We all at one point or another have fallen victim to the regret of taking things for granted.
Some are more aware than others of the benefits bestowed on them by birthright, with others overseeing the obvious on a daily basis.
I find myself like most, falling somewhere in between. A place where I would like to say I took advantage of the things that life has given me and at the same time quite certain I have somewhat expected them and not given them the proper praise that was due.
Growing up in California, for many, life is expecting the exceptional without acknowledging its excellence. Now, living out of state for 2 years, I realize that I fell victim to the fatal flaw of oversight.
Driving along the coast. Mexican food. Entertainment at every corner and on every day of the week. In and Out. The weather. Sometimes I like to think I soaked up every bit of the nectar of the gods that rained down from on high in the form of continual 78-degree sun rays.
Most of the time I realize it may be impossible for anyone in any state or situation to see things for what they are and simultaneously appreciate them in the moment.
However, from birth, there was one thing in my household that was revered, respected and never ever spoken over or taken for granted. This was not my father mind you. He passed that reverence on to the higher power of all figures from Calabasas to San Clemente. The voice of summer for 67 years. The Hall of Famer who called The Masters, “The Catch” and Koufax. The man who brought Americas past time from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. The legendary Vin Scully.
Hearing Vin call games was just a part of life growing up in Southern California. And I only call him by his name because he asked me to do so, the fortunate time I met him face to face. Vin Scully was the man behind the microphone. He brought the country, Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax, Hank Aaron passing the Babe, Fernando and arguably the greatest call ever made when Gibson finished his Hollywood Script in the World Series. His skill set behind the microphone studied, adorned and respected by all who were able to hear.
Sure we could argue that our city offered more culture. That living here was better than anywhere else and that In And Out was vastly superior to Whataburger or Shake Shack. But none of those came with a deep conviction. However, ask any Angelino, Vin Scully was something that we all did our best not to take for granted. Because we know he is and will be the greatest Sportscaster that sports have known. He changed the way that sports were brought to us and was the gold standard in his nearly 70 years on how to narrate athletic competition. And while none of us sat next to him in the booth, Angelinos feel they are better equipped to debate the abilities of a sportscaster than anyone else. A flaw, perhaps. But a right seemingly granted by the sports Gods, mandated by our forefathers not to be taken for granted.
Boxing fans have been reliant on the radio to bring them the stories just as much as any sport since the “radio phone” delivered Dempsey v Carpentier in 1921 to hundreds of thousands across the country. Throughout the decades the voices changing from a transatlantic accent to transcendent tenor and cadence. Boxing, much like baseball, has required authors to tell the story.
The skill required to paint the picture of any sporting event can easily be seen as a lost art. The moment is better when you have a non-biased voice, not only telling you what is happening with lightning fast accuracy, but sharing in the passion with you as it happens. What would the 9th round of Gatti -Ward be like without the drama that was built with Lampley, Merchant, and Steward in rounds 1 through 8? We knew Joe went down. But does the moment have the same power if it’s not repeated three times emphatically by Cosell?
Boxing, unlike any other sport, can intertwine the crossroads of a life long story with a swift beginning or ending behind a powerful punch. Narrating all the moments that lead to capturing that lightning in the bottle -and then relaying it to the audience, in a way that elevates it further, is next to impossible.
Now, if you will, take all of those prerequisites and preamble in one of our oldest sports, with one of its most important roles and bestow it on a female to tell the stories on its biggest network. This is the proud position granted to Crystina Poncher, by ESPN.
Crystina’s position did not come because of her gender. That would be an archaic and simplistic position taken by those not willing to accept that her skill set had put her past peers’ earning approbation to be the general working ringside. Crystina has spent her career working in the gyms, with trainers and supporting other broadcasters, garnering from them information for the fights to come, all the while growing an impressive resume of skill sets for future opportunities. Few understand growing up in Southern California where many are the dreams of being on camera and few are the opportunities to do so. This would not be something given. It indeed was earned.
Crystina had her big break come from the Hanger in Costa Mesa, a 20 -90-minute traffic dependent drive down the 405 from the Pyramid of CSULB where she went to school.
I found myself listening to her from my new home, an 18-hour drive from the church my grandfather helped build adjacent to CSULB. Even as a fight fan, I must admit that I was not tuning in simply to watch an undercard for 2 international heavyweights at the place that held the swap meet on Saturdays where my mom would get me a hot dog and churro as she perused I Love Lucy merchandise. No, my intent was the same as any Southern California native. To judge the commentary of one Crystina Poncher. Which is my birthright and obligation as both an Angelino and boxing fan.
The first thing that strikes me about Mrs. Poncher is her sense of comfort, both in front of the camera and behind the mic. In an era where authors no longer require as much preface and prologue, relying more on catchphrases and quick commentary, she remained focused on the story. Unlike many men and women who get lost in their juvenilia, there isn’t a time where she tries to compensate for the size of the moment. She doesn’t act as she belongs there, she just does. That confidence allows a listener to focus on what’s important. The pugilists.
So she has the charisma and command. But how will she handle the seminal moment that can shake even the most accomplished veteran and turn them into a vociferous rookie?
Do you ever run into someone that happens to be from your home town? Something is said or someone is referred to and an understanding is immediately shared between the two of you? Some sort of secret that doesn’t need to be spoken, but you both immediately understand simply because you were exposed to the same thing?
This was the feeling I had when the knockouts came. In Costa Mesa, as Sismundo was folded and fell flat backed. By the 5 count of Thomas Taylor, all I could hear was the crowd. The microphone not picking up the enthusiasm on Crystina’s face. Just the cheers of the audience. The same when Sonny Conto had his second consecutive knockout victory in Philadelphia. By the 5 count, all you could hear was the fans and family in attendance roar for their hometown hero.
No words were needed. She was an Angelino. She knew the secret of silence that Scully had mastered. That the best commentary can come in those crucial moments by the crowd and not the caster. This was our understanding. This was our pansophy.
When the moment came, her silence the perfect parlance that Poncher belonged.
It would be simple to think that she has this opportunity based on gender more than merit. That it was given and not garnered. That would be an oversight of the confident 13-year-old who would tell Lakers sideline reporter John Ireland that she was going to have his job someday. Of an undergrad surrounded by the distractions you would expect from a school nicknamed “The Beach”. Of someone understanding, she would need to spend time at the gym with the boxers and trainers before her time next to the ring. And of an Angelino who knew that the art of announcing isn’t always in the words that you say, but in the ones you don’t.
Crystina Ponchers’ time behind the microphone has come. Her skills a mixture of hard work and heritage. Her new career just beginning, but already cemented in its sense of history. I’m quite sure she realizes just how special this moment is. Something tells me that she won’t take it for granted. And neither should we.