Whitt's End: COVID In The Broadcast Booth & Dinged-Up Doncic?

Whitt's End: COVID In The Broadcast Booth & Dinged-Up Doncic? Dallas Mavs and DFW Sports Notebook
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Whether you’re at the end of your coffee, your day, your week or even your rope, welcome to Whitt’s End 8.7.20 …

*Brain fog. Dry heaves. Uncontrollable shakes. Zero appetite. Pneumonia. Kidney stone. Oxygen tubes in the nose. Intense, relentless body aches. Fear. From the Texas Rangers’ radio booth, right into the hospital. If it can knock Ted Nichols-Payne flat on his back then, trust me, COVID-19 can do a number on anyone.

As a legendary sports radio engineer in Dallas-Fort Worth working at The Ticket and these days The Fan, TNP did his best to make me sound coherent during my run at 105.3. From Super Bowls to supermarkets, he is the audio savant who twists, tweaks, plugs, unplugs, duct-tapes and, in the end, keeps broadcasts on the air.

Before last week, he was a fit 54-year-old, with zero health issues. Long an avid cyclist who’d regularly go on 50-mile rides during Dallas Cowboys’ training camp or Rangers’ spring training, in the last couple years he’s added 6-8 hours a week of hiking. Other than his questionable trademark ponytail, he is the normal American male with no underlying problems. But when I called him Thursday morning, all I heard from the man whose life revolves around clean living and clear sound was pain, suffering … and beeping.

“I don’t know what that is,” TNP said from his bed in a Fort Worth hospital’s COVID-19 wing. “Some machine that’s going to take away this pain, hopefully.”

Nadel, Hicks, Sandler and Ted Nichols-Payne

Nadel, Hicks, Sandler and Ted Nichols-Payne

TNP was in the broadcast booth for the Rangers’ opening homestand at new Globe Life Field July 24-29. On the 28, he said he felt a little “off, but no fever and nothing to make me stay home from work.”

Same on the 29. Didn’t feel great, but the Rangers check everyone’s temperature upon entrance to GLF and he was normal. On the 30 the Rangers left town and so did TNP’s health. He developed a spiking fever. Cold sweats. Took a rapid test at a drive-through center and, sure enough, coronavirus.

“I called the Rangers, the radio station, my kids,” TNP said “I knew I’d be sick. But I never expected this.”

Rangers’ radio broadcaster Matt Hicks, who was in the same booth but socially distanced from TNP during the five home games, tested positive a day later on the 31st.

“We’re not sure who gave it to who,” TNP said. “Tried contract tracing, but … ”

With doctors merely prescribing pain medication – a reminder that there is nothing close to a “cure” – he cleared the shelves at GNC in an attempt to boost his immune system.

“It didn’t work,” he said. “Or maybe it did. Who knows, maybe I’d be dead now if I didn’t take anything.”

Last weekend he felt progressively worse each day. He’d regularly awaken in a stupor, taking 15 minutes to realize where – even who – he was. On Tuesday he wrote on Facebook that he was in “relative euphoria … feels like only two forms of death compared eight.”

But on Wednesday the breathing problems commenced, and he was rushed to ER.

“The worst are the body aches,” he said. “Feels like a large explosive mass inside my body, shooting out to my muscles, bones, joints, everywhere.”

Nothing about that sounds like the “regular flu”, much less a “hoax.”

TNP will remain in the hospital until at least until through the weekend. Doctors found pneumonia on his lungs. IV fluids introduced a kidney stone. He’s on a pain-numbing cocktail of morphine and hydrocodone. The next step: He’ll receive convalescent plasma – blood infusions donated from COVID-19 survivors. As long as he can, he’ll continue providing updates on Facebook.

“Social media has saved me emotionally, kept me from feeling totally alone,” said TNP, whose two daughters have been unable to visit him in the hospital. “My goal at this point is somehow finish this thing out, and hopefully hearing about my experience can help someone down the road. The scary thing is that I know there are plenty of people who are having a harder time than me.”

Positive thoughts and special prayers, TNP.

*Strangest stat? The Dallas Mavericks ...

A) Went 147 days between wins yet are headed for the playoffs. B) Are only 6-4 this season when Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis combine for 60+ points. C) Are – and perhaps always will be – 0-1 in the month of July.

*Would love to provide a review of last night’s Cowboys-Steelers Hall of Fame game but … you know.

*From his mammoth home runs to his rocket right arm to his newfound savvy that resulted in a bunt single against the drastic defensive shift the other night, the Rangers’ Joey Gallo is an athletic freak.

Says manager Chris Woodward, “He's by far the best player on the field every time he steps out."

Um, the Angels are on the schedule, right?

*Caught three possessions of a WNBA game this week and came to this controversial conclusion: Women’s basketball should lower its rims to around 8 feet. Before you sling you're “sexist!” barbs at me, allow me to retort with … Ladies’ tees in golf are a shorter distance. Women’s tennis matches are fewer sets. Girls’ softball is a wholly condensed field including closer proximities to the pitching mound, bases and fence.

At first maybe insulting, lower baskets would eventually make the sport more entertaining. Now excuse while I take cover.

*Can’t imagine higher praise than what ABC NBA analyst Mark Jackson heaped upon Luka last week: “He’s a combination of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.”

I guess only way to improve on that would be “He’s as tall as Manute Bol.”

*Swept in Oakland, the Rangers are off to a 3-8 faceplant. By my math they reach the 20-percent pole of their 60-game schedule on Friday with an adjusted record of 9-24. Ouch.

*We still haven’t heard from Jerry Jones, but last week we “saw” him in action. In announcing they would have no season tickets for 2020, the Cowboys trumpeted the good news that existing ticket-holders’ contracts would be extended for a year at no charge.

READ MORE: Exclusive - Cowboys Plan Blue-White Scrimmage At ATT

Cool. Seemingly. But, in reality, the “credit” for the lost 2020 seasons won’t be redeemable until, wait for it, 2039.

*The rag-tag Nets shocked the Bucks this week as a 19-point underdog, making it the third-largest upset in NBA history. No. 2 on the list? Mavericks 109, Sonics 107, April 6, 1993.

The ’93 Mavs were gawdawful, starting 4-57 and avoiding the worst record in league history only by winning their last two games to get to 11 wins. On that night, they were 19.5-point underdogs at Seattle, which boasted Gary Payton, Sean Kemp and Sam Perkins. Those Sonics won 55 games and lost a Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals to Charles Barkley’s Suns.

A rookie named Jim Jackson scored a game-high 18 points for the Mavs, who shot a season-high 56 percent. Four nights later, the same team lost by 41 points to the Warriors.

Ya never know. It’s why we watch, right?

*In DFW’s sports talk radio war, 105.3 The Fan continues its over-the-air lead on 1310 AM The Ticket and 103.3 FM ESPN in the ratings period covering June 18-July 15. No more debating, what once was Ticket domination is now a month-to-month competitive battle.

And again, for the gazillionth time, The Ticket’s coveted stream numbers are counted, but – per Nielsen – not combined.

For the first time in my memory, The Ticket’s morning show finished third. Ouch. ESPN, Cumulus’ red-headed stepchild, bid adieu to prominent afternoon voice Tim Cowlishaw this week after a seven-year run. With or without the Dallas Morning News columnist, the station has never been a factor in the primo drive-time slot. July’s numbers for the target demo of Men 25-54:

                   Fan   Ticket   ESPN

Overall       4.0      2.7      1.8

Morning     3.2      2.1       2.6

Midday       4.7      2.4       1.4

Afternoon  3.8     3.5        1.7

*Only 2020 can release inmates from prison because it’s unsafe for them to be crowded together, while inviting children back to school because it’s safe for them to be crowded together.

*A quarter-century ago, I covered an NBA in which Nuggets’ All-Star Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (formerly known as LSU All-American Chris Jackson) was fined $50,000 for not standing for the pre-game National Anthem due to his religious beliefs.

As today’s players kneel in protest and the league heroically throws its money and muscle behind a mandate of diversity of inclusion, Abdul-Rauf is owed an apology. And maybe some money.



*In case you weren’t annoyed by his stirrup-less socks, ridiculously high and baggy pants, jersey unbuttoned like he’s in a ’70s disco, gawdy gold rope necklaces, eye black, scraggly beard, bald head peculiarly accentuated by a tuft of hair on the rear of his noggin’, tar-soaked helmet, wrist braces, elbow guard and shin guard (takes deep breath) Rangers’ second baseman Rougned Odor has a new testy tic.

After every pitch – I mean every pitch – he steps out of the batter’s box to unfasten, then re-fasten the Velcro straps of both batting gloves.

I get being comfortable. But how can he possibly need to re-boot his grip after not swinging at a pitch? Oh, and don’t get me started on his habit of smacking with his bat the toes of both cleats before stepping back into the box. Maybe if Odor wasn’t 3 for 28 on a team that’s 3-8 we could absorb some of his idiosyncrasies.

*Our latest men-trend seems to be beards splattered with gray. On the Mavs’ Fox Sports Southwest TV broadcasts alone, Cedric Ceballos, Derek Harper and Jeff Wade are all sporting the peculiar look. Is it supposed to make men look wiser? Because, to me, it just makes them look older, like the game is being called by an elders’ roundtable straight outta Harry Potter. (Dear Dad, this observation doesn’t apply to those 80+.)

*Had a sputtering air-conditioner this week. Two different companies came for a looksee. Recommendation No. 1: “It’s backed up, pour a cup of bleach in the system once a month.” Recommendation No. 2: “It’s backed up, pour a cap of distilled vinegar in the system twice a year.”

It’s as though they were speaking differently languages. I went with vinegar. Fingers crossed.

*Watching Odor’s human rain delay made me ponder other needed baseball tweaks. After a taken pitch, the batter can’t leave the box and the pitcher can’t leave the mound … A pitched ball in the dirt will not be thrown out of the game because of one dusty blemish … A player must run the bases with whatever chosen body armor he wears to the plate. No more suiting up like Ironman, getting on base, and then taking a timeout to shed the various protective padding. You wear it, you wear it.

*More proof that 2020 is year we should be able to opt-out of, Cowboys’ legend Emmitt Smith and his wife, Pat, are divorcing after 20 years of marriage.

*Considering Luka’s mind-bending numbers in Orlando, makes me wonder why Bubble games aren’t considered in MVP voting. I needed no more than to look on the sideline and see head coaches sporting casual Friday golf shirts to be reminded.

*The stats geeks have ruined, well, stats. Every game there is a “this is the first time blah blah blah since … 2017.” Three years ago isn’t deserving of a “since.” But what Luka produced against the Kings this week certainly was. His 34-point, 20-rebound, 12-assist performance was the first since 1976.

READ MORE: Luka is 'Kareem-Like' In Bubble Win

Any time you match something last accomplished by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, it’s worth a gold-plated “since.” Kareem is not only the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, he retired in 1989.

*One week into The Bubble and Luka is already slightly limping and getting his left wrist taped. He’s a sturdy, deceptively-strong kid, but with the way he dominates the ball and plays with an aggressive, relentless style predicated on initiating contact in the lane, seems like he’s destined to always be nursing various dings.

*Same, but different. Those words on the back of Mavs’ jerseys all mean “Equality”, just in various languages. Luka is wearing it in Slovenian (Enakopravnost), Maxi Kleber in German (Gleichberechtigung), J.J. Barea in Spanish (Igualdad) and Porzingis in Latvian (Vienlidziba).

*The Cowboys won’t practice in a bubble, but their cheerleaders will.

*Where have all the great nicknames gone? Does the Mavs’ Boban really need to be called “Bobi”? I mean, given our lack of creativity, feels like if his given name was Bobi we’d just call him Boban. Was watching the Lakers and Anthony Davis was “AD.” Porzingis is simply “KP.” Kevin Durant is often “KD.” Instead of Magic, imagine if we lazily called him “EJ.”

*Tic-Tac-Toe > Tik-Tok-No.

*Another coronavirus casualty: The Iron Skillet. Because inter-conference games are being canceled, the annual SMU-TCU game is kaput. Which, of course, is preposterous. The teams are in different conferences, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a shorter commute to a rivalry game in college football. Makes no sense.

Traveling is traveling. The virus doesn’t care if you drive 22 miles or fly 2,200 miles. Anything outside of a bubble biosphere, and moving about is dangerous. Adding to the insanity, TCU replaced SMU on its schedule with … Tennessee Tech.

*Why don’t we call it the “Western Seaboard”?

*To some athletes, COVID-19 is a nuisance. To others, it’s a roadblock to history.

Not surprisingly, Rafael Nadal announced he won’t play in the U.S. Open in New York later this month. Because of our virus sh*tshow, Americans aren't welcomed abroad and America isn't desirable destination. (This is where I get confused on whether we’re making America great or keeping America great.) Nadal needs one major to tie Roger Federer’s record of 20. At age 34, the virus is causing him two missed major chances this year.

*Went for my annual physical this week and said “Hell yes!” to offers of shots to protect me from Tetanus and Shingles. If nothing else, 2020 is a good reminder to err on the side of caution.

*This Weekend? Mom’s 79 birthday “party”, accessorized with cake and masks social distancing. As always, don’t be a stranger.