In the summer of 2011, I had a great opportunity to try something new. Prince George, BC (where I was living at the time) was hosting an international baseball tournament featuring teams from Canada, China, Chinese Taipei, Cuba and Japan. It was a huge event for the city, hosting major teams with players who have since gone on to play in the Major Leagues, with several from the Cuban team (which won) now playing pro.
The tournament was setup to broadcast every game via online streaming video, with games involving the local team simulcast on the local community radio. At the time I was solely focused on hockey, but I recognised the value in being more than a one-trick pony and wanted to see if I could get myself involved in some way. In the lead up to the tournament, I emailed one of the lead organizers who I had met previously through a mutual friend to see if I could sit in with the broadcast crew…not to call the games, but just observe and try to pick up a few things. By the end of the tournament, I’d called 6 games including the final.
I had never called baseball before. That previous winter, I was broadcasting Major Midget hockey and had previously spent a season with an indoor soccer team but never something as slow or intricate as baseball. To be honest, I’d also never really been a baseball fan. The regular season was too long for me (ironic coming from a cricket tragic), and while there is something magnetic about the post season I don’t really have a team or pay much attention day to day. I knew the basic rules, can follow along with a game easily, but none of the nuances or the small elements of the game that broadcasters need to know and that true fans want to hear.
So how did I prepare for this tournament? I began by from an Australian comedian. Billy Birmingham is an impressionist famous for his performances of Australian sporting television personalities. One is Darryl Eastlake, a broadcaster who covers weightlifting, iron man and other “high impact” sports. One listen of “Big Daz” and you can see why his call is so iconic. In one of Birmingham’s sketches, he placed Eastlake in with the cricket commentary crew, a mismatch made in hell. One of my favourite lines from that was the two experienced commentators asking Darryl if he’d ever watched cricket before. Darryl hadn’t, and when quizzed on how he was going to call the game, his response was something along the lines of “I find if you get some of the lingo then just go right over the top”. It was that mentality that I took into the broadcast.
Now I wasn’t going to go in and scream, shout and blow my audio levels sky high on a routine ground out, but it focused me on really studying the lingo, or language of the game. I watched a lot of YouTube clips, lots of baseball on TV in the days leading up, focusing on mainly transitional things. I knew the basic terminology, but I wanted to better understand how to get from A to B to C. See how the ball moved around the field and see what the general cadence and flow of the game was. I was fortunate too, the tournament broadcast setup was a low pressure environment, which helped me out. The organizer was extremely welcoming and offered me some advice. He had been involved around the game forever, was a strong figure in baseball in Prince George and currently runs a summer league team in Victoria. He got me together with a veteran baseball figure in the community who would also do play by play in some games, but also would serve as my colour announcer on games that I was calling.
The setup was great, he called the opening few games, I came in later. We often split games as the lead broadcaster, meaning he’d call the first 4 or 5 innings and I’d come through at the end. It allowed me to see someone who had been around the game navigate his way through. One thing I picked up from him was the position numbers, something I knew of, but never had really focused too much on. I knew what a 6-4-3 double play way, but some of the more intricate plays, or less common ones like a 5-3 put out at first were not so natural.
By the end of the tournament, i was comfortable, having lots of fun on air and I think it showed. I got a great experience because I’d taken advantage of an opportunity. This was obviously on a larger scale than what could be available elsewhere, but the message is the same. For me, the baseball tournament also helped my hockey. The slower pace of the game translated into my hockey call and allowed me to control the pace better in an environment I was more familiar with. The learning of the lingo from another sport also allowed me to port that into my hockey broadcast by varying my terminology, adding in words like ‘line drive’ or ‘bunt’ to describe certain hockey situations.
If you’re a broadcaster, try something new. See if there’s a local football league or baseball tournament that you can broadcast if you’ve never done that before. Never called volleyball? Give that a shot! With online broadcasting services becoming more prevalent and easier to use, there’s never been a better time to get out and try something new.