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Keiter has been re-creating for more than 40 years and still finds it tougher to do than a live game. "You have to know the players as well as your baseball, and dovetail your imagination with hard knowledge. I never make up anything," he insists. "I embellish. After all, there's a box score in the paper the next morning. A retired nurse in her 70s has kept score of every inning I've ever done in Honolulu. My totals had better be right."
So, who's he fooling? Not the people who saw him do the 5:20 p.m. sportscast on Honolulu's KHON-TV. Not those who will see him do the TV sports at 9:20. And not those who possess a little common sense. Aside from a bone to the FCC—a theme tape played at the outset of every simulated broadcast announces it as an "Islanders' Re-create"—the station provides no other clue. "But you could have a disclaimer every inning and people wouldn't pay attention anyway, because they don't want to," says Keiter. "I'll bet nine out of 10 people don't even know what 're-create' means. To this day, people are befuddled. They'll ask, 'How can you be here when you were just there?' "
Actually Keiter, who spun his first ball game as a 9-year-old around a YMCA campfire, has made something of a career of never really being there. When he left Hawaii in 1950 for San Francisco, he ended up re-creating New York Yankee games; in New York, eight years later, he did the same for San Francisco Giants games.
Now, back in Honolulu, he's a perfect curator for the hoary technique, and recreation makes sense for his station. Islander roadtrips are unusually costly and exhausting, and a live broadcast from the mainland would begin at 4:30 p.m. Honolulu time, a grave of a time slot. Besides, Keiter is the last of a species worth protecting. Though he'll go no further than the drumstick and wood block and the canned crowd to achieve verisimilitude, some of his precursors replicated both the game's sounds and the aural eccentricities of every park the hometown team would visit.
The late Marv Bates, who used to recreate games of the Triple A Evansville Triplets, dedicated much of his life to finding the perfect pop of a pitch in a catcher's glove. "He had a long pencil with a little rubber ball taped to the end," says his widow, Edie. "He'd hit the desk, the telephone, the car—everything, trying to find the right sound. His desk calendar finally produced it—when the pages got to September." NBC's Charlie Jones, while re-creating games of the Dallas- Fort Worth Spurs, had an engineer who found there was a Catholic mission close to Tingley Field in Albuquerque. "When we had games there, he'd play a tape of chimes on the hour," says Jones, "always ringing them once fewer than they rang in Dallas, because of the time difference."
There's a classic re-creationist's voice, too, which lends its own persuasive touch. "None of these silky, urbane, modern-day guys could get away with it," says Joe Croghan, a former practitioner who once covered a Yankee-Red Sox series for a Baltimore radio station. "It took a sort of gut-bucket sound, so rough-sounding that you were forced to believe it—or he'd come over and punch you out." Keiter has that sound, and a throwback's vocabulary. Hitters can be "pestiferous," and good ones "stir up the nasturtiums." If "the bases are bulging" as a slugger "brings the shillelagh up to the plate," a pitcher's "big, jug-handled hook" had better be breaking just so. Only when the Islanders go up 5-0 does Keiter's gravelly radio voice growl out a concession to TV, the medium that has helped make re-creation all but extinct. "Well, what do you know, it's Hawaii Five-O!" In fact, Keiter appeared on that TV show several times, in bit roles ranging from a naval officer to a crooked businessman.
Histrionics serve him well. In the bottom of the first of the getaway game in that Hawaii-Vancouver series, Islander Pitcher Steve Fireovid fired a called third strike past Vancouver clean-up hitter Lawrence Rush for the third out. Keiter, who got word from Dougherty that Rush and Manager Lee Sigman had a "minor disagreement" with the umpire on the call, announced, "Strike three call! And Rush whirls around to argue with the umpire, and here comes Lee Sigman down from third! They're beefing with Craig Brittain! Brittain takes his mask off and they're nose-to-nose at the plate!"
Alan Elconin's live broadcast over Vancouver's CFVR Radio doesn't mention any rhubarb. He simply says, "It's a fastball right down the heart of the plate," and cuts to a commercial.
It was the optimist in Keiter acting up—lively arguments make for good ball games. The folks in Vancouver don't know what they missed.