22 December 2015

Late fall broadcasts in photos

After being unsure of what (if!) my schedule would look like after college soccer conference championships on Nov. 8, I was fortunate enough to stay busy into the first weekend of December.

While running here, there, and everywhere to call three different sports, I found time to snap a picture or two to remember it all by:
A soccer field nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains …… our home for the weekend at Appalachian State.

Clearly, one of us is more comfortable in cold weather.With my new friend and partner, Eddie Rodriguez.

Happened to be in Oklahoma right before the Bedlam football game.Also got to see Historic Gallagher-Iba Arena.

My actual work was at Reynolds Center, always a house of horrors for Rice.But it treated Bryndon Manzer and me just fine.

In December, I enjoyed the scene at Georgia Southern.Not that Vonnie Holliday and I weren't hard at work.

Taking selfies …… and enjoying a great atmosphere in a budding rivalry

05 December 2015

Gorgeous setting for my last broadcast of 2015

I have this vague memory of seeing, on television, a college football team in simple, blue and white uniforms, playing on a grass field with fans standing on hills to watch, running the heck out of the triple option. I watched long enough to hear the announcers refer to the stadium as the Prettiest Little Stadium in America, and I thought, "I would love to see a game there some day."

The team was Georgia Southern, six-time champions of the NCAA's Division I-AA (now the Football Championship Subdivision, or FCS), and they now play at the FBS level, in an enlarged stadium, with an attack still predicated on the run, but operated out of the shotgun.

Some day is today.

I'll be calling Georgia Southern against Georgia State on ESPN3 Saturday afternoon at 2pm ET. It's not the biggest game of the day, but I'm excited to be working and excited to get this specific assignment.

The game has one of the most prolific passing offenses in Division I football (Georgia State ranks 8th in FBS) against the best rushing attack (Georgia Southern leads FBS). Not bad for a fall Saturday.

It's also the last game at Paulson Stadium before the natural grass surface is replaced by artificial turf. While I understand the economic realities of the decision to switch, I'm glad I get to see a game here while it's still got real grass.

Hopefully those classic Georgia Southern uniforms don't change any time soon!

Looking forward to a fun one!

26 November 2015

17 November 2015

Tables turned, I become the interviewee

It doesn't happen often, but a fellow media professional turned the tables and made me the interviewee this week, as I had the good fortune of being a guest on the Mixxed Zone podcast with my long-time colleague, Jen Cooper. We didn't do TOO much Rice reminiscing (at least not that we recorded), but it's good fun.

Jen (aka The Keeper) is one of the people who knows the most about women's soccer, and it's always a pleasure to be part of and discuss that world. Take a listen:
You can also download the episode directly via this link.

10 November 2015

JY20: An introduction

Monday marked the first day of practice for high school ice hockey teams in my home state of New Jersey, which means, in 2015-16, that it marks the beginning of my 20th year covering those teams (that's me, age 13, on the right). The milestone is bittersweet, because it will probably be my last year covering New Jersey high school hockey for Hockey Night in Boston and maybe even the last year of my website, NJHockey.org, which I have run since I was a freshman in college in 2001-02.

Increasing professional and family responsibilities mean less free time for the ‘hobby’ role that hockey takes, and while I am thrilled about everything going on in my life, it will definitely be strange for me if and when I am absent from the New Jersey hockey scene.

Over the years, I have been asked countless times – by coaches, parents, friends, roommates – WHY I keep track of every game played by boys’ varsity ice hockey teams in New Jersey. Why I stay up almost every night for four months inputting scores into three separate spreadsheets. Why this continued when I lived in Texas, Pennsylvania, and Louisiana and I saw very few games in person. Why I’ve continued to track and monitor a fairly average group of players and teams (no offense, guys!) in a sport that does not rank among New Jersey’s or the country’s most significant.

“I can’t imagine not doing it,” has probably been my most frequent response, and it’s true. If I stopped running my website, then decided in January that I wanted to know who was in first place in the Mennen Division, or how East Side was faring this season, how would I find that information? Would it be accurate? How often would it be updated? Would it reflect game results the way I would list them?

But there’s much more to it than that. For the last 20 years, despite never having played or coached the sport, I have been welcomed and accepted into a unique community of New Jersey hockey people. They rely on me and talk the game with me, and we all enjoy that. But they also root for me and support me and ask how they can help, and there are many I consider friends. Walking into a New Jersey hockey rink -- most of them, anyway -- feels like coming home. It is a community I cherish and love and will never forget.

Why do I love it so much? Maybe this 20th year of coverage, in which I intend to increase my published writing at blog.njhockey.org and continue to provide Twitter updates via @NJ_Hockey, will be my way of trying to explain and document why and how New Jersey high school ice hockey has been an integral part of my life every winter since before I even reached high school.

I will not post too much about ice hockey on this blog, but the posts I do make during this 20th season can be found via this link.

06 November 2015

Overtime drama in American Athletic Conference women's soccer semifinals!

Given that I woke up at 6:22 am ET in New York this morning, flew to Dallas, called two overtime soccer games, and got back to my guest room at 11 pm CT this evening, I'm feeling pretty good.

I got to call two entertaining, dramatic games today in the American Athletic Conference women's soccer tournament, I did it with a very good partner and crew, and I got to call sudden-death game-winners each time.

Check out the highlights:
Game 1 - UConn vs. Cincinnati:



Game 2 - USF vs. UCF:


Not a bad day's work! Now to get ready for Sunday's final.

05 November 2015

Catching up with Megan Rapinoe, a soccer flashback, and more

OK, so I've been a delinquent blogger lately. I've got some good excuses, but let's try to provide a brief recap:

Since my one-off return to college football in Troy with the inimitable Mickey Matthews on Sept. 12, I have called four college soccer games (one men's, three women's) with three different partners, all in different parts of the country. I've seen some great goals, a landmark win for Mississippi State (which was extra cool to see because I saw them struggle last year), and a rematch of last year's national championship game in women's soccer.

The highlight, however, had to be meeting and interviewing US women's national team star Megan Rapinoe, a woman I respect as much for her off-field public personality and leadership as for her on-field exploits. By just about all accounts, she's one of the best role models you could suggest for a niece, nephew, child, or friend. She was on hand at the Oct. 18 Portland-Santa Clara game as the Pilots celebrated their 2005 national championship team, on which she played, and joined another former Pilot, Shannon MacMillan, and me for an interview at the start of the second half.

Even more good news is that my soccer season is far from over. I just arrived in Dallas to call the American Athletic Conference women's semifinals (today, for the American Digital Network) and final (Sunday, for ESPN3/ESPNU). With the tournament being held at SMU's Westcott Field, this brings back some memories: As a student, I called Rice's trip to the 2003 WAC Tournament at the same venue, culminating in a heartbreaking, last-minute loss to SMU, then the conference's powerhouse.

I'm pretty sure those were my first soccer games called on the road, and I definitely remember some technical difficulties (note the old-school connection via phone line and an actual phone). Probably a good thing that, to my knowledge anyway, no copies of those games exist!

The four teams left in this year's field are all competitive, with UConn leading the way at No. 10 in the country, and links to watch the games can be found here.

At any rate, next weekend I will turn back to the men's game, calling the Sun Belt Conference men's tournament in the somewhat remote town of Boone, N.C., home to Appalachian State University, in what will likely close the book on my 2015 soccer season.

Much more on that later, however. For now, I'm off to watch and call some top-25 teams play elimination games with a conference title and more on the line. Not bad at all!

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!?” 
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.

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!