WRITTEN BY NEAL ZOREN
For Digital First Media
Ben Davis said he has been smiling since the day he heard he would be joining Tom McCarthy, Matt Stairs, and, for Sunday home games, Mike Schmidt in the Phillies television broadcasting booth.
Davis, the former major league catcher and Malvern Prep star who grew up in Aston, replaces former Phillies pitcher Jamie Moyer, who was part of the color commentary team for one year in 2014. Davis makes his first appearance in his new role at 1:05 p.m. Tuesday when the Phillies play their first spring training game of the 2015 season against the New York Yankees on Comcast SportsNet. (Davis’ birthday is Tuesday, March 10. He’ll be 38.)
“I am absolutely ecstatic,” Davis said by telephone from Philadelphia, where we was between trips to the Phillies complex in Clearwater last week. I was hoping I would get this wonderful opportunity and I’ve been in state of joy since hearing I did. I grew up in Aston and have been following the Phillies and rooting for the Phillies since before baseball became such an integral part of my life.
“This is a dream,” Davis continued. “When you’re a player getting attention and realizing you’re likely to be drafted, you dream of playing in Major League Baseball. When you become a broadcaster, the dream becomes the chance to sit in that broadcast booth and help fans understand the various facets of the game you love so much.
“Humility sets in, and you think getting such a job will never happen to you. I felt honored and lucky to be part of the pre- and post-game teams on Comcast SportsNet and on panels at WIP (94.1 FM), but this fulfills a wish I really wanted to come true. I can’t wait for Tuesday and the chance to join T-Mac and Matt in the booth. I know both of them, but naturally, I am getting better acquainted with them and their announcing styles as we prepare for Tuesday’s game.
“Once baseball is in your blood, it stays there. My role doesn’t matter. Whether I’m a player, a broadcaster, a visitor, or a spectator, my adrenaline starts going when I step on to a baseball field or in a baseball stadium.
“It’s automatic. I love everything about the baseball experience. Each sight, each sound, each smell excites me. I don’t think you grow out of that after seven years of playing in the majors and so many other years preparing for that thrill.
“As my playing days were ending, I wondered what I would do and hoped I would be close to baseball. Remaining a part of a sport I love much is exhilarating.”
Davis said one difference between speaking from a broadcast booth and doing pre- and post-games shows is the freedom it gives him to expand to points he wants to make.
“The pre-game and post-game shows are tightly scheduled,” Davis said. “You have the opportunity to say a lot, but in the booth, you have three hours to talk about the plays the viewer is seeing. I want to use my knowledge of the game to explain what a pitcher, catcher, or manager is thinking in a given situation. I have the insight to know what’s happening under the surface, and that’s what I want to bring to the audience.”
Davis said he believes his experience as a player will add to his objectivity as he comments on plays made by the Phillies and their opponents.
“I won’t ride a guy who made an honest error, physical or mental,” Davis said. “In 162 games, anyone can have a lapse, and sometimes a lapse can decide the outcome of a game. I prefer to explain what happened than make someone a goat.
“The same is true when someone makes a marvelous or game-saving play. I want to share the enthusiasm, but I don’t want to blow a single moment out of proportion. As a former player, I’m sensitive to what a player goes through on the field, and I have no intention of making anyone look bad or creating false expectations if someone has a good streak. Of course, I’m going to point out and analyze the play, but I’m not going to make more of it that it is. I will congratulate and be happy for the guy having the good run and hope it continues, but you need to give people perspective. Players are human. You don’t want to anyone into something he can’t live up to.
“It’s the balance that matters. My hope is to show people the fine points of the game in the same way other color commentators have done. That is the opportunity that excites me. Doing the pre-game show was good preparation. So are the times I’m on WIP. While you have more time to organize your thoughts on a pre-game show, you are asked to give your opinion and explain things. That’s valuable practice for the more unpredictable analysis of a baseball game in progress.”
Davis’ rookie year in the TV booth coincides with predictions that the Phillies may be the worst team in baseball, with expectations hovering at 65 wins and Las Vegas offering odds that don’t bode well for the Phillies’ success.
“I wouldn’t tell that to the guys in the clubhouse, and I can assure you that’s not the way they’re thinking,” Davis said. “When you play major league baseball, you expect to win every game. That’s your goal and you take the field with that in mind. You can’t think any other way. Commentators and odds-makers can tell you what’s realistic. I also have to put things in perspective and speak frankly about how the team is faring.
“But no one knows that until the team takes the field. Baseball is a challenging sport because anything can happen. Run production is predicted to be a problem, but you don’t know. Ryan Howard can contribute another 100 RBIs. Maikel Franco could be the player people expect him to be and be important to the team. Chase Utley is a scrapper. Cody Asche can benefit from his experience. Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee give you to solid starters at the top of the rotation. Let the 162 games play and then do the evaluation.
“I can tell you from being around the Phillies for several years that it is a class organization managed by smart people who know baseball and who are experience in building winning teams. My job is to look at a play, good or bad, and tell the ABCs of what happened. I am aware of the predictions, and they may be understandable, but I also love baseball and prefer to see what the actual games show instead of making a firm judgment before the first pitch of the season is thrown.
“Being around baseball and traveling with a team is great for me. My wife is used to the travel from my playing days. I’ll have enough time home to be with my kids. For me, everything right now is great, and I am still smiling. With this opportunity, I think I will be for time to come.
“Star Trek” did not last long on television.
Despite an avid following by adolescents, mostly boys around age 14, the show did not garner significant ratings and was canceled by NBC after two seasons.
What a difference time made. Even as teenagers mourned “Star Trek’s” passing, the memory of the show, its characters, its plot lines, and character traits lingered on. No one stopped asking to be “beamed up” somewhere or failed to respond to the Vulcan hand signal. Trading “Star Trek” nostalgia lasted into young adulthood, and fandom was rewarded by a movie starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and Nichelle Nichols in 1978.
“Star Trek” lore is now part of American cultural literacy, and not just for superannuated nerds and their grandchildren who might talk about how Data, in a later “Trek” cast, was almost judged to be a toaster. The highly educated nerds on Chuck Lorre’s “The Big Bang Theory” all speak Klingon. “Star Trek” is destined to last the ages next to “The Odyssey” and Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”
I don’t what last Friday’s star date would be — Sheldon Cooper can you help there? — but it was a sad one for Trekkies of any generation everywhere.
More even than any captain, the character that captured the nerd imagination was Spock, the prescient sensible Spock who came from a planet on which denizens could only think logically.
Spock’s solutions, his demand that information compute neatly and correctly, were attractive. Oh to have Spock’s pointy ears, greenish cast, and uncluttered analytical mind. Who would not trade something as unpredictable as emotion for totally logical performance? Not I.
Last Friday, the actor who originated Spock, the talented and accomplished Leonard Nimoy, died at age 83. James Doohan and others passed before Nimoy, but the death of the man who played Spock will be felt by many.
Nimoy, like many actors, became so associated with his most famous role, he remained Spock even when others, like Zachary Quinto, played him in later productions of “Star Trek.”
On stage, I saw Nimoy as Vincent Van Gogh and in classic roles that showed his wide acting gifts. Yes, I always thought of “Star Trek” as he entered the stage but quickly forgot about my favorite boyhood show when Nimoy began portraying the character at hand.
Few actors have created a character as iconic or as special as Spock. Nimoy will forever be remembered for the role and will be mourned by “Trek” fans throughout the world. I hope they acknowledge his fine, consistent acting in addition to his place in television and cultural history.
Standing by O’Reilly
The controversy surrounding Bill O’Reilly and the reports that he falsely insinuated himself in stories he covered in the Falklands and Argentina in the early ’80s are more disconcerting and harder for me to believe than Brian Williams’ missteps that came to light last month.
O’Reilly, who stands by statements he’s made in books, may be more polarizing than Williams, and his detractors seem bent on pinning him down and making him pay for their allegations of misreporting.
The O’Reilly case makes me wonder, because I worked with O’Reilly briefly in the mid-1990s when he was the anchor of “Inside Edition.” Of all the people in a lively, opinionated newsroom, O’Reilly was the one I’d say was the most concerned with attribution and accuracy. He was also frankest about the value of a story and one of the few willing to admit that “Inside Edition” paid sources to appear on the show exclusively.
I have no way of knowing the truth in the O’Reilly case, but my tendency is to back him. Fox News Channel may not be the most meticulous about all it puts on the air, a lot of which is subjective and meant to be more persuasive than informative. But the O’Reilly I remember was a straight shooter who would have been the first to complain if a story was not air tight before it was broadcast.