12 September 2015

Back on college football, back in Troy, Alabama

I don't always call college football, but when I do … I often wind up calling the Troy Trojans.

On Saturday, I will call Troy football for the third time, and I also saw them as a spectator last year. However, the most memorable Troy game I've ever been to is a bittersweet one: The Trojans crushed Rice in the 2006 New Orleans Bowl, the Owls' first bowl appearance in 40 years. I treasure that night because I got to watch the game with my father, a fellow Rice alum who had been to our previous bowl appearance in the 1960s, but we got a pretty good butt-kicking in the actual game.

2015 marks my second visit to Veterans Memorial Stadium in Troy, Ala. (here's a look back at my first), reachable via the airport in Montgomery, Ala., and an hour's drive south.

Naturally, Troy just happened to have its 2006 New Orleans Bowl trophy sitting in the office of new head coach Neal Brown. Thanks for the welcome!

But seriously, I'm calling Saturday's game between Troy and Charleston Southern with former FCS championship-winning coach Mickey Matthews, and we had an excellent visit with Troy on Friday. We got to take in a practice session that was definitely more practice than walkthrough, and we had excellent conversations / storytelling sessions with Brown, defensive coordinator Vic Koenning, and former head coach Larry Blakeney. (They did most of the storytelling, I did most of the listening and a good share of the laughing.)

Charleston Southern is a small Baptist school that just got lights for its football stadium and was ecstatic to draw more than 4,000 fans for its home opener last week. But the Buccaneers have been excellent recently, are used to winning, and took Vanderbilt down to the wire last year. What's more, they run an unusual option attack that is very difficult to defend. For a Troy program that is in rebuilding mode, this is no simple task. Still, the Trojans will have a size advantage, run an up-tempo offense that can also be difficult to defend, and should be highly  motivated.

So it should be a good one! Mickey and I are asking for good weather and a close game, so check it out Saturday night at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN3!

31 August 2015

Hear our Red Bulls Radio Network call of spectacular Bradley Wright-Phillips volley

Yeah, we take in-game selfies.
On Sunday night, I got to call what is my final regularly-scheduled Red Bulls game of the year (although I certainly hope to be involved in some postseason broadcasts).

That gave me a bittersweet feeling heading into the game, but the first 65 minutes of the game were so exciting to call that I just enjoyed the soccer, the atmosphere, and the feeling of anticipation for whatever was coming next.

As usual, analyst Steve Jolley and I had a great time calling the game, perhaps never moreso than on this spectacular Bradley Wright-Phillips goal late in the first half, one that has to be the favorite for MLS Goal of the Week and a challenger for MLS Goal of the Year.

And here's what it looked like:

13 August 2015

One more night of Open Cup magic in Philadelphia

Somehow I didn't feel like I was at my best in Wednesday night's broadcast of the U.S. Open Cup semifinals, but partner Jill Loyden had a really strong night, we had fun, and I still felt like we got the big moments right. Like this one:

Philadelphia held on to win 1-0, and it was pretty cool to go down to the stadium club after the game and watch as Philadelphia fans and employees rooted for Sporting Kansas City in the other Open Cup semifinal. KC's 3-1 win over Real Salt Lake means that Philadelphia will host the Open Cup final on Sept. 30.

Less fun? Taking 90 minutes to get through a six-mile backup on the New Jersey Turnpike on my way home, arriving after 1 am. Such is Open Cup fever.

I can pretty much guarantee I won't be on the TV call of that championship game, but after calling all of Philadelphia's home Open Cup games in this year's tournament (plus their first two last year), I intend to be at PPL Park to see if they can lift the trophy!

Full highlights from Wednesday's game are below:

10 August 2015

How it sounded as New York Red Bulls swept New York City FC

I had a great time calling the third New York Red Bulls-New York City FC game on Sunday night. In an incredible atmosphere and in front of a sold-out crowd, the Red Bulls came away with a 2-0 win, giving them the series sweep of their cross-river rivals.

I've got two more Red Bulls radio calls in August, as well as a US Open Cup semifinal on Wednesday and hopefully more to come this fall!

With color analyst Steve Jolley joining me on the calls, here's what the two Red Bulls goals sounded like, first from Bradley Wright-Phillips:

and then from Felipe:

01 August 2015

By the numbers: Some research on Saturday's Union-Red Bulls game

I'm back to MLS action on Saturday with a radio call of the Philadelphia Union-New York Red Bulls game from beautiful PPL Park. These are the two MLS teams I work with most closely, so I'm plenty familiar with the personnel on both sides.

Both clubs are expecting to debut new signings on Saturday, with Swiss DP Tranquillo Barnetta (you do pronounce the Ls in his first name, because it's Italian) available for Philadelphia and former England international Shaun Wright-Phillips potentially playing for the Red Bulls.

Here are a few numbers that caught my attention while preparing for the game:
  • Influencers: Philadelphia with Vincent Nogueira: 6-6-4, +1 GD
                         Philadelphia w/o Vincent Nogueira:  0-6, -10 GD
                         Red Bulls when Matt Miazga starts:            8-2-3, +12 GD
                         Red Bulls when Matt Miazga doesn't start: 0-4-2, -6 GD
    Unfortunately for Philadelphia, Nogueira is set to miss the game – and most of August – with a quad injury. Miazga is, as far as I know, expected to play.
  • Set pieces:   Red Bulls on set pieces, incl. PKs:     6-1
                         Philadelphia on set pieces, incl. PKs: 2-7
                         Red Bulls on set pieces, w/o PKs:     4-1
                         Philadelphia on set pieces, w/o PKs: 2-5
  • Spot of trouble: The Red Bulls are just 4-for-9 on penalty kicks in June and July, including 0-3 on regulation penalty kicks in MLS play (Bradley Wright-Phillips 0-2, Sal Zizzo 0-1) and 3-for-5 in a shootout loss to Philadelphia in the Open Cup.
  • Maybe they are lucky: All four penalty kicks taken against Philadelphia (3) and the Red Bulls (1) this year were taken by current members of D.C. United. The Eastern Conference leaders are 1-for-2 against Philadelphia and 0-for-1 against the Red Bulls, while newly acquired Álvaro Saborío scored against the Union while playing for Real Salt Lake.
  • Man advantage: The Red Bulls have benefited from six red cards by opponents this year, going 4-0-1 in those games (Real Salt Lake received two on June 24). New York is 1-1 when receiving a red card. By contrast, Philadelphia has received four red cards and has gone 0-3-1 in those games, while failing to win either game (0-0-2) in which an opponent was ejected.
  • Expect goals …: The two teams have not been shut out in a combined 19 consecutive MLS games (11 for Philadelphia, 8 for the Red Bulls).
  • … but probably not early: Philadelphia has not allowed a goal this year in the first 15 minutes of a game.
You can check the game out at 7:00 ET tonight, and you can hear my call via the Red Bulls' matchday audio page and Mixlr.com.

28 July 2015

Chipotle MLS Homegrown Game highlights

Highlights from Tuesday's Chipotle MLS Homegrown Game, which I called alongside Joe Cannon and Jackie Montgomery.

Back to work on Tuesday with the Chipotle MLS Homegrown Game!

I'm back to work this week with one of the more appropriate assignments I can think of: calling the Chipotle MLS Homegrown Game.

Homegrown Players (HGPs) in MLS are players developed in a club's youth academy, and since the league instituted this rule in 2008, it's been a pet project of mine. I keep tabs on team academies and college players to see who the next HGPs will be, and I keep a close eye on them once they get to the MLS ranks too.

That's why I'm so excited to be in Denver this week to call the Homegrown Game, now in its second season, Tuesday night at 9pm ET on MLS LIVE, MLSsoccer.com, YouTube and simulcast on Sirius XM 94.

A select group of the league's HGPs, coached by the greatest player in U.S. history, Landon Donovan, will take on the U-20s from Mexican powerhouse Club América. I'm curious to see if the tradition of US vs. Mexico rivalries adds a little spice to this one, and I'm excited to see in person several players I've only read about and studied from afar. For soccer-heads, here's a piece from MLSsoccer.com on who to watch for tonight.

In talking to Donovan on Monday, he summed up the difference MLS academies have made by saying the final spots on team rosters used to be filled by young players with talent; "now they're real soccer players."

It's a great broadcast crew, too, with former MLS All-Star and Colorado Rapids goalkeeper Joe Cannon joining me as an analyst and the Seattle Sounders' Jackie Montgomery reporting from the sidelines. Veterans of MLS television will be producing the show, and it should be a fun night!

22 June 2015

Yakima 2005, 10 years later: looking back on my professional broadcasting debut

One of my favorite things to call is a player’s debut.

It can be his professional debut, his first collegiate game, or even when he steps on the field for a new team. But I love being there at the beginning, seeing and documenting the start of a new series of memories. I look forward to seeing later moments in a player’s career and being able to trace them back to this one.

For all this, I don’t remember much about my own debut as a professional broadcaster. June 21, 2005. I didn’t remember who my Yakima (Wash.) Bears played that night (Vancouver, I looked it up), who pitched (nobody you’ve heard of) or even which team won (we did!). I knew the date, and I had a mental image of my spectacular view from the press box, but of course it’s an amalgamation of all the nights I spent that summer calling minor league baseball.

But I know that was the first time I called a game because somebody was paying me to. And I know it was a thrill.

I remember butterflies, especially as we went live with the taped intro from 1460 AM (Country KUTI – pronounced ‘Cutie’), playing, “Now, to the ballpark, and the voice of the Bears, Jon Yardley!” I remember my moment of hesitation and surprise that my predecessor had taped the intro using ‘Jon,’ rather than ‘Jonathan.’ Discomfort that I was worth introducing anyway. Panic(?) that I was about to speak live to the people of a community I had lived in for all of a week.

Then I was on the air.

I have no idea what I said, but pretty soon, it was baseball, just like I had called several hundred times before. Lots of baseball. 76 games in 79 days, to be exact. Which was exactly what I wanted.


There is no recording of that broadcast. While my parents and I have recorded many of my broadcasts, the radio station’s online stream was unavailable that night, so my parents back in New Jersey had no way to listen.

But there are recordings of the next night, June 22, and listening to it now feels a bit like stepping back in time. A younger version of me, fresh-faced and simplistic, enunciating Northeastern vowels relaxed and flattened by four years in Texas, yet attempting to sound authentic by pronouncing it yak-ih-MAHH, like the locals, rather than YAK-ih-muh, like everybody else:
“Our national anthem here from Yaki-MAH County Stadium as the clouds drift aside and, ah, sun shining on us today as the Bears have taken the field, SET for baseball – game two of this two-thousand-faahve season. Bears got off to a winning start with a 10-4 decision … last night, same lineup as last night except for the starting pitcher.” 
I had fun with research:
“Kemlo attended Santa Fe Community College, and if you think he was out west in New Mexico, nope. … Santa Fe Junior College is in Gainesville, Florida, turns out. Who knew!?” 
“Rahl, the high socks, standing in from the right side. Olivares at first the rare Bear with the socks down. And the one-one pitch to Rahl: under the hands. Called a strike, and Rahl can’t believe it. Body language the telling factor there, and Dan Oliver knows exactly what Chris Rahl thought of that call. … Again with the nursery rhyme! Might as well turn it into a kids’ show!” 
 pop culture:
“‘Da Bears’ – I love saying that.” 
“Now oh-and-two to Tietje. Chalon Tietje, and if you can’t spell it – don’t worry; I couldn’t the first time either. Oh-two: Breaking ball, chopped slowly on the ground to short. Bruce will charge, take the awkward hop, throw on the run, and – get him! Nice play by Bruce. Pretty awkward play, but he made the throw perfectly, and a good stretch by Hendricks. The out recorded, six-three. We’ll fill you in on the spelling of Tietje a little bit later on. It rhymes with Fiji, but it’s really not spelled that way.”
and math:
“So two away, and Wes Long will be the batter, the third baseman for Vancouver. Two-for-four last night, with one run scored. That makes his average – oh! You guessed it! Five hundred. Averages will be easy arithmetic this early in the season.”
Yeah, 76 games of flying solo definitely requires asking and answering some of your own questions, so I was clearly comfortable, even in Game 2, having a bit of fun on my own.

I filled fans in on “the quirky dimensions of this ballpark” (293 feet down either foul line) and cardinal directions (“Sun setting to my left, so we must be facing – north. Logic follows…”) and how the weather might affect the game: “first base is the sun field here at Yakima County Stadium, as is right field. The sun screen off to our left, a big black screen, and it – uh – protects the first baseman and the first-base runner from the sun.” This was no joke – attempting a pickoff throw in the first three innings was dangerous because the first baseman might not be able to see the ball.

Basically, I was trying to start a series of inside jokes that I could use for the remaining 74 games, introducing fans to my sense of humor and inviting them along for the ride. Those jokes, catchphrases, little bits of routine (“It’s the second inning, so let’s update you on the Bud Clary Toyota of Yakima scoreboard”), would be a part of my summer, as would advertisers like Carpenters’ Union Local 770, Cascade Copiers, Burroughs Tractor, Yakima Valley Farmworkers Clinic, Salsita’s (“One word says it all” “Salcita’s!”), US Cellular, Outback Steakhouse, and the Best Western Ahtanum Inn.

How many joined me all summer? It’s hard to say, and I’ll admit I could have sounded more enthusiastic and been more energetic on any number of occasions throughout the broadcast and the season. I was still learning how to project energy into my broadcasts.

But the Bears had a decent local following, so while home games might not have had a huge audience, I know I was the sole voice bringing baseball to our community from road games, and there were people and families who allowed the rise and fall of my voice to be part of their summer, too.

So looking ahead was essential, inviting fans to join us for the next game, and my June 22 sign-off kind of says it all:
“Time of the game: three hours, three minutes. It was played before a crowd of one thousand, two hundred fifty-three here at YakiMAH County Stadium. Thank you for tuning in. Our next broadcast is tomorrow night, first pitch at 7:05, pregame at 6:50. Tomorrow is Thirsty Thursday – one-dollar cokes, two-dollar beers, Friday night we’re giving away rally towels, and Saturday night the Mariner Moose is in town, brought to you by US Cellular and Clear Channel. That’s our broadcast for KL Wombacher, the GM of the Bears, and Jessica back at the station, this is Jonathan Yardley, saying have a good night everybody, we’ll see you tomorrow from YakiMAH County Stadium. The final score – Vancouver 9, YakiMAH 6.”

Ten years later, I again get paid to call games, it’s still a thrill, and I can’t believe how lucky I am.

What will I think of today’s games when I watch and listen back in 10 years? 20 years?

I have no idea. But I know I’ll be able to trace them back to Yakima, 2005, and a kid living his dream in the Washington desert.

21 May 2015

My softball weekend in pictures

Unlike much of the country, we had great weather in Gainesville.
My venture into softball for the year was a quick one: I called six games in about 48 hours for ESPN3's coverage of the NCAA Division I Softball Regionals last weekend. In our four-team regional, defending national champion Florida worked 22 shutout innings to get past Florida A&M, Hofstra, and Florida Atlantic and reach the super regionals.

Purple tie? Patterned sweater? We got 'em.
Our broadcasts went well and, most importantly, were a lot of fun. I thought my partner, Jenny Dalton-Hill, and I established an easy partnership with a good mix of analysis, discussion, and the occasional joke. The teams were all helpful in our coverage, and the four coaches kindly joined us for in-game interviews every game, and I think those stayed interesting throughout.

Was it perfect? It's never perfect. I did slip up and say 'mound' instead of circle here and there -- not because I was confused, but just because it slips in naturally after so many baseball games. We had some umpiring decisions that were tough to decipher (the extremely rare "umpire interference" play, for example), and there was a hiccup in our show open on Sunday, when I turned to look at our program monitor while I was still on camera.

Behind the scenes in the broadcast booth.
But on the whole, I thought we chronicled the tournament accurately, brought people more insight into the respective programs, and hopefully celebrated the big moments all around. Our crew did terrific work, particularly when we faced three games in a row on Saturday, a stretch during which it is extremely difficult to maintain one's concentration.

Saturday's action brought a walk-off in extra innings.
Every big play by Florida A&M - and they made a bunch of them - brought big smiles, while Hofstra was certainly the sentimental favorite, with senior Morgan Lashley limping her way to and from the mound and competing all the way to tears in an extra-inning loss on Saturday night. Florida Atlantic brought pitching, defense, and just enough dramatic hitting to make it to Sunday, while Florida always had the talent to advance but was held to a higher level of expectations all weekend. We were watching closely to see if they were ready for bigger and better competition, a question which will only be answered by the remaining weekends of the tournament.

Watching the scores roll in from around the country was fascinating, and it feels a little weird to know the tournament continues this weekend, starting Thursday night, without me. But I'll be watching, and I hope I'll be back covering softball again next year!

16 May 2015

Update from Gainesville

Here's what Jenny and I had to say after Day 1 of the Gainesville Regional on Friday - two very interesting games for very different reasons:

The Hofstra-Florida Atlantic opener was the tight pitching duel we expected, and Hofstra squeaked out a run in the bottom of the sixth to take a 1-0 win. In the nightcap, Florida was not its sharpest but still cruised to a 6-0 win behind 17 strikeouts from Aleshia Ocasio and a 3-for-4 night from the very impressive Kelsey Stewart. However, my favorite part of the game was seeing the emotions of Florida A&M's players whenever they made a big play against the defending national champs.

On Saturday, we start our day with the winners' bracket game between Florida and Hofstra - a chance for the Pride to prove they've been underrated, and a chance for the Gators to break a string of plate appearances that has seen them fall short of their extremely high expectations. Very curious to see how the pitching matchup shakes out in this one.

The second game is going to be a memorable moment for one team, because both Florida Atlantic and Florida A&M are looking for their first NCAA tournament win since 2006 money. Logic favors third-seeded FAU, but you never know!

Then we'll have another elimination game to round out the day in what is usually the most entertaining - and desperate - game of the weekend.

Having a blast working this weekend in Gainesville!

Hofstra 1, Florida Atlantic 0
Florida 6, Florida A&M 0

1pm ET - Florida vs. Hofstra
3:30pm ET - Florida Atlantic vs. Florida A&M
6pm ET - elimination game