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Photo by James BunoanThey are the Voices of the Angels, true, but it's still pretty cheesy to set out on a story about the newest radio announcers for Anaheim's big-league baseball team by suggesting that Rory Markas and Terry Smith feel like they've died and gone to heaven.
There's no turning back now, however: cue the accounts of redemptive ecstasy!
"When I heard I got the Angels job, I was in Eugene, Oregon, broadcasting a USC basketball game," Markas reports, grinning helplessly at the memory. "I said, 'Right on, man! That's great!'"
Smith is stoked, too, but it takes him a lot longer to relive his moment of rapture. Like, 10 minutes, during which he says, "to make a long story short" three times. "I know, it is a long story," he admits after the last of these apologies, and by now it's obvious that Smith is helpless, too—compelled to catalog the pleasures of his 19 years doing play-by-play for the New York Yankees minor-league team in Columbus, Ohio, where he met a scrappy prospect named Rex Hudler, who fashioned a big-league career as a journeyman utility player before parlaying his rah-rah persona into a job as the Angels TV broadcaster and then cajoling Smith into applying for the team's radio gig. The tale meanders on and on. It features an appointment with Smith's eye doctor, an after-school practice with his son's basketball team, a call-by-call log of his phone-tag frustrations, and a meditation on the nuances of conducting business and family life across America's three time zones. By now, it feels as though Smith is storyboarding Ken Burns' next PBS documentary. "Finally," Smith concludes with exhausted gratitude, "I got the call from the Angels telling me, 'We've got two great new announcers, and you're one of them!'" But by now, he's too drained to go into how that moment really felt. Still, that probably communicates as well as anything how he did feel—because knowing Smith's story has ended kinda fills you with exhausted gratitude, too. "It was a long day," Smith says simply. "A long day."
Seven months later, the Major League Baseball season has reached the dog days of August. Markas and Smith have spent nearly 120 games as the Voices of the Angels—describing every move of the hometown team as it visits stadiums across North America, playing the national game over and over and over, from spring through summer to fall. It's a pretty big deal.
"We have to paint verbal pictures of the sights, sounds and feelings of being in a ballpark," says Markas, "so that the baseball fan driving his car feels he is at that game, can picture in his mind what happened when that ball was hit down in the corner and the outfielder played it perfectly off the wall, ignoring the fan who dropped his beer. Know what I mean?"
Anybody who doesn't probably will. Everybody in Southern California may sooner or later get their chance to be a Voice of the Angels.
Markas and Smith are the 19th and 20th Voices of the Angels in the 41 years since the club joined the American League in 1961. Some became famous, some were pitiful, and one was named Al Wisk. When the 16th and 18th Voices of the Angels—Mario Impemba and Daron Sutton—suddenly resigned last winter to be the voices of other big-league teams, Markas and Smith were auditioned in a hurry. They met for the first time at a press conference to announce their hiring.
Compare this kind of turnover to the oral history of the Los Angeles Dodgers, which has been passed down by a single griot—Vin Scully, abetted by a geek chorus of long-running standbys including Jerry Doggett, Don Drysdale, Rick Monday and Ross Porter—for more than a half-century.
Consider what it might say about the Angels that Impemba and Sutton chose to steer their careers away from the prestigious Southern California broadcast market toward jobs in Detroit and Milwaukee.
Then come to the conclusion that it all boils down to what you might call the same difference: tradition. Dodgers tradition demands that the team wear blue uniforms. Angels tradition requires that they change the color and design of their uniforms every third time they replace their radio announcers.
"We can't think about that," Markas says with a shrug. "Mario Impemba and Daron Sutton were real good guys, but we have to do our jobs—come to the ballpark and do what we do."
Like many Angels traditions, this one isn't always easy on fans. Some don't cotton to the recurring shipments of fresh larynxes that are always arriving and being anointed the Voices of the Angels, not when they may know less about the team than the listeners.
"That's what Terry and I used spring training for—to get to know the team, to get to know each other and to let the fans get to know us," explains Markas. "I've covered the Angels for other TV and radio stations in Southern California, but you never know the nuances of a team unless you're with them every day. In that sense, the learning just keeps happening."