Texas Tech had a 7-0 lead over West Virginia in the top of the 8th inning on Friday when socially distanced fans at Monongalia County Ballpark were treated to the play of the night. It didn’t happen on the field, but rather in the visitor’s broadcast booth, where Texas Tech radio announcer Geoff Haxton was calling the action. Red Raiders infielder Jace Jung smoked a foul ball, one that Haxton noted was “coming right at us” before he made an astonishing barehanded grab.
As anyone who’s tried to catch a set of car keys while carrying grocery bags in one hand will tell you, that’s not easy. And the car keys usually aren’t delivered to you off an aluminum bat. I called Haxton on the phone on Wednesday to ask about being a catch of the year nominee. Our interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.
Nick Greene: How’s your hand? Still hurting?
Geoff Haxton: It hurt really bad for two hours afterwards and then the swelling just kind of went down. It ended up being really fun. I caught the thing mostly with my left index finger, that’s where the pop really happened. But it was a lot better than I thought it was going to be. It hurt terribly.
I didn’t realize you didn’t catch it right in your palm.
You can tell from the slap of that thing. We were doing the postgame show, and we played it back like three times to hear that slap, just because it was so violent. I think it was probably going 90, 95 miles per hour when it arrived.
I was going to ask, because exit velocity is such a hot stat in baseball right now. Does the broadcast track that?
I’m just guessing. I’ve seen a lot of pitches before in my life. I was a catcher at a small college in Oklahoma for a couple years. That was just a guess. All I know is, with the violence that it hit, it was moving.
Are you a lefty?
No. I’m very, very poor with my left side. I’m all righty.
Though, if you were a righty catcher I guess you’ve had more experience catching with your left.
I’ll tell you man, those instincts just kicked in in half a second. It was moving so fast, I didn’t have time to get out of the way. If I had tried to do a dodge or something, it would have hit me. I just snared it.
How close to the field is the broadcast booth in West Virginia?
It’s kinda in-between. I’ve been to a lot of ballparks where it’s a lot further. Like at Kansas State you’re a lot closer. It’s hard to put a distance on it. We were back and to the left a little bit of home plate.
There was obviously no protection there. No plexiglass, no net. Is that something you scope out when you call games?
Not really, because it happens so rarely. I talked to the West Virginia broadcast crew and they’ve had one ball in their booth—and it’s the booth to the right of ours—they’ve had one ball in that booth since 2015, when the stadium opened.
They have weird windows at Monongalia County Ballpark. It’s like a sliding apparatus that folds. It was 38 degrees at that point. You could see your breath. [The choice] was either be closed off and not have very good sound, or crank that thing all the way from left to right. And that’s what I’m leaning on, it’s actually the window to the press box. That’s the only place I’ve ever been where it opens like that. A lot of times you just crack a window. If those windows were able to be cracked open, we would have just stuck our mic out there. But we wanted to get better sound, so we opened the whole thing up. It was cold.
I can’t imagine that helped with the pain of the ball hitting your finger.
Oh man, it felt like it was on fire afterwards. It turned blue right there at the start. I got such an adrenaline rush out of it. It was so worth it, just to make a play. It was quite a ride, internally.
If you don’t mind me asking, how many years has it been since you played college ball?
I don’t mind you asking at all. I played college baseball in 1996.
What about catching foul balls as a spectator? Ever done that?
Nope. Never have.
Are you the kind of fan who brings a glove to games?
No. I let my kids bring them. I’m always just on the lookout because I’ve seen so many instances with foul balls going into crowds and hitting people. It’s one of the worst things in the world. That’s happened a few times in Lubbock [Texas Tech’s home], so much that they’ve extended the netting now so we don’t have that problem anymore, thank goodness. When I go to games I’m on the lookout.
Your qualifications for that job are now pretty unmatchable.
It’s funny, now when I’m playing catch with my kids I feel pressure. When one’s coming at me it’s like, you gotta catch it!
I don’t know if you saw the highlight of the fan catching a ball in his nachos last week. You and him are rivals for catch of the year. Do you think that’s more or less impressive than your feat?
If I’d have had nachos I would have dropped them. He was probably able to save a few so he might have me there. The fact that he was able to risk the $10 nachos is pretty impressive.