When I was a kid, you could ride a Schwinn Stingray around my blue-collar, Midwestern neighborhood on a sultry summer night and listen to a ballgame on the radio.
Even if you didn’t own one.
People would sit on their front porches and listen to baseball when it was too hot to be indoors. Sometimes you could ride for blocks before you missed a pitch.
Over the weekend, longtime Oakland Athletics broadcaster Ken Korach, who still makes his offseason home in Henderson, called two A’s games against the Cleveland Indians during Big League Weekend at Las Vegas Ballpark that one could not listen to on the radio in Oakland.
It was not due to a technical difficulty.
The A’s do not have a flagship radio station any more.
Which means that although one can hear Korach (and sidekick Vince Cotroneo) in Sacramento, Fresno, King City, Lakeport or even Eureka on the A’s broadcast network, one won’t be able to hear accounts of A’s games in Oakland.
In the other city by the bay, one will only be able to listen to Korach on the internet, or if one turns up the TV real loud when one is sitting on the front porch.
Explained Korach, who is beginning his 25th season as the A’s play-by-play voice: “What we have in the Bay Area is a streaming service (called TuneIn). We have our own channel — 24-7, it’s A’s baseball.”
There are A’s long-form podcasts available through the streaming service that are free in Oakland and in much of central and northern California. There’s a live A’s talk show from 3 to 5 p.m. There’s A’s this, A’s that, morning, noon and night.
But no A’s games on the radio while you’re waiting for the BART train to arrive at Fruitvale Station.
On Feb. 18, the A’s became the first major league team to cancel an entire season of baseball on the radio in their own backyard.
Wrote Micheline Maynard in the Washington Post: “When experts examine the decline of 21st-century Major League Baseball, it won’t just be performance-enhancing drugs or sign-stealing scandals that pointed the way. It will be teams’ decision to take baseball off the radio.”
Seems like old times
There’s just something about listening to a ballgame on the radio that resonates with the average fan. Like an old blanket, it’s comforting. There’s almost romance in it. Who can forget the voices of Red Barber, Ernie Harwell, Harry Caray and Vin Scully.
You can ask your grandfather, but even millennials can relate.
I was talking to two Sunday on the Las Vegas Ballpark concourse behind the foul pole in right field, near the foosball table. They said they lived near Sacramento and went to several A’s games each season. And that when it was 8-3 in the top of the eighth, they’d usually get a jump on ballpark traffic.
They said they’d listen to Ken and Vince close it out on their car radio.
Not this season. Not if they don’t have a smartphone they can connect to the internet through a Wi-Fi application.
The A’s see this as a positive. A way to attract and develop new, younger and more internet-savvy fans.
But were my dad still alive, I could not envision him using a smartphone to listen to a ballgame on the radio.
“The primary motivation for this endeavor is around fan development, marketing and really understanding how that can acquire new fans,” A’s president Dave Kaval told the San Jose Mercury News.
That’s looking at it from the bullpen being half full. If you don’t believe there’s no crying in baseball, ask the fan in Oakland who can’t afford a high-speed internet hookup.
“What I’ve said — and I’ve been asked a thousand questions about it — is I understand people being frustrated or disappointed,” Korach said. “So it’s up to us as an organization to make this transition as easy as possible and to facilitate the changeover.”
Eventually, baseball fans in Oakland may adjust to this wicked curveball that came out of left field.
Perhaps they’ll even bring their laptops onto the front porch on sultry summer nights so the neighborhood kids popping wheelies on their BMX bikes can listen to the ballgame, too.
Major league sports teams that have abandoned broadcasting games on the radio in their home markets:
— Oakland Atheltics (MLB)
— Los Angeles Kings (NHL)
— 2000 Montreal Expos (MLB)