SAN DIEGO — “Ready four, take four; ready five, take five…” That may sound like gibberish, but for Tom Ceterski, director of Channel 4’s Padres telecasts, those are the sounds of broadcasting.
In a dimly-lit semi-truck trailer filled with TV monitors just outside of Petco Park, Ceterski, along with producer Ed Barnes and a cast of 15 crew, work in a fury of hand gestures, stopwatch clicks and conversations all with the goal of telling stories through a baseball game as it unfolds live.
The crew works together in a time-earned sense of trust and camaraderie, not only between the crew in the truck, but with the announcers in the booth, too.
“You can’t work without it,” Ceterski said. “When you watch at home and it’s real smooth and it seems like it’s all kind of scripted, that means it’s all working.”
Each game works with a script of sorts. “We try to work with the announcers, so we’re telling stories, they’re telling stories…and then from there I’m just really calling the game; what I see, what happens; every game is always different; there’s no two games really alike,” Ceterski said.
Ceterski described his direction of a game like that of a quarterback looking to throw to his receivers. “Like a Payton Manning check down, here’s your primary, then you check here, here and here.” Each of the camera operators has their basic pattern, depending on the game situations, whether it be a left-handed hitter or if someone is on base.
And calling the shots becomes reactionary. The game is the same, but it changes all the time, if that makes sense, Ceterski said.
Barnes, 31, drives the content of the telecast. He started his career as an intern to former play-by-play announcer Matt Vasgersian, doing all of the research for stories during the game.
It’s something that has since become second nature to him as he verifies facts and stats from behind his laptop.
“It’s all about what stories there are, and how can we tell them,” Barnes said during the sixth inning of a game. “Everyone in this truck wants to have fun, too, just like the viewer at home,” Barnes said. “And when we’re trying to think about the way that we put together a game, we’re trying to figure out how to make it fun for the people at home.”
Their sense of humor emerges at any time during the telecast, explained color analyst Mark “Mudcat” Grant. It’s something that comes from being on the same wavelength with Tom and Ed, he added. “That’s one of the luxuries I have. I’ll say (to Tom) ‘Hey, see those people down there?’ or (Tom) will say, ‘Hey, ‘Mud’ I’ve got these guys wearing funny hats…’ so it’s a two-way street.”
Grant, serving his 15th season as an announcer, said his main objective is to inform the fans with something new every day and to keep them glued to the set whether the game’s a blowout or a pitchers’ duel.
“Being a Padre announcer… I want to make the fans feel like they are actually part of our telecast,” Grant said. “That’s an important part of our telecast and I think that’s what makes people like what we do.”
As a former pitcher, Grant brings a viewpoint to the game that most other position players-turned-color-analysts don’t bring, which is a detail to the initiator of action, the pitcher.
“Ninety percent of the game is pitching,” Grant said. “Although, I’ve learned through the years, like from Tony (Gwynn) about hitting, I’ve tried to soak up as much information from hitting coaches on hitting so I can bring that across on the telecast, and I’m still learning pitching nuggets…everyday talking with pitching coaches like Darren Balsley.”
Working with Dick Enberg is great, too, Grant said. “For me, it’s a treat because I grew up listening to him doing all of the big games. He’s got a tremendous sense of humor, which I thought was very refreshing. He’s a stickler for a lot of details, he knows exactly what he wants to do and he wants it done right, which is great. It’s a great asset to have…if you’re going to do something, do it right.”
It took Grant and play-by-play announcer Mark Neely a couple of months to develop their working chemistry; Neely joked that they’re still working on, in fact.
Becoming an announcer is something that Neely’s always wanted to do — after learning that he wasn’t going to play in the big leagues. He spent a lot time announcing minor league games where he learned to develop and hone his natural style of broadcasting.
“Myself, like a lot of different people in the business, usually you gravitate to a sound of somebody you grew up listening to, for me it was Jack Buck in St. Louis, but then after a while you realize you can’t be an imitator, you have to be yourself.”
He’s formed his style into a self-described laid-back one. He doesn’t have a catch-phrase or homerun call, something that just isn’t his style.
“I didn’t feel a catch-phrase was something I needed to do, and maybe to my detriment.”
What he does have is a good sense of the game and when to rev up the excitement levels, though he’s cautious not to show too much excitement too early on in the season.
The inflection, the intensity of the call, depends on where we are in the game, where we are in the season, Neely said.
“A game-winning homer in the last day of the season to send you to the playoffs is going to sound different than a game-winning homer in game five of the season.”
Barnes said they are all fans of the game, too. “We want to enjoy what we’re seeing just like the viewer at home does, and we hope that comes through in our shows.”