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!?” 
“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.” 
“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.

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