Spring has sprung for baseball fans, with pitchers and catchers reporting for Spring Training this week, but that doesn’t mean that it is warm outside. In fact, it’s a snowy Saturday as I’m writing this. I hope you’re also sitting by a fire and reading this.
On Sunday, February 15, the National Symphony Orchestra played a special family concert of other sports-related music at the Kennedy Center, and Nationals TV broadcaster F.P. Santangelo read the famous poem, Casey at the Bat. I was lucky enough to watch the concert and then go backstage to interview Glenn Donnellan, a member of the National Symphony Orchestra and creator/player of the Electric Slugger, or bat-olin, (an electric violin played on a Louisville Slugger baseball bat). You may have seen him play him play the National Anthem on the Electric Slugger at a Nationals game.
Before I get to my Matt’s Bats Chat with Glenn, let me tell you a little more about this awesome concert.
We arrived at the Kennedy Center a little early so we could experience the orchestra “petting zoo” that happens before each NSO Family Concert. The petting zoo is where volunteers bring out different orchestra instruments for the children to play. I tried out the saxophone and violin, which I had never tried before.
Then it was time for the show to start. Just like at the beginning of a baseball game, the show started with the National Anthem. Glenn Donnellan came out to play the National Anthem on his Electric Slugger. If you haven’t seen him play before, here is a video of him playing in Atlanta:
The National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Steven Reineke, played lots of sports-related music, like the theme from Rocky, the Olympic Fanfare, and a song about Horse Racing.
Then they got to Casey at the Bat.
Casey is one of baseball’s most storied characters, after he let down Mudville by striking out in the ninth inning to lose a late-game rally. F.P. Santangelo recited the poem with the music in the background. The music really took you to Mudville and the game by doing drumrolls and organists played “Take Me Out To The Ballgame.” And I think that F.P. did a really good job reciting the poem in front of all of those people AND a symphony orchestra playing in the background.
F.P. is the third Nationals broadcaster to do a performance of Casey at the Bat. In 2013, radio broadcasters Charlie Slowes and Dave Jageler recorded their versions of the poem for the Library of Congress to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the poem. Listen to Charlie Slowes HERE and Dave Jageler HERE.
After that, the symphony played Take Me Out To The Ballgame with 4 violinists who acted out a real baseball game. And to conclude the show, they played Stars and Stripes Forever by Sousa.
Everyone was talking about the Electric Slugger on the way out. The people had thought that it was the coolest thing they’d ever seen and were very impressed with their performance. And I was lucky enough to get to go backstage to interview Glenn Donnellan and try out his bat-olin.
Matt’s Bats – Can you tell me a little bit more about yourself?
Glenn Donnellan – I started violin when I was four years old. My mom taught public school strings in Washington State, in a small town called Ferndale. I grew up playing violin in our house and through the school system with my friends. I went to college to study violin performance at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. I first auditioned at The Minnesota Orchestra and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestras and sat as a substitute in their violin pools. It was great to have two top tier orchestras in the town where I was going to school. I got to hear them all the time and then I got to play with them, which was a dream come true.
The Minnesota Orchestra is a “major league” orchestra on par with the National Symphony. We have major league orchestras, like baseball has major league teams. Then there are other orchestras that are considered “minor league” teams – those are the terms we actually use. The minor league orchestras are in smaller cities. After college I won a job with the National Symphony at an audition, which was just a “pinch myself” moment. I got to play music full time.
MB – Tell me more about the Electric Slugger Bat-olin.
GD – It’s a 34 inch Louisville Slugger, C271 model, 125 wood. Louisville Slugger and I chose this particular bat for me to turn into the Electric Slugger because it’s the most ubiquitous bat in the Majors. It’s the Louisville Slugger that you’ll find swung the most often on every Major League team. They might not be swinging it in a game, but the C271 Louisville Slugger is in their collection of bats. I thought it would be neat to have the most common one. Whenever I need a new Electric Slugger, Louisville Slugger will make one and ship it to me. I then can transform the bat into an Electric Slugger in my garage with my tools.
Louisville Slugger also changes the logo, from “Genuine Louisville Slugger” to “Genuine Electric Slugger” and I get the heat-branded stamp.
How cool is it that Louisville Slugger put his autograph on the bat?!
The “Pro Blemish” bat you see above, means that there was some kind of mishap or imperfection with that bat when they were manufacturing for the pros. Lots of college and minor league players go to the Louisville Slugger factory in Louisville, Kentucky, when they play the UK or Louisville Bats teams to try out the Pro Blemish bats to see which one that they like the most.
MB – How were you inspired to make it?
GD – I played an electric violin in a young person’s concert that the National Symphony does from time to time during the school year. One of the concerts focused on “Music and Science.” Every piece the orchestra played that day had some kind of scientific aspect to it. The Horns section talked about condensation in the instrument and how it affects the sound. Then we wanted to show how an instrument sounds electrified and amplified, so I played the electric violin. I thought it sounded really cool so I decided to make one myself, and I ended up with the Electric Slugger.
MB – How many times have you played the National Anthem at a baseball game?
GD – Over a dozen, but I’ve lost count. But I need to go back and look, because I know I’ve got a winning record, the games that I play at the home team tends to win more often than not.
MB – What does it feel like playing in a professional sports venue in front of 40,000 people?
GD – Its really cool. I try to make sure I don’t hear the music or noise from the stadium speakers because the echo and delay can be very distracting. So I bring a small amp to the field that I stick in front of me and put a microphone in front of the amp. This is what guitar players do in rock concerts. I turn the amp up enough in front of me so I don’t hear the echo or delay coming from the stadium speakers and I can hear my music in real time. But the sound has an echo decay that makes the music sound really big and full in the stadium, which is really cool. I get to stand in the middle of this huge sound picture.
MB – What other ballparks have you played in?
GD – I played on a pink Louisville Slugger bat on Mother’s Day at Citi Field for the Mets to help promote Komen for the Cure. I’ve also played for the Atlanta Braves one time at Turner Field. I also play for the Orioles every year at Camden Yards.
Here’s an MLB video of his Camden Yards performance.
MB – So, are you a baseball fan?
GD – Growing up, the Mariners were my home team, but I lived about two hours north of Seattle and never actually got to a baseball game when I was a kid. My first game was with the Minnesota Twins when I was in college. My cousin, a big Twins fan, took me. Kirby Pucket was the big player there at the time, so I became a Kirby Pucket fan. I still enjoy following the Mariners and the Twins, but now my favorite team is the Nationals, who have also been amazing to me and actively developed an incredible playing relationship. I’ve even started playing with their NatsTown organist, Matthew Van Hoose!
MB – Do you have any interesting stories about when you have played the National Anthem at baseball games?
GD – I’ve learned some cool things about playing in stadiums. The trick about using the personal amplifier when I perform came from the sound techs at Citi Field.
My favorite moment was when I was playing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the 7th inning stretch up on the dugout at Nats Park. Angel Hernandez, the home plate ump for that game, walked up to me and threw me a game ball after I finished playing.
Then Joe West, another umpire, called me back to the Umpire Room, where no one gets to go unless they’ve been asked by the umpires. I brought my bat and speaker into the room, thinking they wanted to see the instrument. When I got into the room, Joe West looked at the bat and then handed me $500 and said “Make me one of those.” Turns out that Joe West plays fiddle and guitar and he actually has a couple country western albums out. That story is what started my two year odyssey to get the licensing agreement with Louisville Slugger, so I could make Joe West his bat-olin. That’s probably one of the best experiences I’ve had at the ballpark.
MB – Have you met any players?
GD – I’ve met a few players, but I try to stay out of the way when I’m playing at games. I need to stay professional. Sometimes players do come over to talk to me, but its just a random thing.
MB – What helps you prepare for a performance? Are you superstitious?
GD – I don’t have any superstitions. I just get myself into the right mental zone, where I’ll be able to focus and just let it happen. I remember Davey Johnson telling the guys on the Nats to just relax and let it go and you natural abilities will come out. When he used to talk about that, I felt that’s what we try to do as musicians too. We train and practice over and over again, so when its time to perform, we just let it go and let it happen.
GD – I will be playing at Nats Park this season, but they haven’t set any dates yet. I hope to get 3 or 4 games this year, but you never know!
I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I did going to the Kennedy Center concert and interviewing Glenn. The NSO hosts family and child concerts pretty regularly, the next being The Magic Horn on March 29. Also, you can see Glenn spotlighted on April 11-12 with his wife Jan Chong at a NSO Teddy Bear Concert. He will also be at an NSO Kinderclassic event called Beethoven at the Ballpark on May 9 with the Nats Park organist Matthew Van Hoose. These concerts are great ways to get kids into music and the arts (I definitely like music more after going to the concert) and they have different concepts that can be very intriguing to go see.
Only 42 days, or 3, 628,800 seconds, until Opening Day!
Even though it is February, we are actually very close to the start of Spring Training and the return of baseball from the winter offseason. With baseball returning, we can think of lots of great Nats wins. Almost every great Nats win ends in a Gatorade bath. And almost every Gatorade bath ends up on Dan Kolko, sideline reporter for MASN (the Nationals’ TV broadcast station).
Kolko became the MASN sideline reporter in 2014 and has been hilariously dunked with Cool Blue Gatorade many times in his first year. Recently, Dan did a Matt’s Bats Chat with me where he gave interesting behind-the-scenes descriptions of his job as a sideline reporter. I hope you enjoy it.
Matt’s Bats- First of all, can you tell me a bit of your background and how you got into broadcasting?
Dan Kolko- I had a feeling I wanted to do some type of sports broadcasting back in high school, but really learned it was the right path for me in college. I started out at Dickinson College, a small Division-III school in Pennsylvania, and they didn’t have a student TV station there, but I did radio broadcasts of football, basketball and baseball games. I then transferred to the University of Delaware (which I love with all my heart), and got great experience there doing live TV broadcasts of football and men’s and women’s basketball games, both as a play-by-play guy and the color commentator. I also hosted a bi-weekly studio sports show for the student TV station, all of which was a blast. I always tell kids who want to break into the business to do as much as possible while in college.
After college, I started working as a production assistant at Comcast SportsNet in Bethesda, and then was offered a job with MASN’s website, which back then was in its early stages. I did some behind-the-scenes stuff and also got a chance to do some writing, and was quickly given the chance to cover the Baltimore Ravens for the website. I covered the Ravens for four years doing mostly writing with a bit of on-air work, all the while knowing I’d still like to be on the TV side of things.
I then was bumped up to cover the Nats for MASN’s website in 2012, which allowed me more on-air opportunities. Last year, during a Nats-Astros spring training game in Kissimmee, Fla., I got a call from one of my bosses asking if I’d like to be the sideline reporter for our broadcasts. I said, “Heck yes, I would,” slapped myself in the face a couple times to make sure it wasn’t a dream, and went back to work.
MB- When did you become a baseball fan?
DK- I’m convinced I was a baseball fan the instant I was born. My parents tell stories about how as a toddler, I played with every tennis ball, baseball, golf ball, basketball I could find, and eventually, they had to chase them all over the place as I tried to learn how to throw.
MB- Did you play baseball growing up?
DK- I played ball as a kid, playing shortstop and pitching, but lagged behind most kids my age in middle school and early in high school because I was so skinny and always one of the shorter ones. Once I learned I had absolutely no chance of playing sports professionally, I tried to find a way to be around them in another capacity.
MB- Who was your favorite player growing up?
DK- My favorite player growing up – as was the case with most kids my age in the Maryland area – was Cal Ripken, Jr. I idolized the guy.
MB- There’s been a lot of discussion about you coming back next season as the MASN sideline reporter. Is it official yet?
DK- It is indeed official. I signed the contract last week, and will be back as the on-field reporter for 2015. The only difference this year is that I will no longer be covering the team for MASNsports.com. Handling two jobs was tough last year and was very time-consuming. This season, I’ll get to focus strictly on the TV side of things, with an occasional blog post possibly appearing on the site from time to time.
MB- What have you done this offseason?
DK- In the offseason, I try to spend as much time as possible doing the activities that I don’t get to do much of from March-September: travel, hang out with friends and family, work out and sleep. I’ve taken a couple trips this winter and spent a good bit of time with the people I care about, which has been great.
MB- Tell me about the life you lead during the season. What is a normal day for you like?
DK- Last season, I would write up a morning blog post on the site by 9:30 a.m., do some prep work for the game, get to the stadium around 2:30 p.m., conduct pregame interviews, meet with our in-game producer to discuss what reports I have for that night, prepare my pregame show material and my in-game material, do a segment (called a “hit” in the business) on Nats Xtra, then scarf down some dinner and do the game broadcast. Afterwards, it’s back into the clubhouse for postgame interviews, then I would head up to the press box to transcribe and write a postgame story. It made for fun days, but long days. This season, not writing means I’ll have my mornings to myself, which I hope will allow for trips to the gym and some added prep time.
MB- What do you do during the game? Are you always in the camera well next to the dugout, or do you go up to the press box or into the clubhouse?
DK- I’m in the camera well most of the game, but also pop up to the press box from time to time. I prepare a number of reports for each game, but they could become relevant at any time, so I have to be ready to go on-air if a certain report fits in that moment. I coordinate with our producer and the guys in our production truck throughout the game, and we decide when it makes sense to put me on. We try to get me in at some point in the first three innings. I come up with most topics myself, but sometimes one of my producers or F.P. will make a good suggestion.
MB- How do you do all that avoid being hit by screaming line drive?
DK- I had a few close calls last season, but survived unscathed. You’ve got to really pay attention down there in the camera well, or else you can get smoked.
MB- How do you handle all the travel you do with the team as they play 81 road games?
DK- Traveling so frequently definitely wears on you as the season goes on, and it’s tough feeling like you’re never really settled, even when you’re at home. I have suits and shirts and ties everywhere, dry cleaning and laundry all over the place. But our travel itself is made much easier by the fantastic team staffers. You miss out on beach trips and time with family and friends, which can be tough, but you get to be around baseball every day, which is great.
MB- Do you become friends with the players or the other broadcasters or staff?
DK- You do become friends with the other broadcasters and crew members, because you’re around each other so often. I’m friendly with players, but I still try and keep a professional balance, because I’m there to do a job, and sometimes that could mean asking tough questions of players and coaches.
MB- How would you describe your job? Do you try to report just the facts like a journalist or be more of an entertainer or color commentator?
DK- I see my job description as providing important information on news surrounding the team (injuries, updates from the manager, specific things a player might be working on, etc.) while also adding a bit of color to the broadcast. Bob Carpenter and F.P. Santangelo work hard to call the action on the field, and my role is to bring information from the clubhouse that can provide context or enhance the broadcast in some way.
I work hard at that, but also pride myself on not taking myself too seriously, and so I’m willing to go down Bernie Brewer’s slide in Milwaukee or do a hit from above Tal’s Hill in Houston if it shows off something cool or adds to our broadcast. We’ll see about the whole kayak thing in San Francisco this year. I know I let a lot of people down by not making that happen last season.
MB- What’s it like to be given a Gatorade bath after a win? Who pays for the cleaning?
DK- The Gatorade baths are fun for the players and the fans. Less fun for my dry cleaning bill, which I take care of myself. No, they’re a blast, and it’s a nice way to top off a walk-off win.
MB- Do you have a favorite color to be doused with? Do you have a change of clothes?
I prefer a blue Gatorade bath – by far my favorite flavor to drink – but am good with anything but red, which stains easily. Gotta watch out for the suits, shirts and shoes. For one pregame hit last year, I chatted with Jerry Blevins and Drew Storen about the art of the Gatorade bath (http://www.masnsports.com/media.php?show_id=2295294&p=4), which was a cool segment.
MB- Tell me about the clubhouse after the clinch in Atlanta– it looked crazy.
DK- The clinch was a great night. The guys were really enjoying themselves, and I tried to work through all the beer and Champagne so that everyone back home could hear from all the players and staffers. I’m glad fans seemed to enjoy it.
MB- A few one-word questions: Apple or Android?
DK- Apple, for sure
MB- Chocolate or Vanilla?
DK- Chocolate, for sure
MB- Window or aisle seat?
DK- Window seat, for sure. (But I get an aisle seat on the team charter flight.)
MB- Beach vacation or ski vacation?
DK- Beach, without a doubt. Love the beach.
MB- Favorite ballpark?
DK- On the road, I love AT&T Park in San Francisco, Safeco Field in Seattle, PNC Park in Pittsburgh and Wrigley Field in Chicago. Tough for me to pick just one.
MB- Favorite food to order at a game?
DK- I’ve always loved nachos, but there’s something about a ballpark hot dog for me.
MB- Favorite TV show?
DK- I’ll give two TV shows I absolutely love: The Wire and Seinfeld.
MB- Is there a wrong pipe?
DK- We all know the answer to this one, right?