Announcing team makes Reno Aces a memorable experience
LVN Editor Emeritus
For the past three seasons, they have been the hottest announcing duo this side of the Sierra.
The Cory and Chris show from Greater Nevada Field revs up Aces fans game during every baseball game like classic Hot August Nights roadsters roaring down Virginia Street. From cajoling fans to smile for the camera or announcing the players, both Cory Smith and Chris Payne make an Aces’ game an event to remember.
“They bring the energy,” said Aces General Manager Emily Jaenson before a recent Aces game. “We’re really lucky to have them both because they are a part of your experience at the ballpark. The energy they bring night in and night out is unparalleled.”
The deep, booming voice emitting from the press box belongs to Cory Smith, a 1998 Yerington High School graduate who bring a natural broadcasting voice to the game. Ironically, though, Smith never grew up in the broadcasting world.
“Up until this year I was working at a mental health institute at the School of Medicine at the University of Nevada,” Smith explained. “Because of financial restrictions, they closed our clinic.”
The Nevada graduate who majored in psychology has been doing some social work, a complete 180-degree from Payne’s long broadcasting career that resulted in his induction into the Nevada Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame on 2014. Unlike Payne, though, Smith dabbled in radio as a remote technician with the idea of working into radio broadcasting. His only on-air stint occurred when he filled in for half of a sport book program.
“The last 30 minutes of a sports show, I got to talk a little about sports, but after that, I was never on the air again,” he said with a grin.
Yet, Smith continued to follow the advice of his Yerington classmates and the dream to sit in front of a microphone and announce sporting events.
“My friends would say my voice is so deep I should go into sports announcing,” Smith recalled. “That’s great, how do I make that happen as a small-town kid from Yerington?”
Six years ago, Smith saw a press release from the Aces who were looking to audition an on-field emcee. He submitted an audition video and was one of three selected for a further interview. Although the Aces didn’t offer him the job, the management asked Smith if he would be a back-up for other events.
“Absolutely,” Smith said.
When the main on-field emcee, KBUL radio announcer Austin Battalio, received a job offer in Seattle, Smith’s fortunes began to change to where he is busy with different sporting events. Smith served as the Reno Bighorns basketball team’s emcee and then public address announcer. He currently is on the on-field emcee for University of Nevada football and on-court emcee for Wolf Pack basketball. At home games, he’s the public address announcer for Nevada softball.
“Yes, I’m busy, but there are only so many opportunities,” he pointed out.
A strong friendship began to forge between Smith and Payne in 2016 although both announcers knew each other for several years. Payne, who graduated from Hug High School in Reno in what he calls “in a galaxy, far, far away,” served as a back-up emcee and announcer from 2010-2015. His desire to join the Aces’ team became his one and only burning desire.
A devout Aces fan since the team relocated to Reno from Tucson in 2009, Payne wanted to become one of the team’s voices. He sought out advice from colleagues in the broadcasting business and kept persevering despite setbacks.
“I tried to audition first (on-field) in 2009,” he said. “I also applied for public address and was chosen for neither. At first I didn’t take it to heart, but when I saw who they selected to the position, I said great and went along with it.”
Payne, though, felt his big break was nearing, but he didn’t know it was also on the same path as Smith’s. In 2011, when Battalio was preparing to leave for the Pacific Northwest, Payne began to maneuver his way into contention for one of the on-field emcee positions.
“I asked him to please put in a good word. I’m trying like hell to do your job,” Payne said to Battalio, who assured him everything was covered.
The news to hire Payne, though, was disappointing. He discovered the Aces’ management at the time didn’t want him to be on the field with his tattoos, beard and earrings. Smith was hired instead.
Discouragement may have painted his facial wrinkles but not his heart. From 2009 to mid-season 2012, Payne figured he attended about 220 games and had interacted with thousands of fans.
Payne’s fortunes changed in 2014 after Eric Edelstein was hired as the team’s president, and the Reno broadcaster developed a cordial relationship with Andrew Daugherty, the team’s general manager. Both men didn’t see a problem with Payne’s appearance because they like what he brought to the fans. In 2016, Payne received an email asking him to join the Aces.
Both announcers expressed their own memorable moments with the Aces. For Smith in his first day behind the microphone, he announced the winning run on a steal to home that won the game. Brett Butler was managing the Aces at the time. Smith also remembers a family asking him to come to the stands for his autograph.
“I was like floating,” he said.
Payne said he saw one of the greatest plays at the ballpark when the Aces’ centerfielder, Adam Eaton, the Pacific Coast League’s Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year in 2012, fielded the ball and nailed the runner. The image still remains with Payne.
“It bounced off the centerfield wall, about one hop about seven to eight feet away,” Payne recalled, describing the defensive gem. “He threw a rocket — a laser if you will — to the catcher. Tag. You’re out.”
For the past three seasons, both Payne and Smith have developed a strong friendship, a bond described as phenomenal when the fans see both announcers interact like a radio morning or afternoon show. It doesn’t make any difference if 2,000 or 10,000 fans are watching a game. They experience the synergy of Smith and Payne.
“If they like what we’re doing, and they like our humor or they can relate, that makes their experience that much more special,” Payne pointed out.
Smith appreciates the feedback from the audience if he’s the on-field emcee. He’ll judge their reaction and make changes accordingly. If the changes don’t work, he’ll move on. Jaenson said the two announcers help each other in case one stumbles.
“If one person makes a mistake, the other can see it, correct it and roll with it,” she said.
“Creativity is limited, so let’s go ahead and roll the dice and put it out there,” he explained. “That’s where some of the stuff happens.”
Although Smith and Payne have defined rolls, they’ll switch their duties, and Smith will then interact with the fans.
Jaenson loves the periodic switching.
“Cory’s like a kid in the candy store,” Jaenson said when describing his upbeat demeanor on the field. “Chris will then go upstairs and bring his alter-ego announcer persona that you don’t see when he’s live and entertaining on the field.”
The excitement of a win, the special meaning of a day such as the Fourth of July is what makes their job special.
“There is no greater feeling than knowing the entertainment you’re providing for 100, 1,000, or in the case 10,311 people, is over the top and fun,” Payne explained of Reno’s 10-5 win over Sacramento. “The final score is what we were hoping for after the first inning of giving up a couple of runs. The one thing I can say is no matter how successful we are night after night, we always have the ‘we can do it better’ mindset at the end of the night. We never want to settle.”
Jaenson said both Smith and Payne fit their roles when necessary.
“It’s nice fun to see them and hear the excitement in their voices,” she said. “Their voice is part of the Aces’ experience.”