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!

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

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.