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“What a Time for Houston Baseball”

One of life’s great pleasures is simply sitting around and talking. Anyone can do it. Everyone does do it. Some of the time, some of us—the lucky ones—actually get paid to do it. Such is my life as one of the fortunate few to earn a livelihood as a play-by-play announcer for a big league baseball team. With a turn of phrase to describe just the right moment in just the right way, a sportscaster’s words can become immortal. With a slip of the tongue, the man behind the microphone can be “hoisted by his own petard.”
Same holds true for the women in the broadcast business.
My job may seem “glamorous” to some, but during a baseball season, I’m sort of a working stiff like most Americans. Granted, I really love my job—I’m one of the fortunate few in that regard, too—but, on average, I put in eight-hour days, have a boss who demands my best, and occasionally I’ll make a mistake. Frequently I eat at my desk and stay late at the office, and sometimes I’ll question—at least to myself—management’s decisions. I mean, who among us hasn’t second-guessed whether or not to pitch to Albert Pujols with runners on and first base open.
A baseball broadcaster’s biggest job is to fill the steady downtime between pitches with pertinent and pithy remarks. In the 2012 Astros booth, I specialize in the pertinent details, while my partner Jim Deshaies gets to handle the “pithy” side of things. That’s the way we’ve tried to do it—for the most part—since 1997.
On the afternoon of June 27, 2007, JD and I did our best to keep things interesting and lively over the course of a three-hour, twenty-minute ballgame in Milwaukee. The Astros lost that Wednesday afternoon contest 6-3 in eleven innings. The defeat dropped the team’s record to 32-46, fourteen games out of first place in the National League Central Division.
Despite yet another lackluster start to an Astros season, ratings for our television broadcasts remained high and fans continued to flock to home games at Minute Maid Park. Team icon Craig Biggio was on his way to becoming the first Astro to total 3,000 career base hits and the milestone mattered a lot to everyone. A fixture at the top of the Houston batting order for 20 seasons, Biggio was seeking to achieve a distinction only a handful of big league players had ever attained.
With the extra-inning loss at Miller Park, the veteran second baseman completed the team’s nine-game road trip with eight hits, three short of the milestone. Wanting to ensure his career-crowning achievement took place in front of the home fans, the club gave Biggio the day off in the series finale with the Brewers. He did pinch hit in the eleventh, fouling out to first. That hitless at-bat lowered his season batting average to .238, almost forty-five points below his career mark. Age seemed to have caught up with the perennial All-Star.
Good things can be a long time coming, and standout athletes accustomed to performing for the good of a team can occasionally experience a sort of emotional meltdown when chasing individual achievement. Roger Maris lost clumps of hair in his pursuit of Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record. No one may hit .400 in a season again simply because the pressure over the long haul is just too great.
The strain of reaching 3,000 hits weighed so heavily on Yankee Derek Jeter that after finally achieving the milestone and becoming the twenty-eighth player to join the esteemed club, he bowed out of the 2011 All-Star game due to mental fatigue. Jeter missing the Mid-Summer Classic was like swallows failing to return to Capistrano.
Even entire countries can be affected by malaise. Recently, the nation of Belgium went 461 days without an official government.
But what about the pressures facing the broadcaster destined to make the historic call? Nobody thinks about him, but if he’s worth his salt, he gives the matter ample consideration—most of the time.
On the flight from Milwaukee home to Houston and with Biggio’s 3,000th hit an impending certainty, I pondered my responsibility in the scheme of things. My call of Biggio’s historic moment would matter, although it took a friend to help me reach that obvious conclusion.