College Sports in the Carolinas
from the East
March 11, 2005
By Al Myatt
'Who's on first' in radio
A new $10 million stadium, six straight trips
to the NCAA Tournament and a radio play-by-play announcer who apparently
doesn't know a bunt from a punt.
As they say on the scholastic tests, which one
of the above does not belong?
I don't know Josh Spence personally. I'm told
he's a nice kid and I'll grant he has a good voice. I know he has provided
me with some good laughs when I've listened to portions of East Carolina
baseball games this season.
Like the time at Coastal Carolina last month
when a Pirate player made a catch "in the backfield." The humor of that
moment eased the fact that ECU later lost on a walk-off homer.
More recently, I was listening again when Mike
Flye was pulled in the first inning of the Arizona State game on Saturday
night and ECU brought Ricky Brooks in to pitch. Flye mysteriously returned
to the mound as Spence's account of the game progressed.
The inning ended mercifully for the Pirates
and Spence with a batter's interference call, although young Josh might not
yet have realized what happened if not for the voice of experience, former
ECU coach and current color commentator Gary Overton, who diplomatically
explained the call.
As Spence's sidekick, Overton has bailed
Spence out of more jams than Tonto did for the Lone Ranger.
In a nice way of putting it, Spence is
In fairness to Josh, he has probably never had
an adequate opportunity to gain experience and learn baseball jargon on a
lower level, such as high school or small college, nor has he had the chance
to absorb knowledge as an understudy to an old pro such as 'Voice of the
Pirates' Jeff Charles.
While Abbott & Costello's famed 'Who's on first'
routine featured well-rehearsed timing, the humor injected by Spence stems
from his novice level regarding the basics of baseball.
It's a good thing air traffic controllers are
required to have more qualifications and experience before beginning work or
Spence might be struggling with a description of a jet landing "in the
backfield" at Clark-LeClair Stadium.
And it's a good thing that many Pirate fans
are at the games to see the action for themselves. The games that are taking
place and the games that are being described on
WNCT-AM Talk-1070 and
WGHB-AM Pirate Radio 1250 seem to be
two different entities.
Maybe the rights statement for ECU games
should be rewritten, "Any accounts, descriptions ... blah, blah, blah ...
may not be used without the expressed written permission of East Carolina
University ... except by the Comedy Channel."
I'm not sure Charles, ECU's director of
electronic media, knows just how severely Spence's accounts and descriptions
defy baseball tradition. Charles has been tied up with basketball broadcasts
There seem to be three standard topics of
conversation among ECU baseball fans: "How about the stadium? Can we get to
Omaha? And, How bad is the radio guy?"
Charles hired Spence and I'm speculating that
there wasn't exactly a talent search along the lines of American Idol in
filling the position. The basic requirement seems to be that you have to get
to the games — all 56 of them during the regular season.
Patrick Johnson, who is infinitely superior to
Spence in his play-by-play work, was late for a game at Cincinnati last
season and apparently was a little too abrasive in some of his professional
relationships. That resulted in Johnson being relieved of the job during the
2004 season — which opened the door for Spence.
Too bad Pat Patterson is no longer the morning
jock on 850-AM in Raleigh or Spence could enroll in Mr. Patterson's "School
of Announcing and Practical Embalming."
ECU's current play-by-play guy could use all
the help he can get.
I guess Charles is too busy lining up
advertisers and network affiliates for football to do the games himself.
Ideally, a good play-by-play guy could do most of the game and let Spence
work a few innings to gain some much-needed experience. Then the veteran
could critique Spence's work and give him some advice on how to improve.
"Josh is a young man who is getting his feet
wet," Charles said. "I think he's doing a good job. He has a lot of
potential. We know he's going to do a good job.
"When you commit to do all 56 regular season
games and the conference tournament, you have to find somebody who is
available to do all those games. Once you make that commitment, somebody has
to be available.
"We were all at that point at one time. ...
Josh has a great attitude and he's willing to work. He's a lot better than I
was when I was 23 or 24. It's just a matter of experience and he'll be
Perhaps Spence will never develop that "feel"
for the game that the best announcers convey. Some murder the game and the
King's English but entertain nonetheless — like old Dizzy Dean and the San
Diego Padres guy whose name escapes me at the moment. Maybe that will be the
niche Spence fills with the ECU broadcasts.
His exposure will certainly increase when Talk
1070 goes to 50,000 watts, which may happen before season's end.
Spence's unique takes on the game may become
the stuff of water cooler conversations, but maybe that will be a good
thing. If mistakes weren't funny and entertaining, people wouldn't love
Here's hoping the Pirates keep making those
catches "in their backfield" and that young Spence's grasp of the game
improves with each at bat.
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02/23/2007 12:33:12 AM