Why would two Major League Baseball TV sportscasters for the Baltimore Orioles break into a banter that emulated a routine by Maine humorist Tim Sample?
Probably because the two announcers, Gary Thorne and Mike Bordick, are Maine natives.
The 63-year-old Thorne, an Old Town native, began his MLB play-by-play career on the radio with the New York Mets in 1985. He has been with the Orioles for five years in addition to his duties with ESPN.
Winterport’s Bordick will be making his debut behind the microphone this season and also will continue to serve as a roving infield instructor for the Orioles.
Bordick landed his TV gig by accident, according to PressBoxOnline.com.
He contacted Orioles play-by-play man Jim Hunter with the idea of providing reports on some of the top prospects in the Oriole minor league system.
Instead, he got asked to become a member of the game-day crew as a color commentator.
The 46-year-old Bordick, who retired in 2003 after a 14-year, 1,720-game major league career, will do 81 of Baltimore’s 162 games for the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network.
Former Orioles great Jim Palmer, a righthanded pitcher who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990, will do the other games with Thorne and fellow play-by-play announcer Hunter.
Thorne figures he will do around 120 games as he has ESPN commitments and vacation time.
Bordick is replacing the late Mike Flanagan, who died last Aug. 24.
“I’m really excited. It’s an opportunity not many guys get,” said Bordick, a former shortstop who also could play second and third. “It could be a career changer for me. I’m going into the year open-minded. I’m having a blast. I’m getting to work with some great people and they’re helping me out a lot.
“I’m approaching it like I did as a player,” added Bordick. “I’m going to study and be as prepared as I possibly can.”
“He has been great in the booth,” said Thorne, who has worked two exhibition games with Bordick so far. “He’s very calm, very poised and he has done his homework. He has tremendous insight and really understands the game and the intricacies of it. I just told him to tell me what he sees. He’s outstanding at doing that.”
Thorne and Bordick both chuckled when asked about the Tim Sample moment they had in their second exhibition game.
“Gary was talking about a player and he mentioned he was from Palm Hah-bah [Harbor]. I said ‘Is that anywhere near Bah-Hah-Ba [Bar Harbor]? You can’t get they-ah [there] from he-ah [here],” relayed Bordick.
“I told him it’s dangerous to work with him because he could fall back [on his Maine accent]. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s easy to do it. I’m sure we’ll end up doing it accidentally or otherwise,” laughed Thorne.
Thorne pointed out that they may not be the only Mainers associated with the Orioles as Portland native Ryan Flaherty, son of University of Southern Maine baseball coach Eddie Flaherty, could earn a roster spot with the Orioles.
“It’s going to be fun. It already is,” said Thorne. “It won’t just be a learning experience for Mike, it will be for [Orioles] fans. You usually have pitchers in the booth like Palmer and Flanagan. To have a position player really adds to what fans can learn about the game.”
Bordick said he has been a sponge, picking up tidbits from Thorne, Hunter, Palmer and studio analyst Rick Dempsey, a former major league catcher.
He said the banter by the announcers between pitches is valuable because it supplies valuable insight.
“You have to be aware of the different subtleties of the game. You want to use that knowledge to keep the fans interested,” said Bordick. “I want to absorb as much as I can.”
Former University of Maine star Bordick, who lives in Ruxton, Md., with wife Monica and their six children, will work with the minor league infielders when he isn’t in the booth and he said he is fortunate in that there are three teams in Maryland: the Bowie Baysox (AA), the Frederick Keys (A) and the Aberdeen IronBirds (A).
“I can commute to all of them,” said Bordick, who noted that he offers advice in all areas, not just infield play.
When Bordick calls the Orioles opener, he will do so as a member of the Orioles’ Hall of Fame. He was inducted a year ago.
“I was very surprised,” said Bordick, a career .260 hitter who replaced the legendary Cal Ripken at shortstop and has the third highest career fielding percentage (.982) among shortstops in major league history who made at least 1,000 starts.
“I was there for six years but, numberswise, I didn’t have anything crazy. I did have a good relationship with the fans and the people there.”
Thorne will return behind the microphone for college hockey’s Frozen Four in Tampa next week.
“It’s always great fun,” said Thorne, the former voice of the University of Maine hockey team. “It’s such a big deal. Every pro team takes a look to see if they missed anybody along the way. There’s a lot of talent out there.”
Neither Thorne or Bordick is predicting a breakthrough season for the Orioles in the talent-heavy American League East.
“The only hope they have is if the young starting pitchers make the grade this year. They didn’t last year and it’s the same group,” said Thorne.
He said there are a “lot of strikeouts” in the Orioles lineup but they do have three stars in left fielder Nick Markakis, center fielder Adam Jones and catcher Matt Wieters.
“They have some solid young players but they don’t have the corps of veteran players around them because they drafted poorly for so many years,” said Thorne.
He feels the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays are “outstanding.”
He said the Red Sox may have “the best lineup in baseball” and new manager Bobby Valentine will add an interesting twist to the plot.
“Bobby’s always center stage and that’s the opposite of [former manager] Terry Francona,” said Thorne. “He likes being center stage. That can take the heat off the players.”
Valentine will play more small ball. He’ll hit-and-run more, try to steal more bases and move runners.
“He’ll try to make things happen but they were number one in virtually every offensive category and that [small-ball mentality] could shut that offense down,” said Thorne.
Thorne and Bordick said Tampa Bay has the best starting pitching in the division.
“The division will be tougher than ever,” said Bordick, who is hoping the Orioles can “catch lightning in a bottle” and the young pitchers can have productive years as well as some of the hitters.