If you want to bring yourself back to a bygone era – say, March – listen to baseball games on the radio.
Yes, the crowd’s voice was fake, and the publishers might not even be in the ballpark. But only a ballgame hearing experience, without visuals of an empty stadium and masked players, can be a comfort food for the ears.
That’s how the Cubs radio sound, Pat Hughes, sees it, and despite his worries about the coronavirus pandemic, he won’t dream of losing the game and robbing fans of the sound they like to hear.
“In my mind I am still a worker, and I feel a responsibility,” said Hughes, 65. “If I am healthy and have a ballgame in the air, I must be there.”
This season, “there” is Wrigley Field for all 60 matches. In its 25thth year at the Cubs booth and 38th as a major league broadcaster, Hughes was challenged like never before, having to cancel a match from outside. This is his first experience in baseball, but not the first in the broadcasting world.
About 40 years ago, while working for a cable company in his hometown of San Jose, California, Hughes and a production team tried to broadcast songs and live meetings in the field. For a small group of people and camera staff, it is not possible to attend all events. They gave up about half way and decided to do a voice-over after they edited the film into two managed hours.
“We did it from a monitor, but we already knew what was going to happen, so it wasn’t that difficult,” Hughes said. “This is new.”
This can also be a strange thing. Hughes was in the hands of the director and the camera people. If they don’t show where the ball is, it’s hard for him to make a call.
For example, during Monday’s match in Cincinnati, Willson Contreras scored a run-scoring score on the left-hand line. Hughes immediately knew Contreras had pulled the ball, but when the camera switched from a shot in the middle of the field to follow it down the line, he did not know where the ball landed, and the ball slid out of sight. Only with left winger Aristides Aquino running towards the line then Hughes knew the ball was fair.
“You have to be really disciplined and wait for about a second or two after each ball is hit if you want to call it right,” said Hughes, who was able to pay for the time because the radio allowances gave him. “And that really takes some adjustments.”
Likewise, calling a game from a dark and empty baseball stadium. The lights went out at Wrigley, along with the lights on the broadcast booth, while The Score crew from Hughes, analyst Ron Coomer and pre-postgame host Zach Zaidman worked. Hughes said that as the sun set, you could not see the second base from their deck.
“But out of habit, I find myself constantly looking at the field because that’s what I have done for more than 6,000 big league matches,” Hughes said. “It’s like an automatic reflex for me, and I keep wondering why there are no players on the field. “Oh, right, they aren’t here.” So strange about that. “
Hughes and Coomer each have a monitor in front of them with game feeds watched by viewers on the Marquee Sports Network. Among them is a larger monitor that includes shots called “all-nine,” which shows every player on the field. Coomer uses it more because he oversees a defensive position, while Hughes oversees his monitor to focus on each note. Following the safety protocol, engineer Paul Zerang was the only other person at the booth. Zaidman, who summoned the fifth innings, was in the left-hand booth.
Keeping them safe will remain a priority throughout the season. Even though they were not tested for COVID-19, their body temperature was taken and asked questions about their health before entering the ballpark. Hughes did not have the basic conditions, although a friend showed that he was qualified as one. Still, he kept his “old machine in good condition,” as he said, by running a treadmill in his basement in Lincolnshire, often 40 minutes at a time.
The environment is not ideal for calling ballgames. And Hughes knew a mistake must have occurred describing the actions of the monitor, but he would not sweat.
“With so many people suffering, to complain about having to cancel the game from a monitor as opposed to calling it life will only seem inappropriate,” he said. “You will make mistakes even under the best conditions when you are there in the park where the game is played. You try your best to keep them at an absolute minimum, and you try to make it as common as a baseball broadcast maybe because that’s what the audience really needs. “
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