It was just before Thanksgiving that Mike "Doc" Emrick was enjoying coffee at a Tim Hortons in Port Huron, Mich., when his phone rang. On the line was NBC Sports and MLB Network broadcaster Bob Costas, who the night before watched a feature about Emrick on "Real Sports" on HBO.
Costas learned about an item on Emrick's bucket list, exclusive inventory considering what Emrick has accomplished in 43 years as a hockey play-by-play announcer. The lead announcer for NBC's coverage of the NHL revealed on "Real Sports" that he would love to be behind a microphone to call a Pittsburgh Pirates game. So Costas reached out and said he could help Emrick achieve that dream.
That dream will become a reality tonight when Emrick will handle play-by-play duties for MLB Network when the Pirates play the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. Costas will call the first three innings before Emrick takes over, fulfilling a dream Emrick has had since he was growing up in La Fontaine, Ind., and listening to Bob Prince call Pirates games on KDKA-FM.
TUNE INTO THE CUBS-PIRATES GAME HERE
"It's a wonderful gift when you consider that these games in the regular season, they belong to the professionals," Emrick said. "For [Costas] to share a night and allow me to live a lifelong dream on a national network, that's pretty impressive. To be alongside him is going to be special. You just want to do your best job that you possibly can and be entertaining.
Video: Doc Emrick talks Pirates in the booth with the guys
"You always remember where you are when important things in your life happen. He said, 'We're not going to get twisted into a pretzel over this. I'm your safety net. Everything is going to be fine.'"
Emrick has called Pirates spring training games on radio and television. A March 3 game against the Toronto Blue Jays was the first baseball game he worked in more than 50 years, since doing a college game at Miami (Ohio) University, which he called "sort of an abomination," because they were without a media guide or game notes. Famous for calling hockey at a breakneck pace and describing the movement of the puck with words such as knifed, feathered and pitchforked, Emrick made the adjustment to a slower game before a more relaxed atmosphere.
"Getting that under my belt helped an awful lot in terms of comfort level," Emrick said. "You also realize that you are in a different setting [Friday]. Not only is it a regular-season game but it's at PNC, which is one of the higher (press box) locations in the league.
"It is an adjustment, and you also don't want to wear people out because it is three hours and you can wind up being too busy. But I have a feeling I'll have a very experienced monitor (Costas) next to me. And one of the things I'm going to ask him about is to just keep a monitor on me. If I'm saying too much or not saying enough, just give me a nudge or let me know."
At McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla., the Pirates' spring training home, Emrick was about 40 feet behind and 20 feet above home plate. So he's been receiving advice from other baseball announcers on how to judge fly balls at PNC Park. He'll also be watching a Pirates team that's won six straight entering its game against the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday, a run that moved them within a half-game of second place in the National League Central Division.
Adding to the intrigue of Emrick's night in the booth is the Cubs' probable starting pitcher, right-hander Jake Arrieta. The reigning NL Cy Young Award winner is 12-3 with a 2.33 earned run average, and 9-1 with a 1.46 ERA in 12 starts against the Pirates.
Video: Doc Emrick calls Spring Training Game
"One thing about Arrieta, he's got the Pirates' number," Emrick said. "And so that will present a real nice challenge for them if they come back euphoric from this trip to St. Louis. Maybe they'll feel like they've arrived if they can get to Arrieta Friday night."
But don't count on Emrick to make any euphoric calls following a strikeout or a home run Friday. After all, he is a newbie.
"I think if you plan something like that, especially with my limited experience, you're making a mistake," Emrick said. "I'm not coming with anything at the ready, let's put it that way."