If Lexington held a contest for best summer job of 2014, Dick Gabriel's and Doug Flynn's would be hard to beat.
Gabriel, the veteran sports broadcaster, and Flynn, the 1980 National League Gold Glove second baseman, are seeing the country this summer while broadcasting the Minor League Baseball Game of the Week on Thursday nights for cable television's CBS Sports Network.
Thanks to their summer employment, Flynn, 63, and Gabriel, 58, tried beer milkshakes at the ballpark in Charleston, S.C. They had donut bacon cheeseburgers in Sacramento.
At the ballpark in Pawtucket, R.I., "they had lobster — lobster!" Flynn said, his voice rising in wonder. "When I was in the minor leagues (early 1970s), you were lucky if the hot dogs and popcorn were warm."
In Myrtle Beach, Gabriel and Flynn broadcast a game hours after Hurricane Arthur came ashore.
When the duo worked Thursday night's (July 24) Akron RubberDucks-Reading Fightin Phils game, it marked the 10th state and 13th ballpark the two have experienced this summer — and they still have trips to Salt Lake City and Birmingham left to go.
"It's been a blast," Garbriel said.
If you wonder how two Lexington guys wound up as the cable TV voices of minor league baseball, it goes back to late March. Gabriel, whose day job is special projects producer at WKYT-TV, got a phone call from Tom Stultz, the former Host Communications executive who is now president of sports marketing firm JMI Sports.
"Minor League Baseball had approached us at JMI Sports about trying to put together a TV package that could raise the brand awareness and, hopefully, build some market leverage for minor league broadcasts in the future," Stultz said. "My first thought was, 'I need a play-by-play guy.' Having been in Lexington, I thought of Dick. I knew he loved calling baseball."
Gabriel said Stultz eventually asked, "'Who should we get to do color (analysis)?' I said, 'Well, Doug Flynn does the UK (baseball) games (on TV) with me. What about Doug?'"
The challenge in covering minor league baseball is the same regardless of media platform. Unlike major league baseball, NFL, NBA or major-college basketball and football contests, no one much cares who wins a minor league game. Most people go for the ballpark experience.
With the aid of roving reporter Lauren Gardner, Gabriel said the Minor League Game of the Week telecasts try to convey that.
"We try to give people a full picture of the town and ballpark we are coming from," Gabriel said. "It seems like every ballpark has one concession item they're really proud of, so we show that. Or maybe there is some unique aspect about how the team got its name. Over the course of the broadcast, we usually interview at least three people."
In Dayton, Ohio, they talked with former Cincinnati star Eric Davis, now a Reds roving minor-league instructor. In Sacramento, it was Pacific Coast League President Branch Rickey III, the grandson of the legendary Brooklyn Dodgers executive who signed Jackie Robinson.
For Flynn, who played in the big leagues from 1975-85, the broadcasts have had a bit of a This is Your Life feel.
"We worked a (Las Vegas 51s) game, and Wally Backman was the manager and Frank Viola the pitching coach," Flynn said. "Those are guys from when I played. Seeing them, it was awesome."
In Tacoma, Wash., Gabriel saw a familiar face himself in Raniers' utility man Patrick Brady. "He went to Henry Clay (High School) with my kids," Gabriel said. "When he saw me, he goes 'What are you doing here?'"
While much of the focus of their telecasts may be on the carnival atmosphere that is minor league baseball, the broadcasters from Lexington have seen some memorable on-the-field performances, too.
On May 29, Memphis Redbirds pitcher Tim Cooney was one out from completing a no-hitter when Arismendy Alcantara of the Iowa Cubs lined a single to left. "I thought, 'Oh well, there was my one chance to call a no-hitter,'" Gabriel said.
Not so. In Dayton on July 10, South Bend's Blayne Weller no-hit the host Dragons on 125 pitches in a 7-1 win. "That was a thrill," Gabriel said. "I can always say I called a no-hitter on national TV."
Hard to ask for much more from a summer job.