- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 13, 2008

“Hooking…hooking… fair!” This time, at least, the Hall of Fame pitcher doesn’t mind that the ball stayed in play. Baseball legend Don Sutton and booth partner Bob Carpenter, the television broadcast team for the Washington Nationals, are back at it for a second year, breaking down the lineups and predicting the late-inning double switches for the MASN cable sports network.

But on this glorious sunny day at Arlington’s Army-Navy Country Club, the duo was indulging in a second shared passion: golf. Both can work their way around a course and both marvel that such a beautiful layout is just minutes from their Washington-area homes and from their “office,” the new Nationals ballpark.

Sutton, who won 324 games in a 22-year major league career, has an easy south Alabama charm, along with a ready stock of anecdotes and aphorisms that no doubt come in handy on the pro-am circuit. When a partner’s long putt seems to be running out of gas, instead of “Get Legs!” he offers up, “Touch ‘em all!”

Carpenter, a St. Louis native, is also a thoughtful and engaging playing partner, not even wincing when you steal his signature “See…you…later” home run call when your six-foot putt drops into the hole. His easygoing ways (in his varied broadcasting career, he has called the Masters, the U.S. [tennis] Open, soccer’s World Cup, college basketball with Dick Vitale and baseball with Jim Palmer and Joe Morgan) quickly earned him a support base of his own in Washington.

The Nationals hastily backed down on plans this winter to bring in a new play-by-play man after a surge of fan support for Carpenter.

“It’s a business. I understand that,” he says. “But I really do want to stay around considering the new stadium, the fans here, and what I think the Nationals are building as an organization.”

Sutton and Carpenter’s paths had crossed before. When the pitcher notched his 300th career win in June 1986, Carpenter was in the booth for the Texas Rangers calling the game. The two earned good reviews in their first full season together.

Despite very respectable games, both men came to golf relatively late. Sutton:”I never played until I was getting ready to go to spring training in 1966 when I was 20 years old. I lived near the St. Regis Paper Company in Pensacola, Florida, and they had a nine-hole course. I had one club and one ball. I would go hit the ball, jog to it, hit it again. The golf course was a great place to run and nobody was there in the middle of the day. I got hooked with a 7-iron. I’ve been playing ever since.”

Carpenter: “I was probably in my late 20s before I ever started playing on any kind of regular basis. I grew up in what you’d call a borderline inner-city neighborhood, and we just played baseball morning, noon and night. Nobody picked up a golf club where I’m from.”

The two played together about a half-dozen times in their first full year with the Nats. Sutton notes that “all the celebrity golf tournaments are in the summer. I can’t afford to be a celebrity. I have to work.”

On where they play when they can play:

Sutton: “I belong to the Hideaway and The Palms in La Quinta, California. My favorite course is probably the Pete Dye Course at the Hideaway. But if I had just one course to play the rest of my life, it would be Cypress Point.”

Carpenter: “I don’t play the same place all the time. I do have a home course, Meadowbrook Country Club, in Tulsa [where Carpenter’s family lives], but since I took the Nationals job, I haven’t played as much. My favorite golf course in the world is Kapalua Plantation on Maui.”

Having faced Willie Mays and Frank Robinson on the diamond, Sutton says he doesn’t go out of his way to seek challenges on the golf course.

Sutton: “All of the courses that are on everybody else’s Top 10 list sometimes play too hard for me, so I scratch them. I don’t care what’s on my resume, I want to have a good time. I just like courses that are fun to play and are challenging, like Army-Navy. If it’s got good greens, I’ll play in a cow pasture. It’s supposed to be fun.”

Both broadcasters say they love the Nationals gig, with a promising and likeable young team, a take-charge manager and a brand new stadium all promising a bright future. But does what happens at the ballpark translate into success at the tee box?

Sutton: “I think there are some similarities between being a pitcher and playing golf because you can just turn it loose. A pitcher and a golfer stand alone for the most part. Golf has always been my outlet. Involved in a team sport like I was, I liked the idea of, ‘You hit it, you go find it. You put it there, go fix it.’ Golf has always been an outlet and now it’s my only competitive outlet.”

Carpenter: “What those guys [ballplayers] are doing is really hard.”

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