By FRED KRONER
Professional sports teams are often located in metropolitan areas with millions of residents nearby.
That means that the multitude of jobs associated with the professional teams potentially have millions of local candidates.
So, how does a man who has lived in Mansfield (population 865) for the past 2 1/2 years become the public address announcer for both the Chicago Fire soccer team and the Indiana Pacers basketball team?
“I literally ask myself that question every day,” Tim Sinclair said.
If anyone should have the answer, it would be Sinclair, who has handled the PA duties for the Fire the last five seasons and started his tenure with the NBA Pacers late last month.
“It’s amazing to me that I’m the guy who gets to do these events,” said Sinclair, who also handles PA duties for University of Illinois basketball home games. “I drive to a city of millions to watch sports, and then come home to my town of less than 1,000.”
Sinclair was born in Michigan and lived in Detroit until a family move found him in the Mahomet-Seymour school district for the start of his sixth-grade year in 1989.
A former Bulldog basketball player, Sinclair graduated from M-S in 1996. He enjoyed sports, but wasn’t thinking it would become a career.
“I was a sports fan and definitely recognized the broadcasters of the sports I loved, Ernie Harwell of the Detroit Tigers and George Blaha of the Detroit Pistons,” Sinclair said, “but I never really thought of doing the job myself.
“It wasn’t until my freshman year in college that doing radio ever crossed my mind.”
Since then, Sinclair has made the rounds, accepting his first full-time radio position locally as a production director at Mix 94.5 and WIXY 100.3 in 1998.
He followed that up with on-air assignments in Baton Rouge, La., Chicago, and Nashville before returning to Champaign for a stint co-hosting the morning show at WBGL from 2008-2014.
“My public address career started in 2009 with a single Illini baseball game,” Sinclair recalled.
“Even though I wasn’t very good in the beginning, the University asked me back to do more and more events over the years. I’ve done literally every sport at Illinois, taking over women’s basketball in 2012, men’s basketball in 2015, and soccer in 2016.”
In 2011, he was the runner-up in the Chicago Cubs PA search, but three years later, he was awarded the Chicago Fire announcing job.
“I’ve always felt like a good PA announcer should be concise, correct and rarely — if ever — the star of the show,” Sinclair said. “My goal is always to have my voice and energy reflect what the crowd is — or should be — feeling in the moment.
“I want to be part of the fan experience, but I don’t necessarily want fans to be talking about me much when they leave.”
Former UI basketball PA voice Jim Sheppard was known for his “Deeee for threee,” call during the years Dee Brown played for the Illini.
“As for signature calls, my three-point call is ‘Three pooooints, Pacers (or Illinois)’ and then the name of the player who made the basket,” Sinclair said.
When former Pacers PA announcer Michael Grady departed in 2017 for a similar position in New York working with the Brooklyn Nets, Sinclair was one of nearly 100 applicants to be his replacement. Fifteen were asked to audition at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“The Pacers put out a call for the job and I applied,” he said. “I auditioned, made the callback.”
He felt good about his prospects.
“I walked away from the initial 2017 audition feeling like I did as good as I could do,” Sinclair said. “I had no idea if it was good enough or not, but I was pleased with how it went.”
However, it was a case of deja vu. Like with the Cubs opening six years earlier, he was the runner-up, this time to Jerry Baker, the original radio voice of the Pacers.
“This past summer, I was asked to do five WNBA games in Indy which, ultimately, turned out to be another tryout,” Sinclair said. “By the end of the Indiana Fever season, I was offered the Pacers job and am now the fifth PA guy in Pacers history.”
As for what he says during Pacers’ home games, Sinclair said, “while the game is being played, nothing is scripted. It’s up to me to call baskets, fouls, substitutions, and referee reviews as I see fit. However, before the game, at halftime and during timeouts, there is generally a script for lineups, promotional announcements and crowd interaction.”
Although Sinclair has followed the NBA, he has also learned not to make assumptions.
“I’m a fan, for sure, so I know a lot of the names,” he said, “but I ALWAYS ask.
“In every sport I do, I seek out the public relations person to go over pronunciations. I want to get them perfect.”
He has a strategy that is effective for names that could be tongue-twisters.
“I spend time before every game writing each name out phonetically,” Sinclair said. “Otherwise, the biggest challenges are the five or six people who are all talking to me while I’m talking to the crowd (director, video, on-court handlers, audio, etc.) and the variations in rules between the leagues.
“College vs. pro. Men vs. women. Since I do all of them, it can be difficult to remember which rules apply when.”
Earlier this fall, Sinclair expanded the broadcasting part of his career from radio to television.
“My foray into television began as the new co-host on ciLiving at WCIA 3,” he said.
Sinclair isn’t big into memorabilia, but he does have one growing collection.
“I collect the credentials I get each game or season in each sport,” he said. “It helps me remember which events I’ve worked in which years.
“I also try to hold on to as many of the crowd giveaways as possible (bobbleheads, hats, and other special items).”
By his estimation, he is closing in on 1,000 press credentials.
His highlights are too many to select one favorite.
“I could spend an hour talking about the memories,” Sinclair said. “At Illinois, the first game at the renovated State Farm Center vs. Notre Dame, Senior Night for Malcolm Hill when we beat Michigan State, calling Jesse Delgado’s Big Ten Wrestling Championship, and the NCAA National Tennis Championships.
“Otherwise, introducing Lionel Messi and Argentina at Soldier Field during Copa America and watching him score three goals, the 2017 MLS All-Star Game, and working multiple U.S. men’s and women’s national team soccer matches.”
Sinclair is becoming a familiar face at the Pacers’ games.
“Victor Oladipo comes by and fist-bumps me and a few others right before tip,” Sinclair said.
“There are other limited encounters before games, but that’s the most regular.”
Sinclair is also starting to amass an array of stories from his time courtside.
“My favorite stories are always ones that no one else can see or hear,” Sinclair said. “Official Ted Valentine once forgot his uniform, had to borrow one, and hold up his black pants with a belt made of electrical tape.
“Referee Gene Steratore once asked me, while play was going on, if I smelled fertilizer. I did not.
“And my favorite is when former Illinois women’s basketball coach Matt Bollant had gotten some sort of weird eye infection the morning before a game. This wasn’t funny until he walked on to the court minutes before tip-off wearing a black eye patch. We were playing Seton Hall. As in the Seton Hall Pirates. Bollant profusely apologized to their coach during the handshake. Thankfully, he understood.”
At times, Sinclair has traveling partners for his road trips from Mansfield to Chicago or Indianapolis.
“I always tell my two boys (ages 11 and 9) that experiences are better than stuff,” he said, “and I’m so lucky that this job — or series of jobs — allows the three of us to have experiences together that we’ll never forget.
“They come with me to many events and get to sit in the press box or shoot hopes on the floor before warmups. We get lots of time in the car to laugh and play games and listen to music. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
Sinclair will be on the road again tonight and Wednesday for Pacers’ games and then he has the UI men’s basketball home-opener on Thursday.
He is the second person in recent years with Champaign-Urbana connections to serve as a PA voice for professional sports teams.
UI graduate Gene Honda — a former radio personality in Champaign-Urbana at WKIO — has served as the PA voice of the NHL Chicago Blackhawks since 1990 and the PA voice of the Chicago White Sox since 1991 full-time. Honda’s other credits include DePaul Blue Demons basketball, UI football, and, since 2010, the NCAA Final Four.
“I know Gene and love getting to interact with him at Illini football games and fill in for him when he can’t be there,” Sinclair said. “Very, very few PA guys make an entire living that way, but Gene is good enough to do it.
“In fact, he’s probably the best in the country. His success in the business has helped show me that, perhaps, I could do the same.”
Sinclair, in fact, has a Bucket List beyond what he is currently doing.
“My goals for the future include the Olympics, World Cup, and either the Bears or the Colts,” he said. “Since the NFL only has eight home games, it’s the only other sport I could fit into my schedule.”