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A Comedian Loose in the Press Box: How the Mariners could be more watchable

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Why comedians might be the future of broadcasting or, at least, a fun diversion the Mariners should try

Toronto Blue Jays v Seattle Mariners
Always great to see a Juco kid making it to a big league mound
Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images

Baseball can be boring. We all know this, though admitting it can feel like heresy. But watching two bad teams (I offer you an upcoming Orioles/Mariners game), playing for nothing while an uninteresting player, say, spit-balling here, Ryan Court, is in the middle of an eight-pitch at bat against a similarly uninteresting reliever feels like an unnecessary use of time. Baseball is supposed to be an entertainment product, and there are a lot of other entertainment products that do not feature Ryan Court (apologies to Ryan Court) or the Orioles (apologies to Ryan Court).

Knowing this, the job of the broadcasters is to take a Ryan Court at bat in September and piece together, through anecdote or statistic, a story that makes the product on the field more engaging. Except, often, this is an impossible task. An eight-pitch Ryan Court at bat cannot be anecdote’d into interesting.

The White Sox faced a similar problem two weeks ago, when their team, languishing far below .500, was to play a weekend series against a disappointing Angels team without color commentator Steve Stone. Despite the lack of stakes, despite the lack of Steve Stone, the wider baseball world stopped and watched.

They watched because the White Sox took a risk.

Instead of running the usual suspects of old players, current coaches, and other one-inning guests through the press box, White Sox announcer Jason Benetti called games with NBA Legend Bill Walton, The Good Place and Parks and Rec creator Michael Schur, and Mike O’Brien from SNL and A.P. Bio. That is not a collection of people most teams would allow into their broadcast booth to call all nine innings of a game.

The result was glorious.

For a taste of that broadcast, here are Bill Walton’s thoughts on:

  • A routine foul: “YEEEAAAAHHHH oh. Wrong direction, sorry.”
  • Wellington Castillo running to first: “Look at him run, that is the epitome of Usain Bolt right there.”
  • Something: “Woodstock. 50 years. ‘79. Full moon. Waterfall. Exploding volcanoes. Baseball. White Sox. Angels. Summertime. No rain on the horizon. Greg Gumbel. Sam Smith. David Axelrod. Wow.”
  • Wellington Castillo scoring: “Usain Bolt crosses the plate and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.”
  • Mike Trout: “That’s Trout? Swimming upstream, avoiding all the flies and sending one ricocheting through the universe.”
  • The White Sox scoring a run:

It was unpredictable, it was wild. It was like releasing a feral raccoon into the press box. Anything could happen. No one knows what it will do next, it’s not technically baseball related, but fascinating to watch because it is a feral raccoon in a press box—it’s frankly never happened before and who knows, maybe the feral raccoon will start calling home runs? We must watch to find out. (Yes, this is an adapted John Mulaney bit but it applies to Bill Walton with a microphone.)

Michael Schur, meanwhile, dodged Good Place spoilers, unleashed a bone dry, observational wit, and provided surprising depth in his commentary on the strategy of baseball (even prompting Jason Benetti to gush on the Effectively Wild podcast that with a week of practice he could be a great broadcaster). Writer, actor, comedian Mike O’Brien, a White Sox fan, provided plenty of solid White Sox tidbits but also tried to burn the internet to the ground by dissing Betty White and Lady Gaga in one breath.

He also made fun of baseball and how silly it can be to take seriously when the game is out of hand, asking Benetti repeatedly whether or not the next pitch of a seventh inning at bat during a 2-9 game was a “big pitch.”

“Is this one a ‘big pitch,’ Jason?”

Some loved it. Some hated it. Yet almost everyone reacted to it. It made me, noted non-White Sox/Angels fan, watch a White Sox/Angels game when nothing ever before has compelled me to do so. It was entertaining. That is all I ask from a baseball game.

The Mariners, meanwhile, trotted Harold Reynolds into the booth of a game in Texas to provide color commentary so spectacularly dull I was required, for the sake of my health, to mute my television run into a field and tunnel beneath the earth to live with moles.

I submit, humbly, that the Mariners should follow the example set by the White Sox media team and bring comedians and writers and new blood into the booth—not for an inning to promote their shows, but for an entire game to talk about baseball to see what happens. Release the feral raccoons!

Now, the point is not to trot in whatever random celebrities happen to be handy—there was a method to the Benetti madness that made it function.

  1. They have to enjoy sports. This sounds simple, but Bill Walton had never seen a baseball game in his life and it still worked because he watches sports with the enthusiasm that I watch Bill Walton watch sports.
  2. Funny. The benefit of a comedian in the press box should not be understated. The entire job of a comedian is to take something most people find dull or uninteresting (say, a game between the Texas Rangers and Seattle Mariners) and by their close attention to detail and timing make it funny and absurd. When Mike Schur casually dropped that “Kole Calhoun looks the most like his name,” I laughed because of the intensity of its truthiness and the timing with which it was delivered. Observational comedy is a perfect fit for an uninteresting baseball game.
  3. Regional ties. They do not need to be fans, like O’Brien is of the White Sox, because their understanding of the team doesn’t add much to the experience of them observing the game and commenting upon it. It would be a nice touch, though, if they were from the region so there was a sense of connection to the team.
  4. Chemistry with play-by-play. This is tough as you don’t know who is going to pop with a mic in front of them, and who will be overwhelmed. Jason Benetti is also brilliant at what he does. You have to find an announcer able to handle a Bill Walton and keep the game moving forward, but you don’t want the game to be an interview. You want it to be a game with a fresh, new perspective. You need two people who are not shy and who can work well with one another.

Based on this criteria I have produced some suggestions that I have split into categories. Please feel free to suggest your own, or dismantle the reasoning behind mine.

The Local Comedians

  • Rainn Wilson (Actor/Writer, The Office). Best known for his role as Dwight in the office, Rainn Wilson meets the above criteria because he 1: is a Seahawk fan; 2. Is funny (have you seen this show? The Office?); 3. is from Seattle and attended the University of Washington (go dawgs); 4. has already been interviewed about sports and football and would likely be able to keep a game entertaining no matter who he was paired with.
Celebrities Attend Charity Softball Game To Benefit California Strong
Mose throws him a beet and he absolutely demolishes it
Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for California Strong
  • Ryan Stiles (Improv Comedian, Whose Line is it Anyway). The native Seattlite has been trained in the art of improv which, for the most part, is just color commentary with less statistics. It’s reacting to a new situation in a way that is funny while building on the contributions of others. Improv is a team sport, he would fit perfectly into a baseball game.

I don’t know if he’s a sports fan but he tweeted this:

We can only assume he’s talking about a Mariners game.

  • Joel McHale (Actor, Community, The Soup). Famous for his role as Jeff Winger on Community it his his training reacting to daily news on The Soup that may serve him best as a commentator. A sardonic, disinterested delivery recounting silly happenings in the game would help the audience, me, feel like I am not alone in thinking watching this game is a strange use of time. As a bonus, he knows sports, as he walked on as a Tight End at the University of Washington and is regularly interviewed about the Seahawks.

Honorable Mentions: Anna Feris, Chris Pratt, Nick Thune.

Musicians of Note

  • Ben Gibbard (Musician, Death Cab for Cutie). Ben Gibbard writes odd, sad songs. The Mariners are an odd, sad team. If you want to know where Ben Gibbard stands as a fan I’ll let him explain:

These are people who fucking live in Kirkland, and they decided to be Red Sox fans. Fuck them. Fuck that shit. You root for the fucking team you were born with, and if they’re shitty or not, you don’t get to change teams.

Yes, Ben Gibbard. Yes.

He’s already thrown out first pitches and played the national anthem—he’s a fan. Is he funny? I don’t know. But he causally drops BABiP in conversation while discussing Daniel Vogelbach. Sit him in the booth for an entire game and see if he’ll rant some more about Red Sox fans.

  • Carrie Brownstein (Actor/Comedian/Musician, “Portlandia,” Sleater-Kinney). She could easily be with the local comedians, but in honor of Sleater-Kinney’s newest album, she falls under musicians. “Portlandia” perfectly captures Northwest tics and passive aggression with a keen eye for our cringe-worthy politeness. Her ability to find the absurdity and humor would serve her well in the broadcast booth. Does she like sports? She threw out a first pitch for the Mariners once and smiled at Charlie Furbush the way Charlie Furbush deserves.
Oakland Athletics v Seattle Mariners
Carrie Brownstein voluntarily attended a Mariners game in 2015
Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

That’s enough for me.

  • Kenny G. (Musician). OK, hear me out:
  • Sir Mix-a-Lot (Musician, Radio DJ). The man was knighted. Can you imagine? Sir Mix-a-Lot and Aaron Goldsmith? Please, imagine it. I would listen to that game. I have no idea what would happen, but if that’s not Bill Walton level of unpredictability I don’t know what is.
  • Macklemore (Musician). Personally? No. But the people may want it. Who am I to stand in the way of The People.

Sports People

  • Mina Kimes (Sports Journalist) It’s Mina Kimes! Football fans rejoice! I am not very familiar with her work because there is very little baseball involved, but she grew up a Seattle sports fan, regularly interacts with all things Seahawks, and consistently brings enthusiasm, humor, and insight to her coverage. I would tune in.
  • Mike Curto (Broadcaster, Tacoma Rainiers) Mike has been the Tacoma Rainiers broadcaster for many years and is unfailingly excellent. He’s funny, insightful, and a total pro. While not out of the box, per se, the man deserves a call up.
  • Keaton Gillogly (Broadcaster, Modesto Nuts) He’s been praised plenty on this here website and contributed to several Modesto Nuts stories. Keaton calls games with a dry wit, unending professionalism, and an enthusiasm for the game and the stories it tells. Not a wild ploy, but refreshing and well-deserved.

Sure?

  • Bill Nye (Science Personality, Bill Nye the Science Guy) Why not? This would be an incredibly interesting broadcast. I would love for Bill Nye to talk about the physics of baseball for three hours. Just ramble on about it, I don’t care. It’s Bill Nye, his entire career is making science digestible and interesting for people not in the science community. I would love to hear him react to the happnings of a game. And he’s local, as you know, and was my childhood hero.
  • Adam West (Actor, Batman the TV Series) Sure. WHOOPS!
  • J. A. Jance (Mystery/Crime Novelist) I know only that Jance is a crime writer from Seattle and that my mom enjoys her work. I think, in general, a novelist or poet in the booth would be an incredibly interesting experience. Their minds are tuned to pick up details and stories others miss. Mostly, though, it would convince my mom to watch a Mariners game.

I’ll leave it there, with plenty of more names to list.

Broadcasting is an old art that may be headed into new, uncertain futures. I can imagine a time when the broadcast is split into separate streams so that you can select whomever you choose to call the game. I can imagine a future when that is deemed a silly idea. Maybe adding people who are trained in the art of noticing, in the art of storytelling, and making the mundane humorous will keep me from treating the team like my junk folder—checking it, bored at work, to ensure nothing important is missed, and then closing it to move on to more important work (minor leagues). I think, though, the time is ripe to try something new.

Make me care. Make me laugh. Release a feral raccoon in to the press box. Please.