Sports was a big part of your life from the very beginning; your parents had a Celtics game on in the delivery room. You were born right as Larry Legend nailed a three to seal the game, earning you the nickname “Mommy’s Little Buzzer Beater.” The household revolved around sports. The earliest bedtime fairy tale you could remember your dad telling you was about a magical night when Carlton Fisk waved a long ball fair. Before you could read Hop on Pop you could read a box score.
You consumed sportscasters and sportswriters the way other people consumed sitcoms and books. The third time you tried to do a book report concerning Dan Shaughnessy’s column your English teacher called your parents in for a conference. When your drama teacher assigned monologues for recital, you reenacted Curt Gowdy’s call of Ted Williams’ final Fenway at-bat. Eventually teachers recognized that it wasn’t all bad, and that your obsession was actually enhancing your education. Your ability to calculate batting averages, quarterback ratings, and shooting percentages on the fly made you a top student in all your math classes. Your science teacher was so impressed with your prize-winning science fair project “Aerodynamics of Breaking Balls—What Makes Pedro Unhittable?” that you were recommended for Advanced Placement physics the following year. Even your teachers in the liberal arts were reluctantly impressed. You read more than most kids in any of your classes, and your command of history, albeit centered around sports, was impressive.
With your academic success you could have been almost anything, but you wanted to be a sportscaster. Your grades made it easy to get into the college of your choice and you breezed through the communications degree program. You also practiced your craft every chance you could. You called games for the local little league teams and became a fan favorite. You called games for the intramural squads despite there being an average of fifteen onlookers at any given match. In your senior year you were given your first big break—calling the university’s football games on the local radio station. Sure, it was a 3A school but people were listening, and most importantly you were getting tape to use for a demo reel. You felt like things were on track.
After you graduated the local radio station kept you on and added the high school football team to your duties. It was nice to have a job in your field right out of college, but the pay was terrible and the exposure nonexistent. To supplement your income while you searched for a job in a bigger market you tried your hand at freelance sportswriting. You had no problem getting published in your local newspaper but the national publications weren’t interested. You accepted that you probably weren’t going to break right in to the ESPN lineup, so you compiled a list of target jobs, ranked high to low, and started working your way down it. You were willing to start at the absolute bottom if you had to, but you figured you were good enough to get in somewhere in the middle. When you finally got an offer, this is the section of the list you were down to:
• Men’s NCAA Division 3 Lacrosse
• Texas High School Football
• Women’s NCAA Soccer
• The Iditarod
• Ivy League Rowing
• MLS Soccer
Women’s soccer was ranked slightly higher than men’s only because of the off chance that someone would pull a Brandi Chastain and celebrate shirtless. Women’s basketball ranked much lower than men’s for precisely the same reason. When the Manitoba Moose needed a play-by-play guy for televised games you jumped at the chance. Hockey is big in Canada, and with some of the games being simulcast on CBC Radio 1 you were sure to get noticed. Besides, working in the Great White North wouldn’t be so bad with all that free healthcare and legalized marijuana. At the very least you would be adding much needed television appearances to your résumé.
You bounced around in Canadian sports for a few years, including an all-too-brief stint as the voice of the Blue Jays and a not-brief-enough stint calling CFL games; you would later chronicle the latter in a rejected freelance article entitled “Seriously Canada? Three Downs?” You were building a solid résumé and gaining a lot of experience, but you just couldn’t break in permanently. The gig in Toronto was temporary from the start—you were only filling in while the regular announcer was recovering from surgery. It was long enough to have some material for your reel, but too short for anyone important to notice you were there. If you didn’t have the tapes to prove it you doubted anyone, even the guy that hired you, would remember you if someone came calling for a reference.
You did manage to make a lot of friends in the business along the way, and most people regarded you as a genuinely likable guy with a good amount of talent that just hadn’t gotten his break yet—a sentiment you simultaneously appreciated and abhorred. You knew several people who could give you that break, and you couldn’t figure out why they hadn’t. After a lot of soul searching you decided that if nobody was going to hand it to you, you were going to take it, and you began actively probing your network for bigger opportunities.
The biggest opportunity came shortly thereafter when a friend of a friend put you up for a limited-invitation audition for SportsCenter. SportsCenter was the pinnacle, the top item on that list you had made years ago. Even if you didn’t get the anchor job, if you showed well enough, ESPN was going to know who you were and you would be on the network’s radar.
The audition was to write and read your own material for three segments of the show, encompassing three different sports. You felt strong about your chances. Over the last several years you had called games for more sports than most people knew existed, and your side job of writing regularly gave you the confidence to produce your own material for the audition. There was only one thing that you felt you were missing. ESPN anchors are known for their catchphrases, from Dan Patrick’s “You can’t stop him, you can only hope to contain him” to Kenny Mayne’s “This land is mine for as far as the ball shall travel!” and you felt like you needed to come up with a couple to increase your chances of joining their ranks. After a long night and a lot of coffee these were your contenders:
• “I’m in ur ballpark, stealin’ ur basez!”
• “The Force is strong with this one!”
You were confident as you took your seat on the famed set and waited for your audition partner. They were pairing you with an actual anchor to test your chemistry and see if you could ad-lib banter. Your confidence took an abrupt turn toward nauseated anxiety when Trey Wingo took the adjacent seat and the SportsCenter theme played overhead. You sat frozen as he talked through the first baseball clip, which featured an Orioles player hitting a grand slam against Red Sox starter Josh Beckett. After he uttered his famous “Bases loaded… bases unloaded” line, he turned to you for your analysis of the woefully slow start the Sox pitching staff was experiencing. You opened your mouth to speak and threw up on his shoes.
You were not invited to become a permanent fixture.
The weight of knowing you had blown your chance overwhelmed you and you fell into a deep depression. When the video of your audition hit YouTube you were a bigger joke than the “Boom Goes the Dynamite” guy, and you had a hard time laughing at yourself when Family Guy inevitably ran the joke into the ground a season later. You took a job as the ballpark announcer for the Portland Sea Dogs and kept a fifth of Old Grand-Dad in your coat pocket at all times.
During the second leg of a day/night doubleheader the AV guys at Hadlock Field decided it would be funny to run the YouTube clip on the JumboTron during the seventh-inning stretch. Enraged by the laughter of the crowd, you announced that there would be free draft beer under the press box momentarily. When you were satisfied that enough people were looking up in anticipation you climbed to the roof and urinated onto the crowd while shouting your favorite catch phrases into the PA system. You lost your footing trying to dodge security and fell headfirst into the crowd. Just before you drifted into the coma from which you would never wake, you could have sworn you heard somebody call you “out.”