On the Radio

Not too long ago I spent an otherwise nice Sunday afternoon seeing the movie In The Bedroom. Some people, including the film critics for this paper, will tell you that this movie is one of the best of the past year. I would disagree, strongly.

This movie is excruciatingly slow, existing in some sort of alternative space-time continuum where only two hours goes by in real time, but it feels like eleven hours. Somewhere in the middle of this painful experience, there was one small theme of the movie I actually enjoyed.

Several times throughout the story, the characters in this New England town would listen to the Boston Red Sox games on the radio. Even during what I assume is the "height of tension" in our plot, one of the characters insists on listening to the replay of the game on the radio. All of this reminded me how much I love baseball on the radio.

Nowadays, with all of the different ESPNs and Fox Sports, most of your sporting events are televised. Regardless, there is something timeless and beautiful about baseball on the radio. More so than any of your other major sports, baseball translates to radio in a timeless and familiar fashion. It lends itself to storytelling and makes heroes out of the men who tell these stories.

This theory may seem sacrilege in Wildcat Country, and I acknowledge that no one has ever, or will ever, broadcast basketball like the late Caywood Ledford, but baseball on the radio is just better than basketball or football.

Whenever you hear people talk about being sports fans when they were younger, you inevitably hear them talk about Ernie Harwell with the Detroit Tigers, Vin Scully with the Dodgers, Jack Buck with the Cardinals, Joe Knuxhall and Marty Brennaman with the Reds, or Harry Caray with the Cubs.

When baseball was the undisputed king of sports, these were the men who spread the gospel of balls and strikes.

The slower pace of baseball lends itself to these great and colorful men, full of stories and insight that they actually have the opportunity to impart in a normal fashion. Basketball is too fast of a game for someone like Marty Brennamen to talk about what he thinks of the general managers latest move. A quick note here and there is fine, but if you talk too long, you are going to miss the action. Football is too full of analysis and formations for Harry Caray to stop and talk about the time he went out for Budweisers with Mark Grace.

Listening to a basketball or football game requires too much concentration, as you try to picture in your mind the players running the fast break or lining up in the shotgun. Baseball on the other hand, lends itself to the leisure of pace.

Sometimes in the middle of a story or a long rain delay, you forget you are listening to a baseball game, instead imagining yourself sitting around with your funny uncle, hearing stories and laughing.

My own love for baseball on the radio began very early. My father was a big Pittsburgh Pirates fan, so whenever we were in the car at night, he was constantly trying to tune in KDKA Pittsburgh to try and get a score.

You can imagine that KDKA's target audience was not exactly Central Kentucky, and we probably tuned in more static than we did baseball, but over time it was something that just became part of the car ride. Anytime we could listen to a significant portion of the game with little-to-no static, it felt like a quiet victory for me and my sister. Other times, we joined the family in trying to hear the score, out of the bits and pieces of information that came through clearly. Over time, I understood why my dad did this, and learned to appreciate why it was so important. My sister, being the more practical one in the family, was more likely to repeatedly ask, "Why are we listening to static?"

Personally, I had Harry Caray on WGN with the Cubs (which may sound like cheating because that is TV, but Harry always was a radio guy at heart), and Marty and Joe on 700 WLW for the Cincinnati Reds. They were, and remain, a quintessential part of the whole ballgame experience.

If I were attending a game at Riverfront (and I will always call it Riverfront regardless of how much they sell naming rights for), listening to the pregame on the way to the park, and then the wrapping up with the "Star of the Game" is just as much a part as the 7th inning stretch. When Joe Knuxhall says, "This is the old lefthander, rounding third and heading for home," that is the real end of the game, not the 9th inning. Recently they celebrated 25 years on the radio, and I realized that as long as I had lived, they had broadcast Reds games together.

I understand that baseball, while still called our national pastime, is not nearly as popular as it once was.

Perhaps the problems I had with the slowness of In the Bedroom are the same sort of problems that people have with the pace of a baseball game.

But, I still find myself looking eagerly to spring and summer, and the beginning of the baseball season. When the weather is warmer, I will sit on my front porch with a glass of some nice bourbon, a crossword puzzle, and my radio tuned to Marty and Joe.

There's no better way to spend a lazy summer evening than with two old friends.