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Young announcer brings it all to the ballgame

Mike Walker sits in a booth behind home plate, a headset covering his ears, hands tapping on a laptop like a prog-rock keyboardist.

He watches a baseball game, records each play in a scorebook, glances at the computer screen. He Tweets between innings. All the while he maintains a steady patter for an unseen audience following along on the Internet.

"You have to be a little bit crazy," he said, "to talk to yourself for four hours."

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This has been his life for the past four years, his office high above the action at the hockey arena and the baseball diamond. He turned 22 just last month. He looks like Ferris Bueller but there are no days off.

He has a fancy title: director of broadcasting and media relations for the Victoria Seals. He acknowledges he'd probably make more money this summer by mowing lawns.

As soon as he wakes, he begins preparing a statistical package to be shared with reporters at the ball park. He arrives at Royal Athletic Park hours before the first pitch. Batting practice is a lazy afternoon routine for players but a hectic time for Mr. Walker, who videotapes interviews for clips to be shown on the scoreboard that evening.

For four months of the summer, the Seals players - itinerant strangers from Paris, Tenn., and Norway, Maine; from Pleasant Hill, Calif., and the Dominican Republic - are extended family.

He is always on the hunt for tidbits to share with his audience.

On Friday, he was preparing to broadcast five games over 48 hours to be followed by a press conference on Monday to introduce the Knuckleball Princess. Eri Yoshida, an 18-year-old pitcher from Japan and a rare woman to play professional baseball against men, will start on Tuesday for the Chico (Calif.) Outlaws.

A pair of weekend doubleheaders against the Yuma (Ariz.) Scorpions also marked the occasion of the Seals launching Mr. Walker's one-man live video broadcast streamed over the Internet.

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"I feel like Vin Scully," he said laughing, referring to the legendary 82-year-old voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who famously works alone.

Mr. Walker is a consummate pro. Before the first pitch, he offers the temperature in Celsius and Fahrenheit ("for our American viewers"), offers a theme for the upcoming game, rattles off a parade of statistics.

As a boy, he watched sports events on television with the sound turned off so that he could provide his own commentary. When his mother, an accountant, won a contest to spend a working day with a sports writer from the local daily, Mr. Walker took the opportunity to meet the people who run the Salmon Kings minor pro hockey team. He became their broadcaster at the age of 18, making him possibly the youngest to do so. He soon after won the league's media relations award of excellence.

His youth sometimes exposes a generation gap with his peers. Once, over lunch, Vancouver Canucks broadcaster John Shorthouse asked his inspiration for becoming a sportscaster, undoubtedly expecting to hear the name Jim Robson. Mr. Walker instead responded, "You, John." The great Robson had retired when Mr. Walker was still in elementary school.

Mr. Walker's ambition is to call games in the National Hockey League.

He had already spent two seasons behind the microphone before entering a two-year broadcasting program at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. His schoolwork led to a stint as a media liaison officer at Canada Hockey Place during the Olympics. He not only witnessed Sidney Crosby's goal, but he is one of the few to have heard Chris Cuthbert's "golden goal" call in person.

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His pregame work on Friday paid off with a pair of juicy details.

He noted that the parents of pitcher Aaron Easton, who came on in relief in the opening game, were in attendance, having travelled to Vancouver Island from Maine.

When the pitcher was pulled for a pinch-hitter, Mr. Walker told his audience that Josh Arhart had an unhappy surprise on his return from a recent road trip from St. George, Utah. Turns out his luggage, including uniform and catcher's equipment, had been sent to Tokyo. He had to borrow another player's jersey.

The Seals won the first game with a "fairly competent, fairly routine" 4-2 victory, before crushing the Scorpions 13-2 in the nightcap.

After the final pitch, he wrote and distributed a press release. His last Facebook entry and Tweet were filed after midnight.

He had been live on air for nearly five hours.

He had just 47 viewers, but he gave it his all.

ON THE SHELF

Oxford University Press has announced it will alter the author's credit for three landmark books of baseball history.

Dorothy Seymour Mills will now be recognized as co-author of a trio originally attributed to her husband, Harold Seymour. Mr. Seymour, a one-time bat boy for the Brooklyn Dodgers, wrote what is believed to be the first doctoral dissertation devoted to baseball history.

After his death in 1992, Ms. Mills let it be known that she had done the bulk of the research and much of the writing and editing found in "Baseball: The Early Years" (1960), "Baseball: The Golden Age" (1971), and "Baseball: The People's Game" (1991).

Ms. Mills later married Roy Mills, a retired Royal Canadian Air Force veteran from Vancouver Island whom she met on a cruise. The couple settled in Sidney, north of Victoria, where they lived for five years in the 1990s. They now call Naples, Fla., home. Mrs. Mills recently released her 10th book, "Chasing Baseball: Our Obsession With Its History, Numbers, People and Places," published by McFarland.

Better make that her 13th book.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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