'Best Seat in the House'
Broadcaster Steve Jones, the voice of the Spikes, talks about what it's like to call a ballgame.
(Editor's note: With the State College Spikes playing in the postseason for the first time since moving to the area in 2006, play-by-play broadcaster Steve Jones reflects on this year's squad, the impact of minor league baseball in Happy Valley and what it feels like to sit in the press box and see Mount Nittany beyond the ballpark.)
CCG: How much fun is it to come to the ballpark and broadcast baseball games during a pennant race?
SJ:It is a lot of fun. It's very relaxing, it's neat to watch winning baseball. And for somebody who was here in 2008 when they won 18 games to now see them get a 10-game winning streak, which is slightly more than half that win total, it's a lot fun. And I think it's caught on with the fans. It's exciting to watch seven walk-off wins, four others in their last at-bat when they've been on the road or extra innings. You really can't put a price on the entertainment of that and the fact that you can't wait to see what they're going to do next.
CCG:What was the transition like to broadcasting baseball games?
SJ: I had done some baseball before on 1450AM back in the 1980s and a couple All-Star games here and there in the 1990s, but I really hadn't done a lot; I'd say, probably fewer than 30 games. But you can't grow up in New England as a Red Sox fan and not follow baseball on an everyday basis, and once I settled in, I settled in. And I'll be honest: People always tell me, "You do Penn State football and you've done NCAA basketball tournaments and things like that." To me, June, July, August, I really love doing baseball, being in the park on a summer evening, seeing the sun shine, the transition to the evening, the fans, the smells, the sounds, and plus, the Spikes are unlike any other minor league club I can imagine. This is such a first-class organization. If a piece of paper falls on the concourse, they've got five people swooping down to make sure it's taken out of there. They're fan-friendly, customer-friendly, community-friendly, they're the kind of people you love working with and working for. I have a blast.
CCG: From the outside looking in, baseball has this perception as being more relaxed than football or basketball. For you, what's the energy level like when you come to the ballpark, compared to Beaver Stadium or the Bryce Jordan Center?
SJ: They're all different sports, so each one brings with it a different moment, but baseball is a lot like football or basketball. In football, there really are five to 10 plays that swing every game. In basketball, there are five to 10 plays that swing that game, whether defensively or offensively. In baseball, there are probably are five or six really key moments in a game and you have to be able to understand when that moment happens, capture it, and when something exciting happens, you have to then raise your level. For the most part, though, you're in a conversation with the listeners, but the concept of painting the picture is the same.
CCG: Listening to you and Joe Putnam during the broadcast, it seems like you two have really good chemistry. How did that partnership take shape?
SJ: First of all, Joe is two things: Joe is first and foremost, just an absolutely great guy. If you don't like Joe Putnam, you don't like people. OK, simple as that. And number two, he's an outstanding broadcaster. He really paints a great picture, he's so in tune with the team, he knows the guys, he knows the promotions and everything that goes with it. It's easy because he's a lot like Jack Ham and Dick Jerardi in this regard: Jack, Dick and Joe, not one of them has an ego among the three of them. And when you're working with people who don't have any ego, they just want to do what's best for the broadcast and have the ability to roll and have fun and you're friends, I think that comes across. Joe and I are really good friends. We're really good friends away from the broadcast, so when it comes to being on the air and having fun and kidding around with each other, we can do that because we're already friends to begin with, so nothing's forced. It's easy, and it's always been easy with him since Day One. And he's really smart, he really knows the game. It's more than knowing the game, you have to have a real feel for things to do this and he has a real feel for it. He's a hard worker.
CCG: For State College and the people who live here, what's the value of having a minor league baseball team?
SJ: I always wanted minor league baseball here. I always felt there was a huge void in the summertime here for the many years I lived here. I felt that it was Penn State football season, then it was, for me, men's basketball season, but for some other people, obviously, wrestling season or for some people, women's basketball season. Then you had spring football and then you had nothing. Zero. And that was like that here for a long time, where you really felt that from May 1 until Aug. 31, there was a real void in an area that loves sports. People love sports here. … When this whole thing came together and then they built this mini-palace, it was all done in such a first-class way and I think the people have really responded to it. You're talking about from the first week, second week of June into the first week of September and now maybe even a little bit longer because of the successful team, where this absolutely fills the sports appetite of an area that loves its sports. … This has become a great community place for people to be in the summertime and enjoy sports at the same time.
CCG: For this year's team, what's been the biggest difference from previous teams that's allowed these guys to reach that playoff level?
SJ: Talent. Talent is always the biggest determining factor in anything. It's an individual sport and you look at the first team that they had here in 2006. They had nine guys off that team make the major leagues. Nine. From an all-star in Allen Craig to one of the more dependable seventh-, eighth-, ninth-inning guys in Luke Gregerson to a closer like Jason Motte. They had a lot of talent on that team. The other teams that the Pirates had here had individuals that sparkled and moved on to the major leagues … but the difference is that this team has a far greater collection of talent together at the same time. But they've also been able to back it up, that in the late innings, there is a calm about this team and a confidence, because success breeds success.
CCG: What remains the best part about coming to the ballpark?
SJ: Sitting in this seat. Sitting in this seat, looking out onto the field, seeing Mount Nittany in back of centerfield, you feel like you're in the best seat in the house. I feel like when I'm doing a Penn State football game, Jack Ham's there, I have the best seat in the house. When I do a Penn State basketball game at the Jordan Center, I have Dick Jerardi next to me, I have the best seat in the house. I come in here, on a beautiful summer night, the sights, the sounds, the smells of the ballpark right all around me, surrounding me, I feel like with Joe next to me, I've got the best seat in the house.