The moment of clarity -- when I realized I had absolutely no clue what I was doing -- came at some point during the first inning, when I looked down mid-sentence and realized my microphone was still off.
Understand, I'd never called a sporting event before. I'm a writer, which means I have to time to pick over my words, choose the right ones (hopefully), then send them to an editor who ensures they make sense.
Play-by-play announcers? They get one shot. Screw something up and it's gone, riding the airwaves to who knows how many ears.
Still, when the Daily Record sports writers received an email asking if any of us were interested in calling the first two games of the Big 26 Baseball Classic at Sovereign Bank Stadium, I hit the "reply" button almost instantly.
I've always had an infatuation with sports announcers, in part because I spent so much of my youth and adolescence listening to them. At their best, they become part of the experience of rooting for a team. When I was a kid, Harry Kalas' baritone voice was the Phillies. And Merrill Reese's impassioned style -- his kid-like excitement or disappointment seeping through your radio speaker -- helped define being an Eagles fan. I even read the latter's autobiography.
I considered broadcasting for a while, before eventually settling on writing instead.
In any event, I couldn't pass up a chance to sit in the booth and experience what calling a game was actually like. It didn't matter that the Internet stream I was announcing for might only be heard by a few dozen people -- if that.
So I started to prepare. I asked around for advice. Darrell Henry, the York Revolution's outstanding radio guy, seemed to sum up everyone's words: Don't try to do too much. Keep it simple.
And don't forget to prepare.
That's probably the greatest appreciation I'm left with after this whole experience -- how much play-by-play guys and girls prepare. Baseball, especially, is a game filled with periods of dormancy. There is time between pitches. Time between batters. Time between innings. You need to have something fill the void.
I tried to do some research. I studied the rosters and looked up some stats.
Still, when the action started and my mind started racing, I produced plenty of flubs.
I mispronounced a few names.
I blanked on a few players' positions. "There's a fly ball to ... the left fielder."
Then, most embarrassingly, there was the time in the first inning when I realized I'd been talking for two minutes with my microphone off.
The first few innings felt awkward, and the first game of the scheduled doubleheader whizzed by. I felt like I was constantly playing catch-up.
Then, by the start of the second game, a comfort level started to set in. As I grew more familiar with the players, the names rattled off a bit more easily. I got my first home run call under my belt. (I had wondered all week what my call should be. When it happened, I produced a rather unoriginal "It's goooone." Hey, keep it simple.)
I noticed I was beginning to talk more conversationally. I even threw in a joke here or there.
It was my no means a masterpiece. But I felt like I was at least starting to get the hang of everything.
Then, after 18 innings and more than six hours. My play-by-play debut was over. After a brief wrap-up, I offered my sign-off, a clumsy, "Thanks for listening, everybody. Take care." Not exactly Edward R. Murrow, but it would have to do.
I left the broadcaster's booth with a newfound appreciation for the folks who make their living calling games. What you hear for a few hours on the radio or the television set is only a snippet of the work announcers put into their craft.
As for me? I figure I'll stick to my day job.
John Clayton is a sports reporter for the York Daily Record/Sunday News. He may be reached at 771-2045 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @johnsclayton.