Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The waiting is the hardest part

It's two days until the next football game that I'll broadcast and I'm definitely restless. I hate waiting a week for the next game. I know what I did wrong last week. I know how I need to improve my skills. I want to work on it now; not in a few days. I hate waiting for the next game.

What I love most about baseball is also what I hate most. I love that it's daily. I hate that it's daily. Few people understand just how exhausting a season is -- both mentally and physically -- when you play so many games in so few days. But that daily schedule is something I cherish, as a fan and a broadcaster. There's always another day for your team, or for yourself, to gain some redemption, to improve, to re-prove it wasn't a fluke. Yet at the same time, it can be torture on your body, and it wreaks havoc on your social life. Working in baseball, you work every day -- Saturdays, Sundays, holidays -- during the summer months at a time when most people take vacations. The rare days off are usually on Mondays.

When I left college 11 years ago and had my original play-by-play aspirations, I actually felt baseball was my worst sport as an announcer. I thought basketball was my best and football was my second best. But I love baseball most, I understand its history best, and it's just easier for me to talk about it.

When I decided to leave newspapers and try this play by play thing in March, I knew the best path was through minor league baseball. It's not that I necessarily only want to do baseball in my life. Doing football once a week, or basketball 2-4 days a week, seems like a cakewalk compared to seven baseball games a week. But I knew that what I needed most was repetitions. That's the only way to get better. No sport provides repetitions like baseball.

Last week, I was talking to my program director about this topic. He mentioned how there's so many more baseball jobs in the minors than any other sport. The first reason is obvious -- there's so many more minor league baseball teams.

The second reason is less obvious. My theory is that baseball weeds out the weak. A lot of college graduates might think they want to be a baseball broadcaster. But after 100 games, little pay, lack of sleep, constant travel, and the grind of a season, the job can lose its luster. Many don't feel it's worth it, especially after a few years. That's why the lower levels of minor leagues have so much turnover. If you reach the majors, or even Triple-A, you know the drill. You get it. You like it, or you know how to cope with it.

Meanwhile, very few football or basketball announcers (especially college basketball with a season just over 30 games) leave their jobs. Why would you? It's a great gig. The work load isn't that hard. You can still see your family and have a normal life.

I'll broadcast 10 football games over the next 10 weeks. During baseball season, I did approximately 65 games in the same number of weeks. The number of reps is priceless. The progress I made was enormous.

I just hope all those baseball reps help me do football. I remember what I was like after 10 baseball games. I was still very raw, very green, and very much a work-in progress.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Moving at the speed of light

It's amazing how much faster a game goes by when you're doing the play by play, especially when it's new. The first few baseball games I did felt like they were flying by. But last night's football game -- my first live on the radio, and my first period since college in 1996 -- felt like it was going a thousand miles an hour.

It didn't help that both teams have complex offenses, with receivers and running backs shifting all over the place before each play, shotgun formations, constantly rotating players, and a hurry-up style of offense.

It slowed down later in the game. At least, I felt like I was slowing down later in the game, and I think the actual pace slowed down as well. It was fun, but oh man, was it intense. I enjoyed the intensity. That's a style you can't bring to a baseball game until the final inning or two, and even then, you have to be mindful of baseball's natural rhythm.

The feedback I was given was positive. In my heart, I know I can do much better. I'm curious to see what I can do with a week to prepare. The hardest part was spotting the number of the player quickly. The press box wasn't very high and when the parents stood up, I couldn't see everything.

Identifying the player with the ball is rather important, don't ya think? Then instantly knowing his name is important too, huh? Having to check his name on a roster -- as I did far too many times -- has the recipe for disaster.

The highlights of the game can be viewed here --

I thought the biggest plays of the game, especially the 90-yard touchdown run, were my best calls of the game. So I happy with that. But I need to identify the ball carrier or wide receiver quicker.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Cramming for a final exam

In a few hours, I'll broadcast my first football game. My first emotion is sheer panic. I'm trying to remain as calm as humanly possible right now, because I know that I'll be hyper ventilating once the game starts. My theory is that if I fool people into thinking that I'm confident going into the game, maybe I can trick myself into thinking the same.

The panic comes from a lack of preparation.

The baseball regular season ended Monday. The playoffs started Wednesday and ended Thursday. Now it's Friday and I've had little time to prepare.

I did go to Oakdale High's practice on my off day Tuesday. I have rosters. I know a little what to expect from Oakdale. But I'm totally clueless about Turlock High. I'll need to find the coach before the game to get starters and a crash course on the team.

Not my ideal way to make my football broadcasting debut, but here goes nothing.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Top memories of the year

The baseball season is over. One hundred and forty-three errors, including an exhibition game and the two playoff games, in just over five months. Looking back now, what a blur. Wow.

Driving back from Visalia tonight, after a heart-breaking loss in Game 2 eliminated the Nuts, I couldn't help think back on my biggest memories of the year. These aren't necessarily my fondest memories. These are my strongest memories.

1. Broadcasting a game in the rain. I'll never forget this. I'll always tell this story to would-be announcers, friends and family. It was the ultimate "what the hell am I doing?" moment. No press box in Visalia. The rain wasn't hard enough to stop the game, but plenty hard enough to drench me.

2. The inning with Eric Young, Sr. It lasted 34 minutes, included six runs, two pitching changes, and a manager ejection. Listened back to it recently and the inning was amazing. Senior was great with his stories, enthusiasm and infections laugh. The background noise sounded great. I thought our chemistry was great. The inning was extraordinary in all that happened.

3. The 4th of July game. Capacity crowd inside the ballpark and all around. Fireworks going off on the golf course behind home plate, and the soccer fields beyond the outfield fences. The San Jose center fielder lost a ball in the smoke from those fireworks. It was like a Normal Rockwell painting brought to life. Baseball. America. Fireworks. And the radio announcer serving as master of ceremonies for people in their cars listening as they arrive at the game.

4. The Randy Johnson game. I've watched Randy Johnson before, interviewed him, and written about him. But it was still very special to broadcast a game with the future Hall of Famer on the mound. The crowd was electric on that Easter Sunday. It was a baseball crowd that came to see baseball, not minor league stunts. It was a close game, which Modesto won on a game-winning sacrifice fly. And it was our first glimpse at Nuts pitcher Brandon Hynick, who would become the consensus Pitcher of the Year in the Cal League.

5. The July 1-3 Stockton series. All three games were great, but the finale was a crazy game. Stockton scored four in the bottom of the eighth to make it 12-11. The Nuts rallied with five in the top of the ninth for a 16-12 win. It was a game that launched their second half surge, and it was one of my best games as a broadcaster. Felt like I nailed the big plays, the background noise sounded like the majors, and it was when I knew for certain I found my calling.

6. Taking batting practice last week. It was exhilirating and terrifying (since all the players and coaches were watching). It was really, really cool and I hope to do it more often in the future. If I ever hit one out, I'm totally doing a home run trot. Mostly, I hope to do it again while breathing like a normal human. Felt my heart beating faster than at any point in the last six months -- more than when I decided to go to Texas for a month to practice by play by play; more than when I took this job; more than my first time on the air on Modesto's Morning News; more than my first game; more than my first game from Bakersfield live on the radio with a flipjack cell phone comrex setup.

7. Catching flyballs in the outfield all year. Did it less as the season went on, and only for road games. I did it mostly because I could. But I justified it (and this is truth) by saying it helped me as a broadcaster describe the condition of the field, the wind, the sun, and how the ballpark plays. It allowed me to talk with players in their "office," pick their brains for details that I could use on the air, develop comraderie with them, and I think they got a kick out of seeing their radio announcer run around the outfield like a crazed man living out his boyhood Little League memories.

8. Saying "it's gone" when it wasn't. The worst sin for a broadcaster. My most humiliating moment. It was the inspiration to finally use the eye glasses I was prescribed well over a year ago. Now I can't imagine broadcasting a game without them. I only use the glasses when I'm on the air, and it's amazing what a difference they make.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

That's all I've got

One of the highlights of the season came tonight. It had nothing to do with the game (which we lost). It had nothing to do with the broadcast.

I got to take batting practice before the game. Didn't expect it to happen, so I was hardly dressed -- with loafers and no socks. But hey, when you're invited to take some hacks in the cage of a professional ballpark, you don't worry about equipment.

All I cared about on the first swing was making contact. I did, thank goodness. I whiffed on a couple others -- pretty much anything down and away -- and heard a few laughs from the players, as they stretched.

I pulled everything. Out hitting coach, Dave Hajek, who was throwing the BP to me, said, "well, we know where to play you." I did hit one drive pretty good to left. Hit it good enough to stop and see how close it would come to the fence. It missed the warning track by about five feet, but at least it rolled to the wall.

"That's all I've got," I declared, figuring I would beat our shortstop, Chris Nelson, to his standard punchline. Nelson's favorite expression during batting practice -- or pretty much at all times -- is to ask "is that all you've got?" after somebody hits a flyball. It doesn't matter if it hits the warning track, barely goes over the fence, or goes wayyyyyy over the fence. Nelson will say it, in his southern accent, "that all ya got?"

Bottom line, I didn't make a fool of myself. I hit some line drives. I pulled everything. At least I made solid contact most of the time. But I definitely proved I belong in the broadcasting booth.

Still, it was incredibly cool.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

A Night At the Museum

We're back in Rancho Cucamonga for this final weekend of the season, where the press box has no separators for the radio announcers and everybody else in the press box.

It has the potential to make you very self conscious, but I've gotten over myself enough to no longer care. Besides, the guys in the press box are super cool. In fact, tonight we had a lot of fun up there between innings -- which spilled onto the air.

A family was sitting three rows in front of the press box. The mom was watching a portable DVD player with the movie, "Haunted House." Later, they switched to, "A Night At the Museum" -- and it was hard for me to suspend my disbelief. The kid spent the whole game looking at his phone, playing some game. The dad listened to his ipod.

Just think of all the things to distract you and entertain you at a minor league game -- two mascots, a videoboard, the interns throwing t-shirts into the stands, crazy between-inning promotions ... oh yeah, and the game.

But this family wanted nothing to do with anything from the game. My friend Jeff Levering, the Quakes announcer, was talking about it on the air. He pointed it out to me, and I started talking about it as well.

Then another spontaneous, cool, funny thing happened. I was talking about how Jeff Kindel (our first baseman) and Cliff Remole (the Quakes first baseman) were teammates at Georgia Tech. I was looking at what years they were drafted and how old they are. Then I realized it was Kindel's birthday, and blurted it out on the air.

The official scorer laughed at how I said it, just before a commercial break, and then during the break we realized that Jason Van Kooten (our third baseman) was also celebrating his birthday ............. and, so was a player on the Quakes (whose name I can't remember right now, but that's OK because that's not important to the story). That got me going on a mini-birthday rant.

So naturally, I keep talking about the birthday boys throughout the game, whenever given the chance. And in one of those beautiful/lucky moments on air, Van Kooten singled home his fellow birthday buddy Kindel in the ninth inning for the go-ahead run.

As for the family ... they missed it. The battery ran out on their DVD player and they went home before the game ended.