Geists turn broadcasting into family affair
Father-son duo latest celebrities to join 'Express Written Consent'
Bill and Willie Geist have been broadcasting Yankees games for about 30 years now, so in a way, their recent adventure at Yankee Stadium felt just like old times.
OK, not really. In truth, their prior baseball announcing experience involved little more than sitting together at home, watching on TV, talking amongst themselves and breaking down the play-by-play from a fan's standpoint.
That's a far cry from their Father's Day trip to Yankee Stadium, where they were escorted to a broadcast booth and tasked with the enviable job of giving their own accounts and descriptions of the Yankees' Interleague matchup with the Atlanta Braves.
The Geists' time in the booth was part of an MLB.com venture called "Express Written Consent." The goal is to bring nontraditional broadcasters into the booth, to have a go at the pastime that's evolved alongside the national pastime: calling the game.
Regardless of how accomplished both men are in their respective careers, this opportunity to do this comes around once in a lifetime, which was noted by the younger member of this father-son combination.
"It was a huge thrill," Willie Geist said. "When you work in TV long enough, you tend to get a little jaded with different things you have to deal with. But walking into the booth and putting on the headset and calling the Yankee game was an unbelievable experience."
The Geists know a thing or two about being in front of the camera. Willie Geist is the host of MSNBC's "Way too Early with Willie Geist" and is co-host of MSNBC's "Morning Joe." His dad, Bill, is an author and television journalist, best known for sharing his humorous perspectives about American life on "CBS Sunday Morning."
In the months since he "called" the Yankee game, Willie Geist has covered the Olympics and two political conventions -- all obviously monumentally important events in their own right. But his Yankees experience was uniquely memorable -- it was, after all, the only one that involved being able to watch while sitting next to his dad.
"Whether it was on the couch where I grew up in New Jersey or my apartment in New York, we always watch the Yankees games," Willie Geist said. "It's what we do. [Broadcasting] was a very cool thing for us to do together."
Assisted by MLB.com's Jeremy Brisiel, the Geists' actual play-by-play performance wasn't very detailed -- pretty typical for the less seasoned baseball broadcaster. But when they started reminiscing about the old days, they sounded like veterans.
A big part of the Yankees experience for the Geists was listening to Phil Rizzuto, the Hall of Fame shortstop who enjoyed a 40-year broadcasting run following his playing career. They enjoyed his broadcasting style, sure, but what they remember best are the times when Rizzuto's attention was diverted by other things, like the weather.
One particularly gloomy night, Willie Geist recalled listening to Rizzuto abruptly leave the booth to take care of more important things.
"He left the booth because Whitey [broadcast partner Bill White] said, 'It's clouding up, it's going to rain,'" Willie said. "Scooter left the booth and said, 'I have to roll up my windows.'"
Willie Geist's favorite player growing up was Dave Winfield, whom he emulated from head to toe -- the batting stance, the helmet shifts, even the perfectly timed uniform adjustment. He knew every nuance of Winfield's game, and when his family took its yearly vacation to Cape Cod, he missed his hero. And, Willie figured in all of his seven-year-old wisdom, Winfield probably missed him, too.
So Willie did what any fan would -- he sent a postcard. "Dear Winfield," it began. No first name. No "Mr." Just, "Winfield."
Willie went on to tell Winfield what he's been up to: the beach, mini-golf, lobster rolls. Stuff like that.
"I'll see you in a week," the postcard concluded. "Willie."
During the Geists' subway ride to Yankee Stadium to partake in their dual broadcasting adventure, Willie briefed his dad on what to expect.
"We'll talk about old announcers, the players, the dark days from 1981-96 when they never made the playoffs," Willie said.
It worked out well. That's usually the case when you pair fathers and sons with Major League Baseball.
"It's such a cliche," Willie Geist laughed. "But it always comes back to that. For us, it always comes back to the Yankees."