By Jack d’Epagnier
It’s the soundtrack of summer.
It’s a twilight drive home from Little League with Mom, or a catch in the yard with Dad. It’s playing stickball outside the municipal pool. It’s washing the car in the driveway during a Sunday afternoon. It’s lying awake while the clock radio whispers the late-night thrill of extra innings.
The beauty of baseball on the radio is that it follows us anywhere, and takes us anywhere we let it.
Our ears hear the words, and the mind paints the pictures — the strides of the center fielder going back on a long fly ball, the perfect green of the outfield grass, the smoothness of the infield dirt, the smell of hot dogs and popcorn.
Radio sends you to the flag court at Camden Yards, the Green Monster at Fenway or the bleachers at Wrigley. You can be lounging in the sand down the ocean or picking crabs with family in the backyard and still feel transported to Oriole Park.
I was fortunate to grow up in a house where the game was always on. Both of my parents love baseball, and so it was a staple of summer. Jon Miller and Fred Manfra came into our homes and cars, just as Chuck Thompson did for for years, and Joe Angel does now. Baltimore fans have been blessed by their artistry.
Radio gave the game its voice. It told the story of the game as it was happening.
It’s a tradition that connects generations. My grandparents grew up listening to games. And their parents before them. I did the same as a boy, the broadcaster’s voice igniting my imagination.
Baseball and radio are a perfect match.
It’s a slow game, one that balances action with inaction. The expanse between plays gives broadcasts the feel of a lazy summer afternoon. And the leisurely pace allows time for listeners to imagine what might be happening — the pitcher wiping his brow, the runner extending his lead, the left fielder digging for sunflower seeds in his back pocket.
The art of baseball radio broadcasts is in the rhythm. And the best broadcasters know when to fill the void with anecdotes, statistics, humor and opinion.
So the next time you’re listening to a ballgame on the radio, whether you’re driving to Ocean City or grilling burgers, try to hear it for what it is. Consider it a story being told, a song with lyrics. Let your imagination see the game.
Editor’s note: Joe Angel made a call last Sunday that reminded me of how good baseball can be on radio. It sounded like this: “Here’s the pitch … Manny hits a home run!” Angel’s call was immediate and decisive, and one could imagine the fans in the leftfield bleachers scrambling to come up with the ball. It transported me to May 8, 1966 when I was listening to the Orioles’ game against Cleveland while we were having a backyard cookout on a Sunday afternoon. Frank Robinson hit a ball off Luis Tiant that kept traveling. It cleared 50 rows of bleachers and a TV camera before disappearing. It was the only ball ever hit out of Memorial Stadium, a Ruthian blast that became Baltimore baseball mythology. I could picture the ball bouncing on the stadium parking lot, which it did, finally coming to rest under a white Cadillac 540 feet from home plate. Radio and baseball trigger our imaginations and memories. Let’s keep sharing our stories — Jack Gibbons
Jack d’Epagnier grew up in Maryland playing imaginary O’s games in his backyard. Now married to his high school sweetheart, Jack lives in Gettysburg, Pa., with his beautiful wife, his little girl and a dog named Cal. Jack is a copywriter for a branding agency specializing in education. He’s the second community member to write a baseball essay for ‘Calling the Pen.’
Jack Gibbons spent 46 years in sports journalism, including a chunk of that time as sports editor of The Baltimore Sun. Now retired from full-time work, Jack serves as the lead editor and writer for BaltimoreBaseball.com’s “Calling the Pen,” a periodic feature that highlights baseball essays written by the community. He can be reached at [email protected]