18th of May | Story

Mike Smith goes nuts


MODESTO, California | The press box door swings open and Mike Smith walks in, grabs a 23.5-ounce can of AriZona Rx Energy Herbal Tonic off a table and takes a long swig – just enough to sooth his throat and give him a little jolt.

He just finished walking the concourse at John Thurman Field, section by section, instructing fans to scream “Go! Nuts!” He plucked a father and his sons from the bleachers and escorted them to upgraded seats, a couch behind the home dugout. He had fans fighting for his attention and for the prizes in his hands. He gave high fives and hugs. He posed for pictures. He did everything but hold a baby. The night is still young, though. Only the fifth inning.

Smith is in his third season as the Nuts emcee, Mike on the Mic – a persona he adopted as a student at Sacramento State, where he worked as a sports broadcaster and hosted Real Sports Talk with Mike on the Mic. “I know there are a million other Mike on the Mics,” he says, “but no one is like me.”


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To stand in front of thousands of people every night and pump up a crowd until voices reach deafening decibels takes confidence, personality and perseverance. Smith’s radio experience translates to the field to some degree –his voice and ability to engage his audience are both key – but he also has to maintain his appearance, his body language and his energy.

Every home game, Smith wears a Nuts cap and a jersey with his name stamped on the back, as if people couldn’t hear or see him coming, a man on a mission running the concourse with a microphone in hand. Everything he wears is black and white and almost everything is a Nike product. He wears custom black and white Nike TRL .3 ID shoes with “Mike on the Mic” stitched on the heels. He wears white Nike tube socks pulled up to his knees. He even has a swoosh tattooed on his left pectoral.

“I love the fact that they have devoted themselves to marketing the best,” Smith says. “Just such innovators in the game. When you think of what Nike stands for, the goddess of victory, victory is such a big word. To win and overcome any kind of obstacles in your life, you should be proud of yourself.”

 “I just always felt like I was destined for the big time.”  – Mike Smith, Modesto Nuts

Victory, success, obstacles – those all cross Smith’s mind on a daily basis. During the season, he normally wakes up at 3:30 a.m. He works from 4:30 until 1:30 p.m. as a gas attendant at the Safeway in Discovery Bay. He gets home around 2, just enough time to rest, but not nap. He leaves for Modesto around 3:30, a 50-minute drive. If he’s lucky, he’ll get four hours of sleep before he does it all over again.

Physically and mentally, the days are hard, and the pay for both jobs is little. But none of that matters when the game starts and Mike on the Mic’s introduction blares from the speakers. A switch flips and Smith finds the energy he needs to run circles around John Thurman Field for nine innings.

“When you naturally do something that you enjoy, you should have high energy,” Smith says. “Not only is this the most fun job, this job just allows me to be real. I know for some on-field emcees, maybe they have to physically get ready for something like this, where they’re in front of thousands of fans performing and they have to be able to show a happy face and meet with people. Maybe for some people that’s hard to do. For me, I’ve always loved the spotlight, loved the attention, since I was young.”

Smith started acting at 5 and can rattle off every play where he walked across the stage – in fourth grade, he played the little bear in Goldilocks and the Three Bears; in eighth grade, he played the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz – and he can still recite his lines from a computer store commercial he filmed in middle school.

His memories are detailed to the point that they can seem almost inconsequential. Then he interacts with Nuts fans. He calls them by name and remembers a story they told him days, weeks, months ago, and their faces light up.

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Smith found the Modesto Nuts job on Craigslist, and he still has the page bookmarked, the purple peace symbol in the tab at the top. If he clicks it now, a message appears that says the page is no longer available, but it’s a reminder that he’s in the industry where he wants to be, even if he’s still far from his professional aspirations.

Growing up in the Bay Area, his dream job, of course, is the play-by-play radio broadcaster for the San Francisco Giants. Now, three weeks from his 27th birthday, he realizes that probably won’t happen.

“If I can somehow combine my ability that I know I was born with – my outgoing nature, my love for communication – if I can combine that in a sports-related or music-related field where I’m getting to showcase my talent to a bunch of people – because that’s all I’ve known since I was young, performing for people – I’d be happy,” he says.

Long-term, that means not working for the Nuts or Safeway. He’s holding down two jobs but still living at home in Brentwood, California, free of rent of bills until he moves out, trying to save enough money to position himself for whatever that next step might be. For now though, as long as the Nuts renew his one-year contract, he’ll continue to come back for the fans and the chance to help fill the stadium with electricity.

“I don’t know,” he says. “I just always felt like I was destined for the big time.”


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An announced crowd of 3,409 fans watches the Nuts and the Stockton Ports – and Smith – from the stands and the party decks on a Friday night. When Smith isn’t on the field helping fans play games, he covers every inch of the stadium. He asks fans if they’re having a good time and, immediately after they say yes, he demands they yell it louder and louder and louder.

The game ends and the Nuts win, 9-4, over a Ports team that has a shorter ride home than Smith. Minutes later, the stadium goes black and fireworks shoot from behind the outfield wall. The lights are flipped back on and Smith is on the field – still beaming, still screaming – cheering on the children who have waited more than three hours to run the bases.

The stadium empties. Smith returns to the press box. The excitement for the day is over and he starts to come off his high. He grabs his backpack, grabs his AriZona Rx Energy Herbal Tea and takes a few more sips before the ride home. He has been up for almost 20 hours.

At least tomorrow is Saturday. He gets to sleep in.

Carolyn@AMinorLeagueSeason.com ♦ @CarolynLaWell ♦ @AMinorLgSeason 

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