Wednesday, March 23, 2011

And the ants take the field!

I’m here in Arizona about to broadcast my first game for the Seattle Mariners tonight. I have my stat sheet, binoculars, and late night reservations to that restaurant that has the inebriated women and mechanical bull. A question I’m always asked is how did I get into baseball announcing? I mean, it’s not the logical progression from comedy writing.

Ever since I first heard Vin Scully I thought, that’s what I want to do. Call a baseball game, sit right behind home plate, and go to exotic locales like Cincinnati and Detroit – what could possibly be better? It also helped that I was a horseshit ballplayer, even at age 8.

But as I grew up I drifted into other fields, notably sitcom writing. And I certainly don’t regret that decision. It really helped prepare me for writing a blog. Still, it always irked me that I never gave announcing a try. And I’d see those beauty shots of Detroit and really sigh.

Finally, in 1986 I decided if I didn’t go for it then I never would. As midlife crises go, it was a lot safer than driving racecars or learning to salsa dance.

Another friend from the industry, Steve Leon, had the same yearning to criticize players so together we decided to give play-by-play a shot. You can’t really learn how to do it by just calling the game off the TV with the sound down. You’re only seeing the shots they’re showing. You really need to see the whole field and decide for yourself what’s important. Plus, with the sound off you have no crowd noise. You end up sounding like Jack Nicholson in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST.

So that means you’ve got to throw caution and ego to the wind and actually go to a game with a recording device. We decided to hit Dodger Stadium.

The big question though was where to sit? There was always the “slim” chance that we could be annoying people so we thought, let’s not do this in sections where folks paid good money for their seats. You pony up a small fortune to see a ballgame, you don’t want two nitwits next to you massacring play-by-play.

So the best option was General Admission. Dodger Stadium is built with a wedding cake design. The very top level is General Admission, and for good reason. You are above the timberline. Yes, you’re behind home plate and have a great panorama of the whole field, but the players are ants. Still, it was cheaper, not always filled, and since the seats weren’t reserved, if someone found us insufferable they could always move. Other than my wife, no one did.  

So that was our broadcast booth. For two years. At first we did the games together. Then we each wanted to get in more innings so we each brought recording equipment, went to different sections and “called ‘em as we saw ‘em”… or, more accurately – “called ‘em if we saw ‘em”.

We were up there with the total crazies and drunks. But don’t kid yourself – they’re the best fans. They may pass out in the 7th inning but they’re totally into the game. If you can understand what they’re saying, they’re pretty knowledgeable. After awhile some of the regulars started gathering around me. One even brought binoculars to keep track of the bullpens. I couldn’t see who was warming up. The bullpens were in a different zip code.

My operation got more and more elaborate. I bought a headset microphone (just like the real announcers use!), a portable mixer, and a separate crowd mic. I secured two seats – one for me and one for my equipment – and sat in the first row so I could drape the crowd mic over the side for a fuller sound. And to answer your next question: Yes, I looked like a idiot.

But I’ve always felt that was a small price to pay for achieving your goal. The truth is, I had great fun, improved enormously (from terrible to barely passable), and in only two years both Steve and I got jobs announcing for AAA clubs. (AAA is the highest level of the minors). So the humiliation paid off. 

The moral here is to chase your dream. There are always things standing in your way, but most of those are just excuses. You don’t have the time, you’re going to look foolish, you’re on death row. But in most cases, you can find the time, ignore the taunts, or escape during a riot.

Follow your bliss. It’s really worth it. Want proof? Later next month – I’m off to Detroit!

Talk to you tonight Seattle on 710 ESPN radio and

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