Brad Muller writes features stories as the Director of Content for South Carolina Athletics. He is also a radio and television sports play-by-play broadcaster covering a variety of intercollegiate athletics events for the last 30 years.
I’ve had the good fortune to cover a lot of different sports in my thirty years as a broadcaster, writer, and administrator. The hard part was going to a game that I wasn’t actually covering and not doing any kind of work-related activity. I didn’t know what to do with myself if I wasn’t calling a game, doing stats, or making notes. I had forgotten how to just be a fan.
I used to score baseball games even if I wasn’t covering the game. I used to keep stats in my head at basketball games, sometimes speaking silently in code that I used to use for stat programs during my days as a Sports Information Director at another school. I probably mumbled things like “Jumper 20, no good, defensive rebound 23,” which I’m sure made folks sitting next to me a little uncomfortable.
It almost got to the point where I couldn’t enjoy being at a game unless I was working it in some fashion. That changed a little over 13 years ago when my son was born. Fortunately for me, he had an interest in sports at an early age and going to South Carolina games when I’m not working has been “our thing” for quite some time. In the fall, we go to Gamecock football games together and sit among the screaming masses, celebrate the entrance to “2001,” get drinks spilled on us from folks who tailgated a little too hard, and wait in lines for food just like everybody else. We fight the traffic, enjoy the wins, and discuss the “what ifs” when things don’t go our team’s way. It’s all magic in seeing it through my son’s eyes.
Perhaps my favorite thing that we do is go to Founders Park for baseball games. I don’t have to work baseball very often, and I’ll admit that baseball wasn’t even my favorite sport growing up, but that’s our time. The first baseball game my dad ever took me to was at Yankee Stadium in 1978, and Ron Guidry struck out 18 batters. I don’t remember much about it, other than my dad telling me it was a record. I do remember eating a big soft pretzel and having to throw up after drinking too much soda. We never had soda at our house, and I guess the caffeine disagreed with me.
If I’m not working a basketball or softball game, my son and I try to get to as many baseball games as possible. We sit down the left field line. He gets Dipping Dots and maybe a hot dog later. I try not to get grumpy when the line is long because at least you can see the action no matter where you are at Founders Park. I don’t score the games anymore these days. We talk about what we think each hitter is going to do. Sometimes we even “predict” a home run. We’ve been fortunate to get a ton of foul balls over the years. He still has all of them at our house. As he has gotten older, he sometimes gives his foul ball to any younger kid that is near us. I’ve never asked him to do that, but apparently, he’s learned some good things about what’s right about baseball games.
We normally stay for the whole game unless there are 14 pitching changes and it’s a school night. I know we can always catch the end on the radio.
There have been some great learning experiences, too. Sometimes fans voice their frustrations. Mind you, not nearly as bad as what I heard at Yankee Stadium that day in 1978! That’s all part of it, and it comes with the territory. I do remember one time several years ago where a fan seemed to complain after every pitch or play, and it seemed that no matter what the players or coaches did, it was the wrong move. With my job, I get to know our coaches and student-athletes and see them as people, so sometimes those criticisms are hard for me to hear, even when they’re warranted. I know some of the struggles they have off the field. Most of all, I know they all want to win, and I know they work hard every day. My son, who is very competitive and hates to lose, had a good perspective on that day. He said to me, “Dad, if that guy is so unhappy, why does he come to the games?”
Point taken. I’m not here to tell anyone how to act. From where I sit, emotional rollercoasters are part of sports, but sometimes we need to be reminded of the simple joys that are found in being at the game. A foul ball. A soft pretzel. Maybe it’s Dipping Dots. Hopefully in a couple of years my son won’t think he’s too cool to hang out with his dad at a ball game, so for now, take me out to the ball game! I’ll be the guy carrying the Dipping Dots. See you there!