The Check-In: L.A. play-by-play broadcasters silenced during coronavirus outbreak
On the day sports stopped, Joe Davis was out of bed by 6 a.m.
The television play-by-play voice of the Dodgers was finishing one of his last non-baseball assignments of the spring, preparing to call Pac-12 men’s basketball tournament games in Las Vegas for Fox Sports.
He didn’t have to be there. A day earlier, with the coronavirus outbreak growing, Fox executives told Davis he could call games from a studio in Los Angeles. He could have made that decision, especially when the NBA suspended its season while he and colleagues were finishing dinner at a casino steakhouse.
But just like the players he covers, Davis didn’t want to believe it would be so, that the center of his professional universe would disappear, that the entire sports calendar — including college basketball games and an eagerly anticipated 2020 Dodgers campaign — would be delayed for the foreseeable future.
“There was no thinking, ‘We’re not playing this tournament,’ ” Davis said of his thoughts when he went to bed March 11.
But by mid-morning the next day, he said, “You started seeing everything trickling out about the other conference tournaments shutting things down. One became two, and as we all saw, it snowballed so quickly to the point that we’re going home.”
Jaime Jarrin, 84, was set to begin his 62nd season as the Dodgers’ Spanish-language broadcaster. Instead, he is home gorging on SportsNet LA content.
Home is where Davis has stayed since, stuck in self-isolation along with the rest of Los Angeles’ sports broadcasting community.
Normally, their familiar voices fill living rooms across the Southland. Now, their relative silence is symbolic of the wide-scale stoppage shrouding the sports world and beyond.
“Especially for the baseball guys, we were leaning into the grind. The everyday grind,” Davis said. “But in a lot of ways, the structure of that grind kind of defines our lives, those of us that are in baseball. So that missing link leaves a huge void. I don’t think you can probably fully appreciate it until it’s taken away.”
Like planets orbiting the sun, the lives of play-by-play broadcasters revolve around the regimented sports calendar.
“In some ways, it’s as jarring as having your season end in a playoff round where you just don’t expect it to end and then it does. And then you’re looking around like, ‘OK, what next?’ You’re in a daze for a little bit.”
— Kings play-by-play announcer Alex Faust
In addition to their daily duties with their primary teams, most have side gigs — Davis and Kings play-by-play voice Alex Faust call college games for Fox Sports, while Faust also works events for the Tennis Channel — that occupy their offseasons. Usually, they rotate from one sports season to the next, a rhythm repeated year after year, seemingly without end.
“There are so many earmarked dates throughout a baseball calendar that you celebrate, that divide where you are at in your year,” Davis said. “Losing that structure is going to be a really odd sensation.”
Until the last minute, Davis’ routine had been uninterrupted. Before heading to Las Vegas, he was in the final stages of his preparation for the Dodgers’ season, updating dozens of digital pages of notes for teams around the league. Hours before the Pac-12 tournament was canceled, he did last-minute research on Washington State and went to T-Mobile Arena to speak with players and coaches from Arizona State.
But by the end of that day, he was headed back to Southern California, he said, “asking all the questions we’re still asking long-term, about what it means for all these sports within the 2020 calendar.”
Faust was on the microphone for the final broadcast of a major pro sporting event. On March 11, hours after the NBA season was suspended in the wake of Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert’s positive coronavirus test, the Kings finished a 3-2 win over the Ottawa Senators at Staples Center in the final NHL game to end that night. The next day, the NHL, Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer halted play as well.
“It’s jarring,” Faust said. “In some ways, it’s as jarring as having your season end in a playoff round where you just don’t expect it to end and then it does. And then you’re looking around like, ‘OK, what next?’ You’re in a daze for a little bit.”
Clippers play-by-play voice Brian Sieman was gearing up for his team’s playoff push when the NBA season was put on pause. A Sunday matinee against the Lakers on March 8 had a postseason atmosphere. But then, Sieman and other nonessential team personnel were kept off the Clippers’ charter flight to San Francisco for a game against the Golden State Warriors on March 10, foreshadowing the full-scale shutdown.
“If this was just the NBA, I’d really be itching to get back,” Sieman said. “Like, I lived through the lockout back in 2011 and that was hard because other sports were playing, other things were going on. But this is so catastrophic. The whole world is affected by this. So it hasn’t bothered me in that way.
“I still miss the games. I still watch the games that are being replayed right now on Fox and pretend I don’t remember the outcome, pretend I don’t know what happens next. But I’ve been, I think, surprisingly good with not being able to go to work because this is everybody’s situation.”
But even in the sports broadcasting realm, not all situations are equal. Francisco X. Rivera is one of the best-known Spanish-language broadcasters in Southern California, working everything from Kings and LAFC games to boxing and MMA matches around Latin America. Most of that work is done on a freelance basis. And as those events have gone away, so has a significant chunk of his income.
“What happens to the huge percentage that I’m missing because of the other stuff being stopped?” said Rivera, who has been able to continue in his role as a sports anchor for Noticias 62 in Los Angeles. “I already had my blinders on, set for the rest of the year. Now it’s going to be waiting and seeing how everything fits into the eight months we have for the rest of the year.”
Rivera’s play-by-play peers are playing their own versions of the waiting game.
Joe Buck, Fox’s lead MLB and NFL broadcaster, put voice to videos submitted by fans attempting athletes tricks around their home, from trampoline basketball shots to flips off exercise balls. Soccer broadcaster Ian Drake and hockey broadcaster Mike Emrick teamed up to do the same for more mundane tasks, including one example of a fan replacing a windshield wiper.
Locally, Davis has taken to the grill — the barbecue buff has recipes for smoked brisket, full pork shoulders and much more — and started a podcast with Dodgers analyst Orel Hershiser.
Faust has featured prominently in the Kings’ video-game streams, even doing a couple full calls alongside broadcast partner Jim Fox.
Sieman has shown classic games from Michael Jordan and Larry Bird to his 11- and 9-year-old sons, indulging in his personal nostalgia along the way.
“I’m trying to spin it positively,” said Davis, who is married and has two children. “Yeah, this [is] the longest stretch I’ll ever go probably without doing a game. But at the same time, it’s an incredible opportunity to get bonus family time I won’t have any other time.”
Still, for broadcasters who usually convey composure and confidence, this uncertainty has them crafting another message altogether.
“Going from the day-to-day schedule to absolutely nothing,” Davis said, “we’re going to have to go through it to fully appreciate how different it’s going to feel.”
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