Thursday, September 12, 2019 - Updated: 1:02 pm
Joe Klimchak always knew he wanted a career involved with getting to know people and speaking in front of large crowds.
He originally thought that would happen in a church, not a ballpark.
“I wanted to be a Catholic priest,” Klimchak said as he recalls talking with a junior high guidance counselor about the vocation and taking several retreats at St. Paul Seminary.
But he also has been a diehard sports fan. The Aliquippa native, who grew up in St. Francis Cabrini Parish, went to many Pirates and Steelers games at Three Rivers Stadium in the 1970s and realized he wanted to be a part of the action.
Not as a player, but as a public address announcer.
Klimchak, 50, has been the Pirates in-game host at PNC Park for the past 15 years.
“It’s a dream come true,” he said.
Getting to know people may not be the first line in the job description for an in-game host, but it might just be the part Klimchak takes to heart. His friendly, approachable demeanor shines through as he walks the ballpark for each of the team’s 81 home games. Even when he’s on camera hosting a popular game like “Spot the Cow” or the famous “Great Pittsburgh Pierogie Race” he speaks in an easy-going, one-on-one tone.
That wasn’t always the case as Klimchak had to take speech classes when he was a child. He took those lessons seriously as he practiced reading different manuscripts in front of a mirror. He watched classic game show hosts like Bob Barker and Richard Dawson and presented himself in a similar manner.
In church, he was inspired by “the Babe Ruth of lectors,” a man named Pat Falvo — and Klimchak became a lector, himself.
While attending Pirates games he mimicked the delivery of legendary public address announcer Art McKennan, who had called games dating back to Forbes Field.
After graduating from Grove City College, where he developed a deeper relationship with Jesus, Klimchak worked as the school’s sports information director. He still longed for a job in professional sports and began writing letters to the Pirates. After many rejections, his chance came in 1994 as the team held auditions for a back-up PA announcer. Klimchak got the gig and was able to announce his first game May 26, 1994, as the Pirates played the New York Mets.
For the next six years at Three Rivers Stadium, and four more years at PNC Park, Klimchak worked as a scoreboard operator at the ballparks and filled in on the microphone for Tim DeBacco when needed. In 2005, the in-game entertainment department created a “Baseball Quiz” game between innings and tabbed Klimchak as the host. From there, his role has evolved to host other contests, pregame ceremonies and year-long video productions that even takes Klimchak to Bradenton, Florida, for spring training.
He can be heard and seen on various radio and television commercials. He is the spokesman for West Shore Home Improvement, which reaches the Pittsburgh market, as well as 12 other cities. Closer to home, Klimchak teaches various fitness classes and hosts anti-bullying workshops at elementary schools, as well as faith and witness talks for charity groups of any size. He is available for booking through his website, joeklimchak.com.
“Joe has a powerful message to tell, and a lot of people need to hear it,” said Jeff Bobin, a local pastor.
In April, Klimchak was the emcee for the 53rd annual Beaver County Holy Name Society Awards Banquet at his home parish of St. Francis Cabrini in Center Township.
“I’ve been blessed with so many amazing opportunities,” he said. “I’m certainly lucky, and I don’t take anything for granted.”
Klimchak credits his parents — Joe, who attended the former St. Veronica High School in Ambridge and was a mainstay at the annual diocesan Gathering of Catholic Men, and Nancy, a longtime teacher at St. Francis Cabrini and Our Lady of Fatima — for shaping him into the person he is today. His faithful upbringing challenged him to be disciplined in the way he treats others and in his prayer life. He has a long list of intentions he remembers to pray for before going to bed and when waking up, usually by 4 a.m., in thanksgiving for a new day.
“I carry the peace of the Lord with me everywhere, especially in the ballpark, and I trust in him,” Klimchak said. “If you didn’t have faith to fall back on, life would be a real struggle.”
Part of trusting in the Lord came in 2004 when he and his wife, Jennifer, took their first trip to China to adopt a 13-month-old girl. Five years later, they returned to China and adopted another young girl. His daughters, Adrienne and Anna Kate, are becoming talented dancers and artists as he sees his own childhood determination in their young lives.
“We’ve been blessed by them,” Klimchak said. “With kids, it’s not about you. It takes the focus off yourself as you try to provide for them as much as possible.”
This season the Pirates held their seventh-annual Faith Night — one of Klimchak’s favorite games of the year.
“I hope people can look at me and see a faith-filled man who enjoys life and has a certain peace about him — and that’s because of a personal relationship with Jesus,” he said. “We all have good days and bad days, but having Christ in your life makes the bad days worth living. He can help us get through adversity when we inevitably go through it.”