By Jim Williams
Special to S.F. Examiner
Matt Vasgersian is the lead play-by-play voice for ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball and a native of the Bay Area, born in Oakland and growing up in Moraga. He and his ESPN partners Jessica Mendoza, Alex Rodriguez and Buster Olney will have Wednesday’s call of the American League wild card game, most likely in Oakland. (Tampa Bay and Cleveland remain in the hunt as of the time of the writing of this column).
Potentially calling a game in a stadium where he spent his childhood would be something special. He might be a national broadcaster who is at the top of his profession, but at heart part of him is still that little boy who used to wait down by the home dugout to get an autograph.
Williams: When did you become an A’s fan?
Vasgersian: I grew up in the East Bay. I was a fan when things were at their worst for the A’s in the late 1970s. But as the old saying goes it is the teams you follow when you are between the ages of 9 and 12 that will forever be the teams you love and thus my lifelong relationship with the A’s began.
Williams: What are some of your best memories of the A’s teams and of seeing them play at the Coliseum?
Vasgersian: Well of the Charlie Finley teams that I remember, it would have to be the 1974 team. Reggie Jackson, Vida Blue were still around, and of course, they went on to play again in the World Series, this time against the Dodgers. Then the following season, Finley tried to sell all of his good players away, and I was old enough to be upset about what was happening to my favorite team. But one of the most beautiful things about being a baseball fan is that there always seems to be a refresh point, like the 1980s, when the A’s had the Bash Brothers and a new set of stars were there to cheer for. That refresh point is what makes baseball such a wonderful sport to follow.
Williams: What do you like about this version of the Oakland A’s?
Vasgersian: I love that they have franchise-type players who can be very good for well into the future. Like the Matt’s on the corners (Chapman on third base and Olsen on first base), Marcus Semien at short — who I just gush over every time I see him play, love his backstory and that he’s a local kid.
Williams: Does the fact that you are an A’s fan make it tough to do a national broadcast?
Vasgersian: Well on one hand, it is a treat to be potentially calling an A’s game at the place where I first became a big baseball fan. But I really need to put my A’s pennant in my pocket, and to broadcast the game with a passion, professionalism and a knowledge of the Rays or the Indians and to know both teams well enough to share with the viewers the wonderful storylines all three teams involved in this wild card battle bring to the coverage.
Williams: Have you ever caught beef from A’s fans who thought you were not fair to them?
Vasgersian: Yes, it is kind of funny being a lifelong fan of the team. I remember back 2013, I was doing an AL Division Series game for the MLB Network. It was the A’s facing a great Tigers team that had Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera and a really stacked lineup.
So I thought, ‘Okay I need to make sure I am fair to Detroit while still interjecting lifetime knowledge of the A’s.’ Back at the MLB Network, the producers were telling me that A’s fans were very upset, calling me out on social media for being a Tigers homer. I am thinking, ‘Oh, man, here I am trying to play it down the middle and now A’s fans think I am from Detroit.’ So sometimes despite your best efforts thinks don’t work out as planned.
Williams: So what about your call of the wild card game this week?
Vasgersian: Well, look, this is a one-game deal and no one is going to care about my institutional history and knowledge of the A’s. They don’t care that I was at the Coliseum in the 1980s when Reggie Jackson came back to Oakland for the first time and they played the old song “Welcome Back,” the theme from the TV show “Welcome Back Kotter,” or any of the other wonderful things I witnessed as an A’s fan over the years.
This is about one game and two teams, it is about the players who are on the 2019 rosters for both teams. My job is to do my best to capture the excitement of how the two teams got there and what it is going to take to win on Wednesday, and advance to the ALCS. It is going to be fun and I hope they open the top tank at the Coliseum, making that a wild place to play with a super fan base ready for good playoff action on Wednesday and beyond.