23 April 2018

Baseball: You always see something new!

I try to avoid cliches, at least to some extent, in my sports broadcasting -- we aim for originality whenever possible!

But many of them exist for a reason, and one is something long-time baseball fans like myself rely on: Every time you go to a baseball game, you see something you've never seen before.

Even in a game with as many different combinations of plays, lineups, personnel, etc. as baseball has, this seems impossible. Surely there are fairly straightforward contests that veterans of hundreds of games can describe as routine.

But last week, for me at least, this saying rang absolutely true. I went to three games - one at the new Yankee Stadium and two college contests at St. John's - and saw something new each time. I've probably been to 800 baseball games, broadcasted almost 500, and I had no precedents to refer to.

Monday - New Yankee Stadium, Yankees vs. Marlins
I took advantage of a $5 ticket offer to make it to my first Major League Baseball game of the year, along with a long-time friend in from out of town.

The Yankees rolled 12-1 in cold, windy weather, but the play that drew my attention came in the 6th. With a runner on second, the Yankees' Brett Gardner lined a ball straight back up the middle, but it hit the second-base umpire, who was standing on the infield grass. Since the ball never left the infield, Miguel Andújar, who had been on second, had to stop at third base rather than score.
I was initially surprised when Andújar returned to second base, because in many cases, a ball that hits the umpire is considered the same as a bad bounce - it's just luck, and you play on.

But in this case, the umpires ruled the ball dead as soon as it struck the umpire, which means any runner goes back to his original base unless it's a force situation. The hitter, Gardner, is awarded a single (as when a batted ball strikes a runner in fair territory), and nothing else happens. Heck, MLB's play-by-play account lists "Gardner singled on a ground ball to second baseman Starlin Castro." Try telling the umpire that was a ground ball!

The reason for the different status of the umpire in this case is that the ball had not passed any fielders (the pitcher does not count for these purposes) before it hit him. Had the ball gone past an infielder, such as the first baseman, and then hit an umpire, the ball would still be in play.

I had never seen that one before!

Friday - Jack Kaiser Stadium, St. John's vs. Georgetown
I went out to Queens on Friday to watch the opening game of the St. John's-Georgetown series, knowing I was scheduled to call Sunday's game and could use some additional information and any first-hand stories I might be able to pick up. Despite getting a late start and a few public transportation issues, I arrived during the top of the first.

I did not have to wait long for something to catch my eye, however. With St. John's batting in the bottom of the 1st, Georgetown's pitcher took his signs not from the catcher, not from a coach, but from six enormous posterboards being hoisted on the top step of the Hoya dugout by players. Similar to the cards employed by college football offenses in just about every part of the country, each board had several logos and would be rotated to indicate different things.

My focus rarely left those boards whenever St. John's was batting during the rest of the game. I couldn't turn away! I have never see anything close to this in baseball before. Large boards have often been used to indicate defensive alignments, but pitch-calling has almost always gone coach-catcher-pitcher. Many teams now use wristbands (again, borrowed from football), and the SEC (football!!) even allows the coaches to talk directly to their catchers via wireless receivers.

Georgetown, on a slightly different budget than an SEC program, has been doing this all season:
The process seemed to be that, almost immediately after the previous pitch, Georgetown pitching coach Eric Niesen would walk one way down the dugout behind the group of six players holding the cards. With a clipboard over his mouth, he would verbally tell them what pitch to call. They would then rotate the boards accordingly and hold them up once their pitcher looked into the dugout from atop the mound. No shake-offs - just follow the signs. And to Georgetown's credit, I did not see a cross-up all day.

I later asked for a little more detail and found out that the idea came to the Georgetown staff, led by Pete Wilk, through a coaching friend, and that all position players, not just the pitcher and catcher, read the boards to know what pitch is being called. Without needing to go through multiple series of signals, pitchers can work more quickly and keep defenders on their toes. Maybe Major League Baseball, trying to speed up its games, should take a look!

Sunday - Jack Kaiser Stadium, St. John's vs. Georgetown
It was back to Queens on Sunday for work, calling the final game of the Big East series for a St. John's ESPN3 production. It's the best college baseball in the area, and I love the chance to stay close to the college game. St. John's has had very good teams in the five years I've been calling them, including this year's squad, currently third in NCAA Division I in ERA and riding a 12-game winning streak.

No. 12, on Sunday, was one of the most difficult, as the Red Storm and Hoyas reached the 10th tied 1-1. After a one-out walk, St. John's leadoff hitter John Valente doubled off the left-field wall to extend his on-base streak to 51 consecutive games, dating back to last season. Impressive, to be sure, but it lags behind the presumed NCAA record of 93 consecutive games, set by Kansas State's Nick Martini from 2009-11. Valente, a redshirt senior, won't have enough games to even try to catch it.

But that's not the *new* thing I saw. With the winning run now 90 feet away, St. John's called for a safety squeeze. The bunt barely got in front of the plate, and Georgetown catcher Ryan P. Davis (an accomplished ballet dancer in high school, probably something I've never come across before in reading up on a player!) grabbed the ball immediately. Davis held the ball in his glove with his throwing hand and advanced up the third-base line toward the runner, Josh Greene. With few other options, Greene tried to spin away from the tag, forcing Davis to extend his glove hand to make the tag. Greene whirled toward foul territory, appeared to make contact with the glove, but recovered to dive for home plate.

The umpire, to everyone's astonishment, called Greene safe! St. John's celebrated a weekend sweep, while Georgetown argued on multiple grounds. Davis thought he had made the tag, but it was clear that he left the ball in his throwing hand while tagging Greene with only his glove. So the umpire got that part correct. The consensus was, however, among fans wearing both colors, that Greene was decidedly out of the baseline and should have been called out.

Regardless of the outcome, that's an ending I've never seen before! One of the many reasons baseball remains among my passions.

02 April 2018

A moment of introspection

My busiest months of the year, as for many broadcasters, are usually March and October. The winter sports overlap with soccer, with a side of football in the fall and baseball / softball in the spring. They’re always exciting whirlwinds that challenge me to stay informed about, relevant to, and excited for multiple sports at multiple levels at the same time. (Excitement is never really the issue, but you have to make sure the enthusiasm comes across on air.)

Last week I wrapped up my busiest stretch this spring, calling six games in three sports in 10 days, including two straight weekends of Saturday night MLS games followed by Sunday morning flights and afternoon NBA games. It was a blast!

Normally I would post a bunch of pictures and tell you which games were most exciting or which performance I was most proud of. And I still might. But I’m actually going a different direction this time.

Near the end of this frenetic stretch, which involved a lot of studying and watching footage and then turning that research into coherent notes and preparation, interspersed with day-to-day realities like parenting and shopping and laundry and bill-paying, I had occasion to just sit back and smile. This was Sunday, March 25, on my flight to Milwaukee, when I had read both teams’ game notes and was about as prepared as I could be at that moment. There was no more studying until I got to the arena, and the most productive thing I could do was slow my brain down and not think about games, past or present, for a few minutes.

10 March 2018

#PlayYourKids: Highlights of Red Bulls rout

Clearly, I've been entirely lacking on the blogging front since, y'know, October.

But the MLS season returned for me tonight, and with it, I have easily embeddable highlights that won't disappear (I think) any time soon.

I have the chance to call the first three games of the regular season for the New York Red Bulls on the MSG Networks. It's a thrill any time I get the chance to work on these shows, because they were some of the first broadcasts I watched regularly as a high-school kid getting into soccer in North Jersey. Under Mike Petke and now Jesse Marsch over the last five years, the club has been easy to like and exciting to watch.

Saturday was no exception, and the storyline made it even better. The Red Bulls were resting nine of their 11 starters for a Tuesday game in the CONCACAF Champions League, the regional championship tournament (which just happens to take place at the beginning of the MLS season). So New York played a team full of young players, many of whom I've studied and seen before because I'm obsessive about tracking young American players. So there were some cool moments to call on a cold but really fun Opening Night.


Yes, that's a 17-year-old scoring less than 20 minutes into his first MLS game. Not bad, Ben Mines. Not bad at all.

Here's our MSG post-game recap, even if you can't see me at the anchor desk alongside US soccer legend Shep Messing.

18 October 2017

On the move, on the job for the next week

When your work is free-lance, it's good to be busy, and I'm fortunate enough to start one of my busiest weeks of the year today.

I'm flying to Pittsburgh Wednesday evening to start a stretch that will see me call four games in six days (Thursday, Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday) and fly five different segments before returning to an airport for a second time. It's going to be intense, and it's going to be fun!

I start in my current season, college soccer, returning to the scene of the above vista to see the same game I called a year ago, West Virginia against Texas Tech on ESPNU, although I'm working with Kate Markgraf this year instead of Cat Whitehill. One ridiculously good defender and partner for another!

From there, I'll keep moving for the next week, possibly the longest I've ever been away from my daughter in her young life, to cover this set of games:
Upcoming broadcasts
DateGameMediaPartner
Oct. 19
5 pm ET
West Virginia vs. Texas Tech
(NCAA women's soccer)
ESPNUKate
Markgraf
Oct. 21
8 pm ET
Houston Rockets vs.
Dallas Mavericks (NBA)
NBA League
Pass VR
Viani /
Rogondino
Oct. 22
6 pm ET
Auburn vs. LSU
(NCAA women's soccer)
ESPNUCat
Whitehill
Oct. 24
7:30 pm ET
Boston Celtics vs.
New York Knicks (NBA)
NBA League
Pass VR
Viani /
Rogondino

It's a lot to prepare for, a lot of phone calls to squeeze in, and a lot of clothes to pack into one trip! But I intend to manage with a smile on my face, so check it out when you can.

08 October 2017

Long, fun day at the "office"!

We had a crazy one today in Athens, Georgia. Not so much because of the game, which was plenty exciting and had tremendous scoring chances throughout. No, the weather kept us on the edge of our seats today.

With Hurricane Nate reaching the US mainland late Saturday night on the Gulf Coast, we knew our game, about 75 miles northeast of Atlanta, would likely be affected by rain and wind from the outskirts of the storm. We mentioned it briefly with the coaches on our Friday calls, but when models didn't show too much wind expected in the area for game time, we didn't think much of it.

But we did find out on Saturday that the coaches were considering trying to move the game to an earlier start time and discussing with ESPN SEC Network officials just what that would mean for the game broadcast. When I woke up Sunday and did not find an email outlining a change to the game time, I figured we were home free to kick at the scheduled 5pm time.

But in checking Twitter a little after 9 am, Texas A&M's soccer account posted that the game time had been changed to 2pm Eastern Time. So that was quite a way to find out. I immediately heard from Todd Jones, our producer, and we quickly met downstairs at the hotel with my partner, Jill Loyden, for our production meeting.

It was an accelerated timeline, but nothing outrageous. We got underway at 2pm under steady rain, beginning on the SEC Network alternate channel and moving over to the main channel after the 1pm volleyball match finished. But the rain began to intensify after about 25 minutes, and by 30 minutes into the game, we couldn't see the far sideline due to the heavy rain and the wind, and I don't think our viewers could, either! The game was stopped shortly after, and we turned things over to taped programming and sat around to wait.

We watched other SEC games via the ESPN app, we talked to the Texas A&M radio broadcasters, we tried in vain to get some lunch, and we talked with our very helpful stage manager and statistician. We did two on-air updates to keep fans abreast of the schedule. All the while, Jill was having to rearrange her flight out of town, which I (thankfully) was spared.

Finally we got to resume at 4:50pm and enjoy the rest of the game, which saw Georgia goalkeeper Louise Högrell credited with 14 saves as the Bulldogs stayed with 19th-ranked Texas A&M and took them to overtime. Naturally we went all the way to the 109th minute, just 90 seconds before the game would have ended in a tie, with the game wrapping up more than four hours after it started.

Thankfully, it was well worth the wait! Texas A&M sophomore Grace Piper ended things with a really powerful left-footed shot from outside the penalty area, ending the day (that turned into night) on an exciting note!

I was really pleased with the effort from our entire crew to put together the post-game package, which we tape for the SEC website ... but unfortunately it doesn't embed well, so I'll just link to it here.

The game highlights, as they sounded in real-time, are right here:

04 October 2017

Catching up, prepping for busy fall

It's been almost two full months since I've last posted, and I've called 9 soccer games in that time for a variety of outlets, including some terrific non-conference college action and New York Red Bulls games on both radio and TV. But maybe the busiest portion of my year is about to start.

College soccer is a big part of my workload, and I will be on the road on each of the next six weekends calling games, with a few other games thrown in. That schedule includes SEC women's soccer, Big XII women's soccer, Big Ten men's soccer, and, most notably, the ACC championship game in both women's and men's soccer. October and November are going to be busy! This stretch of games starts on Sunday, Oct 8, when I've got No. 19 Texas A&M facing Georgia in SEC women's soccer action.


The preparation for it, however, goes back to mid-August. Since the SEC Network launched in 2014, I've been part of ESPN's team covering the conference, so I track how each team is doing, what formation they're using, and who's playing in what spot(s). So I watch a lot of games each week, mostly replays via WatchESPN. Sometimes I will sit and watch the games and take notes, particularly if I know I will be calling one of the teams. Other times, I will watch long enough to understand the starting lineups, then skip around looking for the goals.

But adding in both ACC tournaments this year, along with the ACC's agreement to stream its games on WatchESPN, has really given me a chance to focus on the nation's best soccer conference. So that's more than 40 teams I'm tracking every week of the college season, and it should really pay off when I need to research a team and can quickly access their lineups, results, and key moments in their season. Being able to put a team's season in context and understanding at least a little bit of their journey is really critical to a good telecast, and I'm looking forward to learning more about each of the teams I'll call over the next six weeks.

So that's part of what us announcers do when we're not actively calling a game or typing up notes for the next one. Preparation, both on a big-picture level and for specific teams, really never stops.

06 August 2017

Euro 2017 championship game highlights

This game should get a much longer post from me in the near future, because I think it will go down as one of the most memorable games in European Women's Championship history, but I'm so happy and excited to have called it that I wanted to post the quick highlights here. You can watch a full replay of our coverage (I was happy with how we handled the post-game scenes and the trophy ceremony) at this link, and the quick-hit highlights are WERE below (but are no longer available at this time):

20 June 2017

RIP Tony DiCicco, friend and storyteller

I (along the entire U.S. soccer community, I imagine) was blindsided by news Tuesday that Tony DiCicco, coach of the U.S. women's national team that won the 1999 Women’s World Cup, passed away. I am stunned and sad right now. It’s a crushing personal loss for anybody who knew him.

I’d known Tony for less than 3 years and even then only in a work context, yet he was somebody I unfailingly looked forward to seeing, to greeting, to catching up with, regardless of the soccer or the broadcast. I loved working with him and talking soccer, of course, but the pre-game lunch or dinner (or both!) together was just fun. He could listen and find a way to relate to almost anything, he could be both positive and realistic at the same time, and he was a heck of a storyteller.

In my experience (again, a small sample size compared to many), a meal with Tony meant some serious entertainment. Whether it was the restaurant in the hotel or a chain in whatever small town we were in or a fancy Italian place in Chapel Hill, he had stories. They could be funny and/or insightful, eyebrow-raising and/or sobering. They involved a lot of recognizable names, too, but it wasn’t overt name-dropping, just Tony talking. Stories about the 1999 World Cup team flowed just as easily as those about his family or his goalkeeping days or other teams he coached.

He was confident in his views and opinions – anyone who has heard him second-guessing other coaches as a game or studio analyst can attest to that – but it never felt arrogant or disrespectful to me. He was just sharing his take and could not help but think about soccer and coaching in terms of what his approach would have been, as if he could visualize just how things might play out.

It felt like almost every coach we came across had a connection to Tony's coaching tree. Some were, as I was at first, intimidated by the heights of his success. Others wanted Tony to do them a favor. He was happy to meet, greet, and help each however he could.

Courtesy Ben Solomon
We called a number of college games together, which typically meant a conference call with each coach to get a little background on that team, a guess at the lineup, and an anecdote or two. I would let Tony take the lead, and he would say to the coach, “Tell me about …” whatever the immediate topic was, and away we went. He asked the right questions and knew what to take from the answers, how to read between the lines, and how to work that information into a broadcast. We would always compare notes, and I couldn’t help my bemusement that he always listed formations as 1-4-4-2 or 1-4-3-3 instead of just 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 – he wasn’t about to take the goalkeeper for granted!

On game days, you would never have known the heights he scaled as a coach, watching him interact with the production crew and the locals. “Hi, I’m Tony,” sufficed as an introduction. We got some good games and some crap games together (if I’m honest, our last working together was pretty blah), but we always had fun and we were always in it together. We would eat together, drive to games together, approach coaches together, and leave together afterward … it seems obvious, but it made an incredibly positive difference in our on-air chemistry.

I have to believe that focus on togetherness and connection and unity was something that set him apart as a broadcaster, as a coach, and, far more importantly, as a man.

I was looking forward to comparing notes with and hearing more stories from Tony this fall, and it hasn’t quite sunk in yet that I won’t have that chance. But it was a privilege to know and work with him for the last few years, and I feel terrible for his family, close friends, former players and colleagues, and everybody who knew him better and longer than I.

Joy and unity, caring and storytelling. We will all miss Tony DiCicco.

17 June 2017

VIDEO: Highlights from wild Cosmos win

I was added to the New York Cosmos broadcast team before the season began, but my first two broadcasts were both road games called from a local studio. On Friday night, I finally got to call a game from the team's new home at MCU Park on Coney Island in Brooklyn, and we had a blast!

My partner Friday was former US international Janusz Michallik, who I've met before and with whom I've hosted radio shows before. But we had never called a game together in person, and this was certainly end-to-end entertainment.

Most of us don't call six-goal thrillers every week, and the goals brought real quality as well. The full game broadcast is available via WatchESPN's archive for the next 30 days, and MSG has our post-game segment.

Here are the highlights from Friday night:




Also a quick look at either end of my commute:

30 May 2017

Looking back to top photos, moments from 1st NBA season in virtual reality

Clearly, I've been putting this off for far too long. No posts from the NBA League Pass Virtual Reality opener on Oct. 27 until late May. There's a lot to tell.

In brief, the NBA season was an awesome, exciting, fun, challenging, and lengthy experience. We called one game a week for the entire season for NextVR productions of NBA League Pass VR, finally totaling 26 regular-season games broadcast in virtual reality. While we feel like we always put on a good show, the improvement from No. 1 to No. 26 was substantial and something I was really proud to be part of.

I wrote a whole lot more about the season, and you can scroll all the way down to read it, but pictures are a lot more powerful, aren't they? I can't really do justice to the entire year, but here are a few pictures that I hope capture how much fun it was to cover the NBA in virtual reality!

This is meta: Kevin Durant watching our footage right next to our camera. (via NextVR)
Working my 1st game at Madison Square Garden with Antoine Walker filling in.