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Ahead of the World Series, Phillies radio announcer shares the art of play-by-play

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Phillies slugger Bryce Harper hits the series winning two-run homerun during the 8th inning against the San Diego Padres in game 5 of the National League Championship in Philadelphia on Oct. 23, 2022.

The World Series begins Friday night in Houston, with the underdog Philadelphia Phillies facing off against the Astros. For Phillies fans, the magic moment of the postseason happened during game 5 of the National League Championship series against the San Diego Padres. The Phils were down one run in the 8th inning, with a runner on first, when the team's marquee player, Bryce Harper, stepped up to the plate.

Radio announcer Scott Franzke has been calling games in Philadelphia since 2006. He says Harper's at-bat in Sunday's game was one of those moments that sports fans and broadcasters dream of. Harper's "the money player," Franzke explains. "And you want him to come through in that moment. But you also understand — having seen thousands of baseball games over the years — that it doesn't happen like that all the time, and when it does, it's ... such a joyous event for the home team."

Harper delivered: With the count at two balls and two strikes, he smashed a homerun into left center field, putting the Phillies on top — and ultimately sending them to the World Series.

"There's not many that can hold a candle to Bryce Harper when he's on — and right now he's on," Franzke says.

The Phillies almost didn't make the postseason this year. But, as Franzke notes, the baseball season is long, and the Phillies were able to turn things around enough to claim the last wildcard spot in the playoffs.

As they head to Houston, the Phillies will be facing a team with strong pitching and "great players, up and down the lineup," Franzke says. What's more, the Astros are led by Dusty Baker, a respected manager who's yet to win a World Series. "He'd very much like to check that box and he thinks he's got a team that can do that," Franzke says of Baker.

For his part, Franzke isn't making predictions about how the World Series will go: "I'll steal the line that my predecessor, the great Harry Kalas here in Philadelphia, always said, 'I don't try to predict 'em. I just call 'em.'"


Interview highlights

On honing his skill as a live play-by-play announcer

Somebody once said to me that you have to remember a few things about doing baseball on the radio: One of them is people are in their cars. You may be watching the game. You might even have the game on a monitor next to you. So you're kind of seeing it on TV at the same time. But people are in their cars, by and large. They don't have that option. So everything you tell them is important. You have to tell them the score over and over again. You can never give the score too much. And you have to realize that everything that you tell them helps them draw that picture in their head. Most of them have been to a baseball game or a football game or whatever, and you can help complete that picture that they might already be building up in their mind with a small detail here and there that might connect with somebody.

On Bryce Harper's road to the Phillies, where he signed a record-breaking 13-year, $330 million contract in 2019

He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a teenager. Everybody knew he was going to be a superstar in the game. He was the No. 1 overall pick. He basically got his GED to get to college early, went to a junior college, was the first pick in the draft and was a star for the Washington Nationals. Never won a playoff series as a member of the Nationals and when free agency finally came around, everybody knew it was going to be a big payday. And the Phillies were one of the teams that courted him, one of many. And signing with Philadelphia in an offseason when the Phillies were trying to sort of really make a name for themselves, once again, they had been a number of years at the bottom of the division, and they wanted that to change. And he was going to be the centerpiece to change it, but not just on the field, but off the field as well as a marketing tool, as a face for the organization. He was going to do a lot of different things for the club.

[He signed a] $330 million [contract] but the biggest point of the deal was that it was 13 years and it was with no-trade clause. He had committed fully to being a Philadelphian and to coming to the Phillies and being a Philly for the rest of his career.

On Harper as a clutch hitter

When you're in that moment in the 8th inning of a game that you're trying to win, to send your team to the World Series and you're trailing, there's clearly a lot of pressure there, but I think it takes a special person to be able to block out all the noise, block out everything else and focus on one thing: What the pitcher's going to throw you next. And he has an ability to do that. He obviously showed that ability on Sunday. ... It's Michael Jordan-like. Everybody remembers Michael Jordan, when he would be in the zone, as they say. It didn't look like a surprise to Michael that he was able to do what he was able to do with the game on the line. And I feel like Bryce kind of showed a little bit of that on Sunday.

On changes to the game coming next year, including a pitch clock: The pitcher will have 15 seconds to throw a pitch with the bases empty, 20 seconds with a runner on

They're going to enforce it right away in spring training. And I think it's going to give players a few weeks to really understand it. Minor league pitchers have been dealing with this for a number of years. They've already been through this. They're geared to this. They've been under these rules for a couple of years. And the folks who have watched games ... have said, "Boy, it really speeds things up. It just really eliminates a lot of that downtime that the pitcher is standing there waiting to figure out what he's going to do next." And they said it's been really good for the game. So there are a lot of pitchers in today's game at the Major League level that are going to struggle. And I think it will be wildly fascinating to find out how many of them are able to adapt and still make their pitches where they want to.

On why there will be limits on throwing to first base

There are also going to be limits on how many times you can throw to first, which is designed to enhance the baserunning involved in the game. So if you have a runner at first, you're only going to be able to throw over one time with no repercussions. The second time you throw over, you're either going to need to pick him off or he's going to get [to] second base. So you've got to be sure about it. And I think that's going to lead to more stolen bases overall, which is something that baseball wants. They want to see more action in the game.

On making the bases bigger

It shortens the distance between bases. There's also a little more room for, say, a fielder and a runner to occupy the base or arrive at the base at the same time, which they hope would help diminish injuries, collisions. ...

There will be an adjustment period, but I do think that speeding up the pace of the action is going to be important. All the fan surveys that anybody has ever done says people want to see more stuff happening, right? More stuff. More people on the bases, more action on the bases, if you will. And this is going to lead to that.

Lauren Krenzel and Seth Kelley produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Seth Kelley and Beth Novey adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2022 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

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