Friday, August 24, 2007

Playoff bound

Third time was the try for the Nuts tonight as they clinched a berth in the California League playoffs. This has been a foregone conclusion for at least a month, if not longer, but now it's official. It's not a huge accomplishment, considering six of the 10 teams make it, but the playoffs are still the playoffs.

Mentioned a few weeks back how fortunate I felt to be broadcasting a winning team, because the job is so much more fun and easy, and I realized this is just the latest chapter in winning teams that I've been around.

When I covered the Giants from 2000-2003, they made the playoffs three times in four years. The only year they didn't was 2001, and that was the year Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs and they were eliminated on the third-to-last day of the regular season. There was a 100-win season in there, and a Game 7 in the World Series.

The three previous years, when I covered the Oakland A's, they were eliminated from the playoffs the final week in two years, then reached the second round of the playoffs last year.

So this will be five times in eight years that I'll be part of the playoffs. As a writer, my emotions would be mixed. The playoffs are exciting, you get to write stories with bigger headlines, bigger placement and you know that more people are reading your words. It's a chance to raise your profile as a writer, network with writers and executives from around the league, and you're one of the biggest experts.

But it's still more work, and you don't get paid extra for it. In fact, the years my teams didn't reach the playoffs, I wasn't distraught at all. That meant the offseason began earlier, and I enjoyed watching the playoffs on TV from Mexico.

As a broadcaster, you're defining moments occur in the playoffs. This comparison is probably a stretch, but I thought about Golden State Warriors announcer Tim Roye finally getting his first NBA playoff series this year after a decade calling games. I'm getting the chance in my first year as an announcer.

So I'm fired up. We delivered another solid broadcast. It wasn't official when Greg interviewed Eric Young, Jr. down on the field, because another result was about 10 minutes away from happening, but we were able to capture the moment in the appropriate way. If they advance further in the playoffs, we can get more excited.

One last note: I didn't go into the locker room to partake in the champagne celebration. Just didn't feel that was my place. I didn't do anything to help them win any games, and it actually bugs me when people celebrate something they didn't accomplish. Of course, if we win it all, maybe I'll let somebody pour champagne on my head.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

It's news to me

The news is easy. Well, let me rephrase that. Reading the news is easy when my co-anchor, Jaime Lee, does most of the work and just tells me what to read and when.

This week, I'm filling in as a news reader, since our regular news anchor is on vacation. It's different, and that makes it fun. Again, it's also easy. Not to give away any secrets or anything, but it's basically reading what a news agency has written, perhaps tweaking something here or there.

As a newspaperman, I always considered myself a journalist who just happened to cover baseball. I didn't like the idea of being a baseball writer who happened to work for a newspaper. I always felt that I could write news and report on news stories; I just didn't want to do that, because sports are way more fun. Besides, these days, there's just as much "news" writing around a baseball team as "baseball" writing. And I liked the versatility involved.

Anyway, I felt Jaime and I had good chemistry on the air, especially when one of us would do a "light" story heading into a commercial break. That's when you read a story, such as 80-year-olds having sex more often these days, and then we both express how grossed out we are by that for 10-30 seconds before the traffic is delivered.

It's been a fun week. There's more to do, so the time goes by faster than doing the sports three times an hour. It's also easier because doing the sports, you have to write your own scripts, find your own highlights, package it all together, and make sure your timing is just right.

But I will be glad when the week is over because then I go back to my normal schedule, which means doing my Modesto Nuts game notes and preparing for that night's broadcast inbetween my sports updates.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Fear of the magic

Each day, the fifth line in my daily notes contains the Modesto Nuts magic number to clinch. This is the number that I use on broadcasts. This is the number we use on the radio, that I give to the opposing announcers, any members of the press, post on the internet, and that our season tickets holders (who receive a copy of the game notes) read in their seats.

Going into tonight, the Nuts magic number is two. That means, if they win, they're going to the playoffs.

But I have this massive fear that my number is wrong ... the Nuts will win, celebrate, and then I'll realize they haven't clinched just yet.

It's not wrong, don't get me wrong. I double check every day. I ask Brian VanderBeek of The Modesto Bee to check every few days. But I still worry about it. I'm not used to being the PR guy who provides the information. I'm used to being the reporter who has the PR guy tell me the number.

What makes it tricky is there's two different races going on. The Nuts are one victory away from this wild-card berth, and also chasing the second-half title. So there's two different wild-card numbers. And there was one day last weekend when it became mathematically possible (although very very very remotely possible) for it to appear like the Nuts had clinched a "wild card" berth, but then still choke away the second-half division lead -- and in the process would end up not winning the wild card after all. It sounds impossible, but it really was possible.

In order to illustrate how this was possible, I pretended it wasn't possible and told nobody. Sometimes, less information really is more.

OK, now I'm going to triple check the magic number yet again for today.

We're live on the radio tonight, start to finish, and I really hope we clinch it tonight. Then I only have to worry about one magic number.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Final exam

In many ways, tonight was my final exam as a broadcaster. A good friend of mine, David "Google" Feldman, came out to Stockton and sat in the booth for the broadcast. Feldman is a producer of the Oakland A's games on TV, and he's produced a ton of other sporting events. He's called Google because he knows as much as Google, and knows it just as fast. Seriously. I thought I knew a lot about baseball, but he puts my knowledge to shame.

His job means he's sat in a production truck for thousands of sporting events and heard hundreds of play-by-play announcers. He's heard great ones, average ones, and bad ones. He knows the differences, he's opinionated, and he's not the type to sugarcoat what I'm doing right and wrong.

He's become a good friend during my years covering the A's, so I was fired up he would make the trip from Walnut Creek to Stockton to catch a game on a day off. We grabbed some lunch before the game, and he asked what I thought I was still struggling to do.

Told him that I'll probably always have to fight my urge to talk too fast, that I usually get tongue-tied once or twice a game describing a play, and I sometimes struggle with starting a story late in an inning that gets cut off.

On the last item, Feldman told me that's not a problem. Just say, "we'll talk more about that next inning" and it serves as a good "tease" to keep the viewer around. The key, Feldman added, is not to forget to come back to the story.

Early in the broadcast, Feldman gave me two excellent critiques.

One, I used one of his all-time hated phrases: "good success." He was right, and I can't believe how often I use it. It's totally pointless to use the word good. Feldman said the only thing that is "bad success" is when you have bad sex.

Two, he said my pacing was just a bit off. For example, Stockton third baseman Frank Martinez came to the plate in his first at-bat and I used him as an example of how the Ports have been devastated by injuries and promotions to Double-A Midland. I mentioned the first time we came to Stockton, he was batting ninth, and now he's batting third. Feldman told me it was really good information, but I rushed it. Introduce the batter. Pause. And then get to the information. I was rushing to get to my information.

Wasn't as nervous as I thought I would be for my final exam. Feldman sat right next to me, almost like a spotter or statistican would, and I saw him nodding his head out of the corner of my eye a bunch of times. I took that as a good sign.

Feldman left before the ninth inning, and told me something along the lines of, "you sound good. You're not talking too fast. You're information is great. You're doing really good."

Not sure if that counts as an A on my final exam, but it meant the world to me. It's probably more like a B or a B+. And again, he's not the type to blow smoke up my butt to make me feel good. He'd rip me if I deserved it. Feldman doesn't have the clout to hire me, but his approval definitely gives me the confidence to continue my broadcasting aspirations.

Still not sure if this means I'm ready for Double-A, or Triple-A, or the majors. Then again, I don't know how you determine if somebody is ready. I guess you're ready when somebody hires you. It's an extremely subjective process. There's guys in Triple-A who have been doing games for well over a decade, extremely good, and I'd think they are ready for the majors.

So I'm not going to get too far ahead of myself. But after tonight, and after a season of struggling to get feedback on what I'm doing right and wrong, it was awesome to know that I'm definitely on the right track.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Inning of the year

Tonight was my favorite inning of the year. I had Eric Young, Sr. join me in the booth for the sixth inning. Early in the game, I was worried it would be a really quick inning, because it took 37 minutes to complete the first three innings.

But the baseball and broadcasting gods were smiling down on me. The sixth inning lasted a whopping 34 minutes. We had two pitching changes, a five-run top of the sixth, a run in the bottom of the sixth, and a manager ejection. We didn't take any commercial breaks, during the pitches changes or middle of the inning, and just stayed live.

Senior was tremendous. I knew him a little from 2003, when the Giants acquired him late in the season and I was covering the Giants. He's one of the all-time great people in baseball, he enjoyed a productive 15-year career in the majors, and now he's an analyst on "Baseball Tonight."

Looking back, I'm amazed that I was able to keep going with him that long. We covered all sorts of topics, from EY's home run in the first at-bat ever for the Rockies to his son's decision to chose minor league baseball over a football scholarship, and from his life after baseball on TV to how often he talks to his son during the season.

At the end, I told Senior that in addition to raising a great baseball player, he's raised a fine young man. Junior is always great on post-game interviews, he's respectful and a class act. Senior's face lit up and he told me that's the most important thing. I was told after the game our phone lines lit up at the radio station as well, people calling to say how great it was that Senior was in the booth, and my message to him at the end.

It almost seemed like Senior was disappointed to go at the end of the inning. He had a blast on the air with me.

Without question, that inning was my favorite of the year.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Losing yourself in the air

On the bus home Sunday night, we were watching the movie, "Miami Vice." A few of the players were asking if we had seen it. Uhhh yeah, every Friday night growing up in the 1980s ... it was only the greatest TV show. Ever. There's a really horrible photo of me, circa around 1984, with a white sport coat, white pants and a purple collar shirt -- the junior Sonny Crockett. Hitting coach Dave Hajek admitted he owned a white sport coat too.

Anyway, 80s fashion aside, I bring this up because a remix of the Phil Collins song, "In the Air Tonight" set a really cool tone for a scene in the movie. As that was going on, Greg Young sent me a text message asking for suggestions for songs to use for these new between-inning spots he was creating about the push for the playoffs.

First thought was immediately the Phil Collins song I heard. Greg put together two spots, another using the Eminem classic "Lose Yourself," and both are pretty sweet. Hearing them last night between innings got me fired up for the playoffs and the final three weeks of the regular season.

At various times in the season -- and I felt this way as a writer too -- it feels like it's going by painfully slow. But right now, I can't believe there's 19 games left. I want to savior every inning down the stretch. There's some really cool things that I could be witnessing and describing the next month, and I'm pumped up to be part of it.

In fact, on the bus ride home, I started thinking about putting together a "season in review" CD that captures the storylines and emotions from this season. Greg is down for working on it with me. Should be a labor-intensive process, but we've done a good job of setting aside highlights throughout the season to make it easier.

With our library of materials and creativity, it could turn out pretty damn sweet. And if putting together something like that helps us get one step closer to the majors, all the sweeter.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

'This is your job'

The topic of my daily pregame interview with manager Jerry Weinstein was "the Dog Days of Summer," a fancy way of saying you're tired. Every team goes through it, usually this month. It's late in the season. The body is aching. It's hot. The finish line is near, but it's not the final sprint just yet.

The "dog days" apply to broadcasters as much as players. Must admit I was dragging a bit this weekend. I'll blame most of it on being in Visalia, which is always a challenge when you're broadcasting outdoors at this Godforsaken relic of a ballpark, the sun is beating down on you, and you're staying at the Godforsaken hotel that is the LampLighter Inn -- not to mention when you've only had one day off since early April.

I don't have problems getting motivated to call games. It's the daily pregame preparation that gets old. Plus, most of my fatigue stemmed from how annoying it is taking apart all the radio equipment, packing it up, then unpacking and setting it all up again each day. This is another occupational hazard from their non-existent press box.

Alas, hitting coach Dave Hajek put things in perspective. He told his players, "this is your job" -- which I took to heart. Thought about the excitement I felt for this career move four months ago, how no job is perfect, and told myself, "self, don't complain because you have to broadcast a baseball game every day."

I know a week after the season is over, I'll miss baseball and want it to start again. So that fired me up ... well, for the game, not for setting up all that damn equipment again.

Besides, happiness is knowing in a few hours, I'll be done with Bakersfield and Visalia for the season. Oh damn, almost forgot about the playoffs. We'll be back here once more.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Very removed from Barry's history

Sometime during the 2001 seasons, when I was on the San Francisco Giants beat with Dan Brown, we discussed whether the first sentence of our obituary would contain the words "Barry Bonds" in it.

As in: "Josh Suchon, who covered the Giants during a four-year span that included Barry Bonds' single-season record 73-homer season and later wrote a book about him, died yesterday after the parachute broke as he was attempting his first solo skydive. He was 33."

We agreed it would. A year later, after I published a book about Bonds' season, I just about guaranteed that happening. Suppose I still have the rest of my life to do something more noteworthy than writing about Barry Bonds, but I understand these things. Do a Google search for myself and most of the entries still include Bonds, four years after I stopped covering the Giants. Such is life.

I became burned out on Bonds in recent years, but it didn't stop me from wanting to watch history. Took advantage of Monday's off day to visit SF. Thought the planets and stars were aligned perfectly and Barry would do it during the one chance I had to witness. Instead, missed history by a day.

When Barry connected on No. 756, I was in Lancaster, it was the sixth inning, and I was describing a walk to a No. 9 hitter from the No.5 starting pitcher in our rotation. It's safe to say that's not where I thought I would be four years ago when this moment arrived.

A minute or so after Barry's blast, we were during a pitching change, I was looking for the feed and accidentally ended up playing the audio of Barry on the microphone during my internet broadcast.

So yeah, my tiny sliver of being a part of history didn't go as I once thought it would. Still no regrets on this career move. But no question, it was hard not being in San Francisco tonight, hard not watching it live, and hard finding out from the public address announcer in the middle of the Mojave Desert at a minor league ballpark, and hard scrambling to get details as I continued to broadcast my lame ass stinker of a 15-2 loss.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

What I miss. What I don't miss.

Took advantage of a rare day off today to head back to San Francisco, in hopes of seeing Barry Bonds make history. Cashed in some good karma from my four years covering the Giants to get a press pass. Didn't see a home run, but came away with an interesting perspective on what I walked away from, and what I walked into.

Which, of course, is great material for an overdue new blog. So between Barry's four at-bats, as I sat in the press box where I made my living the last seven years, next to my former colleagues and friends and competitors, I made a list of the things I miss about covering major league baseball for a newspaper, and the things I don't. They're in no particular order.

1. The food. Chicken fingers and fries, or pizza, is my dinner about 95 percent of the time at Modesto Nuts games. The spread tonight was salad, fruit, chicken, pasta, rice, green beans, deli meats, warm sourdough bread, and snickerdoodle cookies.

2. The spacious press box. Even packed with reporters from all around the country, it's enormous compared to the minors. The broadcasting booths at AT&T Park are actually small by major-league standards, but they look like apartments compared to most places in the Cal League.

3. The buzz of the crowd that understands the game. Cheering when an injured player gets up. Giving the starting pitcher a standing ovation when he departs after a great effort. Clapping their hands in unison to get a strikeout. And rising to their feet as one, chanting "Bar-ry, Bar-ry" as the man of the moment comes to the batters box. Instead of the minors where, you know, just standing up when the mascots are introduced.

4. An announcement of scoring decisions. Instead of the hand-sign games we play to try telling each other how a play was scored ... or waiting until the inning is over to walk into another room and find out how a play was scored.

5. The lighting.

6. Replays. To help describe a play a second or third time that was close.


1. The scrum of reporters, at least 30, if not 50, around Giants manager Bruce Bochy before the game. Soooooo glad that's no longer me.

2. The distance between the press box and home plate. Even in SF, where it's much closer than most, it felt like another time zone away.

3. Signs that warn the press "keep off the grass" during batting practice, meaning the area in foul territory in front of the dugouts. Hell, I shag flyballs in the outfield before most road games.

4. Looking at your laptop more than the game. A horrible habit. Impossible to break. Intentionally didn't bust out my laptop tonight, just to avoid old habits. Instead, I looked at what my friend Paul Gutierrez from the Sacramento Bee showed me on his laptop ... and I aimlessly stared out into space thinking of items for this list.

5. The avalanche of stats. It's remarkable the amount of stats that are available to use. I purposely try to limit the amount of stats I prepare for myself each game, so I won't make my broadcasts stat heavy. Probably still rely on stats a little too much, but the volume of stats available in the majors is overwhelming and tantalizing. Like that piece of dessert you know you shouldn't grab, but you eat two anyway.

6. Players who don't run out grounders. Must say it's so refreshing that our players always run hard. Always. No matter what.

7. Reading the other papers first thing in the morning to see if I got scooped. Gawd, I hated that. No worse feeling that getting scooped. Painful. Rips your heart out. Ruins your whole day. The pain of getting scooped is far far greater than the pleasure of scooping others. In fact, I never enjoyed a scoop (not that I had many). Felt more embarrassed than proud when I had a scoop.

8. Thinking to myself, "I hope Barry doesn't break the record now, in his fourth at-bat, because it's almost 10 p.m. and that wouldn't leave much time to write my story on deadline." Or even when a historic moment isn't on the line, the anxiety of cranking out an early edition story on deadline in the final three innings, hoping that whatever team is winning doesn't lose the lead and force me to re-write quickly.

9. Reading a story that has anonymous quotes from players, and trying to think who was the source. OK, that's a lie. That's actually fun, especially since it's usually easy to pinpoint the 1-3 only possible candidates due to deductive reasoning.

A few other thoughts from my day back in the majors:

1. The number of jaded, bitter, cynical reporters who expressed genuine happiness for my decision to switch careers was pretty damn cool. Not sure if they just respect the cajones to make a fairly life-altering career move, if they wish they had the guts to try something new, or if they were just glad to get me the hell out of their daily lives, but it was a nice reinforcement to know that I'm not completely nuts.

2. Told my story to Dave Fleming, one of the Giants announcers, about broadcasting a game in Visalia in the rain. Dave broadcasted a full season in Visalia not too long ago, which is an inspiration to us all in the Cal League, and told me a story that made me realize my rain story was nothing. During a road trip, Visalia's clubhouse manager (or "clubbie") resigned, and Dave was forced to do the work. So he would cut up the watermelon as part of the pre-game spread in the afternoon ... broadcast a game at night ... then spent overnight cleaning dirty jockstraps and uniforms. And one of the days was his birthday! Dave doesn't seem like the type to take his surroundings for granted, but I hope re-telling the story reminded him a little more that paying those dues in the minors was worth it.

Alright, bus leaves for Lancaster in about six hours. I better pack and get to bed. Ehh, I'll pack in the morning.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Excuse the shameless plug ... more press about me

Nuts' Suchon savors broadcasting
Successful sportswriter would rather call the action like a fan
By Mark Shugar /

MODESTO, Calif. -- With one out in the bottom of the 10th, the Modesto Nuts had strategically worked runners into scoring position against the Stockton Ports, allowing outfielder Travis Becktel to step to the plate with the chance to drive in a game-winner for Modesto.

That's when things got a bit, well, nuts. And up in the press box, Modesto radio broadcaster
Josh Suchon had the call.

"The pitch gets away from the catcher. Here comes [Nuts outfielder Justin] Nelson to the plate. He's safe! The Modesto Nuts have won the ballgame, 9-8, on an errant intentional walk pitch!
"You've got to be kidding me! Now I've seen it all."

** The entire story can be viewed at this link **

I think it will always be weird when I read a story about myself, since I'm so used to writing stories about other people. Must admit, like many athletes, I was a little worried the reporter would mis-quote me or take something out of context. Power to the digital recorder. The writer made me look good ... which ain't easy.