Sunday, March 11, 2012

You never forget your first time

Hello from Peoria, Arizona, where I'll be spending the next week covering the Seattle Mariners -- calling the games on Wednesday and Thursday nights and then next Sunday afternoon on the M's radio network.  The rest of the time I'll be like these people.   Readers seem to like posts about my suspect radio career and my different mishaps along the way so here's one that's baseball related.

The first inning of my first game as a big league announcer.  As you'll see, it was not what you'd call an auspicious beginning. 

1991.   I had just been hired by the Baltimore Orioles. We were opening Spring Training in Sarasota, Florida against the Chicago White Sox. To say I was nervous is an understatement. I could have been one of those idiot teens at summer camp in FRIDAY the 13th.

I had broadcast three years of minor league baseball but those were on tiny stations with signals weaker than your home wireless router. Now I was to be on a 30 station network that blanketed the entire east coast. Gulp.

I practiced my opening for three days. When the time came I recited it verbatim and probably sounded like Sheldon in BIG BANG THEORY.

My partner was the great Jon Miller. After several commercials, the starting line ups, national anthem – I don’t know, I was terrified – Jon introduced me and I braced myself to begin the play-by-play.

First batter up was Randy Milligan. On the first pitch he hit a ground ball to third. Easy play for Robin Ventura who threw him out.


Randy tripped over the bag at first, did a header, twisted his ankle, and laid on the ground for a good twenty minutes. Now I had to fill. I glance over at Jon and he’s just gazing out at the field, mike turned off, a sly little smile on his face. The message was clear: “Okay, kid, you wanted this job? Let’s see what ya got.”

Usually you could recap the game or just reset the stage (talk about the standings, the pitcher’s past performance, the way the team is playing, what happened yesterday, scores from around the league, etc). but this was the first game. There was nothing to reset. We’re here. That’s it.

I have no idea what I talked about. How you need your ankles, the current weather (and ten day forecast), where to park if you should come down here, how far we were from Disneyworld, how successful was Operation Desert Storm – I dunno, it was all a blur. Somehow I got through it and managed to survive that first game.

So just in case, if you tune in to Mariners baseball this week and hear me reviewing the Oscars, you’ll know why.


Sebastian said...

And here I thought you were going to tell me where to park in Peoria.

Indeed the baseball stories are what I like the most about your blog.

Hope you don't have to sit in the sun during the game. Have fun. Oh and could you pass the change back to the hotdog vendor? Thanks.

LouOCNY said...

I got the MLB package for my computer/Roku this year, so now i can listen to your Mariner casts at home - instead of my car where I have XM....CAN'T WAIT!

Michael said...

Pat Hughes, the fine Chicago Cubs announcer, does CD tributes to great announcers. He did a lovely one for Dave Niehaus, but I mention him because he has a Bob Prince CD that includes Prince doing a game alone and all the crazy things he did to fill air-time, including his discussion of getting an inoculation so he could continue broadcasting. Ken, I'm glad you didn't get a shot ... although in Prince's case, he was so careful to say inoculation, I wonder why he wouldn't say he had a shot. Hm.

Idrantan Esomenfi said...

Is it coincidental that the Orioles haven't had a winning season since that fateful day? (Did Randy get up and ask for a Milligan?) From the atrocious to the unbelievably pathetic Mariners - twice! ... you've carved quite a swath. You can always debate the qualities of the Cartwrights, that's always a game winner! Have fun in the sun but don't forget your block. The mental block that prevents you from suffering manic depression before opening day. By the by, will you be on the trip to Japan? I'm sure that would be quite a bonus after the jet lag to and from NZ!

Phillip B said...

Once did the calculation that Harry Carey must have done more than 40,000 hours of extemporaneous radio over his career - much of it fueled by his friends at Budweiser. You always had a chance to hear something truly remarkable - or just hear him repeat a favorite story for a 40,000th time.

No wonder we come to feel close to the baseball play by play guys. Eventually they tell us everything...

Gordo said...

Looking forward to hearing you this week.

Cory said...

Really enjoyed this post.

WriterGeek said...


When an actor on your show has a physical characteristic you can get some comic mileage out of (e.g. Jamie Farr's nose, Rhea Perlman's height/hair) do you approach the actor first and ask if writing a joke about it will hurt his/her feelings or do you go ahead and write it and take for granted that the actor is a professional and will not take it personally?

Sebastian said...

Hey Ken,

take a look at Seth Rogen's introductory routine at the Independent Spirit Awards.

NSFW but oh so funny.

jcs said...

In 1998 Real Madrid played Dortmund in the Champions League. Before the game started, a goal collapsed in Madrid. It took 76 minutes to get a replacement installed.
Since the game was televised live, two German commentators (Guenther Jauch and Marcel Reif) had to fill this gap. They won several prizes for their efforts which included numerous puns like "We need a quick goal!" and "Never before did a match need a goal like this one".

Dan Tedson said...

"Hello from Peoria, Arizona, where I'll be spending the next week covering the Seattle Mariners"

City I was raised in, back when it was a small 35,000 pop. city full of cotton fields and orange groves... which was all of 20 years ago. (Arizona grows FAST.)

I played a lot of my little league games right there where the Mariners and Padres now have spring training. Back then it was called something like Greenway Sports Complex. Still had two fields in the same position, but just a couple metal risers. I made a diving catch on one of those fields that caused my sister to jump up from one of those risers and scream, "That's my brother!" despite the fact she didn't particularly like either baseball or me.

Good to have baseball back. Enjoy your spring.

VP81955 said...

Is it coincidental that the Orioles haven't had a winning season since that fateful day? (Did Randy get up and ask for a Milligan?)

Actually, they had some fine teams in the mid-'90s, losing the ALCS both times, but they haven't had a winning season since 1997. As a fan of the team at the other end of the B-W Parkway -- a team whose presence Cuban Pete tried to stop for years, until he was paid off with the lion's share of a regional TV network that hamstrings Washington -- forgive me if I feel no sympathy.

Chuck said...

Your story reminds me of a great Sports Night episode -- "The Cut Man Cometh."

I'm sure you've heard this story before, but this is a link to a story about Ronald Reagan filling during a telegraph wire broadcast of a Cubs game, when the telegraph went out.

Love the blog! Will listen to you via MLB At Bat this year.

Chuck said...

Sorry - bad link on the Reagan story reference above. Here it is, excerpted from "Reagan: A Life in Letters."

There were several other stations broadcasting that game and I knew I’d lose my audience if I told them we’d lost our telegraph connections so I took a chance. I had (Billy) Jurges hit another foul. Then I had him foul one that only missed being a homerun by a foot. I had him foul one back in the stands and took up some time describing the two lads that got in a fight over the ball.

I kept on having him foul balls until I was setting a record for a ballplayer hitting successive foul balls and I was getting more than a little scared. Just then my operator started typing. When he passed me the paper I started to giggle – it said: “Jurges popped out on the first ball pitched.”