21 April 2012

Philip Humber's perfect game!

Humber (center) with catcher Travis Reagan and assistant coach David Pierce in Nevada in 2004.
Whenever Rice guys succeed in professional baseball, I get tremendously proud. Not because I had anything to do with their success (I didn't). Not because I competed alongside them (I was the radio broadcaster). Not because we were best friends or anything like that (we haven't stayed in touch past occasional alumni games).

I get proud because I saw these guys mature from frightened freshmen to grizzled veterans, playing in front of everything ranging from sparsely-filled bleachers in California to hostile grandstands in Hawaii. Because we shared the plane flights and the bus trips, the successes and failures. Seeing them perform on the next level is just an awesome feeling. It feels the best for the guys I came in with and the class that followed, and Philip Humber is a perfect example.

I actually got excited for Philip earlier in the week, watching him pitch against the Orioles. I only saw one inning in real time, and he was laboring, but he got into the sixth with only one run allowed, and it immediately inspired me to do some research on the slider he has added since I last saw him pitch. I watched a few innings the next day, and it took me back to three years of watching him pitch on Friday nights in college. I'll never forget when he broke the Rice single-season strikeout record against Hawaii, only to have the family of an old alumnus remind officials of a higher strikeout total from the 1920s or so.

But to hear that Philip was working on a perfect game … was just incredible. I saw him pitch when he struggled with his control and his composure. I saw him become a weekend starter as a freshman. Saw him be an unsteady pitcher on the sport’s biggest stage at the College World Series, knowing he could show the world much better than that. And I saw him prove himself to everybody in the deciding game of the 2003 College World Series with a complete game to give us the championship.

Well, everybody is going to remember his name now. I just saw a guy I know throw a perfect game in the major leagues. That’s unbelievable.

I always felt Philip was underserved as the least noticed of Rice’s three first-round draft picks. Jeff Niemann is 6-foot-9 and had the amazing 2003 season, and Wade Townsend was the outspoken, emotional guy who everybody fawned over, but Philip was the steady one. A weekend starter almost from the day he set foot on campus, it didn’t come quite as easily as everybody thought.

Always quiet but without the loud confidence of the other two, Philip was great in conference play, but the postseason was another story. Rice always seemed to lose when he pitched in the postseason, mostly due to the bullpen and a lack of run support, but occasionally due to home runs. In fact, he was the winning pitcher in only one postseason game out of I think eight appearances while he was at Rice, but that one was the 2003 championship decider.

There were so many questions about him heading into that game, because he lasted only a few innings in his last start against Texas and had taken the loss against Houston in the super regionals, but we knew Philip was plenty capable. I have a memory, which may not be entirely accurate, of senior pitcher Steven Herce predicting Humber would pitch well against Stanford because his split-fingered fastball was tailor-made for that left-handed lineup. It was, and he did, and we won the national championship, and I was so happy he was on the mound for the final out.

But even that couldn’t put him on top forever. In the 2004 regional, he took the loss in what is still one of the biggest upsets in NCAA history, a Game 1 loss to a sub-.500 Texas Southern team. When called on as a reliever two days later, he took the loss in the last game of his collegiate career, giving up a grand slam against Texas A&M. But he was picked highest of the trio for a reason, and after several teams and arm surgery (which was much, much, much more difficult than I just made it sound, but I wasn't as directly involved), he has found a home in Chicago, adding a slider to become a regular starter.

Today he entered the record books, and having broadcasted, followed, and rooted for Philip Humber for the last 10 years, being able to see the final few outs of him throwing a perfect game defies description. Congratulations, Philip -- everybody from Rice is really proud of you.

18 April 2012

Getting names right

One of the most important parts of preparing for a broadcast is researching how to pronounce everybody's name. Not just the starters; you have to know subs, reserves, coaches, trainers, and officials. I can't tell you how much time goes into trying to get names right ahead of time. Announcers read game notes, talk directly to club communications representatives, sound names out with each other, and try to make sure they're on the same page. Inevitably, however, we miss some, and it's one of the most embarrassing things that can happen when you realize the mistake.

I was calling the Disney Pro Soccer Classic this year, and we urged fans to interact with us via Twitter with comments, suggestions, and questions. Well, somebody corrected my pronunciation of Ashton Morgan, and I'm forever indebted to that gentleman!

One of the toughest parts of pronunciations is allowing for individual choices. English and American accents, for example, treat some names differently, and this crops up a lot with Hispanic names (Pérez, Martínez, etc.) Other players have become so Anglicized that they don't pronounce their names as their native compatriots would. For example, Jean Alexandre chose to go by "Gene Alexander," even though the French/Haitian pronunciation would be much different. Now that he's gone to "Jean-Marc," I'm hoping he's back to Haitian pronunciation, but I'm not sure.

The best device I've yet seen for this came last year, when Vancouver's communications department had an audio file of each player saying his own name. Can't get much clearer than that, right? Unfortunately, it still was confusing. In French, when a word begins with a vowel sound, the last consonant of the previous word is elided. So saying "Eric Hassli" in French makes the word "Hassli" sound different than when it's said alone, as it often is during a telecast. Still, hearing it from the players themselves was extremely helpful.

My favorite pronunciation story comes from Houston defender Andre Hainault. Try to follow this: When he arrived in 2009, players and coaches were calling him Andrew, but Canadian rosters listed his name as André. So we asked him, and he said his (English-speaking) mother calls him Andrew, so it was OK for him, too. Everybody pronounced his (French-speaking) father's last name HAY-nalt (not the French pronounciation), so we went with the Anglicized version. Seven months later, during an interview before a playoff game, he introduced himself as Andrew HAY-no, dropping the "lt" from the end of his last name. Apparently, that was the real pronounciation. I gave him a hard time and made the change for 2010.

Yet another year later, after the 2011 media guide had already gone to print, he informed me that he wanted to go by Andre instead of Andrew (but I could still call him Andrew.) To make things more confusing, he said there is no accent on the "e" in Andre on his birth certificate, so he spells it Andre rather than André. I've lost track of what FIFA, Canada, MLS, Elias, and Opta call him - probably a different name for each one!

Below you will find a list of MLS player names I have heard mispronounced on-air or (on only a few occasions, I think) have mispronounced myself. At the bottom are some I still don't know. Let me know if I've got one wrong or chime in with your own uncertain pronunciation!