Just before 8 p.m., Dan Baker stood at a microphone behind home plate, the master of ceremonies,
welcoming everybody to beautiful Citizens Bank Park
Baker introduced the Phillies ball girls and Gary Matthews to throw out the first pitch. He announced the San Francisco Giants starters, the Phillies' lineup (Raaa-uuuuul . . . E-bannnn-yesssss), and then the six umpires working Sunday night's Game 2 of the National League Championship Series. He welcomed the National League East champion Phillies to the field.
Then he turned into the fastest-walking man in the ballpark.
The PA announcer double-timed it down the 11 steps from the field, zigzagged the hallways underneath the stands to the press box elevator ("Just missed it!"), and never lost his trademark politeness ("Thanks, Bill . . . Hi, Andrew") as he speed-walked the final steps through the Hall of Fame Club to his perch along the first-base line. The trip took 3 minutes, 14 seconds.
During Baker's trip, Dave Abramson, chief engineer for the broadcast center, announced the first two Giants batters.
"Every day I'm Wally Pipp," Abramson joked as he spotted Baker and gave up the chair.
The man who took over shares some characteristics with Lou Gehrig. Baker, 64, is in his 39th season as the Phillies' PA announcer, longer than anyone in Major League Baseball, he believes. He also has done the Eagles' PA for 26 years.
Sunday, Baker did both, walking across the parking lot between jobs.
"I've always been lucky that my voice is very resilient," he said between games.
Baker keeps score himself, then picks up the score sheet, staring at it even as he announces the most familiar names. His tools haven't changed in four decades. They are a pencil and a couple of spares, plus a pair of binoculars, although he rarely needs them.
In that booth, Baker sounds dramatic but not theatrical as he announces each Phillies name, taking care to pronounce each syllable. His parents were sticklers for grammar and diction, said Baker, who grew up in Southwest Philadelphia and Mount Ephraim. (He also announced pro wrestling for a spell years back, which helped that sense of the dramatic.)
When Baker, a Glassboro State graduate and former junior high school teacher, was hired before the 1972 season, Phillies president Bill Giles told him that he didn't want the PA announcer being the show. That's never changed.
"I'm not a yeller or screamer," Baker said.
In some ways, the job is easier at Citizens Bank Park than it was at Veterans Stadium. All those years, Baker also was responsible for the stadium's "Game in Progress" board, changing the balls, strikes, and outs. Giles made it clear during the initial interview that getting it done quickly and accurately was a crucial part of the job.
"I will be the quickest and most accurate in baseball," Baker told Giles, explaining to the Phillies president how he kept balls and strikes on his fingers when he was a child listening to games on the radio. "I believe I was."
His goal now: "Fifty years - or more." He won't admit to a favorite ballplayer, but he has favorite pronunciations (Greg Luzinski . . . Mick-eeeee More-in-deeen-eeee).
Once, former backup outfielder Rob Ducey mentioned to Baker that he thought the starters got a little more emphasis in pronunciation than the subs. Baker assured Ducey that wasn't true, but he makes sure he doesn't give anybody the star treatment.
"Sometimes the crowd will let me know how to place emphasis," Baker said. "I pause between the Raul and Ibanez to give them time to do their thing."
Between each half-inning, Phillies assistant director of scouting Rob Holiday, sitting next to Baker, hits a stopwatch. Each commercial break is 2:55. The second-base umpire also is timing the break. At exactly 21/2 minutes, Holiday cues Baker to announce the leadoff batter in each inning.
You won't hear it when he hits the live button on his microphone, but Baker is as much a Phillies fan as anyone in the park. "Man, oh man," he said after one strikeout call against the Phillies, holding his hands up where he thought the pitch had crossed the plate.
In his normal voice, Baker is more of a quick talker. He gets introduced to people, and they often don't recognize the voice until he is asked to prove himself. Then there's no mistaking Baker as he slows down and enunciates the syllables.
If his voice is a gift, it has its limits, Baker said.
"I can't sing worth anything," he said.
Depends on your definition of a song. At the end of the second inning, Baker turned on the live button and grabbed a typewritten sheet of paper.
"Phillies fans . . . please direct your attention to PhanaVision for today's AT&T call of the game . . ."