Friday, April 20, 2007

I can see clearly now

About a year ago, I went to the eye doctor to have my vision checked. Figured my inability to tell the difference between a 6, 8, 9 and 0 on the scoreboards at night was an issue. This was back when I was a newspaper reporter.

The eye doctor didn't think my vision was that bad. I was fitted for glasses. His recommendation was to wear the glasses at night when I was driving home from games. Did it a few times. It made my head hurt. When I looked into lights, my vision got blurry and I got scared. So I took the glasses out of my car, put them somewhere in my room, and forgot about them.

Today, I went through my moving boxes and found the glasses. Put them in my laptop bag. Out of nowhere, in the fifth inning, I put them on. It was weird. Just feeling glasses around my face was weird. How they rubbed against the headphone was weird.

But the weirdest part was being able to see. I could read all the letters in the outfield fence signs. Used to think it was common to not read them. The numbers on the scoreboard were crystal clear. Wow. What a difference.

I'm going to keep wearing my glasses when I'm on the air.

I better not cry

Today is Alumni Day at my high school. They invite back alums each year to speak to the seniors about their careers and try to give the kids some inspiration. This will be my eighth straight year attending. It's fun going back to Foothill High, even if there's fewer and fewer familiar faces every year. The alums speak to two classes and it's pretty much an open forum to say anything you want to kids aged 15-17 for 45-50 minutes.

As I left Modesto for Pleasanton, about an hour drive, I thought about how what I've said each year to the kids is the story of my career. My first year, in 2000, I was 26 years old and covering a major league baseball team for the first time. Pretty much had no idea what I was doing, but I faked it well. Couldn't contain the smile on my face. I pretty much bragged to the kids about how cool my job is, and why I'm the luckiest guy ever.

The next few years, the focus was the book I wrote about Barry Bonds, the pre-steroids book titled, "This Gracious Season: Barry Bonds & The Greatest Year in Baseball." It's about the 73-homer season that broke Mark McGwire's single-season home run record. (I still have copies if you want to buy one. So does Amazon.)

By year four, my tone wasn't as enthusiastic. Still enjoyed the job, but the grind of traveling everywhere started to show. It was as much job as it was fun. By year five, it was a brief return to enthusiasm because I switched from the Giants beat to the A's beat -- so it was about seeing new ballparks and new cities, comparing the differences in the two organizations, and which one I preferred.

Last year, my third on the A's beat and seventh overall, I'd just returned a couple days earlier from a job interview with The Seattle Times about covering the Seattle Mariners. Thought the interviews -- there was eight -- went extremely well. Felt very confident I would be offered the job. So confident, I started to have serious doubts about moving away from home. Yes, I love Seattle. One of my favorite cities in the league. But I loved San Francisco, it was my home, and I'd be going a place where I didn't know anybody. I actually used the two classes to get the kids advice, talk to them about what's most important to life, and have them decide if they'd take the job. I gave them all the financial data, personal information (I'd just met a chick who I really liked), etc.

Never got the Seattle job, as it turned out.

A bummer at the time, but now I feel fortunate. No way I try getting into broadcasting after a few months in Seattle.

So this year, I figured I'd talk to the kids about the choices you make in life regarding your career. It dawned on me there's three types of job.

1. Jobs that pay really well.
2. Jobs that you love.
3. Jobs that provide flexible hours.

Most people only get one of three options. Some get two. Very few are provided all three. I started to practice what I would say, give the examples of doctors and professional athletes, the hours away, the satisfaction gained, and all that good stuff.

I decided my overall message would be an inspirational one. I wanted to tell the kids, "you can do anything you want in life. Don't let anybody tell you that you can't. Not your parents. Not your friends. Not your teacher. And most of all, don't EVER tell yourself that you can't do something. Find a reason why you can, instead of a reason why you can't. It might not be easy. It might take awhile. You might have to make major sacrifices, like moving from San Francisco to Modesto, taking a massive pay cut, and waking up at 3:45 a.m. every morning after going to bed around midnight. But if you want it bad enough, you won't mind doing it."

As I practiced this, I felt myself getting choked up and water forming in my eyes.

Uh oh.

Not good.

I better not freakin' cry in front of these damn kids.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

A crack in my outlook

The rule in the California League is if the teams are located less than 100 miles apart, you commute every day. Anything over 100 miles, you spend the night in hotels. This is done to save money. In Modesto, we commute to two cities. Stockton is real close, about a 30-minute drive away. San Jose is right on the cusp of the 100 miles. I think it's 99.4 miles, although it's probably 93 miles.

That means a two-hour drive, each way, for three days in a row. These daily trips are more draining than a seven-hour bus ride to Lake Elsinore. We left Modesto at 1:30 Tuesday and Wednesday, which means leaving home at 12:30 to get lunch for the bus and arrive on time.

Since I work mornings from 4-9 a.m., and try to sleep from 10 to 2 p.m., this cuts into my nap time. Laugh all you want about a grown man needing his daily nap time, but remember that I got home after midnight each night and wake up at 3:45 a.m. -- and your body can only operate on 3-4 hours of sleep for so long.

Anyway, today I chose to skip the bus, sleep an extra hour, and drive myself to San Jose. The entire game is on the radio and I want to be at my best. This seemed like a tremendous decision. Feeling pretty good about it as I depart Modesto, not tired at all. Game went smoothly. Thought I had a good call. Packed up the equipment and walked to my car, which I parked across the street from San Jose Municipal Stadium.

Feeling even better, knowing that I'm leaving 10-20 minutes before the bus will leave, and I can drive faster than a bus. I'll get home sooner, and get to bed sooner. It's all good. I'm a genius.

Then, I see it.

My windshield.

It's smashed. The landing place of the baseball is visible. I can see the blue skid mark from the Cal League logo and the imprint of the seams. The place where the baseball made contact is intact, but everywhere around it there's cracked glass. It spiders all over the windshield.

You've got to be kidding me. This is what I get for driving myself for an extra hour of sleep? Like I really have the money for a new windshield.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Former writer goes Nuts for broadcasting

My former newspaper, The Oakland Tribune, did a story about me today in the media section. It was really weird being interviewed. I'm used to asking the questions, not answering them. It was even weirder reading a story about myself. I'm used to reading my words, not somebody else's words about me. Anyway, here's a copy.

Andy did a real nice job on it. As I read some of my quotes, I thought about some of the dumb things I probably said that he didn't use. Gave me an all-new appreciation for my old job, and how easy it is to make somebody look really good or really bad -- simply based on what quotes are used.

By Andy Altman-Ohr

DOES THE name "Josh Suchon" ring a bell? Think in terms of a byline you used to see in this sports section. He was our Oakland A's beat writer from 2004-06 and our Giants beat writer for four years before that.

Now, Suchon is the voice of the Modesto Nuts of the California League.

"Some people thought I was nuts — literally — to become a Nut," Suchon said.

Suchon had many a sports fan's fantasy job as a reporter covering a big league ballclub; he even wrote a book, "This Gracious Season: Barry Bonds & The Greatest Year in Baseball," shortly after the 2001 season.

But since his first job out of San Diego State in 1996 — a job that included play-by-play for the Watertown Indians of the New York-Penn League — he had the announcer's itch. In 1997, he was set to call games for another minor league team, but fate stepped in — a canceled radio contract one day before opening day. He ended up being a reporter for the next 10 years.

"But when Bill King died, it really had a big effect on me," said Suchon, 33, who grew up in Pleasanton listening to the great King. "I thought, maybe I should give this one more shot. Even if I fall completely on my face, I'll know I at least gave it a shot."

In college, Suchon had announced Aztecs baseball, men's and women's basketball and football. He noted that in an online resume, where he also posted clips: from a "broadcast" he did an empty booth during an A's game on one of his off-days, and from some on-air appearances (during a game on Ch.36 and on "Cold Pizza," for example). That led to a job in the one-month, four-team Texas Winter League a few months ago.

"That actually helped me a lot," Suchon said of the somewhat bogus pay-to-play league. "It made me so much more prepared for opening night in Modesto. I would have been so much more nervous, going through much of the angst and learning curve I already went through down there."

Another positive from the Texas experience: He asked A's play-by-play man Ken Korach (who had already encouraged him to follow his heart) to review his work.

"Ken is an amazing announcer and an even more amazing person. Some of the best advice he gave me was to build the game from the field up to the press box: What's the count? Where are the position players? Start on the field, then, as time permits, work it up to the press box," Suchon said. "With my background as a reporter, I had so much information I wanted to give, I'd be behind the action. That was a good reminder. What happens on field comes first, and my notes come second."

Suchon's work in Texas helped him land the Modesto job, where he works solo for road games and has a partner at home. The Nuts (a Colorado Rockies affiliate) are in San Jose tonight to open a three-game series.

Suchon said covering major league baseball for seven seasons is a plus in the announcer's booth, but not in terms of regaling listeners with stories from the road or the clubhouses. For example, last week a Nuts hitter was in an 0-for-10 funk with seven strikeouts when he had a good at-bat, drawing a walk.

"I said, 'Frank Thomas often liked to say he could walk his way out of his slump. You don't have to get a hit to break out of a slump,'" Suchon said. "Then in his next at-bat, the guy got a base hit, so I felt that was maybe a good story to tell. I try to work stuff like that in."

The Nuts radio station, KESP ("ESPN Radio-970"), usually can be heard in the Livermore, Pleasanton area at night. But it is also the Oakland A's and San Jose Sharks' station, and those teams' games take precedence, often rendering Nuts games to Internet-only status (

Suchon also does weekday sports updates on KESP during homestands and nearby road games, three times per hour from 5-9 a.m. — for which he awakens at 3:45 a.m.! Sometimes he also fills in as the No. 2 man on an afternoon sports talk show.

Sleep? He grabs it when he can.

"Covering major league baseball was a dream job, and then I had a new dream," Suchon said. "The main thing is I didn't want to have any regrets. I didn't want to look back and in 10 years and say 'What if.' I wanted a new challenge, and I wanted to see if I could do this."

Monday, April 16, 2007

Then and now

It's been one week and our first road trip is complete, so I figured it was a good time to compare and contast what it was like being a major league newspaper reporter and what it's like being a minor league baseball announcer.

Getting there -- I used to fly on United to all games and rack up the frequent flyer points. I'd average 2-3 upgrades to first class a year. Now I'm on a bus with the rest of the team. I'm thankful to have my own row.

Accomodations -- I used to stay at Marriott and Renaissance hotels, with a room to myself, a king-size bed, a welcome gift (which I'd usually pick as a half bottle of wine, plus cheese and crackers). Now I share a room with the clubhouse manager at the Best Western. I'm thankful there' s still free mini bottles of shampoo and conditioner.

Getting around -- I used to expense a rental car or any cabs. Now I'm at the mercy of the bus and what's in walking distance of the motel. There isn't a cab, even if I wanted to pay out of my own pocket.

Meals -- I used to complain about how hard it is to stay under my $40 a day average for meals on the road. Now I get $20 cash a day for road games. I used to have a hard rule about never eating at any "chain" restaurant. Now I decide between IHop and Denny's.

Cities -- I used to debate whether I liked Chicago or New York more, if Seattle or Anaheim had the best press box, if Kansas City or Milwaukee was more under rated, and if Miami or Scottsdale had more beautiful women. Now I'm in Bakersfield and can't wait until we go to Stockton.

Clothing -- I used to wear jeans and a button-up "going out" shirt, so I can go straight to bars after the game. Now I wear a Modesto Nuts polo shirt. Every day.

Sightseeing -- I used to take day trips to Niagara Falls (from Toronto), Aspen (from Denver) Notre Dame (from Chicago), and the Football Hall of Fame (from Cleveland). I'd go to the top of the Gateway to the West in St. Louis, the Experience Music Project in Seattle, Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Ground Zero in New York City, the Samuel Adams Brewery in Boston, the beach anywhere in southern California, and the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. Here in Bakersfield, uhh, uhhh, uhhhhh, I stared out the window at the truck stop.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

I can't believe ... what I just said!

Another internet-only night. Another night of dropped calls every 15-20 minutes. I stopped keeping track when the number reached 11. But the biggest mistake was mine. And it was a huge one. It happened in the third inning with Chris Nelson at the plate.

First, I'll offer my excuses. It started to rain. To keep the equipment dry, I shut the window. Vision was a major problem. The windows are filthy. Couldn't see much. Tried to look through the small sliver of an opening for most of the action. If a ball was hit somewhere, I'd open the window, stick my head out, call the play, then shut the window again.

If you recall yesterday's post, it's hard to see in the outfield. Home runs just seemed to get swallowed by the trees. It's dark. The rain isn't helping. Okay, enough with the excuses.

Chris Nelson hit a flyball that was caught by the left fielder. I called it a home run. Not just any home run, but "CHRIS NELSON HITS HIS THIRD HOME RUN IN THE LAST TWO GAMES AND MODESTO HAS TRIMMED THE LEAD TO 4-3!"

Then I wonder why the baseball is being thrown back to the infield. Then I wonder why Chris Nelson isn't circling the bases, but headed straight for the dugout. Then I hear the laughing around the corner from those in the press box that can hear me.

Now I want to crawl in a hole and never come out.

An awkward pause.

The pause gets longer. And more awkward.

"My bad. It was actually caught by Jake Blalock in left field. It was an out, not a home run. Two away here in the top of the third. Bakersfield still up 4-2."

I try to forget it. Try to move on. Make it a point to not mention my massive gaffe the rest of the broadcast. Pretend like it never happened. But it did.

And that can never happen.

Friday, April 13, 2007

16 runs, 8 dropped calls, 6 home runs

Tonight was an internet-only broadcast. As a result, the radio station's desire to foot the bill on a cell phone call for three hours is limited. Okay, it's next to nil. The phone lines are working though. Of course, we still have the long-distance access issue. At some point, I don't recall if it was tonight or last night, in a moment of weakness, the Bakersfield general manager gave me his passcode.

With some assistance from our engineer, I discover that if I punch in the phone number to the studio on this comrex gadget, then press the pound button six times, then the passcode, then it will pause long enough and the call will be completed. Viola. It works!

Still not sure how this works exactly, but the phone call to the radio station gets me connected. From there, certain buttons are pushed in the studio, certain buttons are pushed on a laptop, and my broadcast is launched to the internet. My ignorance is bliss on this.

Modesto scores 10 runs in the second inning. At some point, I don't recall exactly when, I look at the equipment and realize the connection was lost. I call. I don't get connected. I call again. No connection. I try 10 pounds. I try three pounds. I try six pounds again. Finally, I'm connected again.

This continues all night. It happened about every 15-20 minutes, or whenever Modesto hit a home run. Modesto hit six homers. I was dropped eight times.

This was incredibly annoying. I debate how to handle this on the air. Three ideas come to mind.

1. Continue to apologize on the air for the drops.
2. Pretend like it's not happening.
3. Rip Bakersfield for the crappy phone lines.

I choose number one. And a little of number three. Okay, maybe a little more than a little.

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."

Thursday, April 5, 2007

It's opening night

Tonight is the start of my new career. To my friends and family, if you miss tonight, no worries. I'm only doing 140 games in the next 151 days. You'll have plenty of chances.

In fact, Randy Johnson is scheduled to make a rehab start Sunday at 1:05 p.m. against the Nuts. So if you're nearby, you might want to buy tickets and check it out -- or listen live to that game. Our game is pre-empted tonight on radio by the A's game, but will be live on the internet.

Just log onto> and click the "listen live" button on the top left. If you were brave enough to listen to any games when I was in Texas, you'll notice a few differences tonight:

1. I should be able to see out the window of the press box. In fact, there's a window that slides up.

2. You should hear crowd noise, instead of it sounding like I'm in a closed bathroom.

3. I'll have broadcast partners. Greg Young will broadcast the 3rd, 4th and 7th innings on home games and a few road games. The Modesto Bee's Brian VanderBeek will be the color analyst for 4th, 5th, and> 6th inning.

4. These are real players with real futures. Justin Upton, the first overall pick of the 2005 draft, is on Visalia. The Nuts have Eric Young, Jr.

5. My boss is broadcasting his radio show live from the ballpark this afternoon and we might even throw that online (since it's no additional charge). That would be from 4-6 p.m., which will include myself and a couple interviews with players.