HELLER: F.P. gives viewers the ABC’s of Nationals TV

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

In the top of the first, Andres Torres of the Mets slaps a routine grounder up the middle and surprisingly beats the throw to first by Nationals second baseman Steve Lombardozzi. High above the field at Nationals Park, TV analyst F.P. Santangelo begins analyzing as a replay rolls on the MASN cable station.

“Lombardozzi grabs the ball and takes that little extra shuffle and with that little pat on the glove, that’s the difference. When you have a speed guy running down the line, you have to get rid of the ball quicker than that. If that’s your routine, play a little shallower and get rid of the ball quicker.”

A few feet to Santangelo’s left, play-by-play man Bob Carpenter nods. For a second season, the two are working together on most of the Nats’ 162 regular-season games. If this is not quite a marriage made in heaven, it is at least a pairing that guarantees intelligent and insightful telecasts for Washington baseball fans.

Later in the inning, after the Mets’ third baseman homers off Gio Gonzalez, Carpenter suggests, “I just think the Nats should not throw David Wright another strike the whole game.”

Santangelo jumps in immediately: “You make a good point, Carp, but when you have a pitching staff that’s used to going after guys all the time, it’s hard to back off no matter who the hitter is.”

This sort of interplay will continue all afternoon and for two-plus months to come. In his seventh season here, 29-year broadcast veteran Carpenter is a guy who knows the game and how to make it entertaining. Santangelo is the fourth MASN analyst to dissect the Nats’ ups and downs alongside Carpenter, following Tom Paciorek, Don Sutton and Rob Dibble. Arguably, he is the best — and the biggest jabberwocky.

Many former players-turned-analysts sit quietly and wait for the play-by-play man to cue them in. Santangelo, however, shares the mike almost equally with Carpenter, meaning (a) he almost always has something to say and (b) his older partner has none of the ego that infects many peers.

F.P. brings a ton of energy to the broadcasts, and he has some of the keenest insights I’ve ever seen,” Carpenter says. “One of his strengths is that he never gives up when the team is losing. My goal is to make the telecasts better, make my analyst better and make myself better. About 90 percent of the time, we just play off each other.”

Santangelo’s presence is not necessarily a plus for some viewers. He has a high-pitched delivery that can annoy listeners, some of whom claim he talks too much and overanalyzes what they wrongly consider a simple game.

“Those people are right — I do talk too much because I get so excited, but I’m trying to reel it in and learn when and how to make my points,” F.P. (for Frank-Paul) says. “This is the only [broadcasting] job I ever wanted, but the euphoria wore off quickly last season when I realized how much work it takes to do it well. I had to think about everything I said then, but this season everything’s gotten a lot easier. You have to remember that it’s all about the game and the players, not about you.”

A 45-year-old native of Michigan and former journeyman outfielder, Santangelo batted .245 over seven seasons with four major league teams. He knew he wanted to be a broadcaster long before retiring as a player. To that end, he took broadcasting classes while attending the University of Miami and later hosted sports talk shows in Sacramento and San Francisco. Yet he says he was surprised when the Nats hired him to replace Dibble, who was fired late in the 2010 season for unwisely questioning Stephen Strasburg’s toughness on the air.

“When they told me I had the job, I said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ ” Santangelo recalls. “Sometimes I can’t believe I’m getting paid to watch one of the best teams in baseball. If you want to call me a homer [and some viewers do], then I’m absolutely a homer.”

Neither Carpenter nor Santangelo has a contract for next year, and the Nats say they will not discuss extensions until after the season. But with MASN saying the ratings are up 54 percent in 2012, it seems proper and fitting that both should return.

“I’m not worried,” Santangelo says with rare brevity. “Things will work out.”

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