In the booth: Robert, Steve and Harwell’s Ghost

Robert Ford is the refreshing new voice for the Astros radio broadcasts. Ford is given the free space that his predecessors, the talented Dave Raymond and Brett Dolan, were sadly denied — the ability to step clear from the shadow of Hall of Fame broadcaster Milo Hamilton, who stepped away from regular mic work after the 2012 season. Ford’s clear, cogent style was previewed during Grapefruit League games — and he deftly welcomed Milo’s sit-ins during some of the spring training action.

Steve Sparks, Ford’s radio partner, added a fun element to Opening Night, and here’s hoping he’ll keep it. He created mythical hometowns for each fan who caught a foul ball. One recipient was someone “from Stafford.” Another pop foul was caught by “a little girl from Schulenburg,” he said — drawing from thin (radio) air the name of the tiny Texas town of 2,750. The eyes-on-the-game Ford, for his part, gamely played along, ad-libbing, “They always bring their glove.” It’s a ruse, of course, but’s it one with deep summertime roots. It’s the same the late Hall of Fame broadcaster Ernie Harwell would say every time Gates Brown or Rusty Staub or Al Kaline  fouled one into the stands of Tiger Stadium all those years: “And that one’s caught by a fan from (fill in whatever Michigan city came to mind).” It’s a warm way to drive home the fact that fans are listening all over, whether they’re in Galveston or Tyler or Lake Charles — and a quiet salute to the tradition of watching baseball on the radio.

 

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