Good Sport: Sports on the radio

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by Jeff Laughlin

I get an annual reminder of the start of baseball season when my mlb.com subscription kicks in and I lose 15 bucks to one of my favorite pastimes: listening to radio broadcasts.

I grew up a Red Sox fan by way of the newspaper box score. In the morning, I would devour the sports section and the comics on my way to middle school. My dad drove this monstrous Caprice Classic, so my runty legs could take a serious crossing with plenty of dashboard room to spare. I studied the “greats” — Dwight Evans, Mike Greenberg, Ellis Burks. If not for baseball cards, I’d barely have images of those players.

SportsCenter still held a nascent audience then. The smarmy one-liners and human-interest stories took a backseat to two major problems with the show: It was only 30 minutes long and they had to actually show highlights. Now that neither of those processes poses a problem anymore, the show can fully devolve into long-winded discussions on form and functionality rather than showing the viewer what happened.

Even the TV announcers get caught up in it all. Swept in the constant ratings war against nobody, the television barks hellish commands upon those willing to soldier through the stupidity to know what happened.

The radio, though — that glorious beacon of descriptive background noise — beckons the spirit of true sports lovers.

Hearing a radio call describe a routine play weighs more to me than a thousand anchors defining the maladies of the modern athlete.

I shouldn’t romanticize too much. As overwrought as I sound calling for the days of yore, a lot of this has too do with being poor.

I can’t afford cable, so watching the games proves too difficult or expensive. I can’t put out my friends every time I want to watch a game — nearly every night — and if I can’t afford cable, I certainly can’t afford to sit in bars all the time. I did that throughout my twenties. It’s why I am broke now.

Still, who wouldn’t get nostalgic about Red Sox/WEEI announcer Joe Castiglione calling a home run? His high-pitched New England whine, only partially stilted by the ESPN-ish drone of Dave O’Brien, snaps me out of the day-to-day, when I am working, cooking, cleaning.

I only recently discovered that Jon Miller, my old favorite from “Sunday Night Baseball” before it became a cavalcade of clowns, worked the playoff booth for the San Francisco Giants. His sarcastic chivalry for the game pleased me to no end.

Now I’m hooked. I’ve ordered the NBA radio package, too. I purposefully find things to do on Sundays where I can ride around listening to the Panthers announcers; their rampant homerism reverberating from the speakers despite the team’s foibles this season.

I’m more in-tune with the ebbs and flows of the games. Baseball especially lulls the mind into losing the score, the voices and the game itself until that long fly ball to left; that excited or dejected yelp that snaps me back into the game.

I’m so much more productive, too. The stimulation of the television has always been too much for my concentration. My mother took to tossing my shoes at me when I’d get caught up in a particularly intriguing highlight in the mornings. My father would just tell me what happened, ruining the suspense.

With the radio culling me in and out as background noise, I’ve got a clean house, a string of decent articles — or so I’m told — and time to cook for myself. While the Royals dismantled the Orioles, I continued working on my newest unwanted book of poems. The crowd noise alone drove me onward as though I could hear individual pockets of fans willing the Royals to victory.

During the World Series, I walked the streets of Greensboro with dangling wires. I hit up my favorite TV-less bar and listened to the game while sipping on craft beers.

I’ve become the most pretentious dude I know, and I love it.

Of course, the moment I make more money I’ll get cable or pay for a stronger internet signal. I’ll fall back into the vices I once castigated. As much as I have fallen in love with the radio, I know that I will want to see the games; to see the consternated coaching faces, see the crowd reactions, to see the open man well before the passer does. I’ll see it all, but I’ll still await that email at the beginning of every season — your radio subscription is renewed — reminding me that I really only need to hear what’s going on with 15 bucks well spent.