Going, Going, Gone
| American Journalism Review
| From AJR, June 2000|
Going, Going, Gone
A National Public Radio correspondent lands a sweet summer gig as a
play-by-play radio announcer for a minor league team.
By Jessica Leshnoff
Neal Conan isn't a superstar baseball player. He's not even a really good baseball player. He's a news commentator. So how did this National Public Radio correspondent and host of "Weekly Edition: The Best of NPR News," a self-proclaimed "bad field/no-hit second baseman," land himself a sweet summer gig as a play-by-play radio announcer for a Maryland minor league team?
By following his "adult childhood dream," he saysÐone that started in a hotel room just before Conan was scheduled to begin covering the 1996 Democratic National Convention. While listening to a baseball game on the radio, he was suddenly struck by a revelation: He and the baseball announcer were doing the same things, only in different venues.
Both had to, as he puts it, "set the scene," "get the lineup" and "describe the action down on the floor or down on the field." Conan, an NPR staffer since 1977, decided that this is what he wanted to do. He got in touch with an agent and his dream became realityÐoccasional commentating for Maryland's Bowie Bay Sox.
Four years later, Conan, 50, has decided to pursue his ballpark passion full time as the announcer for Maryland's Aberdeen Arsenal. And he has taken a season-long, late-April through late-September leave of absence from NPR, though he will file biweekly essays on life in the minor leagues.
Charlie Vascellaro , director of public relations for the Aberdeen Arsenal, is delighted with Conan's summer appointment.
"He's got one of those perfect, NPR-type voices," he says of Conan. "He's genuinely enthusiastic about what he's doing."
Vascellaro extols Conan's dedication, saying that he took the new position as a true "labor of love" for the game and the newly founded minor league team. Not only has Conan had to move away from his family in Bethesda, Maryland, to live with a host family in Aberdeen, but he has taken a major pay cut. No matter, says Conan. It's fun and the host family is great. He's doing what he loves.
And although his plans are unconventional, the radio personality has received spirited encouragement from coworkers, friends and family.
"Everybody has been very supportive," he says. "It is such a surprising way to spend a summer. A lot of folks are a little envious."
Conan is looking ahead to long trips on the road and many home runs. "This is something I felt I was ready for," he says. "The team is taking a chance on me, and I appreciate their faith."###