A Life of Sports: The D-backs’ radio engineer Leo Gilmartin dedicates career to his dad

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

Leo Gilmartin sits high above the players at Chase Field, in a small room with souvenir newspapers peppering the walls. The décor is typical for a journalist, but he’s no ordinary media type.

Reporting and sharing information are in the blood of Gilmartin, who is celebrating his 24th year with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Currently the team’s radio engineer and producer, Gilmartin comes from Arizona royalty. His father is the late, great Joe Gilmartin, the first president of the Professional Basketball Writers Association and a 2014 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee.

Gilmartin couldn’t help but enter the sports journalism field.

“Beats working for a living,” Gilmartin says with a laugh.

In short, he produces and engineers the D-backs’ radio broadcasts, taking the audio from the ballpark to the radio station and to the team’s affiliates.

“Everything’s different,” the Chandler resident says. “The game itself is different every day. It keeps things fresh. Every day’s a different storyline, a different conversation, a different outcome. Baseball, more than any other sport, is so unique in how each game is so different, for so many different reasons. I’ve been around sports my entire life.”

Suns fan

Following in his dad’s footsteps, Gilmartin was obsessed with basketball. He started his sports career as a ball boy for the Suns in the mid-1970s.

“I grew up around sports and around the Suns,” he says. “I wanted to be a professional athlete. Basketball was my goal when I was a young kid. In junior high, I figured out that probably wasn’t going to happen. I had to figure out other ways I could stay in sports.”

His family spent time in Tempe, a mile from ASU. ASU football head coach Frank Kush lived around the corner. Baseball coach Bobby Winkles lived down the street.

“It was such a different time back then, in terms of the relationship media had with sports,” he says. “We were all close to each other.”

Gilmartin became acquainted with Phoenix Suns player and subsequent coach Paul Westphal, who was recently diagnosed with brain cancer; the Colangelo family; Connie Hawkins and Dick Van Arsdale. Around the late 1970s, early 1980s, Gilmartin started working for the visiting team on the bench and became acquainted with Dr. J, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.

“Sports was everywhere I turned,” he says. “My dad was unassuming about it. I get a little embarrassed the more I drop the names.”

After graduating from Tempe High School, Gilmartin went to Minneapolis for a year to a broadcasting school recommended by Suns broadcaster Al McCoy. He returned to the Valley and went to ASU, from which he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in broadcast journalism in 1991.

Afterward, he coached basketball for nearly a decade at Tempe High, Phoenix College, NAU and Arizona Western Community College. From 1994 to 1996, he worked as the assistant to the director of the Arizona Department of Commerce in Sports Development.

“The D-backs were born, and the rest is history,” he says. “It’s an evolution. It’s a wild evolution.”

Joining the D-backs

Gilmartin joined the D-backs in September 1996 as manager of broadcast services, overseeing the club’s radio and TV network relationships.

Since 2001, Gilmartin has been an integral part of the radio broadcast production team and a full-time member of the travel party.

“I got to be around that entire team,” he says. “Anyone who’s come through the Valley, who has some sort of high profile, I’ve had some sort of relationship with them, absent of the current Suns. I’m on the outside looking in. Al McCoy and their broadcasting group does a fantastic job. I still consider myself connected and I feel privileged.”

This season, things are different—vastly different. Gilmartin isn’t traveling with the D-backs.

“We’re doing every game from the ballpark—home or road,” Gilmartin says. “It’s the times we live in and baseball’s doing everything it can to keep the player and the staff safe. We want to keep ourselves safe as well. We’re fine doing it from the ballpark.”

He has his eye on switch-hitter Ketel Marte as an “unbelievable talent and a fun-to-watch player.” He’s rooting for Buckeye native/right fielder Kole Calhoun.

“He’s fun to watch and a real genuine guy,” he says. “Starling Marte is a new addition who plays the game right and is a very good player. He’s very understated. He’s really good at what he does.

“It’s always great watching Nick Ahmed. Fortunately, for our franchise, we’ve had some really good players—not only really good players, but really good people who are fun to follow, get to know and be around.”

As a child, he grew up watching athletes win championships and celebrate on the field or court or in the locker room. He always dreamed of joining them.

“Fast forward to 2001 and while I wasn’t on the dogpile, I was able to get in the clubhouse and celebrate with the people I became very close with,” he says.

“I just want to keep doing what I’m doing and being valuable to the D-backs and root for their success. Their success will mean more unbelievable opportunities for me.”

But Gilmartin’s career comes down to his dad.

“I can’t even put into words what he means to me, aside from him being an amazing father,” he says. “The opportunities his career afforded me are just unbelievable. He did inspire me. He had tremendous respect. He was an extremely talented writer. I was just re-reading his Suns book. I was too intimidated to be a sportswriter, too, because of how good he was. But I knew sports was my future.”