The last time Charlie Slowes lived around here, in the mid-'90s, he commuted from Ellicott City to Landover, no muss, no fuss. Now he's coming back on short notice, scrambling to find a home in the few days before he's due at the office, and everybody has advice.
He's working in Northeast Washington this time, so Charlie's got folks telling him to live in Bowie, Annapolis, Alexandria, downtown Washington, upper Northwest, Bethesda. The big issues: good schools for his young kids and how smoothly he can make it to the ballpark.
Slowes is the new radio voice of the Washington Nationals, fresh in from Florida, where he held that job for all seven years since the creation of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Slowes's voice will ring a bell here; for 11 years till 1997, he handled radio play-by-play for the Washington Wizards.
Now, with Dave Shea, the voice of the Boston Bruins hockey team on and off since 1985, Slowes will translate the action on the field into the art of baseball on the radio.
The two had never worked together before, but in their first games in spring training, they managed not to step on each other's patter. And they got along, which is more than either can say about some of their partners in the booth.
Slowes, 44, is the studious type; his desk at Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Fla., is piled high with rosters, statistics -- the raw ingredients of an insightful aside about the player who makes the winning hit or the spectacular catch. "I'll give you numbers but try to give meaning to them and try to entertain you," he says.
Shea, 54, speaks more from the gut, describing the action rather than feeding hard-core fans' hunger for detail. He's got more Boston in his speech than Slowes has New York, but their tempos -- Bronx quick and New England deliberate -- blend nicely.
They seem likely to have some fun: During a spring game, when a minor-leaguer named Short appeared at second base for the Houston Astros, Slowes and Shea riffed on the old Abbott and Costello routine ("Nice play by Short at second." "Wait a minute!")
Growing up in the Bronx and suburban Yonkers, Slowes absorbed the clipped intensity of sportscasters Marty Glickman and Marv Albert. From earliest childhood, Slowes trained his tight, slightly nasal voice to follow the staccato cadences made famous by Albert, who handled the New York Knicks and Rangers play-by-play.
"I never wanted to work for a living," Slowes says. So he practiced at his college radio station and landed a job delivering scores for Sportsphone, the 1970s start-up that served the popular appetite for instant sports news in the pre-cable, pre-Internet era. Slowes was producing sportscasts in St. Louis in 1985 when he got a chance to substitute for Bill White on a CBS Radio baseball game of the week. That launched his play-by-play career and led to his job with the Washington Bullets. (You can hear Slowes's calls at www.raysonradio.com/soundsoftherays.html.)
Slowes has come to believe that the Nationals will surprise fans. "This is a better team than any I saw in my seven years in Tampa," he says.
Once the season starts, Slowes and Shea will be lucky to get two days off each month. They live on the road, traveling in the wee hours, eating on the run. Yet they do not see this as work. Shea knows the alternative: This year, with the National Hockey League season canceled by a labor dispute, Shea has fed the family by selling Volkswagens at a Boston dealership.
Slowes and Shea have been hired for one season; the Nationals' new owner, likely to be selected in midsummer, will want to pick his own broadcasters. For now, the duo is back in the game, and Slowes is back in a place he knows -- or at least knew.
The increased congestion comes as something of a shock. Until he's able to move his family -- his wife and two sons, one born in the District and the other in Baltimore -- north, Slowes is renting in Alexandria. "It's supposed to be 20 minutes from the stadium," he says. Not that he'll be home much. He'll rent some furniture, get the phone and cable installed, and hit the road.
"Baseball is a sport where if you're a fan, it becomes part of your summer; it's with you every day." There are games to be played and summer nights to fill with the sounds of a fastball smacking against a catcher's mitt, a vendor calling out his wares and a radio man's home run call -- a wake-up service for drivers heading home on automatic pilot.