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!?” 
rhyming:
“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.” 
spelling:
“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!

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

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

15 May 2015

Ready to go: NCAA softball regional in Gainesville

It's gameday in Gainesville, and the start of the 2015 NCAA Division I softball tournament! (Actually, the tournament started Thursday night in Oregon, but it starts today for me, my partner, and my regional).

After flying into Gainesville late Wednesday night, I met my partner, former Arizona National Player of the Year Jenny Dalton-Hill, and some of our crew. On Thursday, we had a meeting in the morning and then spent the afternoon watching the teams practice and talking to their coaches. The rest of the time was spent studying!

The day of practices and interviews felt, at times, like being thrown into the deep end of the softball pool. I think (I hope!) I figured out fairly quickly how to swim in this pool and do justice to all the hard work and commitment everybody put in to prepare for this weekend. Although it was our first day working together, it felt like Jenny and I were on the same page about how to handle things, and I think we're going to team up well this weekend.

The conversations with all four coaches and with three Florida players were great, but because of a sudden cloudburst, we had extended time with first-year Hofstra head coach Larissa Anderson and veteran Florida Atlantic coach Joan Joyce, and both conversations were fascinating.
Anderson was brilliant at toeing the line between respecting Hofstra's incredible, championship tradition under Bill Edwards, with whom she worked for years, and discussing some of the changes that have gone into the "new era" of Hofstra softball. One of her descriptions of players putting on championship-game jerseys gave me goosebumps.

Joyce reminded me of Rice baseball head coach Wayne Graham. Both are decidedly old-school, both encourage their catchers to call pitches rather than rely on signs relayed from the dugout, and both will answer one of your questions with whatever answer they want, even if it's only tangentially related. Not that we mind! A Joan Joyce tangent is well worth an admission fee, and we got in for free.

Having played elite basketball, volleyball, golf, and softball, Joyce has no shortage of stories, including this gem:
“I always joke about this. The thing that made me famous was striking out Ted Williams. I had a record of 753 wins, 42 losses in my career. 150 no-hitters, 50 perfect games, and what made me famous was striking out Ted Williams, and that was probably the easiest thing I’ve ever had to do.

I gave him 15 minutes, and he fouled off three pitches.

He had a luncheon in the afternoon, and he was sitting next to my coach, and he was telling my coach how he didn’t like to hit the high/inside pitch. My coach said, 'This is what Williams doesn’t like to hit: He doesn’t like the high, tight pitch.' I said, 'It’s a good thing you’re the coach and I’m the pitcher, because Ted Williams is not getting a high, inside pitch. The guy’s got the best eyes in baseball, and you want me to throw my 12-inch softball in his eyes?' I said, 'Are you crazy?'

So I’d give him the rise ball, but I’d throw it out of the zone, and he fouled off a couple of those. He didn’t chase many, though, but when he did hit a higher pitch, he fouled it back, and then I just got him on my drop. I’d just throw drop after drop, and he couldn’t come close to hitting those."

So am I ready for some softball? We'll find out at 3:30 pm (ET) on ESPN3!

12 May 2015

Next up: calling an NCAA softball regional in Gainesville, Florida!

I thought my softball broadcasting career might be over before it ever got started after I had to abort my scheduled softball debut due to Northeastern weather.

But I got a surprise opportunity this week to work for ESPN this weekend calling one of the 16 NCAA softball regionals, and I couldn't be more excited! I'm not going to lie: Every time ESPN has announced its extensive coverage of the NCAA baseball postseason, I've desperately wanted to be on that list. Today, it felt pretty awesome to be on this type of release.

After working out the travel details, I will call the Gainesville Regional featuring:
  1. Florida - defending national champion, No. 1 national seed - powerhouse favorite
  2. Hofstra - very good program that was one win away from Women's College World Series in 2013
  3. Florida Atlantic - their coach struck out Ted Williams. Seriously!
  4. Florida A&M - underdogs getting hot at the right time after slow start
Oh, and I'm calling the games alongside Jenny Dalton-Hill, who won three national championships in four years at Arizona and was National Player of the Year and Women's College World Series MVP in 1996. Hopefully they don't show our resumes side by side!

This is definitely going to dominate my thought process for the next week, and I think it's going to be a blast. Check it out if you have time this weekend - an updated schedule will be on the right side of this site.

06 May 2015

Musical Goalkeepers: Who will man the net for the Philadelphia Union this weekend?

I'm calling the Philadelphia Union's Saturday game against the Vancouver Whitecaps for The Comcast Network (7pm ET). Preparing is proving no easy task, in part because of the Union's traditionally fluid, currently almost vaporized goalkeeper situation.

Here are the goalkeepers currently employed by the Philadelphia Union:
1. Zac MacMath (23yo) - on season-long loan to Colorado Rapids. MLS roster rules confirm "the player must remain with his new club for the entire MLS season."
2. Raïs Mbolhi (29yo) - was advised to take leave from club after posting 1.80 GAA while starting first five games and making key mistake late in 2014 season. Returned to training on Tuesday.
3. John McCarthy (22yo) - had started last five games before suffering a concussion in training on Tuesday.
4. Andre Blake (24yo) - No. 1 pick in last year's draft was recovering from torn left meniscus, then tore right meniscus in training on Tuesday.

So Tuesday's training session was, it's safe to say, eventful. Head coach Jim Curtin, trying to maintain his team's confidence despite a 1-6-3 start, agreed that, "You can’t make it up. The timing is beyond crazy. I’ve never seen two goalkeepers get hurt in one training session. I’ve never seen two goalkeepers get hurt in a season, let alone literally 45 seconds apart."

Consequently, the Union have one goalkeeper available for Saturday's game, and it's Mbolhi (pictured above), who just about everybody in North American soccer expected to leave MLS as soon as the summer transfer window opens in Europe.

Yet Curtin did not name Mbolhi his starter on Wednesday. The Union need to acquire another goalkeeper immediately, and given the uncertainty of head injuries, the newcomer may be with the club for the long term. So Curtin might give the new guy the start, rather than go with Mbolhi.

Who are the options?

01 May 2015

How is it already the end of April? What I've been up to lately and other pictures ...

May 1, really? Came way too fast for me.

The good news is that I've kept fairly busy. The Big East Digital Network and St. John's have given me the opportunity to dive back into my first broadcasting love, college baseball, while I usually seem to find enough Major League Soccer-related work to keep me going.

On the baseball side of things, I'm up to 31 different stadiums in which I've seen college games after I saw Villanova Ballpark for the first time with Bob Hirschfield back on April 19 in a really interesting Villanova-Xavier game that went down to the wire.

We were back at St. John's, of course, the following weekend, and I never tire of trading stories with Bob, the former head coach at NYIT and a player on the 1968 St. John's team that went to the College World Series. I've done enough games at Kaiser Stadium now that the crew running the broadcast features a bunch of friendly faces every time I go, and it's great to develop that kind of routine and comfort level on a show.

Back in soccer, I've done radio calls for two New York Red Bulls games, and I got to cover the International Champions Cup press conference on Tuesday. It was as good an excuse as I can imagine for frequenting the Trump SoHo, and I interviewed a player from the game that got me back into soccer, Dwight Yorke from Manchester United and the 1999 UEFA Champions League final.
Oh, and I followed along nervously while my friends Eric and Della were stranded and then rescued in Nepal … I know how scared I was trying to send positive thoughts and help, somehow, from the US, but I can't imagine how scared and brave they were to get through the whole thing. Amazingly thankful.

Now that they're safe, it does feel like spring may be finally here (!), and I'm looking forward to more soccer, baseball, occasional trips to Central Park, and venturing out to see everything else New York has to offer.

17 April 2015

Calling more New York Red Bulls games while going back to my radio roots

A photo posted by Jason Baum (@baum717) on
I had the great chance to fill in as the play-by-play voice of the New York Red Bulls on MSG for their first two broadcasts this year, covering for Steve Cangialosi as he finished out his hockey season with the New Jersey Devils.

I'm going to keep calling Red Bulls games, however, as part of the team's online radio network, which kicks off tonight when the Red Bulls host the San Jose Earthquakes at Red Bull Arena at 7 p.m. ET. I won't be calling every game, but I'll be calling about one-third of them, mostly alongside former MLS defender Steve Jolley.

This is a combination of my first soccer team (I interned for the MetroStars in 2002) and my initial entry into broadcasting: radio! I began my MLS broadcasting career by calling Houston Dynamo games on the radio for three years, calling one game in 2008 and then almost every game of the 2009-11 seasons. It's a very different style of calling games than television (you talk a lot more!), and I enjoy them both, so it's going to be neat to mix in some radio work this year.

Most of all, I'm looking forward to seeing more MLS games in person this year and to continuing my coverage of a team that's been really fun to watch so far. I've called two of the Red Bulls' three road games this year, and those games have had seven goals, including a 30-yard chip and a 90th-minute game-tying goal.

What will my first MLS broadcast at Red Bull Arena since 2011 bring? We'll find out tonight! The game is televised only in Spanish, so try turning down the volume and checking us out at NewYorkRedBulls.com!

09 April 2015

Fifth time's the charm: baseball season is finally here!

I was excited to call a lot of college baseball and softball this year. I love college baseball, I thought I could easily embrace college softball, and I was looking forward to improving in a new area.

That has proved to be far more difficult than expected.

You see, the weather in New York (and much of the country, of course) has been awful. When I finally opened an NEC Front Row broadcast at LIU Brooklyn on Wednesday, it was the first time I got to call any baseball or softball this year on my FIFTH attempt.

Not cool at all. Here's how I went 0-for-4:

0-1: March 18 - LIU Brooklyn vs. St. John's baseball game cancelled due to field conditions.
0-2: March 21 - Two different flights out of La Guardia get cancelled during a snowstorm, and the SEC Network has to plan without me for my only scheduled college softball game. A big letdown. Missed a great game, too.
0-3: March 25 - I'm on hand to call LIU Brooklyn vs. NYIT baseball, but as the forecast grows steadily worse, it is correctly decided that we cannot do our broadcast because the rain could damage the equipment. The game goes ahead in nasty conditions, and I leave after two hours and five innings, barely able to feel my feet.
0-4: April 7 - As on March 25, the LIU Brooklyn vs. St. John's baseball game happens, but once again, rain prohibits us from broadcasting. This time I stay warm at home and follow online.

So I finally got on the air on Wednesday in LIU Brooklyn's 13-5 loss to Iona, and while it was cold and windy, we had no rain to speak of. I've got more baseball on tap throughout April and into May (starting this weekend with two games of what should be an excellent St. John's-Seton Hall series), and I'm looking forward to some warmer, springier days at the ballpark!

Calling a game at LIU is a pretty unique experience. The field is an enormous rectangle of artificial turf that has a baseball diamond in one corner, softball diamond in the next corner over, and loads of space for soccer and lacrosse up to the other two corners. With a temporary fence and all sorts of screens, overhangs, and ground rules, you never know exactly how a ball is going to play in the outfield.

I called Wednesday's game from a table adjacent to the LIU Brooklyn dugout, underneath the main rows of elevated bleachers and just to the right of home plate. It makes seeing the right-field corner just about impossible, but the trade-off is that you really feel like a part of the dugout chatter!

At any rate, great to be calling baseball again, and I'm looking forward to seeing how all these Northeastern teams, something of a mystery to me in my Rice days, fare throughout the season.

15 March 2015

I was there ... when MLS debuted in New York

I've been to at least 50 professional baseball games in the state of New York, probably closer to 100, and a distinct majority of those have been in New York City.

But until Sunday night, I had never been to a professional soccer game in New York City.

In fact, Sunday's home opener for expansion club New York City FC was only the third professional soccer game I've attended in New York state -- the other two were on Long Island.

So while I'm not wild about soccer teams being called Football Clubs, super-rich parent clubs are not my cup of tea, and I do prefer soccer-specific venues, it was pretty cool to be there with more than 45,000 fans as (New) Yankee Stadium made its MLS debut.

I was there to observe and network, rather than appear on-air, but it was a very cool atmosphere punctuated by two moments of brilliance from David Villa. (See for yourself). There was an impressive amount of light blue in the stands, given that NYC FC is a new team, and when the entire stadium got going with unison chants of "N-Y-C, N-Y-C," it gave me goosebumps.

Welcome to MLS, New York.