Astros play-by-play announcer Robert Ford

No Comcast? There’s always Astros radio


The Astros and CSN Houston’s failure to reach an agreement with cable and satellite providers has left millions of would-be viewers out in the cold. Disgruntled Astros fans have chosen several different ways to deal with what has become a discouraging situation. Some of the wilier fans have employed high-tech gadgetry to intercept the video feeds. Others have sworn off the team entirely and chosen to do without.

Some fans follow the games with mlb.com’s gameday feature. It’s free, but the excitement level just doesn’t translate through the cheesy computer graphics and semi-accurate play-by-play descriptions.

I found a way to watch the Oakland series but that source has since dried up. So I’ve been going ‘old school’ and listening to the radio broadcasts.

Yes, for the past few nights I’ve been partying like it was 1979. Young fans won’t remember but, back in the day, radio was all we had. Before the advent of cable TV, only a handful of games were broadcast on television each year. But every game was broadcast on the radio. It was where people like Vin Scully and Milo Hamilton got started.

A good radio announcer can paint a picture with the same expertise of a Picasso or a van Gogh. The only difference is — that picture appears in the listener’s mind. Announcers like Loel Passe and Gene Elston did a great job of this when I was a kid growing up in Houston.

The Golden Age of Radio has long since passed and the quality of most broadcasts has suffered. Many of the legendary broadcasters are still still calling the games even though they are well past their prime. A good example is Padres Hall of Fame announcer Jerry Coleman.  Coleman, 88, stumbled through several seasons behind the microphone before recently having his role reduced. Other clubs, like the Astros, choose to employ less experienced talent to describe the action. Even so, radio can still be a good way to keep up with the team — especially if it’s the only outlet available.

Listening to the Astros new announce team has been an adventure. Play-by-play announcer Robert Ford and color commentator Steve Sparks were hired to replace Dave Raymond and Brett Dolan, who were dismissed by the Astros after the 2012 season. Ford has done play-by-play work at the minor league level and most recently provided pregame and postgame coverage for the Kansas City Royals. Sparks, a former big league pitcher, has done some TV work for the Astros over the past few seasons.

Ford’s delivery of the play-by-play accounts is both smooth and accurate. Sparks is adequate as an analyst, but when he takes over play-by-play duties for the fourth and seventh innings the broadcast takes a hit. Sparks is inexperienced, so that’s understandable. But one has to wonder why the Astros would put him in the role to begin with. Why not have Ford do PBP for the entire game?

Keeping the two announcers in their natural roles would seem to make more sense than the current configuration. Even when Sparks goes off on a tangent and starts talking about some random non-baseball topic, Ford is there to reel him in. But when Sparks takes over PBP duties Ford seems to disappear for a while, leaving us at the mercy of the guy who is trying too hard to be another Jim Deshaies.

On another note, David Barron brings us the news that deposed Astros announcer Dave Raymond has landed a gig with mlb.com. Be sure to catch our interview with Barron on the next episode of Blasting Off. Andy talks with Barron about the whole CSN Houston debacle and what to expect going forward. That episode will air Tuesday morning, so don’t miss it.

 

Tags: Dave Raymond Featured Houston Astros Popular Robert Ford Steve Sparks

  • Nick

    I’ve been listening to game broadcasts for a few years, both for the Astros and the Phillies. I like the Ford/ Sparks duo, but they are still figuring each other, and the flavor of the broadcast, out.
    I was driving with my wife last night, and flipping through the XM play by plays looking for the Astros Game. She said every duo sounded the same. I didn’t disagree. It will take time for these guys to distinguish themselves, and I hope they do. I like Sparks’ color commentary, and Ford calls a competent game but their chemistry isn’t quite there.
    The other problem is the shortened range of the broadcasts. I listen through MLB.com and through XM. I’ve found the AM to be a little hit or miss in regards to reception.

  • astrosince1975

    Nick,

    I agree on your point about the chemistry. I think they will get better with time. I can’t even get the AM feed in San Antonio. I have to go through the internet and the Orange, Tx station I found doesn’t do every game. Hoping CSN Hou. can get something done soon.

    Thanks for reading.