Baseball on the radio – an American love affair
Colleen Brenton’s road to working as a reporter on the Green Bay Packers for Wisconsin radio station WTMJ is a fascinating one.
As she told Elephant Sport, it was listening to the Milwaukee Brewers baseball team on the radio as a kid that changed her career path and life.
The baseball regular season is 162 games long, a baseball game lasts about three and a half hours, so keeping up with a team is difficult for most avid fans. If you’re a fanatic of Major League Baseball, you’ll spend a considerable amount of hours watching baseball each year.
“Bob Uecker changed my life, really”
To put that into perspective, if you watched every game of your team in full during a season, you’d be sitting down to watch for 567 hours, or 23 and a half days.
The very essence of the baseball’s lengthy format therefore leads fans to explore all the different methods of following games, whether it be partial season tickets, short highlights, condensed game highlights, or even just reading boxscores in newspapers.
But for Colleen Brenton, growing up over a thousand miles from her nearest team, she only had one choice when she was growing up in the 80s: radio.
An essential medium
Baseball is a very conversational sport. With notable gaps between innings and pitches, it gives commentators a chance to breathe, and share personal anecdotes. The best commentators often make the game seem like it’s being played around their spoken cues, and engage their listeners in their musings from their lives in the sport.
The continuing importance of radio coverage of baseball, has made many broadcasters famous down the years.
During the summertime, they’re heard in millions of American homes, in cars and while out and about over portable devices. Most people are too busy to invest multiple hours five days a week to watching the sport.
The best commentators – like Vin Scully, who has been calling Los Angeles Dodgers games for 66 years – feel like family to the fanbases they talk to, and employ a masterful sense of timing and pace.
“I swear,” exclaimed Fox Sports Radio’s Colin Cowherd last September on his radio show The Herd. “It’s like Dodgers players wait for Vin Scully to finish telling stories before hitting balls or throwing pitches sometimes, it’s unbelievable. All his stories end perfectly with a catch.
“He’ll tell a nine minute-long story and then say: ‘and man landed on the moon… Oh, this ball looks like it’s headed to the moon, and it’s gone! 3-2 Dodgers, home run!’ That’s the power of his announcing.”
For Colleen Brenton, who grew up in Idaho, it wasn’t Scully who provided her window into the baseball but another US baseball broadcasting legend: Bob Uecker of the Milwaukee Brewers.
The first pitch
“Bob Uecker changed my life, really,” Brenton told Elephant Sport. “My parents were never interested in sports when I was growing up, so I pretty much had to fend for myself.
“The Boise State Broncos – who play college football to a decent standard – are the only relevant sports team in the whole state, so finding a team to follow was hard because there wasn’t a local pro team for me to latch onto. I had to look outside my state. That’s when I found the Brewers.”
“It’s like Dodgers players wait for Vin Scully to finish telling stories before hitting balls or throwing pitches sometimes, it’s unbelievable”
Milwaukee just happened to be the closest team to Brenton, as well as the smallest market in the Major Leagues. It suited her to be supporting ‘small town’ team after living in a state which is ranked 39th out of 50 in terms of population.
“They’re the underdogs. They don’t have the money to compete with the big teams, or the location. But that’s what makes the fanbase what it is, and it’s special,” she continued.
During mid 1960s, Milwaukee had it’s first taste of Major League Baseball, when the ‘Braves’ played at County Stadium. Financial issues forced the team to switch to Seattle as the ‘Pilots’ but they lasted just a single season before going bankrupt again and moving back to Wisconsin, becoming the Brewers.
That season away from the Mid-West came as a wake up call for much of the fanbase, who have remained some of the most loyal fans in the sport since.
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“I remember what happened, I was tuning the dial on the radio – I was 14-years-old and it cut to a Brewers-Cardinals game. Now the Brewers rivalry with the Cards is pretty heated, and it hooked me immediately.
“I’d never seen a baseball game before, I knew nothing about the team, or the sport but the enthusiasm of Uecker was infectious. I continued listening for the rest of the season and beyond.
“I went to see the Brewers without having ever seen anything other than pictures of them in papers”
“I find that baseball in many ways is better on the radio than it is on TV and even live because of the way colour commentators describe the game. I found that as I grew up Uecker was always there for me, almost every day, during the summer, through thick and thin, he was on the radio in my room.
“Maybe that’s because how I grew up following it? Back then it wasn’t even on TV in Idaho outside of the World Series.
“I then became desperate to see the game properly, after just hearing it for so long, so when I learnt to drive at 16 I drove to all the way to Milwaukee to see the team for the first time.”
Going to your first baseball game live is a real milestone for many Americans, and it was no different for Brenton, when she saw the Brewers at County Stadium playing the Chicago Cubs for the first time.
“After falling in love with the Green Bay Packers as well, I moved across the country to fulfil my dream”
“Can you imagine being a fan of a team for years, and never seeing them with your eyes? I went to see the Brewers without having ever seen anything other than pictures of them in papers. I had only ever seen the World Series on TV.
“I remember Greg Counsel hitting a home run to give the Brewers the lead, jumping up and down and screaming in the aisles.
“When I left County Stadium, I had seen baseball – and sport – in a different light. It was that day that I decided it was such a big part of my life, that not only did I want to work in the sport, writing about it, but move to Wisconsin to be closer to it.
“And in 2012, after falling in love with the Green Bay Packers as well, I moved across the country to fulfil my dream.”
When she arrived in Wisconsin, finding a job covering the Brewers was harder than she thought.
Writing about baseball is by no means an easy job, as so many people want to do it. So instead, she took a different approach, taking an internship at WTMJ – a local radio station – which eventually allowed her to cover the Packers during the season for a full-time wage after years of writing for free.
“It’s my dream job, writing about sports. It’s even more of a dream because I worked so hard to get there. I’d always loved writing as a kid, and I didn’t know back then that writing about sports would be how I’d earn a living. I love it!
“I may not be writing about the Brewers, but it’s because of them that I’m writing about sport. Without Bob Uecker’s radio calls, I doubt I’d be living in Green Bay, Wisconsin right now, writing about American football for a living.
“And I certainly wouldn’t have a Brewers season ticket…”