The Catbird Seat

Just 27, new Twins broadcaster Ryan Lefebvre has a job envied by peers twice his age--and the daunting task of replacing the legendary Herb Carneal

It's always been easy to take for granted the work of baseball broadcasters, yet there is arguably no one outside of the actual players who is more responsible for propagating the traditions and memories that keep the game alive from generation to generation. I've figured that over my lifetime there is no voice--including possibly even those of my immediate family members--that has spent more time tramping around in my consciousness than that of Herb Carneal, the Twins' Hall of Fame broadcaster.

Think about it: String together Herb's broadcasts one after the other over his 36-plus seasons and you'd have a chronicle of Minnesota baseball history that would run continuously, around the clock, for almost two years. It's always amazed me that so many of my greatest baseball memories are moments I know only from the words and descriptions of broadcasters like Carneal. A good announcer describes a play for you and in some strange, long-conditioned act of translation, something you never literally witnessed becomes a visual memory.

It's a remarkably difficult job, and you don't realize how much faith you have invested in a broadcaster until you hear a bad one. Twins fans have been remarkably lucky to have Carneal around all those years. His seemingly effortless, perfectly companionable style has been a pleasant alternative to the typical bombast of so much modern broadcasting, and local fans could be forgiven their trepidation when it was announced that beginning with this season Carneal would be scaling back his workload and calling only Twins home games, allowing Ryan Lefebvre to settle in next to John Gordon for road broadcasts.

Baseball broadcasting has traditionally been a nomadic, dues-paying fraternity, and Lefebvre, who at 27 years of age has been the youngest broadcaster in the major leagues for four seasons now, would at first glance seem the unlikeliest of long-shot choices to replace Carneal. The son of a former major-league player, coach, and manager, Lefebvre came to Minnesota in 1989 to play baseball for the Gophers, and was by his own admission a "cocky, carefree California surfer dude who didn't know Minneapolis from Pakistan." In his four years at the university he was a three-time All Big Ten selection and racked up school records for hits, triples, and games played. Following his Gopher career he spent one year in the Cleveland Indians' organization before deciding to walk off the field to pursue a career in broadcasting.

That decision puzzled many at the time, but Lefebvre says he had simply had enough. "I just realized that I didn't want to be a player anymore," he says. "I've heard a lot of other reasons tossed around, but it was really as simple as that. I'd been playing the game my entire life, and it got to the point where I felt I was taking an opportunity away from someone who really deserved it. I'd been doing radio work and internships the whole time I was at the university, and I knew all along that I eventually wanted to get into broadcasting."

He returned to the Twin Cities to finish up his last quarters of school, and in the fall of 1993 he was riding his bike over to St. Paul in the morning for an internship at KFAN, riding back to the university for afternoon classes, and then riding out to internships at MSC and WCCO-TV in the evenings. "That was a crazy time," Lefebvre says. "I was riding something like 12 miles a day. Saturdays I was working as Mike Woodley's spotter for Gopher football, and Sundays I'd be working at the KFAN studios for Vikings games." Then he would stick around the studios late making audition tapes and picking the brains of the people around him. He followed his internships with a couple of seasons broadcasting minor-league games for the Minneapolis Loons, home and away.

"It was strictly a one-man show," he says. "I carried around the equipment from game to game, and I was the engineer, producer, and announcer. I would record every broadcast and take the tapes back to my hotel room at night to critique them."

Lefebvre says that all along the way he had a pretty good idea what he needed to do to get ahead, but in conversations with him you get the impression that he has spent so much time accelerating the dues-paying process that he's never had a real chance to pause and study his ambition. Things just kept happening for him, the breaks kept falling, and in his breathless rush to his current success he's managed to cultivate a deceptive sense of ease in everything he does. At 27 he has already spent his entire adult life scrambling for footing in an industry where the entire climate is steeped in a sort of instinctual mutual ambition, and where the competition can be cutthroat. Yet he has moved to the head of the pack with a combination of fresh-faced zeal, natural ability, and a workhorse ethic that has included a willingness to take on any and all challenges, broadcasting college baseball, wrestling, hockey, football, and women's volleyball and basketball in the last three years alone.

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