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Sports commentators – shut the hell up!

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‘I still cry when I watch it.’

A clip struck me in a powerful manner over 4 months ago.

Why?

73 seconds of silence.

Ironic that it’s taken until now to be able to write about it!

An initial concern in writing about 100 posts in this year without sport was actually having enough ideas and stimuli on which to write interesting, engaging pieces. As it turned out, the opposite was true and there has rarely been a time when I’ve had to go to my ‘ideas file’ – I have one, it’s true! – to decide upon the topic for a post.

Once again, it was baseball, of all sports, that did me in. But when a writer starts a piece with the words, ‘I still cry when I watch it,’ you will generally get my full attention. Well … unless it pertains to subjects such as Glee, Anne of Green Gables (which my wife is currently watching – I’m in hell) or Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen, haven’t you done enough, having given us Sense and Sensibility already?! Fortunately, pieces entitled, ‘The year in sports’ avoid such hideous themes.

Now there’s a Game 7!

A little context

In a big Game 6 game at home, the Arizona Cardinals were one strike away from being eliminated from the playoffs when David Freese, down by 2 runs and on 2 strikes, blasted a ball over outfielder Nelson Cruz’s head, sending two base runners home. Tied game and we’re into overtime!

But it was the second clip that stood out. I can’t encourage you enough to click on it, as the images will tell the story far better than my words.

In that instant, Freese a-gain, in the second innings of overtime, with no one on base and scores still tied, nailed a fastball deep, deep and … gone!

The hit that sent the fans into delirium, and one commentator into silence.

Pandemonium in the crowd and on the field.

As the ball sailed into the safety of the grass and the delirious hands of one home fan, we weren’t subjected to an analytical recap of the nature of the hit, but rather a more apt, ‘We will see you tomorrow night!’

On your back, game ball in hand. Sheer joy.

Stacks onnnn!

There’s something special about the end of a significant baseball matchup in the playoffs. Even if you’re not into the game one bit, you can’t help but appreciate the genuine level of outward ecstasy that a synchronised mass of overjoyed athletes can produce.

The calm, professional millionaires that await the heroic batter!

If it’s the fielding team securing the victory, the pitcher gets stacked on. But if it’s the batting team, the hero rounds 3rd to the sight of a sea of jumping, hollering, exuberant teammates ready to mob you in exhilaration once you step on the home plate; literally in this case, tearing the jersey from the conqueror’s back. Phenomenal to watch.

‘Thanks for winning us the game. We will now rip the shirt off your back…’

73 seconds of silence

What I appreciated so much was that in the midst of a genuinely heartfelt victory in a season/s where games can mesh together in a meaningless meander, there wasn’t mindless yabbering from an over-enthused commentator striving vainly to ‘add’ to the moment.

You could clearly hear the genuine yells of excitement and shrieks of disbelief from the players as they celebrated Freese’s return home. The crowd’s screaming, cheering and non-stop buzz of the delirious home crowd was all there to see and hear.

The crowd is happy. Do we need a commentator to tell us that??

And for an entire 73 seconds, seasoned commentator Joe Buck said absolutely nothing.

But when he did, you couldn’t have got much better than “How did this happen?!”

It’s not about you

It would take discipline, self-control and an innate feeling for the game and the moment to be able to do what Buck did in not saying a solitary word for over a minute as one of the most exciting baseball moments in history played itself out in front of him.

Needless to say not many commentators and analysts have more than 1 or 2 of the 4 characteristics mentioned above. The needless hyperbole and unnecessary hysteria of words don’t add to the event but detract from a pure viewing experience where we get to witness the participant’s response to an unforgettable occasion.

As impatient viewers, we are no longer content be on the outside, demanding instead to become a part of it as soon as the final whistle sounds.

Watch the end of a Super Bowl or the end of the NBA Finals and you can’t help but notice the plethora of journalists and hangers on that stream onto the playing arena is absurd, immediately diluting the moment.

The aftermath of a Super Bowl. Ridiculous.

In the Australian Football League, so keen are we to get ‘on the inside’ that we now have half time interviews with players. A similar ploy was initiated by the NBA with their coaches at the end of the 1st and 3rd quarters. This tactic was treated with such disdainful dismissiveness by a slew of NBA coaches that it actually made for fantastic viewing, such was the unintentional comedy of the old mens’ contempt!

San Antonio Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich ready to snap at the first ‘dumb question’!

For the defence

I chatted with a friend, a journalist, about this and he made the good point that it’s in those briefest of moments after an AFL Grand Final ends that the players are at their most honest. He’s been in the rooms after multiple Grand Finals and commented that even in that euphoric situation, the players’ training in dealing with the media blandly kicks in and you lose some of the candidness.

On the field though, you might get Collingwood captain Nick Maxwell venting his frustration at having to ‘replay’ the Grand Final in 2010, Shane Crawford after the ’08 victory – his last game, and Dean Wallis’ raw emotion after Essendon’s dominant 2000 victory.

Still, you can’t fabricate or replicate those moments. They’re special. If we had them all the time, they wouldn’t be. Yet we keep pushing.

Although…

We can all remember moments when a commentator, like Joe Buck, has absolutely nailed it. Stephen Quartermain’s ‘Leo Barry!! You star!’ after the game saving mark in 2005, Anthony Hudson’s ‘Who would have thought the sequel would be just as good as the original?’ after West Coast in 2006 or even Sandy Roberts’ ‘Here is the magician at work. He shoots towards goal… What. More. Can. You. Say?!’ after Gary Ablett’s epic goal against the Pies (3.06 mark of the clip.) definitely added to the moment.

Richie Benaud. On his day, there was no peer.

I’m sure we could go on in any sport and find moments where the words added to the image, but the Richie Benaud’s of the commentating stratosphere – those without ego and without the unending love for their own voice; who instinctively know when enough is enough – are few and far between.

Enjoy the moment!

I can’t help but think that commentators’ verbosity and our own desire to know everything about each player and the game immediately (and in the tabloids) feeds into our insatiable appetite for the next story. ‘How was it out there? How did it happen? Tell us everything. … Could you do it again?’

The 3 day test highlighted our inability to appreciate the moment in front of us. Try finding analysis on the final game or winning team a mere 3 days after the final siren has gone. You won’t find much, if at all.

For us, life can imitate sport in that we need to learn to enjoy our own great moments and take a moment to shut up, pat ourselves on the back and not look forward to the next goal or problem.

Be present!

All things going to plan

All things being equal, I won’t be drowning in a sea of sports stimuli in 23 days’ time when the year without sports ends. As a result, I’ll savour the great moments more deeply, appreciate it for what it’s worth and try not to just look for the next big thing.

Savour this moment. I’ll try…

And to the commentators, please, every now and again, just shut the hell up!

Let us enjoy the moment, just for a second … or 73.

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About petek8

Pete Evans has just finished going 12 months without watching any sport. The journey stemmed from a sense that the balance was out-of-whack with my time and my priorities. Everything seemed to revolve around creating enough time and space to fit in the last game, games, recap shows or space to surf the net for the latest numbers and analysis. The cycle never ends - one season leads into another, seasons overlap if you follow various sports and the media's insatiable appetite for a new 'story' means that even the greatest of achievements aren't heralded for more than 3 days. So I stepped away from the machine for awhile and intentionally engaging with the journey by writing about it.

2 responses »

  1. Great baseball vision. But three things stand out about why they were able to stay quiet after that homer.

    1) Having the camera on the line looking directly into the huddle over home plate is something most sports don’t have the luxury of doing. They’re actually on the field holding a camera during the game….even though the game is technically over once the ball goes over the fence. That doesn’t happen in many sports.

    2) There’s an audio guy on the field too! Have a look at the boom microphone. That doesn’t happen here either. Being able to hear players talking in the huddle is outstanding.

    3) What a celebration! Ripping the guy’s shirt off. That doesn’t happen.

    Brilliant stuff. But not many sports are in a position to allow that type of access.

    Reply
  2. Yep, there’s definitely some characteristics unique to baseball that made the moment be able to play out as it did, but I think you get the bigger picture here – that so often, less is more. I agree with ripping the guys’ shirt off – unreal! Can you imagine them doing that to Mark Taylor after his 334 in Pakistan!? What an ugly sight that would reveal…

    Reply

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