A trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, in the dead of winter? What’s not to like?
Turns out, almost everything.
If any of you tuned in to the UK radio network coverage of the baseball Wildcats’ trip south over the weekend, you heard three things:
1.) Me, filling in for Neil Price;
2.) Kentucky, losing a game (two, actually) in February for the first time in nearly 1,100 days, and;
3.) The wind.
I've broadcast games outdoors before - at the Southeastern Conference women's softball championship. I once called a high school football game from the roof of the over-crowded press box. No big deal, either time.
But our experience at Coastal Carolina University over the weekend was brutal – all because of the weather we had so looked forward to enjoying.
The baseball Wildcats had been invited to play in the Caravelle Resort Invitational, hosted by Coastal, a five-team round robin event. Neil is the radio voice of the baseball Cats, but he had to be in Baton Rouge with the women’s basketball team. Whenever there’s a conflict, I fill in with the baseball team.
I’d never been to Myrtle Beach, and even though there would be no time for golf (mercifully – I stink at it) the thought of the trip was quite appealing.
We had been told ahead of time that there wouldn’t be enough space in the press box for us at CCU; it’s just too small. So the undermanned game management staff constructed a nice riser just outside the door of the press box, which actually had us sitting higher above the field than we would have been indoors. It was sturdy, and roomy. On a typical baseball day, it would have been fine - even better than the press box.
They also raised four beach umbrellas at each corner of the riser, to handle the rain that was expected on Sunday morning. I examined the makeshift booth on Thursday night, during Kentucky’s practice, and figured it would be okay.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
The Wildcats played their opener at BB&T Coastal Field in Myrtle Beach, the minor league home of the Atlanta Braves’ Carolina league affiliate (the Pelicans). It’s a wonderful minor league facility, with standard working radio booths. The Cats beat Troy University on Friday, and all was well.
On Saturday, they moved to Conway, S.C., home of CCU, for a doubleheader. UK baseball sports information director Brent Ingram and I climbed onto the riser to set up our equipment (mine - radio gear; his - a computer). Game-time temperatures under crystal-blue skies were in the high 50’s, without a cloud in sight. But the winds were gusting up to 25 mph, making it feel as though the temperature was in the mid-30’s when the first game began. By the time the nightcap rolled around, wind chill had it in the high 20’s.
And don’t forget the windburn.
UK Senior Associate Athletics Director Rob Mullens joined me on the air during the middle innings of the first game and was stunned by how much colder it was in our “booth” than it was at field level. When he returned to the UK dugout, he asked one of the managers to bring us hand and foot warmers, as well as a pair of wool socks for me.
He is now in the will.
Fortunately, both games clipped along in less than three hours each. UK split, knocking off James Madison in the first game but losing to Coastal in the second. During the broadcast of both games, I constantly felt the need to explain and apologize to our audience about the noise of the wind, rushing through my microphone. There was nothing I could do about it.
When the second game was over, Brent and I couldn’t climb down fast enough.
We hustled back to our hotel (on the beach, not that the weather was conducive to swimming) where Brent sat down to write his game story for the UK web site. I decided to sit down somewhere else.
I headed for the hotel hot tub, which I had located the night before. I hadn’t realized just how much I would look forward to a visit.
I dropped into the bubbling froth and felt a euphoria I had never experienced – something well beyond, “Aaaaaahhhhhh…”
It made me realize just how much the temperature of my body core had fallen by sitting in the frigid winds for nearly seven hours. I began to understand how people die of exposure. I’d always read that when folks succumb in the cold, what they feel is the sensation of falling asleep as their body internalizes whatever heat it can generate. Then it just shuts down.
I was nowhere near that, but I could relate. The only thing missing now was a St. Bernard with a flask of bourbon tied to his neck.
Sunday was nearly as bad, with one exception – the wind had shifted. Instead of buffeting Brent and me in our respective faces, it was slamming into us from behind at an even faster clip. The wind was blowing so hard it ripped one of the four giant beach umbrellas posted on the corners of our riser, turning it inside-out. And it tore at the other three so hard that on two occasions, it almost pulled the scaffolding off its mooring. Brent actually checked below to see if any fans were sitting underneath, figuring they would be injured more seriously than we would if the metal rods gave way and the structure crashed into the stands.
Thankfully, two CCU people were watching, and they scrambled to pull the umbrellas down. It helped.
UK played just the one game on Sunday, a 14-5 loss to the Chanticleers. Again, throughout the broadcast I repeatedly apologized for the sound of the wind, shooting through my radio gear, back to the Big Blue Nation. Even with a “wind screen” around the microphone, trying to shield it from the elements with my body, cupping my hand around the mic element, it still sounded as though I was broadcasting the game from the top of a mountain. And it felt like it, too.
Finally, the ninth inning came and went. Game over. We headed home, via 8-hour van ride (with ironman Aaron “Pooh” Wasson behind the wheel for each and every mile). And what was waiting here in Lexington to greet us? Frigid temperatures, snow and a layer of ice on our cars.
But after our trip to the “tropical” clime of Myrtle Beach - it weren’t nuthin’…
(Former WKYT Sports Manager Dick Gabriel is a 20-year veteran of the UK radio and TV networks. He reports from the sidelines during Wildcat football games on the Big Blue Sports Radio Network. He can be heard each evening from 6-8 p.m.ET on “Sports Nightly,” on 630 WLAP-AM.)