Longtime Nationals radio broadcaster Dave Jageler picked up his phone last Tuesday after celebrating his daughter’s birthday and was surprised to see several Twitter notifications.
“I thought, what the heck? What has happened?” said Jageler, who doesn’t tweet much during the offseason.
Had Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo pulled off a stunning trade? Was Tyler Clippard returning to Washington? Did Bryce Harper mention a ring again? No, no and, mercifully, no. “Super Squirrel” was airing on Nat Geo Wild.
After the Nationals’ 2014 season ended with a loss to the Giants in the National League Division Series, Jageler’s radio partner, Charlie Slowes, received a call from a producer who was interested in Jageler and Slowes doing voiceover work for a documentary about squirrels. The producer explained that the job would involve doing some squirrel play-by-play.
“Gotta pay for college tuition somehow,” Slowes recalled thinking before running the idea by Jageler.
“My TV viewing is kind of limited to MLB Network and ESPN and whatever my kids might be watching, so I had no idea what this was about,” Jageler said. “But if there was money involved, I was willing to listen.”
There was money involved – a one-time sitdown fee. Slowes and Jageler each received scripts and video for two short segments of the one-hour show. In the first segment, a squirrel navigates an obstacle course. In the second, a flying squirrel jumps from a platform above a football field. Slowes and Jageler recorded their parts separately and Nat Geo Wild spliced the audio, making it sound as if they were calling the action alongside each other in the broadcast booth.
“It was kind of uncharted territory,” Slowes said.
(Providing play-by-play of a flying squirrel is uncharted territory for virtually everyone, with Jay Burnham, broadcaster for the San Francisco Giants Class AA affiliate Richmond Flying Squirrels, a notable exception.)
Here’s the transcript of Slowes and Jageler describing the squirrel’s leap, which starts around the 1:25 mark of the video here:
Slowes: “It’s a tough starting point coming out of the back line from high atop the back of the end zone.”
Jageler: “This is an absolutely perfect day to take a flying leap. It’s a big-time challenge before him. A lot of defenders, very limited options, but you know he’s got a game plan.”
Slowes: “And there he goes, let it fly!”
Jageler: “Look at that style, a picture-perfect glide, hanging through the air.”
Slowes: “But wait a minute, he’s hooking a right turn. Nobody expected this. He sticks the landing, goes under the fence and under the bleachers!”
Jageler: “We won’t be seeing him back on the field anytime soon.”
“Super Squirrel” premiered last year to little fanfare. When the show re-aired last week as part of Nat Geo Wild’s Groundhog Day programming, Nationals infielder Danny Espinosa and his wife, Sara, were among the people watching. Sara tweeted at Slowes and Jageler, asking if they had provided the play-by-play. Slowes confirmed that they had and, unaware that “Super Squirrel” would air more than once, lamented the fact that he hadn’t negotiated residuals with the squirrels for the work.
“I hope it’s not the highlight of my career, but there’s no question it was fun to do and I think it shows our versatility,” said Jageler, who now has the show saved on his DVR. “We don’t want to be pigeon-holed as baseball guys. Charlie and I, we can do anything.”
Slowes joked that “Super Squirrel” could help tide Nationals fans over until he and Jageler broadcast their first spring training game of the season next month.
“Fans can listen to that squirrel play-by-play over and over until March 11,” Slowes said.
“Super Squirrel” will air again on Tuesday at noon ET. Set your DVR.