In a different era, the sportscaster winding down after a long night of calling balls, strikes, first downs, field goals or what have you might be eager to get to the bar. Joe Buck yearns merely for a steaming bowl of chicken noodle or creamy tomato.
“If room service is still open, and a hot bowl of soup can be delivered to me after a long night of talking for hours – I think people would be surprised at how big a smile I have on my face when I hear the knock on the door,” he says in a recent interview.
Buck’s head is no doubt crammed with baseball stats and football maneuvers, but he has reason these days to keep a little space in his mind for the condition of his throat. His current Fox Sports schedule may have him talking to fans for 17 of 18 consecutive days.
The Fox Sports veteran has guided fans though each of last week’s National League Championship Series games. Today, he is expected to call Fox’s broadcast of a Sunday-afternoon match between the Green Bay Packers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (meaning he won’t call Game 7 of the NCLS). Tomorrow, thanks to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the NFL schedule, Buck will call a Monday-night game between the Buffalo Bills and the Kansas City Chiefs. Then he has two nights of World Series duties, followed by a “Thursday Night Football” broadcast between the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles.
“It’s just a lot to keep straight,” says Buck.
Buck has had to toggle between football and baseball in the past — and in post-season. After all, Fox is one of the bigger holders of both Major League Baseball and National Football League broadcast rights. Like other top sportscasters, however, Buck is grappling with a schedule made somewhat more intense by of the challenges of keeping teams on the field of play as the leagues contend with the pandemic’s spread.
Other prominent sportscasters have found their work growing. On one recent Sunday, NBC Sports Mike Tirico worked a round of U.S. Open Golf in New York’s Westchester County before making his way up to NBC Sports headquarters in Stamford, Conn., so he could do his usual duties on the network’s “Football Night in America.” CBS Sports’ Jim Nantz has juggled similar responsibilities tied to golf and his Sunday-afternoon football duties with Tony Romo.
Buck says he must mix different kinds of preparation during this particular moment. “It’s two, two-and-a-half weeks of pretty intense studying and preparing” and traveling to different stadiums and game sites, notes Buck. “If I’m getting ready for football games, I’m pretty much going full on with that one game for the week. My week is now being taken up by doing the NCLS and next week by doing a World Series. I just have to make time,” he says.
Baseball and football require different skill sets from an announcer, he says. “There’s a lot more time in baseball to talk. During football, you have to follow the way it’s structured – who makes the kick, how many yards and come back and set up the next play.”
He is still working his way through some of the nuances of game play amid the pandemic The absence of full crowds at stadiums can be, well, a game-changer. “No crowd is like no net under a high wire for me,” Buck confesses. “I think it forces people to try to drum up excitement that doesn’t exist.” His philosophy: “Let’s have the raw emotion of what happens in the stadium, good or bad. That’s always been kind of my ace in the hole, whether I’ve been at Yankee Stadium or Wrigley Field or Lambeau Field.” And while those noises may in this era be added to the mix by leagues and networks, he says, he tries to work off of it. “Whatever you are hearing at home, I’m making sure I hear in my headset.”
Buck had to wrestle with different emotions in September when Fox Sports surprised him on air with the news that he had been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio – following in the footsteps of his father, Jack Buck, another longtime sportscaster known for his games with the St. Louis Cardinals. Fox Sports CEO Eric Shanks made sure Buck’s family was watching.
Buck says he still thinks of his father when he enters a production booth, but notes how important a role his mother played in his career. “She may be the best critic and the one whose constructive criticism I get that I take to heart,” says Buck. “She’s got a good ear.”
Despite the excitement of a job filled with travel and access to top sports figures, Buck thinks fans would be surprised to learn that it’s “a lot less glamorous than people think it is. I basically go from hotel room to lobby to car to stadium to car to hotel lobby to room.” Fans probably don’t mind, as long as Buck can get a hot bowl of soup before the next game.