IOWA CITY, Iowa — Zach Mackey’s deep voice and smooth delivery belie both his age and experience.
The 21-year-old University of Iowa junior serves as the voice of Hawkeyes’ baseball. Listeners have no way of deciphering whether he’s a newcomer or if he’s been calling games for most of his life. In many ways, it’s both.
Even before he started high school, Mackey became a public-address announcer for basketball games in his hometown of Geneseo, Ill. He added football and other sports for a local access channel in eighth grade. Then when he was in high school, he called the action for games streaming online.
“Probably my junior year I realized, ‘You can do this for a living,'” Mackey said. “I kind of decided that’s what I wanted to do.”
Mackey is well on his way toward reaching some lofty goals. He won a contest in high school and met ESPN baseball broadcaster Dan Shulman on the Sunday Night Baseball set. In a later email, Mackey asked Shulman for advice on selecting a college. Should he choose one like Syracuse or Missouri that churns out elite talent, or should he pick one closer to home where he could acquire more experience?
“He thought the most important thing was to get reps, to do it and get on the air as soon as possible,” Mackey said. “I reached out to the BTN Student U at Iowa, and they went ahead and said during my senior year [of high school] that whenever I come in the fall, I could do the play-by-play for a lot of events whenever they would schedule me. That ultimately made my decision that I was going to come to Iowa.”
Mackey instantly sat in front of the microphone at the university and developed a reputation. By the second semester of his freshman year, Mackey was the play-by-play backup for Brent Balbinot as the voice of Iowa baseball. Balbinot also was the play-by-play voice of Iowa women’s basketball, so when his duties took him away from the diamond as the seasons overlapped, Mackey filled in for more than a month in each of his first two years at Iowa.
Last summer, Balbinot left Iowa City for the University of Toledo, which opened up the baseball job. Mackey discussed the position with officials at Hawkeye Sports Properties as well as baseball coach Rick Heller. As an intern last summer with the Chillicothe (Mo.) Mudcats of the MINK League, Mackey had an impromptu meeting with Heller when the coach was out recruiting. It impressed Heller, who gave his approval for Mackey to call the action.
“He went out and worked a grinder job and got experience and it paid off for him,” Heller said.
“We felt that he had a pretty bright future. I guess the biggest reason was, No. 1, his talent, and he fit in with our team. He was already a part of the team. The guys already knew Zach. With the situation we were in, we felt really comfortable with Zach as he continued to grow as a broadcaster and was going to be very professional. I enjoy working with him.”
Mackey has earned multiple awards. In 2016, he was named an All-American by the Sportscasters Talent Agency of America as one of the top six collegiate sportscasters in the country. Mackey was the only underclassman in the top 10. At Geneseo High School, Mackey picked up the Bob Sheppard High School P.A. Announcer of the Year Award and was runner-up for the Bob Costas High School Play-by-Play Broadcaster of the Year in 2013.
Last winter, Mackey worked alongside Jess Settles and Mac MacCausland on Iowa basketball games for BTN-Plus. Mackey also has called wrestling and volleyball while on campus.
Broadcasting baseball has taken a toll on his studies a bit. With the travel and professional duties, Mackey limited his spring semester schedule to six credit hours and will attend school through December 2018.
Iowa has developed a pair of Hall of Fame baseball broadcasters in Milo Hamilton and Harry Kalas. While it’s far too early to lump Mackey anywhere that category, he’d like to follow their career arc.
“I would definitely love someday to be a play-by-play broadcaster for a major network,” Mackey said. “I’m open to whatever is the best way that gets me there.”