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.

13 March 2015

I'm baaack! It's never easy, but the 2015 schedule is starting to take shape

It’s been more than two months since I’ve last posted here. I’ll try not to go silent that long again.

While the last two-plus months did include an awesome vacation (hello, Diamond Head, at right), I’ve spent most of it (including parts of said vacation) trying to line up work for 2015. While last year was my best yet as a professional free-lancer, it left me with no guarantees and little scheduled work heading into 2015.

While I got some early chances to stay involved, covering the 2015 adidas MLS Player Combine (see me poolside!) and working on the online stream of the 2015 MLS SuperDraft for MLSsoccer.com, one (excellent, top-25) college basketball game on Jan. 16 was my only live sporting event in the first 65 days of 2015.
This is not a comfortable position for a broadcaster. Not only is covering live events what I enjoy the most, but it’s also what I intend to make the lion’s share of my livelihood. Sitting around without work bums me out AND fails to pay the bills.

This is a not uncommon problem for me in the spring. In 2013, I went from Feb. 27 to June 1 without calling a major live event. Of course, I was planning a wedding at the time, so I had some things to do, but it was still extremely frustrating. Once I got started, however, I wound up covering a decent set of MLS games that year.

Since 2015 is my second year in the New York sports market, I have felt a little more confident than last year that work would eventually turn up. Don’t get me wrong, I was stressing it. I made calls and sent emails and went to meetings so that I could network. I sat around and waited for responses, agonized when other broadcasters got jobs I had hoped for, estimated the minimum I would make if no other jobs came along, and wondered when something good was going to happen.

Let’s just say it’s not my favorite time of year.

But I truly remained positive, moreso than in years past. My wife, my family members, and various colleagues all helped me to do so, and I fell back on the lessons of years past:
  • Something good will happen; I just don’t know when.
  • Work will find you when you stop reaching for it. 
  • Be patient. 
  • Believe in yourself.
Clichés, I know, but they work. I don’t have my entire year planned out, but I have a pretty good idea of what I will be doing most months, and any additions to that mental schedule will be a welcome bonus!

For now, I am happy to say that I am on track for a busy spring schedule calling soccer, baseball, and softball for my usual variety of networks and outlets. My season started by hosting the pre-game show for the Philadelphia Union’s record-setting 6abc broadcast last Saturday, the first time I have covered the opening weekend of MLS play since I was full-time with the Houston Dynamo in 2011.
The current highlight of my spring schedule is a March 21 softball game I will call for the SEC Network, featuring top-20 teams Tennessee and Missouri. It is the highest-level production I have ever worked for in a sport other than soccer, and it is a chance for me to prove I can call multiple sports and earn more work at that level.

I also expect to call baseball games on more days this year (5 and counting) than any year since 2006 (I called about 100 games that year in minor league baseball), which is an exciting return to my broadcasting roots.

Soccer will, thankfully and not surprisingly, continue to make up the bulk of my schedule for the year, and I am waiting on several opportunities in the first half of the year that will be very exciting if (when!) they work out.

The work of landing jobs is not done. It never is. Thinking about opportunities and what may be available in the future is never far from my thoughts.

But I've got games to study for and the temperature in New York City is above 40 degrees. That makes me excited to get out of the apartment and start working on 2015!