Friday, April 16, 2010

From the booth

One of the more memorable days I spent at a ballpark came when I worked as a statistician for two Colorado Rockies broadcasters who were calling a Padres-Rockies game. Although I've probably covered more Padres games as a writer that anyone alive, the perspective from the broadcast booth was eye-opening. Baseball, I discovered, moves a lot faster inside the broadcast booth than it does in the writers' pressbox. These folks are multi-tasking marvels, able to sift through a constant flow of visual and statistical information, some of it coming through their earpieces as they speak. The good ones, like the ballplayers, are able to slow it all down, and let me tell you, the Rockies' George Frazier is good at it.

If you want to make a broadcaster laugh, tell him or her that you could call a ballgame. Marty Brennaman, the great play-by-by man for the Reds, used to hear from ballplayers and coaches who told him that he was stealing money. "All you do is talk about baseball," they said. "How hard could it be?" Marty would laugh. Then he'd invite one of them into the booth. Then he'd laugh again when the player or coach froze behind the microphone, utterly incapable of describing the sport that he thought he knew so well.

Even the pros tell me it can take years for a broadcaster to get fully comfortable with a new ballclub or new partners. As for shifting sports, only the really good ones can pull that off with aplomb.

Which brings me to Dick Enberg, the legendary broadcaster who is calling Padres games this year. Writing about Enberg last week, I quoted him saying that his first month with the Padres has only reinforced the rightness of his decision to return to his beloved baseball, a sport he hadn't called on a full-time basis in 25 years. Also, Enberg said he has apologized to some Padres people because he hasn't been in the best of health for two weeks. He hadn't been able to shake a cold, and he said it's been a bit of a drag. He joked that he's been in a "haze of antihistamines" since the season started.

In recent days, a few Padres fans let me know that it hasn't been the best of starts for Enberg. They said he's not seeing the game with his typical sharpness, or nailing the facts. It's been painful, at times, for them to hear Enberg struggle, because they genuinely like and admire him. For some of the older fans, it's a bit like seeing a favorite ballplayer who isn't getting around on the fastballs as often as he did in his prime. Adding to their discomfort is Enberg's age. He's 75. No one enjoys seeing a grandfatherly figure stumble.

Ideally, Enberg would've spent all of spring training with the Padres and only the Padres, actually broadcasting their ballgames. Instead he worked for CBS, calling basketball games. Enberg fit the Padres into his schedule as best as he could, but it was far from the best course of preparation for a broadcaster tasked with acclimating to a new sport, a new ballclub and a new broadcast team. Enberg is working feverishly to pull it off. At San Diego's home opener he was at Petco Park five hours before the first pitch, preparing for the telecast with a researcher who ably assists him.

The baseball season has a rhythm to it, for ballplayers and broadcasters. This is only a guess, but even for a broadcaster who has won 14 Emmy awards and still works long hours, this career shift can't be as easy as walking into a new booth.

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