Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept.
3:15 p.m. Wednesday, Yankee Stadium
Kevin Burkhardt has arrived in the Bronx after a long drive from the Jersey Shore. Technically, it's a road game, but one that is closer to his actual home than are Mets home games.
He'll take it, a tiny respite in the grind of the baseball season, even if it does mean two evenings in the sometimes unfriendly confines of Yankee Stadium.
And anyway, inside the visiting clubhouse, he clearly feels at home after seven seasons as SNY's Mets reporter.
By 3:50, he is looking at the daily priority list he makes for himself and starting at the first item, John Buck, with whom he wants to discuss the dynamic of the relationship between catchers and umpires.
Fifteen minutes later, several pages are filled with notes and Burkhardt has a conversation-starter he will deploy four innings into the Mets' blowout victory, more than four hours later.
Soon he is on to item No. 2, a five-minute talk with Lucas Duda about swinging more often at the first pitch. The chat will turn into another give-and-take with the booth in the sixth inning.
This is how things should work but often don't among reporters who cover teams for regional sports networks.
"I'm not going to say I broke the mold, but I do think hopefully I got in there and showed that someone in that role can be versatile and be not just a tape-head but an actual journalist," he said.
"We still have fun and do goofy stuff when it's right and I do a lot of human-interest things, too. But I think there is value to having someone who knows the game and can report, if need be, on whether K-Rod is punching his father-in-law in the face, or whatever it is."
Visitors take batting practice last, so road games mean more locker-room time, and Burkhardt spends 15 minutes of it shooting the breeze with pitcher Scott Rice, partly about the vibe of his first Subway Series.
That, too, will turn up on the telecast during Burkhardt's third in-game appearance, about his average. Producer Gregg Picker told him early on there is no formula.
"He said, 'I don't care if you're on seven times or one time,' " Burkhardt said. "It can take time to get stuff. He knows I'm working my butt off, and he's great about it."
Burkhardt, 39, is but one element of one of the most well-regarded local telecasts in pro sports, with most of the attention naturally going to booth announcers Gary Cohen, Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez.
But with Picker's urging and his colleagues' support, Burkhardt has expanded the role over time. Now many more regional sports networks have added elements that SNY helped pioneer, such as in-game interviews with pitchers whose work is done.
On this day, Burkhardt still is on a professional high from Tuesday, when he spent most of the night sitting with Dwight Gooden behind home plate at Citi Field, analyzing Matt Harvey in real time.
"Awesome," Burkhardt said of the experience.
Such risk-taking dates to his first season, when he got into a kayak in McCovey Cove in San Francisco. In 2010 he conducted a memorable in-game interview in Cleveland with Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller, which Burkhardt called "a surreal moment."
"I love what our broadcast and Gregg has done to not be afraid to take chances," Burkhardt said.
There won't be any chance-taking in the Bronx this night. He once tried doing a piece on Roll Call in the bleachers and was promptly (but politely) kicked out of the area by stadium security.
Burkhardt will watch all but the first, eighth and ninth innings of Wednesday's game from the camera well just beyond the Mets' dugout, undisturbed.
No sport affords more access than baseball, even after the clubhouse closes and everyone moves to the field for BP.
Manager Terry Collins sees Burkhardt, walks over and good-naturedly says, "Where you been? Blew off the press conference?" (Burkhardt still was in the locker room when Collins spoke pregame.)
Burkhardt corrals Daniel Murphy for an on-camera interview for the pregame, then finds hitting coach Dave Hudgens leaning on the back of the cage. They spend 10 minutes talking more about Duda and first pitches.
By 6 p.m. he is in the media dining room, meeting informally with Picker and the game announcers, then back to the field for his 6:36 pregame appearance -- soon after making a nice catch leaning over the dugout railing when a fan throws him a baseball to sign.
(Burkhardt has many fans these days, some in high places. While he has a season left on his SNY deal, Fox long has had its eye on him and likely will use him for regular NFL play-by-play work this fall. He has done some baseball play-by-play for Fox and has filled in for Cohen on SNY.)
After a quick dinner back upstairs, the first pitch is thrown and his second four-hour shift begins -- watching and talking about the game, then conducting interviews.
"Tonight everything I had fit perfectly," he says when it's over. "But there are nights nothing I have fits perfectly.
"A lot of what we've done has worked. Some of it hasn't. But I love the fact we are creative and it's allowed the role to expand instead of just coming in and saying, 'You're going to do X, and that's all you're going to do.' "