tampabay.com

Not just any voice above the crowd

By KEITH NIEBUHR
Published March 20, 2005


TAMPA - Sitting on the edge of his seat, Mike Leding leans onto the press table, with a scorebook in one hand and a pen in the other. With his head creeping partially out an open window, he grabs a microphone, pulls it close to his mouth and begins to speak.

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

If you've ever been to a baseball game at Jesuit, you probably know the voice. Leding has been Jesuit's P.A. announcer since 1992 and is as much a part of the program as the players and coaches. He is affectionately known by many as "The Mouth of the Tiger" and loves the gig so much he also does junior varsity games.

"I've had a lot of fun with this over the years," Leding says.

Leding, 64, once was a member of the University of Tampa basketball broadcast team and later did Little League games on radio. By 1991, he was sharing P.A. duties at Jesuit while one of his sons played for the program.

A year later, the job was his and his alone.

"As an announcer, you've got to like what you're doing and he loves the game," says Lynan Leding, Mike's wife of 37 years.

Lynan plays an import role, too. She operates the scoreboard and cues the music during breaks.

Even the family dog is involved. Sensi, a 10-year-old German shepherd, roams through the press box during games, passing the time by taking naps under the table, sipping water and begging to be pet.

Before Saturday's opening day Saladino Tournament game between Jesuit and Armwood, Sensi, a regular here for "six or seven years" barked a couple of times during the playing of the national anthem. After the second bark, Leding walked toward the dog and quipped, "What are you, a communist?"

That humor is part of his shtick.

Leding, who owns a consulting practice, doesn't just announce names and scores. That's not his style. That wouldn't be as entertaining. He often pokes fun at the parents, most of whom he gets to know rather well. Every year on St. Patrick's Day, he announces the game with an Irish accent.

Once, after spotting an old friend in the crowd, he announced it was her 50th birthday and sang Happy Birthday with those sitting in the stands. He made it up. It wasn't her birthday and she actually was still in her 40s. When the woman walked around behind the bleachers and up a flight of stairs to the press box, she spotted Leding and said, "I should have known."

"Sometimes he needs to tone it down a little," Lynan says with a smile. "He just needs to calm down. He really doesn't have any hobbies. This is it. He loves sports. This is his hobby. When he retires, I'm going to lose my mind."

As Saturday's game gets under way, Leding's eyes are focused on the action. He keeps track of everything, every swing, every hit, every miss, every pitch. He constantly writes into the scorebook, adjusting his glasses now and then. After a double to right in the second inning, in which two runners crossed the plate and another was caught in a rundown, Leding turns to the handful of others in the press box and asks, "There was only one run that scored, right?" Almost in unison, three or four people quickly respond, ""two!"

When the third out in the second inning is recorded, Leding announces the score, then pitches Saladino programs during the break. A few moments later, he puts down the microphone for a second and peers out the window.

"I think he thinks he should be out (on the field)," Lynan says.