Following nearly twenty-five years as a prominent voice at National Public Radio, after being shelled, rocketed, bombed and held captive in the desert as one of their top foreign correspondents, Neal Conan decided to pursue a lifelong dream—to become, of all things, a baseball announcer. And that’s what he did, specifically with the Aberdeen Arsenal, a franchise of the independent Atlantic League. Not the majors, alas, but it afforded him a true opportunity to use the surge of conflicting emotions that we refer ...
Following nearly twenty-five years as a prominent voice at National Public Radio, after being shelled, rocketed, bombed and held captive in the desert as one of their top foreign correspondents, Neal Conan decided to pursue a lifelong dream—to become, of all things, a baseball announcer. And that’s what he did, specifically with the Aberdeen Arsenal, a franchise of the independent Atlantic League. Not the majors, alas, but it afforded him a true opportunity to use the surge of conflicting emotions that we refer to as midlife crisis to rethink what he’d done and what he was doing. It also allowed Neal to marry his two lifelong passions—radio and baseball—and gave him the chance to return to the grassroots of each. He decided to put the fun and challenge back into things he had become bored with.
Play by Play is Conan’s diary of the 2000 season—Aberdeen’s and his. From his position in the announcer’s booth, on the team bus and in hotels and motels along the way, we meet the coaches, fans and, of course, the players. And in this league, most of the players are on the way out rather than up but are happy to still be getting paid to play ball. It is indeed a league of last chances, but for most everyone involved, it’s better to be spending time playing ball than not. Some are resigned to the fact that they’ll never make the majors—or, in a few cases, get back there—while others hang on to a dream that everybody but them sees as foolhardy. Either way, they play for the love of the game, and very little else.
Through the lens of the minor leagues, Conan captures the soul of a great sport andreveals the ways men face age, come to terms with their limitations and ambitions and look for new challenges when they’re no longer young phenoms. In the end, Conan’s experiences, the things he’s learned, help him refocus his own life and reappreciate the things he has, giving him direction of where he needs to go. (But that’s not to say he wouldn’t take a call from George Steinbrenner to be the voice of the Yankees.)
Following his lifelong dream, National Public Radio personality Conan took a sabbatical to do baseball play-by-play. Toiling in an independent minor league, the rookie sportscaster writes of the daunting task of filling the airwaves during his Aberdeen (Md.) Arsenal broadcasts with compelling stories and anecdotes; Conan the fledgling author seems to find filling the pages of his book just as difficult. Quotes from players and coaches go on far too long and reveal far too little (and are often unattributed). Conan's childlike enthusiasm for the game is undeniable and his storytelling skills solid, but there's nothing about this band of ballplayers, managed by former major league slugger Darrell Evans that's particularly engaging. It's questionable whether the book's best story a lengthy account of Conan once being held hostage in Iraq while pursuing an NPR feature belongs in a baseball book. Similarly, the author's love note to his son feels out of place. All the minor league clich s are here: players on their way up or on their way down, the talented kid with the bad attitude and the kid with the great attitude and marginal skills, and the lonely life of a baseball nomad. America's rediscovery of minor league baseball has meant numerous love-of-the-game articles and programs focusing on the lesser leagues' pastoral charms. Conan's take on it, however earnest, offers little that's new. (May) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
A veteran announcer in radio's majors, National Public Radio's Conan was thrilled to get a call to baseball's minors and spent a happy summer of 2000 doing the play-by-play for the independent Atlantic League's Aberdeen Arsenal. Here he recounts his small-time baseball sabbatical, some of which he previewed on NPR's "Baseball Diary." Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Veteran National Public Radio personality recharges by spending a summer broadcasting minor-league baseball. In 2000, after a quarter-century covering everything from political campaigns to foreign wars, Conan got a chance to fulfill a lifelong dream and become a baseball play-by-play announcer. Taking a leave of absence from NPR, he joined the Aberdeen Arsenal, a Maryland baseball squad in the Atlantic League. Unaffiliated with any major-league farm system, the league serves as a way station for old and/or maladroit players and coaches clinging to baseball out of sheer love of the game and the slim hope of a shot at something bigger. Conan soon finds that, despite his experience as an on-air reporter, calling balls and strikes for nine innings is extremely challenging; the craft of play by play is both unpredictable and unforgiving. He sees his own struggle reflected in the lives of the baseball personnel he encounters: Darrell, the former big-league slugger starting at the bottom as a manager; Zac, the philosophical 6' 6" pitcher whose fastball is just not fast enough; Matt, the hot prospect who can't stop thinking about girls long enough to focus on baseball; Danny, a once-promising catcher left with only the memory of his four games in the majors; Garcia, who keeps mum about his recurring tendonitis rather than face certain dismissal; and Martinez, whose own name is misspelled on his Arsenal jersey. As the summer wears on, Conan slowly masters his job while the Arsenal, with shoddy pitching and a porous infield, stumbles to a disappointing 26-43 record. Conan warmly evokes the world of "the last chance league": long bus rides, cramped locker rooms, $15 per diem meal allotments. But hedoesn't scant the mercilessness of a business in which banishment is always just a booted double-play ball away. In one sense a sobering portrait of broken sports dreams, but also a reminder that uncertainty and risk sometimes enhance our joy
Neal Conan is a veteran utility infielder for National Public Radio, serving as reporter, producer, editor and host. He has worked on every program produced by NPR News and has covered the Iran-Iraq War, the Gulf War, presidential elections, inaugurations and one impeachment. He is presently the host of NPR’s Talk of the Nation and lives in Bethesda, Maryland.