Story by Chris Graham
Bob Jones could sense the history that was unfolding before his eyes – but baseball broadcasters know better than to say the words no-hitter or perfect game out loud.
“Now everybody is getting ready, on their feet … the 0-2 pitch … swung on and missed! Strike three! Paul Burnside has done it! A perfect game!” was the call from Jones when Burnside, a Winchester righthander, struck out Front Royal pinch-hitter Dustin Bennett to finish his June 3 perfect game.
That Jones was on hand to bring the game to life is the result of an initiative of the Valley Baseball League and the Hampton-based Future Media – which are working together to bring Valley League baseball action to fans across Western Virginia and across the world via the World Wide Web.
“From how things have started this year, it’s been, from my mind … I thought it would be good, but it’s been better than I expected,” said Dave Biery, the president of the Valley League, talking about the move to make audio broadcasts of every game involving the league’s 10 teams available to listeners on the Internet.
The early returns have been glowing – with an average of 500 ‘Net fans tuning in per game the first weekend. And Biery told The Augusta Free Press that he sees those numbers “only going up as the season goes on – because parents, coaches and friends anywhere in the world can listen to the games.”
That was a main selling point to getting the league on board with the idea of making its games available on the Web. All but a handful of the players in the Valley League, one of the top summer college leagues in the country, hail from outside the Shenandoah Valley and Northern Virginia.
“One of the major benefits is that the parents and families and friends of the players, no matter where they are, can listen to the game every night and find out how their guys are doing,” said Doug Barrett, the president of Future Media, which also works with several colleges in Virginia and a Midwest-based summer college baseball league, the Northwoods League.
“This is a good recruiting tool for the teams to be able to say, hey, you’re going to be able to hear all the games,” Barrett told the AFP.
Jones, who has been the play-by-play man for over-the-air radio broadcasts of Winchester Royals games for five years, said he often fielded requests of that nature from family members who wanted to be able to keep up with the team from afar.
“It seems like every year we got phone calls and inquiries from players whose parents were interested in listening to the ballgames, but they were unable to because they live so far away and couldn’t get to Winchester with any regularity,” Jones told the AFP.
“I’ve heard stories of how people have held cell phones up to the radio so that their parents in Alabama and Tennessee could listen to a ballgame – because the radio station that we do the ballgames on doesn’t stream on the Internet, so the only way the out-of-town people could listen would be to get a friend to call them on a cell phone and then hold the phone up to the radio for two and a half hours,” Jones said.
The ‘Net broadcasts are also a plus for teams that are not currently having their games aired locally – like the Staunton Braves, who have had trouble finding a consistent broadcast partner in recent years after being a local-radio staple for decades.
“This is something leagues all over the country – the Cape Cod, the New England Collegiate, just about all of them – it’s something that everybody has started doing,” said Steve Cox, the general manager of the Staunton Braves who also serves as the color commentator on the team’s Internet broadcasts.
“It’s mainly for the kids’ parents – but also, when we go out on the road, it looks like a lot of people, if they can’t go on the road with the team, are sitting by the computer and listening to the games,” Cox told the AFP.
What this means, of course, is more exposure for the Valley League – both locally and across the world.
“I wish it would have happened a few years earlier,” said Jones, whose call of Burnside’s perfect game is now a part of league history – a permanent part, that is, archived on the league Web site.
“That’s an example of how this can give exposure to the Valley League – which couldn’t get this kind of exposure otherwise,” Barrett said.