Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Live From The Broadcast Booth

I've always been curious on how things work. My mom remembers me tearing my bike apart so I could put it back together again. There were always extra pieces afterwards that I couldn't figure out where they went on the bike. It just reinforced I was curious about things and not mechanically inclined.
My curiosity took me to the broadcast booth at Colusa Casino Stadium in Marysville, California to oversee how a baseball broadcast works.
We at home just listen to the game in progress. The highlights we hear on soundbites is the finished product.
We don't see the hours of preparation a broadcaster does to deliver a quality broadcast. It involves preparing game notes, getting info about every player on the roster and going to the clubhouse to gather a story or two that a broadcaster may tell during the game.
As I said, we hear the finished product. I wanted to see a work in progress. How does one with so much information to deliver make it happen? I was bound to find out.
It's not as easy as it seems. I can't just write my friendly local Major League Baseball team and ask to sit in the booth and watch. (The Oakland Raiders didn't even respond to my request for a press pass. Yup, not so friendly)
I was thinking about writing the local AAA team, the Sacramento River Cats, to sit in and listen and gather notes. AAA is a notch below the big leagues, so I figured I would get a minor league rejection letter.
Hmmmm, what to do?
Then it hit me. There's a collegiate summer baseball team in Marysville called the Marysville Gold Sox. I listen to the strong radio signal of KUBA 1600 AM and remembered they broadcast the games over the summer.
So I wrote their play by play man Geoff Flynn and asked for press box access. The worst they could say is no.
I wrote a month in advance. No answer. I figured I was just getting a summer league rejection letter. Two days before the game, I got a response!
I was told I was more than welcome to sit in and watch. Just come on up to Marysville.
So I brought my notepad and scorebook to the pressbox.
"Hi! Are you Felix? I'm Geoff, nice to have you here!" Geoff quickly showed me around the pressbox and introduced me to everyone. Everyone being two other people. An older gentleman who was the scoreboard operator and a young man who was the PA announcer.
Geoff had to gather a few notes and quickly left for the clubhouse. A young lady came in with food and cold soda for Geoff and she asked if I wanted anything. I had a big lunch and I told her I was fine. I would later regret not getting a soda as it got very hot up there in the cozy confines of the broadcast booth.
Geoff came back and hurriedly recorded his opening. During all this time, he was constantly talking to a producer back at the studio. The producer always told him how much time it was until commercial break was over and after Geoff would conclude a half inning of play, the producer would tell him he was "clear", meaning he was off the air. It was roughly 90 seconds or so of commercials, and Geoff would sign on again to describe more action.
During the course of the game he would obviously describe the play by play. Between pitches he would tell a story of that particular batter. The Verizon Air Series is a college wood bat league. It's basically kids getting some extended playing time and getting experience hitting with a wood bat. The kids (I feel old saying that, but they're kids) come from all over the country. Some from big schools and others from schools I never heard of. (Heartland College, New Mexico Highlands....where are these places?)
I asked Geoff if he gets to know the players so he can pass on a story about some of them during a game. He said he doesn't get to know them as much as he'd like, as the season goes by so fast and the lack of roadtrips doesn't help getting to know the guys. (That's for another post, the team itself)
Geoff asked if I'd like to talk for an inning or two. I think I said yes before he finished his question!
So we quickly got ready for me to make my radio debut.
"You're on in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1", the producer from the studio told us.
Geoff told the audience at home what inning we were headed to and then he introduced me for everyone to hear in the north valley.
He asked me what brought me to Marysville, why was I interested in the Gold Sox and he asked me about my blog. I was nervous at first, but I got comfortable quickly. I was mostly trying to avoid talking over him, so I spoke between pitches or after a play was made. Geoff had a job to do and I didn't want to interrupt him. It was his booth and I was a guest. The two innings I was on the air, it went very quick. No on air catastrophes to speak of, although I did describe the Gold Sox as being sloppy.
I went back to keeping score of the game and taking notes for this post. I wanted to tweet some of what was happening, but doing three things all at once was impossible. I could barely keep score.
Geoff was great at handling everything happening in the game, keeping score, and preparing for the later innings. He was constantly talking to the producer back at the studio.
His setup for the broadcast was simple. It was a laptop hooked up with Skype, a Wi-Fi card, a mini mixing board and a digital recorder. And of course microphone headsets. It was that simple.
Over the course of the game he would tell a funny story and look over at me with a smile while telling it. I could see in his eyes and hear in his voice he loves his job.
Radio seems very fast paced and sitting in the booth I could see that it is.
I really enjoyed the opportunity to sit and watch.
I asked Geoff about "The Grind". I worked in professional baseball for one summer. I was warned about the Grind. By the end of the season, I was exhausted. It's a grind to show up at the ballpark everyday and go to work. A regular job is a grind, so is life in general. But in baseball being at the ballpark 12 hours a day, it's an exhausting grind.
He says he was very tired and the grind is getting to him. I totally knew how he felt.
I stuck around for the post game show. I spoke with Geoff, the PA announcer and the scoreboard operator long after the fans left. It was a very long day and I had a long drive home. I thanked Geoff for letting me drop in. I told him I was coming for the final homestand. I told him I would email him letting him know when I was coming. He said not to email, just show up.
This is Skip signing off until next time!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

I Sat Next To Pedro In Stockton

This has been an interesting Hall of Fame class this year. This group of guys are making me feel old. I can remember when Craig Biggio, Randy Johnson, John Smoltz and Pedro Martinez were coming up when I was in high school. Allow me to explain......
I collected baseball cards (since I wasn't collecting girls phone numbers) well into when I was in high school. (Probably couldn't get phone numbers since I was a baseball dweeb)
But I can vividly remember coming across baseball cards of Randy Johnson as an Indianapolis Indian when he was a farm hand of the Montreal Expos. I remember thinking how old he looked and as well as how odd he looked. He was very tall and lanky when he was younger. This was probably 1988. I filed the card away. He would eventually go on to bigger and better things as a Seattle Mariner.
I remember getting John Smoltz's rookie card, but since I wasn't a fan of the Tigers, I didn't care. He would eventually get traded to the Atlanta Braves and become part of a historic pitching rotation.
I saw Craig Biggio's Major League debut....on television. It was sometime in late June of 1988. The Giants were playing the Astros in Houston. I can remember Hank Greenwald talking about this young catcher who was playing his first game in the bigs. I think he had a great day. Who would have known almost twenty years later he would be collecting his 3,000th and be on his way to Cooperstown.
Which leads me to the final inductee. I remember the fuss about Ramon Martinez's kid brother Pedro who was supposed to be a great pitcher. (I remember Ramon's big league debut)
Didn't know much more about Pedro because he was a minor leaguer.
Well one night in 1991I'm at a Stockton Ports game watching the Ports play the Bakersfield Dodgers. I'm sitting a couple of rows behind homeplate. To the right side of me at the end of the row is Pedro Martinez and a trainer for Bakersfield. They were talking in Spanish, laughing and enjoying the evening. Pedro signed autographs as he was watching the game. Again, I had no idea this guy was gonna be a big leaguer. He was just Ramon's brother. There was a third Martinez brother who was supposed to be better than Ramon and Pedro. Jesus Martinez never made it to the big leagues.
In 1991 I had a car that allowed me to explore. So I took a roadtrip to Bakersfield and Las Vegas to see some future LA Dodgers. I saw Mike Piazza in Bakersfield.
So I eventually get to Las Vegas to see the then Las Vegas Stars play the Albuquerque Dukes. This was AAA ball at Cashman Field. So I'm by the dugouts just watching batting practice. Someone familiar is standing in front of me in a Dukes uniform. It was Pedro Martinez. He was kind of standoff-ish to everyone trying to get his attention. Since I was the closest, he signed my program. I still have it somewhere in a box.
Once again, who knew that one day he would make a few starts for the Dodgers, get traded to Montreal, and set upon the road to the Hall of Fame?
The baseball cards of Smoltz and Johnson are long gone. All I have are the memories of watching TV, opening a pack of cards and making a roadtrip to come across these newly enshrined Hall of Famers.
I don't think I'll have this kind of connection with another Hall of Fame class. I eventually stopped collecting baseball cards, I watch so many games on TV, it's hard to keep up with who's who. Kids are getting called up quite frequently this year. My big roadtrip is to Arizona in March, and there are so many players coming in and out of games, it's hard to spot that one special player.
But for a brief moment in time, I saw four very special careers take off.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Worst Two Days Of The Year

Being a sports fan usually means if you like all four major team sports, there's always something to watch. Heck, even if you throw in golf, tennis or soccer, there should be something to watch on TV.
Most sports programming is during prime time. Today is truly the worst day of the year to be a sports fan.
Wimbledon ended Sunday. The British Open started today, but coverage began very early this morning. Major League Baseball extended the All Star break an additional day, so no baseball tonight.
The NFL doesn't start training camp for another two weeks. Want to watch hockey? Forget about it.
The only thing on tonight is the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas.
I actually watched a bit of it last night. I've always heard of it, just never watched. It's interesting. Just a high paced practice or scrimmage. Bunch of NBA newbies trying to make a name for themselves if they weren't first round picks, or they were first rounders who weren't lottery picks.
Last night I also watched the AAA All Star Game from Omaha, Nebraska. If you're a baseball junkie like I am, it was a treat looking at future prospects or watching former big leaguers hanging on playing for another year. I interacted with a player on Twitter, Cody Decker from the San Diego Padres organization.
On the telecast on MLB Network, the commentators were showing how he makes mini movies basically poking fun at a teammate. So I tweeted him saying he has a bright future in show business.
Mr. Decker then tweeted me saying, "The future is now!", with a link from the NBC drama, State of Affairs. I click on the link and it's a scene showing a man with a bomb on him at a shopping mall. A security guard enters the scene telling the man to exit the area, while he's calling for backup. The man with the bomb blows up the mall. The security guard in question was an actor named.....Cody Decker! I learned from the telecast that Mr. Decker was a theater major at UCLA and was teammates with San Francisco Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford.
So that provided some entertainment for me.
Also the ESPY'S were on. Usually it's on the flagship station, but in order to grab as many ratings as possible, the show was switched to ABC so the circus could show off and give the Arthur Ashe Courage Award to Caitlin Jenner, in her first public appearance since she stopped being Bruce Jenner.
I didn't watch, I stopped watching that smarmy, smug, self indulgent, self love fest years ago. The ratings have been down for years and there was hope ESPN would pull the plug on this awards show, but not to worry folks, it's here to stay. Last night's show breathed new life into it. Also making an appearance was the US Womens soccer team, Mo'ne Davis and probably many mentions of Stuart Scott.
Which leads me to tonight. What to watch? Looks like NBA Summer League reruns.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Pitch Patch Potch

A little bit of this, a little bit of that.....
Ken Stabler passed away on Thursday. First time I heard of him was from my 4th grade teacher Ms. Cargo. Spoke of him like he was the greatest football player ever. She referenced him as The Snake. First time I heard of a player's nickname.

The ESPY'S are Wednesday.......who cares. Just a ESPN self love fest. Caitlin Jenner will be getting the Courage Award. May as well call it the "We're Using You For Ratings" Award.....I'll pass on watching that circus

A book about the Dodgers is coming out on Tuesday called "The Best Team Money Can Buy". It's supposed to be chock full of clubhouse stories. Mainly stories of how much a pain in the neck Yasiel Puig is. Can't wait to read it.

Speaking of Puig, it's time to trade him at his highest value and get some quality pitching for him. Let him be a pain in the neck for another team. The Dodgers are ready to win it all now. I think he's the one holding them back from that goal.

NFL training camp starts in a few weeks. I'm planning on visiting the Oakland Raiders training camp this year. I tried to go last year but the day I showed up, they were in Oxnard training with the Cowboys.

It's almost mid July and I haven't seen the World Series Champion Giants yet. They're tickets are a bit pricey this year. Their schedule doesn't interest me either.

Well, that's it for now. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Roll That Video Tape!

In the early 1960's a visionary television producer named Roone Arledge wanted to change how we watched sports television.
He had nine to ten cameras, some with zoom lenses to get up close to the action as possible. He brought in shotgun microphones to hear the game as we've never heard it before.
He assigned opinionated sportscasters to his telecasts to describe the game in great detail.
He wanted drama and action and he delivered. Perhaps one of his greatest innovations is what was supposed to have been a novelty, now generates controversy everyday during any sports cast, replay.
Replay was originally supposed to show a great play in slow motion to show the viewer at home the marvel of athletics.
Nowadays it's putting umpires, referees and other on field officials under a microscope for all the world to see. Now every coach and player can second guess an officials decision whenever they feel it's necessary.
It makes games longer. Longer than they need to be. But the TV networks don't care because while we at home are waiting for a decision from New York (funny how all replay decisions are made in NY) the networks can squeeze in a commercial or two. Or we can watch a boring shot of the officials huddled up as the suspense builds if a call is going to get over turned or not.
If the call stands, great for the officials, they made the right call. If the play turns out wrong, it makes the officials look bad. They don't like it I'm sure.
It ads up to controversy, which translates into ratings. Ratings translates into dollars.
I liked Mr. Arledge's original concept of replay. I don't like the present day use of it. Mr. Arledge's legacy will be replayed for all to see forever.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Getting Blocked On Twitter

I tweet a lot. Not as much as some people I know, but I'm pretty consistent.
I use Twitter mainly for information. I follow a lot of sportswriters, broadcasters, and other bloggers.
A first happened to me the other day. A prominent sports columnist I follow didn't take to kindly to a joke.
I was just scrolling through Tinder the other night when I came across a tweet from Sacramento Bee columnist Marcos Breton. He's a great writer and a he gives out a wealth of sports knowledge.
He's also Latino, and I enjoy getting a perspective of sports from the Latino point of view.
I came across a tweet that said something to the effect of Mr. Breton felt that at times he's gone to many Sacramento Kings games where he felt he was the most hated person in the building. This is when I decided to be clever and tweet something I thought was funny.
I tweeted, "Why all the hatred towards you? Who do those people think you are, RE Graswich?"
Seconds later Mr. Breton tweeted back to me, "And with that you're blocked. Bye"
At first I thought he was joking. So I went to respond and I got a notification from Twitter that I was unable to see Breton's his tweets and unable to communicate with him.
Let me explain my tweet.
RE Graswich was the Sacramento Kings beat writer in the late 80's to the mid 90's. He eventually became a sports columnist and then a news columnist.
I found him a fascinating writer. He told it like it was. A lot of readers didn't like him because he wasn't a homer. It was hard to describe the late 80's, early 90's Kings as the Boston Celtics. The Kings were terrible and Graswich wrote the truth.
I believe he was once the hated person in Arco Arena.
So that's when I decided to link my two favorite writers in a tweet.
Then I got blocked. For whatever reason I don't know. Perhaps there was a rift between them?
Some other person tweeted to me he didn't think I was funny. I just explained it was a joke.
Perhaps I shouldn't have compared one writer to another. (An old friend of mine Jason once told me to never compare a woman to another woman. I once told a cute barrista at Starbucks in Woodland she looked just like my favorite actress Janeane Garofalo. When I told Jason of my pick up line, that's when he said I should have kept my mouth shut as women probably don't think Ms. Garofalo is atrractive. I find her gorgeous).
Anyway, I pushed a button of Breton's that probably didn't need to be pushed.
So I posted about it on Facebook. Shortly thereafter, a high school friend of mine Sam told me he could possibly set up a meeting with Breton and a music writer for the Bee. Sam even said he'd go with me for moral support. I thanked Sam and said I'd write a letter. A few other friends told me to quit thinking about it. At first I got mad and defensive and quoted George Lopez when he says, "FTP, F@&k that puto!" Kinda childish on my part.
I was just angry that a writer I enjoy blocked me. But as any good writer knows, there's probably more to the story.
I went on to say on Facebook that, "Us Mexicans need to stick together".

I later messaged Sam and thanked him for thinking of setting up something. Then Sam said something that's been floating around in my mind the last few days. He said and I'm paraphrasing here that Breton was always polite when they met when Sam was being interviewed by the Bee's music writer. He said the Bee's music writer, Mr. Macias and Breton were "just like us, proud Latinos".
I'm sure I hurt Mr. Breton's pride. Now I need to swallow my pride and put pen to paper and apologize to Mr. Breton.
I feel I need to reach out and contact him. Us Mexicans need to stick together you know.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Back To The Future On A Skateboard

I'm going back in time on a skateboard because there's no money in the budget to do so in a De Lorean.
It was 30 years ago today that the cinematic classic Back to the Future was released in theaters.
I can remember how excited I was to see it that summer in 1985. Going to the movies in general was a big deal. I eventually ended up working at the movie theater, the State Theater in high school. After working there, the thrill of going to the movies was gone. It was work.
It was the perfect movie for me as I was a big Michael J. Fox fan. To this day I'm still referred to as Alex P. Keaton by some people. I take it as a compliment. and Huey Lewis and the News had a few songs in the soundtrack for the movie. As big a fan I am of theirs, I have never seen them in concert. Although Huey Lewis almost hit me with a wedge on his backswing at Pebble Beach once.
The movie was great, but one thing I wanted more than anything after watching the movie was a skateboard.
So I did what any teenage boy with no spending money would do to get a skateboard. I asked my mom. And mom gave me the answer I heard many times from women in my teenage life, "No!" I would ask girls to sit with them at lunch or ask for their number in school and I heard no a lot.
So I went without the skateboard that summer. The seasons would change and I thought I'd take a chance and ask for a skateboard for Christmas. Mom was always a softie at Christmas, she was certain to deliver this time. I thought wrong. I got everything but the skateboard, although she did tell me the damaging results of owning a skateboard. She made it seem as if I'd be spending a lot of time at the ER at Woodland Memorial Hospital.
I would continue to walk or ride my bike to get around.
But a very important day was coming in the spring of 1986, my birthday! So once again I asked my mom for a skateboard for my 14th birthday.
And once again, I was told no. Hmmmm, what to do?
Ever see those T shirts kids wear that say, "If mom says no, ask (insert cool relative)"?
Well in my case, if mom says no, ask aunt Marcy.
She beat me to the punch. She asked me what I wanted for my present.
I told her K-Mart had the official Back to the Future skateboard for only $14.99.
Before I could describe it in more detail, she said she'd take me to K-Mart and buy it for me.
And she did! I was the proud owner of a Valterra Back to the Future skateboard.
I envisioned myself skating in style all over Woodland with my new board. I was cool....or so I thought.
My friends Sergio and Alvaro came over and I excitedly told them of my birthday present. I then went into the house to show them. "Look at this!", I proudly said.
They laughed at it.
They went on to explain the many skateboards one could choose from, Cabellero, Gonzalez, Powell and Peralta. They were speaking a foreign language. I didn't know there were other boards. I just thought mine was the coolest. It was featured in a Hollywood movie by the way.
After they stopped laughing, Sergio helped himself to my board. He then started grinding on the curb of the sidewalk with it.
"Stop! Your ruining it! Your scratching the paint off it!", I said.
Sergio said, "Your supposed to do this with the board. Your supposed to actually use it you know." I didn't know. I thought I supposed to use it Marty McFly style. The only trick I knew was to kick the tail of the board after you stopped riding it, if you could call that a trick.
After Sergio and Alvaro left, I looked at my scratched up board.....it was ruined. The Back to the Future logo was gone. I had to somehow salvage my board.
I then spent my own money at K-Mart and bought a orange can of spray paint. I actually did a good job painting my board orange. Only a little bit of grip tape was orange.
So once again, I proudly showed my friends my new alterated board.
They laughed again. But this time they "borrowed" it.
I'm still waiting to get my board back.
I also would like to think I helped create "The Fro Bros", the famous Woodland skate group. I'm kidding as I say this. They formed themselves into The Fro Bros.
Sergio and Alvaro would eventually go on to bigger and better things in the Woodland skate scene. For a small town, Woodland was a big skate town.
So, you're probably asking, why am I talking about skating and a movie on a sports blog?
I have been asked the question,  is skateboarding a sport? I would answer yes, and so would ESPN. As long ESPN can squeeze a nickel out of a sport, it's a sport.
So if skating is a sport, skaters are jocks. So I guess now I can say I hung out with the jocks in school!
Seriously, I hung out with the skaters, even though I didn't skate. I kept busy after school with yearbook and newspaper. They kept busy skating around town.
Anywhere there was concrete, they'd use it for as the police wouldn't hassel them.
I have heard of the Woodland Ditch, witch was on Beamer Rd. I heard to get there, you had to go in the irrigation ditches by the freeway. I always wanted to go and watch, but I was afraid of the rats they talked about.
They spoke of going to the Chicken Ramp in Grimes. Their roadtrip stories sounded like so much fun. I think they went to the new at the time Davis Skate Park.
They developed a bond on those after school skate sessions and roadtrips.
Kinda like  my friends who played baseball or football, the bond keeps them together despite the passing of time.
I sometimes listen to their stories and laugh along with them, but their laughs are longer and harder because they lived it and experienced it. I always envied them for that. It's kinda hard to get my old high school newspaper and yearbook friends to laugh and tell funny stories. But that's for another post idea I have in mind. (Watching from the Sidelines, coming to a blog post near you!)
Yes, skateboarders are athletes. My friends were always in great shape and I'm sure they all had the best cardiovascular health of anyone around.
Most skaters have the reputation of being rebellious or non confirmists. I'll honestly say they were truly there own people. They marched to a beat of a different drummer. Or shall I say they were drummers who marched to a different beat. They were all great guys and I can proudly say all of them have gone on to be quite successful in their different endeavors in life.
I don't have much use for a skateboard anymore. At a family reunion last year one of my younger cousins had a board and he was showing me tricks. He let me ride on it for a bit. I was very careful as I didn't want to fall off and break something. After all these years I still can't ollie. Now I'm to heavy to do it as when I was younger I was to clumsy and awkward to ollie.
Sometimes at work the kids are out skateboarding in our parking lot or in front of the store. My old boss would tell me to run them off. I know a good skate spot is hard to find. I just tell them to be careful and don't break any merchandise out front.
And this story began 30 years ago today.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna listen to Huey Lewis and the News, go back in time and get my skateboard back!