met while they were students at Pacific University.

It was clear to Heather from the beginning that her intended was a bona fide baseball nut. "This is the guy who had a blanket hanging in his dorm room so he could hit balls into it any time of the day or night," she said.

Observing Rich hone his act over the last two decades — and toting a digital radio to the games so she can listen to Rich's banter while watching the action — Heather has come to appreciate his talents like no one else.

"His best skill has got to be the vast historical knowledge he has about the game," said Heather. "I feel rather empty if I'm not listening to him while watching the game."

Because the Hops gig is a "one-third-time job," she added, it allows her husband to share more fully in their home life. This time around there's no compromise.

Their kids "don't ever miss a doctor's appointment or music lesson or baseball practice," she said. "Rich is all over it. We have always considered ourselves a team, but after the last two years, it couldn't be more true."

All of that is just fine with Rich — including the new job.

“There’s nothing better than preparing for a broadcast and then calling a game,” he said. “I feel like my soul is in sync when I’m doing this.”

‘Serendipity shone on me’

A southern California native, Burk graduated from Pacific in 1988 with a degree in broadcast communications. He headed for central Oregon, where he landed a job as an administrative assistant with the Bend Bucks, a Northwest League affiliate of the California Angels.

“I wasn’t very good,” he said with a laugh. He was getting married the following September, so he applied for a job with Peter Jacobsen Productions (now Peter Jacobsen Sports) of Portland, which ran the Fred Meyer Challenge golf tournament.

Burk landed a spot with the company and stayed four years, but he yearned for a place on the announcing desk. That opportunity came in 1994, when he returned to Bend to announce for the renamed Bend Rockies. The team moved to Portland in 1995 and Burk called those games until 2000, when the Portland Beavers, a Triple-A team, moved back to the Rose City from Salt Lake City.

For the next decade, he commanded the microphone for the Beavers, learning every name, every number, every nuance — and relaying them to thousands of fans. By the time the boys of summer wrapped up their final season in Portland on Sept. 6, 2010, Burk had called 1,850 professional baseball games.

“Serendipity shone on me,” he said. “I was able to move up the ladder in my career without ever having to leave the Northwest.”

Although he saw quite a bit of television time in the three summers he was away from baseball — announcing college basketball and football for Root Sports and the Pac-12 Network — Burk missed the game that first grabbed hold of him as a boy, when he fell in love with the Boston Red Sox.

Even before Madeline was born, Rich and Heather painted her room to look like the famed Fenway Park. Heather has relatives in the Boston area, and the attraction was natural, the couple explained.

Still, after the Beavers packed up and left Portland, the next couple summers were admittedly a bit barren for Burk.

“When opening day 2011 rolled around, was there a piece of me that missed announcing baseball? Sure,” he said. “But the majority of me was happy to be home with my family.”

Heather took a sabbatical from her job that summer, and the couple indulged in six weeks of vacation with their children. They traveled throughout the Midwest, took in the grandeur of Yellowstone National Park and meandered through the Dakotas. It was heaven.

“We listened to the Red Sox on the radio everywhere we went,” Burk said.

Saying yes

By the time the Hops came calling, Burk was ready to say yes to a short-season offer. He’d warmed up by calling a pair of Triple-A games in April and May for the Fresno Grizzlies and the Tucson Padres. And last Friday, debuting as the Hops’ resident expert on the mic — his voice resonating for FOX Sports Radio 620 AM — it was as if Burk had never stepped away.

“At this point it’s second nature,” said Burk, whose broadcast partner is Matt Richert, sports director for AM 1360 KUIK Radio in Hillsboro and the football and basketball announcer for Pacific.

A 75-minute pregame show went like clockwork, and even though the Hops fell 3-2 in their season opener, Burk once again did his best to bring life and color to the game he loves.

“When I’m on the air I like to make sure people are entertained with stories about the players and legends about the game,” said Burk. “The art of what I do is weaving those stories into the play-by-play in a way that’s seamless.”

He looked forward to the Hops’ first home game with relish.

“This ballpark is utterly beautiful,” said Burk. “The view from the press box is excellent, and having an actual room from which to broadcast is fabulous.”

Describing the action as it happens is key to a successful radio sports show.

“On TV, you’re complementing what people see on their screen,” Burk explained. “On radio, you’re creating what people see.”

“People can tune in and listen to what my dad has to say about the game,” Dalton chimed in. “They get a picture in their brains of what’s happening on the field.”

His dad, the youngster added, is the best in the business.

“I’m proud of him because there aren’t any people better at what they do than he is,” Dalton said.

As summer begins, fortune is smiling on his father's two homes.

"Hillsboro Ballpark is 5 miles away from my house," Burk said. "It doesn't get much better than that."

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