Andrus Center, Baseball

Pleasures of the Ear

JoeCastiglioneI’ve spent the World Series with Joe Castiglione. I hope he’s enjoyed it as much as I have.

For baseball fans who have been glued to the tube during this remarkably engaging World Series, I should mention that Castiglione is one member of the radio broadcast team for the Boston Red Sox. Along with the great Vince Scully and Jon Miller, he has one of the wonderful and distinct voices in the game. I’ve been without television for this Series and frankly haven’t missed a thing. Once again I’ve rediscovered the pleasures of the ear – listening in the dimming twilight to a baseball game on the radio. I highly recommend it.

I grew up in South Dakota listening to the Minnesota Twins’ flagship radio station WCCO in the days before baseball on television amounted to little more than “The Game of the Week” on CBS. Ray Scott, Herb Carneal and Halsey Hall – what a great baseball name – did the play-by-play and helped make me a life-long fan. WCCO was, and is, a monster station, 50,000 watts and “clear channel.” The signal was so strong that on a summer night in the Black Hills Herb Carneal could have been sitting in my bedroom. In fact, I think he might have been.

The New York Times had a great piece yesterday on another of the Midwest’s monster stations KMOX in St. Louis, the home of Cardinals baseball and the station that produced Jack and Joe Buck and, in an earlier day before too many Buds, a guy named Harry Caray. Reporter David Waldstein set out to see if he could literally drive out from under the KMOX signal in the length of time it took the Red Sox and Cards to play Game 4. He drove more than 300 miles during the game, ending up in Mississippi with a strong, clear signal on his car radio.

Waldstein reports near the end of his wonderful story “the reception is so clear, I probably could have driven straight into the Gulf of Mexico and still heard the sad postgame show. [The Cardinals lost.] Instead, I listen to the hissing report — the content of the show is hissing, not the signal reception — as I head toward Memphis and the Blues City Cafe for a well-deserved plate of ribs, full rack, and a last pit stop at a West Memphis gas station.”

FOX and Turner Broadcast have paid millions – billions? – for the television rights to baseball playoff games. I hope they’re getting their money’s worth. I’ve never shopped in a Shaw’s Market – a major sponsor of Joe Castiglione’s broadcasts – but I can tell you the specials this week. Joe keeps reminding me.

More than any other sport, baseball is a game every fan plays inside their head. You wonder if the pitcher is getting tired? Should someone be warming up? Is David Ortiz really going to get another hit next time? Shouldn’t the Cardinals pitch around the real Mr. October? I can even see Mike Napoli’s awful beard on the radio. That guy, by the way, needs an appointment with a pair of scissors. The great game is the most cerebral game and the most personal. Listening in on radio, bathed in the sound of Joe’s New England twang, God is in his heaven and God is a baseball fan and this year God may be a Red Sox fan.

On the radio I can see my dad crouching in the catcher’s position to catch a strike from my brother who only had a fast ball, never a curve. I can see Harmon Killebrew at the Old Met in Bloomington. And Junior at the awful KingDome. I can imagine Ruth at Fenway and Enos Slaughter’s mad dash from first to home.

I’ll be near a television tonight and I might watch Game 6, but I also might turn off the too much, too obvious commentary of Buck and McCarver and listen to a few Shaw’s grocery spots instead. Let’s get on with it. I can’t wait and I never want it to end.