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Here are the faces and voices of Coca-Cola Park: Public address announcer has big league dreams

Justin Choate with wife Kelly and son Cameron at a recent Phillies game at Citizens Bank Park. (Photo courtesy of Justin Choate)
Justin Choate with wife Kelly and son Cameron at a recent Phillies game at Citizens Bank Park. (Photo courtesy of Justin Choate)
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(First in a series highlighting the familiar faces and voices of Coca-Cola Park, home of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs since 2008)

Justin Choate did his best Dan Baker imitation sitting atop a mailbox in an Aston, Delaware County, cul-de-sac as his teenage friends played America’s pastime.

“Now batting, number eeee-leven, shortstop Kyle Macrina.”

“Now batting, number 26, second baseman Billy DelGiorno.”

“Now pitching for the Phillies, number 39, Garrett Gallagher.”

Choate realized at an early age that he was not going to be a major league baseball player, so he dreamed of doing the next best thing: He aimed to be a voice of a franchise, a stadium, a generation of fans. He wanted to be a public address announcer.

“There was one communal mailbox,” Choate recalled. “It was in front of an empty lot where we played our games. It was my press box.”

Choate’s pursuit took flight 11 years ago when he got his first job in the business with the Reading Fightins, Double-A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies.

He is still chasing his dream as the public address announcer for the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs.

“To work in Major League Baseball as a public address announcer, ideally for the Philadelphia Phillies,” Choate said, “that’s always been the goal, always been the dream.”

Choate was diligent in chasing down a position in professional baseball. He wrote a letter after graduating from Sun Valley High School to Baker, the legendary Phillies announcer.

Baker has a kind word for everyone he meets and knows everyone’s name on the press level at Citizens Bank Park. He responded to Choate’s letter with encouraging words. A friendship blossomed that remains strong to this day.

Choate was a sophomore communications major at Albright College in Reading when the announcer position opened with the Fightins in 2013.

“I saw on their website that they were having auditions for a PA announcer, and I thought, ‘What the hell?’ ” he said. “I had nothing to lose. I got called back to do a second round of auditions and then got hired.”

Choate spent five seasons in Reading, the first two balancing college and minor league baseball’s wacky schedule. It was everything he hoped it would be, though there were adjustments. There were seemingly endless pregame promotions and in-game reads, but Choate prepared like a pro and developed a persona behind the microphone.

Choate’s life changed after the 2017 season. He and college sweetheart turned wife Kelly had a son, Cameron. He now shares the announcing microphone with 6-year-old Cameron. When Cameron was born, Choate stepped away from the microphone and paused his professional dream.

“I did not want to miss those ‘first’ moments,” he said. “This schedule, even though it’s only home games, is grueling. I missed a lot of things. I didn’t want to miss out on some of the big things. I would not change that for the world.”

It was the words of an old friend that began Choate’s next chapter. IronPigs Media Relations Director Mike Ventola, who previously held the same position in Reading, texted Choate to see if he was interested in auditioning for the announcer’s job at Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

Choate instinctively texted immediately: “Yes.” But quickly followed it up with: “I better talk to Kelly.” The couple’s conversation was brief. Choate’s first instinct was supported by his wife.

“Without me even finishing the sentence, she said, ‘You’ve got to do it,’ ” Choate recalled. “That support I have from her is awesome.”

Choate’s process was much the same as it was ahead of getting the Reading job. He wrote Baker a letter. Baker responded with words of encouragement and a letter of recommendation.

Three days after the audition in 2021, Choate moved up a level in the minor leagues.

He is juggling a different set of circumstances one step from the major leagues. The corporate communications manager for First Commonwealth Federal Credit Union also is a husband, father and coach of a budding baseball player.

The Choates spend Sunday afternoons at Citizens Bank Park watching the Phillies when the IronPigs don’t have a home game. Cameron Choate just finished his second season of T-ball, where his dad served as an assistant coach.

Baseball is everywhere in the Choates’ life.

“I’ll be walking down the steps at home,” Choate said, “and I’ll hear him singing Bryson Stott’s walk-up song or saying, ‘Now batting for the Phillies, …’ I don’t like to force my passions onto people. Kelly enjoys coming to the games here in Lehigh Valley. My son is liking [baseball] on his own. I don’t want him to think, “Dad wants me to like this.’ ”

Choate’s next opportunity made him uncomfortable at first. It was a major league announcing position with the Tampa Bay Rays.

His first instinct was to not even apply ahead of the 2023 season because it wasn’t the Phillies and would have required family upheaval.

But Choate’s wife set him straight. The third grade teacher in the Wilson-West Lawn School District reminded him that it was a major league position, and she supported the move.

Baker wrote another letter of recommendation. Choate got another call-back. He made it to the final five, but ultimately didn’t get hired.

So, Choate continues to polish his craft in his fourth season with the IronPigs. He is comfortable with his approach to the lengthy pregame promotional announcements. He developed his enthusiastic version of calling the host IronPigs batters to the plate. He has fun with the in-game, on-field entertainment.

He’s been fortunate to be on the mic for rehab appearances of many Phillies, from Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz to Didi Gregorius and Bryce Harper.

Choate enjoys his rides from his West Reading home to Coca-Cola Park in east Allentown. Life is good. The only thing that can make it better is a major-league call-up.

“Every kid in the Delaware Valley region and beyond has dreams of working or playing for the Phillies,” he said. “If I have that chance, it would be just incredible.”

Morning 첥Ƶ reporter Tom Housenick can be reached at 610-820-6651 or at thousenick@mcall.com.

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