Coast to Coast: Meanwhile, in Florida …

When my wife and I moved to Florida in June 2009, I posted a series of articles under the title of “Coast to Coast.” Click here to catch up. The idea was to keep friends and readers updated on what was happening with my personal life away from Angels baseball.

I haven’t posted one of these in a while, so here’s what’s new.

In addition to the web site and this blog, I have two other sites. covers professional and amateur baseball here in Brevard County, which is commonly known as the Space Coast because we have Cape Canaveral, Cocoa Beach, Merritt Island, etc. I’ve done for Brevard County in the last year what I’ve done for Angels minor league baseball since 1998 — photos, videos, commentary, etc.

The big difference is that baseball is way down the pecking order here. We have baseball fans, but people seem more interested in football, basketball and water sports. This just isn’t a baseball mecca like Southern California. The local newspaper, Florida Today, has sportswriters who cover baseball but they really don’t have the depth on the subject of the typical SoCal sportswriter. Over the last year, I’ve made many long conversations on and off the record with the sportswriters, educating them about the inner workings of professional baseball.  From time to time, I’m once of those “quotables” they call whenever they need to fill a story with a couple paragraphs.

The Washington Nationals’ minor league complex is 20 miles away in Viera. I film and photograph their players in the summer and fall leagues. I’m probably the only person to film and photograph both Mike Trout and Bryce Harper this year! The Nats invited me to film his little press conference after his first fall instructional league game. It was a Florida Today sportswriter, a reporter from MLB Advanced Media (I think!), and me with my camcorder. Like I said, the baseball universe here is fairly small.

Across the parking lot (which is an unpaved grass lot, by the way, filled with potholes) is the Nats’ spring training park, Space Coast Stadium. During the regular season, the minor league Brevard County Manatees play there. The Manatees are in the Advanced-A Florida State League, the equivalent of Rancho Cucamonga and now Inland Empire in the California League. They’re a Milwaukee Brewers affiliate, not a Nats affiliate. Long story.

Like most minor league teams, the Manatees have limited resources, so anyone who steps forward to volunteer is welcomed. They don’t have the money to do radio broadcasts, so I volunteered to webcast fifteen home games on the Internet, as well as the FSL All-Star Game which they hosted. If you want to hear me talk about someone else’s players other than the Angels, click here for the Manatees webcast archive.

With very little broadcast experience, but a damn strong idea of how I thought a game should be called, I found myself experimenting with finding my own style. It was a mix of advice from long-time Angels minor league broadcasters — Steve Klauke in Salt Lake, Phil Elson in Arkansas, John Rodgers in Cedar Rapids — who gave me advice. I cherry-picked elements of their styles I liked. But if truth be told, much of it is a whole lot of Vin Scully with a dash of Dick Enberg.

Growing up in Southern California, those were the two broadcasters I heard and admired the most. Scully has a minimalist style, epitomized by his famous call of Kirk Gibson’s 1988 World Series homer — “High fly ball to deep right field, she is gone!” What else do you need to know?! So I always tried to use as few words as possible. Dick Enberg had a slightly more folksy style and his catch phrases. I don’t have one for a homer because I think that’s really overdone, but I do have a standard opening as Scully does, and instead of Enberg’s “Oh my!” I came up with “Wowee!”

We don’t sell advertising, so between innings I just keep chatting with the audience, which is mostly players’ parents and loved ones. Many FSL teams don’t have broadcasts, so we often had players’ parents and fans from other teams. I did three Tampa Yankees games this year, and received e-mails from fans in New York, so you never know who might be listening. In the last game, when the Tampa second baseman was hurt, I got an e-mail from his worried mother, which impresses upon you how important a lifeline these webcasts are for the families. I think that August 26 game was probably the best job I did all year; click here to listen.

It was fun. I used radio booth #1 in the press box, the booth for the Nats’ parent club broadcasters during spring training. I got to live out a personal fantasy and had some memorable moments, such as when the home plate umpire was knocked out by a foul ball and had to leave the game. One of the Brewers’ roving instructors was recruited as a second umpire while the infield umpire moved behind home plate. I called an All-Star game. I even did a walking tour video of Space Coast Stadium so the players’ parents and other listeners could see the parts of the ballpark regularly discussed on the webcasts.

I’ve volunteered for other jobs. I do some administrative work and database design for Brevard County Fire Rescue. They have a volunteer firefighter program, much more active than any I ever saw in SoCal. When I graduated from college too many years ago, I worked for the Irvine Police Department as a dispatcher. I’ve always missed being around public safety, so this is an opportunity to be around that profession again, although it’s with fire and not police.

If you’re a regular reader, you know one reason we moved here is we’re space geeks. I’ve always wanted to teach about space history, and now I have the opportunity. The Air Force Space & Missile Museum at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) uses volunteers to teach tourists about the early days of the American space program. We operate out of the blockhouse where the U.S. launched its first satellite, Explorer 1. A couple hundred yards across the field from us is the complex where Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom were launched in 1961, the first Americans into space.

As a tourist, I came here many times, but now access is restricted due to post-9/11 security. Most of our traffic comes from bus tours out of the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Visitor Complex. We walk them through the blockhouse, which still has much of its original equipment from 1957, and an adjacent exhibit hall, and in 45 minutes try to explain the entire history of U.S. military and civilian space flight. It can’t be done, but we’re given the flexibility to discuss what we want, and everyone has a different niche. I talk more about history, while some of the old-timers who actually worked here at CCAFS reminisce about their personal experiences.

As with the other volunteer efforts, this one pays nothing too. We do, however, get “perks.” We have a badge that lets go anywhere at CCAFS and KSC we want, so long as it’s unrestricted. Last week I drove up the long road along the beach that passes all the historic launch pads from the 1960s, then past active pads used by Atlas, Delta and SpaceX. I knew this road eventually comes to Pad 39A, where the Space Shuttle is launched. Could I really go through?

I came around a corner and there it was, the Shuttle stack on the pad, about a mile away. A red stop flight was flashing, and a lone security guard stepped out of his shack. I explained I was just out exploring, and had been told we can go through when no Shuttle is on the pad. He said that’s true!

So I turned around and went to check out SpaceX at Pad 40. SpaceX hopes to be the first company to offer strictly commercial rockets, selling flights on Falcon 9 to government and private customers. Their second test flight is scheduled for December 7. I drove into the parking lot which is about 100 yards from the pad.

Hopefully you’re starting to understand why we space geeks moved here!

I’m still looking for a paying job, but they’re hard to find in the Space Coast. The unemployment rate is about 13%, and with the Shuttle being retired in 2011 thousands more are scheduled for layoff. I was offered one job with Brevard County and accepted, but they had to cancel because the position was eliminated due to budget cuts. I interviewed for a job with a small contractor at KSC, then was called and told there’s a holdup on funding and they’d call if/when that comes through.

Meanwhile, there’s lots of play time! So long as I don’t expect to be paid.

When the paying job finally comes, I know it will affect my ability to not just continue the volunteer work but also Being almost 3,000 miles away from Anaheim, it’s a lot harder to stay on top of things, especially with no Angels minor league affiliate nearby. If money permits, I’d like to visit Arkansas in 2011 and maybe catch Salt Lake on the road somewhere in the Midwest.

But as much as I love my Angels family, space is calling. We’ll see what happens once I answer.

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