Benefield: Meet the online voice of the Healdsburg Prune Packers
The game was 1-0 in favor of the Healdsburg Prune Packers Wednesday night at Recreation Park when the visiting Humboldt Crabs’ manager Robin Guiver walked toward home plate and spent some time pleading his case with the umpire. Guiver, and a good many Crabs fans, felt the Packers had missed a tag at second that was called an out.
With shouts of “Ask for help,” and “This isn’t horseshoes” spouting from Crabs fans in the stands, Guiver made his case but to no avail.
All through the delay in play, ?sitting at his perch in the stands behind home plate, Griffin Epstein, 18, spoke into his headset and broadcast to the wider world his take on what was unfolding.
“The umpires have had to deal with a lot of angry visiting coaches of late,” he said. “On Saturday against the Ports, San Leandro’s manager got about as close to getting thrown out of a ballgame without doing so. He could have spent enough time having dinner with his wife as he did talking with the umpire.”
Epstein is three weeks beyond his graduation from Petaluma High School and 14 games into his new gig as the online voice of Prune Packers baseball. Yes, public address announcer Dick Bugarske is still calling games for fans in the stadium, sprinkling in baseball nuggets from “This Day in History,” but Epstein is offering Packers fans from near and far a chance to hear games unfold live via Twitter and Periscope.
As manager Joey Gomes tells it, Epstein has taken the California College League program “to the next level.”
“He is very savvy,” he said. “He knows baseball and it’s been pretty cool.”
And it’s been all Epstein’s creation.
“He reached out to us,” said Bugarske, who is also a board member with Healdsburg Prune Packers Baseball Club, the nonprofit organization that runs the team. “He sent us an email, sent us his resume.”
He got their attention. And then, Epstein, a three-year veteran of Petaluma High’s Trojan Live broadcast program, made his pitch in person. And he killed it, according to Bugarske.
“We are all in our Sunday grubbies,” he recalled of the board meeting back in February. “He comes walking in with a suit and tie on.”
Epstein is nothing if not professional, despite technically not being a professional. He skipped his high school Project Grad celebration to call the Prune Packers’ home opener on June 1 and was up and going again the next day for an 11 a.m. opening pitch.
His setup looks scant - his laptop is open and set on a folded card table that spans two rows of seats high behind home plate at Rec Park. On Wednesday, Epstein had 13 tabs open and toggled repeatedly between pages of stats and other information. He had an 8-x-11 sheet of paper with a hand-drawn diamond and players’ names at each position. On one side, the Prune Packers’ lineup; on the other, the Crabs’. When teams made pitching changes, he crossed out one name and wrote in another. Color-coded spreadsheets featured stats and information about players.
He streams live through the Prune Packers’ Twitter account as well as onto Periscope. He manages all of the technology himself. Last week a game garnered nearly 800 listeners.
“Every game he’s going deeper,” Bugarske said. “There are great interviews. It’s just marvelous. We are just so happy to have him.”
So is Gomes.
Players’ college programs - including the University of Connecticut, Cal and Texas Tech - are taking note of what Epstein is doing and sharing broadcast info with their fan base, he said.
“The colleges are like all over this because they are like ‘Dude, you have gone to the next level,’” Gomes said. “It’s all this kid. It takes us, and what we view the Prune Packers as, to the next level.”
“That’s how unique this kid is. It’s amazing,” he said.
In April, Epstein was named The Press Democrat’s outstanding journalist at the 2019 High School Journalism Awards. For three years he’s been a mainstay on Trojan Live, covering all manner of prep sports. This fall, he’s taking his work rate to Indiana University, where he plans on studying sports media. It will likely surprise no one that he’s been in contact with his department’s faculty and already has a gig calling Hoosier women’s soccer games this fall.
“I’m a big sports fanatic,” he said. “By the time I got to fifth or sixth grade, I realized I wasn’t athletic enough to play sports as a career.”
So he channeled his passion into another outlet.
“I’d like to turn off the TV audio sometimes and do play-by-play,” he said.
At Petaluma, he started with a focus on the big-ticket sports: Football and basketball. But then he started to hear it from athletes and coaches in other sports, so he expanded his resume.