Recently I had the opportunity to travel to Oklahoma City to broadcast the Big 12 Baseball Championship tournament for West Virginia University’s student radio station, WWVU-FM (U92).
Along with fellow U92-er Joel Norman, we called all four of WVU’s games in tournament at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, including the thrilling championship game Sunday afternoon against Texas Christian University, which sadly ended in an 11-10 defeat for the Mountaineers in extra innings.
And though it certainly would have been much more exciting for me, personally, to come back to the Mountain State with a Big 12 Championship and automatic birth to the NCAA tournament, it was a great experience nonetheless.
It started Monday, May 23 with the flight to and arrival in OKC. Needing something quick and relatively cheap to eat after we got to the hotel, Joel and I went to a restaurant not too far from where we were staying.
Less than 10 minutes after we had been seated, we both happened to be looking towards the front of the building when a gentleman wearing an odd-looking sweater walked in and headed for the bar area. Immediately we turned towards each other, and at the same time said, “That’s (NBA sideline reporter) Craig Sager.”
After a few minutes of deliberating, we decided we may never get another chance to talk to Mr. Sager ever again. We went over, introduced ourselves, and asked who he thought would win the next night’s game between the Warriors and Thunder. He said go with the home team – he was right.
Tuesday, after attending a media luncheon event inside Mickey Mantle’s restaurant, we ventured over to the stadium to see where we would be broadcasting from. We were shown our spot along the third base side in the upper deck. It was slightly makeshift, just a regular table, but it was perfect at the same time.
After setting up the table in between the railing and the seats, the official who was showing us around asked if we wanted him to remove the stadium seats. Immediately I piped up and said, “No.”
How fitting would it be to call baseball games from baseball stadium seats? I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. The seats stayed. It was a tight fit but I was happy.
Games started Wednesday.
The sun was just beginning to rise over the wall behind the right-center field fence when Joel and I arrived at the stadium. The time on the scoreboard read 6:49.
With the first pitch out of the hand Mountaineer pitcher Michael Grove (which ended up being lined into center field by Oklahoma leadoff hitter Alex Wise for a single) it became official: we were calling the Big 12 Championship tournament.
West Virginia entered the tournament as the hottest team in the conference. And despite major adversity in each of the first two games, the Mountaineers defeated the Oklahoma Sooners (playing less than 30 minutes up the road from Norman) 6-0 Wednesday, and also defeated the No. 1 seeded Texas Tech Red Raiders 9-4 on Thursday.
Thursday was fun.
Not only did West Virginia pick up the win, but Joel and I did some competing of our own.
Since WVU wasn’t scheduled to play until 4 o’clock, we got to the stadium early and tried out the golf simulator, radar gun, and corn hole.
Joel probably won the golf simulator – getting the ball closest to the pin. But I beat him on the radar gun. We teamed up in corn hole, and defeated a nice couple from Kansas State 21-8. (To add insult to injury this was less than 2 hours after the Wildcat baseball team had been eliminated.)
After a big victory over the Red Raiders – and after all three WVU victories in the tournament – we put a recap video together, as well, trying to cover all journalistic elements.
Friday was an off day, which was nice because we got to go to the stadium with the sole purpose of watching good baseball.
It was great going to just to watch the games as a fan, but it was also nice being able to talk to reporters from other media outlets covering their respective team. I tried to pick their brains a little and ask what they thought about the team they were covering. What kind of season they had? Is it just the coaches, or do they also not want their team to run into WVU?
And of course I asked if they had been up to Morgantown and if they had seen beautiful Monongalia County Ballpark.
Saturday was another early day – a 9 a.m. first pitch with the possibility of playing two games.
Once again, the first inning was when things got exciting.
Oklahoma’s Steele Walker, whose name I had been complimenting all tournament long, sent a foul ball into the press area that was headed right for my face. Luckily when my headset fell off it fell right on the table.
Even more fortunate was my face, which wasn’t hit with the ball, although my thumb did hurt for a few minutes. I didn’t complete the catch. But in my defense the ball was coming at me at a speed of 84.7 mph, according to the statistician beside us, and it nearly hit the pole in front of us.
It’s at this point where I must add that I played baseball in high school, and like almost any baseball player I am superstitious. If I notice something works I stick with it. I understand I’m supposed to be impartial, but even when I’m trying to sound impartial on air, deep down I’m rooting for WVU to win. So whatever I can do to help the cause, I shall.
There were a couple things I noticed over the past few weeks, and in the tournament as well that were working; meaning WVU was winning.
For one, every game that I was at that I had my U92 poker chip with me West Virginia won. The team had also not lost a game I was at since I cracked open the new score book. The way I taped papers either to the window at Mon. Co. BP, or at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, also appeared to be working.
But the biggest factor appeared to be how we were broadcasting the game. We decided to trade off doing play-by-play from the top and bottom of the innings so we could each maximize our time in OKC.
On Wednesday, I called while (4) WVU was hitting, Joel while (5) OU was. On Thursday, Joel called the fourth-seeded Mountaineers at the plate, and I did the play-by-play while No. 1 seeded Texas Tech was hitting. As I’ve mentioned before, WVU won both of those contests, so on Friday it became apparent that the winning formula was that I would call the higher-seeded team at the plate and Joel would call the other half of the inning.
It worked the first two days. And it worked Saturday as well.
On Saturday, West Virginia mercy-ruled Oklahoma, eliminating the Sooners by a final score of 11-1 behind a great outing on the mound by Conner Dotson.
I got to be beside the dugout as the final out was recorded, and went on the field as the team shook hands following the victory that sent them to the championship game.
It wasn’t the first time I had been on the field following a Mountaineer win, but it felt different. West Virginia was going to a championship game. For a lifelong WVU fan, that alone was reward enough for the trip. But in the short time I was down on the field, I immediately got the sense that WVU thought they could win it all.
All of those superstitions worked until Sunday.
West Virginia, the hottest team in the tournament, sadly ran into what I believed was the best team in the tournament, TCU.
The Horned Frogs jumped out to an early 8-0 lead, knocking Michael Grove out of the game in the first inning and once again calling for a long relief appearance from Ross Vance.
But like most championship-caliber teams, West Virginia came back.
En route to taking the lead, Kyle Davis set the Big 12 tournament record for RBIs, and Darius Hill found the game in right-center field and cleared the bases with a three-RBI triple.
“Was WVU really going to pull this thing off?” I continuously asked myself that throughout the second half of the game.
What I thought was affirmation that they would came in the seventh inning, when B.J. Myers came in and recorded a strikeout to end the inning with the bases loaded. Despite that being my half of the inning for play-by-play, it was hard to speak. It looked like WVU was going to do it.
It didn’t happen, though. As fate would have it, TCU tied the game in the ninth inning, and then went ahead in the tenth, and West Virginia’s bats had no more hits left in them.
Final score: TCU 11, WVU 10.
Heart-breaking loss to be on hand for as a WV native.
The loss didn’t define the trip, nor did it define WVU’s season. The Mountaineers will be back next year. They’re hungry. That I am sure of.
What defined the trip was the experience itself.
How many college students who just finished their sophomore year of college can say they did play-by-play in a Big 12 Championship game? How many students can say they called a baseball game at one of the most beautiful ballparks in all of Minor League Baseball?
You never forget experiences like that. You learn a ton from them. You learn what works and what doesn’t, and what it takes to make something like that happen.
This trip reaffirmed a few things: that baseball is the greatest game; that joining U92 is the best decision I’ve made; and that traveling covering baseball is exactly what I want to do for a living.
And with this trip under my belt, I hope I am on my way to that.