PASCO -- Jason Schwartz may be the new voice of the Tri-City Dust Devils.
But he can still dream about what could have been.
Having played the game since the age of nine, the 22-year-old Los Angeles native lives for the game of baseball. He's even got a maple bat -- much like Roy Hobbs' Wonderboy in Bernard Malamud's novel The Natural -- to prove it.
"I went up into Canada (with a club baseball team) and had it custom made," said Schwartz, who graduated from University of Southern California's broadcast journalism school in 2010. "I'm careful when I use it. If it breaks, I'd probably cry."
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A former utilityman with a keen batting eye, he eventually found his niche as a pitcher.
"I played everything at one point, maybe with the exception of shortstop," Schwartz said. "My freshman year, my first game was at short and I made three errors in one inning. That was my last run at shortstop."
In 2002, he was part of an elite traveling team that took him to Canada, Italy and Japan. Another memorable stop was Venezuela, which was in a state of political unrest following an attempted coup d'etat of President Hugo Chavez.
During the team's stay, Schwartz was involved in a frightening incident when a friendly wrestling match with a teammate was broken up by a pair of Venezuelan soldiers, who held them at gunpoint before realizing they weren't a threat.
"I never thought they were going to shoot us," Schwartz said. "It was just a very surreal moment."
In 2006, about a year before the Dust Devils earned their first Northwest League East Division crown, Schwartz -- then a high school senior -- was helping Campbell Hall School win its second consecutive CIF Southern Section Division VI baseball championship.
"We came back to win the bottom of the seventh to win the championship game," he said. "I led off the inning with a walk, stole second and scored the tying run. Right after I scored, Andrew (Lawson) got a base hit for the walk-off win."
You want stories? Schwartz has more than enough to share during his nightly broadcasts on KFLD 870. But he also comes prepared. Even before the NWL season began, he compiled enough player biographies and team histories to completely fill a four-inch binder. His research is impeccable, manifesting itself during broadcasts with chewy tidbits about players on both sides of the diamond.
But he's not all stats and numbers. With a clear, summertime style, Schwartz uses a player's perspective to deliver his nightly narrative, and he's not afraid to call it like he sees it.
Like any L.A. native, he grew up listening to legendary Dodgers announcer Vin Scully. But Schwartz is wary of comparisons to the Hall of Fame broadcaster.
"I feel really fortunate to have listened to Vin. He's kind of like a father figure, because that's the model you grew up with," Schwartz said. "But as a broadcaster, you can't mold yourself after him. You have to be yourself."
At USC, Schwartz tried walking on to the baseball team as a freshman. When that effort stalled, he turned his attention to play-by-play. For the Trojans' student network over the next four years, he called baseball, volleyball, basketball and football games, including USC's 2009 Rose Bowl win over Penn State.
In the summer of 2009, he took a job doing play-by-play for the Wenatchee AppleSox of the West Coast League.
After graduation in 2010, he landed a professional radio gig for the Trojans' women's basketball team. That summer, he came back to the WCL, this time with the Corvallis Knights.
At that point, Schwartz had a revelation about his future.
"When I was in Corvallis, Chris Fisher was doing radio for the Emeralds. I drove down for a game, and they happened to be playing the Dust Devils," Schwartz said. "I didn't know if Chris was coming back, so when I got to PK Park I thought, 'This is the job I want.' "
Now that he's got it, he couldn't be happier getting paid to call a game he has loved his entire life.
"Baseball is unlike any other sport in that every season is like a book, and every game is like a different chapter," Schwartz said. "Every day you get to see something that no one has ever seen before."
* Jack Millikin; 509-582-1406; email@example.com