Wednesday, March 11, 2009

You never forget your first time

Greetings from Glendale, Arizona – springtime home of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox. This is quite a magnificent complex. It’s like Frank Lloyd Wright designed a baseball stadium. In fact, this might have been what he was working on when he died. His last known sketches are of luxury suite designs.

This weekend I will be calling the radio play-by-play for the Dodgers. You can hear it on KABC Los Angeles, the vast Dodgers’ radio network,, and MLB.COM.

I hope I get through the first batter. I almost didn’t on my very first spring training broadcast.

It was 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 Dodger baseball this weekend and hear me reviewing this week’s AMERICAN IDOL, you’ll know why.


DougJ said...

You have a lot of great stories on this blog. You could use them if you need to fill air time.

Do you think you'll ever put out a podcast component to this blog? Considering your background it seems like a given.

Anonymous said...

Damn, if ever there would have been a time to have Phil Rizzuto sitting next to you to talk about the best calamari restaurant in Northern New Jersey or the traffic advantages of the upper level of the George Washington Bridge vis a vis the lower level, that would have been it.

(I'm assuming that, barring sudden bankruptcy, XM-Sirius will be broadcasting the Dodgers pre-season games this weekend, so I'll try to give it a listen in the car.)

Unknown said...

There there Ken, you now have to wonderful kids, a great blog, a book in the works and you'd talk about Idol?

Shame an you ;-)

Anonymous said...

That sounds amazing. I wonder if there's any recording of that out there, someplace?

VP81955 said...

(I'm assuming that, barring sudden bankruptcy, XM-Sirius will be broadcasting the Dodgers pre-season games this weekend, so I'll try to give it a listen in the car.)

1. They are called "exhibition" games or "spring training" games, not "preseason." Unlike the NFL, baseball doesn't require euphemisms.

2. Apparently MLB games are still available only throgh XM, not Sirius, for some sort of legal reason.

Ken, perhaps somewhere is a box of index cards listing all the famed stories Cincinnati broadcaster and Hall of Fame pitcher Waite Hoyt told during rain delays. Since he's gone now, I'm sure he'd had no objection to you borrowing them, although some listeners might wonder how you came to know Connie Mack and Babe Ruth.

Have a good time in Arizona as we in Washington prepare for the Stephen Strasburg era to begin in a few months (and thank God that Jim Bowden won't be around to handle negotiations).

wv: "fugga" -- as Jack Paar would have said, I kid you not. The reaction most people in D.C. had regarding the 2008 Nationals.

Anonymous said...

I love Miller's emphatic calls. He doesn't scream and act like a nut, he just ephasizes the key words and that tells you all you need to know.

"He SCORES the tying run!"

"Soto is SAFE!"

wv: death

Anonymous said...

While The Scooter would have discussed restaurants with you, and maybe even gone into his fear of insects and lightning, he also could have told you about his first spring training with the Yankees, working with Mel Allen and Red Barber. Mel introduced him for the play-by-play and then he and Red said they were hungry and left, leaving Rizzuto to do it himself. Sink or swim, I guess.

Or ask Vin, whom Red trained. He has said that he would say something wrong on the air and Red would lean in and say, "Young Scully," and correct him.

Anonymous said...

Ken - I had the pleasure of having a job that allowed me to listen to you and Jon Miller do Orioles games just about every night. You were a pleasure to listen to, but I am not sure Baltimore fans were ready for you. A belated thank you from an Orioles fan.

WV: punfa - a witty word in search of a five-year contract

Anonymous said...

I second the "Ken's Podcast" idea. Great for roadtrips!

Anonymous said...

I second Julio's kudos -- I board-op'd Orioles games for a small northern VA radio station and loved listening both to you, Ken, and Jon. I worked a day job for eight hours then came in and did the 7-to-whenever shift at the station, and it was a pleasure staying awake just to hear you and Jon talk.

Tom Quigley said...


If you ever happen to find yourself in that situation again: I've generally found that discussing lesbianism on the women's golf tour will usually hold listeners' attention for about an hour or so....

Anonymous said...

I can see it now. If this Dodger thing works out, there'll a
volume II of Ken Levine's baseball broadcasting life. Maybe even a boxed set of both books. The Franklin Mint will offer a limited edition on acidfree paper in a vellum case, signed by baseball's best broadcaster/blogger.
Best of luck, Ken. You already have an up: Levine (rhymes with divine) is so much easier to say than Josh Suchon.

Anonymous said...

Still cracks me up remembering the time Miller, introducing a game against the Cardinals, referred to them as a team that "leads the leagues in Smiths."

Cap'n Bob said...

If there's a god you'll replace Joe Morgan as Jon Miller's partner forever.
Tell me, Ken. Do you have a home run phrase like Dave Niehaus's "Fly Away!"? One of my favorites was "Kiss that baby good-bye." The worse was "That dog'll hunt."

Michael Taylor said...

As a lifelong SF Giants fan, I've had the pleasure of listening to Jon Miller broadcast Giant's games for several years now. Indeed, some of the best broadcasts have been long rain delays that allowed Jon, Mike Krukow, and Duane Kuiper to trade great baseball stories all afternoon.

What a scarifying thrill it must have been to share the booth with Jon. Have a good call this weekend.

TheDennisMorganShow said...

Hey Ken -- This is great baseball news! We'll be tuning in on from up here in Santa Rosa. I miss baseball so much I dusted off my box set of Ken Burns film, Baseball and popped it in the ol' VCR...


Anonymous said...

I heard Ken's home run call is "No school in Borneo!"

Karen from Mentor said...

Hey Ken,
I came across an old Sports Illustrated article by Steve Rushin. It's titled: Announcers are stretching the home run call; sometimes to the snapping point.

It's pretty funny. It got me started wondering how you can work promoting your upcoming book into your home run calls....

Have fun watching men in tight pants chase a little white ball around a pretty green field.


Karen from Mentor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I have to say, I'm more of a Cubs fan.