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April 18, 2014

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Spring brings memories of the catbird seat

PHOENIX -- It’s coincidental that the A’s spring training home is the same ballpark where I worked while broadcasting the Phoenix Firebirds in my Pacific Coast League days.

(My first regular season game with the A’s was a bit of career irony. Because they were adding the behemoth known as Mount Davis to the Oakland Coliseum, the A’s opened 1996 at Cashman Field, where I had worked parts of the previous seven seasons on the Las Vegas StarsŒ broadcasts.)

Phoenix Muni is still a jewel, untouched by the incursion of strip malls and Applebee’s. The park is just down the street from the team hotel and the airport, and minutes from restaurants that are tried and true. We still look out from the press box across Van Buren Street at the Phoenix Zoo, the Botanical Gardens and Papago Buttes, and it feels like baseball should feel in Arizona.

Our view has improved over the years, since they renovated the park and added a new press box which fits snugly under the cantilevered roof that has always been the architectural signature of the park.

In the PCL days, the radio booth was a concrete bunker that was wide enough for two broadcasters and just enough air to breathe. The visitor’s booth was right next door. Forget room for an engineer, or a third broadcaster. The thing about the bunker was that there was no air circulation and if it was 110 degrees at game time it was 125 in the booth. It was more like the steam room at your local health club. It was, by the way, 110 a lot. One time we started a game when it was so hot they grounded the planes at Sky

Harbor Airport. We were literally at the top row of the bleachers which meant most fans figured we were really the public address announcers (which spoke to our popularity as broadcasters) ‹ so we were deluged with requests for birthday mentions and the names of contest winners.

So, after the 1986 season, frustrated with our Spartan quarters, my broadcast partner Kent Derdivanis and I had a brilliant idea. We paid a

carpenter friend of Kent’s $200 and he built a platform above the bunkers that was, relatively speaking, the lap of luxury. We called it the Catbird Seat, a homage to Red Barber’s broadcast home at Ebbetts Field. We had room

to move, privacy and a nice breeze.

We had everything except a building permit. After all, the park was Phoenix Municipal Stadium.

Luckily, the Firebirds’ front office convinced the powers-that-be that the

catbird seat was masterful piece of construction and I’m longing for it know since there is no radio booth available for the A’s broadcasters at the Tokyo Dome. Our broadcast quarters are in the press box nestled among the writers.

Suddenly, the old concrete bunker doesn’t seem so bad.

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