OaklandClubhouse: You’ve been with the team for a long time [he joined the A’s front office in 1995]. How did you get into broadcasting? Was sports broadcasting something that you always wanted to do?
Robert Buan: Not really. I started getting into the sports broadcasting side of things when I was still [in college] at Santa Clara. My senior year there, it worked out to be Steve Nash’s freshman year on the basketball team and my interest in sports broadcasting really grew more from that than just baseball by itself. I listened to baseball somewhat when I was growing up in Spokane, Washington, but we didn’t really have baseball back then. We had the Mariners. [laughs] They were just terrible. One of my best friends got me listening to Dave Niehaus when we were in high school, but I wouldn’t even call that influential at that point, but that was really the background I had on it.
That combined with the stuff I was able to do around college basketball combined with the fact that I was fortunate enough to bomb the LSAT twice right after senior year. [laughs] It was weird because I thought it was a pretty easy test both times that I took it, but my scores would not indicate that. So it was like, let’s give that sports broadcasting thing a whirl. KNBR took me on as an associate producer a year later and then the Oakland A’s took me on a year after that. And here I am.
OC: Are there moments that you look back on, whether it be big wins or people or players that you have met during your career, that you remember most fondly?
RB: Yeah, there are a lot. My only hesitation in naming names is forgetting some guys who may have been influential. But guys like Tim Hudson and Nick Swisher, and even going back before the A’s were really good, guys like John Jaha and Jason Giambi were kind of guys who gave me clubhouse credibility. Guys like David Justice didn’t even have to be around that long to have that kind of influence. Obviously the guys who were cool who were around for awhile, that made it even easier to build a friendship or bond.
There have been so many guys who have come through that clubhouse who were just genuinely good people. There have been so many good guys who have been around that I could go on for awhile in naming names.
OC: You got a chance to work with Bill King for a long time. What was he like to work with?
RB: Awesome. It’s weird. I actually was thinking about this this morning. Someone was mentioning a news story, I think, and they were talking about people who you think about every day of your life. There are people in my family and then guys like Bill King, guys I think about literally every day of my life. He’s had that kind of impact on me, certainly from a career standpoint, but I think even more so, what he taught me about being an individual and living your life. Not just going through the motions of things and going through life according to the rules and regulations, but being your own person instead. Those were some of the things that I took away from being around him as much as anything. Really trying to do things that make a difference and matter.
OC: Was there stuff that he taught you about the game?
RB: The stuff that he taught me about in regards to the game wasn’t so much the nuances of the game. It was more his reverence of the history of the game and the guys that he watched on the field or the people that he came across over the course of his career. The way he interacted with people and how he talked about people really, as much as anything.
I would say that the way that he had a reverence for the game and the people around it are the things that I learned the most from him. As far as the game on the field, he really never tried to enforce that on me. If I asked him something, he would give me an opinion, but wouldn’t tell me, ‘you like that guy?’ or ‘what are you talking about with that guy?’ He was never like that. There are certainly people who will tell you their opinions on a player or a team or a person – even if you don’t want to know about it – but he was never like that. He would probably ask my opinion more than the other way around.
I think I kind of learned that from him, too. I learned from him to not only be able to make up my own mind on people and the way that you look at them, but also to have that same approach with other people and letting them make up their own minds about people.
OC: You’ve also worked with Ken Korach and Ray Fosse for a long time and more recently with Vince Cotroneo. What is your broadcast team like? How do you guys work to put together the broadcast from the pre-game show to the post-game?
RB: I guess probably the first thought is ‘very real.’ If you are a listener of A’s radio, the guys that you hear are no different than the guys that are off-line. You get a sense of who they are. It’s not a phony persona. It’s not an act. The guys get along and I think that – as I was mentioning with Bill and the people in the game – is the one thing that I have come to love about the game in general is the people that you have a chance to be around, guys like Ken and Vince and Ray.
Ray, actually, is one of the guys who helped me get a job with the team. When I was still at KNBR, I think I had heard about a job opening with the A’s and I asked Greg Papa about it and whether he knew anyone over there. He said ‘call Ray Fosse and see if he can help you out.’ Ray called me maybe a half hour after I left him a message and got me an interview.
They are all genuinely good people. I think they like the game as much as anybody and their work ethic is not topped by anyone. These guys treat the profession of broadcasting on the radio with a tremendous amount of respect. Not to the point where they take themselves too seriously, but it is certainly never going to be an issue with these guys about being serious about what they do.
OC: I know that you have a regular following of Oakland A’s fans who call into your show day-in and day-out. The A’s have always had a unique fanbase. What is it like to interact with those fans on a daily basis?
RB: I think it is great. I do. I do get that there are some people who get tired of what they call the same people calling the show all of the time. These are people who are, by virtue of the fact that they call into the show all of the time, very interested in the team. But they also have something to say or we wouldn’t let them on. They have a pretty good idea of what they are talking about. And you may not agree with what they are talking about, but it’s interesting nonetheless. I think that, whether it is my own theory or if others would agree with it, the A’s fans who aren’t fans of my show are generally not fans of those same callers.
I don’t know if [why some don’t like the show] is the repetition or if they aren’t comfortable in their own skins making up their own ideas, but I like that [the regular callers] are calling in all of the time. I think it is important because it shows that, for better or worse, these guys are fans. They watch what is going on and they have ideas about what is going on with what they see.
I think that is why baseball is such a fun game. I have often equated baseball with soap operas. People watch soap operas because they have the same characters that they follow and while they may do the same stuff and the plot lines are somewhat the same, and maybe the faces and the names change a little bit.
Baseball is kind of the same way. Part of the fun is seeing how the story develops like that. There is nothing more fun, I guess, than talking about what is going on in your soap opera. I think that is where part of the fun of the whole thing is.
OC: Have you noticed a change at all in the questions that you get on your show as it relates to the younger players in the A’s system over the past five years or so, given that there is so much more information out there on the Internet now about the minor leagues?
RB: To a degree. My frame of reference is somewhat narrow, particularly when it comes to this position, as I have only been hosting the show since 2000, so for me to really talk beyond that time period, I would really would be speculating myself. I can clearly say that it is something that is looked at now with a great deal of interest, particularly in regards to what [Scout.com] does now and what other people do to try to cover the same stuff, it means there is so much information out there. I think that people enjoy that. They like knowing what is coming up.
David Feldman and I have talked about this a number of times that baseball is great in September because either your team is in it or you get a chance if your team is out of it to see what is coming down the road. In the past, September was the only time where fans got a chance to see what was coming down the pipeline. Now that there is more information available, there’s more coverage and websites that you can find more things about the younger players, it kind of opens up that window beyond that one month.
Certainly spring training to a degree was a part of that [getting to know the younger players], as well. There is a great deal of interest in all of that. I don’t know if there is more interest than there was in the past, but there is certainly more information available and I think that information helps keep that interest.
OC: Do you enjoy spring training and being able to do the play-by-play on the webcasts?
RB: I do. I love it. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a lot of work. Essentially, during the regular season there are eight guys who do the stuff on a regular basis that allows us to put together one broadcast that I am doing myself on the webcasts. That’s not an excuse so much as an illustration of how much work I have to put in to make it all happen. But I certainly wouldn’t do it if I didn’t enjoy it.
The fact that the A’s farm system has produced a lot of players who are more often than not able to live up to the billing that we have given them as they come up through the system, I think that is somewhat rewarding [to see those players in spring training]. I get a chance to see some of these guys in their first moments with the big league club – maybe because they are called up from minor league camp for one day – and then I get to see them move up through their careers. It’s definitely one of the fun parts of the year.
OC: Is it exciting to see the A’s add a player like Matt Holliday in contrast to trading away players like they did the last two years?
RB: I get where you are going with it, but I never really thought of it that way. To me, it’s part of the cycle. I don’t really see it as, ‘oh, well, now the A’s are going to add guys.’ Because of some of these guys are going to be leaving again soon, as well. It’s nice to see, as this year’s Hot Stove goes, the A’s are players for some of the bigger names that are out there, but I remember in 2001 when Johnny Damon was acquired. Then Jermaine Dye came later that year and there were a number of other possibilities. I do remember how excited I was when the Damon trade happened and that trade included a guy who would later be known as the A’s everyday second baseman in Mark Ellis and, of course, Corey Lidle was in that deal, as well.
That is probably the one off-season where I would look back on it and say that it was nice that the team got a lot of the headlines and attention and looked like they were acquiring guys. But just to curb the enthusiasm on some of that, there are certainly limitations on what can happen. No reason not to be excited about it, but there is no reason to start printing playoff tickets yet, either.
OC: You had mentioned to me before that you and Tim Hudson have a joint-venture. What is that project?
RB: We’ve been friends since he came up to the big leagues. A couple of years ago, I approached him with an idea to do something separate from my A’s stuff. I wanted to start up a radio program that was sort of my reaction to all of the negative stories about steroids that were out there at the time and there were a lot of stories out there about players who were good guys and decent human beings who spend time working with charities or helping kids or just being good family men. Those are good stories, but people never hear about them and there is no platform for them to have stories like that told. The country music audience, to me, and country is something that I have been listening to for a long time, it provides that platform that is counter to the dirty laundry that ends up in the news. You can, instead, be positive about some of the things that people are trying to do.
I approached Tim about this idea and it took him just a second to say, ‘yeah, I’ll be a part of it.’ And we came up with Country Fastball. We got on the air with it in March of last year on six stations and we are now on 20 stations in eight different states now. It’s growing little by little.
OC: Has he had more time to work on it since his elbow surgery?
RB: Yes and no. [laughs] We aren’t really approaching it from that standpoint. He’s not fully settled with everything just yet.
OC: Is his recovery going well?
RB: Yeah, it’s going as well as can be expected. He has been able to spend some time with the family and they are taking some trips this off-season. There is definitely time for him to regain some of the days that you lose when your life is married to a pocket schedule for seven-and-a-half months a year.
To learn more about Country Fastball, go to http://www.countryfastball.com.