This article is partly inspired by the rain delays we had to endure on Tuesday night that probably kept a lot of us up far past our bedtime. Sometime during the Fox Sports rain delay broadcast of an old baseball documentary narrated by Alec Baldwin, I got to thinking about how awful rain delays are these days. I’m not putting down the documentary because it actually was pretty interesting to me as a baseball nut the first time I saw it, but these days we’re pretty much relegated to watching the same thing during rain delays that we see every single time. You know the rain delay broadcast is becoming predictable when you’re watching a game one year and just know it will be featured on “Royals Replay” the following season.
I guess this is more about the evolution of the Royals broadcasts. See, I grew up in a day when 140 Royals games weren’t televised. I distinctly remember being little, picking up a schedule at a grocery store and sitting in the backseat of my parents’ car and counting the number of games that were going to be on television. The number I got to was usually around 50 or 60. Those days I was able to count on listening to Paul Splittorff and Denny Trease tell me about what was happening on the screen. Thinking about what they sounded like together, I bet they’d be considered boring today, but that was a really compelling tandem.
On the radio side, Denny Matthews and Fred White graced our homes every single night. Neither took many days off, if any, and they just had a way with explaining the game that just painted a perfect picture. I was a baseball nerd (okay, I use was loosely, I am a baseball nerd), so I was the guy who played a baseball video game on one television while watching a baseball game on another and listening to the Royals on the radio. I can just remember hearing the two of them wax poetic about the game we all love. The thing I loved about their broadcasts was you could have an idea what kind of a game it was based on how they were talking. If they were telling old stories and focusing very little on the game, it was a blowout. If they were telling happy stories, it was usually a blowout in the Royals favor.
During close games, the back and forth wasn’t there quite as much because they were both focusing on the game. Every so often, someone like Keith Miller would do something that would remind Denny of something Buddy Biancalana did once and he’d tell the story and Fred would chime in and tell something he remembered from that story. I wish I had realized at the time how great it was to listen to those two talk about baseball. Like Trease and Splittorff, some today would probably think these two together were boring, but to me they were the voices of summer and baseball in general.
When the Royals made the decision to move on from Fred White to Ryan Lefebvre, I was pretty devastated. The Royals were planning on breaking up the only radio broadcast team I had ever known and were bringing in some guy who was a former Twins broadcaster. For those first couple seasons, the rain delay stories were gone and the magic in the broadcast just wasn’t there anymore. This was before the age of social media, so there were very few outlets for people to express their displeasure for the way the broadcasts sounded. I’m guessing, though, that if that change was made today Twitter would be overloaded with complaints about Ryan not knowing the team and sounding too smug and all the things I remember overhearing at the time.
Fast forward to the end of last season heading into the beginning of this season when the Royals made some drastic changes in their broadcast team. As you all know, Frank White was let go and the Royals hired two broadcasters to take his place. Steve Physioc and Rex Hudler are the two who were brought in, and I personally think that was as the beginning of how to replace Denny when he chooses to retire (on his own time). So now we’re stuck with not one, but two new guys who know nothing about this time and who are voices we simply haven’t heard before. I don’t need to get into the details, but the fact is these new voices aren’t exactly being welcomed with open arms into the Royals community.
Without getting into Rex Hudler’s issues and the fact that many seem to think Physioc is a little too stiff and boring, we got a glimpse on Tuesday night how well Rex Hudler was going to fit into the broadcast, and I actually think we will eventually grow to really enjoy listening to him. He’s a little bit more out there than any other broadcaster the Royals have had in their history. He’s loud, he’s talkative, he makes up words and he’s crazy energetic, but you can tell he has a genuine love for the game and for the people around the game. I don’t know. I feel like a rain delay can tell you a lot about a broadcaster because you’re getting a chance to see them a little out of his element. When Hudler pulled out his iPad to show us the weather pattern, something just made me like him a little more. His conversation with Ryan during the rain delay just seemed open and free. I think I would have really enjoyed listening to the two of them chat about baseball instead of having to deal with hearing the end of a Vida Blue interview I think they’ve played six other times.
Yes, Hudler has a way to go. He says some things that make me cringe. He says some things that just seem blatantly made up, but the fact is that he loves baseball and I think he will grow to love the Royals. Because of that, I think we will grow to at least like him and enjoy the broadcast. Even in the age of social media where you can find out a score on Twitter before even Gamecast, broadcasters are still the voice of the game. Sometimes they just take a little while to get used to before we invite them into our homes willingly. Until that time comes with Rex, we’ll work on getting there. I’m confident we will.
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