SPONSORED BY: SportsGrub
By BOB YORK
It’s been nearly four decades now since a 5-year-old youngster routinely crawled up into his grandfather’s lap, slipped on a pair of headphones to listen to a sound check of “Papa’s” radio sports talk show and then was handed the microphone to try a little jock talk of his own.
The youngster was Colin Cosell. His grandfather was Howard Cosell, “and I knew right then and there that whatever I did when I grew up, it would have to be something related to talking into a microphone,” said Cosell. Well, bingo, that dream job of his became reality three years ago when he, along with Marysol Castro, were named public address announcers for the New York Mets.
“It was mesmerizing,” recalled Cosell of listening to his late grandfather’s voice that was heard throughout the country via his daily “Speaking of Sports” show on ABC Radio that aired from his home in the Hamptons. “In fact, I pride myself on doing the best imitation of my grandfather in the world,” quipped Cosell of his impersonation of the booming voice that helped his grandfather become one of America’s best-known sportscasters and a voice that still resonates to this day on ESPN’s Classic Channel.
Like his grandfather, Cosell doesn’t appear to have strayed too far from a microphone during his first 40 years. Following his days helping “Papa” prepare for his talk shows, he became quite adept at singing and frequently performed in school musicals – such as “West Side Story” – while attending The King School (’97) in his hometown of Stamford, Conn. This spring, meanwhile, would have marked Cosell’s third season in the Mets’ press box, but as everyone knows by now, the coronavirus has knocked baseball – including Cosell – out of the park. This deadly plague hasn’t silenced him, however.
Gone, for now, are the days Cosell would find himself in the Mets’ press box, announcing to everyone in Citi Field everything they needed to know about the game’s next batter, whether he be friend or foe. As each and every batter made his trek from the on-deck circle to the batter’s box, Cosell would speak those magic words “now batting” into his mic and then announce the player’s position … then his number … then his name … in that exact order.
This spring, Covid-19 stole the game … the fans … the press box … the player introductions away from Cosell and left him with only his trusty microphone, but that’s all he really needs. Those thespian skills he acquired while at The King School and would later elevate him to earn an internship on “Saturday Night Live,” weren’t about to abandon him now.
Working from one of two places: a closet in his home on Long Island – with a lot of clothing to help absorb the sound – or from his car, Cosell opted to replace his introductions of big league batters during this health-induced quarantine with personalized and customized introductions for, quite simply, anyone and everyone who wanted one. All they had to do was contact Cosell on Twitter at “Call Me Up Colin.”
“I started ‘Call Me Up Colin’ (on March 14) because I felt it was a good way of keeping in touch with the fans during a harrowing time … at a time when they’re scared … when they’re unsure of the future and need some normalcy in their lives,” explained Cosell. “Plus, I’m doing something I love to do and it just snowballed … to be honest I never dreamed it would be this successful. When I cut off taking requests back on May 6, I’d had just over 1,200 applications.”
Although Cosell, who received about 150 requests that first week, made it his mission to fulfill every request he received, he quickly began prioritizing those requests. Atop the list were those from essential workers during this pandemic such as healthcare workers, first responders and others who had been directly affected by the virus. Each request is about 30 seconds in length and takes Cosell between seven to 10 minutes to create. The majority of time he spent on constructing the introductions was devoted to finding and inserting the requested walk-up music.
“All they had to do was provide me with their name … a uniform number … a position … plus a favorite song they’d like to hear on the call-up,” explained Cosell, who knows a bit about being introduced in the athletic arena. During his four years at The King School he didn’t exactly lock himself away in the theater, as he played hockey and soccer as well. In fact, his love of both theater and athletics would later team up to help Cosell earn three Emmy Awards for his work with the Madison Square Garden Varsity Network.
While the majority of his customers have been staunch Mets fans, some haven’t, such as the Atlanta Braves’ follower who contacted Cosell and wanted him to fashion his introduction as though he were a visiting player, thus missing the love – but not the boos – a member of the home team would receive. He has also received requests from non-baseball buffs seeking intros featuring football, basketball and hockey. He even received a call-up assignment from someone seeking an introduction for a niece, who was a synchronized swimmer.
And there’s more … Cosell received bids that had nothing to do with sports what so ever. He received call-ups from couples whose weddings were postponed due to the coronavirus and he’s performed his magic for couples wishing to announce they were now first-time parents. Others, meanwhile, simply use the recordings for their phone ringtones or on outgoing messages.
As for the music requests, those have had Cosell searching files for everything from classic rock to country in order to keep his customers happy. In the end, however, he had to rank “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC as the most frequented pick to accompany the requested introductions.
While Cosell played four years of varsity soccer during his stay at King, hockey was where he left his mark – although it may have taken a while to do so.
“During my freshman year, Adam Rosenthal, a teacher at the school, opted to revive the hockey program … and that’s exactly what he did,” remembers Cosell. “That first year was rough, we barely scratched together enough kids for a team … as I remember we recruited just enough players to make up two offensive lines and two pair of defensemen.”
That left just one position to fill: goaltender. And that job would go to the one and only member on the roster who had any prior experience at defending the pipes: Colin Cosell.
“I’d played goalie before … I’d played quite a bit, in fact,” explained Cosell, who would be named captain of the team his senior year, “the only trouble was I’d just played goalie in street hockey … I’d never played ice hockey before. So, like just about everyone else on the team, I faced a learning curve.
“We weren’t very good that first year,” remembers Cosell, whose debut for the Vikings resulted in a 14-3 loss. “We steadily improved over the years though, and were a .500 team by our junior season and we went 10-4 our senior season and qualified for the playoffs.”
As for a highlight of his goaltending career, Cosell remembered that moment as though it happened just yesterday, rather than his senior season nearly a quarter-century ago. “It was a 10-0 shutout of the Harvey School, our archrivals,” said Cosell. “I had 23 saves.”
Howard Cosell, who was inducted into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2007, died in April of 1995, during Colin’s sophomore year at King, “so he didn’t get to see me play much hockey,” said Cosell, who went on to play intramural hockey at The State University of New York, “but he did get a chance to watch a number of plays I performed in.
“He was your typical doting grandparent,” added Cosell, “and I always looked forward to spending time at his house and not just because of being a part of his radio broadcast. I also enjoyed going there because you never knew who was going to be there … it seemed as though there was always some well-known person there, whether it be an athlete, a movie star or a politician. For a 5-year-old, having the opportunity to meet some of the people who would show up at his home on any given day was pretty neat.”
The elder Cosell was probably best known for joining Frank Gifford and Don Meredith in the broadcast booth in 1970 as the trio who brought Monday Night Football to life and marked the first time that American football was televised weekly in prime time.
“Another thing he was well known for was his deep friendship with Mohammad Ali,” said Cosell. “The two became very close over the years and I remember my grandfather telling me that Ali was the brightest man he’d ever met.” What a lot of people might not be aware of, however, is that Ali suffered from dyslexia, “and my grandfather helped teach him how to read and write.”
Cosell is hopeful Major League Baseball will find its way back to playing ball this summer and allow him to return to his job in the Citi Field press box. Whether he does or doesn’t, however, this will still likely mark the most influential time he has ever spent in front of a microphone.
The way Will Carafelo, the Mets social media director, wrote of his colleague, “During this world-wide pandemic, everyone is looking to find a sense of normalcy. Whether it is connecting with a familiar face via a video chat, or hearing a friendly voice via the phone, we are all looking for something or someone to provide comfort. For Mets fans, that comfort may be in hearing Colin Cosell … his audio has certainly been a delightful sound during this unsure time.”
As far as the way Cosell viewed his bid to bring a bit of normality to a chaotic world, he closed out Carafelo’s story by saying: “Thank you to all the fans for participating. Your reactions have been touching (and some he would admit had also brought grown men to tears). Thank you for allowing me to give you a sense of normalcy. This is truly an honor and a privilege.”
The NEPSAC SPECIAL NEWS is sponsored by SportsGrub. SportsGrub provides athletic teams with nutritional meals delivered directly to their event. We provide a diverse menu that athletes can order from directly in our app. Don't just play to win, plan to win with healthy and delicious meals from SportsGrub. Contact us for more information at www.sportsgrub.com