Life lessons are certainly an important part of the RBI experience. Indianapolis Indians broadcaster Howard Kellman is all about pitching life lessons to his audiences. Whether it’s recalling a humorous anecdote about an Indians’ player from the 1980s during an Indian’s home game, or delivering a powerful message about resilience to a corporate audience, or reminiscing with a fellow New Yorker about the impact that a home run record holder had on a young future broadcaster, Howard has a lot of stories to share.
I sat down with Howard this off-season to discuss baseball. The passionate Yankee fan who polished his chops in one of George Steinbrenner’s Yankee broadcast booths (preparing simulated game auditions in 1973), has certainly walked the walk when it comes to turning hard work into success.
While still in college, Howard wrote a letter to every professional baseball team in an effort to land a job behind a microphone. Max Schumacher was one of the few who responded and invited him to Indianapolis for an interview. Seemingly, what impressed Howard personally about the Indians was the fact that Roger Maris played for them during the 1956 championship season. That he played here in Indy means a great deal to him. Needless to say, Indianapolis welcomed Howard with open arms and has been inviting him into their homes through the radio ever since. In fact, Beyond broadcasting duties, Howard emerged as one of the Indians top salespersons for radio advertising. Personnel in minor league baseball have to wear several hats, and Howard did what needed to be done to support the team and in essence, keep his job. He actually credits this sales experience for improving both his broadcasting and public speaking skills. Understanding how to listen and build strong relationships has certainly served Howard’s career well. According to Howard, selling certainly has its challenges, especially when it comes to dealing with rejection; and baseball experience offers much when it comes to maintaining a positive attitude. It’s important for the sales person to understand that “no” can mean “not yet”. It was important for Howard to illustrate one of his life lessons: moving out of your comfort zone to prove to yourself that you can do something.
Howard’s own highlights from his broadcasting career include calling the walk-off win in the bottom of the ninth of the 1986 AAA Championship, broadcasting the 2001 AAA All-Star game (in Victory Field’s fifth season, and certainly the first home game he ever broadcast in 1974, in which future Hall of Famer, George Brett played. Additionally, Howard holds the distinction of having broadcast the second most championships (eight) in baseball history. Some of Howard’s favorite people that he’s met during his 40-year career include Reds centerfielder, Eric Davis, originally from the Compton section of Los Angeles. who still works in a developmental capacity with the team and Reds Second baseman Ron Oester, whose ever present positive attitude held many a clubhouse together.
Howard has also fashioned a successful motivational speaking career beginning in the late 1990s. As a member of the National Speakers Association, he uses humorous sports anecdotes to deliver positive messages that inspire audiences of corporate employees, students, and community leaders. Howard loves sharing stories that move people. One important story about resilience and determination that he likes to share is about former Indians manager, Cecil Cooper. Early in Cooper’s career with the Red Sox, he faced Nolan Ryan in a game and struck out six times (it was an extra-inning game) to set a major league record. Despite this embarrassing debut, Cooper displayed an inner strength that enabled him to bounce back with four hits the next game. Baseball is about having a short memory sometimes and learning to deal with failure (as in sales, too). Howard’s motto is PEP, pursuing excellence passionately. His stories resonate so well with audiences that he included dozens of them in his book, “61 humorous and inspiring lessons I learned from baseball”. Evidently, Howard was inspired by Roger Maris’ performance in the 1961 season when he was a kid growing up in Brooklyn when determining how many stories to include. Having recently met Maris’ sons at Yankee stadium, Howard got a kick out of the fact that one of his sons said Howard knew more about his father then he did.
We talked about Howard’s personal relationship with John Young, the founder of the RBI program, a longtime friend of his who unfortunately passed away recently. He met John early on in his career in Evansville, during a game. Howard shared a story about how John, a career minor leaguer, was dejected about making an out on his first big league at bat with Detroit as a late September call up in the 1970s. Teammate, Gates Brown, offered a seemingly sympathetic ear to Young, telling him, “not to feel bad, it wasn’t his fault—he had no business being called up to the big leagues anyway”. It turns out that Young finished his MLB career with a .500 batting average—going a total of 2 for 4!
Howard remarked about how important RBI has become. He thinks baseball is full of life lessons for young people and encourages that in any way he can. In fact, Howard sponsored an RBI team this past season, Kelllman’s Kruisers. He’s also spoken at RBI events and participated “in the field” on days during which the corporate community comes out to spruce up the RBI diamonds around Indianapolis. Kehlmann wants to make sure that every kid gets a chance to enjoy the game of baseball—to have fun learning to running the bases and playing catch. And, delivering yet another baseball anecdote, he cites Pirates great, Willie Stargell, who said that at the beginning of every game, the umpire yells,” play ball!” not “work ball.” He likes to tell kids that play the game that it takes hard work but the sense of daily accomplishment that comes with success in baseball cannot be beaten.
For over 40 years, Indianapolis has been lucky to hear Howard on the airwaves calling the games and sharing his unique brand of storytelling. The Indianapolis RBI program it Is also very lucky to have Howard as a supporter and an inspiration.
by Carlos Sosa, RBI Advisory board member and lifelong Mets fan