Wednesday, September 23, 2015
Broadcast conditions for minor league announcers are rarely ideal. Especially in older stadiums. You’re in a little shack up on the roof, often in tin afterthoughts. You’re trying to call a game during a lightening storm in a metal box surrounded by electronic equipment. Or a tornado. Or blizzard. Or swarm of bees. Or fireworks night when the guy has bad aim.
Sometimes you have no roof at all so good luck in the rain. And blazing sun.
On the other hand, at the old Toledo stadium we were completely enclosed in Plexiglas. On the air it sounded like we were in an echo chamber. And if the air conditioning stopped working, we were in a George Foreman grill.
At old Sec Taylor Stadium in Des Moines, whenever a home team player hit a home run a deafening siren would blast. You could hear it all the way to Ottumwa. The speaker was right underneath the visiting broadcasters. Every time a ball sailed over the fence it practically knocked us out of the booth. My ears are still ringing and this was 1988.
That same year I was broadcasting Syracuse Chiefs games with Dan Hoard. We went into Denver to play the dreaded Zephyrs. Most minor league parks are intimate and seat maybe 10,000. That’s one of the beauties of going to minor league games – the intimacy; you’re close to the players and close to the action. The Zephyrs played in Mile High Stadium, which sat 70 or 80 or 150,000 (I forget which). Even if attendance was 15,000, which normally would mean S.R.O., it looked like maybe six people were there scattered about.
They had no dedicated baseball pressbox per se. They just converted a few of the luxury suites behind the home plate area. At first I thought, “this is great!” The booth was roomy. We had a counter, good view, air conditioning, running distance to a bathroom. The only quirk was that there were two rows of seats behind us accommodating maybe fifteen spectators.
We thought nothing of it until people started filing into our booth. Apparently those were paid seats. Okay. A little weird – I’m not used to calling games with a studio audience -- but what the hell?
The game begins, we call the action, and we can hear in the background people telling us to shut up. At the half inning mark we turned back to them and said, “Hey, we’re broadcasting here!” They said, “We don’t care. We paid primo money for these seats and we don’t want to hear two idiots announcing all night.”
We had to go to one of the team executives to straighten things out. I think they moved them. It's not like there were no other seats. There was room in the dugouts.
The next night the seats in our booth were sold again, but this was a good crowd. They enjoyed our broadcast and even offered to buy us some beers. We graciously declined, explaining how we only drank beer before games.
A counter was set up in one of the back rows. My first year with Seattle we had to do a game from that location. I sat on the aisle, Kevin the engineer to my left, and to his left was my partner, the great Dave Niehaus. If anyone stood up in front of us we were screwed.
I’m on the air, it’s the seventh inning, I feel a tapping on my shoulder. It’s a vendor with malts. Would I pass them down the row to the skeesix ten seats over? I did, while calling the game. Suddenly there is a big play. Runners scampering around the bases, the ball going every which way. Kevin hands me the money for the malt that had been passed from hand to hand. I give it to the vendor, all the while continuing to call this goofy play. I feel another tap. The vendor. Would I pass the change back? This on a fifty station radio network.
But I don’t feel bad. Vin Scully of the Dodgers recalls that when the team first moved out west with the Giants in 1958, the Giants played at a minor league park, Seal Stadium. Scully and his partner, Jerry Doggett, were banished to broadcast from the stands like us. Even in those early days, Giant fans hated anything Dodgers. Scully had to do live commercials between innings for some beer. For the rest of the game fans around him were shouting the names of competing beer brands while he was doing the play-by-play. All of this got on the air.
Hey, maybe I should put a few rows of seats in my office and charge people to watch me write. “Shut up! We can’t sleep with that incessant keyboard clacking!”
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM