It’s so familiar.
It’s so familiar.
“Strasburg has been putting on impressive BP of late,” the man to my left is saying.
Of late? Who says that? And yet, like the voice, the phrasing is ringing the strongest bell. The speaker is tall, 40-ish, ectomorphically skinny with one of those faces that will always remain boyish. The voice doesn’t go with the look at all. It has a deep, echoing bass bottom that suggests heft, combined with an upright brassiness.
“He’s ... putting ... on ... a ... show!” the man on my right responds, each word with perfect cadence. Another great voice. If this voice were a wine, it would be said to have a “long finish.” It stays with you, even after it stops. But like the man to my left, the man to my right doesn’t appear to fit his voice. He’s diminutive, 5-7 and change, with an oval, apple-cheeked face.
The three of us are standing on that precious patch of real estate between the dugout and the first base line in Nationals Park watching phenom second-year pitcher Stephen Strasburg take batting practice — BP. Pitchers, of course, are famous for being easy outs. But every other pitch, Strasburg is sending the ball soaring into the bleachers.
Crack. “Got that one,” says Dave Jageler, the tall, skinny one. Crack. “Got all of that. I told you, he’s letting it rip now.”
“This ... guy ... can ... hit!” Charlie Slowes says. “He’s going to hit one out in a game before too long. It’s ... going ... to ... happen.”
I’m wrapped in a fantasy inside a fantasy. These voices, this patter have been flowing through the airwaves directly into my brain for six summers, amusing and entertaining, sometimes thrilling, all too often crushing me for more hours than I care to admit.
Hanging around the Nationals Park batting cage on a gorgeous afternoon is, as Slowes tells me, “my favorite part of the job, the part that reminds me that I’m at a ballpark for a living.”
This is precisely what they sound like when they are doing play-by-play for the Nationals on CBS Radio’s 106.7 The Fan. Every word is broadcast, bearing that comfortable mixture of wry humor and baseball
knowledge that seems as if it must take hours of preparation, rehearsal, maybe even scripting, to achieve.
But, no. Turns out, it’s just who they are.
The radio booth at Nationals Park is a big, cave-like room with towering ceilings and wraparound top-to-bottom windows that present an eagle’s-eye view of the field’s iconic emerald and rust geometry. Perched at 114 feet almost directly above home plate, calling a ball “up, out of the strike zone,” or “low and away” is laughable. And sometimes it’s hard to tell, at the crack of a bat, the difference between a home run and a popup from this satellite perspective. But Slowes and Jageler, who have been broadcasting games from up here since the ballpark opened March 30, 2008, refuse to complain. How could they? It’s palatial compared with the cramped, bare-bones broadcast booths that accommodate radio announcers in the minor league stadiums, where both men served apprenticeships. Their good fortune is never far from their minds.