Nate Allen is a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, Allen is a voter for the Heisman Trophy, has been inducted into the Arkansas Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame, and has authored three books about the Razorbacks.
Bubba Carpenter meshed with baseball broadcasts
Razorback Sports Network announcers Phil Elson (left) and Bubba Carpenter are shown during a game between Arkansas and Bucknell on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE The answer expressed shock to the result of the question.
Who is the only Razorback both to play in and broadcast the College World Series?
“Well good deal!” Bubba Carpenter exclaimed. “I’d never thought of that. That is a first!”
During his 1988-91 tenure playing right field and first base for Norm DeBriyn’s Razorbacks after playing for West Fork High School and American Legion ball at Fayetteville College Club, Brentwood’s Bubba starred for Arkansas’ 1989 Southwest Conference co-champions finishing their 51-16 season nationally fifth at the College World Series in Omaha.
Last June Carpenter returned to Omaha and the College World Series. He returned as the radio color-man alongside play-by-play man Phil Elson describing Dave Van Horn’s 48-21 Razorbacks finishing national runner-up to Oregon State after they won both the Fayetteville Regional and Super Regional at Baum Stadium.
The 2018 season marked Carpenter’s broadcast debut on any level.
“It was a good year to start,” Carpenter said, smiling at the understatement.
He became an instant hit, listeners say.
If so, Carpenter says self-deprecatingly, timing with Arkansas success sure helped.
Sure did, Elson surmises, but Elson asserts Bubba would be a hit regardless.
“Bubba has the ability to describe what he has seen in a way that makes sense to a listener that might not be so knowledgeable about baseball,” Elson said. “But they can listen to what he’s saying and understand everything about it and he never comes across as condescending.”
Bubba has lifetime preparation to describe Razorbacks baseball.
Bubba Carpenter was a three-time All-Southwest Conference outfielder at Arkansas.
From the get-go the late Bill Carpenter started sons Bubba, Jay, lettering from 1988-90 for DeBriyn’s Razorbacks as a utility catcher-infielder-outfielder, Scott and Dean as Razorbacks.
“I remember fishing with my dad, listening to Razorback baseball games,” Bubba said. “We made sure we had a radio next to us whatever we we were doing. We always had the Razorback broadcast on. I have so many memories of my dad and me in a fishing boat listening to the Hogs play. So that part really gets me excited and it’s neat to think other people are doing the same thing.”
He recalled watching his first Razorbacks game with his dad at the old George Cole Field.
“Arkansas vs. Texas and I was hooked,” Carpenter said. “I knew right then I wanted to be a Razorback.”
Bubba was a teenaged fan when Van Horn played second base for DeBriyn’s 1982 Razorbacks.
In 1988, Carpenter was a freshman and Van Horn in his last year as DeBriyn’s graduate assistant.
“I remember how much I looked up to him as a GA,” Bubba said. “He was going to be a great coach. You could see it even back then. He just had that IT thing, that IT factor. Just that way about him that you knew he would be a great coach.”
Van Horn proved Bubba right, embarking in 1989 upon a head coaching career spanning Texarkana Junior College, a Division II national championship at Central Missouri State, Northwestern (La.) State, Nebraska and the Cornhuskers’ lone two trips to the College World. Upon DeBriyn’s retirement, Van Horn has taken the Hogs to five CWS trips.
Van Horn wasn’t the only one to go places then make his mark coming home.
During the summer of 1991 after completing his Razorbacks tenure that spring, Bubba began a professional playing career spanning through 2003 as property of the New York Yankees, Colorado Rockies, New York Mets and the Rockies again.
“Along the way I played in Korea, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Mexico,” Carpenter said. “I got to see a lot of the world and it was awesome.”
All but 15 games in that tenure were in the minor leagues, but baseball on any level always is major to Bubba Carpenter.
“I was motivated every baseball game,” Bubba said. “I loved playing baseball.”
Of course he savors the 15 games he played for the Rockies in 2000. He went 6 for 31 and hit three home runs.
“Of my first four hits three were home runs,” Bubba said. “I think I peaked too soon.”
The first was a game-winner but wasn’t the winner that Bubba remembers most. It was the phone call he made in 2000 that he wished his father could have answered last spring.
Bill Carpenter passed away on Christmas Day, 2017.
“I would have given anything if he had gotten to listen to one game,” Bubba said. “I guarantee to you if he was alive he’d never miss a game.”
So Bubba savors that day in Nashville, Tenn., playing for the Triple AAA Colorado Sky Sox when the Rockies called him up.
“The best thing about it was calling my dad,” Bubba said. “They called me in from right field and said, ‘Guess, what, you are going to the big leagues!’ I called my dad and I was able to tell him I was going to the big leagues. You think about all the places where we played and the little ballparks we played in Northwest Arkansas starting out in Winslow, to be able to tell my dad after the thousands of miles he’s driven around to watch me play all over the Southwest Conference for the Razorbacks and the minor leagues to tell him I’m going to the big leagues was just awesome. My dad is not an emotional guy. I don’t know if I ever saw him cry. But I could hear a tear. His voice was cracking up just a little bit. I’ll never forget it.”
It took Bubba’s second father, DeBriyn, to recruit him to the microphone.
Since his playing days ended, Bubba and wife Crystal and their four children made Northwest Arkansas their permanent home. Bubba scouts some for the Yankees but mainly owns and instructs at the Next Level Baseball Academy in Springdale and coaches the academy’s associated youth teams called the Prospects.
They range in ages from 7 to 18 and as prospects have included 2018 since turned pro Razorbacks Carson Shaddy and Grant Koch of Fayetteville and Kacey Murphy of Rogers. During this winter’s offseason Shaddy and fellow turned pro Razorbacks Jax Biggers and Luke Bonfield offered instruction.
Bubba said it’s so satisfying when some he’s coached sign to play college ball, but says the biggest joy is seeing little boys just starting out having a ball playing ball.
Bubba is a busy man, too busy to be on the Razorbacks radio he said. Then DeBriyn intervened.
Norm avidly recruited Bubba for radio which Bubba said the Razorbacks’ 1970-2002 Hall of Fame coach didn’t really have to do anything to sign him as a player back in 1987.
“I was probably the easiest signing that Coach Norm DeBriyn ever had,” Bubba said. “He had me at ‘Hello.”
But this time after Bubba first begged off IMG’s call to do radio, he said yes to DeBryin.
“Norm DeBriyn called me,” Bubba said. “And he’s like a father to me and there is no way I can tell him, ‘No.’ I said, ‘OK I’ll do it.’”
Like he was going to say anything else?
“There are two people in my life of I’ve been scared of,” Bubba said. “One was my dad and the other was Norm DeBriyn. I remember how scared I was when I came in as a freshman but I’ll tell you, you are not going to find a better person in the world than Norm DeBriyn. You ask any player who ever played for him. You are never going to find a better human being.”
One of his treasured College World Series highlights didn’t involve calling or playing in a a game.
“We were in a rain delay and Norm came into the booth with me and Phil,” Bubba said. “We spent about 30 minutes and I got to interview Norm. Well, I don’t call him Norm. He’s still Coach D for me."
As a coach, Norm brought an enthusiastically intense love of the game yet the self-deprecating kept it relative for a game means failing seven times out of 10 for a good hitter.
Bubba brings that to the broadcast booth, Elson said.
“Bubba knows the rhythm of the sport and he’s humble,” Elson said. “He’s selfless which a lot of baseball players are because they are so used to failing.”
Well most are. Maybe it’s ego or maybe because they are prodded by producers, but it seems on network telecasts, particularly ESPN, former players babble about their playing days at the expense of the ongoing game.
What Bubba may interject from personal experience stays on point, enhancing not detracting from the broadcast, Elson asserts.
“He never makes it about him,” Elson said. “It’s about the game. He’s a natural. He has a natural ability to be a color commentator on radio broadcasts.”
For Bubba, baseball, not bragging, seems to come naturally.
“I don’t want to come across as a know-it-all,” Bubba said. “Because no one knows it all when it comes to baseball because you always learn something new every day. But I do like to bring something new without sounding like one of those ESPN guys that just blabbers on and on. I don’t want to be that guy. But I do want it to be fun and make the people out there feel like they are at the stadium which is what Phil does. Phil does an awesome job of bringing you to the game.”
Phil flat out expected the pairing would work upon their introductory lunch.
“I knew he would be great,” Phil said. “He’s fun and he has a voice that he has an idea of how to use it. He didn’t want to make it about him. He wanted to make it about the team and having fun. I could tell from the start that he and I would be able to do that. It worked better than anybody could have expected.”
Playing for DeBriyn gives Bubba old school respect for the game and the Hogs, but he embraces and coaches the analytics accompanying today’s game.
“Now I’m a homer,” Bubba said. “There’s no doubt what team I’m pulling for. But I try to bring analytics to the broadcast because I’m big on the numbers. I love the exit velocity. Last year if someone hit a home run it hadn’t even cleared the fence yet and my phone was going off with ‘What was the exit velo?’ People want to know stuff like that, but I think sometimes it can get overdone. So my motto is kind of a new approach to old school baseball.”
Other than Bubba being sure to restrict his comments between pitches which only Phil initially describes, they work give and take unstructured.
“We have just as much fun off the air between innings as on the air,” Bubba said. “I think Phil and I have really good chemistry together.”
Their listeners and the UA apparently concur.
This story originally appeared in Hawgs Illustrated magazine
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