By CHUCK HAMILTON Sports Writer
The rejuvenated Cincinnati Reds are off to a 15-7 start to the 2006 season, a remarkable beginning for a team picked by most experts to finish in or near the cellar of the National League's Central Division.
If you are a Reds fan this comes as welcome news, as well as a very surprising development to many who follow big league baseball closely.
It is, of course, a very long season (only 140 games to be played) but if the Reds can somehow come up with another reliable pitcher or two, they will give St. Louis and Houston a run for the NL Central title.
Following the progress of the long baseball campaign and our favorite team is much different than it was when I was even more of a fan, with the proliferation of the Internet, cable television, satellite radio and ESPN's 24-7 coverage.
Not too many years ago, a televised Reds game was a rare treat and listening to baseball on the radio was still preferred by many, and it still is.
Today, many fans are so spoiled they are disappointed when a game is not televised.
Having more games televised is a nice option for those who have the time and patience required to watch a game but the most important button on the remote remains the mute control.
Fox Sports Net does a very good job bringing Reds baseball into our homes with pre-game and post-game programs, which are usually interesting and informative.
The problem remains with the incompetency of the men in the broadcast booth.
To me anyway, it is unbearable to listen to the babbling of play-by-play announcer George Grande and his color cohort, the smiling Chris Welsh.
Grande must think he is on the radio because he drones on and on and on about what we can clearly see is occurring on the screen. His most annoying habit is asking himself questions and then giving the answers.
A routine fly ball to left field becomes a Grande routine:
“Will he be able to get there? Is it deep enough? Yes, he can. No, it isn't.”
It truly is ridiculous at times. And as a particular sports editor in the building mentioned the other day, Grande has the weakest home run call in the history of the game.
Welsh adds very little to the broadcast and also suffers from the I-don't-know-when-to-shut up syndrome.
We used to be able to turn the sound down on the television and listen to Marty Brennaman and Joe Nuxhall on the radio but that has become impossible, unless you want to hear what is going to happen on the field and then see it six seconds or so later.
With the advent of satellite and cable television also comes a delay that makes it difficult to do what we used to do all the time.
It was also an advantage in basketball season to have the option of tuning out mediocre announcers and listen to Cawood Ledford describe the action on the court as only he could.
Muting the television sound isn't that big a deal to me anymore because listening to Tom Leach and Mike Pratt broadcast UK basketball can only be described as painful. Pratt's propensity for using the term “Treyville” for any three-point shot attempt is past tiresome and Leach's screaming of “Touchdown Kentuck-eeeeeeeeee” during football season is ear-splitting and unprofessional.
There are two broadcasters in the area far better than Leach; Chuck Mraz, who calls Morehead State University basketball and football, and Maysville's own Danny Weddle. Listening to other college basketball announcers. i. e. Billy Packer, can be excruciating.
I don't expect Hall of Fame quality broadcasters such as Ledford and Brennaman but I still feel the Reds and UK can do much better.
Another excellent announcer has recently begun to receive very deserved recognition.
His name is Claude Sullivan, and he broadcast both UK and the Reds, Wildcat basketball and football from 1951-67 on the old Standard Oil Sports Network and he was the voice of the Reds from 1964-67.
Sullivan, who died of throat cancer in 1967 at the age of 42, was named to the University of Kentucky Hall of Fame's second class, which will be inducted in September.
Many Kentucky fans preferred Sullivan's style to the legendary Ledford when there were several networks broadcasting UK games years ago.
However, it appears the days of outstanding announcing are long over, unless you are fortunate enough to have XM Radio, and you can tune in Vin Scully calling Dodger games.
It is just my opinion that the Reds, with their rich history and loyal fan base, can find announcers that are interesting, prepared and qualified to be MLB broadcasters.
Brennaman has also slipped a bit in recent years, with his all too often private jokes with Reds employees and others that pop in and out of the booth.
Nuxhall's replacement, Steve Stewart, is almost as boring and bland as Grande.
I have tried and tried to get used to Stewart, but my feeling remains that Brennaman's partner should be a former player. Perhaps the Reds brought in Stewart to be Brennaman's eventual play-by-play replacement but currently the broadcast suffers without a player adding his knowledge.
There is no shortage of former Reds players who would have interest in the position but it seems the Reds have made their decision and that is that.
The same goes for the television announcing team. I believe FSN does the ultimate hiring of its announcers but certainly the Reds must have some input to the decision-making.
Perhaps the new majority owner, Bob Castellini, has some ideas on improving the Reds' broadcasting team, and if new general manager Wayne Krivsky can keep making all the right moves on the field, not many of us will care who is in the booth, even if they are incompetent and annoying.