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Posts Tagged ‘Carrier Dome’

I don’t remember much about the first tour I took of Syracuse University in the summer before my senior year of high school. But, I do remember the Carrier Dome. At most universities, the athletic facilities are located on the edge of campus or on a separate campus, away from dormitories and academic buildings. But, Syracuse has a 50,000-seat domed stadium right in the heart of campus, a few steps from the quad. In many ways, my decision to attend Syracuse was sealed right then and there. I grew up in a family in which my mother was the only college graduate – and she went to a local college filled mostly with commuter students like her – and in a region that didn’t possess a strong affiliation with any college athletics program, so I was blazing a new trail. I wanted to attend a college that was prominent in basketball and football, a school that regularly appeared on ESPN and in the polls. Syracuse wasn’t the only college that offered such athletic prestige (and also had a great communications school, my other priority), but the commanding presence of the Carrier Dome made athletics seem that much more important there than at most other universities.

The Carrier Dome was a prominent part of my college experience, and not just because of the many basketball, football and lacrosse games I attended there. Sophomore year, I lived in a dormitory across the street from it. I passed it on my way to and from classes, frequently walking up and down the steps adjacent to the structure. My commencement was held there. I wanted the Carrier Dome to be a part of my college experience in every way, shape and form, just like I wanted big-time college athletics to be part of my experience and I my wish was granted on both counts. More than anything, the Carrier Dome’s omnipresence signaled Syracuse’s devotion and determination to be a major player in the major college sports – men’s basketball and football.

As a student, I saw the downside to attending a school at which athletics is a significant force. I shared a few classrooms with men’s basketball and football players who clearly weren’t college material academically – in some cases, I wondered if they were even high school material. I heard football players openly discuss using performance-enhancing drugs and ways to avoid drug-test detection. I was privy to an incident in which a basketball player broke the plate-glass window of a bar near campus with his fist, a transgression that required police intervention but, miraculously, the basketball player’s name was expunged from the police report made available to the public and the media. And yet, my awareness of these various issues didn’t stop me from going to games or from wanting to see the Syracuse Orangemen (since shortened to “Orange”) do whatever they needed to do to be competitive.

I realize I am part of the problem; I know my school’s athletics program isn’t “clean”, yet my support for them is unwavering. Over time, I came to realize there’s no such thing as a program that’s both successful and “clean” in major college athletics. For one, it’s nearly impossible not to do something that violates one of the thousands of rules in the NCAA rule book, which is about as thick as an unabridged dictionary; even the most astute university compliance officers have trouble grasping its every nuance, especially since many of the rules seem to contradict each other. Also, college coaches are paid to win games first and foremost; a coach can recruit nothing but good citizens and great students, but he will be fired if he isn’t successful on the field or court. So, you can’t blame a coach for doing what he can to win games and keep his job, even if it means looking the other way when violations occur or if it means cutting a few corners. Nowadays, major college athletics isn’t about walking a straight line but, rather, making sure you don’t get caught committing major violations. There are major, fundamental flaws in the system, but it’s the hand that’s been dealt.

College athletics is also about putting your program in a stable position that allows you to maximize your revenue. And, that’s what Syracuse is doing by moving – along with the University of Pittsburgh – from the Big East Conference to the Atlantic Coast Conference. The announcement of the move, which came last month, was met with surprise and, in some cases, anger. Syracuse is a founding member of the Big East, which began as a basketball-only conference in 1979. It was the success of the Big East – and the conference’s landmark television deal in the 1980s –  that helped Syracuse basketball transition from a solid regional program into a national power. The Big East helped foster rivalries between Syracuse and other schools in the New England-New York-Washington D.C. corridor, like St. John’s University, Georgetown University and Villanova University. And now, Syracuse is leaving all of that?

I take a lot of pride in Syracuse being a part of the Big East. It’s a great conference that has been a perfect fit for my university for a long time. But, when I think about the move to the ACC, I think about my desire for Syracuse remain a major player in college athletics. And, going to the ACC gives them a better chance of staying in that upper echelon than continued membership in the Big East would have. All of the schools in the ACC sponsor both basketball and Division I-A football. The Big East has a two-tiered structure, with only half of the universities competing in the conference in football, leading to a schism and revenue gap between the football and non-football universities. I will miss many of the regional rivalries Syracuse has fostered in their three decades in the Big East. However, I’d rather my university be proactive and look toward the future rather than holding onto something simply because of memories that were created in a bygone era. Again, there are fundamental flaws in a system that would lead teams to turn their backs on years of tradition in order to gain more financial stability, but I don’t spend much time complaining about how things should be, instead choosing to deal with how things are. And I’m glad Syracuse shares my stance when it comes to this issue.

More than anything, Syracuse’s move to the ACC brings me back to the first time I laid eyes on the Carrier Dome. I want my university to continue to be in the discussion when people talk about major college athletics. I want to continue to beam with pride when I see Syracuse’s national ranking, or I see them on ESPN or see them involved in March Madness. I also want the other, non-revenue sports Syracuse sponsors to benefit from the money and prestige men’s basketball and football bring in so they, too, can be competitive nationally. I want future Syracuse students to experience the atmosphere of big-time men’s college basketball and college football like I did. Most importantly, I want to continue to be proud of my school and its accomplishments. Athletics are far from the only area in which Syracuse is accomplished, but it’s the most recognized and easiest to identify. I know college athletics – and Syracuse’s move to the ACC – are far from perfect. But, I’m excited about where Syracuse is headed. And I look forward to supporting my alma mater as it embarks on its latest journey.

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Once I decided I wanted to be a play-by-play broadcaster, I knew I wanted to call baseball games, and I knew that meant starting out in the minor leagues. So, during my junior year at Syracuse University, I sent my résumé and cover letter to a handful of short-season teams – short-season since their 76-game, June-to-Labor Day schedule meshed with my summer break from college. I wound up getting hired as an intern by the Queens Kings, a short-season minor league team the New York Mets had just purchased and moved to Queens, New York with the intent of moving them to Brooklyn the following year, once a stadium had been built. The Kings played their lone season as a Toronto Blue Jays affiliate (their player development contract with the Blue Jays had yet to expire) in a ballpark the Mets renovated on the campus of St. John’s University, less than seven miles from Shea Stadium. We didn’t draw very well, but the Kings was a great proving ground for me because I got to learn what the business of minor league baseball was all about. But, the Kings didn’t broadcast any of their games, so I still didn’t have any baseball play-by-play experience. So, during my senior year of college, I sent several minor league baseball teams a five-minute snippet of play-by-play I did of a Syracuse University basketball game from the upper reaches of the Carrier Dome. Not one team contacted me.

After I graduated from college and returned home to New York City, I realized I needed to get serious about getting a baseball play-by-play job. And, if no one would hire me without baseball broadcasting experience, I had to be creative. So, I decided I would go to a handful of Mets and Yankees games with my tape recorder and call the action from the stands. From there, I would choose the best-sounding clips and cobble them together into a demo tape I could use to pursue a play-by-play job for the 2002 baseball season.

I followed through on my plan and registered for the minor league baseball job fair at the Baseball Winter Meetings, which were being held in Boston, Massachusetts in December, 2001. I had no idea how many broadcasting jobs would be available at this job fair so, to be safe, I made 50 copies of my demo on my dual cassette recorder. Maybe 10 of those demos actually wound up in the hands of hiring parties, but I did land my first broadcasting job, with the Yakima Bears of Washington State and of the short-season Northwest League, thanks to that demo.

Recently, I found one of those original demo cassettes and decided to listen back to my earliest work. I figured it would be educational at best, entertaining at worst. So, after I found batteries for a tape player I hadn’t used since Dubya’s first term, I gave it a listen (You can listen as well; each play-by-play clip I post is followed by my analysis. Clicking a link will open it in a new browser window or tab).

My voice was the first thing I noticed; it sounded awful. I was trying to talk over the crowd, which you should never do. As a result, my sound alternated between “shouting” and “raspy”. I remember being hoarse after each of the Mets and Yankees games I called because I didn’t know how to properly control and modulate my voice. With experience, broadcasters learn to speak in a more measured tone, a tone that’s different for everyone and a tone that allows you to carry a broadcast every day, for several hours, without getting hoarse on a regular basis.

Mike Piazza two-run home run (:40)

My demo begins with a call of one of the most famous home runs in New York Mets history: Mike Piazza’s go-ahead, two-run blast in the eighth inning of the Mets’ 3-2 win over the Atlanta Braves on September 21st, 2001. The Braves were the Mets’ nemesis for more than a decade; even when the Mets were mediocre, they always played the Braves tough, but Atlanta always seemed to find a way to win. The Mets had won the National League wildcard the previous two seasons, culminating in a World Series defeat at the hands of the Yankees in 2000. At this point in 2001, the Mets were in third place in the NL East, 5 ½ games behind the first-place Braves, and nine games behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the wildcard. It was a night fraught with emotion not just because of the game, but also because it was the first major sporting event New York City since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The Mets eschewed their traditional baseball caps for caps honoring the New York Fire Department, New York Police Department and Emergency Medical Service workers. Both teams’ uniforms had small American flags sewed on the back, just above the players’ names. A red, white and blue ribbon was painted onto the Shea Stadium grass.

You could feel a lot of that emotion in my home run call. I thought I did a good job describing the scene immediately before (“Karsay sets at the belt”) and after (“…into the camera bank, just to the left of the 410-foot sign in centerfield”) the homer. But, you can hear my issues with voice modulation and pacing. In between “deep to centerfield” and “Andruw Jones is back” I take a rather noticeable deep breath; it sounded like I was hyperventilating. I did do a nice job of letting the crowd noise tell the story, though.

B.J. Surhoff RBI single (:37)

Broadcasters are taught to begin their play-by-play demo with their best call, a call that will immediately grab the listener. At the time, I thought the Piazza home run call was my best but, upon further review, I think the second call on my demo is better. That call came two days later in another Braves-Mets game, on September 23rd, 2001. The Mets had beaten the Braves the previous two days, keeping their playoff hopes alive. They were now 3 ½ games behind Atlanta for the division lead, with 13 games to play, but the Philadelphia Phillies were just a half-game back. The Mets entered the ninth with a 4-1 advantage, but saw it evaporate, culminating in a game-tying, RBI single by pinch hitter B.J. Surhoff that I called. I did an even better job of setting the scene in this call (“Braves trying to avert the sweep and stay in first place”). The call of the game action was decent as well and I thought I wrapped things up effectively and succinctly at the end of the call (“so, three times, the Mets were a strike away from winning the game and three times the Braves have been able to keep things alive”). You could hear the disappointment in my voice, which I don’t think is necessarily a bad thing; unless you’re auditioning to call a game for a national audience, there’s nothing wrong with conveying favoritism for the team you follow the closest, and I was still an unabashed Mets fan at the time. The key is to make sure the favoritism doesn’t morph into blatant rooting.

A grouping of highlights (like Piazza’s home run and Surhoff’s RBI single) often serves as the appetizer on a demo (and, like an appetizer, highlights are often unnecessary) and one’s call of a half inning of baseball action is the main course. Generally, at least two half innings should make their way onto a demo. Ideally, you’d like one to be a half-inning with a lot of action and the other half-inning to be a quick one with minimal action; for my first baseball demo, I simply picked the two half innings I thought sounded the best. For reasons unclear to me now, the first half inning I chose wasn’t a full half inning; it was three of the four batters in the bottom of the second inning of a Boston Red Sox-Yankees game on June 4th, 2001 (You generally shouldn’t put a partial half inning on your demo; you don’t want the hiring party to wonder why you chose to exclude part of the frame).

Bottom of the second inning, Red Sox @ Yankees 6/4/01 (3:57)

I set the scene well at the start of the inning, giving the runs, hits and errors for both teams and mentioning who’s due up for the Yankees. I also like that I mentioned the inning’s leadoff man, switch-hitter Bernie Williams, was batting lefthanded against Pedro Martinez (it’s a good idea to occasionally mention which side a hitter is batting from; it helps paint the picture). I’m not too crazy about the home run call, mainly because I never mentioned what the outfielders were doing. However, I do like that I knew Williams had homered off Martinez earlier that season. I also liked the background info I had on Henry Rodriguez. I still had a lot of work to do on calling pitches. You should mention where every pitch ended up and, if possible, the type of pitch (e.g., “fastball high and inside”, “curveball drops below the knees”, “off-speed offering in for a strike over the outside corner”).

Listening back to my first demo wasn’t as cringe-worthy as I initially thought it would be. I think I sound like a broadcaster who’s rough around the edges, but has some potential; I can definitely see why my demo attracted the attention of the Yakima Bears, a team in a position to hire broadcasters with little or no baseball play-by-play experience. It still amazes me that I got my career rolling with a rather simple demo created from Major League games I called from the stands. If you would like to hear the rest of the demo, the audio is posted below.

Highlights (:52)

Bottom of the eighth inning, Red Sox @ Yankees 6/4/01 (17:36)

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