DENVER – The stage is set. The actors are in place.
For the next three-plus hours, Jack Corrigan and Jerry Schemmel will tell you a story. Their live voices will be broadcast via radio waves to listeners in six states. They will entertain you, they will tug at your emotions, their words will make you angry, glad, ecstatic and sad.
Just one tiny detail adds a huge degree of difficulty:
There is no script.
Sound daunting? It’s what Colorado Rockies radio announcers Corrigan and Schemmel do 162 times a year – plus spring training, plus playoffs (cross your fingers).
The Rockies’ Coors Field is a long way from Southwest Colorado, so baseball fans here keep linked to the team via radio (KIUP 930-AM) and TV. From March to October we listen to this duo in our homes, our cars, our earbuds as we exercise or work.
It’s easy sometimes to believe these are just disembodied voices. A trip earlier this month to Denver and a visit to the radio booth proved they’re real guys with multifaceted lives.
H H H
It’s the top of the third inning, and the Rockies are leading 1-0. For the moment. James Loney of the Tampa Bay Rays whacks a pitch to left field.
“That’s going to be trouble,” says Schemmel, hired four years ago by KOA 850 AM in Denver to join Corrigan. The two share duties. Corrigan is the play-by-play man in the first, fourth, fifth, eighth and ninth innings, and Schemmel takes the other four innings.
A run scores and Loney ends up on second base. Corrigan watches the replay on the TV monitor between them, notices a flaw in Rockies pitcher Jon Garland. “His off-speed pitch just didn’t get down enough,” he says.
From the club level, just a little bit left of directly behind home plate, the two describe the action from a private booth. Maybe private isn’t quite accurate. Visitors stop by to say hello between innings. And producer Rich Wiley, “the Coyote,” keeps a close watch on the broadcast levels and keeps the announcers on track in case they miss a station identification break or on-air advertisement.
“They’re both very smart at it,” Wiley says before the Saturday night game. “Jack can pull stuff out, like, where did you find that?”
Yes, they’re former jocks. But you can’t say they’re dumb former jocks.
Corrigan, 60, has a lot in his bag of tricks. The former Cornell University football player is in his 28th season broadcasting Major League Baseball.
The Cleveland native spent 1985 to 2001 in the Cleveland Indians TV booth and started with the Rockies in 2004. He’s also written three novels. With a laptop in front of him, notes and statistics highlighted and hung on corkboard to his left and a brain stuffed full of odds and ends, he’s prepared.
“You probably use 10 percent to 20 percent max of what you prep,” he says. “But you don’t know what 10 percent you’re going to use.”
Schemmel, 53, played baseball and received undergraduate and law degrees from Washburn University in Topeka, Kan. He broadcast Denver Nuggets games from 1992 to 2010. The last time he was in Durango, he says, was when the Nuggets held preseason camp at Fort Lewis College in 2006.
One event forever transformed Schemmel. He was on the United Airlines plane, crippled by an in-flight engine explosion, that crashed in Sioux City, Iowa, in 1989. He managed to escape the smoke-filled wreckage, but re-entered the plane and retrieved an 11-month-old girl, who survived. Several people adjacent to him, including an 18-month-old boy he’d been playing peek-a-boo with, died. In all, 112 of the 296 onboard were killed.
“When that happened, everyone around me died, it just completely changed my outlook on life, yeah,” says Schemmel, who wrote Chosen to Live about the experience. “I found out it’s pretty precious.”
You active Southwest Coloradans might appreciate this: In 2003 and 2004, he rode a bicycle across country, pedaling 100 miles a day and raising more than $250,000 for charity.
The point being, they keep the game in perspective. If you prefer announcers who go berserk at an umpire or yell into the microphone as if the Rapture were occurring, then listen to someone else. Not that they don’t get excited. They consider themselves journalists, yet understand their listeners are emotionally involved.
“I think you’re always looking for the silver lining,” Corrigan says. “You have to tell the truth, but you’re always going to try ... to keep people listening, to keep people following the team. That’s our challenge, really.”
They do their own research, talk to players before the games for tidbits on injuries and insights, and keep statistics during the action.
“The biggest misnomer,” Corrigan says, “is that people think there’s a bunch of folks in here giving us information.”
It’s a glamorous job, but not all the time. There’s the travel, the time away from family, the losing seasons (the Rockies went 63-99 last year). On April 16 in Denver, they were on the air for a marathon 11 hours as the New York Mets and Rockies completed a snow-delayed doubleheader.
“I think you have to have a love affair with this game,” Schemmel says. “We run across them every night – (media members) who don’t really want to be here. ‘We want to have a quick game and get out of here.’
“I think you have to have that passion. You have to really love the game ... to do this night after night. And enjoy it.”
On this night, their storytelling is simplified by dramatic elements. The bad guys take control, then the good guys rise to the challenge.
In the climactic scene, the heroes devastate the enemy with a withering attack that includes the use of a lethal weapon: the grand-slam homer.
Fans from Durango to Billings, Mont., and from Goodland, Kan., to Green River, Wyo., go to bed happy.
“There’s maybe 150 of us, tops, including TV, doing our jobs,” Corrigan says. “If you can’t get excited and stay excited, there is no doubt somebody will be happy to take your place.”
firstname.lastname@example.org. John Peel writes a weekly human-interest column.