An Excellent Cardinal Adventure: Part III

Daniel ShoptawAnalyst ISeptember 19, 2010

After we had said our goodbyes to Jim and Pat, we followed Geoff (and, actually, the two of them as well) out the door of the media dining room.  The plan was to have the three of us go up to the Fox Sports Midwest booth to talk to on-air guys Dan McLaughlin and Al Hrabosky.  Then, unlike the pitch he was most known for in his days as a Cardinal, the Mad Hungarian threw us a curve.

As we walked out of the media room, Hrabosky was standing in the outside corridor.  He caught Jim Hayes as he and Pat went by and talked for a minute, introducing the person he was with as Al Nipper, the former Red Sox pitcher.  Then he caught sight of Geoff and us.

Now, when we were in the truck discussing the relationships between the truck and the talent, as it were, Tom Mee told us something about Al.  He said when we met him, "he'll probably be all tough for like two minutes, then he'll be a big softy."

"What do we have here?" Al roared when he saw us.  "Bloggers?"

"You've got Cutting The Game, I see.  Did Tom make you buy those?"  Apparently, Tom is pretty proud of his book (and rightfully so, the more I get into it), because Jim and Pat made a similar comment when we sat down with them.

I don't think any of us knew quite what to expect from the interview, especially when he started off the discussion with, "Let me say up front, I know nothing about blogs and don't want to."  We definitely didn't expect an expansive, informative interview, ranging from why and how he got into broadcasting to who picks out the weekly Hungo award, given out on Friday's telecasts.

I think a lot of the best information came out of questions asked by Nick and Mike, but there were a few tidbits that I wanted to write on.

First off, it was interesting that Al never had any intention of getting into coaching, but wanted to stay around the game.  He said that, since he was a fastball pitcher who was never able to make an adjustment to more of a finesse game when he lost the heater, he felt hypocritical becoming a pitching coach and trying to get them to do what he couldn't do.

I didn't realize that he and Ted Simmons had done an off-season show for KMOX back in the day, one of his earliest forays into the broadcasting realm.  He learned it all by trial and error until he got to where he is today.

You'll remember that I teased a little something yesterday, about Jim Hayes saying that he has a similar relationship to Tony La Russa and Al.  I wonder if that is because they aren't a lot alike in some regards, a couple of strong-willed individuals.  Al said that he doesn't go to Tony for a lot of things, unless he needs to get something straight from the source.  He's more likely to go to the coaches and players for information and insights instead of "playing Tony's game."

That relationship was the focus of his answer to Nick's question about last year's media firestorm about his comments toward Yadier Molina when Yadi didn't run out a ground ball.  I know Nick will get into that in detail, but it was a fascinating look at that whole controversy from the other side.

Al also talked about how hard it is, as a former player, not to really do a lot of "I" talking.  I would have done this, I wouldn't have done that.  "Then the fan at home is saying, 'well, why aren't you out doing that?'"  Obviously he uses his past experience to inform the viewer, but he tries not to do so in a manner that calls the player out.

After not necessarily expecting much from the sit-down, we wound up spending probably 20-30 minutes with Al and, if he hadn't had things to do and there weren't still things on our schedule, I think we could have spent a couple of hours talking with him.  He doesn't necessarily have the strongest following on the internet, but after sitting down with him, there's no doubt that he loves the game of baseball and enjoys talking about it to anyone.

This time, when we left the media dining room, we stayed gone, going up to the Fox Sports Midwest booth overlooking home plate.  As we were coming down the hall and entering the booth, which appears more to be a converted luxury suite, a man came out of the next door down and walked toward us.  It ignited a flurry of whispers among the three of us when we recognized him as Dick Enberg, well-known for his years at CBS but currently doing Padres games for their TV station.

As we continued into the booth, we found out that Dan wasn't there yet, but should be there shortly.  That meant we had time to look around and take some pictures.

Field from Fox Suite.jpg
This was the view we looked down on, as the Padres were going through their pre-game batting practice.  It was just incredible to be able to look down on that green grass with the brilliant sun shining upon it.

Field from Fox Suite 2.jpg
That's executive producer Kevin Laney on the right, taking in the view from the part of the booth where Dan and Al call the games every night.

Behind the scenes.jpg
Here's some more of the "behind the scenes" stuff.  That camera you see right in the middle of the picture is the one that records Dan and Al for their pregame and their postgame comments.  You see that it is up a level, so if you've noticed them looking up when you've watched it at home, that's why.

Over to the left side, there is a couple of monitors and a set of controls that looks like an old video game.  Those are the controls for the robotic camera, which is stationed down below.  The robotic camera is not allowed to be more than 10 feet above the field, so this allows them to manipulate it and get the shots the guys in the truck are wanting.

After a few minutes, Dan came in, but was immediately hustled to his seat to record voiceovers for the game.  While he was getting wired up, Geoff introduced us by our blog names.  "Pitchers Hit Eighth, huh?  Nice."

We watched him record the audio that you hear when you are going into the game from the pregame show, talking about the old friend that was coming to town with the Padres.

Dan doing voiceovers.jpg
After that, Al came into their booth and recorded their pregame show segment, talking about the Ryan Ludwick/Jake Westbrook trade, as both of them were going to be involved in the game that night.

When that was done, and after Al had hectored him into letting Al go buy a pizza for him, he sat down at the table and talked to the three of us.  Like everyone else that we had talked to that day, he was incredibly kind and generous with his time.  (As Nick said, maybe it's time we get off of our own preconceptions.  I think we kind of expected a little bit of looking down the nose, but we didn't get that.  They seemed to be perfectly willing to talk to us as professionals.)

I asked him about his preparation for the game, what he does to get ready for a broadcast.  He says not only does he call the opponents' beat writers and TV guys to get information, but he records games every night.  When he gets home from the Cardinal game, he's usually watching some of those games to get an idea about what is going right and wrong about the next opponent.

He also gave major kudos to Al and his ability to get information from the opposing team about what they are thinking about players, how the clubhouse is going, things of that nature. He pointed out (and Al had mentioned this as well when we talked to him) that many of the coaches and managers in the league played with or against Al, so there is already a relationship there.

Dan gave us the example of Ted Simmons, the former Cardinal catcher who now is coaching with the Padres.  Dan said that he and Al talked for a while that day, just shooting the breeze and catching up with each other before turning to current baseball topics.  I had heard Al say in the recorded bit that the Padres were pleased with Ludwick, and I asked if that's probably where he got that from.  "Probably so," said Dan, "but he knows Bud Black over there as well."

I asked him if he read fan opinion to get ideas on what to address, either positively or negatively.  He said he tends not to read about they are saying, though I wasn't sure if he was talking about what they are saying about the team or what they were saying about him personally until he offered up an example from football, where the fans had been ripping on one player, but the guy that he was doing the game with showed him that it really wasn't his fault.  In those situations, he and Al might address the issue, but in an indirect way.  They aren't going to say, "Well, the fans are saying Player A is terrible, but here's why he's not," but they'll probably get the point across.

In response to a question, I found out that Dan and Jack Buck had actually worked together on a football show over at KMOX.  He said that even with limited advance notice, when you dropped the name Jack Buck, the big names would be on the phone in just a few minutes, ready to talk.

We talked some about broadcasting to the Cardinal audience.  He indicated that he was well aware of the diversity of the audience, from the fan that watches every game to the families, the young people that are just learning the game.  He says that, for example, on a bunt play he might ask Al, "What are we going to see here?", fully knowing that the first baseman is coming in, etc.  However, there are those in the audience that don't know, and he wants to cater to them, "even if the saber guys are screaming at me."

He also said that he'll spend a good bit of time on the other team as well, because he feels like the audience, on the whole, is a good baseball audience.  They know a lot about Cardinal baseball, its history, and as baseball fans they appreciate the knowledge about the other teams that the Cardinals face.

Along a different line, he said that the responses he get to his work seem to fluctuate with how the team is going.  When they are winning, everyone loves what he and Al are doing.  When the team is slumping, it's "you stink!"  However, he said (and this was a common theme, from the guys in the truck all the way to Dan) that the current struggles don't really affect how he does a game.  Just like a player is professional and brings his best game to the park every day, the FSMW guys have that same attitude, making sure that this game is the best it can be, then doing it again the next night.

We had to scoot to try to catch some of the Cardinals' Social Media Night event, but I came away with a higher opinion of both Dan and Al than I had before.  I've never been one to mute them while they are talking or anything like that, but the way they conducted themselves while talking to us made me more accepting of any foibles that they may have in the broadcast.

Next up, we conclude the day with Social Media Night, the pregame show set, the press box and, whadda know, an actual ball game!


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