- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 30, 2006

Because of the maddening mess involving Comcast and Peter Angelos’ Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, the Washington Nationals are readily available on television in their second season only to those who have a satellite dish or subscribe to a handful of local cable services. This does most fans a double disservice. In addition to getting a mere handful of games carried over the air by WDCA (Channel 20), they are largely deprived of hearing the team’s excellent TV broadcasters, play-by-play man Bob Carpenter and analyst Tom Paciorek.

In a region long blessed with outstanding baseball mikemen — Arch McDonald, Bob Wolff, Tony Roberts, Mel Proctor, Chuck Thompson, Jon Miller, et al — Carpenter and Paciorek continue the tradition nicely for MASN. They are pros who know the game and enjoy watching it — even with a Nationals team that appears headed for a sorry season.

Carpenter, 53, landed in the District after working with the St. Louis Cardinals, Texas Rangers, New York Mets and Minnesota Twins and at ESPN, where his contract was not renewed after 17 years. Paciorek, 59, arrived after doing color for nearly 20 years (Rangers, Chicago White Sox, Atlanta Braves) since his 18-year career as a journeyman big leaguer ended, Both say they’re delighted to be here, though Carpenter is signed for only two years and Paciorek for one. Like everybody else connected with the Nats, they could be out when a new owner is chosen.

“But you know what, this is like a rebirth for me,” Paciorek said last week. “I wasn’t sure I wanted to do 158 games a season again [after working a fraction of that number for Fox’s Atlanta outlet in recent years], but this is fun. I love being in Washington, and the fans are so supportive. Yes, it’s frustrating when somebody comes up and says, ‘I wish I could see you guys all the time,’ but I don’t worry about things I can’t control.”

Carpenter offered similar sentiments a bit more succinctly: “Something about this job just feels right.”

Working a 5-0 loss to the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday afternoon, the two showed how they can keep viewers interested even during a dull game — and this one was stultifying as Reds starter Bronson Arroyo and two relievers held the fast-fading Nats to a single hit. One way to do so is with humor, a quality both use often.

Carpenter, after a scoreless first inning that followed two games in which Washington starters dug themselves immediate holes: “It almost feels like the Nats are ahead. There’s nothing like an early lead — nothing-nothing.”

Paciorek, after Carpenter noted that Adam Dunn of the Reds has led the National League in strikeouts three times and has gone out possibly 400 times without making contact: “It’s almost like he’s up there blindfolded.”

Carpenter, on a report by WUSA (Channel 9) that the Nationals will be sold to the Lerner group and a subsequent denial by Major League Baseball: “In this town, a rumor! Well, Arroyo’s no rumor — he’s a cold, hard fact.”

Paciorek, on an announcement that backup catcher Wiki Gonzalez has been designated for assignment, meaning all but released: “Yeah, I’ve been there.”

Carpenter, doing a promo for the team’s Home Plate Club: “You can sit right down there [next to the field], pretend you’re [former Texas and New York Mets manager] Bobby Valentine and harass the umpires.”

And Carpenter once more, after a Nats pinch hitter fouls several pitches into the stands: “Marlon Byrd Souvenir Day has broken out.”

There is warm and welcome rapport between the two, in and out of the booth. They go back a long way; in fact, Paciorek made his broadcasting debut while still a player with the Rangers subbing for Carpenter when Bob had a flight canceled. Said Carpenter: “I thought even then that this guy was about 20 times as interesting as the average ballplayer.”

Yet hard-nosed baseball fans also demand insight, and there’s plenty of it on The Bob and Tom Show.

Paciorek: “[Ramon] Ortiz [of the Nats] has a different demeanor on the mound today, like he really wants to get after people. … In spring training, he was working a lot on his slider, and I think he got so enamored of it that he forgot to throw anything else.”

Carpenter, after Nats second baseman Marlon Anderson botched a likely inning-ending double play, allowing a run to score: “He just couldn’t get the ball out of his glove. That’s something you don’t see very often, because most second basemen use small gloves.”

Paciorek, on Arroyo’s pitching style: “He throws a slurve, sort of a cross between a slider and curve. It doesn’t break down as much as a slider. It goes straight across, and it’s much slower. … What makes him so difficult is that he throws breaking balls on fastball counts and vice versa. He just pitches completely backward.”

For nearly three hours, Carpenter and Paciorek sat in their booth on the RFK Stadium mezzanine and watched their team lose as producer Chip Winfield cued them through their headsets and stage manager Joey Delpo constantly passed them notes. The broadcasters were critical of plays and players when occasion demanded but not maliciously so. They always want the Nats to win, but they are not obnoxious about it. Neither will paraphrase the late Harry Caray by shrieking, “Nats win! Nats win!”

So far this season, of course, opportunities to do so have been rare. As the home team batted in the ninth, Carpenter said solemnly, “The Nats are in danger of falling to 7-14, 1-7 at RFK, and leaving town [for a road trip] with their suitcases dragging.”

Almost certainly, it will be a long, lukewarm summer for Washington fans, but Paciorek tried to find a dollop of sunshine as the two wrapped up the telecast: “This team will get hot. Too many players are having good seasons [for it not to happen]. They’ve just got to put it all together.”

Obviously, Bob Carpenter and Tom Paciorek already have put it all together. Too bad they’re the best-kept secret in town.

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