Category Archives: Catch It! Blog

Catch It! The NCAA Tournament Is Back In a Very Different Way

BALL, GLOVEWelcome to CATCH IT! — Joe Castellano’s personal observations about what’s going on in the world of sports.

Nobody was dancing. There were no shining moments. No upsets. No buzzer beaters. No cinderella stories. No Sister Jean from Loyola Chicago on TV.

No NCAA tournament in 2020. It was really just the beginning of a strange year in life and in sports.

But now as we try to get back to “normal” after dealing with that bad version of a Virus, the 2021 NCAA tournament is upon us with a different look. All of the games from the First Four to the Final Four will be played in Indianapolis, Indiana.

The bracket will be much different this season. As Andy Katz points out: NCAA.COM. . Can you imagine a tournament without Duke or Kentucky? North Carolina as a 10 seed? Michigan State as an 11 seed?

When it comes to information for betting on March Madness games, this is a great resource. Keep in mind that most sportsbooks will not offer a moneyline on games that have a spread greater than 15 points so don’t focus on those #1 vs #16 matchups, but you can still bet on some heavy favorites. Every game in the second round will be available for wagers. We all like to predict the National Champion and it can be quite lucrative even if you pick a #1 seed or other fairly high seed. In the last tournament in 2019, #1 seed Virginia won the title and the payoff was $950 on a $100 bet made three weeks before the tournament started. Runner-Up Texas Tech was a #3 seed and if they had won the final game in overtime the payout would have been $4,000 on a $100 wager! Picking the Final Four teams is an easier proposition and most sportsbooks will open future lines for each regional winner once the tournament field is established on Selection Sunday.

Sports Illustrated writers did a great job of breaking down some tournament topics: SI.COM.

Personally, I have a rooting interest for two schools, USC and Siena. As a 1984 USC grad I was happy to watch the Trojans perform as the best team in the Pac-12 this season. Maybe it’s time for them to reach the Final Four for the first time since 1954! But, I fear that Oregon might be the team from the conference that makes a deeper run in Indy.

As Kevin Sweeney from SI points out, the Ducks are “loaded with dynamic playmakers in the backcourt like Will Richardson and Chris Duarte, and versatile pieces up front like LJ Figueroa and Eugene Omoruyi. The Ducks dealt with injuries and COVID-19 issues that prevented them from having a full roster for much of the season, but now that they are healthy, I certainly wouldn’t want to see them in my quadrant of the bracket.”

I was the radio play-by-play voice of the Siena Saints from 1998-2002 and had a chance to call two NCAA tournament games. In 1999 under Paul Hewitt, Siena lost to Arkansas in the first round. Then in 2002 under Rob Lanier, the Saints lost to eventual champion Maryland, also in the first round (Siena had the lead for awhile in that one).  The Saints are the best team in the MAAC heading into their conference tournament so I like their chances of getting to Indy. Katz predicts a #15 seed for Siena and a matchup with #2 Alabama. Since #15 are 8-132 all time against #2 seeds it seems like a tall order to expect the Saints to advance, but consider some of the recent upsets-#15 seeds have won four first round games in the last eight NCAA tournaments. This might be the season the Saints do some damage: NCAA.COM.

Good luck with those brackets!



Catch It: 5 Seasons Of Cherished Memories With Joe Altobelli In Rochester, New York

BALL, GLOVEWelcome to CATCH IT! — Joe Castellano’s personal observations about what’s going on in the world of sports outside of The Sports Virus Podcasts

Today the baseball world lost a great man when former World Series winning manager Joe Altobelli passed away at the age of 88.

I had the privilege of spending five seasons working alongside Joe in the radio booth covering the Rochester Red Wings (1998-2002). He was a kind soul with an easy going personality. Everyone loved Alto.

Every night he had great baseball stories to tell, whether it be from winning the 1983 Series with the Baltimore Orioles or from his days managing the San Francisco Giants. I loved to reminisce about my hometown Giants with Joe, asking him what it was like to manage Jack Clark (my favorite player when I was in high school) or about his memories of Mike Ivie’s grand slam against the Dodgers in 1978. He had the Giants in first place for a while that season.

He always told Cal Ripken stories and was proud of playing him every inning of every game during his record playing streak.

Joe could also tell stories about his playing days (I can still hear him describing how he broke his toe nail every season with a foul ball and it would grow back by Christmas) and about the legendary teams he managed in Rochester in the 1970’s. He made Rochester his home and eventually became known as “Mr. Baseball” in Rochester.

He was so passionate about teaching the game. Another source of pride for him was when (as a Cubs coach) he helped develop Mark Grace from an average defensive first baseman to a gold glover.

I learned so much about the game of baseball from Joe. From how a manager should run a pitching staff, to defensive positioning, to lineup strategies, I had a lesson every broadcast and I was soaking it up. Sometimes he would just ask a question like “Would you send the runners here?” That would turn into another teaching moment for me and the listeners.

He was also an expert on how to deal with being in AAA when a Major League career might seem like a pipe dream for a player or even a broadcaster. “Don’t wish your life away” was his mantra. I never forgot that because even though one might wish for the future, the present is what’s important.

It’s a bummer that the Red Wings didn’t win another title with Alto in that booth. We won the Governor’s Cup in 1997, the year before he started broadcasting with me. Then the team fell flat in the years when we were together. But, that doesn’t diminish the joy we had and the cherished memories I have of that special time in my life.

Thanks Joe and rest in peace.

Please email all comments and questions to: [email protected]. Don’t forget to follow us on FACEBOOK. and TWITTER.

Artwork courtesy of: Suzie Armagost.

CATCH IT: Taking In A Mets Game At Citi Field, Shea Memories

BALL, GLOVEWelcome to CATCH IT! — Joe Castellano’s personal observations about what’s going on in the world of sports.


The baseball of my childhood is not coming back.

Well, it’s not like I just realized this today, but the reality of it really set in after my recent experience at Citi Field, where I took in a September game between the Mets and Dodgers.

In 1969 when I was 7 years old, I saw my first Major League Baseball game at Shea Stadium, Mets vs Phillies. I can still sense  the feeling of a real ticket in my hand and I remember reading the notice on the back about a rain check. I can still smell the big pretzels cooking outside on a hot barbecue. A vendor yelling “Hey, program here, hey yearbook” was the first sound I remember. Of course there was the blaring sound of airplanes flying in and out of LaGuardia airport. Getting a scorecard and sharpened pencil was a huge priority. Gotta buy one of those plastic batting helmets to wear and definitely a mini helmet that holds soft serve ice cream!

I went to several games as a kid many with nose-bleed seats. One time I vividly remember all I could see was the foul pole right in front of us. That didn’t bother me though. The ballpark always felt like home. Shea eventually became a worn and outdated place. It still held its charm for me, but I understand it was time to move on.

As I entered Citi field decades later and went through the post 9/11 frisking process I heard a song I didn’t expect to hear in the entryway.

Step right up and greet the Mets!
Bring your kiddies,
bring your wife;
Guaranteed to have the time of your life,
because the Mets are really sockin’ the ball; knocking those home runs over the wall!
East side,
West side,
everybody’s coming down
to meet the M-E-T-S Mets of New York town!” Man, that song gave me chills. I used to play it on a 45 record.

You can enter the ballpark in the “Tom Seaver” gate. Very cool. I once had him as a guest during a game when I was the AAA play-by-play announcer for the Rochester Red Wings. He came on the air for an inning and kept playing with the nobs on our audio mixer. He got a real kick out of having the power to turn down my microphone and silence me for a few seconds. Here is this Hall of Famer, one of my childhood idols, playing games with my audio and making me laugh.

At Citi Field there are large photos of Seaver and other Mets greats as you walk towards the concourse. I notice hanging banners of Buddy Harrelson, Ed Kranepool and Jerry Koosman!

At first it looked like the only food choice was hot dogs, peanuts and pretzels. Upon further review, you can find pizza and many other choices including my favorite veggie burgers.

Time to go to my seat in the upper deck. Good view. It only cost $14 for a ticket on the Game Time app and there are plenty of empty seats if I want to move around. I’m a bit surprised. After all, the Mets are in the middle of a chase for a Wild Card berth. However, the intensity of the crowd just isn’t there. No airplane noise either. Did they change the flight patterns for Citi Field? It’s in the same place where Shea was standing and the plane sound used to be deafening.

The noise that makes the most impact now is the piercing sound of music or other chant inducing tones that come out of the public address system speakers during the game. Now, I understand that most people don’t want it to be quiet so that the crack of the bat can be heard from every seat like I do. But, is it really necessary that after every single pitch we need to hear high decibel sounds coming out of those speakers? I don’t mind the “Let’s Go Mets” prompts that they do (although, I wonder why that is needed now, since back when I first went to games the fans themselves initiated those chants). But, it’s all the other sounds that Citi Field entertainment folks think everyone needs to hear every five seconds that make a negative impression to me.  Very annoying. And since when did Major League Baseball games want to be so minor league? In-between inning promotions used to be reserved for the minor leagues where fans supposedly need more entertainment because the players aren’t as good. But this is not only the big leagues, it’s New York! I always thought New York fans didn’t need all of that extracurricular stuff, but I’m proven wrong on this night.

During the game you realize that professional baseball in 2019 is all about analytics. Just about every player gets shifted, many to the extreme with three fielders playing on one side of the infield. Players are so inundated with information from data-driven scouting reports now that they carry cards in their pockets. They all look like NFL offensive coordinators, trying to figure out where they should be positioned defensively. At one point I noticed Dodgers third baseman Chris Taylor reaching into his back pocket for one of those cards. He started to study it while walking to his left, then he stopped, studied it some more and turned to his right. Eventually he ended up playing in a conventional spot where third basemen have normally played for over 100 years. All of that data and somehow it seemed like a good idea to play the hitter “straight up.” Chalk one up for old-school baseball.

The most disappointing part of the night on the field came in the late innings of a close game. Mets All-Star first baseman Pete Alonso came to the plate. The kid is a shoo-in for NL Rookie of the year honors. He set the Mets single season home run record and is going to end up with over 50 bombs. An amazing season to say the least.

Recently Sports Illustrated did a feature on Alonso, taking us through this magical season, describing his positive attitude and detailing his work ethic. I had heard so many good things about him so he seems easy to root for especially since everyone would like to see him get out the the slump he is mired in at the moment.

On a routine fly ball to right field, Alonso  jogged to first base and didn’t even make it to the bag as the catch was being made. I know this is no big deal to most people and I’m not here to get on Alonso since most major leaguers these days are not running out routine fly balls and ground balls. It’s September too and everyone is worn out from a long season. BUT, it is a close game in a playoff race game and Pete is a 24-year-old rookie. Run it out! What if the right fielder drops the ball? You should be on second base, not barely making it to first base.

Maybe we’ve seen the last of all players hustling on those types of plays. Maybe the PA system is only going to get noisier and louder in future years. Perhaps baseball is a dying sport and to get the younger generation to follow it, this is necessary. Analytics are here to stay. Maybe managers will soon be able to text a player on his cell phone about his defensive positioning.

What’s the next major change in the game?
I’m not sure I want to know.


Please email all comments and questions to: [email protected]. Don’t forget to follow us on FACEBOOK. and TWITTER.

Artwork courtesy of: Suzie Armagost.

Golden State Warriors “DUBS OT” Podcast To Debut On Oct. 17 Featuring Ray Woodson

The Sports Virus Proudly Presents…

A Brand New Podcast

The Exclusive Podcast Of The Defending NBA Champion Golden State Warriors!
Follow Steph Curry, Kevin Durant And The Dubs For The Entire NBA Season –Updated Once Per Week

Co-Host Joe Castellano founded in 2010 and has been hosting and producing San Francisco Giants Inside China Basin and San Francisco 49ers Extra podcasts ever since. 

Co-Host Ray Woodson spent 12 years at KNBR hosting Giants and Warriors post game shows.


Contributor Mark Purdy recently retired after 33 years at the San Jose Mercury News

Reporter Ryan Leong covers all of the Bay Area’s  pro sports teamsPlus, you will hear from Warriors Players and Coaches, Broadcasters and Media Members

COED Baseball: A Success In Sonoma, California – SPECIAL PODCAST

Sports Virus logo

Welcome to a special podcast and blog brought to you by The Sports Virus – Coed Baseball: A Success in Sonoma, California

The Sonoma Stompers made history on July 1, 2016 by becoming the first professional coed baseball team since the Negro Leagues Sonoma_Stompers_logo_2014_zpsf2fd8723in the 1950’s. The game, which featured Stacy Piagno on the mound and Kelsie Whitmore in the outfield became a national story. On July 22, additional history was made when Anna Kimbrell joined the team. She started behind the plate with Whitmore on the mound and formed the first female battery in pro ball in nearly 70 years.stacyanna



On July 26 The Sports Virus chatted with Stacy, Kelsie and Anna about their experience playing pro ball for the first time. 

Listen To Coed Baseball Podcast



The Back Story

In an effort to promote the recruitment, development and advancement of women in baseball, virginia dareFrancis Ford Coppola’s Virginia Dare Winery in association with the Sonoma Stompers actively searched for the best women baseball players in the United States to come and join the team.

FRANCIS use for quote“My family would play coed baseball games and inevitably the star player would always be an aunt who could run and hit and that made the games so much more fun,” said Francis Ford Coppola. “When watching major league baseball, I always wondered why there couldn’t be a coed team. It’s the one major sport in which weight and strength come less into play. So when my Sonoma winery became involved with the Stompers, I had the opportunity to turn this thought into a reality and recruit these amazing women capable of playing alongside men.”

Joe Castellano has served as a baseball consultant on the project and conducted the player search with Stompers General Manager Theo Fightmaster.  Castellano provides an inside look at the recruitment process.

SAN RAFAEL, CA-April 1, 2016

“Who’s this?” read the text message from Kelsie Whitmore. It was Kelseymy first contact with the young lady who would help the Stompers make big news exactly three months later. I made sure she didn’t think this was an “April Fool” joke, explaining that we were interested in coming to watch her play in one of her high school games and there was a good possibly that we would invite her to  play some pro baseball this summer. Justine Siegal ( identified Kelsie as a woman who would probably be interested in playing for us among a group of players from Team USA.

Kelsie put me in touch with Daniel Franklin, her coach at Temecula Valley High School in Temecula, California and I set up a date for us to go watch her play.

TEMECULA, CA-May 5, 2016

Cinco De Mayo is a time of celebration. But, for the Temecula Valley Bears baseball team it marked one week to go in a very long season. They were on the way to a 3-21 record, including an 11-game losing streak to finish the schedule.

FFCCOED,TEMECULACAPWe arrived at the field and watched Kelsie, a senior,  interact with her teammates. You could tell they had a lot of fun together despite the rough won/loss record. The first thing I noticed about Kelsie was the handshake – very strong. She was supremely confident and comfortable in her surroundings.

We interviewed her and one of her teammates, Simon Rangel, also a senior, before the game.  He said that when Kelsie first joined the team, the boys weren’t skeptical about her for long. They realized she could play right away when they struck out against her.

Kelsie started in left field for the Bears that day against Murrieta FFCCOEDTEMECULALINEUPValley High (she only made one pitching appearance this season, but is one of the pitchers for Team USA). We noticed on a base hit to left field that a runner was held up at third base, not willing to take a risk against her good arm.

Kelsie’s dad Scott chatted with us the entire game and told us about her athletic ability. She hits a golf ball 270 yards! Defensive Player of the Year as a goalkeeper on the soccer team. A softball scholarship is waiting from Cal State Fullerton even though she has rarely played softball.

At the plate in her first plate appearance of the game against hard throwing Ben Moralez, Kelsie was drilled in the ribs. After she reached first base she started to spit up blood. The trainer checked her out and she stayed in the game. Tough kid.

When we left Temecula, I knew we had someone who would be perfect for this opportunity. Once the details of her eligibility could be worked out with Cal State Fullerton she was inked to a deal.

CARY, NC-June 10-12, 2016

Kelsey pitching3High 90-degree temperatures and high humidity made for a sweaty three days at the USA Baseball complex, where we saw the open tryout for Team USA. A team that would compete in the 2016 women’s baseball World Cup in South Korea would be chosen from this pool of under 100 players, the best the United States has to offer.

There was a clear separation between the best players on the team and the ones scrambling for a spot. Unfortunately for us, several of the best players were not going to be available. Whether it was LHP Sarah Hudek believed to be the only female playing college baseball last season (Bossier Parish Community College in Louisiana) or star SS Jade Gortarez (softball scholarship at University of Texas), conflicts stood in the way.Anna1

I spoke to catcher Anna Kimbrell before the USA tryouts and she was interested if she could make it work with her job as a groundskeeper in Birmingham, Alabama.

Tamara142-year-old Oakland, California native Tamara Holmes has been playing baseball longer than anyone on the field here. In fact, she was on the Colorado Silver Bullets back in 1996. 20 years ago she hit the first and only home run in Silver Bullets history. That power was still evident in Cary. She was unable to play for the Stompers this season because of her job running a cross fit and Olympic lifting gym.

Stacy pitching2Stacy Piagno threw a no-hitter at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto for the US against Puerto Rico. She didn’t pitch the first day of the tryouts, but I noticed her excellent and accurate arm playing third base.  The next day we saw her pitch with a big-breaking, knuckle-curve that was buckling some knees. Piagno told us she would be interested in playing in Sonoma and it could work out great since she is transitioning into a teaching career and has time to play in the summer. One of her teaching credential tests came on June 30 in Jacksonville, Florida. In order to make our “history-making” game Stacy would have to fly to the Bay Area late that night to be in uniform for the 6 pm game the next day.

SONOMA, CA-July 1, 2016

FIRST LINEUPGame day was a media frenzy at Arnold Field in Sonoma. A day after Whoopi Goldberg mentioned the game on The View, media members nationally and locally were there to report on the event.

Stacy was the starting pitcher and KNM_4557worked 2+ innings allowing 4 runs but only 2 earned. Kelsie started in left field and went 0 for 1 with a walk. The first pitch by Stacy was a called strike. Her scoreless first inning ended with a fly ball to Kelsie in left. Kelsie showed good patience in her first plate appearance, drawing a walk against a pitcher throwing 92 miles an hour.


It was a great day and I really enjoyed doing play-by-play of the game with Stompers announcer Tim Livingston providing color, Kate Rooney doing fantastic reports on the field and special guest Scott Whitmore coming on while watching his daughter.

Check out the archive of the game on BAOSN.TV. Special thanks to Jim Petromilli at BAOSN for getting the game on the air.


Check out some hometown stories on Kelsie and Stacy:

Kelsie in The Press Enterprise.

Stacy in the St. Augustine Record

Watch Kelsie’s first pro hit: Kelsie on YouTube

Photos courtesy of Kalman Muller.

Please email all comments and questions to: [email protected]. Don’t forget to follow us on FACEBOOK. and TWITTER.


Coed Professional Baseball Comes To Sonoma, California


For those of you who watched the San Francisco Giants Comcast broadcast on Sunday and saw this shot on television, this may not be such a far-fetched statement anymore!


Sonoma Stompers, in Association with Coppola’s Virginia Dare Winery, to Introduce Two Female Players in History-Making, Coed Game on Friday, July 1st

Game to be Live Streamed on Bay Area Online Sports Network


GEYSERVILLE, Calif. (June 28, 2016) – In an effort to promote the recruitment, development and advancement of women in baseball, virginia dareFrancis Ford Coppola’s Virginia Dare Winery in association with the Sonoma Stompers have been actively searching for the best women baseball players in the United States to come andStacy pitching1 join the team. It was announced today that 17-year-old outfielder/pitcher Kelsie KelseyWhitmore from Temecula, California and 25-year-old pitcher/infielder Stacy Piagno from St. Augustine, Florida have been recruited and will play with the Stompers beginning on Friday, July 1st when Sonoma hosts the San Rafael Pacifics.

FRANCIS use for quote“My family would play coed baseball games and inevitably the star player would always be an aunt who could run and hit and that made the games so much more fun,” said Francis Ford Coppola. “When watching major league baseball, I always wondered why there couldn’t be a coed team. It’s the one major sport in which weight and strength come less into play. So when my Sonoma winery became involved with the Stompers, I had the opportunity to turn this thought into a reality and recruit these amazing women capable of playing alongside men.”


The Stompers, part of the independent Pacific Association mamie peanut johnsonof Professional Baseball Clubs, will be the first coed professional toni stonebaseball team since the 1950s when Toni Stone, Mamie “Peanut” Johnson and Constance Morgan achieved the distinction of becoming the first women to play alongside men in the Negro Leagues.

In September, Whitmore and Piagno are also slated to play for Team Kelsey pitching3USA in the Women’s Baseball World Cup in South Korea. Whitmore, who recently graduated from Temecula Valley High School, will attend Cal State Fullerton on a softball scholarship next season. Piagno, who threw a no-hitter for the United States team when they captured a gold medal at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto, Canada, played softball at the University of Tampa.

“The Stompers, thanks to the vision of Francis Ford Coppola, are dedicated to the advancement of women in baseball,” said Theo Fightmaster, VP & General Manager of the Sonoma Stompers Baseball Club. “While many believe it’s only a matter of time before we see a woman playing in the MLB, we’ve learned over the past several months that there are many steps in between where we are and where we should be in terms of woman in this sport. We hope this sends a message to the rest of the baseball world that there is room for women and girls in this game – from Little League to the Major Leagues.”

The Stompers have always looked to push the envelope since their inception in 2014 when former Boston Red Sox and Montreal Expos left-handed pitcher, Bill ‘Spaceman’ Lee, became the oldest player to win a professional baseball game. In 2015, the Stompers agreed to STOMPERS BOOKlet nationally acclaimed baseball writers, Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller, implement a data-driven approach to evaluating and signing players. Lindberg and Miller chronicled their experience in the New York Times best-selling book, “The Only Rule is it Has to Work: Our Wild Experiment Building a New Kind of Baseball Team.” Also in 2015, the Stompers made international news when pitcher, Sean Conroy, became the first openly gay player to ever play at the professional level.

The July 1st game from Peoples Home Equity Ballpark at Arnold Field in Sonoma, California will be available via a live streaming broadcast on BAOSN.TV (Bay Area Online Sports Network) 


JOEWITHHEADSETVeteran announcer Joe Castellano will call the play-KATE ROONEYby-play along with reporter Kate Rooney and Stompers broadcaster Tim Livingston. The broadcast will begin at 5:45 pm PT with a special pre-game show prior to the 6:00 pm PT first pitch.

As the premier sponsor of the Sonoma Stompers, the Virginia Dare Winery in Sonoma County is partnering with the team over the next three years. The Stompers opened the season May 31, 2016, and started their home season in Sonoma on Tuesday, June 7, at 6 p.m. against the Vallejo Admirals. Full Season tickets, mini-plans and partial season tickets are on sale at

VDW_101915_041Virginia Dare Winery, American wines since 1835, pays tribute to America’s wine growing heritage. The existence of the 400-year-old scuppernong “Mother Vine,” a variety of muscadine, growing on Roanoke Island, North Carolina is intertwined with the story of one of the first English settlements in the New World, which later mysteriously disappeared without a trace, leaving nothing but a spellbinding story of mythical and mysterious characters – each of which grace the labels of our wines. Crafted with grapes from the finest viticulture regions in California, our wines are rich with characteristics befitting an American legend: Pure. Natural. Distinctive. Learn more by visiting Virginia Dare Winery located at 22281 Chianti Road, Geyserville, CA 95441.

The Sonoma Stompers Professional Baseball Club was founded in STOMPERS TEAM PHOTO2014 and is a member of the Pacific Asssociation of Professional Baseball Clubs. It plays its home games at Peoples Home Equity Ballpark at Arnold Field, just a block away from Sonoma’s historic plaza. The independent baseball club has had two players in its history signed by Major League Baseball organizations, as Sonoma’s own Jayce Ray was signed by the Boston Red Sox in 2015 and Santos Saldivar was signed by the Milwaukee Brewers shortly before the 2016 season. For more information on the team, visit or visit the team’s Fan Shop located at 234 West Napa Street, Sonoma, CA 95476.

MEDIA CONTACT: [email protected]

Catch It: 20 Years Ago With Joel Mareiniss

BALL, GLOVEWelcome to CATCH IT! — Joe Castellano’s personal observations about what’s going on in the world of sports outside of The Sports Virus Podcasts

I was walking down a street in St. Louis near Busch Stadium last weekend when I ran into Syracuse Orange radio announcer Matt Park. We were both there covering the NCAA tournament.

I hadn’t seen Matt in years so there was a lot to catch up on. Unfortunately, Matt informed me that the former “Voice of the Orange” Joel Mareiniss had passed away earlier this month. (Read story here on Joel Mareiniss)

joelThe news of Joel’s death took me back 20 years, to 1996,  when we worked as radio broadcast partners on the Syracuse Chiefs broadcasts. That year the Chiefs were playing their final season at the old MacArthur Stadium. Our booth was either freezing or blazing hot, featuring none of the modern amenities that are in most minor league stadiums today. We were lucky enough to have a phone line that worked to get us on the air.

When I initially worked with Joel it was a major adjustment for me. The first 5 years of my minor league career were spent in Class A in Geneva, NY, Bend, OR and Rancho Cucamonga, CA where I worked alone for every game. That meant that if I wasn’t talking and there was a small crowd with no noise, every time I stopped talking there was dead air. Therefore, I was trained to talk straight through a three-hour-plus, nine-inning-or-more game every day.

With the Chiefs I would be doing road games solo and home games chiefswith Joel. I had to get accustomed to leaving air time for a partner and it wasn’t easy for me at first. Joel was doing the middle three innings of play-by-play and he loved to talk. It always seems like we were stepping on each other that first month. Plus, he was over 30 years older than me so all of my Seinfeld references were falling on two deaf ears.

Joel was kind of grouchy with me in the first month or so of the season. I think he was hoping to do more innings of play-by-play and was annoyed that he had to become familiar with another new partner. Matt Vasgersian was there the previous season and left after one year for a better job in Tucson.

Somewhere along the line things got better for us. The team wasn’t great, but they had some fun players to watch like CF Shannon Stewart and SS Miguel Cairo, who both had successful major league careers. Our catcher Rich Rowland took it upon himself to teach me the ropes in my first season in AAA. He was the one who told me I needed to wear a sports jacket on our flights (flights with a minor weinkeleague team were a new concept for me since Class A only took busses). Ruben Amaro was one of our outfielders. He eventually became GM of the Philadelphia Phillies. Chris Weinke was our first baseman. It was his last year as a pro baseball player. He decided to return to football and had a scholarship waiting to play QB at Florida State. He eventually won the Heisman Trophy and played in the NFL. I remember him throwing footballs in the outfield one day and wondering why he wasn’t already on a gridiron somewhere. Especially since I think he was hitting about .220.

Richie Hebner was our manager and he was quite a character. I don’thebner think he could get through a sentence without using the “F” word. He was fun to be around. I remember our opener in Scranton with Richie coaching third base in 30 degree weather. He looked like a frozen stick. It started snowing and I thought to myself “do I really want to live in this part of the country?”

MacArthur Stadium didn’t draw big crowds and there was not a lot of nostalgia for that last season. The memorable characteristic of the park was the dimensions in center field which stretched out to 434 feet! Legend had it that Carlos Delgado was the only player to hit it over the fence in straight away center.

stewartShannon Stewart provided the most theatrics that I can ever recall in a two-game span. He started a triple play in Pawtucket with a catch near the fence (it looked like a trap to me) and threw the ball back into the infield to nail two runners who had taken off without tagging up because they also thought there was a trap instead of a catch.

The next day in Columbus, Stewart hit an inside the park grand slam. He lined one down the right field line and flew around the bases in no time on that artificial turf at Cooper Stadium.

As the season went along, I started to getting along better with Joel. We had some good laughs and even went golfing together several times that summer.

We both had to weather an extremely embarrassing broadcast one day when the Ottawa Lynx came to town for a doubleheader. The Lynx had no radio announcer and no PR director to help us with any notes and information. The roster had a few numbers that didn’t match the players on the field. The moment was rife for a major gaffe.

Game one of the doubleheader was supposed to have a kid named Rodney Henderson on the mound for Ottawa. As the game began I noticed that his uniform number wasn’t even on the roster, but we were assured by folks in the press box that Henderson was indeed on the mound.

What a great pitching performance we were seeing from Henderson. “Strike three!” I announced. “Got him with another slider.” “He struck him out!” barked Mareiniss.

Henderson was rolling. Eight strikeouts in the first five innings as I recall.

lynxAs we got to the 6th inning, all of a sudden there was a tap on my shoulder. The PA announcer Chris Granozio was trying to talk to me but I was on the air, so I motioned to write it down. That piece of paper provided bad news that I couldn’t believe. All along it was not Rodney Henderson having a great day. Jose Paniagua (who would eventually pitch in the major leagues) was the one dealing. Henderson was around though. He was flip-flopped and getting ready to start game two, all the while listening to us on the radio in the clubhouse and getting a nice kick out of all of it.

A bad day became worse when an AP reporter decided it was a good idea to mention it in his story which circulated all over the country. I felt like we were buffoons.  From that day forward, I never trusted a printed lineup card. I would go down before the game and make sure of the manager’s lineup and if the rosters were wrong I was making phone calls before the game to find out why.

It’s funny how a baseball season can be so long, but go by so fast at the same time. I was starting to enjoy my time in Syracuse and developing good friendships with people like Matt Michael, the beat reporter from the Syracuse Post Standard newspaper and others working for the team. By the time August rolled around I was thinking about how much fun the final game at MacArthur Stadium would be and I was looking forward to the next season.

Then, for the first time in my career I experienced what most people wsyrexperience at some point. There would be no next season for me with the Syracuse Chiefs. The team was giving up the rights to the broadcasts and the station would have full control of who the announcers would be. The WSYR station manager asked me to go to lunch and I was thinking that meant I would definitely be staying. Wrong. He took me to lunch to tell me that Ted DeLuca and Steve Hyder would be taking the mic the following season. No more Castellano and Mareiniss. Pretty sad.

Fortunately for me, Glenn Geffner left the radio position just down the Thruway with the Rochester Red Wings and I stepped into a great job there for six seasons, including opening a brand new ballpark (Frontier Field) and a Governor’s Cup Championship, both in 1997.

I’m not sure if Joel ever returned to the airwaves in Syracuse, but there were funny stories about him that will last forever.

The Chiefs had announcers like Marv Albert, Hank Greenwald, Greg Papa, Sean McDonough, Dan Hoard, Ken Levine, Doug Sherman and the aforementioned Vasgersian.

Hoard and Sherman accepted invitations to join us on the last broadcast at MacArthur Stadium. They came prepared with plenty of Joel stories, including two that I always tell.

hoardHoard (pictured left) was working with Joel and had a game where the trainer came running onto the field with his scissors bouncing off his side. Joel was focused on his scorecard, so when he looked at the field it seemed odd and sudden to him that someone would be running toward the mound who was not in a uniform. For some reason the scissors really stood out to him so he was in fear for the pitcher.

“…two outs in the inning…..and….wait a minute, there’ s a crazed lunatic running on the field! And, and, he has scissors!! He’s headed for the mound. Oh no!!” Hoard held in his laughter for a moment and said, “Joel, that’s just the trainer.”

There was also the story of Joel and Indianapolis radio announcer Howard Kellman. The Indians had a day game somewhere and made it to Syracuse in the evening. The Chiefs were playing another opponent that night so when Howard made it to his hotel room he decided to flip on the radio and see what was going on with the Chiefs.

“….well, tomorrow night the Indianapolis Indians come to town and that means long-time radio announcer Howard Kellman will be here,” said Joel “….folks, Howard has the worst toupee you’ve ever seen!”

Needless to say, it was probably sort of uncomfortable in that MacArthur Stadium press box the next day.

20 years has gone by fast. I didn’t even know that Joel suffered from Parkinson’s disease until running into Matt on that street in St. Louis.

The day after seeing Matt, Syracuse advanced to the sweet 16 with a win over Middle Tennessee. I know somewhere Joel is happy about that. Rest in peace partner and thanks for that one memorable summer.

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Artwork courtesy of: Suzie Armagost.

Catch It: Back in SF After Spring Training

BALL, GLOVEWelcome to CATCH IT! — Joe Castellano’s personal observations about what’s going on in the world of sports.

Spring Training 2016 for me was brief and hot, but special nonetheless.

The Giants players were relaxed and confident and why wouldn’t they be? High priced acquisitions Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija (Listen Here to Podcast with Samardzija) should pump life into a rotation that outside of Madison Bumgarner was subpar in 2015. Denard Span is the perfect lead-off man. Can he stay healthy IMG_HUNTER PENCE 2 FROM NOR CAL PHOTOthough? Can Hunter Pence have a healthy season? It didn’t start out well for Pence with achilles tendinitis right off the bat. It also was a bummer for Matt Cain to have minor surgery to remove a cyst before he could even throw in a spring game. How is Joe Panik’s back? Andrew Susac’s wrist? I saw Susac hit a bullet to left field for a homer. (Listen Here to Podcast with Cain and Susac). That’s a good sign.

As I was leaving Scottsdale Stadium on a 90-degree day last week I got to the centerfield bleacher area on my way to the parking lot. Suddenly I heard the PA announcer, “…now batting for the Giants, WILLIAMSONMac Williamson!” Ok, I’ve seen the kid in San Jose and briefly with San Francisco. Gotta watch this AB before I head to the airport. Well, Mac, I was getting nervous about making that flight. You had quite an AB. I couldn’t just watch one or two pitches. Had to see the whole drama play out. Nasty slider, he lays off, ball one. Blazing fastball, fouled straight back, one and one. Curve, taken outside ball two. Fastball in, and Mac lines a bullet to left field driving in a run. Nice job.

I made the flight fine despite the car rental being in a different zip code than the Phoenix Airport and long lines at security.

This time of year fans and media are making predictions and wondering who THE key player or players are on a team. “If Cain can bounce back that will be the difference,” I heard someone say. “The lineup is solid, this team is going to the World Series,” said another fan.

The talk of the spring were the great arms in the Giants pen. No more Jeremy Affeldt. Can the young fireballers like Josh Osich and Hunter Strickland handle the late game stress if Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla fade? What about this kid Ray Black who throws over 100 mph? Jake Smith anyone? He throws in the high 90’s. I saw them pitch in San Jose and it is highly entertaining. Even Javier Lopez told me he is fascinated by hearing the pop of the mitt when these guys warm up (Hear entire interview with Lopez on March 30).

I was walking out of the dentist office today in San Francisco and chatted briefly on an elevator with an elderly woman who was wearing a spring training 2012 shirt. Her kid used to go every year and got her a shirt every year. I told her I just got back from Scottsdale and it was great. As we opened our umbrellas to walk out into the rainy weather she said, “I knew in 2012 we were going to win every even year. This is the year again!” I said, “Yeah, no pressure.”

Crawford jerseyThis city has been awash in Warriors fever all winter and with good reason, but now it’s time for baseball too. After my encounter with the even year prognosticator I walked into Stonestown Galleria in San Francisco and there were Warriors and Giants shirts everywhere. They have a Giants Dugout store in the mall filled with Posey, Bumgarner and Crawford jerseys. Even a single Joe Panik jersey hung in the middle of the store. What, no Matt Duffy? (Listen Here to Podcast with Duffy and Posey) Don’t these people know that he’s going to be a regular guest on my Inside China Basin podcast? Soon enough they will be clicking on the new Duffman’s corner tab and hear him all season.

Later in the day, I stopped at a Starbucks in Union Square. Grande, black, iced tea. Unsweetened. I am such a creature of habit. Can’t wait to read my SF Chronicle to see what John Shea and Henry Shulman are writing today. I look around and everyone is on their phone. They must also be reading John and Henry online. This city isjohn shea hey podcasts obsessed with the Giants. Soon enough, the Shea Hey podcasts as part of Inside China Basin will begin again (Listen Here to 2015 Podcast with John Shea). In the meantime, if you aren’t enjoying the Sporting Green newspaper, I encourage you check out John’s columns: John Shea on SF Gate

One topic I’m looking forward to chatting with Shea about is the new rule regarding slides into second base. You already heard Posey talk about it being a good move to eliminate the unnecessary rolling block slides like we saw from Chase Utley of the Dodgers in the NL Division Series last season against the Mets.

I like the rule, but the additional elimination of the neighborhood play actually worries me. That was another way to protect these middle infielders and I think it was ok as long as they didn’t miss the bag by more than a couple of inches. Former Giants SS Rich Aurilia will give his views on the subject on Inside China Basin on Friday so don’t miss that podcast.

There goes a person on Sutter Street wearing a Giants cap. Opening Day can’t come soon enough for a lot of people.

But, as I’m about to leave Starbucks, another San Francisco native puts it all in perspective in a city that has so much going on. “I don’t follow the Giants,” she said. “How are they doing?”

Please email all comments and questions to: [email protected]. Don’t forget to follow us on FACEBOOK. and TWITTER.

Artwork courtesy of: Suzie Armagost.