By Will LeBlond
Every summer, Lansing resident Grady Whittenburg trades in his microphone and suit for a lawnmower and old pair of shorts and a T-shirt.
That’s quite a contrast for the play-by-play voice of the American Hockey League’s Binghamton Senators, but it’s what Whittenburg does every year now when the Senators’ season draws to a close and his routine commute to the Southern Tier turns into more of an occasional visit to his office in the Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena.
The Newark Valley High School and Tompkins County Community College graduate joined the Senators as their radio broadcaster when the team was formed during the 2002-03 hockey season. He initially had more of an expanded role in the organization, serving as the vice president of sales.
After some “philosophical differences” following the 2008 AHL All-Star Classic, which was hosted by the Senators, Whittenburg decided he needed to “shake things up” and opted for a different job.
“I wouldn’t have done it without a backup plan,” says Whittenburg. “There was an opening in Elmira (ECHL), which was a step down in leagues, but it was exciting because they were just moving up from the old United Hockey League and the community was really pumped about it.”
The team sold out 20 of their 36 home games, and Friday night contests were televised locally, but Whittenburg was still involved in the organization as a salesman, and he wanted that aspect of his professional career to change.
“I had lost my zest for selling,” he says. “I had done that for 13 years at Cornell, then another six between Binghamton and Elmira, and I had just had enough, I was kind of burned out.”
That crossroads in his career was easily traversed not too long following the end of the year with Elmira, as he had conversations with Senators management and was able to get his old job back as broadcaster for the team. The difference this time around was the organization was set with their sales team, so Whittenburg was offered a broadcast-only position with the team by Executive Vice President of Operations Tom Mitchell.
The job offer was accepted, but now Whittenburg’s role was considered “seasonal” because he only worked games during the hockey year, so another form of income was needed for him and his family. Enter his lawn care company.
“I had always loved taking care of my own lawn,” he says. “I had always kicked around the idea of doing it professionally and I just decided to take the plunge.” The lawn care enterprise started slowly, with just six accounts during his first summer, which made it difficult to get by, but “somehow, some way [he and his wife] scraped and scrounged and got by and lived to tell about it.”
Now, a little less than a decade later, he has 32 clients in the Lansing area and business is good, as he said he has even mowed into the Thanksgiving season and when the grass is growing and there is plenty of work, he stays busy. The downside with such a long lawn-mowing season is that it makes life more difficult as his duties with the Senators begin in late September in preparation for the season, which begins in mid-October. That crossover of months creates a challenge for him to give proper time to both jobs.
That challenge is not typically dealt with by Whittenburg’s colleagues who work a league above him in the National Hockey League (NHL), where there is more money for broadcasters. That dream of working in the sport’s best league is what keeps him driven, not only through the hot summer months when he is mowing, but during the cold winter months as well when he is forced to commute over an hour from Binghamton to Lansing, which often brings him back to his house in the wee hours of the morning.
As a lifelong resident in the Empire State, his dream of getting an NHL job does not necessarily mean that he’s going to pack up everything and bid the area adieu. “My ideal situation would be that I would get an NHL opportunity and the salary would be more than I could ever want, have my summers to myself still and maintain a few accounts just to scratch that itch,” Whittenburg says.
Even if the NHL does not come calling and Whittenburg stays with Binghamton in the minor leagues, he is thankful for his work and enjoys the odd combination that he puts together to work year-round.
“I love it, it’s a bit unorthodox, but it’s the best of both worlds,” he says. “I get paid to watch a sport I love in the winter time and in the summer time, I’m outside enjoying the sun and getting a little bit of fresh air as well.”
By Will LeBlond