Four Emmy Awards and a spot in the Hall of Fame prove Mike “Doc” Emrick can call a hockey game. But what about baseball?
Perched in a booth at PNC Park before the Pirates played the Chicago Cubs on Friday night, Emrick prepared to broadcast his first regular-season MLB game.
Asked how he felt, Emrick replied with his favorite Wayne Gretzky story.
“During the last year that Gretzky was playing with the (New York) Rangers, they called up a kid from Hartford,” Emrick began. “Before the game, the kid was pacing back and forth in the locker room. Wayne said, ‘You nervous, kid?' The kid said, ‘Yeah,' and Wayne said, ‘So am I.'
Two hours before the first pitch, Emrick's shirt was buttoned up and his tie knotted. Pinned to his coat lapel was a small charm of the blade of a hockey stick and a puck. Although he didn't seem anxious, Emrick assured me that he was.
“I'm the kid,” Emrick said. “Sure, I'm nervous, but I've got a safety net.”
Emrick turned to the seat next to him, where Bob Costas was looking over his notes.
Months earlier, Costas saw a segment about Emrick, who is a lifelong Pirates fan, on HBO's “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.” Emrick said broadcasting a baseball game was on his bucket list.
“I said, we can make it happen at MLB Network,” Costas said. “It's a little more freewheeling than a game on Fox or on Turner, something that's a bigger national broadcast and not a niche thing like this.”
Although they have been parts of the same broadcasts at the Winter Classic and Olympics, Costas and Emrick had never shared a booth until Friday. It didn't take them long to mesh on the air.
The first inning was mostly Costas. Taking occasional sips from a bottle of diet peach iced tea, Costas handled all the bookkeeping: the standings, the lineups, who's hurt, who's in the All-Star Game, the starting pitchers.
In the second, Emrick was more involved. They talked about their childhood memories of Bill Mazeroski's homer that won the 1960 World Series — a moment very different for Costas, then an 8-year-old Yankees fan, and Emrick, who was in high school biology class in Indiana when Maz went deep.
“He's exhilarated and I'm totally crestfallen at exactly the same moment,” Costas said, leaning in with his arm around the back of Emrick's chair. “And now our paths cross (56) years later.”
Through his color commentary, Emrick's nostalgia and love of baseball were obvious. He still has the scorecard from a Pirates-Cubs game he saw in 1959 and talked about how the first guy every kid saw after getting his ticket torn at the gate was the scorecard vendor.
The fourth and fifth innings were Emrick's turn to do play-by-play. “Onto the tightrope I go” he said.
In the top of the fourth, Emrick's voice rose as he called a deep drive to center field by a Cubs batter: “Andrew McCutchen is back ... he leaps ... he doesn't have it! And into third goes Russell.”
Only, it was Jason Heyward, not Addison Russell, who had just tripled. Emrick caught the gaffe quickly.
“My first fine of the night,” Emrick joked. “That's what I get for missing a play on my scorecard.”
Heyward eventually scored the Cubs' first run. At the end of the inning, Emrick drew a laugh from Costas by calling the score as, “Pirates 3, National League All-Stars 1” — a nod (or was it a jab?) to the Cubs' entire infield being voted into the All-Star lineup.
Due to blackout restrictions, the MLB Network feed with Costas and Emrick was not available to viewers in the Pittsburgh area. It was simulcast on MLB Network Radio, so fans here who subscribe to XM Radio were able to listen in that way.
Emrick sat in with Pirates broadcaster Greg Brown during a couple of spring training games and hopes to do that again. Before Friday's game, however, Emrick told me he doesn't plan to forge a new career in baseball.
“This was my debut, and this was my swan song,” he said. “This is work, but tonight it's my joy. It's a one-time thing, and I know that.”
“Let's hope that's not the same as a Broadway show when opening night is also closing night,” Costas said. “Let's hope the audience is demanding more, but he just says, ‘That's it,' and leaves on a high note.”
That's pretty much what happened. Emrick was glum when the Pirates blew a three-run lead, but they rallied for four in the seventh and another in the eighth.
Costas handed the mic back to Emrick for the top of the ninth. Emrick went into the game having purposely not invented any catchphrases — “No home run call, nothing special,” he said — so what he spoke when Mark Melancon got the final out came from his heart.
“Raise the jolly roger! Shoot off the fireworks! Aarrgh!” Emrick said in a Midwestern kind of piratey voice. “As Bob Prince would have said, we had 'em all the way.”