It's a bittersweet year for D-backs fans in regard to the booth. While Daron Sutton and Mark Grace will be sadly missed, we're very excited to hear what Steve Berthiaume and Bob Brenly bring to games this year. Before doing an MLB.com webcast at Salt River Fields, Steve was kind enough to talk to the SnakePit. In this part, we cover growing up in Boston, working for ESPN and how he got the job in Arizona.
AZSP: You did announcing back in high-school for your basketball team. Did you always want to be a sports commentator growing up?
Steve: Yeah, I was one of those lucky people that knew what they wanted to do right away., I always found sports television fascinating when I was a kid. I loved sports, I always have - but I was also interested in how they were presented and televised, and seeing what made each network unique. I grew up in Boston, which used to have a tremendous local news market, very competitive, with the three sports departments. I would usually spend the 6-7 o'clock hour at the dinner table constantly flipping the channel of the little b&w TV we had on the dinner table, seeing "Ok, that's what Channel 4 did - what did Channel 5 do?", constantly going back and forth for that 15-20 minute window where sports used to come on.
AZSP: That was obviously in the days before ESPN...
Steve: Oh, yeah - I'm that old! I predate ESPN!
AZSP: Would that have been your dream job, almost as soon as it came on the air?
Steve: I think that's fair to say. Everybody in this business, has it at the back of their heads, that's where they want to go. Some get there, some don't. Some like it, some don't - it's a different experience for everyone, it can be a difficult place to navigate. But I thought I had the best job at ESPN, frankly, as a baseball junkie. I didn't have to go through the Sportscenter hamster-wheel where you're constantly being told how to produce the show and what to cover. We did our baseball show, so I was able to focus just on baseball for eight months a year.
I was one of the lucky few that got to do just the sport that he really wanted to do, and didn't have to worry about NASCAR. I would do Sportscenter in the off-season, to fill in some holes in the schedule, till Baseball Tonight started again. But I thought I had the best job at ESPN: just on baseball eight months a year, doing our show, working with great analysts, former players and managers. We were off on our baseball island, doing our own thing, and generally no-one messed with us. We were able to put together a show that we were enormously proud of. We wanted it a certain way, to have certain information and credibility, and we had the freedom to do that.
AZSP: Is baseball your favorite sport then?
Steve: By far. Not even close. I love the English Premier League. That's my off-season fix. When baseball shuts down, I watch the Prem. My wife and I went to England for Christmas and New Year, two years ago, and we went to four games in four different venues. I root hard for QPR [Queen's Park Rangers], they're sort of my dirty little secret, underdog team, that keeps going backwards, they're determined not to stay up! We really got the broad range of experiences. But other than that, I couldn't sit on a side-set in the Sportscenter studio any more and pretend to be interested in the NBA.
I love baseball, it's my real passion, and I think when I got together with the D-backs staff, I think we all recognized that in each other right away, a real shared passion for baseball. Some of us that are baseball junkies, we kinda get tired of evil king football, and always being told that NFL is the thing, and nothing else matters, because that's very much the way it is at ESPN. That's not true: baseball matters and people love it. It doesn't get the attention from some of the national networks that it should, because the national games don't rate. Baseball is a very provincial sport: people watch their own teams, so a national game may not get the numbers. But it doesn't translate into [a lack of] national interest in the game. I don't find that at all.
AZSP: How did the job with the Diamondbacks come about?
Steve: I had started doing play-by-play at ESPN a couple of years ago. Obviously, there's a long line of very talented play-by-play guys at ESPN who do all the national games, so there's just not a lot of chances to do some games. I started to do some here and there, and the more I did it, the more I wanted to do it. The first game I ever did was the Evan Longoria walk-off game at the end of the 2011 season., which was a complete fluke. I did some spring training games, the College World Series, the Futures game at the All-Star weekend last year in Kansas City.
That was my plan: how can I make this transition from being a studio guy to a play-by-play guy? You get labeled very quickly in this business. I thought, if there's ever an opening, I'm never going to be on anyone's radar screen, because people just won't think of me, so how can I get on people's radar screens? Then I saw the Diamondbacks had an opening, and I immediately thought, that's a fantastic opportunity for anyone. You have a great team, we all know about the D-backs management, the way they run the organization - employee friendly, fan friendly - the area is beautiful. That would be a complete home-run: how can I make that happen?
I was trying to figure out a way to get their attention. I was kinda standing in the corner, going "Hey, I'd really like to talk to you about that if I could," but I didn't quite know how to do that. Then some friends on the Baseball Tonight staff made some calls, unbeknownst to me completely, and said "If you do make a change, Steve Berthiaume is excited about the opportunity." Next thing I knew, Derrick Hall was calling me, out of nowhere, which I was really surprised about, and then Ken Kendrick called me, we had a really nice chat. I flew out here, spent a day with the whole staff, and by the time I got back, we had all decided, this is a great fit, let's move forward and get this done. They made it easy for me, that's for sure.
AZSP: At that stage, was Bob Brenly on board as the color commentator, or did he join later?
Steve: He came on board later. This was September, he wasn't quite sure what he was going to do. I was in about a month before Bob was finally locked down. That was great news for me. He's the king, he's the mayor. I'm so lucky because first of all, Bob is great at what he does. Second, he has got real credibility as a broadcaster, he has got network presence, he has done big post-season series and games. I'm lucky to be able to lean on him, and just concentrate on my nuts and bolts, stay out of his way and let him do his thing. I don't have to worry about chemistry, or how to tee this guy up to make his point, while I'm trying to keep my scorecard and focus on who's coming up next. I can just let Bob go and do my thing, not try to screw it up. I don't have to worry about that side of the desk, which is a huge relief for me and a great help.
AZSP: You're coming into a somewhat odd situation, from the fans' point of view, in that your predecessor effectively vanished without a satisfactory public explanation. Do you have concerns about that at all?
Steve: None. None of my business. Don't know, don't care, don't want to know. That's the best way I can process it. I'm here, I'm thrilled to be here, and whatever happened before, frankly, doesn't concern me. I'm just moving forward, it's a fresh start. Just worry about yourself, that's the way I've gone about this profession: be self-sufficient, focus on what you''re doing. If you start worrying about other people, and what happened with this guy or that guy - you're doing it wrong.
AZSP: Do you feel not having play the game professionally is any kind of disadvantage to doing play-by-play?
Steve: Oh, no: I don't know of too many play-by-play guys that do. There are some, obviously: Hawk Harrelson, Mike Krukow, those guys. I've been around the game a long time - I think I can safely say, in the last six years, I've watched more televised baseball than any man on the planet, with all due respect to what the guys in the Fan Cave are doing! I spent years sitting in front of a wall of 15 TV screens, watching 15 games at once, sitting next to Buck Showalter and Terry Francona, John Kruk, Rick Sutcliffe, Aaron Boone, Nomar Garciaparra, Barry Larkin, Orel Hershiser, Mark Mulder.
All these great baseball minds, and what a great opportunity it is, to sit and learn to watch a game, the way they see it. Because when you sit and spend a day watching baseball with Buck Showalter, you quickly realize you know nothing about baseball. It's eye-opening. He sees things in six different games at once, that would never even occur to you. It's amazing. It really is like going to baseball college. So, in that sense. I was absorbed in the game, with guys that managed and played, and watched the game they watch it, to see things they see, and look for the things they look for. So I think that was an enormous help.
[Stay tuned for part two. In that, Steve talks about his philosophy of broadcasting, how he sees the D-backs shaping up and answers the most important question of all - Star Trek or Star Wars?]