by David Jepson

Sports was a big part of my childhood growing up in Maine.  I spent countless afternoons playing baseball, basketball, pond hockey, and soccer with the other kids in the neighborhood.  Sports got us out of the house and kept us busy.  We were all getting physical exercise, having a good time, and staying out of trouble.  We enjoyed watching the professional sports teams on TV, too.  It was all good. 

Later on, in high school, playing sports became the reason to endure the chalk-dust torture.  We couldn’t participate in sports on a particular day if we didn’t attend class also, so there we sat, locked in those uncomfortable desk/chair combo units, watching the clock.  Freedom arrived precisely at 1:50 p.m. 

By the time I got to college Joe Buck was all over the television, which meant my friends and I watched plenty of games that he announced.  For some of my pals, though, watching sports on TV was no longer the innocent diversion it had been when we were kids.  For them it had become a sad excuse to drink to excess, and to gamble, several nights each week.  All of this, of course, was happening with Joe Buck’s pleasant voice in the background.

My friends’ problems with drinking and gambling aside, I started to wonder if it made sense to even watch the games being broadcast.  Rumors of steroid use in professional baseball were growing louder (some ballplayers looked like they moonlighted as “American Gladiators”), and drug cheating in other sports was all too common.  Cycling’s Festina affair was still in recent memory, and Lance Armstrong’s absolute domination of the Tour de France was a little too good to be true.  Cripes, even the Little League World Series had been stolen (remember Danny Almonte?). 

What was I really watching?  Was any of this on the up-and-up?  My interest in sports was hanging by a thread, but like a zombie I kept staring at the T.V.

Then, it happened.

During the third inning of Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS, Derek Jeter hit a line drive that landed in foul territory, just past third base.  In announcing the play, it became painfully obvious that Joe Buck didn’t even understand what a fair ball was, which is one of baseball’s most fundamental concepts.

“Again, all it has to do is go over the bag,” he said with complete confidence, before Tim McCarver covered for him. 

Joe was under the impression that a fly ball that travelled over the bag and then landed foul was a fair ball.  Yikes.

For me, Joe Buck lost all credibility with that one sentence.  The most popular sports announcer in America, and perhaps the world, was a fraud.  A poser.  Don’t get me wrong –Joe Buck is a nice guy with a likeable personality, but if you are going to announce a professional baseball game you need to understand the basic rules better than any 10 year old little leaguer picking daisies in right field.

After that, I couldn’t watch games that Joe Buck announced.  I tried.

Even when I found a game that Joe wasn’t announcing, his voice was stuck in my head.  It was time to ask myself some serious questions:

Did I really want to spend my weeknights rooting for a bunch of roided-up MLB “stars”? 

Should my precious Sunday afternoons be spent watching fat, sweaty NFL guys in spray-on pants bend over and push each other around? 

Was I having fun watching NCAA football players get carted off the field with horrific knee injuries, or grade 3 concussions? 

Did I want to stay up late to see NHL goons dish out cheap, vicious, blind-side head shots that undoubtedly caused brain damage?

Was a 7-foot-6-inch circus freak from Elbonia dropping a basketball through a hoop really something to cheer about?

As a non-drinker, how many beer commercials was I going to sit through to watch these silly games?  How many car commercials?  How many cardboard pizza commercials?

Dear God, how many boner pill commercials could a man watch, anyway?

That was it.  Game over.  I was done with TV sports, and Joe Buck had given me the final push I needed.  I realized that in watching sports on TV I was trying to recapture the enjoyment I had received from playing them as a kid.  That enjoyment was impossible to find sitting on the couch.

After Joe Buck’s gaffe I bought a bike and started biking on the weekends.  I also bought a pair of hiking boots and hit the trails.  Since then I’ve biked thousands of miles, and hiked countless trails I would never have hiked.  I’m friends with some great people I would never have met.  I’m healthier.  I’m stronger.  Stepping away from sports on TV has allowed me to create lifelong friendships and memories with other like-minded former TV sports fans.  I have more time for family.  More time for things that matter.

My life has been enriched immensely by quitting TV sports, and I owe a lot of it to Joe Buck and a comment he made fifteen years ago.  Time flies.

Fortunately Joe Buck is still announcing games (even pro golf?), so it isn’t too late for you to let Joe improve your life also!  That’s right!  It is time for you to take the Joe Buck Challenge! 

The Challenge:

Quit watching TV sports for two weeks.  I promise you it won’t be that difficult.  You are, of course, allowed to catch the scores and highlights on the morning news (for water cooler chit-chat purposes). 

Have the courage to make more time for the things that really matter to you. You can do it.

Let me know how it goes.

A photo taken on the bike path during a recent Joe Buck broadcast.

David Jepson is a doghillmedia.com columnist

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