Week Seven Hog Blog: The Passion of the PA Announcer (and chinchilla lover)
Dear PPR Viewers:
Cal Ripken Jr. played in 2,632 MLB consecutive games over 17 years. Brett Favre was under center for 321 straight NFL games, in a streak spanning 20 seasons. Both milestones are breathtaking. Both are well short of Mike Basalo. The retired guidance counselor, coach, referee, umpire and chinchilla lover is currently in his 46th year serving as the San Pasqual public address announcer. Four decades and counting is impressive enough, but consider this: For the last 13 years, Basalo has been crossing state lines to honor his Friday night commitment in the Fighting Eagles press box.
“Ancient” is this Arizona resident’s stock answer to all age-related questions. “My eyesight is still good, but my ears have lost their fastball,” is all Basalo will give up when pressed on the topic. This much we do know: Basalo was a geography and history teacher when San Pasqual opened its doors in 1972. “Back then everybody on staff had to do three extracurricular activities,” recalls Basalo. “Working as the football public address announcer was one of my three.”
One of his other “activities” was coaching the Eagles softball team, where Basalo chalked up 250 wins before calling it a career in 2006. Mike and his wife of 28 years, Norlin, moved to their retirement home in Goodyear, Arizona. Our story is over, right? Wrong. Every fall weekend, when either San Pasqual or Mesa College are playing at home, Basalo rents a car and drives 338 miles to take his spot in the press box. It’s the pigskin version of Winged Migration. “I sometimes do three games. Eagles JV and varsity on Friday, and Mesa College Saturday,” says the veteran PA announcer. Once the final gun of the final game sounds, Basalo heads for home. “The Motel 6 in Yuma knows me well,” laughs Basalo, adding, “I’m now a platinum member for their continental breakfast club.”
So why endure 12 hours in a rental car more than a dozen times every fall? He can’t be doing it for the money since there is none. Basalo is simply giving back to a community that has given his family so much. “Mike is the biggest sports fan I know,” explains San Pasqual football coach Tony Corley. “He simple loves being around it. Plus, San Pasqual will always be his home.”
The first and only “Voice of the Eagles” is blessed with big league pipes. To hear him in person or over the phone, one quickly understands why he’s such a popular choice to work the public address microphone. “Mike’s tone (over the PA system) is neutral but you can always feel the Eagle lean,” observes Corley. “He just does in such a classy way. He’s never obnoxious about it.”
Basalo has witnessed plenty of San Diego section football but doesn’t miss a beat when asked to identity the best prep football player he ever watched from his press box perch. “Junior Seau hands down,” he says. “He was a man among boys.”
When asked about the toughest name he ever had to pronounce, Basalo quickly returns to Oceanside. “Just about any name on the Pirates roster that wasn’t Junior Seau,” chuckles Basalo. “Some of the Polynesian names can keep you up at night.”
A former minor league umpire, Basalo’s life story is filled with memorabilia from some of the biggest sports moments of all time. (A signed Bob Gibson game jersey is his current favorite.) The biggest moment? “I was in Munich when the USA beat the Soviet Union about three times before settling for the silver medal,” he remembers, referring to the infamous 1972 Olympic gold medal basketball game whose final three seconds are still mired in controversy. “That’s how I got into international refereeing,” recalls Basalo. “They only had three good officials at that Olympics, I figured I might have a chance.” (Team USA never claimed their silver medals. They are still locked in a vault somewhere in Germany.)
Years later Basalo was on the court officiating a game featuring the USA’s original Dream Team. Naturally the conversation drifted to Michael Jordan. Basalo summed up his Airness in two sentences: “He was a cold-blooded assassin. He only cared about one thing…winning.”
But when asked about the craziest moment he’s ever witnessed on the prep gridiron, Basalo goes back to 1996. “It was our homecoming game against Oceanside. The Pirates had us beat, up three and were running out the clock. They had to punt from their own 40. Our only chance was to block the kick or return it for a touchdown.”
Knowing that, Oceanside Head Coach John Carroll opted not to kick the ball. Instead he instructed his center to snap the ball to the blocking back. “I told our kid to take the ball and run out the back of our own end zone. Take the safety, run out the clock and we go home with the win,” remembers Carroll.
One problem: The Eagles had a pair of D1 kids by the names of Husan Smith and Matt Serviola. As the Pirate ball carrier turned and chugged towards his own goal line, the two fleet-footed Eagles gave chase. “I think they’re going to catch him,” Basalo remembers thinking to himself. Sure enough, Serviola knocked the ball free on the one-yard line and Smith recovered in the Oceanside end zone. San Pasqual 24, Oceanside 20. “Craziest thing I ever saw on the football field,” says Basalo.
“Sometimes coaches win games, sometimes they lose games. I lost us that one,” adds Carroll.
San Pasqual’s next home game is Friday October 13th, the Eagles homecoming game against Valley Center. Basalo will be there. “I definitely want 50 (years), if the guy upstairs will keep me from running off the road at Gila Bend,” jokes Basalo. ”I’ve only missed three games in 46 years.”
And before we close we have to address Mike’s love of chinchillas. “I used to raise them,” he says. “I once had 25 living in my kitchen.” After a short pause, Basalo adds unnecessarily, “That was before I got married, of course.”
Paul Rudy/ PPR