The new voice in the Orioles radio booth is clear, concise and easy on the ears, but everyone who sees Kevin Brown in person for the first time asks the same question.
How old is that guy?
So, even though I could have just looked it up — and left everyone with the mistaken impression that I do a lot of pre-column research — that was the first question I asked when I sat down in the booth with him at Camden Yards last week.
“Fourteen,” he said.
Of course, I was dubious, but I’m pretty sure Brett Hollander was in his teens when he started over at WBAL, so I played along. Brown eventually revealed that he actually is 29, which I didn’t believe either, so we just had to agree to disagree.
If you’re keeping score at home, you should have figured out by now that Brown doesn’t take himself too seriously when the microphone is off. If you’ve already heard him on the Orioles Radio Network, you know he takes his job very seriously when the microphone is on.
He came to Baltimore to backstop regular radio play-by-play guy Jim Hunter, bringing a wide variety of experience for someone who truly looks like he just auditioned for a “Sixteen Candles” reboot. Seven years with the minor league Syracuse Chiefs. The past few years calling college football, basketball and hockey, as well as high school football for ESPN, which is his full-time gig. But he’s got some catching up to do around here.
“Amazingly enough, I had never been to this park until I interviewed for this job, which is a stain on my baseball life,’’ Brown said. “We didn’t travel much growing up. I’ve only been to a handful of major league parks. I’d been to Yankee Stadium old and new, Shea Stadium and Citi Field, and before I started working in baseball I don’t think I’d been in any other major league park.”
Well, we can forgive the virgin Camden Yards experience, but the growing up in New York thing will take some time. Brown is a Long Island kid who first dreamed of being a broadcaster when he was 8 years old and suddenly burst out with some play-by-play from the sidelines of a youth basketball game his dad was coaching.
“Why I got the bug when I was 8, I don’t entirely know,’’ he said. “I didn’t use a hairbrush for a microphone, but somewhere buried under VHS copies of ‘The Fox and the Hound’ and ‘Aladdin,’ there are probably tapes of my cousin Richard and I doing SportsCenter in the backyard, where we would provide the highlights with a whiffle bat and a tennis ball.”
Though cousin Richard was not available to confirm any of this, the VHS reference at least proves Brown is old enough to vaguely remember the 1990s. He graduated from Syracuse University, where he dabbled in talk radio and sportswriting, and found his calling. To his credit, he has done his homework on the history of Orioles broadcasting.
“In reading about this team,” he said. “Obviously I knew about Joe [Angel] and Jon Miller, but you read about Chuck [Thompson]. You read about Fred [Manfra]. You read about the exceptional history of this booth and I said, ‘Oh my gosh, this is probably as strong a roster as any major league team.’ It’s amazing. I didn’t know right away how deep this went.”
In case you were wondering, he didn’t come here to kick Hunter out of Jimmyville. Brown was hired to add depth to the radio-TV mix after Angel decided to retire. He said the thing that appealed to him most about this part-time gig was the ability to do major league play-by-play while remaining in his varied role with ESPN.
“I like the cornucopia,’’ Brown said. “I genuinely like all the sports I cover, which I know is not the case for everyone. I grew up on baseball, but I also grew up on football and basketball. Who knows what happens at some point, but I don’t want to pigeonhole myself in anything right now because I love doing them all.
“The great thing about this deal this season was that the Orioles were a little malleable, and I got to start this year after college basketball ended and I’ll finish and be able to get started on college football. Which I appreciate because they could have said, ‘No, we’re giving you these games and we’re not giving you any flexibility.’ I still very much want to keep all those open.”
Brown’s approach to play-by-play is pretty straightforward. He said he tries to offer something beyond the balls and strikes, but not at the expense of the nuts-and-bolts narrative of each game.
“There are a lot of interesting stories and things that go on around this team and every other team you broadcast for,’’ he said, “and I find that many play-by-play broadcasters will initially say when you ask them, ‘I’m a storyteller.’ Which is right, but I think the most important story is the 1-1 pitch. People are listening to us to hear what happens in the game.
“If you boil it down to a philosophy, it would be, ‘Tell us about the game, interest us and entertain us.’ ”
He acknowledges, however, that during his minor league days, he occasionally gave into the temptation to imagine himself as legendary Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully, raining history and a wide horizon of perspective on his audience.
“I’ve probably throughout my career in the minor leagues had moments, as most of us do, where we think, ‘All right, now we’re just going to be Vin Scully,’ and we’re going to be flowery with our descriptions of everything that’s going on and we’re going to tell a story that’s going to last four or five batters, but not at the expense of, ‘What’s the 1-1 pitch?’ ” Brown said. “So I’ve kind of centered myself around that, which is first and foremost. Let’s get the action. That’s why people are listening.
“I think everyone comes up and wants to be Vin, but we don’t have those stories. None of us ice skated with Jackie Robinson.”
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.
Become a subscriber today to support sports commentary like this. Start getting full access to our signature journalism for just 99 cents for the first four weeks.