King Kaufman's Sports Daily

The Yankees turn up the heat, the Marlins have their backs against the wall, and Fox's Jeanne Zelasko cranks out more cliches than you can shake a stick at.

Published October 22, 2003 7:00PM (EDT)

I've become fascinated with Jeanne Zelasko, the studio host of Fox's postseason baseball broadcasts. The woman is incapable of uttering a sentence without a cornball cliché or a groaner of a play on words. So it's my new pastime to try to guess how that little prose poem that opens the broadcast of each World Series game is going to go.

Let's see here: When it rains it pours. Water, water everywhere. Hmm. The Marlins are never going to stop the rain by complaining.

It rained quite a bit during Game 3 Tuesday, you see, even causing a delay of 39 minutes before the Yankees wrapped up a 6-1 win behind the pitching of Mike Mussina and home runs from Aaron Boone and Bernie Williams. So the wet stuff -- it falls on the just and unjust alike, remember -- is sure to play a big role in the pregame opening Wednesday.

Here's how Zelasko narrated the montage of real and staged historical highlights that opened the Game 1 broadcast: "This is a night when legends are made, and baseball dreams become reality. At the ultimate October theater, magic and mystique collide. But these Marlins dont do awe. They're not here to enjoy the view. The Fish hung around the October stage longer than anyone thought possible, trampling history along the way. Now it's up to baseball's royalty to reel them in, teach them a lesson or two, in the House That Ruth Built -- and Boone rededicated."

Depending on how generous I'm feeling, I can count anywhere from six to nine clichés in that one paragraph. It's a work of art.

Zelasko came over to baseball from Fox's NASCAR broadcasts two years ago and immediately set about calling the playoffs "the tournament" and referring to "brackets," which was mildly annoying but instructive, proving she didn't know what she was talking about when she talked about baseball.

There's nothing wrong with that. We don't really need her to know about baseball. Most of what she says she reads, so she can usually fake it. And besides, she's in good company co-hosting with Kevin Kennedy. It was Kennedy who decided, while managing the Texas Rangers in 1993, that it would be a really swell idea to have Jose Canseco pitch. Canseco blew out his arm, and that's pretty much all you need to know about Kevin Kennedy.

I missed Zelasko's intro to Game 2, which means I must have missed another reference to the House That Ruth Built, because Zelasko cannot refrain from using that phrase when a game is being played in Yankee Stadium. It is a great phrase. I liked it too when I first heard it.

Here's Zelasko's intro to Game 3, which followed a long, nonsensical tie-in thing with the movie "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World": "Russell Crowe the 'Master and Commander' in a theater near you soon, but who will be the master and commander on this stage? Find out tonight on Fox. We turn up the heat in this World Series -- literally! But it's not just the temperature that's warmer. How about this reception [shot of fans entering the ballpark]: 67,000 strong, all aboard the largest bandwagon in sports. Or is it? Because the Pinstripes have flown south and they are not alone [shot of Yankees fans tailgating], considering Miami is the sixth borough of New York. Yes, the location has shifted, but what about the momentum? Jack McKeon will let the fans decide." This led into a clip of the manager talking about the Marlins' great fans, who until a few weeks ago were largely theoretical, like dark matter.

To get the full effect of this dazzling stuff, you have to hear Zelasko read it. Rights considerations prevent us from providing sound samples of her performing these pieces, so just imagine if you can Nicol Williamson as Merlin in the movie "Excalibur" reading them and you'll have a pretty close approximation.

"She's a heck of a writer," Fox Sports president Ed Goren said about Zelasko in the Miami Herald, "and she shows personality without being over the top."

She's a heck of a writer, all right. Here she was -- just one more and then I promise I'll stop -- before Game 6 of the Yankees-Red Sox series last week: "Today on Fox, we go into the belly of the beast. The Sox need a pair of wins in the Bronx. Anything less and Boston's year ends just shy of the World Series. The Red Sox are down and it's the Yankees who've cowboyed up. The Sandman [clip of Mariano Rivera walking from his car] has arrived, ready to put the Sox's season to sleep and continue baseball's most famous curse."

See what she did there with the Red Sox being down and how the Yankees have cowboyed up? That's a twist because "cowboy up" was a Red Sox term. Plus! Cowboyed up, as in not down. Remember how she had said, "The Red Sox are down"? Am I going too fast? You young writers out there, take note.

Game 4 is approaching. Roger Clemens will pitch Wednesday night for the Yankees, who lead the Series two games to one.

So, let's see: "Now that the heat's been turned up on this Series [shot of people in the warm Florida weather], have the Yankees gotten into the Marlins' kitchen? Or will the Fish rain on the Rocket's parade?" Hmm. Not sure it has that Zelasko zing. This stuff isn't easy, you know. It's tough going. And when the going gets tough ...

By Salon Staff

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