Manfra knows a tough town when it's...


Manfra knows a tough town when it's his

One of the things that keeps us glued to the emerald chessboard of baseball -- though nail-polish remover should take care of the glue -- is eternal rites of spring training.

Surely, you can recite them: pitchers ahead of the hitters, pulled hamstrings, visa problems, holdouts . . . and a new voice in the Orioles radio booth.

This year's new voice is Fred Manfra, returning to broadcast in his hometown after working from coast to coast, the past 12 years with ABC Radio. Today (12:35 p.m., pre-game; 1:05 first pitch) in the Orioles' exhibition opener, Manfra will debut as Jon Miller's fifth different partner (counting Joe Angel's tenures twice) in six years. And, though he's spent as much time in announcing booths as Bill Clinton has in McDonald's, Manfra, 46, said he will be a bit nervous.

"I think you always are when you start a new venture," Manfra said Wednesday. "You hope you can live up to the standards you know you can do.

"People in Baltimore are good baseball fans, and they know what they want to hear."

Manfra said he doesn't expect listeners to make snap judgments. (After Ken Levine's first game two years ago, however, lots of people already had snapped.)

"You have to get the format down," said Manfra, who will call the middle three innings today. "We're in spring training just like the players are, and we'll be ready on Opening Day."

Come Opening Day, it sounds as if lots of Manfra's old friends are going to be disappointed.

"I wish that I could buy a section in the stadium for all of the people who've called," said Manfra, a 1964 graduate of Patterson High. "They say, 'Fred, congratulations. By the way, can you get me some tickets?' "

No-fault coaching

Now that the sportscasters' weeping has subsided over the firing of California basketball coach Lou Campanelli -- and wasn't it getting to be like an operetta? "Don't cry for me, California . . ." -- maybe you thought it was safe to turn up the sound on your TV without hearing more coaches' apologists. Not quite.

Here's a gem from ESPN play-by-play man Mike Patrick during Tuesday's Iowa-Michigan game: Late in the game, with Michigan comfortably ahead, Patrick noted that the Wolverines sometimes have trouble maintaining big leads, but "it's not Steve Fisher's fault."

And you didn't hear Patrick's partner that night, Dick Vitale, tell him to get a T-O.

Isn't Fisher the coach? If he can't get his team to play so that it keeps a big lead, then whose fault is it?

The fault, dear Vitale, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.


In case anyone needed to be reminded, Vitale wasn't created by some kind of broadcasting Big Bang. His direct ancestor, Al McGuire, was on display Saturday during CBS' college basketball coverage.

McGuire drives much more by the seat of his pants, but the talking to the coaches and players, the cute phrases, it's all there.

One thing McGuire generally doesn't do, though, is pore over game tapes. During an interview earlier this week with James Brown on Washington's WTEM radio, Brown and McGuire discussed how the network wanted McGuire to watch tape before last year's tournament. Fine, but McGuire needed a VCR, because he doesn't own one. And, McGuire added, it's not like he's staying up late with ESPN or another sports channel. At his house in Milwaukee, he said, it's just four channels.

That might help explain why McGuire can seem out of touch sometimes, but let's not forget his earlier work on NBC, when he and Billy Packer formed the best basketball analyst team we're likely to hear for a long time.

And, if you say you want an evolution, well, you know -- remember that McGuire helped give us Vitale. It's up to you whether that deserves a thank-you card.

Spanning the dial

Channel 2's first Orioles spring training telecast is Wednesday at 7 p.m., a game against the Pirates. . . . WERQ (1010 AM) will be carrying Johns Hopkins lacrosse, starting with tomorrow's 2 p.m. game against Princeton. . . . WERQ also will broadcast the entire 140-game schedule of the Double-A Bowie Baysox, who will play at Memorial Stadium this season. No play-by-play man has been named yet. . . . TNT and Prime Network will team to televise this summer's U.S. Olympic Festival from San Antonio. Between them, they will carry 30 hours of festival programming, with Prime Network telecasting about 20 hours. Prime, which recently merged with SportsChannel America, provides programming for regional sports networks across the country, including Home Team Sports.

Marching on

If UMBC makes it to the Big South basketball final tomorrow, a localschool will have the honor of helping kick off ESPN's "Championship Week," a series of 32 conference tournament games running through March 14. Coppin State, Morgan State or UMES also could make it onto ESPN by reaching the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference final, being tape-delayed for insomniacs at 12:30 a.m. Monday. Title games for Loyola's Metro Atlantic (Monday, 7:30 p.m.), Mount St. Mary's Northeast (Tuesday, 9:30 p.m.) and Navy's Patriot (Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.) also are on ESPN.

Things my boss wants to know

Because all of the teams want to go to the Big Dance, why isn't the NCAA basketball tournament selection show anchored by Gregory Hines? . . . Will the NCAA investigation into the University of Washington affect any of the huskies in the Iditarod sled dog race? . . . When HTS carries "Ed Randall's Talking Baseball," can you see the seams move?

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