Second Trip Around the Diamond

  • Ross Porter is calling CSUN baseball games.

    Ross Porter is in his second year calling CSUN Baseball. Photo by Lee Choo.

The voice is that familiar Oklahoma drawl, steady and comforting, like an old friend coming to visit after an extended absence. In this case, it was a little more than a decade.

For 28 seasons, Ross Porter was a part of the soundtrack of summer throughout the Southland. Joining Hall of Famer and Los Angeles icon Vin Scully, Jerry Doggett, Don Drysdale (another Hall of Famer) and in the latter years Rick Monday, Porter helped call Los Angeles Dodger games to a legion of loyal fans. In 2016, Porter returned to his baseball home practically in his backyard, broadcasting home baseball games at California State University, Northridge.

Porter dedicated himself to the job as if he were calling a big league game. He studied statistics and background information for anecdotes. He spent time with Matador Head Coach Greg Moore to find out interesting tidbits that he could pass along to the listeners. Porter went so far as to ask opposing coaches the most meticulous questions, even the pronunciation of players’ names.

Matador fans picked up immediately that they could hear Porter back on the air calling their beloved Matadors in action. Heck, Moore even pointed out that when visiting a recruit, the father of the young man mentioned how he’d listened to Porter in his own younger days. That recruit signed with the Matadors. That’s just beginning to tell the story of how Porter has made an impact on CSUN Baseball in just his second season.

“What was surprising to me was that these parents of the players would have on their iPhones up to their ear listening to the game,” Porter said. “After the game I’d walk down and a whole host of them would say ‘Hey, I really enjoyed the game today.’ The first time or two that surprised me, and then some of the parents began emailing their relatives back east, and I started getting emails from the relatives saying they heard me from Minnesota or Wisconsin or Utah. It was interesting how it evolved.”

It evolved to the point that after that first season, Porter had such a good time that he’s back for a second season. Of course, when the team was so successful during his first-year broadcasts, it was easy to say yes to coming back. One of the forefathers of the statistical revolution in baseball broadcasting, Porter noted that the Matadors won 16 of the 18 games, including the last 13 straight, he broadcast in 2016. This year the Matadors would like to have similar momentum during the Big West Conference season opening up on April 7 when they take on UC Santa Barbara. Yes, being back behind the microphone calling baseball was as familiar for him as it was the fans.

“It was outstanding, I really looked forward to doing this when I was given the opportunity,” Porter said. “It was great to be behind the microphone again doing baseball and I think the highlight for me was getting to know Greg Moore, whom I think is one of the finest individuals I’ve ever met, and then to get to know the players and their support of me throughout.”

Porter noted that the level of play at Division I, while not Major League-caliber as he became accustomed to in nearly three decades with the Dodgers, was still high quality. It was the preparation and background that was needed for the broadcasts that stands out. He noted that some Major Leaguers could come back year after year, making preparation easier. Not so for college baseball.

“At the college level, it was all different because these are kids I didn’t know who they were,” Porter said. “I had to do some homework and spend a lot of time on the phone with coaches of other teams saying, ‘Hey, tell me something about each one of these kids,’ and I used that a lot.”

Porter did bring a bit of Dodger history to the Matadors during the latter part of his first season. Moore wanted to instill in the team the importance of championing over adversity, so he asked Porter if he could tell a well-known story from the legendary Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. Here’s what Porter told the gathered Matadors about a player who many, including himself, thought couldn’t play. But he did end up playing, and led his team to a seemingly impossible victory:

“I was there with Kirk Gibson when he heard on TV, ‘here’s one guy who won’t play tonight, and that’s Kirk Gibson,'” Porter said. “Kirk screamed ‘Mitch, Mitch, Mitch!’ (then Dodger batboy and now Dodger Clubhouse Manager Mitch Poole) and he ran in and Kirk was sitting on the trainer’s table and he said to Mitch, ‘You go tell (Dodger Manager Tommy) Lasorda I can play.’

Poole went down to the dugout to relay the message to the Dodgers’ future Hall of Fame manger. Porter recalled that the message came back to Gibson to, “‘Get dressed and get ready, but whatever you do don’t show yourself. We don’t want (Oakland Manager) Tony La Russa to know you’re available.’ So Kirk got dressed, went to the top of the tunnel and hit the ball into the netting about eight times.

“Two outs, a run behind, nobody on base, Mike Davis at the plate who rarely, rarely walked. And then Dennis Eckersley walked him. Kirk went down, I followed him right down the tunnel. Dave Anderson was on deck as a decoy (when Gibson emerged from the dugout).

“I said to the CSUN players, ‘In the pregame meeting that night before Game One, a (Dodger scout had written a report) that said, ‘If Eckersley goes 3-2 on you, he’ll throw you a backdoor slider.’ And sure enough, Gibson gets thrown a backdoor slider and he makes the one-handed swing and hits it out. That was his only at-bat he ever had in that World Series… (The CSUN players) were sitting there, taking it all in. Greg told me later they were on the edge of their seats. It was fun to do. Greg said as soon as I left they brought it up on the computer.”

That same storytelling is on full display when Porter is calling Matador games. Fans continue to listen, even in the stands during games, and ratings are double what they were in his first season. Many are also watching video streams with Porter’s audio on, and the CSUN Sports Network is producing 15 baseball video streams featuring his calls this season.

He’s enjoying the sights and sounds of the ballpark, with the purity of student-athletes playing for the love of the sport and pride in their university. Baseball remains a kids’ game, and that youthful enthusiasm comes through during Porter’s second trip around diamond at CSUN. With the ultra-competitive conference portion of the schedule coming, there are many more big games in Porter’s future.

“It’s  such a  pleasure  to  announce  the  games  because  I  can  watch  these  student-athletes  as  they  prepare  for  life,” Porter said. “Sometimes, it  just  might  be  professional  baseball,  but   more  often  it’s  to  be  contributing  members  of  our worldwide  community.  But,  always  these  young  men  are  progressing  to  be  the  best  they  can  be.”

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