By DAVID JONES
COAST TO COAST ANNOUNCERS: Tulsan Bob Carpenter, left, along with his sidekick announcer Don Sutton, a Hall of Fame pitcher, announce Washington Nationals games throughout the season. They can be heard in the Tulsa area on Cox Cable’s baseball package, which airs nearly every major league team.
It’s not that Bob Carpenter can’t get a job locally. During the winter months he has been a basketball announcer for a number of University of Oklahoma games as well as some other games on ESPN. He is also the host of the OU men and women’s basketball coaches show.
Recently he signed on with KYAL (1550 AM, 97.1 FM) to do an hour starting at 9 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. KYAL, which features such local sports luminaries as Al Jerkens, Pat Jones, Eddie Sutton, John Holcomb and Chris Lincoln among others, and calls itself the Sports Animal. Carpenter, during baseball season, will continue to phone in his programs.
“That’s the one bad thing about this job,” says the veteran Tulsa-based sportscaster. “In the next six and one-half months I may see my wife and two girls perhaps 30 days.”
Those days may be when Carpenter, the play-by-play television announcer for the Washington Nationals baseball team, is following the team to a near-by National League city like St. Louis or Houston or Atlanta, or during the All-Star Game break. Other than that his day will revolve around a team many observers believe is the worst in major league baseball.
“I think (new club president) Stan Kasten has the team on the right track. He slowly built Atlanta through the farm season until the Braves became a perennial division champion. He will adhere to his minor league philosophy of building from within and then signing free agents to make a good team great. In Atlanta he started with nothing. In Washington he has several players who will probably be around for years. He has a base.
“Just look at what the Nationals are doing in the Dominican Republic. That country has become a huge source of major league talent and until last year the Nationals had no presence there. Now the Nationals have made former major leaguer Jose Rijo as their ambassador there and have a major scouting operation in place. Players are recognizing the Nationals as an organization of great opportunity right now.
“The greatest problem this year is the pitching. You have John Patterson, who was injured most of last year but is a proven major league pitcher, and a whole bunch of unknowns. They’ll use spring training to come up with a starting rotation.”
Carpenter is no stranger to baseball. For years he was one of ESPN’s top announcers with a travel schedule that would be a back-breaker for most of us. He would leave Tulsa on Monday and have a production meeting that night in the city where he would announce the next game. Tuesday he would announce the game. Wednesday he’d return to Tulsa only to fly out again Thursday for the Friday game. Saturday he would return to Tulsa. Sunday he’d stay in Tulsa and teach Sunday school.
Then he got a job broadcasting over-the-air games of the St. Louis Cardinals, about 40 of them. When it became obvious his schedule was going to be halved, and he was asked to take the Washington job, he got his release from the Cardinals.
Now he telecasts every Nationals game except those carried on ESPN or the Fox network.
His days are busy. “I get up and in the morning update my record lists so I have everything up to date when I go to the park. I leave my Alexandria, Va. apartment about 3 p.m. for a night game and arive at RFK Stadium in about 15 minutes.
“I go to the production truck and talk to the producer for about 15-20 minutes. Then I go to the broadcast booth, drop my stuff off, and head out to the visiting clubhouse. I get whatever information I can there and then go to the Washington clubhouse getting background information. I used to keep careful notes but now I just store what I’ve heard in my head and bring it up if the situation demands.
“About 5 o’clock I’m on the field talking to guys. Last year I was talking to the Nationals batting instructor in mid-season and he was telling me about our catcher Brian Schneider, who was marvelous defensively but only hitting about .220. He told me he was having Schneider, a left-handed batter, concentrate on driving the ball to left field. The last half of the year Schneider batted about .270-.280 and wound up with a respectable average. Those are the kinds of things I can pass on to my listeners.
“At six I get a quick dinner that the team provides and then get back to the booth about 6:20. I put my coat and tie on. Last year I would consider the next 30 minutes my own private time to gear up for the game but this year there is a 30-minute pre-game show I’m not hosting, but on which I’ll probably be expected to make occasional appearances. Then comes the game and the post-game show. I’m usually through about 11-12 p.m.”
Being an upbeat announcer for a losing ball team can be a trying experience. “The Nationals went 50-31 the first half of their first year (2005) after the Montreal Expos were transferred to Washington. The second half of the year they went 31-50 to wind up at 81-81.
“Last year they were 71-91 and out of the race early, but I had a lot of people tell me they couldn’t tell it from my announcing so I guess I succeeded in keeping the broadcasts upbeat.
“I’m a traditional baseball guy. What the team does is paramount. Are the games in September meaningful?
“Washington fans are great. They are knowledgeable and loyal and the team was still drawing about 20,000 fans a game long after we were out of the race.”
This year a 71-91 record might seem like an unreachable dream with the Nationals having jettisoned a lot of high-priced talent and with the young replacements not yet up to speed, but Carpenter sees hope in players like third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. “I feel the same way about Zimmerman that I did about Albert Pujols of the Cardinals his rookie season. I feel I’m watching the beginning of a great career.”
When it comes to Carpenter’s greatest moments, Pujols figures prominently in one of them.
“Pujols and I hit it off immediately, and when I came back from a two-year absence and went into the clubhouse Pujols put his arm around me and guided me about, introducing me to all the faces that had arrived since I’d left. That’s what makes a leader in the clubhouse.”
Carpenter is also delighted to be teamed with color man and baseball Hall-of-Famer Don Sutton. “I happened to be broadcasting for the Texas Rangers on the night when he was pitching for his 300th career win in Anaheim. In those days the home team rarely televised home games so I was the only permanent account. He told me later how much he appreciated my even-handed approach to his win. He’s a neat guy and I’m looking forward to working with him.”
How does he feel about a season many pundits see as being a disaster? “Spring training is always a time of hope. Baseball is a journey, and you never know who you will find along the way. In the next two or three years I expect the Nationals to be greatly improved and, who knows, that improvement may start this year.”