Lansing Lugnuts radio broadcaster Jesse Goldberg-Strassler continued one of the Midwest League’s most unique traditions Tuesday: calling a game without watching it.
The annual event is a nod to baseball broadcasting’s roots, always done on or around the anniversary of the first baseball broadcast. (Harold Arlin described the Pittsburgh Pirates-Philadelphia Phillies game at Forbes Field for KDKA on Aug. 5, 1921.) The game is called from an area of the press box without a view of the field, with props and canned crowd noise providing the “special effects” accompanying the broadcaster’s voice.
Goldberg-Strassler first did a re-creation broadcast as an intern in 2005, and was forced to do another one as the Windy City Thunderbolts broadcaster in 2008 when a thunderstorm knocked out the Internet in the press box. It was an Internet-only broadcast, and the only place in the park that still had access was the front office, so Goldberg-Strassler and his radio partner moved their equipment there and called the game without watching it.
(That game turned out to be a Thunderbolts no-hitter. Although the Lugnuts were no-hit three times in 2013, Goldberg-Strassler still hasn’t called a no-hitter pitched by his team while watching it.)
When he became the Lugnuts play-by-play broadcaster the following year, Goldberg-Strassler decided to make the re-creation game an annual event. This year marked the ninth time he has done a re-creation game, and he kindly allowed me to hang out with him and Lugnuts No. 2 broadcaster David Fine for a behind-the-scenes look at the experience.
Goldberg-Strassler called the game from a table behind his usual broadcast booth, with the door between them closed so he couldn’t “cheat” by accidentally seeing any of the action on the field when turned to his left. For sound effects he used pre-recorded audience noise, a ball and glove to simulate the sound of a pitch hitting the catcher’s mitt, and two bats to hit together to make a sound similar to the crack of a bat.
Basic information was relayed via Facebook instant messages, done from a laptop in the regular broadcast booth. Fine typed what happened with each pitch — ball, strike, grounded out to shortstop, etc. — and Goldberg-Strassler would use his imagination to describe what happened, with the end result being the same. (This is how broadcasters called games in the old days when they had to re-create road games while getting updates via teletype messages because travel was too expensive.)
Sitting inside the regular broadcast booth, I found it interesting to listen to the radio call through the closed door after already seeing what actually happened on the field. One of my favorite exaggerations was when Goldberg-Strassler turned an average foul ball by Lugnuts infielder Jason Leblebijian into a long fly ball with home run distance that curved foul right before reaching the outfield wall.
The two broadcasters switched places for the middle three innings, with Fine doing the call using messages from Goldberg-Strassler. To me it seemed like old hat for Fine, who sounded like he had done a re-creation broadcast before (even though he hadn’t). And I got to participate briefly, sending the instant-message updates for the 1-2-3 top of the 6th inning.
As for the game itself, the Lugnuts shut out the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers 5-0 behind a great performance by starting pitcher Chase Mallard. The right-hander, who has started only nine of the 23 games he’s appeared in this year, held the Timber Rattlers to four hits in seven innings. He struck out nine and walked none.
D.J. Davis started the Lugnuts’ scoring with a two-run double in the 4th inning, and Chris Carlson capped it off with a solo homer in the 8th inning.
I’ll be back at Cooley Law School Stadium tonight to take a closer look at the significant renovations that were done there during the offseason.
For more about the game re-creation broadcasts, I suggest reading this Bluebird Banter guest post written by Goldberg-Strassler last year and this 2012 story by MiLB.com’s Ben Hill.