When old sports announcers get together

I just finished four weeks of announcing spring sports on the radio, with two games in the WIAA state baseball tournament in Grand Chute.

The word “spring” should be in scare quotes, because in several games the weather was only spring-like because the calendar says it’s spring. Two games featured temperatures in the 40s, spitting rain and high winds. Of course, this being Wisconsin, two days the weather was perfectly fine — partly cloudy and in the 70s.

The state baseball tournament was highlighted, if that’s what you want to call it, by a seven-hour rain delay between games on day two, which forced two Division 2 semifinals to move to first thing Thursday, with one of them being played at Appleton West. That is what can happen when you try to jam six baseball games into one day. You hope for no rain, but this spring that has been a forlorn hope.

I’m glad I got the work in, not merely for financial reasons, but because baseball and softball are two sports in which I have done relatively little work, and therefore probably need to improve the most. I still do not really have a home run call, though those are possibly overrated. (Marty Brennaman is retiring this year after 46 years announcing the Cincinnati Reds, and he’s never had a consistent home run call.) I did get to use a phrase from the late Detroit Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell (which may have pleased the stations’ market manager, a Michigan native), when an opposing pitcher struck out looking: “He stood there like a house by the side of the road and watched it go by.”

We got to use the home radio booth at Fox Cities Stadium, though we shared it with another announcer (more about him presently) and TV people from Eau Claire and Rhinelander. The TV kids (they were young enough to be our sons) had to sit through an aspect of the game identified by Bob Costas, that baseball is the best hanging-around sport there is. In the majors and minors, people hang around the batting cages, watch batting practice and shoot the breeze. At state between games, announcers sit in the press box and throw out top-this stories with other announcers and media types.

My contribution, as readers would expect, was what I call The Wauzeka Incident (fellow announcer takes on press box stairs, and everyone loses), which involved someone who was at state, who before Wauzeka failed to follow the teacher admonition to not lean back on your chair, with predictably injurious results, during a game. A discussion about worst weather to announce in included, on my part, announcing a football game on the roof of a press box in 50-mph winds, followed by a baseball game during a tornado warning. (Which was then delayed for two days.)

I also mentioned my one radio soccer experience, which included a not-great performance by myself and the high school goalie/color guy, who doubles as my oldest son. I think we were bailed out by the fact the game went to overtime and penalty kicks. Once again in my case, a not-great announcing job got bailed out by the quality of the game. (Kind of like my first radio volleyball experience.)

The announcer who followed us Thursday got to call a tight state championship game, which included this seventh inning. The previous night, their team’s top pitcher threw a five-inning no-hitter. The next afternoon (with his broadcast running against his need to get home for an important 5 p.m. dinner date), his team’s pitcher ran out of pitches in the seventh inning. (High school pitchers have to stop pitching after 100 pitches, a rule that is supposed to prevent arm injuries, but also leads to unintended consequences.) The team’s third pitcher came on, with the score tied and runners on base, but only threw a few pitches before he grabbed his pitching elbow and had to leave with an injury. So the team’s fourth pitcher came on, in a tied state championship game in the top of the seventh inning. Six runs later, the road team won the title.

The story I can add to my yet-to-be-published unauthorized autobiography includes the first night in a hotel, in which I was awakened at 2:45 a.m. by someone retching somewhere outside our room. That’s 2:45 on an early Wednesday morning. (Presumably outside the hotel too, but I didn’t feel like getting up to check.)

One thing I managed to do was to get my father’s old band, of which you have read here, mentioned on, of all things, a rock radio station’s Facebook page. The morning show asked listeners to give a weird fact about their father in five words. It should have been “Southern Wisconsin’s first rock band’s first piano player,” but editing required “First Wisconsin rock band pianist.” That may have made people wonder who in the world that was. We also discovered, to our chagrin, that the Appleton pizza restaurant we visited last year (with me bringing back a pizza for our family) and wanted to visit this year was closed due to lack of employees.

If you ever wanted to know what sports announcers do between games, you just read what we do between games.


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