Memories of a great year on Pac-12 Networks

Bob Drebin/StanfordPhoto.com

I knew I wanted to say something to sum up this incredible year on the Pac-12 Networks. I just didn't know what.

Then it hit me. Or, rather, he hit it.

Let's take a step back. More than three months ago, I was in Palo Alto to handle the play-by-play call of Stanford-Cal women's swimming and diving meet. The night before the event, Stanford's baseball team was playing their first game of the season, against another perennially strong program, Rice University. I had some Stanford baseball games on my work schedule later in the season, so I headed over to Sunken Diamond to enjoy my first taste of baseball in 2014.

It was not a memorable game. Rice scored three times in the fifth inning and four more in the sixth en route to a 10-3 win.

But in the eighth inning that night, a true freshman by the name of Jack Klein led off as a pinch-hitter for the Cardinal. And I don't know why, but I got to thinking about the magnitude of the moment and what it must have meant to him. What's going through this kid's head, I thought. His first collegiate at-bat. Playing for the legendary Stanford program, at Sunken Diamond. And just how did he come to attend Stanford, anyway? And what will his career be like?

(What I didn't yet know about Jack Klein was that the facility—Klein Field at Sunken Diamond—was named after his late grandfather, Bud, an all-conference outfielder at Stanford in 1950 and later a generous donor. Nor did I know that Jack attended high school in downtown San Francisco, or that his mom is longtime Bay Area TV news reporter Kate Kelly.)

Jack's first college AB didn't last long on that brisk February evening. He swung and missed three straight times. Welcome to college baseball, rook.

Nor was it a memorable regular season for him. Twenty games, just five starts, eight hits in 30 at-bats, no home runs, three runs batted in. When I called a three-game Stanford-WSU series in late May, I had done my research and had all kinds of info to pass along to the viewers about Jack and his Stanford-bred, Stanford-bled family. Problem was, he appeared in just one game during that series, grounding out as a pinch-hitter on the second pitch he saw. (I'll save the stories for next year.)

So, naturally, when watching Stanford's first regional playoff game in Bloomington, Ind., I sat up and took note when I saw that Jack Klein, of all people, was starting in left field. My thoughts immediately went to Stanford's legendary head coach, Mark Marquess. He must be playing a hunch.

It was a Card well-played. Top of the sixth, Stanford leading Indiana State 2-0. Two on, two out. Klein, who had earlier grounded out and singled, stepped in and smoked one over the left-field fence for a three-run shot and a 5-0 lead. His first-ever collegiate home run, and it came in the postseason. "Somewhere," I tweeted, "Grandpa Bud is smiling."

It is stories like this which make Pac-12 athletics so much fun.

Naturally, I immensely enjoyed calling play-by-play during this second year of the Pac-12 Networks. I had the opportunity to call Steve Alford's first game as UCLA head men's basketball coach, and Missy Franklin's first Pac-12 championship swims.

I'll remember the September heat at McAlister Field, the home of USC soccer, and the bitter November cold at Lower Field in Pullman, the home of WSU soccer. I'll remember the atmosphere at Pauley Pavilion as the Alford era began, and the mixed emotions I felt as a good man, Craig Robinson, had his tenure come to an end in Corvallis.

And mostly, I'll remember the people. I worked with 13 different producers, all of whom were professional, all of whom "get it." The coaches, sports information directors and athletes—really, everyone in the Pac-12—was enjoyable to deal with.

Especially the Pac-12 Networks' analysts. I worked alongside 16 different broadcast partners, basking in the reflected glory of... eight Olympians (Amy Van Dyken, Natalie Coughlin, Nathan Adrian, Cynthia Potter, Holly McPeak, Kim Oden, Kevin Wong, Ken Chertow) who won a combined 21 medals... two World Series heroes (J.T. Snow, Geoff Blum)... the Pac-12's all-time leading scorer in men's hoops (Don MacLean)... a 21-time national champion volleyball coach (Al Scates)... a former Pac-12 soccer player of the year (Tracey Bailey)... an incredibly knowledgeable basketball mind (Mary Murphy)... an up-and-comer as a women's hoops analyst (Julie Rousseau)... and a onetime NCAA Sportswoman of the Year (Krista Blunk).

(Sadly, I didn't get to work with one of my favorite people on the planet, Lamar Hurd, with whom I've called more than 30 Pac-12 basketball games over the years. We were scheduled to work an OSU hoops game, which, incredibly, was postponed when the Arkansas-Pine Bluff team couldn't get a flight to Portland because of an ice storm in Dallas.)

The past nine months have been a whirlwind. And I can hardly wait for next year.

Rich Burk calls play-by-play for the Pac-12 Networks. He lives in Portland, Ore.