Tuesday, June 28, 2005

play by play : day by day

I recently had an opportunity to sit down with Albuquerque Isotopes broadcaster Bob Socci (pronounced “SO-see”) a couple of hours before the final game of a four-game homestand with the Nashville Sounds. I had been wanting to ask Bob a number of questions that have formed in my brain while listening to him call minor league baseball games during the past few seasons, and felt that my blog was a good format to introduce him to people who may otherwise have never heard of him.

It is a special time of day at Isotopes Park as vendors begin preparing the food and batting practice is winding down. A sort of electric calm hovers over the field as warm summer breezes lift the smells of hotdogs, hamburgers, pizza and roasting peanuts up and into the open windows of the air-conditioned press box where Bob sits filling out his score sheet and preparing his notes for his upcoming pre-game radio show. Most people in the park are too busy preparing for the pending game to take note of the stillness before the gates are opened and it is drowned out by the spinning of turnstiles, excited voices of fans and the beeping of cash registers that will fill the stadium for the next four hours. But not Bob Socci. I mean, he’s busy and all, but he takes notice. Socci appears to thrive on the variable pulse of the park during the pre-game, the game itself, and while things are winding down afterwards. It’s almost as if his heart beats at the same pace.

Socci is a rare individual in that he does something that he absolutely loves on an almost daily basis. As a direct result, he is very, VERY good at his job. He told me that he knew when he was playing little league baseball in Auburn, New York that he wanted to grow up and have a career in sports broadcasting.

When asked if he had a backup career plan, Bob replied that he might have become a lawyer, or followed another path to a career in journalism or media relations had things not worked out as they have. Socci acknowledges the help and support of innumerable friends, neighbors, and people from his hometown who recognized both his talents and desire to become a broadcaster as major influences in his life. “Certainly at the top of the list are my parents- my mother and late father,” Socci explained as he paused from writing down the names of Sounds players on his score sheet.

Socci broke into professional baseball in 1987 while working as an intern in the Cincinnati Reds publicity department. Later, while working as a public relations assistant for the Rochester Redwings, Socci was given the opportunity to serve as the no. 2 broadcaster during the 1991 and 1992 seasons. From there, he was employed as the no. 1 broadcaster for the Peoria Chiefs from 1993 to 1995, the Delmarva Shorebirds from 1996 to 1998, and eventually the Frederick Keys from 1999 to 2001. Socci also broadcast a few Charlotte Knights television games during the 2002 season, but mostly served as a fill-in since his schedule was full with broadcasting United States Naval Academy football, basketball and lacrosse games that he had been doing since 1997. Bob had to give up calling the lacrosse matches due to schedule overlaps when he accepted the job with the Albuquerque Isotopes in 2003, but continues to broadcast Navy football and Patriot League basketball games during the winter months. Although he enjoys all sports, Bob admits that he identifies most closely with baseball. He estimates that he has called close to, if not more than, 2,000 games thus far in his career.

Today, Socci shares a small radio booth on the fourth floor of Isotopes Park directly behind home plate with former Albuquerque Dukes broadcaster Mike Roberts, of UNM Lobos football and basketball fame. Together they broadcast live every Isotopes home game on the radio (KNML 610 AM - the Sports Animal) and via streaming broadcasts available through the Isotopes website. Socci also travels with the Isotopes in order to provide live coverage of road games for rabid Isotopes fans that cannot wait till the next morning to read about the game in the sports pages.

Even though Bob is only in Albuquerque roughly 80 days per year, I had to ask what he enjoyed the most about the city. “The weather,” was the first thing that popped into his mind, followed by “the ballpark,” and “the fans support and interest in the Isotopes and his broadcasts.” He stated that IF he had more free time, he would definitely spend it hiking and biking and enjoying the mountains. Given that he spends 10 or more hours per day at the ballpark, the chances for Socci to get out and explore the city in search of restaurants, bars, or other entertainment venues are few and far between. He tends to primarily frequent establishments such as Whole Foods, Starbucks, REI, Sports Outdoors, the jogging path at Albuquerque Academy, and any of a number of bookstores. When he does have time to sit back and relax, Bob prefers to enjoy a beer or two on the patio at Kelly’s Brewery on Central Avenue.

If you Google “Bob Socci,” you will quickly learn that he is often referred to as “the Voice of the Isotopes, “ and “the Voice of Navy Sports.” I asked Bob if he had any interesting nicknames. As it turns out, one of Socci’s pet peeves is the whole “Voice of anything” deal. In his mind, he is “there to do a job- that is, to broadcast baseball games,” much in the same way that “the beer vendor is there to sell beer,” and “ticket takers are there to take tickets.” Bob explained that he believes the focus needs to remain on the game itself and the Isotopes. He feels that too many broadcasters hear stuff like that and actually begin to believe that they are, in fact, THE voice of the organization they work for. What you aren’t likely to learn about Bob Socci online (unless you’ve stumbled across this by accident) is that he was known as “Scrap Iron” when he played in Babe Ruth baseball. Prior to that, Socci lived with the nickname of “Lou” (after Lou Costello). Bob informed me that many of his friends back east, as well as a number of current Isotopes players, call him “Soc” (pronounced “SO-s” and perhaps even spelled that way).

Kris: “So Bob, have you ever said anything on the air that you wish you hadn’t?”
Bob: “Yes, many times. But one stands out in my memory.”
Kris: “Were you able to make amends?”
Bob: (laughing while entering the names of starting Isotopes players on his score sheet) “Fortunately, not many people heard it.”
Kris: “Would you care to tell me what it was?”
Bob: “Sure, but not on the record.”

A few minutes later…
Kris: “Oh, that IS funny! Thanks for sharing.”

Kris: “Do you receive fan mail?”
Bob: “I get some emails from listeners, but not too many. Usually they are forwarded to me from the Isotopes office. I wouldn’t say that it is always “fan mail.” Some of it is criticism, or from fans who don’t necessarily agree with my point of view.”

I have this annoying habit of asking “baseball people” whether or not they feel Pete Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame. Bob Socci is no exception. He answered quickly that he feels Pete should have a plaque in the Hall for his accomplishments on the field, but that he has no problems with Pete being banned from baseball for his actions that hurt the game.

Kris: “Personal feelings aside, do you think Pete will make it into the Hall of Fame during his lifetime?”
Bob: “That’s a real tough question.” After giving it some thought, Socci continued, “It would not surprise me. There’s a strong possibility that (Rose) will be acknowledged as a baseball player… possibly after the new guard of sportswriters takes over and the memory of what he did begins to fade, and the numbers he put up speak for themselves.”

I snapped this photo of Bob Socci interviewing Texas Rangers pitching coach Orel Hershiser before a Spring Training game at Isotopes Park in the spring of 2005.

I asked Bob to give me a short list of the most memorable interviews he has conducted. Socci had no trouble rattling off names of baseball icons faster than my pen could scratch them down onto paper. He has conducted interviews with Don Drysdale, Pete Rose, Tony Gwynn, Andre Dawson, Tony Perez, Vin Scully and Bob Costas- to name only a few. Scully and Costas were also included in the list of baseball broadcasters that Socci greatly admires, along with New York Mets broadcasters Gary Cohen and the late Bob Murphy. Socci has also had the opportunity to interview a number of intriguing non-baseball personalities including Apollo 13 astronaut Jim Lovell and President George H. Bush. That said, Bob stated that his favorite interviews have actually been conducted with everyday players who lack big name recognition. He feels that the famous guys have already been asked the most important questions, but that the everyday players also have intriguing and inspiring stories that need to be told, and perhaps more importantly, heard.

I asked Bob if he could give me an estimate of when he would get his break in the major leagues. He replied that at the risk of sounding arrogant, he wouldn’t be doing what he is if he wasn’t absolutely sure that he could make it as a successful broadcaster in the majors. However, Socci added that since there isn’t a formula to calculate how long it might take him to get his opportunity, he didn’t care to speculate on when it might happen.

Kris: “Would you work for any major league team?”
Bob: “In a heartbeat!”

Kris: “Do you envision yourself writing a book in the future?”
Bob: “Yes, but not necessarily about sports.”

Socci feels that his writing and story telling skills help him as a broadcaster by stretching his vocabulary and strengthening his phrasing. He added that since calling baseball games is more descriptive than other sports, it is the ideal sport for radio even to this day. Bob’s passion for baseball is predominately due to the personality and identity it possesses. Certainly Bob manages to paint wonderful verbal images of the ballparks for listeners between pitches. In many ways, his coverage is better and more complete than fans would get at home if the games were televised.

Kris: “So Bob, after having called all the games you have, would you venture to say that by now you’ve seen everything that could possibly happen on a baseball field?”
Bob: “NO WAY! The more you learn about the game, the more you realize how little you know. That’s the beauty of baseball.”

Kris: “Well, that's the extent of my questions. Thanks again for taking the time to meet with me even though I’m not a real journalist.”
Bob: “My pleasure.”
Kris: “Now I’m going to break the cardinal rule of the press box and ask you for an autograph.”
Bob: “Seriously? My autograph isn’t going to be worth anything.”
Kris: “Hah. It is for my collection. I’m not going to try to sell it on eBay or anything.”
Bob: “Well, in that case…”

Fans have the opportunity to meet Bob Socci in person each month when he conducts his live radio show “Topes Talk” live from the Fox & Hound Pub and Grill. Those shows are always quite entertaining as Bob coaxes interesting stories from various Isotopes players and coaches.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

nice story kris. why do you always have to bring up that pete rose guy...