Mike Couzens: Life on the Road, Part 2

By Mike Couzens

In Part 1, Mike discussed his daily routine, 2 a.m. shopping trips, and preparing for the game. Now for the rest of the story…

Another part of traveling with a team is learning how to travel efficiently on the bus. We travel on a standard, 55-passenger coach bus. We’ve got wireless Internet, which is nice. Some other teams around the league have satellite TV, outlets and those types of amenities.

I sit in the third row back on the right-hand side. Jose Valentin, Burt Hooton, and then me. One of these things is not like the other…

All of the staff members (coaches, trainer, strength coach, clubhouse manager, radio guy) get their own seat, meaning two adjoining chairs. The players, many of whom have to “double up” and share a seat, are left to fend for the rest of the chairs. On our first bus trip this season, staff took their seats and it became like a college classroom—wherever you sit on that first day is where you’re sitting for the rest of the season. Having been around the block before when it comes to bus rides, I took the seat in front of the overhead TV, making sure that there would be no light projecting onto my eyes during late-night bus rides. Clutch.

The bus pillow is a must for me, too. It’s your standard pillow—mine came from Wal-Mart and cost about $5.00. When we’re at home I just leave it in my trunk, making sure it’s never out of my car lest I were to forget it when leaving the house. On the bus, though, it’s my backrest and pillow for when I want to sleep. Without it, my head would just rattle incessantly against the cold window of the bus. I forgot my pillow last year on our trip to Kane County in Geneva, Illinois, and walked to Wal-Mart the next day to buy a new one. That’s how important the pillow is.

The iPod is always a must-have item. There has not been a bus ride in my time with Fort Wayne where we have not watched a movie. Usually the movies are action or thriller types, and I’m not a big movie guy to begin with. My favorite movie is Office Space, but that hasn’t made its way into the rotation yet. Believe it or not, I only even watched two of the movies that played last year: Old School (a favorite of mine from college) and Project X. For the rest, I just put my headphones on and try to drown out the sound of gunshots or car chases. John Mayer or Gavin Degraw—something mellow—usually does the trick for me. If you’ve got any music suggestions, please pass them along.

Don’t forget your snacks on the bus, either. The only restaurants we’re stopping at will have a dollar menu or a $5 sub, so if you don’t like fast food, bring your own. I usually stick with granola bars and apples for two reasons: they’re not bad for you and they won’t go bad in a week’s time. Good enough in my book.

Lastly, make sure you dress comfortably. Some of our bus trips are longer than six hours. Sweatpants, although they might signal you’ve given up on life, are a necessity sometimes.

* * *

“Are you a player?”

“Who are you?”

“Can I have your autograph?”

I leave through the same exit that the players do in order to get to the bus as we leave the field each night, and those are some of the questions I usually get on my way out.

The look of disappointment on the faces of grown men and children alike is always a downer for me when I tell them, “No, I’m the radio guy.”

“Oh,” they say, tucking their bursting baseball card binders back into their armpits, eyes fixed on the stadium door waiting for America’s Next Top Prospect to emerge from the clubhouse.

No matter what city we go to, there are always the autograph seekers who wait outside the stadium exit, rain or shine, for a chance to get the autograph of one of the players. Some guys are happy to sign, others think it’s not worth their time. I always wonder about the guys who are disinterested in signing. Don’t they realize, first-round pick or 35th-round pick, they’re just one injury away from becoming irrelevant?

I have signed an autograph once, though. It was my first season in Minor League Baseball in 2010, and I was working with the Syracuse Chiefs. One night as I left PNC Field, the home of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees (now RailRiders), a young fan asked me to autograph his baseball. So I did.

Autographing a baseball is harder than you’d think. Ever try writing on a curved surface? Not easy.

After I handed it back to him, he said to me, “What number are you?”

“I’m a broadcaster,” I proudly told him.

“Oh,” he said, and walked away with his head hung toward the ground.

I don’t sign anything anymore.

* * *

It’s 11:39 and I’m about to go on the air with the start of our broadcast:

“This is the Hupe Insurance Services Pregame Show. Now, let’s go to the ballpark. Here’s Mike Couzens…”

Everything that’s happened during the day becomes synthesized into one AM-radio feed for people listening in Fort Wayne, Indiana and anywhere else they might be tuning in. Things I’ve heard, seen, been told and wonder about, all make it onto the air each day. Some items baseball-related, some not. Three hours is a lot of time, and it’s my job each day to make it entertaining.

My take on being on the air each night, is first that it’s a great privilege. The summer after my senior year of high school I worked in the city court in my home town of White Plains, NY. My job each day was to alphabetize and file away each of the traffic tickets that had been given out the day before. White Plains cops were very good at giving out traffic tickets. Even though I worked there for only a summer, I realized I could never work in a true “office” environment that required neckties and listening to the radio at a reasonable volume from 9 to 11.

Second, no matter if I’ve had a stressful day, people listening at home don’t care. They’re tuning in to me because they want to be entertained and swept away from the tough day they may have had. I have to be informative, entertaining, funny, accurate and fair. I’m being invited into living rooms, bedrooms, cars and backyards each night—the least I could do is be a good guest.

Lastly, I want people to walk away having gained something from listening. Larry Gifford, a veteran radio programmer, writes about what he calls ‘payoff’:

“A strong, genuine reaction from the listener… could be a belly laugh, could be anger, could be bewilderment, could be a piece of information that I now can’t wait to share with someone else (a real-life re-tweet).”

I love the idea of a real-life re-tweet. I also call it social currency. It’s what the listener earns in return for investing time into your show or station.

If I can accomplish that each day, in addition to describing an exciting game (hopefully won by the TinCaps), I feel like I’ve succeeded that day.

Now the game is over, though, and I’ve got to get to bed because there’s always another game tomorrow. 140 games in 152 days… make sure you’ve got your pillow.

* * *

Follow Mike Couzens on Twitter at @MikeCouzens or visit his blog.

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