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Play Ball!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

By: Brad Herzog, Cornell Alumni Magazine

High above home plate, in the visitors' radio booth at San Diego's Petco Park, Colorado Rockies announcer Jack Corrigan '74 is surrounded by the tools of his trade: binoculars, a laptop for electronic scorekeeping, a tiny television monitor, Padres and Rockies media guides and stat sheets, and a booklet of sponsor ads to be woven into the evening's narrative. Corrigan's announcing partner of six seasons, Jeff Kingery, sits to his right. The engineer/producer mans a soundboard atop a platform behind them.

It's all one needs to do the announcer's job--that, and an endless supply of baseball stories. There was that time in Detroit when a foul ball knocked Corrigan's sound engineer unconscious. And that run at the end of the 2007 season, when Colorado won twenty-one of twenty-two games to reach the World Series -- "the most unbelievable time I've been through in sports," says Corrigan, who wears a National League championship ring on his right hand and a worn Cornell cap on his head.

At the moment, doing a pre-game interview with a Denver radio station, Corrigan is telling a tale about Mickey Mantle shuffling up to the plate with a hangover and hitting a pinch-hit home run against Corrigan's beloved Cleveland Indians in the early Sixties. Back then, Cleveland's futility represented an opportunity for young Jack Corrigan. He and a neighbor would lug a tape recorder to cavernous Municipal Stadium, sit in an empty section of the upper deck, and practice their play-by-play. "I've wanted to do this since I was ten," he says in a strong, radio-perfect voice. "I was the kid who would turn down the sound on the TV and pretend I was the announcer, until my brothers and sisters would throw pillows at me and tell me to shut up." Some two decades later, in 1985, Corrigan was back in Municipal Stadium, only then he was beginning a seventeen-year stint as the Indians' television announcer.

A wide receiver on the Big Red football team, Corrigan tried out for a couple of professional squads before pursuing a graduate degree at Kent State, where he focused on broadcasting. He wrote his master's thesis on NFL Films, the production company that changed the way people watch pro football, showing how a game can become a drama through the use of narrative. Corrigan began his broadcasting career in Youngstown, Ohio, and then moved on to Richmond, Virginia, before making his way back to Cleveland. Over the years, he broadcast everything from college basketball and minor league baseball to pro soccer and even table tennis. "As you develop, you start to get a style," he says. "That's what I tell aspiring broadcasters --you have to find your voice."

Corrigan's seventeen seasons in Cleveland represented the longest tenure of any broadcaster in Indians history, but when the team moved to a new network in 2002 he found himself looking for a job. He took a year off and began writing his first novel, Warning Track, a self-published tale of a star outfielder's foray into the use of illegal supplements. Corrigan, who was a history major on the Hill, is currently finishing his second book, a fictional account of the sinking of the S.S. Leopoldville on Christmas Eve in 1944. (His father was among the rescuers; at least 750 American soldiers perished.)

When Corrigan was hired by the Rockies in 2003, he moved from TV to radio -- where the ability to "inform, entertain, and support" (as he puts it) is fueled by the descriptive abilities of the announcer. "On the radio," he says, "you are the analyst, the producer-director, and the play-by-play guy." Corrigan, who has only about eighteen days off during the six-month regular season, tries to have fun in the booth. He'll throw in pop culture references, shout his signature home run call ("It's touch-'em-all time!"), and fill gaps when necessary, as in mid-April, when the Padres and Rockies played a twenty-two-inning marathon that lasted six hours and sixteen minutes. "You have to like the person you're sitting next to," says Corrigan, nodding to Kingery, "just due to the sheer amount of time you're spending together."

But Corrigan is well aware that he is the storyteller, not the story. He remembers a piece of advice he got from legendary Detroit Tigers baseball announcer Ernie Harwell during his first year on the air. "He told me, 'You know you're doing a good job if at least a half-dozen times in the course of a game, the fans can hear the hotdog vendor.' Every once in a while, it's okay to shut up."

Click here to listen to a clip of Corrigan talking about his book Warning Track, as found on the Colorado Rockies team site.