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June 1, 2010

Minor Issues

Broadcaster Confrontations, with Steve Hyder

by David Laurila

The life of a minor-league broadcaster isn’t exactly wrought with peril, but it’s not always a garden party, either. Steve Hyder, the radio voice of the Pawtucket Red Sox -- and a former record holder in the shot put at the University of Massachusetts -- knows that all too well, having dealt with disgruntled fans and players alike. A three-time winner of the Rhode Island Sportscaster of the Year award, Hyder was the voice of the Syracuse Chiefs prior to joining the PawSox in 2004.

David Laurila: How often to minor-league broadcasters hear from the families and friends of players?

Steve Hyder: Pretty much every day. When I started, there was no internet and no computers to listen to the ballgame on, so you were basically broadcasting to the immediate audience. And not that we were more reckless, but nowadays you have to be much more careful with what you say because we get email from Australia, from Europe -- I mean, we have people listening from literally all over the world, whether it‘s someone‘s brother, or girlfriend, or mom or dad, or anything. It kind of holds you accountable. Most of the time they relate to you in a positive way, or they’ll give you a little tidbit like, “Hey, my son played Little League with the guy that’s pitching against him tonight.” We welcome that type of input, and it makes it more fun when you can personalize the broadcast a bit more, but every now and then you get something that isn’t positive.

DL: Have you gotten yourself into hot water with anything you’ve said on the air?

SH: I got in trouble with a player named Felipe Crespo, who played for Syracuse at the time. Gord Ash was the GM and Garth Iorg was the manager, and they both told me they were sending him down to Double-A to basically teach him a lesson, to get him to work a little harder, and I talked about that on the air. I didn’t realize that Crespo was still in the ballpark. So he goes down but is brought back up a couple of weeks later, and he confronts me. He goes, “Hey!” and uses a few expletives, and I said, “Hey, I was just talking about the information I was given by your manager and the general manager of the Blue Jays. I‘m just the messenger here.” He kind of took a step toward me -- he was nowhere near my size; he’s a smaller guy -- and I go, “Come on.” You can’t back down, because if you do, you’re perceived as weak and you have to earn the players’ respect in any way that you can. So a couple of guys get in between us. We had a third baseman named Tom Evans, and later he said, “You know, had you guys gotten into a fight, I think that more of us would have stuck up for you than Crespo.” I guess he wasn’t really very well liked by his teammates, just for that reason.

Another time I had sort of a confrontation was with Kelly Shoppach. Scott Erickson had been pitching against us and we had mentioned on the air the night before that he had dated, or married -- I forget now -- Lisa Guerrero, who at one time was a Patriots cheerleader and a sideline reporter on Monday Night Football. I didn’t think anything of it, but we talked about how she dated Patriots quarterback Hugh Millen back when she was a Pats cheerleader. So the next day I go down to the dugout, getting ready to watch batting practice, and Kelly Shoppach and Andy Dominique come up to me and Dominique is like, “Hey man, that was rough what you did last night.” I said, “What was I talking about?” because I didn’t think I had done anything, and he said, “You can’t be talking about a player’s wife.” I said to him, “Player’s wife? What I said was common knowledge, that everybody in New England knew that she had once dated the Patriots quarterback; I didn’t say anything disparaging or derogatory about her.” Shoppach said to me, “Yeah, well if that was my wife, we’d have to go,” meaning that we’d have to have a fight. He said, “You better never mention my wife on the air.” At the time, he wasn’t even married yet, but I said, “Hang on a second, didn’t you just ask me last week to say hi to her?” That kind of compromised his position, so he said, “I’m just telling you, if you talk about my wife, I guarantee that you won’t be broadcasting the next night.” I said, “Yeah, that may be so, but I’ll guarantee you one thing, too: You won’t be catching that night, either.” That kind of broke the tension, because everybody kind of laughed and it defused the situation. We became good friends after that, but like I said earlier, you have to command a certain amount of respect. And I think that sometimes they test you. When you’re a younger guy, as a broadcaster, I think you might back down a little bit, but if they bust our chops now, we just kind of give it right back to them.

DL: Has anyone confronted you via email?

SH: Not really. We’ve had people who have been disappointed, or upset, with things we’ve talked about on the broadcast, but I’d have to say that 95 percent of the emails we get are positive. It’s like Ricky Nelson said in the song Garden Party, “You can’t please everyone, so you’ve got to please yourself.” I can’t speak for Dan, but I try to do a broadcast I’d be interested in listening to. And if I wasn’t his broadcast partner, I’d sit and listen to Dan Hoard, because I’m entertained by him on a regular basis, whether we’re off the air or on the air. Some of the things we like to talk about are similar, and if there are X amount of listeners out there, they’re not all going to be a happy bunch 100 percent of the time.

DL: Are you aware of any confrontations Dan might have had prior to joining you here in Pawtucket?

SH: When he was working in Syracuse, a player apparently cornered him before a game; I believe he said it was in Rochester. He physically threatened him and put him up against the wall. I don’t know if he literally touched him, but he definitely cornered him and he was a lot bigger than Dan. He told him, “Hey, my wife told me what you said about me last night and I don‘t really appreciate it.” Dan had no idea what he was talking about, which is what he told the player, who then explained what his wife told him. Based on that, Dan understood why the player was ticked off, but it was apparently so far off of what he had actually said that it was almost comical. Dan explained, so the guy backed down, but I don’t think he ever did apologize. Ironically, they eventually became good enough friends that Dan stayed in his apartment when he traveled up to Toronto later that year. But that whole thing was kind of like the game you play in kindergarten, where the first person whispers a secret to the person next to them, and they whisper it to the next person in line, that person tells the next person, and by the time you get to the end of the chain the story has been completely altered. In Dan’s case, there was only one person involved, but the player’s wife twisted it around so much that he threatened Dan.

DL: Has anything similar happened to you?

SH: In 2004, Earl Snyder was having an MVP-type of year -- home runs, doubles, all kinds of PawSox records -- and somebody got hurt in Boston, but he didn’t get called up. I said something on the air like, “Man, it has to be frustrating for someone like Earl Snyder, the best player on the team, not getting promoted.” The next day I was down for batting practice and Adam Hyzdu said, “Hey, what were you saying, that none of us are going to get to the major leagues?” I said, “What?” He said, “My wife told me last night that you said that Earl was the best player on the team,” and blah, blah, blah, and I said, “Well, if you look at the numbers, he’s having the best year of anybody. If you want to take from that, that you’re never going to go to the big leagues, fine. But that’s not what I said.” After that, Hyzdu didn’t talk to me for, I’d say, a good two months. Then, one day he had a walk-off home run, or a game-winning hit, and I had to decide if I was going to interview him on the field for our post-game show. I figured, yeah, I’ve got to do my job, so I said to him, “Can we do the post-game interview?” He said, “Yeah,” but that was the last time I ever talked to him. He held such a grudge against me for something that he perceived as a slight. And it didn’t work out as well as Dan’s, because Dan was able to defuse the situation by telling the guy what he really said, while Hyzdu didn’t want to hear what I really said. So it gets back to what I was saying about not always being able to make everybody happy. Broadcasting is like Garden Party that way.

Related Content:  The Who,  Broadcasting

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