Because our "high-speed" internet isn't, I can't really watch games on MLB.TV. That means that unless San Francisco is on a national game, which hasn't happened much since Barry Bonds cleared out his lockers, I don't get to see them play unless it's against Arizona. And that means that I've become familiar with the different D-Backs announcing crews over the years.
Although the ballpark formerly known as The Bob is too much like a dome for me to enjoy, even when seeing games on TV, and the crowds these days are as ideologically suspect as ever and a lot sparser than they once were -- this is not a good time for the state, to say the least -- I still enjoyed the way tonight's announcers called the game enough to leave the volume turned up, even though my original plan had been to listen to music. Actually, it was the sparseness of the crowd and the D-Backs' sorry state as a cellar dweller that helped make the announcers appealing.
A lot of people, my father included, complain when announcers stray from calling the game to talk about other things. But unless I'm on pins and needles, I like such banter. It's what makes the sound of a baseball telecast soothing. Radio announcers are invariably more focused on the action, because they have no choice. But freed by their camera crews from having to describe everything, television announcers can expatiate on whatever subjects come into their heads.
That's frequently a bad thing, as even I am ready to admit. With the right people and the right timing, though, such rambling can be delightful. Hearing Brooks Robinson wander through the Ozarks of his mind on Orioles' telecasts was like sipping well-aged sourmash. And, although the tone of Phil Rizzuto's voice -- "The Money Store!" -- was beyond grating, it was hard not to marvel at his stories of the Yankees glory days, especially when he related them during the fallow years of 1974 and 1975, when I first became acquainted with the sport through my father's dedicated viewing of every game he could catch on Channel 11.
My favorite kind of peripatetic announcers, though, are the ones who leave plenty of white space in their delivery. Joe Garagiola, who occasionally drops into the D-Backs booth, was one of the best in that vein. When the camera caught him taking a bow tonight -- his son helps to run the Arizona front office -- the announcers waxed nostalgic about the pleasure of listening to him and Tony Kubek call NBC's Saturday Game of the Week in the 1970s.
I think it was Mark Grace who said that it didn't even matter who was playing, so long as those two men were in the booth the telecast was an event you didn't want to miss. I wholeheartedly agree. I think Garagiola and Kubek's voices are inscribed more deeply in my soul than the faces of my childhood friends. What I realized, though, as I nodded my head to second this insight, was that my nostalgia is less about them, than it is about the way they called games, always remembering that they were just that: games.
One of the things that turns me off about the NFL is the sense, conveyed by the announcers, sound effects, commercials etc., that every contest is a life-or-death struggle. Sports are a diversion, a means of facilitating bonding between people -- typically males -- who would otherwise find it difficult to communicate with each other. But they are not warfare, as the sad story of Pat Tillman reminds us. Maybe we'd all be better off if we had to slow down and listen to baseball announcers call a game that doesn't matter much, at least to the fan base they serve, as if they were having a nice talk while waiting for the fish to bite.