MARLBOROUGH, Conn. (AP) — Bob Joyce has called six national championship games as the radio play-by-play voice of the UConn women’s basketball team, but spends the offseason as a baseball umpire.
The 51-year-old sportscaster for WTIC-AM says baseball has been a life-long passion and he spends much of his free time officiating everything from Little League to high school varsity games in Connecticut.
Broadcasting and officiating, he says, are very different but have one notable similarity.
“You want to get the call right,” he said. “That last-second call on a broadcast, you don’t want to botch that. And as an umpire, you don’t want to botch a call that’s going to determine the outcome of a game.”
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Joyce began umping in 2005, taking twice-a-week classes during the winter to learn the craft. It was a way to stay connected to the game after his son, Rob, aged out of youth baseball and Joyce was no longer an assistant coach for those teams.
He’s now a member of two chapters of the Connecticut Board of Approved Umpires.
Most of the baseball players and those watching the games he officiates have no idea who he is. And that’s the way he likes it. A few parents will recognize him and some will comment.
“He should give us play-by-play on that loudspeaker behind home plate,” joked Brian Jeroszko, of Hebron, while watching his son John play during a recent junior varsity game played in Marlborough between RHAM High School and Maloney High School from Meriden.
Joyce says keeping track of things such as the count, balks and if a batter has checked his swing keeps him plenty busy. He’s never been tempted to do play-by-play in his head while behind the plate.
And he’s not a fan of those flashy “Steeeee-rike!” calls either.
“I don’t try to do anything to draw attention to myself,” Joyce said. “I try to keep my calls simple, just do the job I’m supposed to do and do it the best I can.”
Portland High School coach Rick Borg first met Joyce when the sportscaster was doing television color commentary for a state championship game. The next season, Joyce was working the plate for some of Portland’s games.
“He’s a good umpire,” Borg said. “I don’t have any problem with his strike zone, with him on the bases. He does have a melodious voice as an umpire.”
Joyce has had his share of interesting calls, the most bizarre probably being the time he had to throw a 10-year-old pitcher out of a game for tackling a runner who was trying to score from third base.
“You just kind of stand there, stunned for a moment and then you go to your partner and say, ‘Did you just see what I just saw?'” Joyce said.
UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma said he’s not surprised Joyce has become a respected umpire. The Hall-of-Fame coach said he’s always been impressed by the amount of preparation and attention to detail that goes into Joyce’s broadcasts and thinks that likely translates onto the diamond.
“My only concern is that this endeavor doesn’t lead to him becoming too sympathetic to game officials during our broadcasts,” Auriemma joked.
Joyce acknowledges that his work as an umpire perhaps makes him less prone to criticizing basketball referees.
He said he’s made own his share of bad calls, such as the time this spring when he invoked the infield fly rule on what turned out to be a fly ball to the outfield.
“It’s not easy,” he said. “I appreciate more now what they do, absolutely. And I’m not sure I’d like to have Geno Auriemma screaming in my ear.”