Thursday, April 12, 2007

Cell of a debut

Seven games are into the books, and all were internet-only broadcasts. Tonight, there was no pre-emption by A's baseball, Sharks hockey or Warriors basketball. I was live on the radio, start to finish, all alone, the entire game.

The conditions for my radio debut were, shall we say, challenging. Before leaving Modesto yesterday, I was informed all the phone lines were down at the Bakersfield ballpark, and they didn't expect to have the phone lines back up. Broadcasting a game without a phone connection is not easy. But it's not impossible.

Upon the conclusion of my Modesto Morning News responsibilities, at 8:45 a.m., I was given a crash course in how to use something called a cell phone comrex. Packed up this equipment, added it to the already overwhelmingly intimidating box of equipment, and headed for the bus. We left at 10 a.m., arrived around 1 p.m. at the hotel, and I went straight to the ballpark to setup the gear.

For the past week, each time I setup the equipment, I did something wrong. This doesn't say much for my note-taking skills as a journalist. But even though I'm technologically challenged, I know how to adapt. So the day before, I went to Office Max and bought a bunch of different colored stickers. I had somebody -- okay, it was my partner Greg -- put together the equipment the correct way. Then I lined up the parts with the same colored stickers. Brilliant!

As I put together everything in Bakersfield, I conclude my decision to use colored stickers to match the parts just might be the smartest decision of my life. Feeling pretty good about all the technical stuff. That's the good news. For now. The area of the press box cornered off for the visiting announcer is about the size of a hall closet. I feel cramped, clausterphobic.

Naturally, things don't go smoothly with the equipment and connection. I'm told the phone lines at the ballpark are working. Then they aren't. Then they are. Then I need a long-distance card to connect. Which I don't have. Phone calls go back and forth between the Nuts, the radio station and me. I play middle man talking to the Bakersfield front office and everybody else.

Apparently, it's not standard protocal for every team to pickup the phone call tab for the visiting announcer. I don't understand why not. That seems perfectly logical to me. The Blaze have a passcode they don't want to give me. I make the logical argument, at least to me, that whoever picks up the tab on this phone call should be decided by the GMs of the team and the broadcaster shouldn't be negotiating. Just get me on the radio and let's figure it out later.

I'm given the passcode. But I still can't connect because the passcode must be entered at a specific time, and this red box that is my lifeline for connection won't allow me to enter numbers at that time. Then the phone lines crash again. So it's a moot point.

So it's back to the cell phone comrex. A few problems getting connected, but finally we're good about 30 minutes before the game. The Cliff Notes version of this "cell phone comrex" is it provides a phone hookup, via cell phone, without putting a cell phone next to my ear or talking into a hands-free device. I was still able to use a mixing board and start the manager's show from a laptop.

It doesn't sound as good on the radio (or so I was told) and I did need to keep the cell phone charging all game, just in case the battery dies. But the gadget worked.

Vision isn't good. The lighting at Sam Lynn Ballpark was horrendous. Modesto's shortstop and left fielder completely lost the first popfly of the game. So do I, until I see the center fielder race over -- just like Kelly in "The Bad News Bears" -- to make the catch in left field. The outfield fence is green. The uniforms are dark. Beyond the fence are big green trees. The white baseball disappears constantly.

The windows to see through are filthy. I open one, which gives me some vision. But even that open window slot is small. My heart is racing through most of the game. Nervous. Excited. Paranoid. Elated. I try to do yoga breathing techniques between innings. Doesn't work. I'm constantly checking the cell phone to make sure we're still connected. I question how I would know if I'm not connected, and how unprofessional that would sound.

There's no internet connection. That means no out-of-town scoreboard to provide updates during a lull in the action. That means no looking up a stat or some notes between innings. I'd grown accustomed to this over the last week.

Then I remind myself that baseball announcers did just fine for over half a century without an internet connection. Doubt that Bill King ever worried about an internet connection. Remind myself of Ken Korach's advice: focus on the fundamentals. Build the game from the ground up to the press box. Where are the infielders? The outfielders? Is the hitter left or right? What's the count? What's the score? Which side of the rubber? Are the shadows a factor? Is the wind a factor?

In the end, it's all good. Modesto rallies from a 3-0 deficit for a victory. It's a good game, back and forth, and the Nuts score three in the ninth to win it 8-5. No dropped connections. The cell phone comrex is my new best friend.

I don't know if people liked my broadcast.

But I sure had a blast doing it. At least, I did once I stopped hyper-ventilating.

Sitting on the bus, waiting to go back to the hotel, hitting coach Dave Hajek looked at me and said, "for a radio guy, you sure don't say much."

"I've been talking non-stop to myself for three hours," I tell Dave. "I'm sick of my own voice."

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