Monday, July 26, 2010

Young announcer gives it his all at the ball game

Mike Walker has spent the past four years in the broadcast booth calling minor pro sports games in Victoria. He is just 22. Globe and Mail photograph by Deddeda Stemler.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
July 26, 2010

VICTORIA

Mike Walker sits in a booth behind home plate, a headset covering his ears, hands tapping on a laptop like a prog rock keyboardist.

He watches a baseball game, records each play in a scorebook, glances at the computer screen. He Tweets between innings. All the while he maintains a steady patter for an unseen audience following along on the Internet.

“You have to be a little bit crazy,” he said, “to talk to yourself for four hours.”

This has been his life for the past four years, his office high above the action at the hockey arena and the baseball diamond. He turned 22 just last month. He looks like Ferris Bueller but there are no days off.

He has a fancy title as director of broadcasting and media relations for the Victoria Seals. He acknowledges he’d probably make more money this summer by mowing lawns.

As soon as he wakes, he begins preparing a statistical package to be shared with reporters at the ball park. He arrives at Royal Athletic Park hours before the first pitch. Batting practice is a lazy afternoon routine for players but a hectic time for Mr. Walker, who videotapes interviews for clips to be shown on the scoreboard that evening.

For four months of the summer, the Seals players — itinerant strangers from Paris, Tenn., and Norway, Maine; from Pleasant Hill, Calif., and the Dominican Republic — are extended family.

He is always on the hunt for tidbits to share with his audience.

Friday was a bit frantic.

He was preparing to broadcast five games over a 48-hour period to be followed by a press conference on Monday to introduce the Knuckleball Princess. Eri Yoshida, an 18-year-old pitcher from Japan and a rare woman to play professional baseball against men, will start on Tuesday for the Chico (Calif.) Outlaws.

A pair of weekend doubleheaders against the Yuma (Ariz.) Scorpions also marked the occasion of the Seals launching Mr. Walker’s one-man live video streaming over the Internet.

“I feel like Vin Scully,” he said laughing, referring to the legendary 82-year-old voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who famously works alone.

Mr. Walker is a consummate pro despite his youth. Before the first pitch, he offers the temperature in Celsius and Fahrenheit (“for our American viewers”), offers a theme for the upcoming game, rattles off a parade of statistics.

As a boy, he watched sports events on television with the sound turned off so that he could provide his own commentary. When his mother, an accountant, won a contest to spend a working day with a sports writer from the local daily, Mr. Walker took the opportunity to meet the people who run the Salmon Kings minor pro hockey team. He became their broadcaster at age 18, making him possibly the youngest to do so. He soon after won the league’s media relations award of excellence.

His youth sometimes create an unexpected generation gap with his peers. Once, over lunch, Vancouver Canucks broadcaster John Shorthouse asked his inspiration for becoming a sportscaster, undoubtedly expecting to hear the name Jim Robson. Mr. Walker instead responded, “You, John.” The great Robson had retired when Mr. Walker was still in elementary school.

He had already spent two seasons behind the microphone before entering a two-year broadcasting program at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. His schoolwork led to a stint as a media liaison officer at Canada Hockey Place during the Olympics. He not only witnessed Sidney Crosby’s goal, but he is one of the few to have heard Chris Cuthbert’s “golden goal” call in person.

Mr. Walker’s own ambition is to some day call games in the National Hockey League.

His pregame work on Friday paid off with a pair of juicy details.

He noted that the parents of pitcher Aaron Easton, who came on in relief in the opening game, were in attendance, having traveled cross-continent to Vancouver Island from Maine.

When the pitcher was pulled for a pinch-hitter, Mr. Walker told his audience that Josh Arhart had an unhappy surprise on his return from a road trip from St. George, Utah. Turns out his luggage, including his uniform and catcher’s equipment, had been sent to Tokyo. He had to borrow another player’s jersey.

The Seals won the first game with a “fairly competent, fairly routine” 4-2 victory, before crushing the Scorpions 13-2 in the nightcap.

After the final pitch, he wrote and distributed a press release. His last Facebook entry and Tweet were filed after midnight.

He had been live on air for nearly five hours.

He had just 47 viewers, but he gave it his all.

Mike Walker interviews a Victoria Seals player prior to a game at Royal Athletic Park. Globe and Mail photograph by Deddeda Stemler.


ON THE SHELF

Oxford University Press has announced it will alter the author’s credit for three landmark books of baseball history.

Dorothy Seymour Mills will now be recognized as co-author of a trio of baseball histories originally attributed to her husband, Harold Seymour. Mr. Seymour, a one time bat boy for the Brooklyn Dodgers, wrote what is believed to be the first doctoral dissertation devoted to baseball history.
After his death in 1992, Ms. Mills let it be known that she had done the bulk of the research and much of the writing and editing found in “Baseball: The Early Years” (1960), “Baseball: The Golden Age” (1971), and “Baseball: The People’s Game” (1990).

Ms. Mills later married Roy Mills, a retired Royal Canadian Air Force veteran from Vancouver Island whom she met on a cruise. The couple settled in Sidney, north of Victoria, for five years in the 1990s. They now live in Naples, Fla., where Ms. Mills recently released her 22nd book, “Chasing Baseball: Our Obsession with Its History, Numbers, People and Places.,” published by McFarland.

Better make that her 25th book.

1 comment:

Paul Smith said...

I'm proud of Mike Walker who has spent the past four years in the broadcast booth calling minor pro sports games in Victoria. And he is only 22. I have no words to express my feelings and thoughts. Thanks a lot for your hard work! Kindest regards, online term paper writing services