Training for the Big Leagues

Thursday, June 9, 2005

I can remember when I was in grade school, possibly third grade, sitting in the car with my dad at a stoplight. We were listening to the Cardinal game and he said, "You could become an announcer one day. I think you would be good at it."

As a kid, I would announce hockey and baseball games that were on TV. My friends and I always announced the games while playing Sega. We had a lot of fun with it.

This internship has been a dream come true. There are so many people that would love to do what I do and work with the people I work with. Every St. Louis Cardinals home game I work with Mike Shannon, Wayne Hagin, and Jim Jackson. Mike and Wayne are the announcers and Jim Jackson is the producer/engineer. All three men are great guys, very enjoyable to be around.

First thing's first...Jim Jackson is the man. He is someone who never gets stressed out in pressure situations. He can have several important tasks going on at the same time and is 100 percent calm. I don't know how he does it, to tell you the truth. He is always willing to help people out. I have gained a tremendous amount of knowledge from him.

Wayne Hagin, I think, is one of the nicest persons you can ever meet. He is very good with people and is a very knowledgeable professional baseball announcer. He is great with fans, the community and workers throughout Busch Stadium. Wayne always gives me advice and tips on how he announces, including important reminders to give to the audience. Something I learned from Wayne is instead of telling statistics, make the statistics a story. I respect Wayne because at the age of 24 he was announcing professional baseball. He was actually one of the first people on ESPN, but decided that line of work was not for him. He is a hard worker and always finds time for a baseball fan.

Mike Shannon is a real experience to work with. I have learned a lot from him both on and off the air. It seems as if he finds something in common with just about anyone so he can relate to that person. He is very knowledgeable of the sport and entertaining. Mike treats me well and I see him as a motivator for myself. It's amazing to watch this guy announce a game. This is a job that is a lot harder than it appears. It takes complete focus at all times. There is a lot of dead time, and that is what makes listening to Mike exciting because he can always pull up a story or say something that is hilarious.

For me it is fun to hang out and talk to different people. Jim is normally the first and the last person I talk to when I arrive at Busch Stadium. We can talk about baseball, the plan for tonight's broadcast, golf, cars, the internet or about his grandson who likes horses.

I'm asked, "What exactly do you do?" almost every day. Basically my job is a runner. My job is to assit the announcers in every possible way to make sure the broadcast goes smooth. It is actually pretty easy, but at the same time I take this position extremelly seriously and try my best everday to improve on what I do. There is a lot of people that could do what I do. I am lucky I got the job and it will lead to bigger and better things if I keep working to the best of my ability. I love working with Jim, Mike, and Wayne because they are like a combination of coaches and teachers while also being a boss. I learn stuff everyday. It could be watching the announcers network with players and other people in the media or other business personnel. Or it could be learning how to use a piece of radio equipment. Or it could be learning a strategy or rule in the game of baseball.

I have learned a lot about baseball. Boy, have I learned a lot about baseball. There is so much that goes into a game. When it is played right, it is a beautiful thing to watch. Of course there is nothing better or more exciting that watching a game-winning home run. But I really enjoy great pitching match-ups, defensive plays that make you say "Unbelievable" to yourself when you see it happen, and strategic base running and hitting. I have seen some extremely cool and amazing things at Busch Stadium that probably won't ever happen again in that ballpark. I have seen a triple play, which was predicted by Mike (I think he is the luckiest person you will ever meet, it must be the Irish in him) and a beautiful old time pitching duel between Mark Mulder and Roger Clemens. Mulder outlasted the giant by pitching ten innings of shutout baseball, allowing four hits with five strikeouts and walking none. That was amazing. I will never forget that day because Mike wasn't there. Former Cardinals pitcher Andy Benes was filling in, plus he had to inteview the star of the game (which was Mulder, of course). Here is an ex-pitcher who got interviewed all the time in his big league career and he is asking me what questions he should ask Mulder. I said some questions to him and he liked them. In fact, he used them during the interview. I was blown away. That was pretty cool.

When I walk into the booth everyday I get excited. It's just one of those feelings that you can't describe, but it makes me feel so good and like you are somewhere where you have worked pretty hard to get to. I don't show it on the outside that much while I am at work, but I am excited to be there and I think most people know it. Every time the Cardinals leave town I feel like I have improved on what I am doing and I miss my job when they are not there. When I get a paycheck, it's kind of like an extra bonus, because when I am at the ballpark I am having fun and don't think about the money. I just laugh to myself when I get paid and reflect on what I do and realize how lucky I am. There are people of all ages whom I've met who would love to do what I am doing. People ask me all the time how I got this job. Sometimes I make up something to say, like "I guess I picked the lucky straw" or "in the interview they told me I would be hired because I got a great face for radio." There are lots of people who have been very good to me and a big supporter of me at work. That has made it enjoyable and a once-in-a-lifetime experience and opportunity.

In terms of what I actually do, I normally go to work about two and a half hours to three hours before game time. I make sure I get the visiting teams media guides and game notes for the announcers and various stats. Then, I go up to the KMOX broadcast booth and help Jim Jackson set up the equipment for the game's broadcast and set up the booth for the day. I then leave the radio broadcast booth and go downstairs into the clubhouses to get the starting lineups for both teams. It's cool to go into the clubhouses and see the players, managers, reporters, and owners in the clubhouses. I think it is exciting and cool to see all these people, but they are people just like you and me. I try my best to treat these people just like I would anyone else: with respect and kindness. It still is pretty cool to have Tony LaRusa say, "Hey Matt."

It is essential that the broadcasters have the information they need well before the game to help prepare them for the broadcast. If I tell them something incorrect or am late on helping prepare them, I'm making a large mistake. I saw a sheet up in the radio booth that keeps me working hard. It says, "On average almost 1.3 million people listen to a Cardinal radio broadcast." That is 1.3 million people! If I make a mistake or tell a broadcaster something that's incorrect, it's not like ten people heard it. 1.3 million people heard it!

I fill out Mike Shannon's scorecard before the game. I look and make sure I spelled everything correctly and filled in the correct stats about seven times before the first pitch. If I've written something unclear or written a wrong number that disrupts him during his broadcast...boom, there it is in the ears of 1.3 million people.

Sometimes Mike and Wayne run late because of their busy and hectic schedules. So, I want to make sure everything is set up the way they like it. Mike and Wayne are not only announcers, they are people's heroes, as well as businessmen. There are several guests of the announcers who come up during a game who want to speak with them. It is important that these people are treated with respect and kindness. I am normally the first person they see and speak with. I enjoy meeting different people and hearing stories they have about the announcers. During the game if the announcers or Jim need anything I take care of it for them. These guys are grossly busy, especially when they are home dealing with business, clientele, and fans.

During the game I enjoy it when I sit in the booth next to Mike and Wayne and actually focus on the game and pretend in my head what I would say if I were the broadcaster. I make sure I pay attention to some things in a game that the announcers may not see right away, such as pitchers warming up or a pinch-hitter. Some very basic things actually. Normally, they know what is going to happen or who is warming up, but these announcers have so much in front of them and so much going on that they might not see something. So I want to make sure if they ask me what happened or what is going on I can tell them. If there is a certain stat, or date, or a player description, or a player update during the game such as an injury, I find it for the announcers.

When the ninth inning rolls around, I am generally downstairs with Wayne to aid him in interviewing the "Star of the Game". This is exciting because he interviews the star of the game. Albert Pujols goes four for four, Wayne interviews him. Mark Mulder throws ten scoreless innings of baseball, he is the star of the game. To get to my point, I get to watch and hear the interview right then and there, which is something that not too many people get to do. I have learned several things from these interviews: how to ask the right questions, how to handle the situation, how to get into the interview and draw out meaning to create interest, and leaving the interview with the same amount of interest.

I'm also asked, "Who have you met?" I have met some very special people; some that are simply amazing. The people behind the scenes that you never hear about or read about are the ones who are super nice and great to talk to. I'm talking about the people in the kitchen cooking the food, the security guards, and the ushers. Ernie Hays, who plays the organ at Busch Stadium, is an extremely nice man and quite a character. John Ulett is the the public address announcer at Busch Stadium and does a great job at his duty. He's always willing to talk to me or anyone he meets. Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post Dispatch is terrificly personable and a great sports writer. I like Bernie because he likes Springsteen, and I am indeed a Springsteen fan.

Good ol' Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst is a common visitor in the broadcast booth to check on his former player who wore No. 18, Mike Shannon. Red is a real treat. It is amazing to stand next to a guy who knows what is going to happen in the game of baseball. One time he said, "This guy is new to the game and I think he is going to bunt." What'd the guy do? He bunted in a situation where you would normally not bunt. Red looked at me and said, "That's a rookie."

Everyday is an experience in terms of knowledge, laughter, fun, pressure, excitement, and baseball. This job is like baseball itself: You never know what is going to happen or what situation you may find yourself in. You'd better be on your toes every day.

Sometimes I forget how lucky I am to have this job. I don't forget in terms of showing up to work good-spirited and ready to work. I forget because I have focused so much on improving my performance everyday and treat this job so seriously. To me, Mike, Wayne, and Jim are just as normal as you and I. I respect their knowledge and fame, but they are just like everyone in this world, and I think that is something that is important to recognize. Over the weekend I ran into a friend who I haven't seen in a while. He told me, "Every time Shannon says your name on the radio we all call each other and laugh. Then we normally make fun of you, then we laugh more because we can't believe you are up there working with Mike, Wayne, and Jim."

I also try my best because there are several people that would do anything to have my position, but they do not. I am lucky. I get so much support from my family, my girlfriend Lauren, and all my friends. They really help me because they too keep me motivated. I hope I can continue on this giant building block I have established and continue to do my best at all times and satisfy the broadcasting team in the KMOX booth.

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