Minority interns learn how to announce major league games

STEP BY STEP TO PLAY BY PLAY

September 19, 1991|By Randi Henderson

"Boy, the tingles are running up and down my spine."

Tense and excited, the broadcaster's voice conveyed a magic moment in baseball. With two down in the bottom of the ninth, Chicago White Sox pitcher Wilson Alvarez was one out shy of no-hitting the Orioles.

Ear glued to a tape recorder, David Brooks, a Baltimore Orioles broadcasting intern, grimaced, then grinned at the sound of his own voice.

"Here's the pitch, here it comes. Swung on and missed. A no-hitter! Wilson Alvarez has thrown a no-hitter. Oh my goodness, I'll let the crowd tell the story. Oh my goodness! Whoooo! It's been a pleasure to bring this one to you."

Growing up, David Brooks never aspired to be a baseball broadcaster.

He loved sports, played some ball in the South Carolina town of Cheraw and realized he didn't have what it takes to be a professional athlete.

But he didn't think of broadcasting as an alternative career because, he said, it just wasn't something that black children thought about.

"There's just no role models," said Mr. Brooks, 22, a Morgan State University graduate who these days devotes most of his waking moments pushing toward a career in sports broadcasting.

Mr. Brooks credits his turnaround in career ambitions to a fledgling program sponsored by the Baltimore Orioles that provides internships for would-be play-by-play announcers. The aim is to recruit minorities into baseball's broadcasting ranks.

The program -- a brainchild of Orioles broadcaster Jon Miller and Calvin Hill, the team's vice president for administrative personnel -- is only 2 years old. In its first season, the program had one intern, Nicole Finch -- who represented a real rarity in baseball broadcasting, a black female.

This year, Mr. Brooks is one of three interns. With only one professional quality microphone and tape recorder available, the three have alternated recording their play-by-play, working from an auxiliary press box suspended from the mezzanine behind home plate.

The interns periodically get together with Mr. Miller or Orioles broadcasters Ken Levine or Chuck Thompson for a critique of their work and tips for improvement. Although they don't get paid, and none of their efforts are actually broadcast, by the end of the season, they'll have near-professional quality tapes to use for auditions.

"It's a necessary program," said Paul Olden, the only black baseball play-by-play broadcaster who is not a former player. He said he knows of no other like it in major league baseball.

"We need to let minority kids understand that this is another option in broadcasting," added Mr. Olden, who does baseball play-by-play for ESPN. "It's not that unusual any more to see a black doing the sports report from behind the desk in the studio. But in play-by-play, you've got your former players -- your Joe Morgans and Ken Singletons -- and besides me, that's about it."

Mr. Miller began thinking about the need for a minority outreach program in 1988, when the Orioles were interviewing for a partner for him in the broadcast booth. The only black applicant was Mr. Olden, a Californian, who didn't get the Orioles job but went on to broadcast for the Cleveland Indians before moving this year to ESPN.

"Here we are in the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area, and how come Paul Olden is the only black who's applying?" Mr. Miller wondered. "How come no locals?" He answered his own question: "There's just no role models. Why would any blacks even aspire to it?"

"It will be a great contribution if we can deliver a minority individual who is a major league-caliber announcer," explained Charles Steinberg, director of Oriole productions, who has been involved with the administration of the intern program.

So far recruiting has been tough. Last year's intern, Ms. Finchas moved out of baseball and is now working at the National Aquarium. And this year's program has included Mr. Brooks and two white would-be broadcasters, Greg Sher and Tim Moran, who heard about the program through people they knew who worked with the Orioles. But, says Dr. Steinberg, "The point is to exclude no one."

The program is still "evolutionary," Mr. Hill said but he and Dr. Steinberg agree that it will probably expand next year. At this point, however, they are not sure what facilities and equipment will be available at the new stadium.

Despite the lack of tangible resources supporting the internships, those in the program are enthusiastic about it.

"This internship is the best thing that ever happened to me," said Mr. Brooks, who is also now working full-time for the Orioles in the sales department -- and used his first paycheck to buy himself his own microphone and tape recorder, so that he can tape play-by-play accounts of all 81 home games next year.

"Maybe by then I'll be ready to send out some applications to some AAA teams," Mr. Brooks said.

"I'm happy that the Orioles saw the need to correct the problem of [few] black broadcasters, but I don't want to be known as a black broadcaster," he said. "I want to be the best broadcaster I can be. I don't want to just make it. I want to have lasting power."

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