Ingram made move so many M-Braves have

This was 2009, just four years ago. Craig Kimbrel was a 21-year-old fire-baller, pitching for the Mississippi Braves. Ben Ingram was the M-Braves’ 29-year-old play-by-play announcer, his game calls heard on an AM station with little range beyond Pearl and Jackson.

So much as happened since. Kimbrel has become the premier closer in baseball. Ingram is now the pre-game and post-game host for the Braves’ vast radio network. He  often fills in on play-by-play.

Kimbrel is a phenom with a remarkable 135 saves over the past three seasons. He has a league-leading 45 this year with an earned run average below one per nine innings.

Ingram, a Madison native, isn’t doing too badly himself. He is a fast-rising sports broadcasting star, who knows the game, knows the language, has a Big League voice, and knows how to use the voice and the language to tell about the game and its players.

But even Ingram will tell you he had no idea in 2009 that Kimbrel would become what he has become — or that he would be working in The Show, himself.

“I knew Kimbrel was pretty good, because people were calling him a right-handed Billy Wagner before he ever came to Jackson,” Ingram recalled recently. “Then, he got here and he obviously threw really, really hard, but he didn’t have that breaking pitch he has now. He didn’t have whatever you call that pitch that he calls a curve.”

It looks more like a slider to this writer and it gets to the plate in the mid- to upper-80s, but Kimbrel says he grips it like a curve ball.

“Whatever it is,” says Ingram, “it’s absolutely devastating. They can’t hit it, especially when they’re looking for that 99 mph fastball.”

Ingram saw plenty of good baseball and ballplayers in Jackson.

“So many great pitchers came through there while I was there,” Ingram says. “(Kris) Medlen, (Brandon) Beachy, (Jonny) Venters, Kimbrel. And I learned so much baseball from Phillip Wellman, who was the manager. He was such a pleasure to work with.”

But Ingram never dreamed he would make the move to Atlanta that so many M-Braves have made over the past few years.

“I got lucky,” Ingram says. “I got a break. I got named the Southern League broadcaster of the year and then I asked if I could go over to Atlanta and just watch and listen to the Braves regular crew. Then I get there, and they had a three-hour rain delay. I got to spend a lot of time talking to the guys and then I mentioned that I was from Clinton and Don Sutton spun around and says, ‘Were you a  Mississippi College Choctaw?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ And he says, ‘Well, I was a Choctaw,’ and then he just kind of took me under his wing after that.”

“The right doors just seemed to open up,” Ingram said. “I still can’t believe I get to do what I do.”

That’s not to say that it isn’t sometimes a grind. Ingram is at the ballpark nearly every day. His work day ofter starts at 2 p.m. and doesn’t end until after midnight. It’s a 162-game season and that doesn’t include spring training and the playoffs.

“But I’m doing what I’ve wanted to do since I was a little kid,” said Ingram, a preacher’s son, who grew up in a home with only one TV.

“I watched baseball every chance I got,” Ingram said. “And when I couldn’t watch on TV, I listened on the radio. I loved listening to Jim Ellis at Mississippi State and David Kellum at Ole Miss. I was infatuated with Mel Allen and This Week in Baseball. I got a good dose of Harry Caray and a good dose of Skip Caray, too. I was amazed and continue to be amazed by Vin Skully. I loved listening to Jack Buck. I just tried to soak it all in.”

His first on-air experience came when Lee Adams, then a local sports announcer, invited him to do high school and Hinds Community College football broadcasts with him.

“I owe Lee Adams so much,” Ingram said. “He pretty much taught me all the basics when I was still in high school. He got me started.”

And now Ingram is looking forward to the rest of the 2013 season and then the playoffs.

“Fredi (Gonzalez) has done such a great job with this team with all the injuries and stuff that has happened to them,” Ingram said.

Could these Braves go all the way?

“Well, we all know that in baseball it’s all about being healthy and hot at the right time,” Ingram said. “I will say this, the Braves have been really healthy with their everyday lineup for two different stretches. One of those times, they won 14 in a row, the next time they won 10. That bodes well. We’ll see.”

We will. And we will listen to Ben Ingram, a local guy gone big-time, tell us about it all.

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