The lone red seat at Fenway Park offers a terrific view of the live action. No wonder they named a radio show after it. Views don’t get much better than this: that’s what my son and I were thinking one windless October night as Curt Schilling took the field in what would be the final game of his career.
“View from the Lone Red Seat” made its debut on Blog Talk Radio three weeks ago as Mike Lynch and Seamheads.com went national in covering the major baseball markets. Sponsored by Big League Chew bubble gum, the Boston show and its hosts Dave Rattigan, Chris Mascaro, and Bob Lazzari got me thinking about the curious appeal of baseball talk, the phenomenon of talk shows in general, and the significance of human conversation.
Why do people tune in to this stuff? Why do the conversations of others engage us, especially when we participate only as passive listeners, seldom contributing? Where did the concept come from anyway? I’m guessing Johnny Carson, Dick Cavett, and Jack Parr had something to do with it.
I wonder what we gain from being privy to a two- or three-way conversation that doesn’t include our own voices. The concept is mystifying to me. What piece of our nature does it satisfy?
Talk doesn't happen exclusively in sports, of course. Daytime television provides countless examples of famous individuals enjoying personal conversations with invited guests. Strong-minded women on "The View" converse among themselves every single weekday while an entire audience sits rapt and mute. Mike and Mike have their microphones, Regis and Kelly their coffee cups, while Kathie Lee and Hoda favor wine. Martha, Rachael, Ellen, Rush, Oprah, and Dr. Phil have conversations too, engaging with others while hungry audiences sit back and process information. Even the nightly news is presented on CNN, MSN, FOX, and ESPN in the form of conversation. Sports talk keeps us alert during the long commute home, Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy entertain us with their laughter in the evening, and Letterman initiates late night conversation.
What’s with all the talk? We don’t even know these people.
Are our own lives and personal interactions with kids, spouses, co-workers, and significant others so predictable, unsatisfying, or lacking in content that we turn to complete strangers to fill the void? How curious that anyone should choose to listen.
Conversations are a huge part of baseball, almost as significant as runs, hits, errors, and OBP. First basemen can often be seen chatting amiably as they welcome opponents to the bag, sharing jokes or observations and exchanging a few pleasantries. Keith Hernandez comes immediately to mind. Guys who gather closely on the mound or as a trio in the outfield during a pitching change always engage in conversation, though it's likely their words have nothing to do with baseball. There’s ongoing chatter in the clubhouse, dugouts, bullpens, boxes, and bleachers; before, during, and after the game, conversation is the essence of baseball. The possibilities are infinite.
From what I’ve experienced in the past twenty years, baseball talk comes easily to boys who routinely learn a lot of names, numbers, trivia, and stats. Their conversation entertained me one cold January afternoon in a venue that smelled of wet hay and manure. (The damp arena housed youth soccer leagues and an annual county fair.) I sat on the cold bleachers with a few moms who paid attention to the game in fits and starts - take it to the side! - but mostly they discussed random errands and the week’s menus, both carry-out and home-cooked. As if for counterpoint’s sake, a few boys sitting behind us talked sports nonstop. Their conversation effortlessly became a competition, and I happily tuned in.
Name whateverMLBplayers you can fromAtoZwithoutstopping. Abreu, Bonds, Canseco, Delgado. Leftover chicken parm, salmon is cheaper at Market Basket, potato skins at the Ninety-Nine, Niekro, Ojeda, Piazza, Sal’s Pizza, stuffed shells, Chinese, Yastrzemski, Zito. Score. One kid spoke all the way to Z without breathing. I love hearing what boys bring to the table.
Baseball talk is a language I don’t always understand, however: “If you drop the arm to the ten o’clock position, you will get under the slider and the spin will become fat . . . if he could become very strong from his fingertips to his elbow, he could throw the slider effectively by just cutting through the ball . . . that means it moves faster and goes down with more bite. That doesn’t necessarily mean the pitch will be better, but the tighter the spin the more controlled the pitch can be . . . the quarter slider can back up and be a funky pitch.” Drop, fat, bite, slide. In case you don’t recognize the voice, that’s Tim McCarver talking about Steve Carlton. The spin will become fat: what exactly does that mean?
I haven’t fully mastered baseball’s vocabulary, but I do love its sound. (That’s pretty much what Virginia Woolf said after hearing T. S. Eliot read The Waste Land back in 1922, by the way: "I didn’t understand the meaning, but I liked the sound.")
When the Seamheads.com radio hour made its Boston debut a few weeks ago, I tuned in while eating supper at the kitchen counter, laptop near my plate. The baseball conversation was like dinner music to my ears. Maybe I’m wired a little differently, but I would choose “View from the Lone Red Seat” over THEVIEW any day of the week.
Sports talk radio hosts are fascinating to me. They know so much. They can sustain monologues for unbelievably long stretches of time. They treat complete strangers as their good friends. They have trivia at their fingertips and never seem at a loss for words: “In 2009 and 2010 the majority of his fly-outs were to center field and left field; only 26 per cent of his fly-outs were to right field. I think that indicates he’s either late on the fastball and pops out, or he can’t get his hands inside or tries to pull the outside pitch causing him to weakly ground out to the right side.” That’s an intelligent analysis of Jacoby Ellsbury’s limitations.
To my knowledge, the hosts of “Lone Red Seat” had never met each other prior to going on the air; they’re connected simply by a love of sport, the common ground of Red Sox nation, and the magic of cyberspace.
Unlike some forms of shrill talk radio and the noisy, contentious stuff I often mute on television, the Seamheads hosts generally agree on most counts while enhancing each other’s understanding of the game. Upbeat, intelligent, and respectful, all are good listeners. It doesn’t hurt that Mascaro’s smooth, articulate voice bears an uncanny resemblance to that of Theo Epstein, lending his substantive delivery added credibility; that Bob Lazzari offers tons of broadcast experience together with a balanced perspective that considers the Yankees and Red Sox with equanimity rather than with extremes of venom and affection; and that Dave Rattigan displays the swift and sometimes self-deprecating wit of a stand-up comedian, which is precisely what he is. Rattigan’s appearance with Heidi Watney in a popular Olympia Sports commercial may endear him even more to Boston fans.
In just three weeks the trio has established a nice chemistry and pleasant sense of camaraderie. The ensemble works. Loosely scripted but sensibly outlined in advance, last week’s broadcast featured at least sixteen different topics and a few entertaining digressions, all of which the co-hosts ably managed in a 60-minute time frame.
They began with a consideration of the Opening Day lineup, prompted by the daunting news that Terry Francona’s offense would be facing lefty C. J. Wilson in early April. “What are we gonna see?” It's only March 1, I thought (participating inaudibly in the conversation), and we’re already worked up over Opening Day.
The ensuing discussion focused on Ellsbury's relative strengths and weaknesses (“sure would be nice if he could get his hands a little further inside”), with the inevitable comparisons to his predecessor: “Everybody has been waiting for Ellsbury to turn into Damon.” All agreed that Damon had been a “sensational” lead-off guy who “saw a lot of pitches . . . hit with enough power . . . and displayed a complete mental game as a hitter.” Mascaro wistfully concluded: “It was sad to watch him leave.”
Looking back on 2010, Rattigan and Mascaro remembered Daniel Nava’s exhilarating first-pitch grand slam, though for a few seconds of genuine comedy they couldn't remember his name. They pondered the uncertain future of Saltalamacchia and the worthy contributions of Marco Scutaro, a career .267 hitter “you can win a championship with . . . because he’s gritty enough.” They applauded Youkilis for being a “good soldier” in transitioning over to third after the Gonzalez trade. “He’ll make every routine play, and he’s gonna make that diving play to his right,” Rattigan asserted, voicing concern that Youkilis might not always handle the slow chopper.
With Bob Lazzari situated in the tricky geographic territory where Boston and New York fans overlap, Tuesday evening's conversations are bound to turn to the Yankees. From their imaginary vantage point up near the lone red seat, the hosts looked toward the Bronx and pondered the uncertain future of a mighty franchise and its aging marquis players. Before long we’ll be watching a whole new group of men in pinstripes, Lazzari reminded the audience, and what an unusual and profoundly strange sight that will be: “You’re replacing legends, not just good players.”
All agreed that it’s Boston’s championship to win in 2011. How great it is to hear such optimism early in the season. Words like championship and fun, and happy prophecies: “This team is gonna be fun to watch in the field,” said Lazzari. (You might be inclined to doubt this opinion if you happened to see the action on the infield at Ft. Myers this past Saturday in the top half of the first.) Nagging issues and questions will invariably surface day in and day out: Beckett's freak head injury; the lefties vying for a spot in a crowded bullpen. “It’s somebody’s job to win.” Auditions are in progress on a Sunday afternoon in Port St. Lucie even as I write this sentence.
All three hosts acknowledged that while a what-can-go-wrong-will-go-wrong attitude has plagued Red Sox fans for decades, those days of gloom and doom are over. From a distant southern location many miles from Fenway Park, Mascaro offered an apt corrective: “We moved out of that neighborhood. We used to live there . . . but we’re all about championships now.”
The momentum of a new season was picking up in the quiet of my kitchen, thanks to the pleasant rhythm and pure sounds of talk radio. No visuals, no bells and whistles, just words. A few friendly, intelligent voices, individuals who knew what they were talking about, agreeable company, and optimistic mindsets got me excited for a true spring. The hour passed quickly and the show wrapped up as I cleaned my plate and took a final sip of inexpensive wine.
Do you ever find yourself in the midst of a dull encounter while a far more interesting conversation is happening across the room? That’s how I feel about baseball talk. Someone at very close range might be speaking to me, but I have no idea what those lips are saying because my ears are tuned to a group of guys who are having more fun on the other side of the room. Blahblahblahblahdugout. Something about seats near the dugout at Fenway Park - that’s the conversation I prefer to hear.
Listening to sports talk on a quiet evening at the end of a long winter is not unlike dining in a restaurant alone. Three guys at a nearby table are having a really good time, more fun than anyone else in the place. They’re talking baseball nonstop. They have no idea you’re eavesdropping on their conversation, but you’re privy to it anyway, and their lively exchange makes the night more interesting.
Talk radio lets you in. You can partake of it anonymously without an invitation. You'll probably learn something, and heck, you can even call in: 347.945.7172. It's a level playing field; just open the gate, and walk across the sweet turf.
I love the give-and-take of a good baseball conversation no matter when and where it happens. Familiar names and memories return, anecdotes are shared, predictions ventured, and baseball fans connect across the miles.
Much as I like the sound of intelligent sports talk on the airwaves, the best conversation I know is the kind that happens, literally, up near the lone red seat, where my son and I once enjoyed a spectacular view and chatted about baseball the way it’s always best: between pitches, between innings, at the end of a game, and finally in the car where our own animated discussion played out in counterpoint to a recap on the radio, and we talked about baseball all the way home.
"View from The Lone Red Seat" airs Tuesdays at 7 pm.
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of Fenway Park and the view from the lone red seat.