The voice of the man who this year is providing the television sound track for America's two most iconic championship events, the Super Bowl and World Series, continues to be on the mend. And the long recovery process has left Joe Buck introspective as he continues to work through what he calls the most difficult situation of his career, much of which has been spent as one of the nation's top sportscasters.
Buck, who will do the play-by-play of baseball's All-Star Game Tuesday night for the Fox network alongside analyst Tim McCarver, has been dealing with a nerve ailment in his left vocal cord since a virus developed there in mid-February - shortly after he broadcast the Super Bowl for Fox.
Although the virus is gone, the nerve hasn't fully recovered as he still deals with what remains of the condition. Buck has made significant recovery, which he estimates at 85-90 percent, but he still isn't able to hit the high inflections at times during excitable moments on the field and is taking singing lessons as part of his rehabilitation process.
"Theoretically it's just a matter of time'' until the voice is 100 percent, he said recently. "I'm basically 41⁄2 months from the onset of it. They told me initially it could be three, six, nine months, maybe a year. But the good thing is I continue to get better every week. Until that changes, I'm not going to worry about it'' as he says he is "striving for the last piece'' of recovery.
He considers the ailment a blessing as well as a setback because it has caused him to assess things in ways he didn't before.
"This has been professionally the hardest thing I've dealt with but at the same time the most rewarding thing I've been through,'' said Buck, 42. "I say that because it's really reminded me of how much I love doing what I do, how much maybe I took things for granted. (A normal voice) is not anything I've ever really worried about before. When that's taken away from you, you appreciate what you had and you hope you get through it. I know I'll come out on the other end a better broadcaster and more grateful for what I had.''
It also has given more perspective to a guy who grew up in St. Louis as a son of legendary Cardinals announcer Jack Buck.
"You get into this business as somebody's kid, and you get to do it in your hometown, so you duck some punches early then you go through something like this, then you remember why you love doing what you do,'' he said. "I don't mean to be sappy, but it is what I love - and I don't know that 365 days a year I realized that.''
REMAINING ON THE JOB
Buck has called all 10 baseball games he's been assigned to this season by Fox, all of them regionally - the network doesn't have a full national telecasts in the regular season. So his appearance in the All-Star Game booth will be his first nationally since the Super Bowl.
He also had the game Saturday in which the Dodgers didn't have a hit until getting two with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Padres 1-0 and called it a "big day,'' saying he was "way better.''
Meanwhile, he said Fox executives have been sympathetic to his situation.
"This has reinforced that I work in a place that has a heart,'' he said. "They've said from the beginning, ‘You can do whatever you feel like doing.' I learned as my dad's kid that unless you physically can't get there, unless you physically can't do it, you need to show up for work.''
And his voice has strengthened through the season.
"It's leaps and bounds better,'' he said.
McCarver also notices a difference.
"His voice was as strong (recently) as any time since pre-Super Bowl'' McCarver said. "I know people who follow the game are very concerned, but it certainly sounds to me like it's getting stronger week by week.''
McCarver knows how disconcerting a voice problem is for any broadcaster.
"That's his business partner,'' McCarver said, adding that even if "you're hoarse in the morning you're concerned.''
SOMETHING TO SING ABOUT
Buck is taking singing lessons from St. Louis vocalist Erin Bode to try to strengthen the voice.
"We do scales, vocal exercises every day,'' Buck said. "I run the voice up and down, get as high as I can and as low as I can. I work on breathing, too. I run out of breath faster than before.''
Bode said Buck is a willing student.
"He's been seeing doctors and speech pathologists who have told him to keep up a regular vocal exercise regimen, so he wanted somebody to help him do it in a healthy way, somebody who could relate to the kind of tone and quality he wanted to get,'' Bode said. "So together we've been working through these exercises and what feels good, what works. Mostly it's the tone we're going for, improvement on his ability to do what he wants with his voice. One of his goals is to really improve his range, so we've doing all different kinds of things.
"I think he just wanted somebody to go through these exercises with that he's supposed to be doing on his own, but it's better when he gets some feedback.''
Buck jokes that his goal is to cut an album, as McCarver has done, and Bode kidded that "if he wants to, he can'' sing with her band. On a more serious note, Bode said most of her students are young girls so she finds it's refreshing to tutor someone who uses his voice professionally.
"I've been telling my husband and some of my friends that it's nice and exciting to work with somebody who has such control over his own voice,'' she said. "We can really get into details. When you ask him to do something he does it right away.''
Buck's not a screamer on the air anyway, so high-octave intonations aren't as critical to him as they might be to other broadcasters. He was hired for his descriptions of the action, insights, humor and interactions with his partner rather than being bombastic. "I try to make what I say count,'' Buck said.
Now he is philosophical as well as optimistic while acknowledging that "it's been a test of my patience.
"But you work with what you've got,'' he said. "I can have a fully functional voice even if the nerve doesn't come back. No matter what, you have to deal with what you've got and I'm going to give it my best.''