By Melody Chu
Baseball is a game of numbers.
Batting average, errors, hits, wins and losses, statistics that even out over the course of a season- everything that can be categorized numerically is recorded. Most home runs. Youngest closer. Highest on-base percentage. Lowest ERA.
But baseball is also a beautiful game, with impossible diving catches, slingshot throws across the diamond and knee-buckling 12 to 6 o’clock curveballs—line items that don’t show up in the box score. You can tell if a pitch was a ball, but who’s going to explain that it was thrown in the dirt?
That’s where the radio comes in. Unlike live computer updates, which are impersonal, or television broadcasts, which are likely to cut from the game to focus on the crowd and seagulls, radio seems to match the slow, deliberate pace of baseball. Radio is about telling stories—about filling in the gaps in people’s imaginations without showing a thousand instant replays.
Sunday marked the first time in history that KZSC has brought UC Santa Cruz baseball to the air.
“The goal is to give our listeners, who don’t get much sports coverage, a chance to listen to baseball,” Justin Bercovich, the KZSC sports director, told me. “Baseball is America’s favorite game.”
The history-making broadcast had already been postponed two weeks, as the game against UC Merced had been rained out. But there would be none of that this weekend. Even at 10 a.m., as we left Santa Cruz for Watsonville High School, the sky was clear and the weather sultry.
KZSC was set to broadcast the back end of the doubleheader, so before it began, I hung around the field and tried to get players to talk about the broadcast.
“Did you guys prepare any differently because this game would be on air?” I asked Christopher Connor, the team manager.
“No, we did not,” Connor replied curtly, as he filled out a lineup card. Despite his short answer, Connor made sure to inform everyone on the team of the broadcast, even linking KZSC’s live webstream from the Sluggers’ website. Connor also pitched the Slugs’ ace, Dylan Murphy, in the late game instead of the early one, as would be expected.
“Will you have people listening in?” I asked the players in the dugout.
“My parents will be,” shortstop Pat Mulshine said.
“Are you going to call them and remind them to listen?”
“Oh, I told them this morning. They won’t forget.”
After making quick work of Merced in the first game, a 6-2 victory, it was time for The Show.
The Slug Talk crew, “Your No. 1 source for Slug Sports,” had meticulously checked all the remote-broadcast equipment and was armed with piles of printouts relating to the Sluggers’ roster, statistics and schedules.
Bercovich rushed through the lineups for both teams at 1:55 p.m., expecting the game to start at 2 p.m., but at that point neither team had even taken the field.
No sweat. The guys backtracked and updated listeners on the Sluggers’ last few weeks leading up to the game, and by the time the umps returned half an hour late, it seemed like the crew were just about out of baseball-related things to say.
“The umpires have changed,” Bercovich explained to listeners. “They started out with black uniforms, but now they are in light blue.”
Color-commentator Ben Kutcher joked, “They went down the street to the Gap.”
Warren Sampson pointed out that there was no Gap store in Watsonville.
“What I meant to say was, they went down the street to Target,” Kutcher said.
Once Murphy threw the first pitch of the game, the five-men Slug Talk team settled into a comfortable pattern of play-by-plays infused with commentary on the uncharacteristically hot weather, bench depth, small-ball (“In some ways, Mulshine’s inside-the-park home run two weeks ago is even more impressiveâ€¦”) and the fact that Merced had only brought 11 players to Santa Cruz.
The intensity of trying to broadcast a live game made it easy to forget that the small broadcasting booth was crowded with baseball equipment in dusty cardboard boxes and a trash can alive with marching ants. With the exception of short public service announcements between innings, the men were responsible for filling up an entire two-hour timeslot with continuous talk. The inconsistencies in the broadcast were overshadowed by the mere fact that a club baseball team—who take themselves seriously as ballplayers nonetheless—could find their way on air and be picked apart play-by-play by a group of sports journalists.
Partway through the game, a spectator in the bleachers picked up his cell phone to tell someone about the broadcast.
“You have to listen in, this game is on the radio,” he said. “What was it, 80-something?”
“It’s 88.1,” I said.
“Did you hear that? 88.1. You get that, don’t you…”
The Sluggers delivered an easy game to gush about, as the offense was able to garner hit after hit off the first-year Merced program. They managed to bat through their entire lineup in the bottom of the first, and the mercy rule was enforced after five innings with UCSC up 11-1.
And miraculously, even though the game started over half an hour late, the game finished at 3:56 p.m.—leaving just enough time for sideline reporter Arthur Minas to interview Murphy before KZSC cut back to regularly scheduled programming.
It may have not seemed like much, but that was history. Two hours live on-air, as distant, static voices brought you that much closer to Santa Cruz baseball.
The Sluggers don’t compete with a lot of fanfare. There is no permanent field, no scoreboard, no announcer, no names on the back of their home whites.
As pitcher Jadd Correia offered me ride back to Santa Cruz, I noticed he had a KZSC air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror.
“It’s cool you would have that,” I said.
“Oh yeah, it smells good. Or at least, it used to.”
“Did you have anyone listening in to the broadcast?” I asked.
He turned around. “Naw, not that I know of.”
“Why didn’t you tell your parents to?”
“Because,” he said, “they were at the game.”