Pittsburgh has a special place in the heart of Hall of Fame broadcaster Mike “Doc” Emrick, as he started his reporting career in the press box at Civic Arena.
Emrick covered the Penguins for the Beaver County Times before jumping into the broadcast business, and the team’s old barn is where it all began.
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“I spent a year covering the Penguins as an unpaid reporter for the Beaver County Times,” Emrick said earlier this week. “A (special moment) in my career was coming back to Pittsburgh to broadcast a game. It was a Flyers-Penguins game. This place gave me my first chance to be a reporter and I had the ambition to be a play-by-play guy, so coming back that first time was special.”
Emrick’s storied career spans nearly 40 years and features calling Stanley Cup Finals, World Cups, Winter Classics, the Olympics and several other memorable regulation games. But out of all those, it was the US-Canada Gold Medal Game last year in Vancouver that Emrick recalls the most.
“The Gold Medal Game last year stands out because of how dramatic it was throughout,” Emrick said. “The US had the advantage in play and the stronger of the two goaltenders, and tied it in the end. Then, of course, (Sidney Crosby
) scored in overtime. That game was wonderful for hockey, especially in the US. For people that watch hockey only once every four years, it was a brilliant display of the sport. That stands out in my mind the most.”
Throughout his career, Emrick has been to every single NHL venue, but says that the Penguins’ new home – CONSOL Energy Center – is the best facility he has ever seen.
“It’s wonderful,” he said. “The buildings from the 90s were built around the same time and started all looking the same. They were nice improvements, particularly for fans, from before. CONSOL (Energy Center) is sparkling clean with wide concourses.
“There are lots of touches inside as well. Things like Suite 66 downstairs is a special place with all of Mario’s trophies. Touches like that aren’t antiseptic. It makes it more like home.”
The Penguins have an active sellout streak of 202 games, dating back to the 2006-07 season. Emrick believes the Penguins’ success – other than the product on the ice – stems from the Penguins upper management.
“There is special feeling that the hierarchy of the Penguins has for the people,” he said. “How many arenas or sports facilities have a mosaic made of miniature pictures of every person in the labor force that worked the building. I don’t know any. On opening day people were hanging outside hoping to get a ticket. How many teams’ president, GM and head coach go out and serve coffee and donuts to the people in line? None that I know of.
“I think the owners and people who run the team are really Pittsburghers and recognize this town is a collection of neighborhoods. Neighborhood people are different than a megalopolis. If you treat them right, word gets around that the franchise cares about the people. That snowballs into a positive feeling.”
But the one thing that really stands out above all from Emrick’s personality is his eternally optimistic loyalty to his favorite Major League Baseball team – the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Just consider that this is how he opened our conversation: “The weather is beautiful and that means spring is around the corner and the Pirates beat the Red Sox, 7-4. I’m doing handstands and quarters are falling out of my pockets because they beat the Red Sox in March.”
Although he was exaggerating a bit on the handstands, Emrick is as die-hard a Pirates fans as you’ll ever meet.
|Emrick at PNC Park - Getty Images |
“This is my 52nd season being a fan. I’ve seen a lot of terrific years, 34 wonderful years,” Emrick said, who fell in love with the team as a child listening to Bob Prince call games on KDKA radio. “I saw Clemente play at Forbes Field. I’m glad I’m old enough to see those guys play. Those were great years.
“Last year in January I got to spend two hours in fantasy camp. All the guys I idolized as a kid I got to meet for the first time. Maz (Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski) – my nickname was Maz because I played second base. Kent Tekulve and I talked for an hour about broadcasting. That was a thrill for me.”
And although the Pirates have been fighting through a tough two decades, Emrick hasn’t lost the passion for baseball – or his optimism.
“People here are loyal to the team. It’s a wonderful ballpark, the ushers and everyone treats you like first class,” he said. “They deserve a good team and I hope they get that. The players they have, have some promise. Maybe it’ll be like Oakland and Kansas City where it starts to fit together.”
And maybe one day soon the Pirates will put it all together for their loyal fans, like Emrick.
“You look for any reason to hope,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with that.”RELATED PODCAST: Emrick's Angle 5/14/10 - Mellon Arena >