Lepay seeing whole new game during Brewers telecasts
MAY 15, 2014 3:15p ET
MADISON, Wis. -- At age 52, Matt Lepay likes to say he feels like the oldest rookie in broadcasting right now. Of course, having spent the last 26 years as play-by-play announcer for University of Wisconsin athletics, Lepay is hardly a newcomer in his field.
But it's one thing to broadcast Badgers football and basketball games on radio, where the action is fast paced and Lepay has developed deep relationships with players and coaches over three decades. It's an entirely different animal diving into life as a Major League Baseball television broadcaster for one month, missing Milwaukee Brewers spring training and a chance to meet team members because of Final Four commitments to the Badgers' basketball team -- all while still adjusting to the slower rhythms of the sport.
For those reasons, Lepay calls the latest chapter of his broadcasting career as a play-by-play fill-in for FOX Sports Wisconsin one of the more interesting and challenging months of his professional life.
Take, for example, his first game at Pittsburgh last month, which Lepay described as "disgusting."
"My performance the first game was nerves," he said. "I knew I would make mistakes, but I made mistakes that were strictly from nerves. You see some guy named Bill and you go up to them and say, 'Hey Jim.' That's where I was. I was just so uptight.
"It was the equivalent of letting the first ground ball go right through your legs. Then it compounds and you make another mistake. I had simple identification issues -- the kind of stuff that drives an announcer crazy or a viewer who's paying close attention, as well. That was poor. I never even want to look at it again."
Lepay, a seven-time winner of the Wisconsin Sportscaster of the Year Award, is generally his own worst critic when it comes to his broadcasts. But it's also part of what has allowed him to excel in the field.
He began calling Wisconsin men's basketball games for the 1988-89 season. In 1994, he started play-by-play duties for football and has been covering both sports every year since. The switch to TV, even temporarily, has served as a jolt.
"I'm a radio broadcaster," Lepay said. "Not so much a television broadcaster. You're used to just being locked into the action. You donât have time to look stuff up unless you're in a timeout, a commercial break, whatever.
"In baseball, you do. I havenât fully been able to embrace that concept. With my iPad, I can look up something real quick if I need to. But I catch myself looking at the monitor, looking at the field because that's what I've done for three decades."
When the opportunity to help out on Brewers coverage arose during the offseason, Lepay showed interest while also voicing his potential concerns. He didn't have a baseball demo to provide, but he impressed during a screen test in December with longtime Brewers TV analyst Bill Schroeder, which was enough to earn him the part-time gig.
Lepay, who will call 35 Brewers games in total this season, is serving as a fill-in while regular play-by-play announcer Brian Andersen works national games for Turner Broadcasting, including the NBA playoffs. Wednesday night at Miller Park, Lepay closed out a month-long stretch in which he called more than 20 games.
"With each game, I felt like I've gotten a little bit more comfortable," Lepay said. "But it's still a relatively new thing to be calling baseball and just getting used to the mechanics of a television broadcast.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Lepay's foray into baseball is that he hadn't called a game in more than 20 years. The last game he called, in fact, was for the defunct Madison Muskies, once a Class A affiliate team for the Oakland A's.
Lepay, who has been working non-stop since Wisconsin's football season began in late August, will take some time off before returning to work a handful of Brewers games following the all-star break. He said he had yet to consider the prospect of working games after the 2014 season. For now, he is trying to enjoy the ride and learn as he goes.
"I talked to a few guys I know in the business before I did this and they said, 'Listen, you're going to make mistakes. We still do,'" Lepay said. "So you let it go. You do the best you can. You let it go and you keep pushing.
"I'll still make silly mistakes. I'll say something that I want back right away. That's the nature of who I am, I guess. I just beat myself up maybe more than I should. But through it all, it's been fun, and I kind of take a deep breath and say I donât know how you got in this spot, but you're calling Major League Baseball games. That's a pretty cool thing to be able to say."
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