Today's letter image found on Zazzle
I love the sounds of a baseball game in the late innings. It brings to mind muggy summer nights, peanut litter crunching under my feet, and the other-worldly glow of the lights on the field. While my husband and most of America enjoy a game on television, I can almost always be found with my little radio listening intently to every moment.
A good baseball announcer knows what to describe to make the baseball game come alive. A great baseball announcer knows when not to talk. Ernie Harwell (Detroit Tigers radio voice from 1960 to 2002) knew when to let the sounds of the crowd carry the broadcast. He was as famous for that as for letting us know the hometown of the lucky dog that took home a foul ball, a feat that absolutely amazed me for the longest time, until Husband spoiled that particular piece of magic for me. Harwell was picking random towns in Michigan and northern Ohio. I prefer to think there was a network of walkie-talkie-equipped spies in the stands, relaying the information to Ernie as the catches were made. But maybe that’s just me.
In a movie theater, the sound of an audience member speaking breaks the illusion of the magic on the screen. A single voice disturbs like a guffaw at a funeral. At a baseball game, there exists a constant hum of conversation and activity, punctuated by the cheers of the crowd. In a radio broadcast, I can hear one dedicated fan trying to get the crowd fired up with a “Let’s go, Tigers, let’s go!” The sounds of the vendors in the section below the radio booth carry to the airwaves at the same time they are reaching their customers in the paying seats. All of the pleasure and none of the calories.
The cheers of the crowd rise and fall like the swell of surf on a beach. The leisurely pace of the game of baseball guarantees an occasional lull in the hum of the fans, and it’s not easy to predict what will induce it to rise, rise, rise to crescendo. The appearance of a crowd favorite at the plate, encouragement for a batter at full count (or a pitcher defending one), and, on at least one memorable occasion, a shout of approval for an outfielder chasing a pigeon off the field. But nothing compares to sudden outburst of joy for the long ball. When the ball comes off the bat at just the right trajectory to clear the outfield fence, listeners can feel the home crowd rise out of their seats as if to add momentum to the ball that might be on its way out. It might be cut short, by a catch on the warning track, but a successful trip beyond the fence means the high note will continue for a full, delirious minute. High-fives, hugs, and hearty whistles drown out even the voices of the men paid to bring us the story.
In the 2007 season, Tigers baseball finally came to FM radio in metro Detroit. The clarity of what some of our outstate brethren had been hearing for years, now came to those of us in the big city. I hated it. That hollow, echo-y sound I had grown up with listening to ball games on AM radio seemed sacred to me. How could I switch to the pre-fab, manufactured sound of FM radio? I took a few weeks, and some cajoling from my husband, but I have switched. I feel a bit like a traitor, until I drive under a bridge and the traditional AM signal is uninterrupted. I can be dragged into the future with the best of them.
And who knows what that future will bring? Satellite radio, digital broadcasts, radio-tagged baseballs, so the guy in the stands who’s lucky enough to shag one will be able to announce his own hometown while recovering from the sting of the catch? Just one thing: if they ever do hire those walkie-talkie-equipped spies to be in the stands? I want to fill out a job application.