Like many of his peers, Marc Topkin initially harbored aspirations of a pro baseball career, only to have reality divert him from the batter’s box to the press box during his teenage years.
As a sophomore on the Coral Springs High junior varsity in the late 1970s, Topkin totaled three at-bats and was instructed to bunt each time, never reaching base.
“I realized, ‘That’s probably not your future,’” he recalled.
That delusion securely stowed, Topkin ultimately embarked on what is set to be recognized as one of the area’s most distinguished sports journalism careers. A 40-year veteran of the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times) and the only Rays beat reporter in the newspaper’s history, Topkin formally will be inducted Monday into the Sports Club of Tampa Bay Hall of Fame.
“Marc is the authoritative voice (of Rays baseball),” said Mark Donohue, a former Sports Club of Tampa Bay president and chairman of its Hall of Fame selection committee. “He is a dictionary on our beloved team. A nationally recognized writer. He’s everything.”
Joining Topkin as 2023 inductees is the longtime Rays radio broadcast tandem of Dave Wills and Andy Freed. Wills, who passed away in March at age 58, will be inducted posthumously.
“So it’s a little bittersweet,” said Topkin, 61. “But as far as personally, I’m used to writing about people winning awards and people going into the Hall of Fame, so it is a tremendous honor for me and one I certainly appreciate and thank (Donohue) for and thank the Sports Club of Tampa Bay for.”
An alumnus of Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, Topkin’s career as a baseball writer began by chance, at roughly the same time his playing career was fizzling. Bothered that his Senior League’s results weren’t being reported in the youth baseball roundup in The Forum (Coral Springs’ weekly paper), he reached out to the publication.
“And the lady goes, ‘Well, we don’t have anyone to do it. Would you want to do it?’” Topkin recalled. “And I thought about it for a minute and I’m like, well, I’m not a good enough player that my name’s ever going to get in there. So I said, ‘Sure, I’ll do it.’”
After earning a journalism degree from Drake, Topkin was hired by the St. Petersburg Times as a part-time news copy editor on June 6, 1983, and had ascended to full-time sports copy editor within a year.
He began assisting with Major League Baseball coverage in the mid-1980s, with one of his first big in-person assignments being the 1988 World Series, where he watched Kirk Gibson’s legendary walkoff home run against the A’s in Game 1 at Dodger Stadium. He helped cover the White Sox’s attempted move to St. Petersburg in the late 1980s and chronicled the ultimate birth of the Devil Rays.
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Since then, Topkin has documented every significant moment in franchise history, including both World Series appearances. He witnessed the Rays’ only nine-inning no-hitter (by Matt Garza on July 26, 2010), and has covered all six no-hitters, including all three perfect games thrown against the club.
He also worked into the wee hours following the Rays’ 3-1 home triumph against the Red Sox in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series on Oct. 19, 2008 — he and wife Sue’s 23rd wedding anniversary. The couple have two children, Carlyn and Ben (who passed away in 2012), and one grandson, Eli.
“It sounds very simplistic, but there is a magic and a charm to baseball that you never know what you’re going to see that day,” Topkin said.
“You could see a no-hitter. You could see somebody hit four homers. You could see a triple play. You could see a really boring game. You could see a guy make his debut who, 25 years later, goes into the Hall of Fame. You never know what you’re going to see. It’s a little bit like a daily soap opera, and that’s part of the fun of covering it — there’s something to tell every day.”
Freed, 52, and Wills were hired by the franchise in 2005 and evolved into one of the most respected radio broadcast tandems in big-league baseball. Freed, who was raised outside Baltimore and graduated from Towson State University, did radio work for a handful of minor-league and college-sports teams before landing the Rays gig.
Wills spent 11 years on the White Sox’s radio team in his native Chicago before teaming up with Freed in Tampa Bay. He started his play-by-play career with the minor league Kane County (Illinois) Cougars from 1991-95.
“It is quite an honor to be included in this group of people to be inducted,” Freed said. “And to have this happen alongside Marc and Dave makes it that much sweeter. To be honest, just living here in Tampa Bay for almost 20 years now, and being even a small part of the incredible sports scene, is more than I could’ve ever expected.
“The Rays franchise means so much to me, and to have had a front-row seat to broadcast the most interesting team in baseball has been a joy beyond words.”
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls
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