Terry Byrom has been on hand to witness prospects getting the call to the big leagues during his 14 years as the Harrisburg Senators play-by-play man, so he was well-versed in the advice managers often pass on to soon-to-be rookies: It’s the same game, just on a different stage.
Four weeks after getting the news that he would be filling in for Nationals play-by-play man Dave Jaegler for a four-game series against the Braves, Byrom kept telling himself to heed that same advice when he made his big league debut last Thursday in Atlanta. Yet, like most wobbly-kneed rookies, Byrom couldn’t escape the butterflies in his stomach as he went on the air.
“I kept telling myself all weekend long, ‘Just be you. It’s the same game, just different,’” Byrom said yesterday afternoon after returning to Harrisburg following his four-game stint with the parent club Nationals. “I kept trying to tell myself to just be myself. It’s the same game, it’s just on a grand stage with a hell of a lot more people listening and people caring about the outcome . . . Having some time to think about it, it got a little nerve-wracking. I’ve been doing this a long time and I’d like to think I wasn’t going to be nervous, but I was. It was a little overwhelming on Thursday.”
Understandably so. Byrom has been calling minor league games since 2002, breaking in as a 39-year-old with the Ogden Raptors of the Rookie-level Pioneer League. He moved on to the Fort Wayne Wizards (now TinCaps) for two seasons in 2003 before joining Harrisburg in 2005, the same year the Eastern League franchise became a Nationals affiliate.
In some ways, Byrom’s promotion was more like a homecoming, as several of the players Byrom has seen play in Harrisburg on their way to the major leagues were there to welcome him to the club. Catcher Spencer Kieboom, a fellow rookie who was called up in early May, had heard the news of Byrom’s callup and was one of the first to greet him in Baltimore, where Byrom joined the team before traveling with them to Atlanta. Righthander Tanner Roark was surprised to see Byrom in Baltimore’s visitors clubhouse and stopped to chat, as did second baseman Wilmer Difo and outfielder Andrew Stevenson.
Members of the local media were just as welcoming, Byrom said, whether it was the Nationals beat writers who stopped by to shake his hand, or big league broadcasters like Chip Caray, Jim Powell and his partner for the weekend Charlie Slowes, each of whom welcomed like a peer.
“Everybody was really welcoming. Everybody really treated me nicely,” Byrom said. “Mostly, I would say that I was treated like I was one of them.”
And for four games, that’s exactly what Byrom was. Opportunity knocked for him when Jaegler stepped away from the booth for the first time in over 2,000 games to see his son graduate from high school. After the initial jitters, Byrom slid in like a pro, calling the middle innings of an important series against the division rival Braves. Certainly there were some noticeable differences between the majors and minors—the size of the ballpark, the quality of the travel and hotel, and the ability to spend all day preparing for the game instead of working a second job with the Senators—but in the end he was right, it was the same game.
Byrom returned to Harrisburg on Monday and was back in his familiar broadcast booth for the game last night when the Senators welcomed the Binghamton Rumble Ponies and Tim Tebow to town. While he certainly hopes to get the call if opportunity arises again in Washington, Byrom said he is already living out a childhood dream. Fulfilling that dream is what led him to calling high school and Division II games in Sacramento in the late 1990s, which in turn landed the veteran of the Air Force and National Guard that first gig in Ogden. Now, he can now cross another accomplishment off his list.
“The big thing for me, I never really believed that I would do this period,” Byrom said. “And getting to do minor league baseball games is a big deal for me. Now I have done four major leagues. If I never get to do another major league baseball game, [I can say] I’ve done it. I’m OK if this never happens again.”