Leitner remains constant in San Diego sports – The San Diego Union-Tribune
There are voices you hear in your head, that you can replay and assign to various phrases, voices whose words you can sometimes predict.
You heard one of those voices in the car almost every morning on the way to elementary school, along with your father’s laugh at what that voice said. You fell asleep listening to that voice dozens upon dozens of nights year after year. As an adult, that voice has accompanied you on countless drives home, comfortable and entertaining at the of end days that are usually too long.
And so it is that you know what is coming on a recent Sunday afternoon.
You are sitting in the home team’s radio booth at the Peoria Sports Complex as Jesse Agler reads the lineups for a game against the Cincinnati Reds late last month. As Agler is wrapping up the Padres order and Jarred Cosart is finishing his warm-up pitches, it is clear that a quick toss to the voice will have to occur.
“Here is Ted Leitner,” Agler said as Cosart went into his windup.
Then the voice said the three words you anticipated because you’ve heard this very salutation on so many days and nights. He doesn’t utter them before every game, but at the start of enough among the several hundred you’ve heard.
“Thank you, sir,” the voice says.
They were just three words at the beginning of a spring training broadcast. Nothing momentous, just a simple, familiar pleasure.
Then smoothly, without hesitation, “And the first pitch is…”
And there you are watching a voice. The voice.
The voice of San Diego sports was on the air.
A lot of things have changed in our sports landscape, especially this year, even this week.
But for almost a full four decades, one or another of our teams – often more than one of them, as often as not in overlapping seasons, occasionally on the same day – has been described for us by a baritone from the Bronx.
When the Padres play Sunday in Atlanta, it will mark the end of the second week of Leitner’s 38th consecutive season calling their games. He is also the play-by-play voice of San Diego State football and basketball, which he has been off and on (mostly on) since 1979. He spent a couple years in the mid-1980s, plus the last part of the ‘90s and early portion of the 2000s calling Chargers games on radio. He was the Clippers’ television play-by-play man the first two of their six seasons in town.
A Leitner call is simultaneously frenetic and soothing with its repeated words – “Good slide right there. Good slide.” – and occasional observations so out-of-the-blue it seems as if he is having a conversation with himself, responding aloud to a comment made or a question posed in his head.
Amidst the descriptions of pitches and plays are stories, movie references, John Wooden quotes, recollections of Jerry Coleman, a whole bunch of sentences you worry will never reach a logical conclusion but almost always do.
You probably love him. Or you hate him. Because it seems that it’s been one or the other for most folks since Leitner arrived at KFMB in 1978 and introduced an East Coast intensity and off-the-cuff caustic wit to local sports television well before ESPN made that cool.
However you feel about Leitner, you know him if you have been a San Diego sports fan for any length of time.
And that means something. Especially now.
He’ll certainly be inducted into the Padres Hall of Fame in the next couple years. Someday perhaps he’ll join Coleman, his longtime radio partner and the man he considered a second father, in Cooperstown.
“I honestly don’t think about stuff like that,” Leitner said. “Like with Jerry, when he won the Frick award, he said, ‘Hey, you’ll be in some day.’ I don’t put myself in that category. They say, ‘All you gotta do is hang around.’ I don’t want to wear people out – ‘Well, he had great staying power and he waited long enough.’ “
If honor is an inevitability, Leitner will have to live with it. Thankfully, he plans to be doing this forever, or as long as forever pertains to a man who will be 70 in July.
“I don’t have Jerry’s genes,” he said, referring to Coleman, who passed away in 2014 a few months shy of his 90th birthday. “I’m not going to live into my 80s. I understand that. I’d like to go into my 70s and keep doing this. I have no intention of ever – I couldn’t walk away. I love it so much that the idea of not doing it and wishing I were there every day is not exactly what I have in mind.
“I love the play-by -play. The TV sports made much more money. I got much more known for that. More famous and infamous, liked a disliked, loved and hated. But play-by-play – there’s nothing like being at the place, show time, live.”
That’s how a good number of Leitner’s sentences meander, start and stop and ultimately end. A thought leads to a story, which reminds him of a time the Padres were in Cincinnati and a Seinfeld episode was just like when Jerry did this or that and then the next pitch is a breaking ball in the dirt.
It’s been a glorious way to listen to a mostly lousy team over the years.
His style is not for everyone. It’s for us.
“They tell me I’m different,” Leitner said. “OK, I’m different. A lot of that is from television. A lot of that is from being a talk show host, even the non-sports talk show host that I’ve been. And some of that gets into the radio broadcast. Hopefully not too much. But when you think about a team that has not been a winner every year, that makes more sense for a guy like me than somebody else.”
Make no mistake, Leitner loves the Padres. (“My Padres.” “The boys.”) But he knows what they are and what his role is in sharing their feats and foibles.
Perhaps more astonishing than the fact he has worked with no fewer than 10 radio partners is that Leitner has worked for so many bosses. The Padres’ current home on 94.9 FM is their fourth. The current owners are the team’s fifth since Leitner began calling games in 1980.
It’s not that none of those owners – or the five team presidents or too many listeners to count – haven’t quibbled with Leitner’s stream of consciousness manner or his endless supply of anecdotes about Ray Charles and Mickey Mantle and Jerry Lewis. It’s not that no one has ever wondered if the game is getting in the way of Leitner’s stories.
It’s not that Leitner hasn’t heard them.