ALL ROADS LEAD TO WRIGLEY

Ra­dio voice Hughes meets chal­lenge of call­ing away games off mon­i­tor in Chicago

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - JEFF AGREST ja­grest@sun­times.com | @jef­freya22

If you want to take your­self back to a by­gone era — say, March — lis­ten to a base­ball game on the ra­dio.

Yes, the crowd noise is fake, and the broad­cast­ers might not even be in the ball­park. But just the au­di­tory ex­pe­ri­ence of a ball­game, with­out the vi­su­als of empty sta­di­ums and masked play­ers, can be com­fort food for the ears.

That’s how Cubs ra­dio voice Pat Hughes sees it, and de­spite his con­cerns about the coro­n­avirus pan­demic, he wouldn’t dream of miss­ing games and de­priv­ing fans of the sounds they love to hear.

“In my mind, I’m still a worker, and I feel a re­spon­si­bil­ity,” said Hughes, 65. “If I’m healthy and there’s a ball­game on the air, I should be there.”

This sea­son, “there” is Wrigley Field for all 60 games. In his 25th year in the Cubs’ booth and 38th as a ma­jor-league broad­caster,

“OUT OF HABIT, I FIND MY­SELF CON­STANTLY LOOK­ING AT THE FIELD BE­CAUSE THAT’S WHAT I’VE DONE FOR OVER 6,000 BIG-LEAGUE GAMES. IT’S LIKE AN AU­TO­MATIC RE­FLEX FOR ME, AND I KEEP WON­DER­ING WHY THERE ARE NO PLAY­ERS ON THE FIELD. ‘OH, THAT’S RIGHT, THEY’RE NOT HERE.’ SO IT’S ODD IN THAT RE­GARD.” PAT HUGHES, broad­cast­ing from Miller Park in Mil­wau­kee last sea­son

Hughes is be­ing chal­lenged like never be­fore, hav­ing to call road games off a mon­i­tor. It’s his first such ex­pe­ri­ence in base­ball, but not his first in broad­cast­ing.

Roughly 40 years ago, while work­ing for a ca­ble com­pany in his home­town of San Jose, Cal­i­for­nia, Hughes and a pro­duc­tion team tried to broad­cast a track and field meet live. For a small group of cam­era peo­ple and staff, it was im­pos­si­ble to keep up with all the events. They gave up about half­way through and de­cided to do a voice-over af­ter they edited the film into a man­age­able two hours.

“We did it off a mon­i­tor, but we al­ready kind of knew what was com­ing, so it wasn’t quite as dif­fi­cult,” Hughes said. “This is a new thing.”

It also can be an awk­ward thing. Hughes is at the mercy of the direc­tor and cam­era peo­ple. If they don’t show where the ball is, it’s dif­fi­cult for him to make the call.

For in­stance, dur­ing the game Mon­day in Cincin­nati, Will­son Con­tr­eras hit a run-scor­ing dou­ble down the left-field line. Hughes im­me­di­ately knew Con­tr­eras had pulled the ball, but when the cam­era switched from the cen­ter-field shot to fol­low it go­ing down the line, he couldn’t tell where the ball landed, and it rolled out of view. Only by left fielder Aris­tides Aquino run­ning to­ward the line did Hughes know the ball was fair.

“You have to re­ally be dis­ci­plined and kind of wait for about a sec­ond or two af­ter each ball is hit if you want to call it prop­erly,” said Hughes, who can af­ford the time be­cause of the lee­way ra­dio gives him. “And that is re­ally tak­ing some ad­just­ment.”

So is call­ing the games from a dark, empty ball­park. The lights are off at Wrigley, ex­cept for the ones in the broad­cast booths, while The Score crew of Hughes, an­a­lyst Ron Coomer and pre- and postgame host Zach Zaid­man works. Hughes said that once the sun goes down, you can’t see sec­ond base from their up­per-deck perch.

“And yet out of habit, I find my­self con­stantly look­ing at the field be­cause that’s what I’ve done for over 6,000 big-league games,” Hughes said. “It’s like an au­to­matic re­flex for me, and I keep won­der­ing why there are no play­ers on the field. ‘Oh, that’s right, they’re not here.’ So it’s odd in that re­gard.”

Hughes and Coomer each have a mon­i­tor in front of them with the game feed that view­ers watch­ing on Mar­quee Sports Net­work see. Be­tween them is a larger mon­i­tor that in­cludes a shot called “all-nine,” which shows ev­ery player on the field. Coomer uses that more be­cause he’s watch­ing for de­fen­sive po­si­tion­ing, whereas Hughes is watch­ing his mon­i­tor to fo­cus on ev­ery pitch. Fol­low­ing safety pro­to­cols, en­gi­neer Paul Zerang is the only other per­son in the booth. Zaid­man, who calls the fifth in­ning, is in the booth to their left.

Keep­ing them safe will re­main a pri­or­ity through­out the sea­son. Though they aren’t tested for COVID-19, they have their tem­per­a­ture taken and are asked ques­tions about their health be­fore en­ter­ing the ball­park. Hughes doesn’t have an un­der­ly­ing con­di­tion, though a friend of his pointed out that his age qual­i­fies as one. Still, he keeps his “old engine in good con­di­tion,” as he said, by run­ning the tread­mill in the base­ment of his Lin­colnshire home of­ten 40 min­utes at a time.

The en­vi­ron­ment isn’t ideal for call­ing ball­games. And Hughes knows mis­takes are bound to hap­pen when de­scrib­ing the ac­tion from a mon­i­tor, but he won’t sweat it.

“With so many peo­ple suf­fer­ing, to com­plain about hav­ing to call a game off a mon­i­tor as op­posed to call­ing it live would just seem in­ap­pro­pri­ate,” he said. “You’re go­ing to make mis­takes even un­der the best of con­di­tions when you’re right there at the park where the game is be­ing played. You try your best to keep them at an ab­so­lute min­i­mum, and you try to make it as much like a nor­mal base­ball broad­cast as you pos­si­bly can be­cause that’s what the au­di­ence re­ally needs.”

670 THE SCORE

Pat Hughes (right) and Ron Coomer call the Cubs-Reds game in Cincin­nati on Tues­day from the ra­dio booth at Wrigley Field.

STEVE GREEN­BERG/SUN-TIMES

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