As soon as you get past New Year’s, Charlie Slowes says of spring training, you know it’s coming. Slowes will begin his 14th season as one half of the Washington Nationals’ radio broadcast team in Florida next month, and this year, in addition to familiarizing himself with Grapefruit League rosters and nonroster invitees, his preparation over the next few weeks will include studying hockey line combinations.
John Walton, the Washington Capitals’ radio voice for the past seven seasons, is headed to PyeongChang to do television play-by-play of the women’s hockey Olympic tournament for NBC. He said in October that Washington Wizards radio announcer Dave Johnson and Hershey Bears announcer Zack Fisch will fill in on home broadcasts while he is away, beginning with Washington’s game against Vegas on Feb. 4, and Grady Whittenburg, who has called college and AHL games for nearly 30 years, will handle play-by-play duties for road games during his absence. Last week, Walton announced that Slowes will call the Capitals-Panthers game in Sunrise, Fla., on Feb. 22, one day before the Nationals’ spring training opener in West Palm Beach against the Astros.
“It’ll be a little different,” Slowes said. “It’s been a while.”
Thirty-two years, to be exact.
From 1984 to 1986, Slowes was an occasional intermission host and color analyst for St. Louis Blues games on KMOX, where he learned from the late, great Blues radio voice Dan Kelly. Slowes, who also did play-by-play for a few Blues games, said the pace of calling hockey helped make calling St. Louis University basketball, one of his more regular roles at KMOX, seem easy. In June 1986, WWDC 1260 President and General Manager Goff Lebhar announced that Slowes had been selected from among 105 applicants to replace Frank Daly as the play-by-play voice of the Washington Bullets. Only 25 at the time, Slowes held the position for 11 seasons before serving as the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays’ radio voice from 1998 to 2004 and then joining the Nationals’ broadcast team when baseball returned to Washington in 2005.
A hockey fan, Slowes said he first expressed interest in helping fill in for Walton during a recent conversation with his friend and Capitals Radio Network host Ben Raby, who previously served as the studio producer for Nationals games. The Capitals and Nationals share a flagship radio station in 106.7 the Fan.
“I watch a lot of hockey in the offseason. When I’m in D.C. I go to games and when I’m in Tampa I go to games,” said Slowes, who spends winters at his home in the Tampa suburb of Palm Harbor, Fla. “It’s not the same as doing it, but in my head, it’s kind of like calling the game.”
During his early years with the Bullets, Slowes went to Capitals games whenever he had the chance. On April 18, 1987, the Bullets were off and Slowes was filling in on a national sportscast for Mutual Broadcasting out of a studio in Crystal City. When he finished around 9:30 p.m., Slowes drove to the Capital Centre for Game 7 of the Patrick Division semifinals between the Capitals and New York Islanders.
“I think the game at that point was like still in the second period,” Slowes said. “I decided to just go by on the way home. They let me in, I hung out, who knows it’s going how-many overtimes.”
Before the start of the fourth overtime of what became known as the Easter Epic, Capitals play-by-play man Ron Weber made a contingency plan with Slowes if the game went to a fifth extra session.
“Ron still talks about that,” Slowes said with a laugh. “He said, ‘Hey, if we play one more period, I need to go to the bathroom, so I’m going to need you to come on here between periods.’ That was it.”
Pat LaFontaine ensured that wouldn’t be necessary, delaying Slowes’s Capitals broadcasting debut by three decades. Slowes, who will share the booth in Sunrise with regular Capitals analyst Ken Sabourin and planned to get advice from Walton before he left for South Korea, does have some recent hockey experience on his résumé. Over the past four years, he estimates he has worked 10 games as a backup public address announcer for Tampa Bay Lightning games.
“Will I be nervous about it? Yeah, it’ll probably be more adrenaline than anything else,” Slowes said of his upcoming Capitals cameo. “You want to do a good job. You want to sound good. It will probably take a little bit to get a rhythm and a flow.”
Hockey should come a little more naturally than play-by-play of flying squirrels, which Slowes and his Nationals radio partner, Dave Jageler, voiced for a Nat Geo Wild show a few offseasons ago.
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