Over the past two weeks, voting for ESPN’s Greatest All-Time College Baseball Team was underway, asking fans to decide who are the greatest players in the history of college baseball. Four of the greats nominated are also on-air analysts for ESPN and its college networks, stepping successfully from the batter’s box to the booth in the next phase of their careers.
While the quartet of Ben McDonald, Keith Moreland, Greg Swindell and Todd Walker are some of the best to play the game, how do they stack up as teammates now?
Front Row checked in with their play-by-play partners for the inside scoop ahead of tonight’s reveal show (8 p.m. ET | ESPNU).
BEN MCDONALD (RHP LSU, 1987-89) IN THE WORDS OF HIS PXP TEAMMATE TOM HART:Ben McDonald is the poster boy for not judging a book by its cover – even if the picture on the cover is a
6-foot, 9-inch flamethrower with a flat top and wearing camouflage tennis shoes. He will disarm you with his drawl, and draw you in with a downhome folksiness that’s often lost in our hurried world.
Ben is so unassuming I had to encourage him during a commercial break to tell a story about Hall of Famer Cal Ripken on air.
“You think people would really care ’bout that?!” he asked.
“Yes!,” I replied.
Ben’s one of a kind.
He’s an impressionist with an incredible sense of humor. He’s as reliable as a 1950’s flattop. He makes a mean Manhattan and can tear down the biggest oak, usually in the same night.
It’s not just that he’s had the same haircut forever; he’s had the same barber his entire life! I’m thankful we’ve been allowed to wear golf shorts on air because Ben’s sense of formal style is straight out of the 1991 JC Penney catalog.
How do you pass a rain delay in the booth with Ben McDonald? Do what I’ve done:
- Convince him to recreate his Sports Illustrated cover by holding seven (!!!) baseballs in one hand.
- Have him put catcher’s gear on for an impromptu bullpen session on the dangers of a wild pitch.
- Challenge him to perform ’80’s-style aerobics and calisthenics and laugh hysterically as he does his best “Olivia Newton-John.”
— Ben McDonald (@realbenmcdonald) July 3, 2016
My scouting report on Ben McDonald:
TODD WALKER (LSU 2B, 1992-94) IN THE WORDS OF PXP TEAMMATE DAVE NEAL:
My first thought about Todd is he is just a first-round kind of guy. You would have no idea he was one of the better big league hitters of his time. However, when you start talking “ball,” his passion for the game jumps right at you.
Not only can he discuss the fine points of hitting, but he is also one the best storytellers I’ve had the pleasure of working within any sport, and that would cover a lot of analysts over the last 25 years!
One problem: Some stories are less for the booth and more for our postgame re-hydration sessions. Sometimes I cringe when I get assigned a late game with Todd, because that usually means trying to find food well past midnight, and for a guy that just lost a bunch of weight, that is no bueno.
I’m the luckiest guy at ESPN to get to work with this crew. They are great analysts, but even better people. – Dave Neal on ESPN’s college baseball analysts
Todd is also not afraid to bust your chops. If I were to rank our baseball analysts as far as “chop-busters” go, here’s the order:
- 1. Ben [McDonald]
- 2. Todd [Walker]
- 3. KP [Kyle Peterson]
- 4. Burkie [Chris Burke]
- 5. Roons [Mike Rooney]
I’m the luckiest guy at ESPN to get to work with this crew. They are great analysts, but even better people.
KEITH MORELAND (TEXAS, 3B, 1973-75) AND GREG SWINDELL (TEXAS, LHP, 1984-86) IN THE WORDS OF THEIR PxP TEAMMATE LOWELL GALINDO:
Greg and Keith were both amazingly talented and accomplished in their playing careers at the University of Texas. They are two of the best to play the game, period – that makes it even more hilarious when they are asked for credentials before stepping onto [Texas’] Disch-Falk Field. They often point up and behind home plate where their name, number, and years played at Texas are prominently displayed.
This either gets an uneasy chuckle from security (“Like, yeah right, and I’m Roger Clemens”) or flat-out denied access. That’s when I get to step-in (credential in hand) and say, this really is Keith Moreland and this is Greg Swindell.
Keith is a first-team All-American in:
- Culinary skills: We look forward to our week in Waco, Texas, for the Little League World Series because Keith always delivers with a crawfish or shrimp boil. The man takes pride in making sure everyone on the team knows how much he appreciates them.
- Texas geography: Keith knows the name and pronunciation of every small town in Texas. He knows which towns have a Whataburger, where to find the closest Dairy Queen and at least one notable person from that town.
- Texas “swang”: “Wednesday” is “Whens-duy.” “Washer” is “Wersher.” Legit Texas swang.
Greg is a first-team All-American in:
- Mascot trivia: Greg works hard at preparing at least an inning’s worth of historical facts about the mascot of the opposing team. He knows the name, the year created, and any random backstory about that mascot. This is easily the most entertaining inning of each series.
- An understanding of what makes Keith tick: Greg and I enjoy laughing at dumb stuff that often has nothing to do with baseball. We have simple inside jokes like calling the look when a player wears his pants high with exposed socks “sweep socks”. We often use this phrase a lot because
we both understand for whatever reason it drives Keith nuts. We like that.
- Requesting food over the air: It all started when we were sponsored by an Austin-based cookie company called Tiff’s Treats. Our promotion was called “The Warm Cookie Moment.”
Yep. It was called that. Greg ended every segment with “I like warm cookies,” and what do you know? We got free cookies delivered to the booth. Now, anytime we show a fan eating any type of food, Greg will follow with “I like nachos” or “I like tacos.”
— greg swindell (@GregSwindell) February 22, 2020