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Sometimes, I pinch myself. Figuratively though, never literally. Fifteen years ago, I sat in the ballpark across the street and called a Red Sox-Yankees game into my tape recorder. The game was sold out; I rested my scorebook and notes on my right thigh and the tape recorder on my left thigh all while trying not to invade the personal space of those sitting next to me. A good chunk of my play-by-play from that game – Luis Sojo hit a walkoff RBI single in the bottom of ninth off Rod Beck to win it for the Yankees – wound up on my first baseball demo tape. That tape landed me my first baseball play-by-play job. Fifteen years later, I’m on the opposite side of 161st Street at the new Yankee Stadium, eight subway stops from where I grew up, being paid to call a playoff game featuring my surprising Houston Astros squad against the New York Yankees. Sure, it’s “just” a winner-take-all American League Wild Card Game but, in many ways, that raises the stakes. In a seven- or five-game series, losing the first game isn’t the end. However, losing the Wild Card Game is the end. Play six months to get into the postseason and it could be gone – Poof! – after one game, in which anything can happen; if you lose, it’s almost like you were never in the playoffs, the moment so fleeting.

The first pitch from Masahiro Tanaka to Jose Altuve is a ball.

*          *          *

The 2015 season is my 14th year broadcasting baseball – seven years in the minors, seven in the Majors, a play-by-play guy in 10 of those seasons – and I’ve never been involved in a postseason game. As a matter of fact, in only one of the previous 13 seasons had a team I covered finished over .500; the 2004 Kalamazoo Kings of the independent Frontier League. The Kings were in the playoff hunt until the season’s final week. The next year, the Kings won the league title, but I wasn’t there to see it; I’d moved on to the Binghamton Mets of the Double-A Eastern League by then. The B-Mets were in the playoff hunt until the season’s final day in 2006, but they split a doubleheader on that day to finish 70-70 & out of the playoffs.

What I learned this year was that, in the playoffs, the waiting is the hardest part. And the Astros had to wait longer than most to find out what was next for them. Going into the final day of the season on Sunday, there were four possible scenarios involving potential playoff or tiebreaker games in three different cities. After that day’s games concluded, the Astros were locked into the Wild Card Game in New York in two days, on Tuesday. Which meant a cross-country flight from Phoenix, arriving in New York – our third city on what was now at least a 9-day road trip – in the wee hours of Monday morning with a game scheduled for shortly after 8 pm local time on Tuesday. Being exhausted and sleeping through much of Monday morning did make the waiting any easier.

*          *          *

I was in the restroom when I heard it.

Colby Rasmus homered leading off the top of the second, a high, majestic shot to right; that appeared to be more than enough run support for Astros ace, and Yankees killer, Dallas Keuchel. I took my customary break when the top of the fourth inning began, turning the play-by-play over to Steve Sparks – my broadcast partner – which always mean a stop at the facilities. I’d just parked at a urinal when I heard the smooth, but booming, voice of Yankees radio broadcaster John Sterling over the restroom speakers announce that Carlos Gomez hit Tanaka’s first pitch of the fourth for a home run. Astros 2, Yankees 0. I’ve been in baseball long enough to know the game isn’t won until the last out is recorded, but I was confident the Astros were going to advance.

*          *          *

I woke up Tuesday morning feeling refreshed. The off-day Monday was needed to get over the grogginess associated with a late cross-country flight from Phoenix and to recharge my batteries after a 162-game regular season which included tension-filled games for most of the season’s final month. Monday was a great day to relax, go for a long walk & visit some friends & relatives in my hometown. Tuesday, it was time to get down to business.

I huddled at the desk in front of my laptop & iPad much of the morning. I updated my notes on the Yankees & made sure I had all the information I needed & wanted. Notes on the Astros’ postseason history and regular-season history against the Yankees were typed. This was my first time preparing for a playoff game, so I was learning as I went. Sure, I’d prepared for plenty of regular-season games, but this was different. How much work should I do for just one game? What information do I absolutely need & what information can be put on the back burner? By the time I closed my laptop & iPad, I felt pretty good about my preparation. I never get nervous for a broadcast if I know I’m prepared. I wasn’t nervous.

*          *          *

A two-run lead with Dallas Keuchel on the mound against the Yankees felt like a 10-run lead. Keuchel – who hadn’t allowed a run to the Yankees in the regular season – didn’t even allow many hard-hit outs. Alex Rodriguez did punish a pitch that George Springer ran down in the rightfield corner. The three hits Keuchel allowed – all singles – were harmless. He walked Astros nemesis Chris Young in the first inning, but that was the only free pass Keuchel allowed. The Astros got Keuchel another run in the seventh, when Jose Altuve poked a low-and-away pitch – a pitcher’s pitch – from Yankees reliever Dellin Betances into leftfield, scoring Jonathan Villar from second base. Keuchel handed a 3-0 lead to the bullpen – good most of the year, but shaky in September – when he departed after six innings.

*          *          *

I really wanted Caribbean food.

Houston is a great city with fantastic restaurants & plenty of ethnic food options, but finding good Caribbean food has proven to be difficult. Since moving to Houston, I’d heard of one Puerto Rican restaurant, which I tried & found lacking. Another Jamaican restaurant I read about on the Internet wasn’t up to snuff, at least not to me. A second Jamaican restaurant recommended to me by a friend had proven to be the real deal. So, Houston was 1 for 3 in the Caribbean restaurant department – a great ratio for a hitter, but not for my taste buds.

Growing up in the Bronx in a neighborhood filled with people from all over the Caribbean, I developed an appreciation for their food & culture. And I was confident I’d be able to find a good Caribbean restaurant near my Midtown Manhattan hotel for lunch before heading to Yankee Stadium for the game. A search on Yelp turned up a Puerto Rican restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen across town. Probably a 15-minute cab ride. Google Maps said it was a 30-minute walk. I was confident I could walk there in 20 minutes.

*          *          *

I felt a sense of calm when I saw Tony Sipp enter the game from the bullpen for the bottom of the seventh. The southpaw finished the regular season strong & matched up well against a Yankees lineup laden with lefthanded hitters and switch hitters. My calm was justified when Sipp worked around a one-out walk to Chase Headley, retiring the other three Yankees he faced in the inning. I was thrilled to see Will Harris enter the game in the eighth. Harris would’ve probably started the year in the minor leagues if it hadn’t been for injuries to other pitchers, but he never saw the minors in 2015, pitching well all year & earning the right to be the eighth-inning setup man in a winner-take-all playoff game. The Yankees went down in order against Harris, the ball not leaving the infield.

One more inning.

*          *          *

I haven’t been a full-time resident of New York City in over 13 years. Yet, getting back into The City’s routine, the hustle & bustle, is never an adjustment for me. As a matter of fact, I look forward to it. The streets were packed, as they always are around lunchtime in Midtown Manhattan. Office workers flood outside in the afternoons, seeking food. Many use their afternoon lunch breaks to smoke a cigarette or two, either in front of their office building or on their way to & from lunch (New York City has the most stringent non-smoking laws in the country, & public sidewalks are just about the only place where it’s legal to smoke outside of one’s private residence. For now).

The City’s geography is always in my head as I traverse Manhattan. For a New Yorker, memorizing the north-south avenues in order is tantamount to knowing your multiplication tables. The Puerto Rican restaurant was on 51st Street, between 9th & 10th Avenues. I left the Astros’ hotel, on 42nd Street, just east of Third Avenue, & quickly made my way to Lexington Avenue, before briskly walking uptown. I use the traffic lights to determine my moves. A red light at 44th Street meant making a left turn & walking west to Park Avenue, where I barely made the light before a red at Madison Avenue forced me back uptown. I made it through the pedestrian plaza that’s become Times Square before shooting up 8th Avenue for a few blocks. Construction on 9th Avenue forced me uptown again. I finally made it to 51st Street, a residential block with one storefront – the Puerto Rican restaurant. The beautiful fall weather meant my walk across town at light speed didn’t cause me to break a sweat or to be out of breath.

*          *          *

Yankees closer Andrew Miller was his usual dominant self in the top of the ninth, retiring the Astros on a harmless fly ball & two strikeouts. As Astros closer Luke Gregerson made his way from the visitor’s bullpen to the mound, the Yankee Stadium crowd was trying to summon up the strength to cheer their team to a rally, but it was obvious their heart wasn’t in it. Sparks pulled out the t-shirt & shorts he wore when he covered the Astros’ Champagne-fueled celebration from the clubhouse in Phoenix just two days prior; it was his job to get post-game interviews with players & coaches during every Astros clinching celebration. I’d just gotten back on the air when Sparks motioned to me that he was heading downstairs to prepare for another postgame party.

*          *          *

I stood behind four other patrons waiting to place their order; there was barely enough room for the short line. The restaurant was dominated by the kitchen & food prep area on the right. On the left was a narrow area with three sets of tables & chairs. One table was occupied by two women who were finishing their lunch. It quickly became obvious I was the only person in the restaurant who wasn’t fluent in Spanish. I felt right at home.

I was in line for a few minutes when a restaurant employee approached me.

“You eat here?” He asked me in a thick accent.

“Yes, I’m going to have lunch here. Not to go.”

“Sit! Sit!” He implored, waving toward a table. “I take care of you. Gimme 5 minutes. You want soda?”

I answered in the affirmative as I followed his instructions. Five minutes later, he asked me what I wanted to eat. I never saw a menu, but I didn’t need one. I settled on baked chicken with yellow rice (arroz con pollo) with plantains. “Maduros,” I told him, meaning I wanted the soft, sweet plantains, rather than the hard, salty ones. The food came quickly & in the large portions typical of a Caribbean restaurant. When I finished, I walked to the counter, which separated me from a short, raven-haired woman. After glancing at the chicken bones & stray pieces of rice remaining on my plate, she asked me if I had a soda. I told her I had. “Eight dollars,” she said. An eight dollar lunch in Manhattan? It’s a miracle!

The walk back to the hotel was a little longer than the walk to the restaurant. A full stomach will do that to you.

*          *          *

When he was with the Astros in 2004, Carlos Beltran turned in one of the greatest postseason performances in baseball history. However, he spurned the Astros for the Mets in free agency that winter & many Astros fans still boo him whenever he returns to Minute Maid Park. So, I’m sure many Astros fans took an extra bit of satisfaction in seeing him strike out swinging to begin the bottom of the ninth. The next hitter, Rodriguez, also struck out.

One out remaining.

*          *          *

I always try to take a 20-30 minute nap before I head to the ballpark. Even if I just close my eyes & don’t fall asleep, I feel refreshed & am less likely to get tired later in the day. Given how excited I was, it was a little surprising to me that I was able to doze off so easily after I slipped out of my shoes, packed my briefcase, fluffed up two pillows & laid face up on top of the bedspread.

Whenever I wake up from my early afternoon naps, I’m like a bucking bronco when the gate opens, & today was no exception. I bolted out of bed, quickly slipped on my shoes & grabbed my briefcase before storming out of the hotel room. After checking out at the front desk, I expertly wheeled my briefcase through the endless pedestrian traffic on my way to the subway station. I happened to arrive on the platform just as the 4 train was entering the station, which, to many New Yorkers, is tantamount to winning the lottery.

After arriving at my stop, I briskly walked to Yankee Stadium. I couldn’t wait to unpack, get settled in & to start my day.

*          *          *

One of the things I love about doing play-by-play is the unpredictability & spontaneity; you never know what you’re going to see & you usually don’t know exactly how you’re going to call something until it happens. I rarely think about what I’m going to say before it comes out of my mouth. Even when I give speeches, I never write them down verbatim; maybe I’ll jot down some brief notes or bullet points if I write anything down at all. However, when the final out was recorded, I knew exactly what I was going to say long before I said it, a rarity for me.

I’d been thinking about Frank Sinatra’s version of “Theme from New York, New York,” which is played after every Yankees home game, win or lose. I used to work in Kansas City, where I covered the Royals; after their wins, they play Wilbert Harrison’s version of “Kansas City” at Kauffman Stadium. The winner of this game was going to play the Royals in the American League Division Series, with the first two games in Kansas City. If the Astros won, I knew what I wanted to say, & it would incorporate elements from both songs.

Brian McCann stood in for the Yankees, their final chance to extend the game. The drama was quickly extinguished when Gregerson got him to swing at the first pitch.

“Ground ball, right into the shift! Fielded by Correa to the left of second. Throws to first, in time! And that is the ball game! Start spreadin’ the news, the Houston Astros win the AL Wild Card Game, beating the New York Yankees three to nothing! Kansas City, here they come!”

A perfect ending to a perfect day.

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The last baseball game I attended before the strike was at Yankee Stadium. Me and my co-workers for the summer were given complimentary tickets, along with several other youth and teen groups, in the left-centerfield bleachers. I defiantly wore my Mets hat to the game, which pitted the Yankees against the Baltimore Orioles. Wearing the hat of New York’s National League team proved to be the right move, since former Mets centerfielder Tommie Agee was in attendance, signing autographs in the bleachers; his appearance was part of the program that allowed us to get into The House That Ruth Built gratis. I still have that hat, which Agee signed on the green underside of the bill.

Back then, I lived for baseball. Well, I still live for baseball – make my living in baseball, even – but, in those days, I was obsessed. Every winter, I’d suffer through pangs of withdrawal because there wasn’t any baseball on television; I’d scour Sports Illustrated for any blurb or mention of the National Pastime. I eagerly anticipated the Mets’ first spring training game, which was always televised on WWOR TV. I loved WWOR’s spring training open – which featured a wooden crate filled with oranges that would be hammered shut and, after a time lapse, reopened to reveal that the oranges had turned into baseballs – not only because it was pure genius, but also because it signaled that another baseball season was around the corner.

But now, there was a possibility that the baseball off-season would be longer than ever. The team owners and the players’ union were at an impasse in negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement and a strike was imminent. None of the so-called experts seemed to think the strike would be brief, although no one had any idea how long it would last. A few weeks? A few months? Into the postseason? Into the following season? Anything seemed to be possible except, of course, a quick resolution.

The strike deadline set by the players was four days away and in the back of my mind as I watched former Mets pitcher Sid Fernandez staked to an early 4-0 lead, only to leave in the sixth with the score tied. I was sitting behind the Orioles bullpen and just missed getting the baseball reliever Jim Poole tossed into the crowd when he entered the game in the 10th. Mark Eichhorn, who had been warming up alongside Poole, teased and tantalized the fans who asked him for a ball; it seemed like poetic justice when Eichhorn gave up Randy Velarde’s walk-off RBI single in the 11th to lose the game for Baltimore.

Three days later, when I turned on my green-and-white radio on August 11th, 1994 to listen to the Mets play in Philadelphia (the game was televised on SportsChannel, and Mom had yet to sign us up for cable television), I was hoping the game lasted forever. It didn’t, but it came close; Ricky Jordan’s walk-off RBI single in the 15th won it for the Phillies. And I turned off my radio and wondered when I’d get to hear Major League Baseball again.

I finished the month at a summer camp in western Massachusetts, where I spent a week and a half canoeing, hiking and pitching tents in the wilderness. We were only allowed to shower every few days and there was no access to television or radio. Occasionally, our travels through the Berkshires and Adirondacks would take us by a newsstand or a newspaper vending machine, which would lead me to check the front page of the paper to see if the strike had been resolved. And, in every instance, there was a front-page headline about the strike. And, in every instance, that front-page headline indicated that the players were still on the picket line. Chris, a Chicago White Sox fan who served as my camp group’s counselor that summer before resuming his studies at a small, liberal-arts college in Minnesota in the fall, picked up on my routine. “Anything?” he would ask, after he saw me peek at newsprint. I’d shake my head. Nothing needed to be said.

The routines and rhythms of my sophomore year of high school helped pass the time, but the strike was never far from my mind. Those of us who are baseball crazed tend to gravitate to other seam heads, and it was all we talked about. I mean, it was all we could talk about, since the strike eliminated typical fall conversations about the postseason – which wound up being cancelled – and free agency. None of us really understood all of the issues at play; we were just hopeless baseball romantics hoping and praying that our beau would return post haste.

I had Biology class with Jonah Parsoff, who loved baseball almost as much as I did. Almost. Jonah also claimed to know more baseball trivia than me, which simply wasn’t possible. So, I offered Jonah a challenge: I would give him five baseball trivia questions every day and I guaranteed he would never get all five of them correct. So, for about two months, I spent the first few minutes of Biology writing trivia questions on a piece of loose-leaf paper, which I would covertly pass to Jonah in the front of the class (I always sat in the back of all of my classes, much to my mother’s chagrin. “You wear glasses” she would ask, “why are you sitting in the back?”). Jonah would attempt to answer my questions and slip the paper back to me. I don’t think he ever got more than three right; I know he never went five for five. I took delight in Jonah throwing his head back in frustration once I gave him the correct answers – a gesture that would prompt Mr. Young, our Biology teacher, to ask “Jonah, is something wrong?” mid-lecture. And, thus, my place atop the baseball-trivia throne was secure.

While I spent most of my time in Biology goofing off, I took Global Studies seriously; I always took great interest in history, which was partially responsible for my love of baseball trivia. However, I was convinced that my teacher, Mrs. Goodman, was assigning us papers at an insane rate that was unprecedented in the annals of high school history. However, I had little issue with one assignment from Mrs. Goodman that allowed us to write a 5-page paper on a current event selected from a pre-approved list when I saw that the list included the baseball strike. I immediately set to work on my masterpiece, in which detailed the follies of both the owners and the players’ union. My heartfelt missive earned me an A, and some unexpected praise from Mrs. Goodman; she told me I was an excellent writer and I should consider working for my high school’s monthly newspaper. I never thought of myself as an above-average writer and seeing my byline in print never occurred to me. But wouldn’t it be cool to write about sports? I thought to myself. And, after approaching one of the sports editors, I became a full-fledged sports journalist, penning important pieces on weighty topics – like the upcoming cross-country season – much to the delight of readers everywhere. At least that’s what I told myself.

My Pulitzer still hadn’t arrived in early March, when Dad and I plopped in front of the television to watch the Mets’ first spring training game, against the Yankees. Except it wasn’t the Mets, at least not the Mets with which we were familiar. The broadcast on WWOR opened with Ralph Kiner and Tim McCarver explaining that they weren’t going to pretend that the upcoming game featuring replacement players was to the Major League Baseball standards fans were accustomed. Thank goodness, because it would’ve been hard to pretend. Nevertheless, Dad and I were glued to the set because we had no idea what to expect from these people donning Mets and Yankees uniforms. An over-the-hill Doug Sisk, the frequent target of Mets fans’ derision when he was a reliever in the 1980s, started the game and was as uninspiring as I’d remembered.

I don’t recall the score, but I do recall the Yankees led by a narrow margin when the bottom of the ninth dawned and they summoned a pitcher named Mike Pitz to get the last three outs. After we finished making fun of his last name, we watched Pitz load the bases with two outs, bringing up Lou Thornton. The day before, we saw a local sportscast where Thornton proclaimed he didn’t get a fair shake when he was with the non-replacement Mets a few years prior and he became a replacement player to prove he belonged in the Majors.

“Well Lou,” Dad opined as Thornton dug in. “This is your chance.”

Thornton worked the count full before swinging and missing at a pitch that was nowhere near the strike zone. Game over.

I don’t have vivid memories of where I was or what I was doing when the strike ended, probably because the ending seemed so anticlimactic. And it didn’t really end, per sé; future Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor issued an injunction against the owners, which prevented them from implementing new labor rules and from using replacement players. Thus, the owners lost a significant amount of their leverage and were essentially forced to work something out with the players. Shortly thereafter, a truncated spring training preceded a truncated regular season and the love of my life was back. Unlike many fans, I didn’t hold any animosity toward the players or the owners; even though I didn’t understand all of the issues that led to a strike, I figured both sides were probably each at fault to a certain extent. Regardless, I just wanted to see baseball. The strike was the first test of my passion for baseball and, strangely, it increased my love for the game. If I could still obsess over baseball even after dealing with the postseason being canceled for the first time in 90 years and after months of uncertainty, then nothing would mute my love for the National Pastime. And nothing has.

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The door closed behind me as I entered the manager’s office in Kauffman Stadium’s visiting clubhouse. I introduced myself to Terry Francona as we shook hands. It wasn’t uncommon for me to interview accomplished baseball men, so I wasn’t nervous about talking with Francona, the two-time World Series-winning skipper of the Boston Red Sox. However, I was excited; I’d always enjoyed Francona’s interviews over the years and I’d heard he was an outstanding guest. My first question to Francona was a little long-winded. No, it was very long-winded. Something about the Red Sox struggles early in the year, the fact Boston has played a lot better since, but they still have the Yankees to contend with for the division, although they could still win the wild card even if they don’t win the division. It took me about 30 seconds to get all of that out and, while I was talking, my brain was telling my mouth to shut up, but my mouth wasn’t responding.

When I was done with my first question, I pointed my digital recorder toward Francona. He looked at me through his wire-rimmed glasses.

“Well, that was a mouthful!” Francona said.

And my interview was off to a terrible start. I was flustered and neither Francona nor I could get past my opening salvo. The rest of my questions – while shorter – were mediocre, as were Francona’s responses. The Red Sox media relations rep told me I had 3-4 minutes to interview the manager and, when I’d gotten through about 3 ½ minutes of misery, Francona gave me the “wrap it up” sign with his right index finger, which threw me off even further and led to another terrible question and another subpar answer. After we were done, I thanked Francona, who seemed annoyed. I couldn’t blame him; I did a terrible job.

Even though interviewing is an important part of sports broadcasting, very little time is spent on properly teaching and honing necessary interview skills. Very few people in sports broadcasting are hired based on their interview skills; the sound of one’s play-by-play or the strength of one’s sports-talk radio opinions take precedence. I was never asked or quizzed on my interview skills when I got my first broadcasting jobs; those doing the hiring assumed I’d be able to be an effective interviewer. Although you may not get a job because of your ability to interview and ask good questions, not doing both well could make it difficult to keep or establish credibility with the coaches and athletes you cover.

The most important thing I try to remember when conducting interviews for broadcast is people want to hear from my interviewee and not from me. As a result, my questions should be succinct and to the point. One of my pet peeves is media members who ask long questions, like I did in my first question with Francona. Long-winded questions are the result of a questioner trying to show how smart he or she is and/or not having a fully-formed question or idea when he or she starts talking (in the above example with Francona, I was guilty of both).

An interviewer should try not to ask yes-or-no questions, but sometimes that will happen even if you’re trying to prevent it. However, that’s where asking good follow-up questions comes into play. I’ve seen too many media members get a “yes” or a “no” to their question and not follow up; just because you got a “yes” or a “no” doesn’t mean the interviewee has no desire to elaborate. Sometimes, succinct questions lead to succinct answers, but that’s where follow-up questions come into play. It doesn’t mean you have to turn into Jack Bauer interrogating a terrorist, but good follow-up questions are essential for a good interview. And, if you pay attention, the interviewee will let you know how much he or she is willing to say.

That’s another key to a good interview – paying attention. Most media members go into an interview with an idea of questions to ask. Some write those questions down, others don’t – I jot down notes for a few questions for a little more than half of the interviews I conduct. However, the interviewee may bring up something in one of his or her answers that is worthy of exploration and further elaboration. I go into every interview with a plan, but I’m not afraid to deviate from that plan if circumstances indicate I should. Part of my problem in my interview with Francona was I tried too hard to ask him most of what I wanted to ask in the first question, rather than opening with simple, concise questions and letting Francona’s responses guide subsequent questions.

You may be wondering, if I’m aware of these interview rules, how did I mess up my interview with Francona? Even the best interviewers (and I’m far from one of the best) screw up the basics sometimes, which is why it’s important to remind ourselves of those tenets. My debacle with Francona also underscores the need to listen to ourselves, the need to be self-critical and self-correcting. The best broadcasters I’ve dealt with know they’re good, but also know they’re fallible, and they look to correct mistakes or tighten up their performance at every opportunity. One of the reasons I love working with and listening to younger and less experienced broadcasters is it forces me to go back to basics; critiquing their work and reinforcing or introducing elementary concepts to them reminds me of those concepts as well.

More than anything, keep interviewing simple. Or else, Terry Francona will think you’re an idiot.

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The most important thing for a play-by-play broadcaster’s development is reps; one needs to call games in order to get better at calling games. But, listening is also important – listening to yourself, listening to others and getting decision makers and/or more experienced broadcasters to provide constructive feedback after listening to you. Without those three types of listening, it’s impossible for a play-by-play broadcaster to get better or to know if he or she is headed in the right direction. All three types of listening have been crucial in my development as a play-by-play broadcaster.

*          *          *

The first time I called baseball play-by-play on the radio was in Pasco, Washington – the season opener between my team, the Yakima Bears, and the Tri-City Dust Devils. I’d never done a pre-game show on my own and I’d never thought about how to put one together, making my 15-minute pre-game a challenge. I did very little research on the Bears players and no research on the Dust Devils players, so I had little to talk about during lulls in the action. When there was action, my calls were pedestrian at best, horrendous at worst. In short, I was awful.

After the game, I started thinking. Should I listen back to my first broadcast? I wondered. Maybe I could learn something. When I was in college, veteran broadcasters spoke to me and my classmates about the importance of listening to our own broadcasts, so didn’t I need to start after my first game? I never did listen to my first baseball broadcast; as it turned out, I screwed up my recording of the game – of course I did! – so I couldn’t listen even if I wanted to.

Eventually, I figured out how to archive my game broadcasts on my Minidisc recorder, but I was two weeks into my first season before I listened to one of my broadcasts. It was a game at Everett, Washington that ended when the Bears leftfielder dropped a fly ball with two outs in the ninth inning, allowing the winning run to score. I thought my call of the game was very good, particularly my call of the final play. And, on the 20-minute bus ride from the Everett ballpark to the hotel, I listened to myself through my headphones. My initial assessment of my call was accurate; I sounded really good, even upon further review. However, I noticed a few things I didn’t like about my call and I made mental notes on the improvements I needed to make. After the brief listening session, I felt pretty good about my play-by-play and was excited about my next broadcast, when I’d get to implement some of the changes I wanted to make.

That exercise led to me creating a policy to which I still adhere – I only listen to my play-by-play after what I feel is a very good broadcast. When I’ve listened to games I’ve done that I didn’t think were very good, I’ve wound up picking apart my call even more and feeling uninspired about my work. But, listening to games in which I felt my call was good energizes me even while I recognize there’s room for improvement.

*          *          *

I love long-distance drives on Saturday afternoons during the fall and winter, because they give me a chance to listen to basketball and/or football play-by-play. On this particular Saturday in December, I was in the middle of a three-hour drive to call a basketball game when my radio dial settled on the broadcast of a Division I basketball game. The play-by-play broadcaster was decent; he painted the picture pretty well and gave the time and score often. However, he kept referring to his team by their nickname, a nickname I didn’t immediately identify with a particular school. I listened to nearly a quarter of the game broadcast before I heard the school’s name.

I immediately thought of my own basketball broadcasts; at the time, I was calling games for the University of Nebraska Omaha. Do I say the school’s name and nickname enough? I thought. Do I make it clear that “Nebraska Omaha” and “Mavericks” are one in the same? From that point forward, I made more of an effort to interchange the school name and nickname of both teams as often as possible, occasionally using both together. The broadcaster I was listening to may have figured the majority of his listeners are fans of his school and didn’t need to hear the school’s name repeatedly. However, I’ve always believed it’s important to make my broadcasts accessible to as many listeners as possible without dumbing down the broadcast to the point where diehard fans would be offended. And, I didn’t think making it clear that “Nebraska Omaha” and “Mavericks” or “IUPUI” and “Jaguars” or “Kansas City” and “Kangaroos” were interchangeable would insult my core audience.

Too often, play-by-play broadcasters think they can only learn from the best broadcasters and, if they’re listening to a broadcast by someone they deem inferior, they just tear it apart without breaking down the call critically. However, lessons can be learned even from the worst broadcasters. Mind you, the Division I broadcaster I’m referring to was far from horrible – he was quite good, actually – but I was able to learn from something he did that I thought sounded awkward. There are broadcasters I don’t particularly care for who are good at certain facets of play-by-play that I try to emulate. A play-by-play broadcaster can learn something from every game broadcast he or she listens to, whether it’s what to do or what not to do; the latter is just as important as the former.

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I don’t remember how Liana wound up with a free night at a hotel – was is for opening a new bank account? Anyhow, because I had a basketball game to call on Valentine’s Day, we decided to celebrate the holiday the following week by spending a couple of days in Syracuse, New York; I’d never taken Liana to the city where I earned my college degree, Syracuse was only an hour away and it was a trip that was within our modest budget. We’d just checked into our hotel when my cellphone rang. I didn’t recognize the number, but I answered anyway. To my surprise, it was the Director of Broadcasting for a National League team. He wanted to talk to me about the demo CD I’d sent him.

A couple of months prior, I sent a CD with clips of my baseball play-by-play to nearly all of the 30 Major League Baseball teams, hoping to get some feedback on my work. The few teams I’d heard from hadn’t told me much, if anything, about my play-by-play skills. So, I listened intently as the gentleman on the other end told me I needed to be more descriptive (“this isn’t television,” he reminded me). I kept probing him for more information; what else did you notice? I asked. The Director of Broadcasting was firm, but friendly, and he was happy to answer any questions I had. We talked for about an hour. At the end, he told me I was headed in the right direction and that, with more experience, I’d have a shot at a broadcasting position in the Major Leagues. He also encouraged me to keep in touch and to keep sending him my demos. After that conversation, I was a much better broadcaster. I also realized Liana must love me to put up with me spending an hour of our romantic getaway on the phone.

Of the three types of listening, getting constructive feedback is the hardest to accomplish. Most who listen to a play-by-play broadcaster will either tell that broadcaster he or she is great or that he or she is awful, if they tell him or her anything at all. That’s why it’s important to cast a wide net; when I was a minor league baseball broadcaster I contacted the Director of Broadcasting for several Major League Baseball teams and two gave me constructive feedback (another National League team’s Director of Broadcasting emailed me with useful feedback and we later spoke over the phone). It’s crucial to keep seeking constructive feedback until you get it. And, once you find people willing to help you, don’t be afraid to ask them to listen to more of your work down the road as you continue to get better.

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It feels weird that the 2012 baseball season ends on a Wednesday. I’m used to the season coming to an end on a Monday – I worked in minor league baseball for several years, and their season usually ends on Labor Day – or a Sunday. But, Wednesday it is.

Like most people who work in baseball, I’m terrible at saying goodbye, even though there are several people I probably should say goodbye to. I come into contact with dozens of people over the course of a season, people I see at every home game. There’s the security guard I wave to as I walk from my car to the ballpark, the attendant I make small talk with as I wait for the clubhouse to open, the writers with whom I talk baseball. I talk to some more than others, but we all are united because of baseball. But, on Wednesday, the last game will be played and we’ll scatter without much acknowledgement.

And, that’s the thing: because we’re united by baseball, there seems to be little reason to communicate once baseball season ends. Plus, an effort would have to be made to communicate in the off-season, whereas in-season communication is effortless. I’ll cross paths with some of them before next season, but not with the same frequency. Many of us will go months without seeing each other, if we ever see each other again. The following year, there are always new faces and faces that disappear; questions will be asked about the people who are gone but, rarely, is there any follow up, regardless of the circumstances that led to that person’s departure from our daily baseball routine.

It always takes me several days to decompress from baseball’s every day routine. Since early March, when I was in Arizona for spring training, there’s been a game to cover, post-game work to do, a player to interview, a manager to question every single day, save for the handful of off-days scattered throughout the season and spring training. You have to be wired a certain way to deal with the baseball grind; most people can’t handle a schedule with no weekends off and few evenings off. Few would want to deal with a summer with brief vacations – if any vacations – and the constant travel (I currently don’t travel with a baseball team during the regular season, but I did for seven years) that covering baseball requires. I figured out right away that the baseball lifestyle suits me, but it takes a little while to get used to a normal lifestyle again, with more evenings at home and no game every day.

No baseball team I’ve covered as a play-by-play broadcaster or pre- and post-game show host has made it to the postseason, and I would imagine it takes even longer to recover from a stretch with heightened intensity and uncertainty surrounding when – and how – the ride will end. But, watching postseason baseball helps me decompress. There are still daily games, but I’m not covering them, so I can watch a game without thinking about anything other than watching the game; I can tune in and out whenever I choose and I don’t have to concern myself with every detail. The postseason is the only time I really get to watch baseball as a fan, even though I’m not rooting for any of the teams.

Growing up, I used to suffer from baseball withdrawal. The end of World Series was always sad to me, because I wouldn’t have any baseball to watch for more than four months. When my Sports Illustrated would come in the mail, I’d scour it for any baseball nuggets, and I would do the same whenever I got my hands on a newspaper. But, as I got older and developed an affinity for other sports and cultivated other interests, that withdrawal waned until it eventually disappeared. I still miss baseball during the off-season but, the melancholy feeling has been replaced by a sanguine one; random stories and notes about the upcoming season get me excited about what lies ahead.

Even though I love baseball, I’m not a typical fan; I don’t see the game the same way an average fan does. The baseball off-season gives me a chance to be a fan of other teams and other sports. My attention turns to the New York Giants and Syracuse basketball in particular. I follow their games passionately and emote over every occurrence – good or bad – in their games, something I don’t do while watching baseball anymore. I also keep close tabs on the New York Knicks and on Syracuse football but, since both of those teams have struggled mightily for several years, I tend not to be as invested in their success – or, more accurately, their failures. Also, it’s possible for me to watch virtually every Giants and Syracuse basketball game live with minimal effort and little-to-no cost; the same isn’t true for the Knicks or for Syracuse football.

I also use the baseball off-season as a chance to cover other sports. This will be my 10th consecutive winter doing basketball play-by-play and, in many of those years, I’ve also called football. My preparation for the basketball and football games that I call is more detailed and nuanced than it would be if I wasn’t calling baseball. During a baseball season, there’s little time to slow down and think too far ahead. But, with basketball being two or three times a week and football being once a week, there’s plenty of time to put together detailed notes and to gather information. Baseball play-by-play is my first love, but I enjoy the different challenges posed by calling faster paced sports as well. When I do baseball play-by-play, or even during my pre- and post-game shows, I like to tell stories and weave that day’s events into a larger narrative. But, in basketball and football, I enjoy the challenge of delivering the perfectly timed statistic or factoid; the action moves so quickly that, if you miss your chance to mention something, the pace of the sport often won’t allow you another opportunity.

Right before either my fourth or fifth year covering baseball, I was worried because the season was about to start and I wasn’t particularly excited and I didn’t feel energized. Do I still want to do this? I thought to myself. Then, I gradually started my preparations for the season and realized that, as I dipped my toe deeper into the baseball waters, that excitement and enthusiasm began to emerge. Later, it occurred to me that I’d been through the grind of so many baseball seasons that my mind and my body knew what to expect and, as a result, were conserving energy. They knew how long the season was and they weren’t going to expend energy or resources unnecessarily or prematurely. Before each game that year, I noticed I was very low key but, once the games started, it was like a switch went off and I immediately transformed into Baseball Mode. I still find myself switching Baseball Mode on and off, when needed.

I wonder if a day will come where I’ll tire of covering baseball, a day where I’m unable to switch into Baseball Mode as quickly as I do now and the grind becomes more of a burden and less of a badge of honor. That day has come for many of my friends and former co-workers who’ve left baseball; some of them don’t really miss it and some forever rue the day they departed. I hope that day never comes for me. Hopefully, I’m able to gear up and decompress for many more baseball seasons. Right now, I know I’m prepared for the end of this season and I’ll be ready for the beginning of next season.

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After an hour-long subway ride, 25-minute ferry ride and 20-minute bus ride, I was in a room with about 40 people. We were all around the same age – late teens and early 20s – and we all had the same goal of working for the Staten Island Yankees. I’d been looking for an opportunity to work in baseball, and this seemed as good of a chance as any. The woman I’d spoken with on the phone a few days earlier told me anyone interested in working for the team needed to show up at their offices for an interview. I’d returned to New York City after my sophomore year of college a couple of weeks earlier and was planning on working as a tour guide for school and camp groups at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan for the second straight summer. However, I felt I had to explore any possibility of working in baseball, even if it meant a nearly two-hour commute. The Staten Island Yankees were about to embark on their first season as an affiliate of the New York Yankees in the short-season New York-Penn League, playing from late June through Labor Day, a schedule that dovetailed with my summer break.

It was my turn to go into the office. The gentleman sitting behind the desk noted that I was a college student and also that I lived in the Bronx. He asked me why I’d want to work in Staten Island. I told him I wanted to work in baseball and that the lengthy commute wouldn’t be an issue. They were looking for people to work in foodservice and run the concession stands, he said. That wasn’t what I had in mind, and he knew it.

“We’ve already hired all of our interns for the season,” he said. “If you’re interested in an internship next year, you should start looking in the winter.”

It hadn’t occurred to me to start looking in the winter for work in a sport that played all of its games in the spring and summer. I thanked him for his help and started the long trek home. A few weeks later, the Staten Island Yankees called and asked if I was still interested in working in concessions for them that summer. I told them I wasn’t. My dream of working in baseball would have to wait at least another year.

Growing up in New York City, I knew very little about minor league baseball. My focus was always on the Major Leagues. Every now and then, I’d read or hear something about a prospect who was doing well in Tidewater, or in Binghamton, or in St. Lucie – the top three minor league affiliates of my favorite team, the New York Mets – but I had no idea what that meant. As I started to get a better understanding of what Major League Baseball was all about, that was my focus. After all, who cares about who’s playing well in the minors? I thought. Most of those guys never make it to the big leagues anyway. It probably didn’t help that many of the Mets’ top prospects during my formative years – Bill Pulsipher, Grant Roberts, Butch Huskey and Alex Ochoa, to name a few – didn’t turn into superstars once they got to the Majors.

As I worked my way through high school and college and tried to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up, I realized I wanted baseball to be a part of my career in some fashion. I covered sports for my high school newspaper, which eventually led to me majoring in broadcast journalism at Syracuse University. I watched my first minor league baseball game early in my freshman year of college, when I took two buses from campus to see the Syracuse SkyChiefs, the top affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays, host the Rochester Red Wings, a Baltimore Orioles farm club, on the final day of the 1997 season. I was fascinated by the entire experience: the smaller ballpark, seats behind home plate for less than $10, the endless promotions and the good, but not quite Major League caliber, play on the field. When the 1998 season began, I cut class to attend the SkyChiefs’ home opener, a tradition I upheld all four years I went to Syracuse, and I followed the SkyChiefs closely.

After the advice I got from that Staten Island Yankees employee, I spent the winter of my junior year keeping a close eye on the New York-Penn League team New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon purchased and planned to move to Brooklyn. A stadium would be built in Coney Island, in the southern part of the borough but, in the meantime, Wilpon’s new team would have to spend at least one year playing at a temporary site. Initially, that site was to be at Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, but community opposition led to that idea being tabled. Several other options – including the team playing their games at Shea Stadium when the Mets were on the road – were explored before St. John’s University in Queens agreed to host the team for a season. In return, Wilpon and the Mets essentially paid for a new baseball stadium at St. John’s, redoing the surface, adding lights and installing new bleachers. Wilpon’s team would be known as the Queens Kings.

I finished my junior year of college without a summer job lined up. However, I was convinced I would find work with the Kings. I was home for a week before I located a working phone number for the Kings and, after leaving a message, my call was returned, an interview was scheduled and, before the interview was over, I was hired as an intern.

My summer with the Kings was fun, even though I worked long hours, had a two-hour commute that involved two subways and a bus and our attendance wasn’t great. I told the Kings’ general manager I wanted to work in broadcasting, so I either emceed on-field promotions or served as the public address announcer for every Kings home game. When the Kings weren’t playing, I was doing everything from ticket sales to chasing down starting lineups to pulling the infield tarp to writing articles for the game program. Not only did I learn a lot about the inner workings of a minor league baseball team, but my internship with the Kings confirmed my belief that, not only did I want to work in baseball, but that I could work in baseball. Working in for the Kings also made it easier for me to apply for broadcasting jobs in the minors, because I had a better idea of what teams were looking for and a better idea of what to expect.

People always ask me about the best way to get a job in baseball or broadcasting. There’s no one way to go about it, but you have to do your homework, seize whatever opportunities come your way and seek advice from those in the business. Every experience, even the unsuccessful ones, can help lead you down the right path. The journey to find the career that best suits you is always worth it. Even if that journey involves a ferry ride.

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Jonathan Sanchez hasn’t had a very good year.

A lefthanded starting pitcher in his first season with the Kansas City Royals, Sanchez has posted a 6.75 ERA in 11 starts. He’s struggled to throw strikes, walking 43 in 52 innings to go along with 58 hits allowed. Not surprisingly, Sanchez has had difficulty going deep into games, pitching into the sixth inning only three times and posting just one quality start – six or more innings pitched while allowing three or fewer earned runs – and even in that game, he walked four (including one with the bases loaded), hit two batters and was charged with two throwing errors in a Royals loss. Never a pitcher with great command, Sanchez had moderate success with his former team, the San Francisco Giants, winning 13 games for them in 2010 and helping them to a championship. However, the average velocity on Sanchez’s fastball is down this year by about three or four miles per hour – a significant drop, by Major League Baseball standards – and the Royals thought the diminished velocity might be the result of an injury, leading them to put Sanchez on the disabled list for a month. But, Sanchez’s velocity hasn’t increased since his return. Nor have the results changed.

Entering 2012, the Royals have posted losing records in 16 of their last 17 seasons, so their fans are accustomed to poor performances and lousy play. But, the ire directed by the fans toward Sanchez has been different than the ire directed at most other struggling Royals players and has been fueled in part by the way he carries himself. On the field, Sanchez is emotionless and dispassionate. In a few of his post-game interviews after his starts, the soft-spoken Sanchez has deflected attention from his lackluster results; in one instance, he suggested that the opposition’s success against him that day was largely due to luck. Oftentimes, Sanchez has reiterated that he’s pitching the same as he did in the past, when he was more successful, even though the results have been subpar. On my Royals post-game radio show and on Twitter, I’ve heard from several Royals fans who assume Sanchez doesn’t care. Some say his pitching has been lousy because he never wanted to play for Kansas City in the first place. Others say Sanchez would be more tolerable to them if he showed some emotion and showed that his struggles were getting to him. A few others have mentioned their disgust over the fact he rarely tweets about baseball on his personal Twitter account.

So, is Jonathan Sanchez apathetic? Does he not care about baseball? Is he mailing it in, since he knows he will make $5.6 million this season, regardless of how he pitches? All are legitimate questions. However, it’s extremely doubtful that Sanchez is simply going through the motions.

I understand why fans latch onto things like body language and post-game interview responses, especially when a player isn’t performing well; fans are trying to figure out why a player is struggling and those are the easiest things to pick on. Most fans aren’t going to notice issues with mechanics or pick up on things like significant drops in velocity or slight adjustments in batting stances. Many media who cover a team on a daily basis won’t observe such things on their own either, but media have the opportunity to get specifics and explanations from players and coaches. I also understand why fans sometimes see the struggles of a player or a team and pin them on a lack of effort or assume that the winning team simply “wanted it more.” But none of those things could be farther from the truth.

If Sanchez were pitching well, his lack of emotion on the mound would be considered a “game face” and a way for him to conceal his intentions to his opponents; Sanchez would be praised for having the same demeanor regardless of what was happening around him. And, his post-game press conferences wouldn’t be an issue; after all, if a player is doing well on the field, fans rarely concern themselves with what that player is saying to the media. But, the fact of the matter is, Sanchez isn’t pitching well and, as a result, fans and media alike are going to dissect his on- and off-field actions even more. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean those actions are indicative of his lack of success.

What if Sanchez took the opposite tack? Sanchez could bash water coolers with a baseball bat after a bad outing, angrily kick the dirt when he gave up a key hit, throw his glove against the dugout wall after a rough inning or be extremely critical of himself in post-game interviews. However, none of those actions would change the results of his pitching performances. And, while fans may initially rave about the fact that Sanchez seems to really care and seems to be accountable, that act wears thin if Sanchez’s pitching doesn’t improve. Then, Sanchez would be criticized for boorish behavior. Body language and interview skills are important for athletes, but performing well between the white lines is what matters most.

There are a handful of athletes who are gifted enough to coast and to have success in the Majors based on ability alone, but success for players who rely solely on innate skills tends to be short-lived. Baseball players who aren’t putting in their work are noticed by their teammates, manager and coaches and are likely to be called out by at least one – if not all – of those entities if they aren’t playing well and, sometimes, they’ll be called out even if they are producing. In order to get to the Major Leagues and to stay there, players have to constantly work to refine and maintain their skills because there are always others waiting to take their jobs from them if they slip. A player could set his family up for life financially with even just a handful of serviceable Major League seasons, so the monetary incentive is there as well (In Sanchez’s case, he’s a free agent after this season and even a mediocre 2012 campaign could net him a multi-year contract worth well into the millions of dollars). Over the course of a long season, players will get frustrated and some will struggle to put forth the same effort consistently. Not all players approach their on- or off-field actions with the same level of care and dedication. But, the idea that a player or a team is struggling because of a lack of effort or because they don’t care is patently absurd. Generally speaking, the team that plays the best on any given day will win. And, the teams that win more often do so because they have more talent, the right amount of experience and ample depth to withstand injuries and other issues that affect a team’s consistency over the course of a season. The gap between the most talented and least talented Major League Baseball teams and players is rather narrow, and even the most gifted will struggle if they’re unable to maintain a consistent level of play. A lack of consistency or a lack of talent isn’t the same as a lack of desire or a lack of concern.

I don’t know if Jonathan Sanchez will turn things around or whether the Royals will continue to give him opportunities to sort things out at the Major League level. I don’t know Sanchez well enough to have an opinion on his passion for the game. But, I do know it’s very difficult to become good enough even to be a lousy Major League player by being complacent or by lacking desire. Regardless, carefully studying Sanchez’s body language, interviews and tweets won’t be enough to determine his commitment to baseball. When you see a player or a team struggle to have success or to maintain success, it probably isn’t because they don’t care enough or don’t work hard enough. More than likely, that player or team simply isn’t good enough. And, right now, Sanchez isn’t good enough.

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