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NPR’s First Try At Live Sportscasting: Baseball And Syria

By: Ryan Max Riley

STEVE INSKEEP: If you’re just tuning in, this is NPR’s new Sports Edition with your hosts Annalisa Quinn, recently a Books intern at NPR, and Steve Inskeep, whom many of you know from NPR’s Morning Edition. We’re in game one of this three game series between the Washington Nationals and the New York Mets. Long-time Nationals sportscaster Charlie Slowes is in the radio broadcast booth at the stadium with Annalisa to give you the play-by-play. I’m in Syria covering the civil war this week, so I’m joining this first broadcast by phone. What’s happening on the field?

CHARLIE SLOWES: It’s top of the eighth and two outs with the Nats leading three to two. The Mets’ cleanup hitter Ike Davis in the box. Cody Ross on deck.

ANNALISA QUINN: Because Steve has built a reputation for his probing questioning of warlords, he will interview the cleanup hitters after each game. They’re the most powerful batters.

CHARLIE SLOWES: The Nats have Gio Gonzalez on the mound. Davis is dangerous with a bat. One ball, two strikes. Here’s the pitch. Ball. The fans are on their feet, angry at the umpire’s call.

STEVE INSKEEP: It’s not unlike the presidential elections in Iran in 2009 when the surprising win of the incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad resulted in widespread protests.

CHARLIE SLOWES: I wasn’t there, but yeah, they’re very angry. The umpire’s sticking with his bad call. Here’s the pitch. A swing and a hit! Davis rounds first and heads to second. The throw, and he’s safe! The Nats are taking out Gonzalez and putting in Ross Ohlendorf as pitcher. I wouldn’t have left Gonzalez in so long. You’ll probably like the brain on the kid replacing Gonzalez. Sporting News named Ross third smartest athlete in sports.

ANNALISA QUINN: Huh. Interesting.

CHARLIE SLOWES: But he has his work cut out for him with Cody. He’s really fired up to start swinging his bat around. Look at him. He swings the bat like a maniac.

ANNALISA QUINN: Yes, I see. Does a batter keep track of the placement of the pitches in the game on a sort of scatter plot in his mind to better predict the next pitch with regression lines? Or is it more scientific than that?

CHARLIE SLOWES: You just go with your gut. Here comes the pitch, and it’s a high pop-up. The center fielder, Denard Span, coming in to make the catch…and he dropped it! UnbeliEVable! We gotta start producing catches.

ANNALISA QUINN: That outfielder just looked at his glove as if to suggest it had a defect that made him miss the catch, and then he blamed a fan in the stands. Which of those was the actual cause? Was it really both, and does Denard not have any recourse?

CHARLIE SLOWES: He’s just gotta get ‘er done.

ANNALISA QUINN: Charlie, for our listeners, would you please slow down what’s happening on the field at this moment? What are we seeing, and what is its significance, in layman’s terms?

CHARLIE SLOWES: Well, the pitcher’s using his foot to brush dirt off the pitcher’s plate, the white rubber strip on the mound. Preparing to pitch. Just an ordinary, heroic person trying to win a game the best way he knows how.

STEVE INSKEEP: I hear some commotion outside. I may have to…Block the door! Get your guns!


STEVE INSKEEP: The rebels are here. (gunshots) My guards are dead. (yells when he sees that his own legs are missing, but stops yelling when he realizes he’s just kneeling and still has legs)

ANNALISA QUINN: Oh my God. Oh my God.

STEVE INSKEEP: The rebel commander has just cut open the stomach of one of the dead guards and is eating an organ while looking into a camera, a move that has become the rebels’ trademark. C. J.? C. J. Chivers! Chivers is here!

ANNALISA QUINN: The foreign correspondent for The New York Times?

STEVE INSKEEP: Yes. The ex-Marine. He’s on NPR sometimes as a guest, reporting on Syria. He travels around with the rebels. I think I’ll be all right if C. J.’s here.

C. J. CHIVERS: Steve Inskeep? You’re lucky you’re not already dead. I almost shot you in the face. And don’t look so hopeful. I have no control over the rebels. I’m just along for the ride. They do whatever they want, and I can’t really do anything about it. What are you doing here?

STEVE INSKEEP: I was reporting on the civil war, just as you are. At this moment, though, I’m using this radio to do play-by-play announcing of the Washington Nationals baseball game for NPR’s new Sports Edition.

C. J. CHIVERS: All right. Let me see if I can get you out of this. But it’s very unlikely. You’re probably just going to die. (speaks with rebels in background)

CHARLIE SLOWES: Homerun. Adam LaRoche for the Nats just hit a homer. Sorry. I thought I should announce it.

ANNALISA QUINN: You’re heartless. Steve’s about to die, and you’re still going on about baseball?

CHARLIE SLOWES: It’s my last game as a sportscaster. The Nats are my…I’m sorry. You’re right.

ANNALISA QUINN: Steve? C. J.? Can you hear us? What’s going on over there?

C. J. CHIVERS: Are the Nationals winning the game?

ANNALISA QUINN: What? Yes. Yes, they are.

C. J. CHIVERS: Good. Here’s what I got. Despite U.S. support of rebels against Assad’s regime, these particular rebels are angry, you know, because Obama is stalling with bombing the Syrian government and because Obama wouldn’t send weapons to the Syrian rebels until Assad used chemical weapons. Until now, Obama has only offered non-lethal aid such as night-vision goggles to the rebels. My group of rebels has actually figured out how to kill the enemy with those goggles. But the leader insists they need anti-tank and anti-aircraft arms. And the good news, if you will, is that my rebels have decided not to kill Inskeep if you make it so the Nationals lose this game and make it clear that this little rebel group was responsible. It’d show their might in controlling the outcome of U.S. baseball games. This would help the group take some of the spotlight from the Syrian Electronic Army, which recently hacked into U.S. news websites — NPR, The Washington Post and CNN — to disseminate pro-Assad propaganda. I believe my rebels have their sights set on winning the World Series, by remote control, if you will. Controlling American baseball is better for my rebels than even bombing Washington D.C. because, you know, bombing D.C. might leave Americans with hope.

CHARLIE SLOWES: Okay, I’ll talk with the managers to ask if they’ll throw the game. (runs out of booth)

ANNALISA QUINN: This is wonderful news! Thank you, C. J. We’re trying to arrange the Nationals’ loss right now. The teams should have no problem with this, if it’ll save Steve’s life.

CHARLIE SLOWES: (coming back) All right, bad news. Talked to the managers; they said no way. They’re not even sure that Steve has really been taken hostage. It could be a hoax.

STEVE INSKEEP: Then this is it. I’m going to die.

ANNALISA QUINN: Wait! I just got word from the managers that they will, in fact, let the Nationals lose.

C. J. CHIVERS: The leader is pleased. He says he wants his rebels to have a new name now to make it clear that they deserve credit for all this. He renamed his group the Major League Baseball Syrian Rebels Front.

CHARLIE SLOWES: Okay. The players are stepping out onto the field. It’s uh…top of the ninth, no outs with the Nats leading three to two. The Mets’ cleanup hitter Ike Davis is at bat. Runners on second and third.

ANNALISA QUINN: We of course expect the pitcher for the Nationals, Ross Ohlendorf, to toss the pitch gently at the batter so he can hit a homerun. Yes, in fact, the announcement has just been made on the stadium loudspeakers that the Major League Baseball Syrian Rebels Front has seized control of the baseball game and has decided that the Nationals must lose because Obama has let the Syrian rebels down by not sending them anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons and by consulting Congress about bombing the Syrian government. The announcer is now criticizing Obama’s chemical weapons policy.

CHARLIE SLOWES: The pitch. A swing and a hit! Fans have gotten to their feet! High fly ball into left field! It’s outta here!

ANNALISA QUINN: If you’re just tuning in, this is NPR’s Sports Edition with your hosts Annalisa Quinn, recently a Books intern at NPR, and Steve Inskeep, a prisoner of war in Syria. Charlie Slowes is in the booth to help give the play-by-play. Our guest is C. J. Chivers, a foreign correspondent for The New York Times and a member of the rebel group that has just captured Steve and is threatening to kill him unless the Mets win.

CHARLIE SLOWES: Well, listeners and rebels, this is most likely the last play of the game. The Mets are up eight to three. Bottom of the ninth. Two outs. Two strikes, no balls. The Nats have Ian Desmond at the plate. The set. The pitch, and a ground ball up the middle. Omar Quintanilla makes an amazing catch! The throw to first. The game’s over. The rebels beat the United States, eight to three.

C. J. CHIVERS: You have just made the rebels very happy. And they told me just now that they’re going to release Steve immediately, instead of keeping him and shooting for the pennant, because he’s too much of a liability. The rebels and I are going to leave Steve here now, to finish his broadcast. Thank you for having us.

ANNALISA QUINN: Thank you, C. J., and stay safe. (sound of C. J. and rebels leaving)


CHARLIE SLOWES: No…you’re still alive, Steve.

STEVE INSKEEP: What?! Oh my God. I have to get out of here some way, in case the rebels come back. (rushes out) Wait! (coming back) I’ll interview the cleanup hitters in a special segment later tonight when I’m safe again. Do not interview them for me. (leaves)

ANNALISA QUINN: Good luck, Steve! Okay, listeners, nothing we’ve reported about the game since Steve was taken prisoner has been true. The Washington Nationals actually won five to four. It was an excellent game, perhaps their best.

CHARLIE SLOWES: So this is it. The end of my sportscasting career. You’re bad for baseball, Annalisa. NPR is bad for baseball. The most excited you got during this whole game was when you thought a catcher’s hand signals were not only communicating which pitch should be thrown but also inadvertently casting the shadows from Plato’s allegory of the cave. Or when someone walked into our booth wearing a really nice tweed jacket and bowtie, and you correctly identified the obscure clothier. You cheer for all the wrong reasons. You always get so excited when Ross Ohlendorf does anything. He can be walking into position, and you’ll say how great it is.

ANNALISA QUINN: He’s the third smartest athlete in sports.

CHARLIE SLOWES: I shouldn’t have told you that.

ANNALISA QUINN: Anyway, I’m supposed to offer you the job of co-host of NPR’s Sports Edition at the end of this broadcast, if you’ve done well enough, and I think you have. In fact, we need you. I’m not as knowledgeable about baseball as you are, as you can see, and Steve will often have to do broadcasts by phone. Will you join us?


ANNALISA QUINN: Excellent. It’s a wrap. This is Sports Edition with NPR News. Thanks for listening.