Fighting about fouls at ESPN

 

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In a perfect world, sportscasters would get long leisurely looks at the highlights they use in their live broadcasts. They’d get to rehearse a few times, using their own verbiage to describe a sweet double play or a long touchdown run.

But in the real world, there are times when sportscasters don’t get to view the video prior to a broadcast. Imagine trying to look pleasant, sound authoritative and knowledgeable, and having to describe a previously-unseen set of highlights, while someone is yelling in your ear. Now, try to do it when the highlights are poorly written.

At ESPN, there was a group of workers called PAs: production assistants who spent almost all their time observing games and picking plays for SportsCenter broadcasts. I’m sure to rabid sports fans the gig sounds like having one foot in heaven. A PA would be assigned a game, they’d sit back, watch, and pick three or four highlights. All they had to do was get the plays edited and write a script explaining what was happening in the shots they chose. A final score would then be added. That was it.

Generally, the PAs would appear at the anchor’s newsroom desk before the show and hand over their version of the script. I would always go view the video, make my own additions to the copy, and thank the PA. Beautiful.

However, sometimes there were late games that were still in progress during the SportsCenter broadcast. It was one of these contests and a subsequent set of highlights I received that got me into a bit of a pickle.

One evening, a sheet of game highlights was slipped onto my desk just as the crimson camera light blinked on. I smiled and read the intro. Then, as the video rolled, I eyed the script with my left eye and focused on my desk monitor with my right. (Not really, but it sort of feels that way.) And there it was, a screaming line drive hit into the first row seats, beaning a spectator squarely on the noggin. I read the script and immediately knew there’d been a mistake. The copy read that the fan had been hit by a foul tip. I knew this was impossible, but the next play quickly appeared and I had no time to right the wrong.

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All fouls are not created equal.

It wouldn’t be until the postmortem – the meeting that followed each show, a time during which errors were discussed by everyone involved in the broadcast – that I would get the chance to point out the obvious problem.

“Rich,” I said to the PA, who like all of his ilk was just out of college, sans any previous TV experience, and while they were sometimes treated like slave labor, were willing to do almost anything to get into the business. “Here,” I said, pushing the highlight sheet across the conference table. “Look at the first play.”

“The one where the guy gets hit with the foul tip?” He asked without looking at the page.

“That’s the one.” I smiled. “You don’t want to do that again.”

“Do what?” Rich squinted.

PAs lived in fear of making a mistake, knowing there was a long list of kids who’d do anything to get into ESPN. They worked without contracts for so little pay three or four of them often rented tiny apartments together, and they could be terminated without cause. Still, they lined up in droves to work at the network.

“It wasn’t a foul tip that hit the guy, Rich. It was a foul ball.”

“What’s the difference? The producer asked, palms up.

I looked around the table, finding it odd that no one else seemed to understand. “A foul ball is one that goes out of the playing area in foul territory. It’s a dead ball. Nothing can happen on the field. A foul tip, however, is a ball that generally goes directly from the bat to the catcher’s glove and is legally caught. A foul tip is always a strike and, unlike a foul ball, can result in strike three.”

“So?” Rich said defensively.

“A foul tip is a live ball.” I paused, waiting to see the light bulbs go off in the brains of my SportsCenter peers, but they just stared at me. “If there are runners on base, they can steal at their own risk,” I went on. “That makes it impossible for a fan to be hit with a foul tip. It was a foul ball.”

“It’s the same thing,” Rich insisted.

“No, it’s not.”

“Why do you care?” The PA said, sounding petulant now. “No one else does.”

I looked around the room. None of the other members of the crew had chimed in. Generally, in these meetings, everyone had an opinion and no one was timid about sharing.

“I care, Rich. I’m an umpire. And there are people out there who know that. It embarrasses me to make that kind of mistake.”

Rich’s face turned bright red. “You’re just being a picky bitch!” Then he got up and left the room.

The next day, I was called into my boss’s office. He had been apprised of my comments and insisted that I apologize to Rich.

“But he was wrong,” I said. “I never raised my voice or got defensive. I simply explained that he’d made a mistake.”

My boss was unswayed. That the young PA called me a bitch did not seem to matter. I was forced to apologize.

And all these years later, it still rankles.

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

Mystery/Suspense

Amphorae Publishing Group

286 Pages

Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook

http://www.midpointtrade.com/book_detail.php?book_id=261955

As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.

A trip to the guitar hospital

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Pete Townshend of The Who was known for smashing his guitars. My only question is, how could he?

I only looked away for a second.

Then the crash … and the awful atonal groan.

I didn’t want to look, but I had no choice.

There she lay on the concrete floor, small bits of her peppered around the room. My little red Guild guitar, my favorite, because she’s the one I’m comfortable playing.

Yes, I have others, but they’re all too large and not made for a woman. (In case you’re wondering, I’ll just say it. Our breasts get in the way. And since I learned recently that more girls are starting to play guitar than boys, someone should do something about it. But I digress.)

She lay top side down. I knelt and gently turned her over. Cracks and scratches marred her cherry-red face. The top panel had split apart from the rest of the body. I wanted to weep.

Those of you who did not lug a musical instrument back and forth to school, perhaps do not understand my pain. From the first time I picked up a clarinet in fourth grade, I was taught to carefully tend and handle instruments, a message not unlike the one I received concerning the care and feeding of our family pets.

Later, I walked slowly into the store where I’d purchased my guitar, seeking a glimmer of hope. I winced as the man behind the counter unzipped and lifted the case lid. He stared for a moment, then quickly ushered me on my way to the guitar doctor.

When I arrived at Atomic Guitar Works, a bespectacled man surveyed the damage using a mirror attached to a long, bent handle. He reminded me of a dentist analyzing a mouth rife with cavities.

“I didn’t mean to do it,” I said, feeling the need to explain. “I was hanging her on a hook on the wall and just looked way for an instant. The hook was loose.”

He ran a finger over a jagged groove that snaked below the bridge. “Did you bring the broken pieces?”

“I did.” I produced a small plastic bag with two fractured shards of red wood.

“Good! I can fix it.”

I reached into my pocket and handed him a credit card.

He waved the plastic away. “No need.” He smiled. “I have a hostage.”

I cringed again. He knew I’d be back.

The good news is after three weeks in the guitar hospital and a big hit to my wallet, my little red Guild is mended. And if you weren’t aware of her accident you’d have no idea it happened.

Three guitars

But I’ll always know.

I hope someday she will forgive me.

 

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

Mystery/Suspense

Amphorae Publishing Group

286 Pages

Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook

http://www.midpointtrade.com/book_detail.php?book_id=261955

As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.

When you’re nervous, it’s good to have a friend by your side

Book Poster

Though I spent a good portion of my life with a microphone in hand – back when I was a TV sports reporter – there I was at my own book signing last night at Changing Hands Bookstore in Phoenix unable to get the mic to work. Then a friend came to the rescue by simply pushing the on button, and the launch event for my novel A Light in the Desert was underway.

If you guessed that I was nervous, hence my little mic mishap, you’d be right. Despite over 2000 live TV appearances, facing an audience can still be daunting. Would I say the right thing? Would I lose my train of thought? (Hey, I am in my sixties.) Would I offend anyone if I mounted one of my usual soapboxes?

In retrospect, I needn’t have worried, because at my side was former TV anchor and Arizona icon Mary Jo West, my dear friend and consummate professional. Mary Jo moderated the program, and smoothed my way ahead.

Me and MJ Changing Hands 2

My friend Mary Jo West was the perfect moderator at last night’s book launch.

I could not be more grateful.

To those of you to came out last night, thank you so much for joining us. And to the folks at Changing Hands, thank you for allowing us to hold our party at your beautiful venue.

Me and Andy signin booksMe and DewWayne at book signing

What a fabulous evening!

 

 

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

Mystery/Suspense

Amphorae Publishing Group

286 Pages

Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook

http://www.midpointtrade.com/book_detail.php?book_id=261955

As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.