By Rob Rains
As Chris Caray and his brother Stefan settle into their seats in the small booth reserved for the visiting radio broadcasters at Hammons Field in Springfield, Mo., one fact is immediately evident.
There is no place they would rather be, nothing else they would rather be doing.
It’s a Thursday night in July, the 78th game of the season for the Amarillo Sod Poodles, the Double A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Texas League, just a little more than halfway through a 138-game season.
Every time they take their seats and put on their headsets, including for this night’s game against the Springfield Cardinals, the sons of Cardinals broadcaster Chip Caray and his wife Susan know they are doing something special.
Chris and Stefan are the only pair of identical twins ever to be in the same booth together as play-by-play broadcasters in any professional sport in the United States.
“When we first started doing this the part that everybody grasped on to was our last name,” Stefan said. “For us what was more exciting was getting to do this together … That was the part that was cool to us.
“It’s an amazing thing that we’ve gotten as far as we have together. We thought that in Cotuit two years ago in the Cape Cod League was the last time we would be doing it together, but here we are.”
Added Chris, “We have a really cool opportunity and experience to be calling baseball games in places where they seat over 5,000 people. Just two years ago we were calling games where there were 16 people watching at the NAIA level.
“We are almost a singular entity at this point and time. It’s not Chris Caray or Stefan Caray broadcasting, it’s the twins. … We want to be as good as we can be. He’s my biggest critic and I’m his biggest critic. I don’t think I know or connect with a person more than I do with him and quite honestly, I don’t think there’s another booth in the country or the world that is more connected than somebody I shared an embryo with. I think that’s been an incredible joy.”
Both Chris and Stefan are well aware of their family’s broadcasting legacy. They know they are the great grandsons of Harry Caray. They know they are the grandsons of Skip Caray, and the sons of Chip. They knew as soon as they decided to pursue a career in broadcasting baseball, especially together, that there would be no escape from the name recognition.
Every night, when they are on the air, however, the family legacy disappears. Chris and Stefan are the ones on the air, not any of their famous relatives. Their last name might have opened a door or two for them at the beginning of their careers, but now the 23-year-old twins are on their own.
That’s exactly the way they want it.
“It’s a big part of my story,” Chris said of his family’s history. “But I think people that don’t know me don’t understand that I hardly know the story. I relate with my dad a lot more than the other two. I’m Chip Caray’s son, Stefan is Chip Caray’s son, and we are incredible proud of that. We know his story. We don’t know much of Harry and Skip.”
Harry died before the twins were born. They only saw Skip a few times a year when they were young boys. He died when they were eight years old.
“That legacy is very impactful to a lot of people and it’s something that I feel responsible for for maybe continuing but I don’t put any pressure on myself or on my brother about extending the legacy or perpetuating the narrative that the legacy is so great or bigger than it is,” Chris said. “At the end of the day they all three were doing a job and happened to be skilled enough to continue in that job.”
Stefan believes that being back in Amarillo for a second season has lessened the expectations of people for the brothers to be somebody who they aren’t. The people who listen to their broadcasts on a nightly basis are tuning in to hear their voices, their description of the game, their analysis. That likely is a little different than it was in their first season a year ago.
“I think so many people tried to say no it’s not because of our last name (why they were hired) and we were convinced of that in the beginning,” Stefan said. “But the reality of it was yeah it probably was. Nobody likes a person who comes from my background and says until they are blood in the face that they did it on their own.
“My dad may not have had a hand in the hiring practice with us in Amarillo but our name was alluring to our employer and I can’t apologize for that anymore. Last year we felt like we needed to apologize for it.
“We go out every single day and try to go about this job as best as we can and forget about the last name aspect of it, trying to get where we want to go.”
Learning the business
Chris knew he wanted to pursue a career in broadcasting earlier than Stefan, whose first job preference growing up was to become a professional lacrosse player. When they were in high school, Chris was the announcer for Stefan’s games.
It was Chris’ pursuit of that career which created the only time in their life when the twins were not together. After high school, Chris headed for Valdosta State in Georgia for college, while Stefan went to Wingate University in North Carolina.
“They lived in the same room in our home for 18 years,” Chip said. “That was the way they wanted it. They didn’t want to be separated. They just enjoyed being around each other.”
Stefan called their separation “transformative” for both he and his brother. They each developed their own sets of friends, and it was while he was in school that Stefan decided lacrosse wasn’t going to be part of his future.
“I always had this delusion of grandeur of being a pro lacrosse player and it was such a farfetched thing because I really wasn’t that good,” Stefan said. “I went to runs one day and I just said ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ That’s when the broadcasting bug started to kick in for me.
“I thought I had to pivot and have some translatable skills I could push toward a career.”
By the start of their sophomore years in college, Chris had decided to transfer to the University of Georgia.
“I dropped him off and I said, ‘Why am I not here?,’” Stefan said. “I applied halfway into the semester and then I was there.”
By the time they were seniors, Chris was sending out applications for minor-league broadcasting jobs.
“Stefan wasn’t as fully invested in it as much,” said Chris, who was hired as the number two broadcaster for the Fayetteville, N.C., Woodpeckers. He was there, on his first day of work, when the twins’ life changed with the job offer – for both of them – from Amarillo.
“I was 15 minutes away from taking my staff photo in Fayetteville,” Chris said. “It was a moment I will never forget.”
The job in Amarillo had suddenly opened when Sam Levitt, a former broadcaster for the Gateway Grizzlies across the river from Busch Stadium, left to join the broadcast team with the San Diego Padres.
At the time, Stefan still had a few classes to complete since some of his credits had not transferred. He also was considering going to graduate school.
“Stefan kind of took a chance on this with me and has discovered his love and passion for it through time and how exciting and fun it can be,” Chris said.
Their dad is not surprised that Chris and Stefan have fallen in love with the job, but what pleases him the most is how they are trying to forge their own careers, establish their own path, follow their own “North Star” and not rely on their last name.
Chris and Stefan did not grow up hanging around every day in the booth or the ballpark while their dad was working. In fact, they grew up in Florida, moving from Orlando to St. Augustine when they were juniors in high school. They never lived in the city where their dad was working except when they were infants in Chicago. They would visit from time to time, but then would return home.
It some ways, it’s similar to how their dad was raised in St. Louis. Chip rarely saw his father until he went to college at Georgia while his dad was working in Atlanta.
“I never coerced them into doing it,” Chip said. “They saw their dad had a cool job and had fun doing it and was able to do something that he loved to do and I think they just sort of gravitated toward that.
“I let them find their own way. Harry tricked my dad into the business. My dad never did that to me. My mom’s father was a dentist in St. Louis and was really a huge influence in my life. I thought about going to medical school. I had a great communications law professor at Georgia, Dr. Bill Lee, and I thought about going to law school.
“My dad said, ‘If you want to do either one of those things and if you can get the grades and get in I will pay for it … But if you want to follow the broadcasting path we can do that too.’”
That’s the attitude Chip had with the twins.
“You are really proud and humbled when your kids want to do what you do; that’s a really cool thing,” Chip said. “But the fact that they are doing it their way and Mom and Dad haven’t paved the entire road for them is really important and a great credit to who they are.
“If our parents or grandparents had owned a hardware store and we were fourth generation owners, would anybody say a word about it? Of course not. Because we live in life’s sandbox, people are going, ‘Wow, they had a microphone in their cribs from the time they were two years old.’ That’s not the case.”
“Iron sharpens iron”
On this night, as the broadcast begins, Chris has the play-by-play duties for the first two innings, with Stefan providing the analysis. They will flip back and forth every two innings, until Chris also broadcasts the ninth inning.
Tomorrow night their roles and schedule will be reversed, giving both the chance to open the game and perhaps also get a walk-off call.
When they get behind the microphone, they want to be judged by the quality of their broadcast, not their last name.
“He and I are working incredibly hard not only to do our last name proud but to make our own mark,” Chris said. “The best advice we got from our dad is to ‘know who you are but more importantly know what you’re not.’ I know my strengths and I know my weaknesses and probably have a few more weaknesses than strengths at this point in my career. Now it’s about working on those weaknesses every day and get one percent better. I try to make my brother better too because our product is kind of intertwined right now.”
Even though they are identical twins, sharing the same DNA, Chris and Stefan are different, both in person and on the air.
“We react to things differently and I think that comes out on the air,” Chris said. “Even though we sound similar you are able to pick us out pretty easily after a couple of games because we have different styles, we have different ways of presenting a game. We have different styles of humor. I would say he’s funnier than me and I would say I’m more analytical than him. I think we bring out the best in each other.”
Chip is glad that the two have learned that about themselves.
“Chris is more like me,” Chip said. “He’s more analytical. He wants to know how it works and why it works, not that it works. Stefan is a lot more like my uncle and my dad, more flippant. He’s got a very quick sense of humor; the five people who get the jokes love it … Chris has a very strong grasp of play by play. Stefan understands the athletic side of things a little more deeply than Chris does.”
The brothers not only are each other’s number one fan, they also can be their sharpest critic.
“The best part about it is I can look him in the eye one night and tell him ‘Hey you sucked tonight’ and he can do the same to me because iron sharpens iron,” Stefan said. “We can get honest, real raw opinion from one another and it helps strengthen the broadcast because we both have a vested interest in making this as good as we can be.
“Being with each other is in some ways a crutch because there’s no real effort required because we know each other so well. We know how to push each other’s buttons and how to build each other up or tear each other down. That’s what’s so cool about working with him.”
Both brothers admit that the broadcasts this year and different than in their first year in Amarillo last season. Both admit they tried to be too perfect last year, were too worried about making a mistake, which only led to more mistakes. They are more relaxed this season, which, no surprise, comes from experience.
“I thought I had to be Vin Scully at the minor-league level,” Stefan said. “I recognize that mistakes are going to happen, that they are part of growth, and being able to handle those mistakes and not getting frustrated with yourself at the professional level.”
What the two also have learned is that their job doesn’t end when the red light goes dark and the microphones are turned off. They have a responsibility to their team, to the organization it represents, and yes to their family, that lasts 24 hours a day.
“You have to be on the ball 100 percent of the time and you have to treat people with respect, courtesy and honesty,” Chris said. “It’s not just about treating the people who can give you a competitive advantage or give you a break the best. It’s about treating the ushers, the security guards, the right way, mentioning them by name.
“This business and this industry is more than getting on the air and doing a job. I’m most proud of what we’ve been able to do because people in Amarillo know us for the people we are and we know them for the people they are and we get to have a very close relationship with them.
“You have to earn your stripes and you also have to be likable. If you are not likable in this business and you don’t work hard to be the best person you can be and value people’s time as you value theirs, you’re not going to get anywhere. That’s fine by us.”
Their parents, who didn’t know they were having twins until Susan was six months pregnant, are proud of that as well.
“It’s all the other stuff that matters so much more than being able to say ‘ground ball to second,’” Chip said. “As similar as they are and as unique as they are, and I know that’s an oxymoron, their hearts are in the right place. They are very aware of the name and the obvious benefits that gives and the obvious distractions that others in the business are going to give them because of the pressures involved.
“They really just want to do a good job no matter what their last name is and as a father if that’s the legacy that I’ve passed them and they’re carrying that torch that way I couldn’t be any more proud of that.”
Can they stay together?
The next challenge for Chris and Stefan is their future.
Working in the minor leagues, they are like the players whose games they describe every night – polishing their craft, learning on the job, trying to be ready when the opportunity comes for them to make the next step up the career ladder.
The question they can’t answer, however, is whether they will be making that step together, as a unit, or if the day will come when they will seperate. The goal, as it has always been, is to stick together.
“They did everything together all the time and that’s been their life,” said their mother, Susan. “Now as adults they are doing everything together all the time, more than you would ever have imagined.
“They share a hotel room on the road. They share an apartment, they share the booth, they just do not get away from each other. They know each other like they will never know another person.
“In those games where you have to draw a picture and get your partner to say what it is, they would win because they don’t even have to communicate. In the games like Catch Phrase, they will say the most ambiguous thing that nobody else would get and they get it right away.”
That closeness comes out on the air, during their broadcasts, and is something Chris and Stefan never want to lose. They hope that when they are ready to take that next career step, they will get to do so together, but they are well aware there are no guarantees.
“We both have come to grips with the reality that this is a niche thing,” Stefan said, “the fact that we are identical twins. The industry would have to change in order for us to do what we do.
“We both are looking for a great opportunity and we will be supportive of each other, whether it’s together or separate, individually or collectively, that’s fine. It’s an amazing thing that we’ve gotten as far as we have together. We want to ride it as long as we can.”
The hope is that one day the ride will be a trip to the major leagues.
“Everybody who is in broadcasting wants to get to the highest point,” Chris said. “It’s like climbing Mount Everest. Some are at base camp and they are still climbing to try to get to the peak. We’re more at the mid-point. We still feel it’s our responsibility to gain as much ground and momentum as we can.”
Their parents, naturally, just want their sons to be happy no matter what happens in their professional future. But their mother believes that keeping them together could be a great marketing idea for some team.
“It’s worked so far,” Susan said. “If you think about it, it’s a genius idea. They are very good together. I think it’s doable. They are going to do something. They are good enough … If I’m a marketing person, it’s something new and unique. I would hire them.”
Chip knows that if the twins do get a chance to broadcast at the major-league level one day, it should be because they earned that opportunity. For it to happen together would be the best scenario the family could hope for.
“I am really proud of them,” Chip said. “They are great people, they are really terrific at what they do and their future is very bright. They’re passionate, they care, and they want to do good work. The interesting thing as they advance in the business will be if a team will hire both of them or will one advance and the other not right away. I don’t know. Those are all things that we as a family are going to have to deal with and they are going to have to deal with. They understand that.
“If they are apart, the challenge for them personally and professionally is, ‘How do I do this without my crutch, and by that I mean my best friend, my confidant, the person who knows me better than I know myself.’ We don’t know.
“Hopefully they will go together because it’s so unique and so cool and they can do everything. They would be a real asset to whoever hires them.”
And it really will have nothing to do with their last name.
“It’s a pretty cool story and one that we are proud of, one that is completely our own because we are identical twins,” Stefan said. “Our dad wasn’t. Skip wasn’t. Harry wasn’t. It adds another interesting wrinkle and chapter into the story.”
Chip and Susan are just looking forward to the next chapter in the story.
“When the light goes you can either do it or you can’t,” Chip said. “If your last name is Buck or Caray and you can’t do it, they are going to find a Smith, Jones or Brown who can. They have proved first and foremost that they can do this. Now it’s about fine-tuning it and finding a way that gets them where they want to go.”
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains
Photos courtesy of Chris and Stefan Caray
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