Eric Byrnes’ Mom Didn’t Care If He Got An F
“In life – it’s so important to be comfortable being uncomfortable. When you’re uncomfortable – that’s when growth happens.”
The term “Offseason” means different things to different people.
To most people who work in baseball – the winter is a time for R and R. Maybe a trip to some place tropical. Some personal downtime before the summer rolls around and brings with it MLB’s marathon of a schedule.
That’s not Eric Byrnes.
On a snowy Thursday in his home just south of Truckee, CA – Eric’s day includes a nearly 200 mile trek on his exercise bike.
“It’s been kind of a low effort session,” the MLB analyst declares with all the sincerity in the world.
He senses my smile through the phone.
“Seriously! I’ve been able to talk to you this whole time, haven’t I?”
While it’s impossible to sum up who and what Byrnes is – that exchange comes close. He’s one of the most driven and genuine people you’ll come across in any industry. His addiction to hard work and ability to connect with others propelled the UCLA all-time hits leader to a decade in the big leagues and another ten years as one of the game’s most charismatic analysts.
Growing up in Redwood City, just south of San Francisco, Byrnes always wanted to do two things – play sports and talk about sports. His lifelong plan hit the smallest of speed bumps in 8th grade when he turned in an essay detailing his goals.
“The teacher handed the paper back to me and said ‘everyone wants to play professional sports and everyone wants to be a sports broadcaster – come up with something else.’”
Stunned, Byrnes returned home to a mother who was not pleased with her son’s story. The two immediately went back to school where Mrs. Byrnes reissued the paper to the teacher exclaiming; “I don’t care if he gets an F, this is Eric’s paper.”
Stories like this tend to stick with people – particularly with those as successful as Byrnes. No one would blame the young man for turning that experience into proverbial bulletin board material. Fuel to support his ambition. Eric doesn’t look at it that way.
“We all make mistakes. We all say things we shouldn’t say. Maybe I just caught her on a bad day, you know?”
As for what sport he’d pursue – that remained unclear for a while. Eric was a gifted athlete – fast and competitive. He loved just about anything that involved running around with his friends. It wasn’t until he was 13 that baseball took the lead.
His parents bought him an Iron Mike Pitching Machine. Naturally, he immediately cranked it up to 90 mph and began taking cuts. He whiffed for days and weeks, but eventually started getting a piece of the ball. Not long after he was connecting on the occasional line drive.
Three years later he was a sophomore called up to varsity for St. Francis High School. In what might’ve been his 2nd or 3rd game on the squad, Byrnes found himself in the lineup against Serra High’s Dan Serafini. The 6’1” lefty would soon be a first round pick by the Twins – but that day he was Eric’s pitching machine. One by one Serafini fanned the St. Francis lineup but he couldn’t figure out the sophomore. Byrnes finished with three base hits right up the middle.
“I had been hitting Serafini for three years in my backyard,” explains Byrnes through a cracked smile.
A stellar high school career eventually earned the Bay Area native a spot on UCLA’s roster. As a Bruin, Byrnes amassed a Hall of Fame career that eventually got him drafted following his senior season. Having turned down an offer from the Astros the summer before, Eric knew his window to make the majors as a 22-year-old was short. He was also battling a bit of a superficial challenge.
“Nothing I ever did on a baseball field was pretty,” admits Byrnes. “Everything I did looked like I was working hard for it.”
Baseball is an aesthetic sport. The stark contrast of the infield dirt with the outfield grass, the unique features of every stadium in the country – and the players. Scouts (especially 20 years ago) put stock in how comfortable a player looks on the field. Swings should be effortless. Fielding should be fluid. Anything different and the player is surely overextending himself.
As he freely admits – Byrnes was a grinder. He ran on his toes and put his whole body behind his throws from the outfield. He never cared how he looked – he was only concerned about the results.
Fortunately for him, he was drafted the one franchise who completely shared his philosophy – the Oakland A’s.
“I loved what the whole organization was doing from top to bottom right when I entered. It was moneyball!”
Drafted in 1998, Byrnes made his MLB debut with the A’s in August of 2000. For the next 5 years he was a key member of the storied team that changed the way baseball teams were built.
He was never the best player on the field, but it was personality and hustle that made Byrnes a fan favorite in Oakland. Productive on the diamond, it was in the clubhouse that Eric might’ve done his best work.
“I always prided myself in being a good teammate, and a clubhouse can be a very divisive place. There’s guys from all different cultures and countries – I always tried to connect with everyone.”
Once he cracked into the Show in 2000, Byrnes decided to invest a few winters in the Dominican Republic to keep his game sharp. He didn’t realize it, but the decision to play winter ball in the Caribbean helped much more than his physical skills.
“Having spent 5 Winters down there, I knew what it was like to be the foreign player in a place where you didn’t speak the language. That experience made me want to connect with my Latin teammates back in the states. That and it kept my Spanish strong.”
It was that attitude that earned Eric a favorable reputation around the league. He understood the value of finding common ground with people. It’s a skill that would serve him greatly in the next phase of his life.
The Redwood City product’s big league career wrapped up in 2010 with the Mariners. He had a couple offers to keep playing the sport that had already given him so much, but Byrnes was ready for a new challenge. He had fulfilled one half of his 8th grade prediction – now it was time to talk sports.
He was contacted by his old friend and pitcher Kyle Peterson who had already made the transition to color analyst for ESPN College and LLWS games. Peterson recruited Eric to do some work in the booth for a College World Series regional and the rest was history.
“I did something like 7 games in 3 days and I loved it. I had never experienced that rush of live TV – I knew it was for me.”
To no one’s surprise – Byrnes was a natural on television. In no time he was making appearances on the freshly launched MLB Network breaking down the game he loved.
As they tend to do in the industry, one job led to more opportunities. In 2011 he accepted a position hosting the 7-10 pm slot for KNBR in San Francisco – the same station he used to call into as a kid. Hosting a 3 hour radio show solo is tough wherever you are, let alone a top 10 market with very little media experience. Byrnes recognized the challenge and took it on anyway.
“In life – it’s so important to be comfortable being uncomfortable. When you’re uncomfortable – that’s when growth happens. That’s where you develop. I don’t think there was a single day I walked into that KNBR studio feeling 100% comfortable – but I learned how to make it work. After that experience for about a year, I knew anything I was going to do in media was going to be easy.”
Take the word “easy” with a grain of salt when it comes out of the mouth of Eric Byrnes. After all, he’s the man who casually bikes roughly the distance between San Francisco and Lake Tahoe while chatting on the phone. The guy who played 420 holes of golf in 24 hours last Spring setting a world record in the process.
Since his playing career wrapped up, Eric has grown both as a broadcaster and a community leader. His foundation “Let Them Play,” advocates public schools re-investing in physical education across the country.
“As a kid growing up with ADHD, activity was the only thing that ever stimulated me. I understand with shrinking budgets – PE, music and art are the first things to go. I just want to do what I can to promote exercise for kids.”
As for the ever-evolving world of media, Byrnes points to the importance of having a digital presence. He recognizes how we consume our sports is changing year to year and even month to month. What the landscape looks like in another 10 years? He’s as unsure as the rest of us.
“One thing though, for sure,” the triathlete breaks for a rare breath on his pedals. “No matter your platform; TV, radio, podcast or an article. Whatever you do has to be authentic. If you’re authentic you’ll resonate with people, you’ll make an impact. I just try to be authentic.”
The 43-year-old father of three never made baseball look easy – but he sure makes his extraordinary life look effortless.
Jack Ferris writes feature stories for BSM and serves as an update anchor for iHeart Radio in San Francisco and as a freelance contributor for the PAC-12 Network. Previously he has worked as a sports anchor for KXLY-TV in Spokane and as the co-host of the Don West Show on KPQ in Central Washington. You can find him on Twitter @JFerris714 or reach him by email at FerrisJack54@gmail.com.
Is There Still a Place for Baseball Talk on National Sports Shows?
“Its struggle has been the same since the beginning of television. There is too much baseball for any regular season baseball game or story to have national significance.”
Last week at the BSM Summit, I hosted a panel focused on air checks. I wish I could say we covered the topic thoroughly, but we got derailed a lot, and you know what? That is okay. It felt like real air checks that I have been on both sides of in my career.
Rob Parker of The Odd Couple on FOX Sports Radio was the talent. He heard thoughts on his show from his boss, Scott Shapiro, and from his former boss, legendary WFAN programmer Mark Chernoff.
Baseball was the topic that caused one of our derailments on the panel. If you know Rob, you know he is passionate about Major League Baseball. He cited download numbers that show The Odd Couple’s time-shifted audience responds to baseball talk. To him, that proves there is not just room for it on nationally syndicated shows, but that there is a sizable audience that wants it.
Chernoff disagrees. He says baseball is a regional sport. Sure, there are regions that love it and local sports talk stations will dedicate full hours to discussing their home team’s games and roster. National shows need to cast a wide net though, and baseball doesn’t do that.
Personally, I agree with Chernoff. I told Parker on stage that “I hear baseball talk and I am f***ing gone.” The reason for that, I think, is exactly what Chernoff said. I grew up in Alabama (no baseball team). I live in North Carolina (no baseball team). Where baseball is big, it is huge, but it isn’t big in most of the country.
Now, I will add this. I used to LOVE baseball. It is the sport I played in high school. The Yankees’ logo was on the groom’s cake at my wedding. Then I had kids.
Forget 162 games. Even five games didn’t fit into my lifestyle. Maybe somewhere deep down, I still have feelings for the sport, but they are buried by years of neglect and active shunning.
Its struggle has been the same since the beginning of television. There is too much baseball for any regular season baseball game or story to have national significance.
Me, and millions of sports talk listeners like me, look at baseball like a toddler looks at broccoli. You probably aren’t lying when you tell us how much you love it, but damn it! WE WANT CHICKEN FINGERS!
A new Major League Baseball season starts Thursday and I thought this topic was worth exploring. I asked three nationally syndicated hosts to weigh in. When is baseball right for their show and how do they use those conversations? Here is what they had to say.
FREDDIE COLEMAN (Freddie & Fitzsimmons on ESPN Radio) – “MLB can still be talked nationally IF there’s that one player like Aaron Judge or Shohei Ohtani can attract the casual fan. MLB has definitely become more local because of the absence of that SUPER player and/or villainous team. I wonder if the pace of play will help bring in the younger fans that they need, but the sport NEEDS that defining star that is must-see TV.”
JONAS KNOX (2 Pros & a Cup of Joe on FOX Sports Radio) – “While football is king for me in sports radio, I look at baseball like most other sports. I’m not opposed to talking about it, as long as I have an angle or opinion that I am confident I can deliver in an entertaining manner. A couple of times of any given year, there are stories in baseball that are big picture topics that are obvious national discussions.
“I think it’s my job to never close the door on any topic/discussion (except politics because I don’t know anything about it).
“But also, if I’m going to discuss a localized story in baseball or any other sport for that matter – I better have an entertaining/informed angle on it. Otherwise, I’ve let down the listener and that is unacceptable. If they give you their time, you better not waste it.”
MAGGIE GRAY (Maggie & Perloff on CBS Sports Radio) – “While I was on WFAN there was almost no amount of minutia that was too small when it came to the Mets and Yankees. On Maggie and Perloff, our baseball topics have to be more centered around issues that can be universal. For example, ’Is Shohei Ohtani the face of the sport? Is Ohtani pitching and hitting more impressive than two sport athletes like Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders? Do you consider Aaron Judge the single-season homerun king or Barry Bonds?’ Any baseball fan or sports fan can have an opinion about those topics, so we find they get great engagement from our audience.”
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
Who Can Sports Fans Trust Once Twitter Ditches Legacy Verified Blue Checks?
The potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.
As of April 1, Twitter will finally make a dreaded change that many will view as an April Fools’ prank. Unfortunately, it won’t be a joke to any user who cares about legitimacy and truth.
Last week, Twitter officially announced that verified blue checkmarks will be removed from accounts that have not signed up for a Twitter Blue subscription. Previously, accounts whose identity had been verified were allowed to keep their blue checks when Twitter Blue was implemented.
But shortly after Elon Musk purchased Twitter and became the social media company’s CEO, he stated his intention to use verification as a revenue source. Users would have to pay $8 per month (or $84 annually) for a Twitter Blue subscription and blue checkmark verification. Paying for blue checks immediately set off red flags among users who learned to depend on verified accounts for accredited identities and trusted information.
The entire concept of verification and blue checks was simple and effective. Users and accounts bearing the blue checkmark were legitimate. These people and organizations were who they said they were.
As an example, ESPN’s Adam Schefter has faced criticism for how he framed domestic violence and sexual misconduct involving star NFL players, and deservedly so. But fans and media know Schefter’s tweets are really coming from him because his account is verified.
Furthermore, Twitter took the additional step of clarifying that accounts such as Schefter’s were verified before Twitter Blue was implemented. He didn’t pay eight dollars for that blue checkmark.
The need for verification is never more vital than when fake accounts are created to deceive users. Such accounts will put “Adam Schefter” as their Twitter name, even if their handle is something like “@TuaNeedsHelp.” Or worse, some fake accounts will create a handle with letters that look similar. So “@AdarnSchefter” with an “rn” in place of the “m,” fools some people, especially at a quick glance when people are trying to push news out as fast as possible.
Plenty of baseball fans have been duped over the years by fake accounts using a zero instead of an “o” or a capital “I” instead of a lowercase “l” to resemble Fox Sports and The Athletic reporter Ken Rosenthal. That trick didn’t get me. But when I covered Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report 10 years ago, I did fall for a fake Jim Salisbury account that reported the Philadelphia Phillies traded Hunter Pence to the San Francisco Giants. Capital “I,” not lowercase “l” in “Salisbury.” Pence was, in fact, traded to the Giants two days later, but that didn’t make my goof any less embarrassing. I should’ve looked for the blue checkmark!
But after April 1, that signifier won’t matter. Legacy blue checkmarks will be removed from accounts that haven’t paid for Twitter Blue. Some accounts that were previously verified might purchase a subscription to maintain that blue check. But those that were deemed legitimate prior to Musk taking over Twitter likely won’t. (There are also rumors that Twitter is considering a feature that would allow Twitter Blue subscribers to hide their blue check and avoid revealing that purchase.)
That could be even more true for media organizations, which are being told to pay $1000 per month for verification. Do you think ESPN, the New York Times, or the Washington Post will pay $12,000 for a blue check?
We’ve already seen the problems that paying for verification can cause. Shortly after Twitter Blue launched, accounts pretending to be legacy verified users could be created. A fake Adam Schefter account tweeted that the Las Vegas Raiders had fired head coach Josh McDaniels. Users who saw the “Adam Schefter” Twitter name went with the news without looking more closely at the “@AdamSchefterNOT” handle. But there was a blue checkmark next to the name this time!
The same thing occurred with a fake LeBron James account tweeting that the NBA superstar had requested a trade from the Los Angeles Lakers. There was a “@KINGJamez” handle, but a “LeBron James” Twitter name with a blue check next to it.
Whether it’s because fans and media have become more discerning or Twitter has done good work cracking down on such fake accounts, there haven’t been many outrageous examples of deliberate deception since last November. But the potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.
If that seems like an overstatement, it’s a very real possibility that there will be an erosion of trust among Twitter users. Media and fans may have to take a breath before quickly tweeting and retweeting news from accounts that may or may not be credible. False news and phony statements could spread quickly and go viral across social media.
Even worse, Musk has announced that only verified Twitter Blue accounts will be seen in your “For You” timeline as of April 15. (He can’t claim it’s an April Fools’ Day joke on that date.)
Obviously, that carries far more serious real-world implications beyond sports. Forget about a fake Shams Charania account tweeting that Luka Dončić wants to be traded to the Lakers. It’s not difficult to imagine a fake Joe Biden account declaring war on Russia and some people believing it’s true because of the blue checkmark.
We may be nearing the end of Twitter being a reliable news-gathering tool. If the accounts tweeting out news can’t be trusted, where’s the value? Reporters and newsmakers may end up going to other social media platforms to break stories and carry the viability of verification.
When Fox Sports’ website infamously pivoted to video in 2017, Ken Rosenthal posted his MLB reporting on Facebook prior to joining The Athletic. Hello, Instagram. Will someone take their following and reputation to a fledgling platform like Mastodon, Post, Spoutible, or BlueSky, even if it means a lesser outlet?
If and when that happens, Twitter could still be a community but not nearly as much fun. Not when it becomes a matter of trust that breaks up the party.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at email@example.com.
There’s a Lesson For Us All in Florida Atlantic’s Elite 8 Broadcast Struggle
“It is a ton of faith our industry has been forced to place in a single mode of delivery.”
Ken LaVicka and Kevin Harlan probably don’t have a ton in common. Both of them were announcing an Elite Eight game over the weekend, that is one thing tying them together, but their experiences were wildly different. Harlan is on CBS with a production crew numbering in the dozens making certain all goes smoothly. LaVicka, the voice of the Florida Atlantic Owls, is a production crew himself, making certain those listening in South Florida heard the Owls punch their Final Four ticket. At least, that was LaVicka’s plan.
The Florida Atlantic Owls are going to the Men’s Final Four. Even while typing that sentence, it still seems odd to say. Do you know how many college basketball teams are thinking “how can Florida Atlantic make the Final Four and we can’t?” These are the types of stories that make the NCAA Tournament what it is. There is, literally, no barrier stopping any team from this tournament going on the run of their life and making it all the way.
Everyone listening in South Florida almost missed the moment it all became real for the Owls. With :18.6 to go in Florida Atlantic’s Elite Eight game against Kansas State, the Madison Square Garden Ethernet service to the front row of media seating went completely dark.
It was on that row that Ken LaVicka was painting the picture back to South Florida. Well, he was until the internet died on him.
Nobody does a single show away from their home studio anymore without trying to avoid the nightmare of Ethernet failure. Gone are the days of phone lines and ISDN connections, all the audio and video is now sent back to the studio over the technological miracle that is the internet. It is a ton of faith our industry has been forced to place in a single mode of delivery.
Take that anxiety and multiply it by 1,000 when that Ethernet line is connected to a Comrex unit for the most important moment of your career. LaVicka had the great fortune of a Kansas State timeout to try something, anything, to save the day. In his quick thinking, he spun around and grabbed an ethernet cable from row two which, as it turns out, still had internet access flowing through it’s cables. That cable, though, was the equivalent of an iPhone charging cord; never as long as you need it to be.
One of LaVicka’s co-workers from ESPN West Palm held the Comrex unit close enough to the second row for the cable to make a connection and the day was saved. LaVicka was able to call the last :15 of the Florida Atlantic win and, presumably, get in all the necessary sponsorship mentions.
It was an exciting end to the FAU v. Kansas State game, a great defensive stop by the Owls to seal the victory. LaVicka told the NCAA’s Andy Katz he tried to channel his inner Jim Nantz to relay that excitement. The NCAA Tournament excitement started early this year. In the very first TV window 13 Seed Furman upset 4 Seed Virginia with a late three pointer by JP Pegues, who had been 0-for-15 from beyond the arc leading up to that shot. It is the type of play the NCAA Tournament is built upon.
It was called in the manner Kevin Harlan’s career was built upon. Harlan, alongside Stan Van Gundy and Dan Bonner, called the Virginia turnover leading to the made Furman basket with his trademark excitement before laying out for the crowd reaction. After a few seconds of crowd excitement he asked his analysts, and the world, “Did we just see what I think we saw? Wow!” Vintage Kevin Harlan.
One reason we are so aware of what Harlan said, and that he signaled his analysts to lay out for the crowd reaction, was a CBS Sports tweet with video of Harlan, Van Gundy and Bonner in a split screen over the play. It gave us a rare look at a pro in the middle of his craft. We got to see that Harlan reacts just like he sounds. The video has more than six million views and has been retweeted more than 6,000 times, a lot of people seem to like it.
Kevin Harlan is not in that group. Harlan appeared on Richard Deitsch’s Sports Media podcast after the video went public and said he was embarrassed by it. Harlan added he “begged” CBS not send the tweet out but to no avail. Harlan told Deitsch “I don’t know that I’m glad that they caught our expression, but I’m glad the game was on the air. I think I join a chorus of other announcers who do not like the camera.”
There’s a valuable announcer lesson from Harlan there; the audience is almost always there for the game, not you. Harlan went on to describe the broadcast booth to Deitsch as somewhat of a sacred place. He would prefer to let his words accompany the video of the action to tell the story. Kevin Harlan is as good as they come at his craft, if he thinks that way, there’s probably great value in that line of thought.
We can learn from LaVicka, as well. You work in this business long enough and you come to accept technical difficulties are as much a part of it as anything. They always seem to strike at the worst times, it is just in their nature. Those who can find a way to deal with them without everything melting down are those who can give their audience what they showed up for. Those who lose their mind and spend time complaining about them during the production simply give the audience information they don’t really care about.
The Final Four is an unlikely collection of teams; Miami, San Diego State, Connecticut and Florida Atlantic. You all had that in your brackets, right? Yep, the Florida Atlantic Owls are going to the Final Four and Ken LaVicka will be there for it. Now, if the internet will just hold out.
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.