A Year without the Florida State League: An Interview with Dylan Spaulding
Dylan Spaulding is the voice of the FSL Radio Network, a successful podcast about the Florida State League. I caught up with Dylan about his podcast, the Florida State League and much more.
Covering the Florida State League
BK: Dylan, thank you for taking the time to talk with me and our Legends on Deck readers. Dylan has written several articles for LOD. As you know, the Florida State League is one of our favorite leagues to cover. What got you so interested in the Florida State League and why did you decide to start podcasting about it?
DS: In 2015, I went to my first Florida State League game between the St. Lucie Mets and the Clearwater Threshers at Bright House Field (now Spectrum Field) in Clearwater. I got two foul balls and volunteered for one of those games on the field they do in between innings. That, for me, was one of the most fun days I ever had at a baseball game. However, I wouldn’t start really getting into the league and understanding how the minors worked until 2017. I went to see the Fire Frogs play the Threshers and I fell in love with the Florida State League
I started writing a game of the week blog that would cover a specific FSL game each week. That would all lead to the podcast. I discovered that there was very little radio or TV among Florida State League teams. In fact, only Bradenton broadcasts live games on a TV. I thought it would be great to cover the league through a podcast. And, it really helps that it’s right here in my backyard. I feel like I am able to make a real impact this way.
Building the Podcast
BK: You have produced 133 podcasts already, which have included many interviews with coaches, players and front office personnel. If you don’t mind me asking, what has been your approach to getting interviews with these guests? Are there two or three guests who have been the most interesting to interview? What made those interviews stand out?
DS: My approach to get players on is to either direct message them on social media if they aren’t with a team anymore or go directly through the teams. Right now has been easy in some ways to get players on due to the fact they are not playing. However, some franchises are not allowing people to do interviews right now with the current situation due to players not being assigned to teams.
My three favorite guests I’ve had on the show have been Jim Morris, Greg Pryor and Carlos Munoz. For those who don’t know, the Jim Morris story was told in the movie, The Rookie. It was so incredible talking with him about dealing with adversity and being told he would never be able to pitch again. Then at age 35 being able to still throw 95 mph on the radar gun. It’s one of those feel good stories.
The reason why Pryor’s interview was so good was because of the stories he shared of some of the most controversial and memorable moments in baseball history. He was able to share stories of the memorable Pine Tar Game and Disco Demolition Night. These are stories that many young fans like myself have seen clips of, but hearing about them directly from someone who was there was a lot of fun. Carlos Munoz interview was so interesting because he really pulled the curtain back and talked about a young J.D. Martinez and worked with him during Spring Training to talk about seeing Lance Berkman only taking a handful of pitches during BP.
Learning from the Game
BK: When you consider some of the interviews you have done and what you have learned about the game of baseball at the minor league level, what surprises you the most?
DS: Some of the things that have surprised me is how down to Earth these guys are and how much work and the travel these minor leaguers have to do. You see them play and you see them sign autographs for fans,but with the interview, you really pull the curtain back and get to know them and how their personality is. You also learn how grueling a minor league season is and how the travel effects. It’s really a neat thing to learn from these guys and learn how many changes they go throughout their minor league career.
Impact of the Lost Season
BK: This has obviously been a very strange year, without an actual season taking place. There are two franchises, Daytona Tortugas and Florida Fire Frogs, who were under consideration for elimination even prior to COVID-19. Sports Illustrated recently ran a cover story on the economic crisis in Minor League Baseball. What impact do you think this lost season will have on the future of the FSL?
DS: Well it’s going to impact how many promotional days teams do throughout the season, which will trickle down and effect team attendance. Teams need to make their money back, especially for lower league teams such as teams in the Florida State League. The only way to do that however would be to cut things out of their seasonal budget. That would include doing giveaways and having cheap food nights. A good example would be with the Clearwater Threshers. Clearwater does a themed night called $1 Tuesday, where fans can purchase tickets and select food for a dollar. Now, this will definitely fill up the seats, however if you want to make your money and try to regain your losses from this lost season, you have to have prices higher. In total, it will impact the attendance of the league and the incentive for fans to want to come to games.
BK: A follow up to the last question, what does a lost season look like from a player development perspective? What are the players doing to stay in playing shape? What are coaches and front office executives doing to evaluate their talent and make decisions when play resumes? Does this really slow down the development process?
DS: It varies by the player. I think the loss of this season will impact the younger players who haven’t had many professional seasons and for the older players it won’t play as much of a factor on their development. For players staying in shape, they are either working outat their house or backyard and depending on where they live, working out at a training facilities. For coaches and execs, they are using Zoom and other forms of technology to help advance players and give them advice. Finally, I do believe this can slow down the development, but as stated earlier, it all comes down to the type of player.
Love of the Game
BK: Let’s talk a little more about your interest in baseball. You have lived your whole life in the Tampa area and you are a Rays and a Phillies fan. The Rays are your hometown team and the Phillies host Spring Training in Clearwater. Most of us who get really into baseball grow up playing the game, watching games on television and attending live games at the ballpark. What are your early baseball memories and how did your interest in the game develop?
DS: I’m fortunate to have a family who enjoys going to baseball games. We’d all pile into our big van and go. That’s how I really got interested in baseball. We would go to games especially on nights when the Rays would do the Summer Concert Series. With that said, my top fond and early baseball memories would have to include me being able to ride around the field on the Tampa Bay Rays “Truck at the Trop” night before game time on my birthday. Being able to hit a pitch off of a Rays Pitcher at Rays Fan Fest when I was 8 and meeting David Price, James Shields and Sean Rodriguez at an autograph signing.
Coming of Age
BK: Now that readers have learned a lot about your work on FSL Radio Network, I think it is important to let them know you are only 17 years old. This is impressive in a lot of ways. You are kind of like the media version of the prospects you are interviewing. What kind of reactions do you get when you reach out to people for interviews? Do you think your age has been an advantage for you or does it make things more challenging?
DS: I get mixed reactions. For some guys, they treat me like a regular member of the media and the age doesn’t really surprise them, while for others it does. I’ve had great compliments from guys saying how professional I was and how good my questions are. That means the world to me. When it comes to my age, there’s a bit of a disadvantage. I have been able to get credentialed by the Minor League teams, but not by the MLB. But, if things keep going well for me and the show, I can see myself getting media credentials with the MLB in no time.
The Future Looks Bright
BK: A few final questions about your future. What are your plans and ambitions for FSL Radio Network? Are you planning to pursue some kind of media arts direction after high school? What do you think your next few years might look like?
DS: At this point I’m committed to still do the podcast. It’s been hard to get shows out due to content, but I plan on doing the show for a long time. at least until I get a job with a radio station, TV station or a team Itself. My goal is to pursue a Media Arts major when I go to college and study the industry. For the next few years, the sky’s the limit. I will be the only person I know of who is already a broadcaster at the state college I’m attending. I’m hoping to get noticed, but I’m open to letting the road take me to wherever it leads.
BK: Dylan, thank you for your time and we love what you are doing with the FSL Radio Network. Looking forward to seeing what you accomplish in the years to come. What are the best ways for readers to find you online?
DS: They can find the show on IHeartRadio and Spotify and the best way to get ahold of me is via Instagram, Twitter or my email, firstname.lastname@example.org. It was a pleasure talking to you Brian about my work so far and thanks so much for your interest.