By: Mike Vorkunov
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — This week, Steve Gelbs was named the new field reporter for SNY’s broadcasts. He takes over for the departed Kevin Burkhardt and joins the most celebrated announcing booth in baseball
To find about Gelbs, what the new job will be like for him, and what Mets fans can expect over the coming year, he sat down with NJ Advance Media. A full Q&A follows.
NJAM: How does it feel to get the job?
Gelbs: It’s really exciting. Really exciting. Getting to experience it a little bit last year, it’s like getting a little taste of something. To have the opportunity now to really sink my teeth into it and be a part of not just this network and covering a team with the history in New York City but really to be a part of the broadcast team that has been so widely recognized for what they’ve been able to accomplish. That part, to me, is thrilling. So I’m excited to sink my teeth into, excited to get underway. Excited to be here for a full year of what, I think, many people hope and expect to be a really fun one.
First person you called after you got the job.
She would be angry if it was anyone else.
She would be angry but even if it was somebody else, I would have to tell you it was my fiancée. She checks now. ‘Was I the first person you told?’ No, I called her up right away. She knew I was going up for a meeting. It was either you got it or you didn’t get it. So she was the first call right after and she was thrilled.
Coolest phone call, tweet or congratulations that you received after you got the job?
Mike Tirico. Has to be Mike Tirico. Once it was officially announced, Mike Tirico sent out a tweet and then actually sent me a personal message just basically explaining how he grew up such a big Mets fan and congratulated someone else that went to Syracuse. For me, one of the main reasons I went to Syracuse was because of the guys before me. The whole reason I went to Syracuse is because of who came out of Newhouse (School of Pubic Communications) and two of the major ones on the Mount Rushmore over there are Bob Costas and Mike Tirico. So to get that totally unsolicited tweet and message was unbelievable. And I told him right back, and this is a true story, that when I was in college I went to a lecture that he gave when he came back to visit. It really was one of the most inspiring lectures about how to go about this business and how to get into it and really get to where you want to be. Especially early on, the hardest thing is really keeping going when you’re just trying to get your foot in the door. It was always that one speech that I kept in the back of my mind, that one lecture. So I told him that a large reason why I’m here, without him knowing, is because of him. So that was really, really cool.
Have you figured out yet how you’re going to get through 120 days on the road?
Going out to a lot of dinners with you.
God help you then.
No, I’ve talked to some people about what the protocol is. Even when I would speak to Kevin (Burkhardt), and I spoke to Kevin so much about it last year in trying to pick Kevin’s brain, and Gary’s brain, and Ron’s brain, and Keith’s brain, the initial thing was, especially in your first year, you don’t realize how tiring it can really be. So from my perspective I’m looking at it far less as 162 and how to get through the next six months without many off days and more so here’s spring training first, let’s do this and then get ready for Opening Day and take it in spurts. But the one thing that I always constantly think about is, even though a lot of people like to refer to it like a grind – and certainly it’s long and there’s a lot of days in a row and I’m sure there will be moments where you want to go to sleep – at the end of the day we’re outside covering baseball for a living. It doesn’t get much better than that.
What’s the best part of being on TV?
Best part of being on TV? I gotta think about that one. Listen, there’s certainly cool aspects about it. I was out to dinner last year with my best friend since I was 10. He’s a massive Mets fan and I had really just started the job. I was filling in and he was kind of just making fun of me a little bit, like ‘Oh, no one’s recognized you, Mr. Big Shot over here’. Then probably five minutes after he’s doing that the waiter comes over and taps me on the shoulder and says, ‘I’m really sorry to interrupt your dinner but do you think the Mets are going to trade Bartolo Colon before the trade deadline this year?’ And he just threw a napkin at my face. So that part was pretty cool. Honestly, especially down here and since the announcement has been made official, really interacting with the fans has been pretty cool. I’ve met three kids in the last two days that have asked me ‘How do you get to be on TV?’ or ‘This is the coolest job ever, how’d you do what you’re doing?’ And I still remember being that kid. So just being able to talk to them, take a picture with them, give them any advice and try and be – I gave one of them my information. He’s in high school now – keep in touch because that would have meant the world to me. The one thing you always learn from the people that came before is always pay it forward and although it’s really early for me I’m trying to do just that.
Is there a worst part of being on TV?
Yeah, sometimes you don’t want to be recognized. [Laughs] I think probably now it’ll happen more than it did before and I’m sure there will be nights where you don’t necessarily talking about baseball when you have a night off or something like that. But at this point, for me, there’s nothing to complain about. Get back to me at the end of the season – maybe.
Obviously, SNY’s baseball broadcast team for Mets games is tremendous. They’re very much acclaimed. Have you heard yet from Gary, Keith and Ron? And what’s it like to be working with them?
Yes, I’ve spoken with all three of them because I found out a little while before it was officially announced. We had a meeting, the whole broadcast team – producer, director, our boss’s bosses up top – and all of them are incredibly supportive. More so than that, they’re so knowledgeable. And honestly, even Kevin, Kevin reached out to me as soon as it was done. He and I have a great relationship and we keep in touch too. From my perspective, you said how cool is it? It’s incredible. I grew up watching these guys. You want to be a sports broadcaster and you look at it from a professional perspective sometime and truly there’s no better booth. So I do have to pinch myself sometimes. Last year I remember the first time I was in a meeting just because I was going to be filling in and I’m looking around and I’m saying, alright, there’s Gary Cohen, there’s Keith Hernandez, there’s Ron Darling – am I in the right room here? Really, it’s remarkable and they’re guys that – and Kevin told me the first day I met him last year, he said if you listen to them and even if you just take in how they go about things, just kind of be a sponge, you’re going to be so much better for it. He credited a lot of success to where he is now based on that. So that for me is really the exciting thing. Those guys are the stars, I’m just trying to be a small part of that and not get in the way or anything. Just to take it all in and try to improve everyday under their tutelage. That’s really what gets me going.
We’ve talked about this several times outside of this, and it’s kind of hard to ignore, do you think about being the guy who replaces Kevin Burkhardt?
I did initially last year when I first filled in knowing this is a possibility. I was doing it and you’re trying to do your job but you can’t help but thinking about you knew Kevin was going so you can’t help but think, alright, this is also an audition. And I did initially think about it. Then pretty quickly I realized that it would be doing myself a huge disservice – it would be doing him a huge disservice. There’s one Kevin Burkhardt. He was fantastic at this. He’s still fantastic at this. In a lot of respects he has set the standard for – and redefined – what a field reporter is and can be. If I try to jump in after he did it for eight years and hold myself to that standard right off the bat, of ‘I need to be the next Kevin Burkhardt’ then I’m not going to be Steve Gelbs. There’s one Kevin Burkhardt. There’s one Steve Gelbs too. So I need to just be me. I talked to Kevin a week ago. That was the first thing he said to me was ‘Remember, just be you.’ And that needs to develop. I was asked the other day what is the difference between Steve Gelbs and Kevin Burkhardt? What does he do and what do you do? What’s your style? And I thought about it a little bit, to just tell you what my style is going to be this job 162, that would be dumb. Because it wouldn’t be allowing myself in the role. And that’s one of the great things Kevin did as well is just grow every year and get better and continue to get better. Right now I’m just focused on making sure I know everything about this team inside and out, I develop a good rapport with the players, good relationship with the players, and the one kind of bar I’ve set for myself – the one standard – is make sure that whatever you’re saying is right and everything else will come. You don’t want to be wrong about anything. You don’t want to misspeak because if you do that, that’s where you really get in trouble. Outside of that, I’ll grow and I’ll figure everything else out along the way.
I was going to ask you for two final questions but you just answered one of them, which is how you think you’re going to approach this job. So, I guess, the last one: What do you think you’re going to be saying at the end of October about your first year doing this?
What hopefully I’m going to say is, listen, my first full spring training, I’ve looked at this team inside and out, I really think this is going to be – whether or not it ends up with the playoffs or not, who knows – but I think this is going to be a year that is relevant from Game 1 to Game 162. So I think the thing that I’m going to be saying at the end of the year is that was fun. That was exciting. That was cool to be a part, even a small part, of what just happened. Hopefully I’m going to be saying that. I do think at the end there’s going to be a lot of reflection about what I thought it was going to be, where I started and where I finished up. Even going back last year, once I found out I got the job, I just watched some of my stuff from last year, even from Game 1 that I did to Game 55 that I did – I watched Game 1, I said what the heck was that? Hopefully there won’t be too many what the heck moments. Hopefully I’ll finish off saying I was a part of a really exciting year and I continued to get better every day. And that’s all I can do. That’s the only thing I can set for myself. I can’t put too much pressure beyond that. Just try and make sure your getting better every day.