Doc makes house call to Bucs' broadcast booth

Voice of NBC's NHL coverage is a lifelong Pirates fan

March 3rd, 2016

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Mike "Doc" Emrick has been calling hockey games for a living since 1973. He's narrated thousands of games, featuring an incalculable number of line changes. On Thursday afternoon, he found himself nervous about one substitution.

Emrick, the lead announcer for National Hockey League telecasts for NBC, took part in a pinch-broadcasting stint during his beloved Pirates' 10-8 Grapefruit League loss to the Blue Jays at McKechnie Field. He stepped into the KDKA-FM radio booth with announcer Greg Brown and analyst John Wehner, sharing stories and even assuming play-by-play duties for two innings.

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"I'm excited about what's happened," he said. "I don't know if I was very good, but I was excited to have the experience."

But he relinquished those responsibilities for one reason: He was worried about the typical Spring Training lineup changes. Yes, the man who keeps track of hockey players jumping on and off the ice at a moment's notice didn't know if he could fully digest the mass substitutions made by managers Clint Hurdle and John Gibbons.

"The last thing you want," Emrick said, "is a ground ball to someone that's not out there."

Calling Thursday's game was a dream come true in many ways for Emrick, who grew up listening to legendary Pirates broadcaster Bob Prince and remains a loyal Bucs fan to this day. He will return to the McKechnie Field press box -- in the ROOT Sports' TV booth -- on March 9.

It was the second baseball broadcast of Emrick's distinguished career. The first came when he was a graduate student at Miami (Ohio) University. He had little time to prepare for the Miami vs. Kent State game, without a media guide or any game notes, and he described that performance as "awful."

"It was a fun time to do it, and it was fun to start on radio because, to me anyway, radio is a little more forgiving," he said. "I couldn't have been in better company, that's for sure. It's not just the polite thing to say; it's the real thing to say."

Emrick was happy to be seated between Brown, who helped set up his appearance, and Wehner, his manager when he attended Pirates fantasy camp. The three-time Emmy Award winner, the first media member inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame, proved to be a natural fit.

"It's kind of like going to a dance. You just hope you don't step on their feet all night. That's kind of the way this was," Emrick said. "They both made me feel so welcome."

Emrick did his part, too. After calling the Chicago Blackhawks' win over the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday night, he woke up Thursday morning, hopped on a plane and flew down to Florida. On his flight, Emrick pored over printed pages from the Pirates' media guide. He stopped by Pittsburgh's camp twice recently, once on Feb. 18 to meet people and again on Monday to watch the intrasquad Black & Gold game.

Emrick came away extremely impressed by first baseman Josh Bell, who doubled and made a nice scoop at first base late in Thursday's game, and top prospect Tyler Glasnow, who pitched in Monday's game.

He arrived at McKechnie Field a little more than an hour before the first pitch on Thursday, looking for the Pirates clubhouse so he could talk to a few players.

"Those were things I did to provide myself a little background. I normally let them provide the background as the season goes on," Emrick said. "I learn what's going on in baseball and how the team is from listening to them. Here I was, at least for two innings, having to provide some of that. 'Well, I better do something.'"

Emrick didn't get a chance to create a signature home-run catchphrase, but he did test out a strikeout call. When a Pirates pitcher would pick up strike three, Emrick would exclaim, "Yes!"

"I didn't know what else to say. I've never sat at home and thought about what I would say," he said. "I just sit at home and watch a game, watch it to learn about the team and enjoy. I never pretended what I'd say as a baseball announcer because I never fashioned I'd ever be one.

"And so for two innings, I was one."