ST. LOUIS -- Dan McLaughlin hopes Cardinals fans can hear the emotions they’re feeling echoed in the broadcast as they watch a big moment happen on their screen. A home run at a significant time? You’re probably rising out of your seat. So is McLaughlin. A prominent player receiving a standing ovation and acknowledging the crowd? You might have a tear in your eye or goosebumps. So does McLaughlin.
“I grew up in St. Louis, grew up a Cardinal fan and now I’m doing what I always wanted to do. So having the opportunity to get behind the mic, I’m just going to let it rip and have some fun,” said McLaughlin, the Cardinals’ play-by-play announcer for FOX Sports Midwest. “Hopefully some fans can feel, through my call, the emotion, the excitement, the craziness, whatever the case may be. Hopefully they can understand that I’m there with them and enjoying it as much as maybe they are, too.”
So it makes sense why McLaughlin’s favorite call was a call of emotion.
On Sept. 30, 2016, the Cardinals hosted the Pirates in the first game of a three-game series. It was the final series of the regular season and Matt Holliday’s final series as a Cardinal. At the time, St. Louis was unlikely to pick up Holliday’s club option for '17, and that eventually came true after the season ended. For weeks, Holliday was trying to get his fractured right thumb healthy enough to play. Cards president of baseball operations John Mozeliak and former manager Mike Matheny agreed to activate Holliday for the season's final series, and if the opportunity surfaced, get Holliday an at-bat.
After all of Holliday's contributions to the organization and the community in his eight seasons in St. Louis -- one that included four National League Central titles and two NL pennants -- the Cardinals didn’t want to see him leave without an ovation.
McLaughlin knew all these factors going into the game. He also knew what kind of person Holliday was and appreciated all Holliday had done for St. Louis, from his close relationship with several charities to his regular visits to Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital.
Still, McLaughlin didn’t know if Holliday would even make an appearance. The Cardinals were still eyeing a postseason berth, so they wanted to put out a healthy lineup. He wasn’t sure if Holliday would come in as a pinch-hitter, a pinch-runner, or if Matheny would put Holliday in left field.
With the Cardinals leading, 5-0, in the seventh inning, Holliday stepped into the batter’s box as a pinch-hitter amid an ovation from the crowd and the Cards' dugout. And on an 0-2 pitch from Pittsburgh lefty Zach Phillips, Holliday launched a home run into St. Louis' bullpen. It prompted McLaughlin’s call:
“Holliday ... out to deep right ... Yes! Yes! Yes! He did it! In what could be his final plate appearance in St. Louis! An opposite-field home run.
The crowd erupted. McLaughlin stayed quiet, letting the audience take in the moment as Holliday gave the crowd a curtain call, averting his teary eyes as he raised his helmet. McLaughlin was taking in the moment himself, too.
Speaking about that call this week, McLaughlin used the same word he used in the broadcast: "Unbelievable."
“It was one of those magical moments that you can never envision seeing very often,” McLaughlin said. “He pops a home run, and you think, ‘Man, what a way to go out.’ He was very emotional, you could see it, and his teammates were very emotional. The crowd was going berserk, and it was just one of those moments I’ll never forget. It was just unbelievable.
“It was my favorite because not only the kind of player he was -- he was a great player here -- but also just the kind of person he was. He represented the Cardinals and the city so well. So to me, it was just a fitting way, if that was his final at-bat, to go out.”
It ended up not being Holliday’s final at-bat with the Cards -- he got one the next day, and during the final game of the season, he jogged out to left field alone to receive a standing ovation from the crowd and the players. But the home run remains part of a fitting farewell that Holliday and the Cardinals shared that weekend.
McLaughlin didn’t prepare for that call; in fact, he never prepares for a call, opting instead for spontaneity. That has changed some from when he took this job 22 years ago. He says that back then, he was just trying to make sure he “didn’t mess up too bad.”
Now, McLaughlin tries to describe what’s happening, understand the moment and go from there. That’s likely going to be his mindset when baseball returns and he’s able to be behind the microphone for games, whether that’s calling games from the stadium or from his home.
“As much as a player maybe feeds off the emotion of a crowd, hearing the excitement, we as broadcasters -- at least I do -- I feed off that as well,” McLaughlin said. “[The Cardinals] draw 40,000 people just about every night. You can feel the energy in the ballpark. It would be very important to make sure the broadcast is done with energy, trying to entertain people, and make it fun.”
If baseball does return, McLaughlin will play a part in bringing a live sport into many fans’ homes for the first time since March. He hasn’t thought about what he’ll say, but he has thought about the role baseball -- and all sports -- has and will have as the world moves forward. He hopes that thought process will help him capture the moment when baseball returns -- whenever that may be.
“I think if we’ve learned anything, sports and in this case, Cardinal baseball, is very important to many people in St. Louis and the region and countrywide and worldwide, really, there’s Cardinals fans all over,” McLaughlin said. “I do think it can play an important role in everyday life, to where it’s something to look forward to and be enjoyable. It’s a sign of progress and a sign of things at least coming back. I think my role would be to do the best I can under the circumstances but understand that it’s a diversion to people. And yeah, it’d be different, in terms of how we present the game, but it’s still baseball. Make the most of it and have fun with it.”
Anne Rogers covers the Cardinals for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @anne__rogers and on Facebook.