To be clear, Grant Paulsen is already living his dream.
As an award-winning sports journalist, broadcaster and media personality, Paulsen is successful in his home market after beginning his career as a precocious, media-savvy pre-teen in King George, Virginia.
But the co-host of the Grant and Danny Show on 106.7 The Fan maintains an ambition that he shares with the inner child in many sports fans.
“My ultimate goal, my No. 1 priority, is to call play-by-play in the booth. National Football League. Major League Baseball,” said Paulsen, 32, who offered pro football predictions at age 11 on the “Late Show with David Letterman.”
Paulsen built his career by carving his own beat covering Washington teams, and many of the recent great and not-so-great moments in the city’s sports history.
But on May 1, working at home on a Friday night, he got the call he’s been waiting for his whole life and career — sort of.
It was Chris Kinard, program director at 106.7, offering Paulsen the chance to broadcast the next two Nationals’ games on Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN), the Nats’ television home.
But there was an unexpected twist: The team was seeking a short-notice fill-in for analyst F.P. Santangelo, who was out for the entire series against the Miami Marlins, May 1-3.
“It would not have stunned me if I found out before the fact that at some point I got to call a game on the radio, based on my radio experience,“ said Paulsen.
“But to have gotten the call to do color commentary, on television, was not something I had expected or envisioned, but it was quite a thrill.”
Traditionally, television play-by-play announcers are professional broadcasters, working with a former player or manager in the analyst chair.
“I was going to be playing out of position,” said Paulsen. ”That was a stunning revelation, and very nerve-racking.”
Still, it was an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“My heart was beating out of my chest,” he said. “I was super nervous, but one of those things: When you get the call, you get the opportunity. Even if you feel like you’re not ready.”
There wasn’t a whole lot of time to get ready, either. It was almost midnight Friday, and his first game was Saturday at 1 p.m.
“I’ve done some Capitals pre- and post-game shows on NBC Sports Washington, but at that moment, I was not what I would consider to be TV-ready,” he explained.
Like many people during during the past year of the pandemic, Paulsen has been working from home for most of the past year. He needed a haircut, and his only suit was already at the cleaner.
“So I had to get a hold of my brother, who lives in Woodbridge, and make a plan between, midnight and 7 a.m., or so, to get a suit.”
It wasn’t until after 9:30 the next morning, when he took his seat next to play-by-play man Dan Kolko, that he could start preparing for his role in the 1 p.m. broadcast.
“I would have preferred a 7:05 game but you don’t get to pick,” said Paulsen.
Here’s where being a professional radio host comes in handy.
“You’re not cold. You know, the team because it’s part of your job anyway,” he explained.
“I talk about the team every single day on the radio, extensively. I watch every single inning of every single game. I don’t just do it because It’s my job, but because I love baseball and I’m passionate about it, and I’m a fan.”
Lineups, stats, trends, backstories — as a student of the game, Paulsen had already done a good part of the homework.
“I kind of live it in the sense that it’s one of my biggest passions. So in that regard, just from a sheer Nationals standpoint, I was prepared then,” he said.
His weekly baseball show on MLB Network Radio came in handy, too, when it came to prepping for the Marlins.
“That puts me in a position where I watch baseball nationally because I talked about all the teams on a national outlet,” he said. “I had some knowledge to fall back on and allowed me to kind of pick and choose what I want to spend a few hours prepping.”
Paulsen had another challenge. His broadcast partner, Kolko, was working his first series as a play-by-play announcer, moving over from the pregame show to call the game when veteran Bob Carpenter took time off for a family event.
Paulsen and Kolko may have both been rookies in that sense, but they were hardly strangers, and they both know what to do when the light goes on.
In fact, Paulsen and Kolko had just spoken the previous day, for the first time in a while, on Kolko’s weekly radio show. Paulsen had congratulated Kolko on his new gig, and the two shared a laugh the next day when Paulsen showed up in the booth.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better situation,” said Paulsen, describing Kolko as, “someone who was very comfortable with me. It’s the guy I’ve known for years and talk ball with.”
Paulsen sought advice from some professional colleagues before the game, and what they told him made him more comfortable playing out of position.
“Just be yourself. Don’t try to be a former player,” Paulsen said his confidantes told him. “Don’t pretend like you played at a high level. Don’t try to replace F.P. or anybody else.
“I’m not going to be the guy breaking down swing paths and going through the mechanics of a pitcher, it’s not what I do.
“My goal was to be me. They called me; they get me.“
So Paulsen set out to have a free-flowing conversation about the game with Kolko, responding to the play-by-play calls and not trying feign expertise.
“Be personable, talk baseball, have a little fun. Talk about something that may may not be baseball, occasionally,’ said Paulsen.
“My priority was to make sure that Dan and I had a good rhythm and a good rapport, and that he was comfortable, and that the conversation was informed and that information was being provided.”
Paulsen got immediate professional feedback.
Jim Duquette, former general manager of the Mets and the Orioles, is a longtime friend and veteran of the TV analyst chair. He called with some advice for Paulsen about replays.
He discussed a fly ball to left fielder Kyle Schwarber and a throw to the plate, where Paulsen talked about Schwarber’s defensive ability and arm. Duquette told Paulsen to speak more to what was being shown on the replay monitor, rather than offer his take on Schwarber’s talent.
“‘What the viewers are seeing at home, is that monitor, that replay. You saw him throw a one-hopper, and Gomes doesn’t get the ball. React to that more,’” Paulsen said his mentor told him.
“I thought that was really good advice,” said Paulsen, adding that he had an opportunity to put it to use the next day when he worked again with Kolko on the Nats broadcast.
Paulsen’s Instagram and Twitter feeds were full of unsolicited advice.
“People are very comfortable telling you that you’re not good at something, even if you don’t know them,” Paulsen said.
The main feedback there?
“Don’t talk so much. Let the game breathe,” said Paulsen. “As a broadcaster, and as a play-by-play guy, I subscribe to those things. But again, I wasn’t really trying to be a traditional color person.”
Paulsen agrees that broadcasters have to innovate, especially in today’s media landscape, where one game can be broadcast on network TV, the next on a social media, and the one after that on regional cable.
Paulsen wore the borrowed suit for the May 2 broadcast, and the next day, he and Kolko were rocking slacks and navy blue MASN polo shirts. Paulsen’s wardrobe from that day is a memento he’ll cherish forever.
“I got to keep my polo” said Paulsen. “It’s the only team polo that I have.”
Paulson believes his on-the-job crash course in TV baseball analysis put him that much closer to his ultimate goal.”
“Even though it was not expected, and only for a couple of days, and not in the role I would have assumed, that was one of the thrills of a lifetime and the thrills of my career,” he said.
“And I really appreciate the Nationals and whoever really came to the conclusion or decision that that was the way they were going to go because it’s one of the coolest things that has ever happened.”