Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Mountaineers--Fun and Insanity

Ok, ok. I know the last column was a bit on the outdated side and has been sitting here for about three weeks, but I blame a busy schedule and a nasty case of writer's block for that. Writer's block is one of those strange things that hangs around like a cold that just won't go away. The fingers go to type and the brain says, "Ummmmmmmm, I don't think so." Don't even get me started on what it has been like to speak for the last couple of days.

Anyway, baseball is back in Central Vermont with the NECBL champion Vermont Mountaineers back in action down in Montpelier. This season I am doing color on the home games for our sister station ESPN 1240 WSKI down in Montpelier and to say the least it has been interesting. First of all, this is my first baseball gig, so there have been some bugs to be worked out like when to speak. Baseball is such a conversational game, and although I can have a conversation with a tree, this is a different animal all together. Where I have been used to doing play-by-play, NOT talking and walking over the play-by-play guy is harder than I thought it would be. Thankfully Kyle (Mountaineers play-by-play guy) is good at dealing with an old fart, and hasn't killed me yet.....Yet being the key word.

Speaking of Kyle, this kid is good. Kyle is a 22 year old college student hired by the Mountaineers to do play-by-play and to be honest, I was more than a bit apprehensive about working with someone 15 years younger than me. It turns out I didn't have a thing to worry about. Kyle is about as sarcastic as I am, is a walking baseball encyclopedia, and has the abililty to roll with things as well as anyone I have worked with. I have tried tossing things out to him to make him crack up, and I am getting there. Now, all he has to do is to mention PA announcer, and frequent target Norm James babysitting Thomas Jefferson and being roommates with Moses, and I am off in the land of hysterical laughter. Too bad it tends to happen when we have five seconds to go before we go back on air. Chemistry is one of those all important things when doing games, and Kyle and I seemed to have it nailed within about two pitches.

As an organization, the Mountaineers are as classy as they come. Bear in mind, the Mountaineers, along with all NECBL teams are volunteer run organizations and are non-profits. The players aren't paid, nor are the people who run the concessions, ticket takers, and everyone else who works with the team. This is a passionate group of people who enjoy giving their time so fans can enjoy a night at the ballpark. The fans themselves cheer on the Mountaineers, and have been known to cheer good plays by opposing teams. Man, that just doesn't work in Boston or New York!

Manager John Russo is open, candid, and will talk baseball and answer questions for as long as he can. Getting updates on injuries, who he will be playing and why, along with other insights into the game is just plain easy. John is a very laid back guy with an agressive style of play on the bases. Hit and run, squeeze plays, and solid baserunning has been a trademark of John since he came to Vermont. The thing about him is he truly loves being in this area. He seems to relish in the fan support, and getting out and experiencing the state. Talk to him sometime and you will hear the enthusiasm he has for managing and the state.

GM Brian Gallagher has to be one of the hardest working people in all of sports. Brian works in the school system by day and is the GM by night. Brian knows everything about everyone on the team, and manages to have all of his volunteers in the right place at the right time. He has also had to have the patience of a saint in dealing with me at times. I am one of those guys who wants every minute piece of information, and he has been patient and generous with his time in providing me with what I need. I swear though, one of these days he will strangle me. Considering he is about 6'4, that is something I just don't want to happen.

Now Norm (Moses) James is just hysterical. Norm is the PA guy for the team, has a wicked sense of humor, and doesn't seem to mind being the target of Kyle's and my endless cracks. Of course, we have to watch out because he tosses it back with the best of them. Norm also has one of the most pure voices I have ever heard. He is so smooth in his delivery and is in a sense the "anti PA announcer". What I mean is that many, including myself, tend to be over the top in announcing players names, promotions, etc. Norm does his thing just like he is talking to anyone, and to me, that makes him one of the best. One doesn't have to sound like a lunatic to make people listen, and Norm's style is one that just seems to fit the team and area.

Folks, I don't do this gig for the money, I do this because I get to be around guys like Russo, Norm and the players and do things like shag flies before games. This year will be a blast and I will have more updates on the team throughout the year.

As a side note, it was ESPN Radio night at the ballpark last night and I got to throw out one of the first pitches. In front of a crowd of 987, I threw a strike to pitcher Justin (Don't call me Justine) Gustie. I figured if I bounced one, Kyle would NEVER let me hear the end of it. Also, considering an eight year old threw out one of the pitches and was perfect, I had just a little pressure on me.

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