Imagine loving a sport so much that you would relocate to the other side of the world every year just to be around it. Now imagine doing that on your own time and at your own expense. Meet Dan Vaughan, a baseball renaissance man who has yet to meet a barrier that will stop him from being involved in the game he loves.
Beginnings of a Broadcaster
Vaughan’s baseball journey started in Texas, where he grew up in the Dallas area idolizing sportscaster Dale Hansen. After being cut from his high school baseball team, Vaughan knew he wanted to stay around the game, even if he had reached his ceiling as a player. Remembering all the nights he spent listening to games on an old AM Zenith radio, a gift from his great-grandmother, he decided to give broadcasting a try.
Dan Vaughan’s first radio gigs came in North Texas, where he broadcasted high school games, college games, and even hosted a weekly show on Saturdays in nearby Sulphur Springs. While none of these jobs paid the bills or made him a household name, they did lay the foundation for a career in broadcast media that has lasted three decades and counting. Vaughan’s first big break came in 1992, when he attended the MLB Winter Meetings in Louisville, Kentucky. From there he took a job with the Charleston Wheelers of the South Atlantic League, a Single-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds at the time. After getting his feet wet in Charleston, Vaughan moved on to the Jacksonville Suns, the then-Double-A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners. Future big league All-Stars Bret Boone and Alex Rodriguez played in Jacksonville during Vaughan’s time with the club, but perhaps most interesting was the time Michael Jordan came to town with the Birmingham Barons. The greatest player in NBA history trying his hand at Minor League Baseball was certainly the biggest headline in the sports world in 1994, and everyone wanted to catch a glimpse of Jordan when he made his way to Jacksonville. Vaughan recalls the ferver surrounding Jordan’s minor league career, saying, “Our phones were going crazy because people wanted to see Michael Jordan play baseball… They [the Suns] actually put up police barricades on the field and put standing room only seats in right field where people could stand. They were standing six, seven deep to watch Michael Jordan play right field.”
While the excitement of such a rare occurrence taking place right before his eyes was not lost on Vaughan, more important to him still was the boon that Jordan was to Minor League Baseball as a whole. Known for crazy gimmicks, cheap prices and larger-than-life mascots, minor league teams rely mostly on promotions to fill the stands. It’s a tough way to make a living, as a few ill-timed rainouts can ruin an entire season’s budget. Vaughan saw how important Michael Jordan was to every minor league team he visited, as tickets couldn’t be sold fast enough and new fan interest was generated every night. He recalls, “We sold out all those games and it was just a really big deal to have. That was a huge thing for the Southern League and for Minor League Baseball because it put Minor League Baseball on the map.” In a year where the Major League Baseball season was cancelled due to the players’ strike, minor league fandom was more important than ever in order to keep interest in the sport alive.
Back In the Game
After spending a few years with the Suns, Dan Vaughan shifted his focus away from baseball, and he began working as a professional DJ in the Dallas area. For over a decade Vaughan plied his trade at various events, earning great money along the way. The only problem was that it was just a job, not a calling. Despite the significant increase in income, Vaughan still felt pulled towards baseball, where he hadn’t quite let go of his love of broadcasting. After such a long layoff, it was hard for him to get back into the baseball industry, and it took more than two years of trying to finally make some headway. In 2010, Vaughan attended the Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, where he was able to submit resumes, make connections, and put feelers out all over the baseball world. One early job interview left him disappointed, yet energized to keep pushing. The Kane County Cougars of the American Association sought a new play-by-play voice, but despite performing well in auditions, Vaughan lost out to Wayne Randazzo, now the radio voice of the New York Mets. Looking back, Dan Vaughan sees no shame in finishing just behind such a talented broadcaster, explaining, “That was a good loss because he’s doing the Mets now, and I came in second to him. And that was disappointing, but I fought on.”
Seeking to make himself more marketable in the baseball industry, Vaughan decided to further his education by obtaining a sports management degree. As he mulled over his choices, he decided to shake things up and study abroad, eventually deciding on Australia as the place to go. He originally planned to attend the University of Melbourne and work for the Melbourne Aces of the Australian Baseball League, but a last minute call from the general manager of the Perth Heat led to Vaughan moving to Australia’s west coast and becoming the club’s public address announcer and jack-of-all-trades. Juggling responsibilities all over the ballpark, including PA work, play-by-play announcing, ushering, ticket-tearing and even recruiting, Vaughan wore many hats and got a hands-on education in baseball culture Down Under. His broadcast partner for the Heat would become one of his closest friends, a local radio executive and Perth native named Paul Morgan.
Baseball’s Best Mate
Towards the end of their first season together, the duo began hosting a weekly radio show called “Talking Baseball Australia,” focusing on all things Heat, ABL and baseball-related as a whole. Originally intended as a supplement to Heat broadcasts, TBA has become not only one of the foremost baseball broadcasts in the land, but is also the longest continuously running baseball-driven show in the nation, and still exists nearly a decade later.
As a niche sport, baseball struggles to gain mainstream popularity in Australia, as other more popular games like cricket, basketball, rugby and Australian Rules Football eat up most of the country’s interest. However, Dan Vaughan and Paul Morgan are doing their part to help grow the game Down Under, even if it means dipping into their own checkbooks. “Anything Paul and I do is a labor of love,” Vaughan explains. “We don’t make a profit over there. There have been times when I’ve lost money, but I try to break even. It’s more for the pioneering of the whole thing and the experience of it. It’s really a great experience.” While the two men have at times needed to self-fund their work in Australian baseball, Vaughan expects great things in the future, predicting, “I think we’re on the cusp of some really good things, and doors have opened up… I think there are some real possibilities for some really good things.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed the sport’s growth to some degree this past year, Vaughan and Morgan are still as active as ever in Aussie baseball. Their show ran smoothly throughout the pandemic, as the two men covered the ABL, state leagues and Australian major leaguers. They were also able to interview people around the game, including Mark Ready and Adam Dobb, owners of the Brisbane Bandits and Sydney Blue Sox, respectively. They also chatted with Robbie Glendinning, a Perth-born infield prospect making a name for himself in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.
The Issue at Hand
One of the most important things that TBA does is bring North American eyeballs to Australian baseball. Speaking about the rise of Glendinning and fellow Aussie prospect Ulrich Bojarski in the United States, Dan Vaughan says, “We need to push those guys, too, because there’s just not the opportunity in Australia. We have great baseball, but for these kids to continue to get better and make the big leagues, make Division I and make money at it, they need opportunities.” That, Vaughan believes, is the key difference between baseball in Australia versus North America. There are many talented players Down Under, but the infrastructure to bring them to the top is oftentimes lacking. With the ABL only operating for three months out of the year, Aussie natives are forced to rely on sporadic state league games and individual training to improve as players. However, when young Australians play at American colleges or in the minor leagues, baseball becomes their full-time job, and they are surrounded by coaches and trainers. “That’s the way to develop,” Vaughan says. “These kids aren’t playing baseball in high school. They need the opportunity [to play everyday].”
Young baseball players in Australia don’t have the chance to compete year-round in their home country, so they must look to North America to find steady employment as professional athletes. Oftentimes even the best of the best in Australia are forced to relegate baseball to a weekend hobby, as they work regular nine-to-five jobs during the week to support themselves. Tim Kennelly, an outfielder for the Perth Heat, and one of the greatest players in the history of the ABL, is a perfect example of this dilemma. “This is the problem,” Vaughan claims, “Tim Kennelly is one of the best players that country has ever seen. Tim Kennelly is a phenomenal individual… Tim Kennelly’s a fireman… He has a job. He can’t just take off and go play in the States.”
In essence, if baseball paid more in Australia, then Tim Kennelly would likely have been able to go farther, perhaps even to the major leagues. But due to the fact that it just doesn’t pay to play baseball, Kennelly was forced to settle down and provide for his family rather than chase his major league dream. Baseball players across Australia face this conundrum, as it just isn’t economically feasible a lot of times to continue playing for years on end.
A Bright Future
Despite the roadblocks that Aussie baseballers face, the sport is still well-positioned Down Under. Newcastle native Alexander Wells recently became the 36th Australian to play in the major leagues, and Perth’s Liam Hendriks just earned his second All-Star nod (the most ever for an Australian), in addition to signing a $54 million contract with the White Sox this past offseason. There are plenty of Australians doing great things in the minors as well, with infielder Curtis Mead skyrocketing through the Rays’ farm system, and first baseman Rixon Wingrove looking like the Phillies’ next young slugger.
Even though Dan Vaughan makes Australia his home every winter, he stays plenty busy back in North America as well. Residing in the Dallas area with his lovely wife GayMarie, Vaughan can be heard as the play-by-play voice of the American Association’s Kansas City Monarchs, a position he has held since 2017. Previously known as the T-Bones, the organization rebranded in 2021 as an homage to the illustrious Monarchs of Negro League fame. A storied franchise that operated for over four decades, the original Monarchs saw some of the greatest players in the history of the game take the field, including Baseball Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Jackie Robinson, Cool Papa Bell and Satchel Paige. Vaughan sees this as not only a great history, but an enduring legacy, one which he has the honor of preserving. “I’m sharing a story,” he says, “of courage and bravery and perseverance. Of some men that in some societies were not allowed to eat at the same lunch counter [as white men].” Vaughan has the unique opportunity of serving not only as the club’s play-by-play man, but also the senior director of broadcasting and media relations, meaning that he oversees the Monarchs’ social media presence, as well as finds new and exciting opportunities to spread the word about the great baseball being played in Kansas City.
With a career in the baseball industry spanning four decades, Dan Vaughan has experienced a journey like no other. This trailblazing Texan has called thousands of home runs in countless cities across multiple continents. Vaughan has faced his fair share of obstacles along the way, but as a baseball man through and through, he’s stayed the course. If 24-hour flights to and from Perth haven’t sapped his desire to broadcast games, nothing will.