Eric Collins did a week of practice games with Dodgers television partner Steve Lyons. They went into a booth at Dodger Stadium last week and pretended as if they were on television calling balls and strikes, making conversation, telling little stories, doing a broadcast.
And Collins worked the clubhouse. He introduced himself to each Dodger. He wanted for them to know him.
"I'm the guy who's going to be talking about them on television this season," Collins said. "At least I wanted to give them a clue who that guy is."
Whether they paid attention or not, Collins isn't sure.
But for the first time this season, Collins did his new job for real. It wasn't on tape to be listened to and critiqued by Collins, Lyons and a couple of other Dodgers executives with the good parts filed away and the bad parts erased from memory. Collins and Lyons called the Dodgers' 8-5 loss to the Astros in Houston on Tuesday night.
While Vin Scully was in Las Vegas on Tuesday being inducted into the National Assn. of Broadcasters Hall of Fame, Collins, a 39-year-old from Cleveland who worked Olympic baseball games last summer and baseball, softball and women's basketball games for ESPN, introduced himself to Los Angeles fans by really not introducing himself.
Tuesday's game, the first that the Dodgers played east of the Rockies, an area where Scully doesn't travel, began with Collins just starting. He introduced Lyons and said, "I'm Eric Collins" and then the game began.
Earlier in the day, Collins spoke while he was on the team bus going from the hotel to the ballpark. Yes, Collins said, he felt nerves but the good kind, the kind that told him he was ready to do this for real.
Collins, who lives in Chicago, spent much of the last two weeks in Los Angeles meeting players, talking to Scully and just observing. Collins said Scully listened and offered answers to questions but as is the way of Scully, Collins said, "He wasn't going to tell me how to do my job. And you know Vin, he doesn't even like to listen to the games when he's not doing them."
So how to describe Collins?
He was confident. He was smooth. He sounded prepared. He said before the game that he and Lyons, in their practice sessions, had established a certain bantering humor between them but maybe this game didn't allow for because the two kept their talk mostly baseball, balls and strikes, hits and runs.
Though Collins did make a home run call you won't hear from Scully.
When Manny Ramirez belted a two-run home run in the top of the seventh inning for the Dodgers, Collins yelped, "Yikes that ball was hammered." It's hard to imagine Scully saying "Yikes," but it sounded normal coming from Collins.
And Collins can't be accused of being a Dodgers homer. In the top of the ninth, when Orlando Hudson was called safe at first when Astros first baseman Lance Berkman seemed to have made an acrobatic fielding play Collins was honest in seeing the replay and saying that Hudson should have been out.
Unfortunately for Collins, his last line of the night had to be: "The Dodgers' eight-game win streak is a thing of the past."
Not his fault, folks, and a fine opening night call for Collins. It was cautious and when you're starting a new job cautious is good.
Before the game Collins said he knew how his life would be for awhile. He would be compared to Scully.
"I'll be criticized," Collins said. "But if people really listen and give me a chance, I think they'll realize I know baseball and I know the Dodgers."
After one game Collins gave no one reason to think otherwise.