The thud you heard late Saturday night was probably my head hitting the pillow. Mental fatigue, that is when the brain turns to mush and you can’t think a coherent thought, is worse than physical. The baseball playoffs as a whole, but especially the finals, do that to me. With softball and baseball both playing, the opportunities to sit back and relax were few.
These thoughts aren’t about Mark Council or myself. We could remain nameless because the enjoyment we get from what we do is our reward. Added to that is the knowledge that our broadcast and tweets are the only conduit some people have to certain sporting events. I thought you might like a little insight into how it works (most of the time).
Alabama head football coach Nick Saban is all about the “process.” CCSN also has a process. In our process, it is all about the internet, not the bass. Internet connectivity is what we check first because without it, there is no broadcast. On the Monday prior to game one (scheduled for Tuesday) of the Eastern championship at Rosewood, I drove to Rosewood High to check on the wireless internet connection. Why? In 2014 Whiteville played at Rosewood. Our only internet option was to run 600 feet of cable from the coach’s office in the gym to the baseball press box. Add to that 300 feet of extension cord to put a router halfway to boost the signal. It took just 10 minutes in the press box at Rosewood that Monday to know wireless was available. I’ll trade a 180 mile drive for “internet” piece of mind anytime during the playoffs.
Two games at Riverside in Williamston went off without a hitch, four bars of 4G. Six miles down the road at Bear Grass, my cellular provider had nothing. Fortunately, I had purchased a Smart Talk “hot spot” as a back up during football season. Smart Talk picks up the strongest signal available without regard to carrier. Arnold Harwood and I headed into town to a big box store to purchase data. Dan Biser stood guard where the equipment was set up behind the backstop. This was at 3:30 in the afternoon for a 7 o’clock game and about 90 degrees. If you can’t make a scouting trip, then you go early to remove the obstacles without rushing. Connection made, game on!
Five County Stadium has almost become a second home for CCSN. We covered state championship series held there in 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2016. However, the NCHSAA chose (wisely) to put Whiteville baseball and softball at N.C. State. A major university baseball field, so obviously there wouldn’t be any issues? I will not get technical because I leave those issues to Kelly Jones. We had internet, but our audio stream would not connect. Turns out, our upload was blocked on the NCSU internet. Smart Talk to the rescue again.
In most instances the hard part is behind us. Make sure about a dozen connections are made properly and wait for the game to begin.
Twitter has become a valuable tool to provide information to the fan who wants the score, but may not be interested or in a position to follow the game on the radio or internet audio. Unfortunately, CCSN was not in a position to broadcast softball from Raleigh for a variety of reasons. We did focus on tweeting more than just a score each inning update. There is one of the reasons for the “mush” brain. The hour or two prior to the game, after everything is set up, is our time to visit with the coaches, Harry Ward and the others that arrive early and just relax. At the state championship, that time was spent following the softball, pitch by pitch, and providing Twitter updates. I’ll exchange two teams vying for state titles for seven hours in the booth every time.
Sometimes there are perks to broadcasting. In the playoffs, getting in free is not one of them. We pay a fee for each game to the NCHSAA because it controls the rights to air the games. At N.C. State, air conditioning was definitely an asset. After the almost vertical climb into the Riverside booth, sitting in the bench area in the mist with the West Columbus players at West Montgomery and among the fans at Bear Grass I think we deserved a comfortable location.
In addition to calling the game, keeping a scorebook and tweeting, we receive text messages through out the game. The number of messages quadruples in the finals. It was suggested I ignore my phone if it is a distraction, but that is how the home office in Luckenbach, Texas communicates with me, so I check every one. The “funniest” text message I receive is “what is the score?” Seriously? Turn the radio on or log on because I’m a little busy here. We do receive useful texts. Ronnie Strickland can be counted on to send a score when he is at another game. We do give shout outs unless you ask for one. The key text comes from Bert “the mailman.” It is a simple two words, “sounds good.” The broadcast is now official.
It was interesting to hear during and after the games where people were listening during the series. A couple took time from their honeymoon. Lots of people on or at the water at Lake Waccamaw, the Waccamaw River and various beaches were listening. When Kelly added the audio to our Facebook page to give listeners more listening options, we heard from Sue Burnett in England, Kevin Eason at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany as well as listeners in the states of Florida, Maryland and South Carolina. The online numbers were staggering. The ccsnaudio.net and the wzco.org servers were maxed out Friday evening. More than 70 people dialed in to listen on their phone. The addition of the Facebook audio made space for everyone Saturday.
The task is not an easy one. The view from the press box is not as glamorous as some surmise. We knew that we served as the eyes of hundreds (conservative estimate) of people over the weekend. That pressure, even if self-inflicted, is another reason for “mush” brain. Still it isn’t about us, the game is the thing. I have been told that women leaped and men wept when Jake Harwood’s hit scored Dylan Hamilton to win the game and championship. Giving people the opportunity to experience the championship vicariously provides all the satisfaction we need.