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Not on the call: Announcers deal with coronavirus

Rob Espero speaks at the AVPFirst "Serving Up Syle" charity event in Huntington Beach in November.
(Courtesy of Ed Chan)

One would be hard-pressed to find another who loves the sport of volleyball more than Rob Espero.

The Costa Mesa resident was doing live interviews for VolleyballMag.com at a tri-dual beach volleyball event at Merle Norman Stadium at USC on March 11 when he overheard a fan mention that the Utah Jazz at Oklahoma City Thunder basketball game had been canceled.

As it turned out, the coronavirus was one of the few things that could pull Espero away from the volleyball court.

“I literally lost 90% of my work within a period of 72 hours, it felt like,” said Espero, who announces for high school, college and professional matches.

The CIF State and Southern Section championships, the Volleyball Nations League and AVP events in the area are just a few of the gigs that Espero had lined up.

Thanks to a timely promotion for his wife, Tracey, who works for Boeing, the family has been able to hold it together financially.

Espero, 50, stays home with the kids, a 9-year-old daughter and a 5-year-old son. Working volleyball matches provided a flexible schedule that was generally in the evenings.

“Now that everyone is sheltered in, we don’t have the [baby]sitter,” Espero said. “We don’t have the coverage, so the challenge has been trying to keep him distracted while maintaining the studies for my daughter, keeping her on her required hours for the day of schooling, as well as completing projects, while I have this super active, physical, vibrant, energetic boy.

“He wants to wrestle, so honestly, it’s been the biggest challenge because I’m exhausted by the end of the day.”

Espero has devoted his free time to the Viral Volley Podcast. He has been bringing athletes on the show and interviewing them to spotlight the sport. Costa Mesa’s Sara Hughes, who partnered with Kelly Claes for back-to-back NCAA championships in beach volleyball (2016 and 2017) while at USC, was recently a guest.

“I’m more concerned for athletes who make this their living,” Espero said. “Time is the commodity that they can’t get back, and they’ve lost a year of their competition, be it high school, club, juniors, collegiate or professional. My heart breaks for them because I see how they train. I see the commitment and dedication they have to be the best.”

After retiring from coaching track and field, which included stints at Golden West College (2003-15) and Mt. San Antonio College (1999-2004), Don Turnbull knew he had to stick around the sport.

Turnbull, 50, of Anaheim said that announcing accounts for about a third of his annual income. He is also a commission-based salesman for VS Athletics, which sells track and field equipment, so the sports shutdown has been a big hit.

The Mt. SAC Relays, the Ben Brown Invitational at Cal State Fullerton, meets at UC Irvine and the CIF State track and field championships are among the events Turnbull was slated to work.

Turnbull said that announcing could fill his schedule in a hurry with the copious notetaking.

“You have to do introductions for every race,” Turnbull said. “You have to know things about at least one or two people in every race, if not everyone in the race, … their [personal records] or what their accomplishments were.”

Having been behind the microphone on and off for close to 30 years and solidly for the last decade, Turnbull has quite a few connections in the sport, including his past athletes. The loss of the season has been tough.

“I’m missing being out there,” said Turnbull, who added that he last coached in 2016 working with the national teams of Saudi Arabia and New Zealand. “The biggest thing is I miss seeing all the people I know on a daily basis.”

Aaron Rosenberg, 35, of Glendale has been a play-by-play announcer for CASportsZone since the 2014 football season.

He began calling games for the Huntington Beach baseball team midway through the 2018 season.

Rosenberg said he deals in taxes and bookkeeping as his primary job. Love of baseball was so great for the former LA Valley College pitcher that he was willing to pick up more work in his busiest time of the year.

“I’m still busy,” Rosenberg said. “It was actually pretty stressful, trying to juggle all these things before this happened. I love baseball, so I was happy to do it.”

Rosenberg thought about the canceled Boras Classic tournament as a lost opportunity for unsigned seniors to showcase their talents to coaches and scouts.

Asked what stood out to him from the abbreviated season, Rosenberg raved about Jake Vogel, the Oilers’ center fielder who is committed to UCLA.

“He was incredible to watch,” Rosenberg said. “He could do everything on the field. He had incredible range in the outfield, had a cannon for an arm. He could hit for average. He could hit for power. He’s a great baserunner.

“Actually, the last game that we did was a road game at Laguna Beach, and he hit for the cycle that day.”

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