Benefield: Meet the online voice of the Healdsburg Prune Packers
HEALDSBURG — 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.