Turning the Mic Around

Sofia Panuelos/New University

UC Irvine play-by-play man Mark Roberts has called men’s basketball for the last 17 years as well as UCI baseball for all 10 years since its return in 2001. Just a couple hours before Roberts was on hand to call Matt Summers’ no-hitter on Friday night, the New University decided to turn the mic around, giving the amiable commentator a chance to give his perspective on the state of Anteater Athletics, the nature of play-by-play calling and some other highlights of Roberts’ time at UCI.

New University: How did you first arrive at UCI?

Mark Roberts: My first game was in November of 1994, at the University of Oklahoma. I had a TV show down in the Palm Springs area, but what I did best and what I always wanted to do was play-by-play. I felt like I had the capacity to do it and do it well. I maybe wanted to do the NBA, but I was more interested in college. I called Bob Olson (UCI’s Associate Athletic Director – Athletic Communications) in 1992 and 1993; there were no openings at UCI. Finally in 1994 there was. I called several other schools, but I always wanted UCI. I liked the feel about the school, where it was located, and I will say this. How Bob Olson treated me, the feel I got from him just from several phone calls, is honest, straight-forward and someone [I realized that] I ought to keep calling.

NU: What was the sports scene like back then?

MR: We didn’t have any baseball, so it was really a distorted and at the time, somewhat barren profile for athletics. The smaller sports, swimming and water polo, were very strong, but they’re not going to get the national recognition. Baseball had been eradicated and wouldn’t return until 2001, so everything centered around basketball. We had a lot of talent at the time; we did not have a good coach [Rod Baker]. There was one year [that] we had the single most talented team in my time at Irvine, the 1995-96 ’Eaters — a really physically talented team that should have made it to the NCAA Tournament, but we didn’t, and I attribute that to some real poor strategic coaching. The saving grace was Dan Guerrero, who was an exceptional athletic director. Guerrero had a vision, and with people like Paul Hope (Senior Associate Athletic Director – Facilities & Operations), [he] was able to put a referendum on for the students that would bring baseball back. Everything has risen since.

NU: What are your personal highlights calling UCI athletics?

MR: No. 1 would be the College World Series run for the baseball team in 2007. The second would be the 25-5 2000-2001 basketball team that won the regular season Big West title, in what was a stronger Big West back then. Jerry Green was player of the year … and the team just ran through the league. We were screwed [by the NCAA selection committee], how we didn’t get in with a 25-4 record was really frustrating. And finally, just being able to associate with Mike Gillespie, Pat Douglass, Guerrero, and also Olson and Hope — I like all the coaches here, but those five have had the biggest impact on my time here.

NU: What are you looking forward to at UCI, what do you see for the future?

MR: With baseball, we are a perennial playoff contender, and on the cusp of being an elite program. I also think that it’s critical that we start winning in basketball again. I have faith in Coach Russ [Turner], and I think you have to give a coach three years to accurately judge their performance. Next year looks tough but I know that [Turner] will be playing to win 30 games. And what he doesn’t win next year, he’ll win the year after that. I also know that more seating, a permanent press box and a fuller Anteater ballpark is coming in a couple years. Someday, we’ll have new athletic offices that will bring more of a 21st-century presentation to UCI. Crawford is wonderful and quaint, and you see people here, but … UCI has to be able to compete with other schools when recruits visit.

NU: Favorite players to watch in your time here?

MR: Raimonds Miglinieks would be my all-time favorite, followed closely by Jerry Green. Ben Jones, Nic Campbell come to mind as players that were probably second or third options on their teams, but just were neat guys to be around. Off this year’s team, Darren Moore and Patrick Rembert were real solid players. Oh and you can add Patrick Sanders to that list too … there’s just so many.

For baseball, Ben Orloff, Scott Gorgen, Danny Bibona, Taylor Holiday, Brian Hernandez off this year’s team, Aaron Lowenstein, Cody Cipriano.

The cool thing is, we’ve been blessed with really nice athletes, approachable guys.

NU: What are some of your own favorite catchphrases that you use when doing play-by-play? I’ve noticed “like a man on a flying trapeze” in basketball.

MR: [Laughs] Yeah, I made that up. For basketball, if a guy does a 360-degree spin, I call it a “revolution pivot.” I call the area between three feet behind the 3-point line and half court, where it’s too far to conceivably shoot and no one’s guarding you, the “frontier.” When there’s a lob pass from the wing into the post, I call it a “bubble pass,” a highly directed pass that seems to just float in there. With baseball, not really. Basketball is live action play-by-play, follow the ball and hit different notes. With baseball it’s like you’re giving a commencement speech and then every now and then a fight breaks out in the crowd because of the action. I think Vin Scully has said everything that’s possible to be said. Listening to Vin Scully and Chick Hearn has really given me an outline [for play-by-play]. Chick Hearn said to be creative, be able to describe everything accurately and have fun. I try to have fun while injecting some humor, be smooth flowing … it’s the little things that matter.

NU: You typically maintain a very positive attitude during your calls. Does that just come with the territory of being the home team guy, or are you naturally just an optimist?

MR: I think it’s a combination of both. Now, I did a 1-25 team, the average margin of loss was 28 I believe, and when it’s a team like that, how can you possibly say anything good? And you know when it’s like that, you just talk about what’s going on in the game. The less commentary about the team, the worse we’re doing. There’s no reason to knock anything, but there is a reason to bring up causes for concern — maybe there’s an injury, no flow, or a lack of concentration — that you have to point out. But you don’t say “what the hell is going on out here?” They’re embarrassed enough without me having to say it on the air. I’m not here to try and help anyone lose their job. When they lose, I’ll tell you. But I’m not going to label anyone a loser. I’m not fond of the term “house man,” but I do think with a collegiate team, you have to stay more positive; it’s not like a pro team, where you can go further, because these guys are being pampered and paid. But above all, you always have to stay accurate and honest. I’m here to record as it happens: the growth, the progress and the victories for UC Irvine athletics.