My day as the P.A. Announcer at Nationals Park

Last week, when the Washington Nationals faced the Los Angeles Dodgers, I was asked to be the public address announcer for game one at Nationals Park.

It was indeed an honor to be back in the booth. But I have to admit I was a little nervous and had the adrenalin going.

After all, I had been the public address announcer for the NBA Washington Wizards, MLS D.C. United and at college at Virginia, but it had been awhile. Okay, they were called the Bullets back then. So, that gives you an idea. Yes, Michael Jordan was still playing basketball in NBA, not owning a team.

But making it easy on me was Nationals public address announcer Jerome Hruska, who could not have been more gracious and helpful as I prepped for the task.

He had a previous commitment that day, so he worked to make sure I had everything that I would need to announce the game, from the opening video, to the starting lineups and the president’s race. He made sure there were no surprises. It was big to have the first-stringer show me the ropes.

The day began with a quick run down of the red production binder, which had every announcement I needed to say before, during and after the game. I went over each page to make sure I knew how to pronounce names and practiced sequences.

For instance, I wanted to make sure I knew how to pronounce the first pitch honoree and the national anthem participants, which this time happened to be two accomplished violin players.

You don’t want to mess that one up. You can’t use white-out to fix any verbal typos. Nope. Not with potentially 41,888 ear-witnesses listening to the loud speakers.

While Jerome was a huge help in getting ready, I also had two invaluable aides in my work that day in the booth with me, spotter Matt Dewhurst and balls and strikes operator Keith Staples. It was great to lean on their expertise to ask how Jerome normally announced items and in what sequence.

Producer Ben Smith, who I have worked with in the past, is top notch and went over the team introductory video with me. It involved reviewing Stephen Strasburg’s first night back and the influx of call-ups to the Nationals that made their major league debuts in the previous game.

This part of the job is tricky because you want to make sure your voice matches up with what the giant HD Nats scoreboard screen is showing. We went over it a few times in dress rehearsal and I felt pretty confident I would be able to hit my marks and make it look good.

Scoreboard director Dave Lundin conducted a pregame all-hands-on-deck meeting with a couple dozen employees, which included video operators, roving stadium announcers, the racing presidents, assistants, camera operators and sound men. The meeting covered the production for the entire doubleheader and what the team would be featuring on the scoreboard and in the stands to entertain the fans before, during and after each contest.

Dave also helped me work out the timing for the introduction of the starting lineups for each team and the pronunciation of a few of the L.A. Dodgers’ players. I would use the format of announcing “Batting first” then “Batting second” and that would cue the video operator for each player.

The production staff also showed me how to work the submarine horn that the P.A. announcer operates following each Nationals’ home run or game victory. This horn is in the P.A. booth and has a microphone connected to the speaker of the horn.

The sub horn is placed next to the window, which was closed prior to the start of the game.

The staff told me how to push the lever to the right and bring it back a total of six times. They warned me to open the window so that I could physically turn the horn out towards the fans before blowing it.

Because the rain had been coming down that morning, the window was only open a crack for pregame.

Sure enough, early in the game, Jayson Werth crushed a two-run homer over the outfield wall. I pushed the lever of the sub horn six times as instructed, but with the window only slightly open, the horn had no choice but to face inside the booth at a 45 degree angle.

I have three kids and I thought I knew loud. I turned around and looked at the production staff in booth. They all looked like they had gone through a wind tunnel, hair blown back and eyes watering and ears ringing.

As true professionals do, they took not even a moment before they got on with the production of the game.

The next time you are at Nats Park and you hear P.A. announcer Jerome Hruska call out “now batting, Ryan Zimmerman!” you’ll have a better idea of all the work and coordination it takes to make it all run without a hitch. It is not an easy production, but the crew certainly makes it sound so smooth and their efforts are a big part of the overall fan experience of a Nationals game.

I certainly had a “blast” getting a chance to be a part of it.

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