Duke Sanders, the Carolina Mudcats public announcer, known for the distinctive inflection he places on players name when they step up to the plate (TO-nee Beeeeeeeslee-for Tony Beasley, for example), started with a career in music, but his love for the melodies of baseball keeps him in Zebulon
Q: You are the longtime stadium voice of the Carolina Mudcats and have spent many hours around America’s favorite pastime. Is this the path you mapped out for yourself years ago or did you have something else in mind?
A: I grew up in Columbia, S.C. Graduated high school there and college – the University of South Carolina. I majored in music education. I saw myself with a career in music, and thought I would teach it. I did teach music for a while but I soon learned I was just not cut out for it. I was then lured to go out and play and sing – that took me out on the road. I still sing – with a gospel group called Fortress, we’re a trio based out of Clayton. It is a blessing and it whets my appetite for singing. People will come out and have a desire to hear gospel music who may never darken the door of a church. I didn’t see myself working in baseball years ago, but I have always loved the sport.
Q: So growing up, were you an avid observer, or a dedicated player?
A: Growing up, I played baseball. From pee wee, all the way up. I played all the way through high school."
Q: What was your position?
A: I was primarily an infielder. I had pretty good wheels – I was fast and I had good speed. When I got out of high school, I played slow-pitch softball but my knees won’t take it now."
Q: You said the lure of singing on the road took you away from teaching music? So you toured the country with different groups?
A: I started out playing the drums. Later, I mainly sang. We would play Top 40, beach music. I was in The Showmen, out of Virginia Beach. I was with the Rondells and a regroup of The Foundations. I got married and my wife wanted a more stable life. I went into entertainment as a booking agent and I sold musical instruments. We were still living in South Carolina at the time but I traveled a lot.
Q: What brought you to North Carolina?
A: When I would tour with singing groups, and we played through here a lot, I always liked the Raleigh area. My first wife was from the Tarboro area so it was like coming back home for her.
Q: How did you land at the Mudcats?
A: I heard the team was moving to the area from Georgia. I sent in a resume. I wanted the radio position but they gave me the public announcer position. The first season was 1991. I was there at the beginning on opening night in Zebulon. It was a rainy night and we had a rain delay. It was really a baptism.
Q: Your first marriage did not work out but later when you came to Zebulon to find a job, you also later found a spouse.
A: June and I married in 1996. The lady who cut our hair introduced us. We went out to lunch and we haven’t been apart since.
Q: If you had to choose someone who has made the biggest influence on your life, who would it be?
A: My dad passed away in 1990 and I really struggled with that. I decided to rededicate my life so I would have to say Jesus Christ made the biggest influence on my life. He got me back to where I should be.
Q: Since joining the Mudcats in 1991, you left later to pursue other interests, correct?
A: I did take some time off and did some other things. I sold insurance for a while and I sold cars. I appreciated the other opportunities. I am back with the Mudcats now. They have always been innovators at adapting to the desires of the fans. (General Manager) Joe (Kremer) and (Mudcats owner) Steve (Bryant) got together and they wanted an on-field announcer. I tried it part time and then they offered for me to come back full time. I am also the director of promotions. In minor league baseball, people wear a lot of hats. Of the 24 seasons, I have been there 17. This is a great time to get into baseball – this is where my heart is.
Q: What is your best memory of your years at the Mudcats?
A: Winning the Southern League Championships – we did it twice. The first time, in 1995. We won 95 games in ‘95. We told the fans we would dance on the counters if they won it all and we did.
Q: What is your favorite thing about working at the Mudcats, other than having the chance to be around a sport you love?
A: I kid with people that my favorite thing is also my least favorite – we call it free baseball. This is when we go into extra innings. A game needs to be played in nine innings. But what I really love is the smell of baseball – like onions cooking on the grill. The sound of baseball – the crack of the bat. Just coming in early in the morning when the dew is still on the field. Just to sit there, drink your coffee and take it all in.
Correspondent Dena Coward