Saturday, June 30, 2007
Friday, June 29, 2007
Last night was my fourth game calling the other team’s "walkoff" victory. Listened back to my call, and actually wished I’d have gotten just a little more excited. Not a lot. Just a little more excited. My biggest regret was taking so long to say the final score.
Thought my setup was pretty good. Bakersfield’s Chris Davis was 4-for-4 with a home run. As the Blaze batted in the eighth, I said Davis would get another shot in the ninth. As the Nuts batted in the ninth, with a one-run lead, I said it would be wise to get more runs because Davis is due up in the ninth. As the bottom of the ninth started, I said the dangerous Davis is due up third.
Sure enough, Davis hit a two-run walkoff home run. Problem was, he hit it so quickly, I didn’t have much time to call it. It was a line drive that barely cleared the 20-foot fence. The crowd, as usual, was pretty weak in Bakersfield -- so there wasn’t a ton of excitement coming from the crowd mic. I should have delayed my call a second or two behind the action, giving it a more dramatic call. But at the same time, it’s the other team.
Earlier this week, I heard the A’s Ken Korach say, “do you believe it?” when Kelly Shoppach hit a three-run, pinch-hit walkoff home run to beat the A’s. That was on my mind, but I could believe this one.
I flat-out expected it, and felt it coming for a couple innings. Ended up saying something like, “can’t say it’s not surprising” based on what he’d done earlier in the game. The biggest thing I wish I’d had done is say that Bakersfield won sooner. It was implied, and I definitely said it, but I should have stated it precisely a little sooner.
With nothing else better to do in Bakersfield, listened back to some of my calls from earlier this year when the home team beat Modesto.
Actually really liked my call – short and precise – when Inland Empire’s Luke May hit a walkoff homer in late April. The stupid train horn interrupts the call at the end.
Probably a little too excited, and tried to say too much in too little amount of time, when Stockton beat Modesto in the 11th inning last month.
The game winner by San Jose a couple weeks ago was a little tricky. It was nearly a spectacular, “catch of the year” play by Modesto left fielder Cole Garner. Couldn’t tell, in fact, if he caught it or not. Even after he dove, I wasn’t sure because nobody chased after the ball to the wall, so I had to wait longer. That ever-so slight delay minimized the so-called “perfect call” from occurring.
The other factor making it a difficult call is that play basically won the first half for San Jose because Stockton was about to lose in Visalia. But it wasn’t official yet. So again, I couldn’t accurately state the San Jose Giants had won the first half just yet. I did quickly say, “it’s pandemonium at San Jose Muni” and did what I think announcers should do – shut up and let the crowd tell the story. The crowd was going nuts, pardon the pun, but the crowd mic didn’t pick up on that as well as I’d hoped.
Oh well. I’m reminded of something my friend Johnny Doskow, the announcer for Triple-A Sacramento, recently told me: “you’re never as good as you think you are; and you’re never as bad as you think you are.”
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
It leaves me with a few options.
1. Rip the team's offense. Not going to do that.
2. Neglect the team and talk about other stuff. Don't want to do that.
3. Turn into a homer who is cheering/urging the offense on.
The last is the lesser of three evils. Being a homer is a very, veryyyyy fine line. Talked with my program director about this, and he reminded me of the audience.
I'll paraphase his advice: this isn't the majors; it's still A-ball; the only people listening are the season ticket holders, host families, relatives and friends, and diehard baseball fans who just love any baseball on the radio. They aren't exactly looking for a down-the-middle, ESPN Sunday Night Baseball broadcast.
It's funny, one of his other pieces of advice was, if a certain player is really slumping and gets a hit, it's alright to say, "there you go (insert name)". I laughed because I did exactly that last night. Travis Becktel was in a 12-for-115 slump. When he singled, "there you go" might have been my exact words. In fact, in my excitement for the kid coming through, I called it an RBI single immediately.
Problem was, the runner hadn't scored. In fact, the runner was only about one-third of the way home. Luckily, the runner scored. In my call, I pretended like I never said "RBI single" as I described the close play at the plate. As I looked at my partner Greg Young, he gave me a "that was close" look, so I decided to just talk about it on the air. I said how I was so excited for Travis that I gave him the RBI wayyyyyy before he had it. Probably a mistake on my part, but I hope it's because my heart was in the right place.
Again, being a homer is a very fine line. The overwhelming majority of your audience wants your team to win, so you should speak to them like a fan. The old journalist inside me wants to stay more objective, but one of the things that I really like about this career switch is that I don't have to be objective anymore. It's fun to get fired up when your team does something well.
Of course, when your team is struggling, then it's a struggle balancing between being honest, being supportive, being excited (even when there's nothing to be excited over), and still sounding genuine about it.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
The more I think about my feelings, the more I just feel lucky that I landed where I did. For a couple years, I've been trying to get back into broadcasting. But no team anywhere in minor league baseball would give me the time of day. Some of my broadcasting friends went above and beyond the call of duty to hype me up as a possible No.2 announcer at a couple Triple-A jobs two offseasons ago. But for all the No.1 jobs I applied to get, I basically was totally ignored.
When somebody finally did give me a chance, it came in a city just outside the Bay Area, limiting how far I had to move, and allowing me to stay close to my friends and family. It was with a team that happened to hire my cousin (when neither of us knew the other was about to get hired).
The official employer was an all-sports radio station, which allowed me to:
1. continue my journalistic background as the sports director of the morning news.
2. be a fill-in, talk-show host for a couple segments of my co-workers' talk shows regularly, or even the entire show when somebody is sick.
3. cover the NCAA west regional in Sacramento.
4. do live interviews with players, such as Bobby Crosby and Nick Swisher, or just yesterday with A's general manager Billy Beane, that we air later that day or the next day on the radio station.
5. basically yuck it up and have fun on radio.
Most minor league radio announcers -- as in 99 percent -- work exclusively for the team. Not me. Which means, more important than anything else, I don't have to sell advertising. Nothing is more deflating than applying for a job as the play-by-play announcer, and being told that your ability to sell ads means more than you're ability to call a game.
Granted, not every game is on our radio station because we carry the Oakland A's and other pro sports, which get first priority. (All games are live on the internet though.)
But the all-sports station provides a priceless amount of crossover programming opportunities, such as broadcasting live for six hours yesterday from Stockton's ballpark to pump up the California-Carolina League all-star game -- even though we weren't broadcasting the game. Some of the other announcers in the Cal League, who I've quickly come to call good friends, call their games during pledge drives for PBS or on a station that switched to a Spanish format during the season.
I'm lucky at how our product has turned out too. This might sound arrogant, but at least for home games, we have -- by far -- the best overall broadcast team in the Cal League. And it's not even close.
No other team has a daily manager show. Nobody else does a live postgame interview with a player down on the field. Nobody else has a newspaper beat reporter with the talent and knowledge, not to mention the feel for radio, like our Brian VanderBeek of The Modesto Bee. I humbly think Greg Young is the best No.2 in the league, could be a No.1 right now, will be a No.1 next year for sure, and I'd find it hard to believe that anybody else has better on-air chemistry than we do. If nothing else, nobody has as much fun as we do.
Don't worry, I'll stop bragging shortly.
And here's the kicker: not only did I not know any of that coming in, I didn't even make the decision to setup the broadcasting team. Pure luck.
This blog started three months ago with me mostly making fun of myself and my mistakes. Call it all-star break nostalgic thoughts, or the lack of sleep, or an over-indulgent sense of self, but we've been damn good.
Now, just wait until we know what we're actually doing.
Sunday, June 17, 2007
I can make it, between innings, in Modesto and Lake Elsinore. San Bernardino would be close. No chance of making it in Visalia, Bakersfield, Stockton -- or this weekend, here in San Jose. So when I'm calling games solo at those four places, I do three things.
1. Hit the bathroom about 5-10 minutes before starting the broadcast. (I also call this my daily nervous pre-game pee.)
2. Avoid drinking lots of fluids.
3. Carefully watch what I eat before the game.
Now that the temperature is over 100 degrees, this is a challenge. The need to stay hydrated and keep the pipes from getting dry is important. A couple close calls this weekend. When the game ended Friday, the bladder was running out of patience with me. The game Sunday went 11 innings, and there were a couple moments when it seemed like it could go forever. That was another welcome end to the game.
At my father's house after the game, during a Father's Day BBQ with the family, my sister asked if I lost weight. Since she was the second person to ask in less than 24 hours, I weighed myself. Sure enough, I've lost about 20 pounds since the season started.
I have four reasons why.
1. No alcohol since the season started. (My longest stretch of sobriety since high school.)
2. The major-league press dining room is all-you-can-eat, and always has desserts. Now, I alternate between chicken fingers and a slice of pizza at home games.
3. The overall minor league lifestyle. It's hard to eat quality meals consistently. The small towns don't have many options, and not much is open after a night game. I've somehow continued to avoid eating any fast food burgers (or Taco Bell), a streak that dates back to December 2002.
4. It's now over 100 degrees in Modesto, and I simply can't eat anything hot when it's this hot. That means lots of salads and fruits and sandwiches. Who knew that hot weather could be so healthy?
Saturday, June 16, 2007
Vince's first resposne was, "who the hell is Joshua?"
Ok, so here's the story.
For 33 years and some change, the only person who called me Joshua was my mom ... and that's when I was in trouble. I was always Josh. I used Josh in print, and for all the radio/TV interviews I did. Always thought Joshua was too formal and biblical.
Of course, ever since the "Friends" episode in which Rachael says her boyfriend's name as "Josh ... ooooohhh .... ahhhhh" I've been a much bigger fan of Joshua. But that's another story.
Anyway, the name Josh Suchon is a tongue twister. To say Suchon, it's like the girl's name Sue and the boy's name Shawn. That makes for a lot of sh's in a short amount of time. You have to consciously pause between my first and last names, or else they run together. It usually gets butchered.
So I decided to go with Joshua Suchon. Thought it sounded smoother. Also liked the idea of a slightly different name to coincide with my new career. Josh was the writer. Joshua is the broadcaster.
Everybody still calls me Josh in person, including my program manager -- even on the air. So I guess the new name isn't exactly taking off.
Friday, June 15, 2007
Must say I'm very happy with this schedule. I get to learn how to work solo, and how to work with somebody. After all, if I ever reach the majors -- or I should say, when I return to the majors -- there's a very high chance that I'll have one (if not two) analysts in the booth with me. Yet, there's times you need to be able to carry a broadcast solo.
We're nearly halfway into the season, and I've realized that I definitely prefer working with somebody. Main reason is because I think I'm just a social butterfly who prefers to be around other people. But also, it's damn awkward spending three hours basically talking to yourself. A lot more exhausting. Harder to come up with something to fill the time between the action, especially when the game is lopsided.
The key, of course, is who your partner is. If the two people are fighting over the microphone, it's a disaster. The second guy needs to let the broadcast "breathe" by picking the right time to talk, and then knowing when to ... well, shut up.
I try to randomly listen to a different minor league broadcast every game, just to get a feel for how other broadcasters approach their craft, and compare that to my own style. There's always something you can learn, either good or bad, from others. I heard one game when the "color analyst" felt the need to analyze every pitch and say something between every pitch. It sounded horrendous.
Brian VanderBeek, our buddy from The Modesto Bee, is really good at knowing when to talk and when to let me do my thing. I think Greg Young and I have developed good chemistry as well. Greg will rarely say anything the first inning of a game, just so I can set the stage and get into the flow of the game. I try to do the same for him, when he takes over in the third inning.
Beek joins us for the middle innings, and that's when it becomes story time. Sometimes, it's like we're hosting a talk show within a baseball game. I try to have 1 or 2 topics to discuss within the flow of the game, which have to do with what's happening with the team or around baseball. I'm sure there's been a couple times we ventured too far from the game, but I don't think we do it often. Besides, you can't know what's too far over the line, until you cross that line.
For the last three innings, it depends on the game. If the game is over, Greg and I will be more chatty. If it's close, I try to stay out of Greg's way in the seventh inning. Besides, he's looking to build his demo reel, and every inning is potentially the inning that will land him his next job -- so I need to stay out of his way.
For the last two innings, Greg is usually frantically putting together highlights for our post-game show, or he's thinking of questions to ask our postgame guest. So he's not on the air much anyway.
I can honestly say there hasn't been one time, in nearly 70 games, that I've wished my broadcast partners would shut up. That's quite an accomplishment. And trust me, I'd write it, if I felt it.
Overall, I'm damn proud of our broadcasts. Between having three voices, and mixing the time spent focusing squarely on the game and branching out, I think there's great variety to the broadcast. I might not be Vin Scully, and Beek might not be Tim McCarver ... well, actually, thank goodness Beek is not Tim McCarver.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
It helps to have a compelling game, but you can't depend on a good game for a good broadcast. Last night wasn't even a great game, but I thought we had a great broadcast. Part of that is luck, and part of that is preparation.
1. When Daniel Carte came to the plate in the second inning, I started off by describing how he normally hits fourth or fifth in the order, but he's been slumping lately. That's why he's hitting eighth, but he's dangerous in that spot of the lineup. Carte hit a grand slam a pitch or two later, the biggest hit of the game, so I looked like a genius. That was premeditated luck.
2. When Nick Haley came to bat in the fifth inning, I said that he was, "an admitted steroid user." Brian VanderBeek of the Modesto Bee was in the booth with me. Beek laughed. Haley grounded out on the next pitch, and then I said, "Brian will tell you why he's an admitted steroid user." Beek described the disease that Haley had, how much weight he lost, and had steroids were prescribed to him as part of the cure. I'd consciously held back in describing this disease earlier in the game because Beek told me about it, and the journalist in me didn't want to scoop Beek on his own information. Then we had some back-and-forth interchange about steroids and testing. I explained what a "whizzinator" is, and we had some laughs. I humbly thought it was a compelling slice of the broadcast, and a great way of "setting up" my broadcast partner.
3. In the eighth inning, I noticed that Max Scherzer was throwing a perfect game for the Visalia Oaks. Because I'm scraping for extra dollars, I write a weekly Cal League notebook for http://www.minorleaguebaseball.com/, which forces me to keep track of the other nine teams in the league. Scherzer is a first-round pick of Arizona in 2006, just signed before the one-year deadline for $4 million and some change, and made his pro debut the previous week. I knew all this because the notebook forces me to learn this stuff. Also know this because a high school buddy of mine tipped me off him about, since they both attended the University of Missouri. Otherwise, I'd be oblivious to the guy. As a result, I had all this information in my brain about Scherzer that I was able to say on the air. Didn't have to look it up. Hopefully, this background info meant more to people listening, rather than just hearing about a perfect game. That was preparation-based (and desperate for money-based) luck.
4. We had some fun too. Our good friend Zack Bayrouty, the Stockton Ports announcer, had a constant stream of attractive females saying hello to him in his booth (which is right next to our booth). So I mentioned this on the air, and complained how Greg and I have no female admirers, and how Z-Bay is putting us to shame in our own ballpark. It was a five-run game at the time, so we weren't neglecting critical moments. That wasn't lucky or preparation. That was just envy.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
We talked about some of the most memorable play-by-calls, such as: Jack Buck's, "Go Crazy, People, Go Crazy!" after Ozzie Smith's game-winning home run in the 1985 playoffs; Al Michaels saying, "Do you believe in miracles?" after Team USA beat the Russians in the 1980 Olympics; and Jack's, "I don't believe what I just saw," after Kirk Gibson's home run beat Dennis Eckersley in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.
What made those calls so memorable wasn't just what they said; it was how they were said. Using your voice -- going up and down, being incredulous, spontaneous, and empathic -- is critical to the success of a call.
Still, the hour didn't go as I thought. I was hoping to get feedback on my play by play. Instead, we focused on interviewing and I did a couple mock interviews by phone. It was odd, and I don't think the mock interviews were indicative of what I'm normally like doing interviews.
But it was still helpful. If nothing else, it made me realize that when I'm trying really hard to focus, I end up sounding wayyyyyy too serious. I need to sound more conversational, like I'm talking to a buddy.
Interviewing is truly an art form. It's the hardest thing to do in journalism. Most people take for granted how difficult it is, and laugh when they hear dumb questions. But ask anybody who has done it -- a little or a lot -- and they'll tell you it's a constant struggle to ask questions in a way that elicit the best answers.
Interviewing for newspapers is much different than interviewing on the radio or TV, which is something I'm constantly learning. For print, it's all about being informal, chatty, conversational. You don't want the subject to feel like they're being interviewed. For radio and TV, you need to be empathetic, concise with your words, and setup the subject best. I feel like I'm better than most at interviewing, but I'm still far from perfect.
Anyway, I hope the second session involves a critique of my play by play. After all, interviewing is important, but that's three minutes of my day. The play by play is three hours of my day.
By the way, I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm getting coached. Some of my broadcasting peers told me it was a waste of money. The way I see it, Tiger Woods has a coach. So does Roger Federer. Dan Patrick gets coached. They are the best at the professions. It seems silly that a journalist turned broadcaster would not get coached.
I know that I'm not making a fool of myself. And that Jon Miller's job is safe. And that I'm (hopefully) not the worst announcer in the Cal League. And that I'm (probably) not the best in the league either. Considering I haven't received any specific feedback -- good or bad -- figured it was worth the investment. (Plus, I could use the tax writeoff.)
Eager and excited to get this feedback, and then apply it to games later tonight and throughout the rest of the season. In an attempt to self critique, and decide how much the professional critique is worth the investment, I've decided to make a list of things I'm expecting to hear.
1. I talk too fast too often.
2. It wouldn't hurt to stay a second or two behind the action, instead of exactly as it's happening, because it will allow room for "cleaner" calls that aren't as rushed.
3. Too repetitive coming out of each commercial break.
Submitted two games. One was nine innings solo when Modesto beat Visalia, 4-1, behind a complete-game effort by Brandon Hynick. The other was the six innings of play by play from one of the games at Stockton. Can't even remember which one, but I know it was a long game with lots of offense. Figured a pitchers duel and slugest, plus a solo game and working with a partner, would provide good contrasts for feedback.
Topics I'm most curious to hear:
1. Do I give the score often enough?
2. Do I give too many (or not enough) stats?
3. Do I "paint the picture" of the sun, the fielders, the ballpark, etc.?
I'll post the feedback when it's done.
Sunday, June 10, 2007
1. I'm so horrible I've just gotten to used to being horrible.
2. I'm so incredibly talent I should be promoted to the majors today.
(or more likely)
3. The grind of 62 straight games has made the "new-ness" factor (if I'm allowed to make up a word) wear off, the games are starting to blend all together, I don't want to write about the same topic every day (especially technical difficulties), and a first-year broadcaster's life isn't really all that interesting once you get past the "holy cow I was nervous for my first game" thread.
One thing does come to mind from last night and Thursday's game. We weren't able to establish a "land line" connection, so we did the game via a cell phone comrex. See the post "cell of a debut" for more details on this. For whatever reason, the crowd mic comes blasting through my ears at record decibels through this cell phone comrex -- even when I barely had the crowd mic up at all. Don't know why, or how, but I swear my ears were ringing worse from the 3,749 fans in attendance last night than my ears rang after Games 6 and 7 -- combined -- in the 2002 World Series.
Between a 5-0 deficit in the first inning, and the crowd mic blasting me away, it was a game I'd rather forget. Considering our team lost 10-3, made three errors, and could have been charged with 2-3 more errors, they probably agree to forget it.
That's the beauty of baseball. Always a new game the next day to make you look great ... or sound dumb.
Friday, June 8, 2007
I know this for two reasons:
1, It's common sense.
2. I get emails from them and the proud mothers are eager to introduce themselves to me when they come to a game.
It's all very flattering, and the compliments are always good for the ego. Of course, I'm talking about their sons, so of course they're happy with me. Still, it's a little weird when a pitcher comes into a game, and I know the grandparents are listening intently to every word.
The radio audience is wide and vast. The only information they know about the players is what I tell them, so I feel like my job is just as much to inform them about who these players are, as it is to describe the game. I probably get a lot of accidental listeners on the radio because their car radio was left on AM 970 from an A's game, or one of our talk shows, and they listen a little. I'm trying to keep those listeners. I'm sure there's a few season ticket holders, especially the host families, who listen to every inning.
But the internet audience already knows everything about the players because they are related to them. Still not sure how that should change my approach to calling a game, or whether I should even be thinking about all this.
It's not the first time I've been accused of thinking too much. I should probably follow the legendary advice of Crash Davis from the movie, "Bull Durham," which was ... "Don't think. It can only hurt the team."
Tuesday, June 5, 2007
Well, now I kinda know ... at least, what it's like to have a couple thousand hear a call I make. It's weird. Very weird. It's both exhilirating and nerve-racking. I'm usually paranoid that it's a bad call and I'm going to sound like an idiot. Then I get self-conscious when I realize how many people are paying attention. Then I don't know how to react when people say something to me afterward.
Guess I'll get more practice at this. My cousin, the videoboard guru, is now incorporating the calls of myself and Greg Young into the highlights they show on the videoboard at home games. This includes pregame, the "save" of the game, and something after the game.
So during my open tonight, I was totally distracted talking because I heard myself over the PA system. During one half-inning, when I was talking to the internet audience instead of taking a break, I was totally distracted hearing myself over the PA. And then after the game, I was totally distracted for another reason ... the post-game victory song.
I'll gladly brag about recommending a somewhat-forgotten Santana song from the early 1980s titled, "Winning" and my cousin Grant used it, as soon as the final out was made. Totally pumped to hear the song, whatever I was saying I'm sure was nonsense because I was distracted by the victory song I recommended.
When I come back to start an inning, after a commercial break, I try to rotate the first thing I say between something like, "top of the fourth, no score" or "Modesto leads 1-0 after two innings" and other phrases. But I've realized, after some self-critiquing lately, I get stuck saying the same thing too often.
Made a copy of all the "Jerry Weinstein" shows for our manager the other day. Listening to them quickly in the car, I realized how similar the beginning of almost every show was. I'd start with something like, "It's game two of a three-game series tonight between the Lancaster JetHawks and Modesto Nuts. Last night, Modesto lost 8-5, and Jerry, as we look back on last night's game ... "
This had me thinking how repetitiveness as a broadcaster. Certain phrases are natural and needed. But after two months in my career, I've started to get tired of hearing myself say certain phrases. One of them is, "that will do it for Modesto in the bottom of the seventh, but they scored a run .... "
Driving home last night after our game, the A's game was still on the radio, and I heard Ken Korach simple say, "that's it in the 10th" and just liked the simplicity. Also realized that I probably say, "throws to first base" every time on grounders to infielder. Heard Korach say, "flips to first" and liked that as another option -- especially for a second baseman.
Made me think about phrases and ways to describe plays. On the bus to San Bernardino on Thursday, I'm going to brainstorm a long list of ways to describe the same thing. I'll post my results.