With no sports, oh my, what are the broadcasters talking about?

They’re giving us play-by-play of a different sort when it comes to their daily lives: new pets, meal prep, workouts and some familial competitions.
With no baseball games to call these days, what are Andy Freed, left, Neil Solondz, center, and Dave Wills up to?
With no baseball games to call these days, what are Andy Freed, left, Neil Solondz, center, and Dave Wills up to? [ Times (2017) ]
Published May 19, 2020|Updated May 19, 2020

"One ball, two strikes the count. 8-4 Rays are down in the ninth inning, down to their final out and strike. The pitch is taken, outside corner, called strike three. And that is your ball game. And we don’t know how long it’ll be our final ball game for a bit … ‘’

We still don’t.

Neil Solondz’s radio call to wrap up the Rays-Phillies exhibition game at 4:34 p.m. on March 12 remains the final word for now on the baseball season, which is on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic.

With no scores to scream, updates to unload or analysis to add, here’s how some broadcasters and announcers are keeping busy.

Dave Mishkin, Lightning radio

Lightning radio announcer Dave Mishkin with his new dog Stella, front left, and Roxie, front right.
Lightning radio announcer Dave Mishkin with his new dog Stella, front left, and Roxie, front right. [ Courtesy of Dave Mishkin ]

As with his play-by-play calls, Mishkin packs a lot in. He runs almost every day. Spends more time with his wife and two middle-schoolers. Writes a column for the team website and app, mixing memories of past games that are being re-aired with family stuff, such as watching all 10 seasons of Friends. Talks some hockey, doing Zoom interviews for the radio site, answering questions from others.

And, most interestingly, attends to the family’s new dog.

And not just any basic dog, but a Bernese Mountain Dog named Stella.

Related: Now hear this: Greatest quotes in Tampa Bay sports history

Mishkin being Mishkin, the story about why, how and where they got the 80-pound dog that is native to Switzerland, its acclimation with their other dog (Roxie) and two cats (Charlie, Metro), and the backstories last nearly 20 minutes. Early on, he admits there’s more detail than needed. “Obviously," he said, “I like talking about stuff."

In short: He saw his first Bernese Mountain Dog when the Lightning played in Prague in 2008 and had been “jonesing for one” ever since. Saw two at a dog show in Tampa last year. Met and swapped contact info with the Tallahassee-based owners, who put breeding plan on hold due to the pandemic, opted to sell one and reached out. Made the deal and pick up last month. “Stars aligned," Mishkin said. “My wife was like, ‘I think this was meant to be.’"

Brian Anderson, Rays TV

Rays TV analyst Brian Anderson doing workouts in his Carillon-area garage during shutdown.
Rays TV analyst Brian Anderson doing workouts in his Carillon-area garage during shutdown. [ Courtesy of Brian Anderson ]

The colorful commentator spent the first part of the shutdown wondering if he had the coronavirus.

After a Super Bowl weekend of events in his offseason home state of Ohio, Anderson spent 10 days in bed, fever spiking to 103.5, sheets soaked from night sweats. He eventually was diagnosed with flu and pneumonia. “As sick as I have ever been," he said.

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Anderson was still dragging when he came to Port Charlotte for his first spring TV game March 11 — and paying more attention to coronavirus details. An article claiming that a flu diagnosis didn’t rule out also having COVID-19 caught his eye. “So I wondered, ‘What were the chances?’" he said. “I reached out to my doctor and he said (he) was kind of wondering the same thing."

Turns out, it apparently wasn’t the case, at least based on a negative test for antibodies done through a league program.

Related: From putting with a dog to a first pull-up, here are your best sports moments of the coronavirus pandemic

And Anderson finally feels back to normal, enough to resume a daily “prison-style workout in the garage, making use of every little weight that we have, a little bench and a bike. … It gets nice and hot in there so I get an awesome sweat."

With a resting mode that is other people’s hyperactive, Anderson, 48, may have met his match. He spends his down time chasing 4-year-old daughter Harper and 1-year-old son Baker — yes, he’s named after the quarterback of Anderson’s beloved Browns, and born in Mayfield Heights, Ohio — around his and wife Jessica’s Carillon-area townhome, an admitted silver lining. “They are endless energy," he said. “Outside of their nap time, they don’t stop.’’

So they play, walk on the neighborhood trails, watch Frozen 2, Bluey and other kids’ programs. Anderson’s biggest personal improvements during the months off? Diaper changing (“I’ve become a pro") and domestic chores.

“You get up and repeat," Anderson said. “And I’m telling you something, you lose track of the days. Absolutely. For the first month of quarantine, I don’t know how many times I missed our garbage day, and we have two a week."

Sara Walsh, Fox Sports

Fox Sports broadcaster Sara Walsh and husband Matt Buschmann, a Blue Jays coach, have spent the shutdown playing lots of tennis.
Fox Sports broadcaster Sara Walsh and husband Matt Buschmann, a Blue Jays coach, have spent the shutdown playing lots of tennis. [ Courtesy of Sara Walsh ]

The shutdown has opened up the competition between Walsh, a Gulf High product, and husband Matt Buschmann, a former Rays minor-leaguer and current Blue Jays coach.

“I’m a couple of good ground strokes away from joining the tennis tour when it comes back," she said. “Matt and I are really contemplating our missed calling in the world of tennis. … We’ve just been playing tennis, arguing playing each other in tennis, just working out like crazy." When Walsh isn’t on the courts, she’s running on the streets, joking “I’m about to qualify for the New York Marathon."

Related: How Erin Andrews’ first gig with the Lightning kick-started her broadcast career

Walsh, 42, who works on NFL and college broadcasts in the fall, was to be hosting Fox’s soccer coverage, which as a former player she was extremely excited about. But she did only one game, the Major League Soccer debut in Nashville. “I just don’t know when I’m going to work again," she said. “Which is a weird feeling."

When spring training was put on hold, they decided with 3-year-old twins they’d be better off staying in warmer Florida than returning to their Tennessee home. They moved from their original Dunedin rental out to Clearwater Beach, with the benefit of having her parents close by to help as they wait, though not knowing if the Jays are headed back to Toronto if play starts or staying in Florida, which then impacts her schedule.

”The sports world being shut down affects our whole household," she said. “Every time Matt hears news about baseball, I look at it as a sign of how does this affect soccer. … Our whole life is just one big contingency right now."

Gene Deckerhoff, Bucs/Florida State

NFF Chris Schenkel award recipient and  Florida State broadcaster, Gene Deckerhoff,  listens during the 56th National Football Foundation Annual Awards ceremonies held at the  Waldorf Astoria, on Tuesday, Dec.10, 2013 in New York. (AP Photo/Jin Lee)
NFF Chris Schenkel award recipient and Florida State broadcaster, Gene Deckerhoff, listens during the 56th National Football Foundation Annual Awards ceremonies held at the Waldorf Astoria, on Tuesday, Dec.10, 2013 in New York. (AP Photo/Jin Lee) [ JIN LEE | Associated Press (2013) ]

The 75-year-old veteran of the group has been playing it safe at home in Tallahassee “looking like Ringo Starr all of a sudden," reading Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation (“my wife found it for two bucks”) and planning extensively for the football seasons with confidence they’ll be played. “Saying prayers and crossing fingers," he said.

A 21-date spring tour of Florida State booster clubs alongside new football coach Mike Norvell — whom he has only talked with in person just once — was canceled, but Deckerhoff is otherwise doing what he usually does in May.

Related: Could college football start without every team? It has before

Which means already composing matchup sheets for the 12 FSU and 20 Bucs games he is slated to call — though having trouble getting his usual info on depth charts — and planning the now even trickier travel schedule that allows him to do both jobs.

“There’s a few that are tight," he said, pondering, for example, a likely 8 a.m. arrival in Tallahassee with the Seminoles after a Sept. 19 game in Boise, Idaho, then jumping right into his 24-foot RV for the 4 ½-hour, 249-mile drive to Tampa for a 1 p.m. kickoff against the Panthers.

“I’m ready to go," he said. “Let’s put toe to leather and kick this thing off."

Andy Freed and Dave Wills, Rays radio

Andy Freed has been doing all the cooking at home.
Andy Freed has been doing all the cooking at home. [ Courtesy of Sarah Freed ]

The dynamic duo who sits side-by-side in radio booths for most of six-plus months hasn’t been face-to-face (not counting those wonderful Zoom work calls) since a March 11 broadcast in Port Charlotte. Freed and Wills have done a few public service announcements, and other video and voice work for the team from home.

“I did not realize how much I miss so many of the things I thought I was tired of doing," Freed said. “The day to day, the routine of it."

Freed said his quarantined family life isn’t that much different than during the offseason. His wife, Amy, was already homeschooling 10-year-old twins Casey and Maddie and 17-year-old daughter Sarah, and Andy handles most of the household duties. He’s just not used to still doing so through March, April and May.

Related: There’s a big if, but 2020 season could be quite interesting for Rays

“Dave jokes that I’m Alice from The Brady Bunch," Freed said. “I do the meals and the cooking and the cleaning and help out with school. ... The whole point is to give Amy as much leeway and room as possible to do whatever she needs to get those kids educated."

He enjoys doing “mundane things with the kids” and taking care of the dog, Charlie Brown, they got in January. Also, watching and listening to broadcasts of games from decades ago. “I put on the noise-canceling headphones and I’m bee-bopping around listening to Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola call some Cardinals-Dodgers game from 1984."

Cooking has been the biggest challenge, with lasagna and chicken soup Freed’s best meals: “I’m not a natural cook. And we have a lot of food allergies in the house. So it’s really rewarding when you make a really good meal the whole family likes. … It’s been much harder than I realized. I was going to make hamburger soup one night and I screwed it up so bad I had to throw the whole thing out, and I was pissed off for days about that."

Wills has also been cooking more (“learned how to make a darn good omelet”) and losing weight, down 16 pounds thanks to daily walks with dog Bella and bike rides. Also, of note: “Infringing on my wife and daughter’s space. They’re obviously not accustomed to having me around this much. Trying to stay married. I did find five pieces on their 2,000-piece puzzle last week. Or maybe I should say five at most."

More voices

Yankees PA announcer Paul Olden
Yankees PA announcer Paul Olden [ Courtesy of Paul Olden ]

Yankees PA announcer Paul Olden, a St. Pete resident since his days in the Rays radio booth, has become “reacquainted” with his guitar, set up a net in his condo that allows him take full golf swings (occasionally with regulation balls, though with some wall bruises to show for the misses), transitioned to a healthier diet and, despite a late March/April bout with what he feared was coronavirus but tested negative, maintained his streak of running at least a mile through 1,271 days (as of Monday). Social distancing hasn’t been that big of an issue, Olden, 66, said. “Fortunately my personality was such that that was not very difficult to do. It’s almost like, ‘See, this is what the rest of you have been missing not being around people.’"

* Rays pre- and post-game host Rich Hollenberg, who also calls college basketball for ESPN, was searching for a fun and creative project. “I’ve got to do something," he said. Having tossed hundreds of media credentials into a box during an early quarantine cleanup, he settled on reminiscing about games based on looking at the passes. Wife Jill suggested he use their youngest son, 11-year-old Bryan, and the Twitter video series “Pick a Press Pass” has run for eight episodes. Hollenberg also is joining oldest son Jason in doing Texas coach Shaka Smart’s online burpee challenge (100 a day for 30 days) and baking with daughter Lindsey. For what it’s worth, Hollenberg called the last major men’s college game before the shutdown, Kansas State beating TCU in the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City.

ESPN softball analyst Michele Smith, a longtime Treasure Island resident, would normally be going “warp speed” between college tournaments and Team USA games. “It’s been quite depressing,’’ she said. “A hard month-and-a-half.’’ Not only is her main job on hold, but her side gigs aren’t doing too well either, owning three beach-area businesses, the Sunset Inn and 6 West Beach cottages, and the just-opened West Events wedding venue. “Everything in my life has been shut down by this,’’ Smith said. She is doing the 7 Innings podcast and some social media work for ESPN, training for a charity Peloton bike event the network is airing, providing coaching tips for youth-league players via apps and “learned to become a little bit more proficient with accounting methods."

Tricia Whitaker of Rays TV and her new large dog, Dale.
Tricia Whitaker of Rays TV and her new large dog, Dale. [ Photo courtesy of Tricia Whitaker ]

Rays sideline reporter Tricia Whitaker has been back home in Indiana, spending time with her fiancé. In addition to some FaceTime interviews with players and staff, she devotes much of her time handling a stray dog she is fostering, a 110-pounder named Dale, and posting videos of their entertaining adventures. "The light of my life right now,'' she said.

Longtime Lightning and Magic TV pre- and post-game host Paul Kennedy has done video interviews with players paired with classic game replays, is reading more (war, history, non-sports biographies), and has watched all the Oscar-nominated movies on pay-per-view. But he is most enjoying an unexpected bonus as a result of the shutdown, “an extended honeymoon” with wife Joan, whom he married in September “after a whirlwind 15-year courtship," just before the seasons started. He got tips from his broadcast partners on living with a spouse and says they’ve had a good time hanging out in his downtown Orlando condo. “It’s been great.”

Rays TV play-by-play man Dewayne Staats has read nine books in two months, including one that stuck with him on George Mason, whom he now considers among his favorite founding fathers. “I’m thinking about finding a picture of him to put up in my office," he said. Staats has also spent more time with his three grandkids, and gained a new appreciation for April and May gulf sunsets that he normally doesn’t see, sitting nightly with wife Carla on their Sand Key balcony. “I appreciate living in this area now more than I ever did," he said.

Rays Radio Network's Neil Solondz
Rays Radio Network's Neil Solondz [ Courtesy of Neil Solondz ]

Solondz doesn’t make much of his role in history, hoping games resume soon and that all the broadcasters have games to talk about. He has continued his extensive season prep work, adding to his encyclopedic knowledge of Rays minor-leaguers, created ample content for the team website between his RaysRadio blogs and video interviews, and spent an hour a day on learning Spanish, doing online lessons, working through a text book and watching YouTube interviews and Univision programming.

He is also focused on self-care, physically, doing 150 pushups and 30 minutes of low-impact aerobics a day, and mentally, spending at least 30 minutes reading inspirational books.

Solondz also is making a daily effort to reach out to five people outside his immediate family via phone, text or social media messaging. “Just to check in, say, 'Hey, how you doing?’ We all need some sort of human contact outside of the people within our brick-and-mortar walls," Solondz said. “We all have extra time on our hands, why not make the best of it?"

“Hopefully it only feels like a few hours until baseball comes back. For Doug Waechter, I’m Neil Solondz. Again, final score, Phillies 8, Rays 4. Thanks for being with us in Port Charlotte. And we’ll hope to see you soon on the Rays Baseball Network."