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Outside the Batter’s Box

Benjamin Shaeffer’s double life as an HSU philosophy professor and Crabs’ baseball announcer

It’s a brisk June night in downtown Arcata as Benjamin Shaeffer arrives at the ballpark around 6:30 in the evening. He climbs up the ladder to the media booth, sets his personal belongings down, and says hello to the other people working in the booth that night.

Before the game starts, Shaeffer will usually talk to the others in the booth about world events of that day, philosophical musings, or about how bad the Giants are doing. He looks over the lineups for both teams, noting the pronunciation of the players’ names and he fills out his fielding chart, putting a player’s name in each position on the baseball diamond.

It’s around 6:45 p.m. when Shaeffer gets ready to put his voice on air, connecting to hundreds of radios, phones, and computers across Humboldt County and beyond. He puts his headset on, waits for the countdown to go on air, then begins the broadcast with, “Good evening Crabs fans around the world and around the block, on the world wide web, and on the radio, it’s time for Crabs baseball!”

Shaeffer is the current philosophy department chair and for almost 10 months of the year he teaches philosophy full time at Humboldt State University. For two months every summer, he spends his evenings in the Arcata Ballpark broadcast booth.

Shaeffer grew up in the Southern California city of El Monte, 13 miles east of downtown Los Angeles at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains. Journalism was his primary interest as he was the editor of his high school paper and then majored in journalism at Pasadena City College. But it wasn’t long before he started to lose interest in journalism, and it was then that he began to find what he believed to be his true calling in life.

“When I discovered philosophy, I realized that these are the questions I’ve been wondering about my whole life. I just didn’t know that you could get paid to ask them.”

Benjamin Shaeffer

“It seemed like it was more about selling papers than it was about informing people what was going on in the world,” Shaeffer said. “When I discovered philosophy, I realized that these are the questions I’ve been wondering about my whole life, I just didn’t know that you could get paid to ask them.”

Shaeffer went on to get his bachelor’s degree at UC Santa Cruz and then later received his Ph.D. at UC Santa Barbara. In 1998, not long after earning his degree at UCSB, Shaeffer accepted what he thought at the time was a one-year teaching position at Humboldt State University. Like many students and faculty who make the trek from LA to Humboldt, Shaeffer was not sure what to expect and was anxious about living in an unfamiliar place so far from home. He was certain that he wasn’t going to be in Humboldt for long and imagined he would return to his job in SoCal soon.

“I had this image of Humboldt,” Shaeffer said. “I thought I was going to live in the woods and it was going to be quiet like a small town. But when I got to Eureka and saw the Bayshore Mall, I was a little bit upset.”

Benjamin Shaeffer fills out his scorebook prior to the game. | Photo by Liam Warner

Aside from his interest in philosophy, a constant presence and a dear friend throughout Shaeffer’s life has been baseball. Shaeffer does not consider himself a sports fan as he has never been interested in other popular sports like basketball or football, but when it comes to baseball, he can recall the exact moment he fell in love with the sport.

“When I was seven, at the end of the street I grew up on, there was a park with a little league field,” Shaeffer said. “I remember going down there and just being fascinated by watching these kids plays baseball. I started to play as soon as I was old enough to play, but I didn’t get past little league.”

Thankfully, it wasn’t long before Shaeffer discovered the Humboldt Crabs baseball team that played their summers in downtown Arcata.

“I was in heaven,” Shaeffer said.”I started to hang out at the games, and in 1999 there was an opening for a ballpark announcer. I wanted to be the ballpark announcer.”

Although Shaeffer didn’t get the ballpark announcing gig, there was an opening for an official scorer and he took that position. After being the official scorer for a year and hanging out in the booth next to the radio broadcasters, Shaeffer was given a chance to be on the radio. He would then join Robert “Hoke” Holcomb on the Crabs radio broadcast, and that started a summer tradition that continues to this day.

“I always said that if you didn’t get along with Benjamin Shaeffer you had a personality disorder and you needed to see somebody.”

Hoke Holcomb

“So I sat right next to [the radio broadcasters],” Shaeffer said. “I would interject things over the air, and then after the first season Hoke asked me if I wanted to volunteer. He asked me ‘why don’t you be my color man?'”

Benjamin Shaeffer and Hoke Holcomb would develop both an on-air and off-air friendship that would last 19 summers before Hoke retired at the end of the 2018 season. Shaeffer and Hoke both came from an academic background, were politically active, but most importantly loved the game of baseball, and that made for instant on-air chemistry.

“I always said that if you didn’t get along with Benjamin Shaeffer you had a personality disorder and you needed to see somebody,” Holcomb said. “I think he brings enthusiasm to the broadcast without having that enthusiasm drown out what he’s conveying.”

Throughout his summers as the voice of the Crabs, Shaeffer has brought a unique perspective to the sport of baseball, often sprinkling philosophical musings throughout the broadcast. His philosophical background allows him to view the game in a different light, valuing the slow and building moments of the game rather than the high energy, action-packed moments.

Photo by Liam Warner

“I think the thing about baseball that is philosophical is its slowness and its meditative quality,” Shaeffer said. “It creates tension and that’s the source of its excitement, rather than speed and things moving really fast. It builds to these moments of tension that have to get resolved.”

Tim “Tres” O’Brien is one of the Crabs’ current ballpark announcers. He worked in the booth back in 2004 and then returned to his ballpark announcing duties in 2016. Tres has listened to Shaeffer both in the booth and on the radio, and he talked about what made Shaeffer a unique baseball announcer.

“Benjamin, while I think his style is more straightforward, he would have intellectual humor that would come out here and there,” O’Brien said. “He would ‘mini ponder’ about a certain play, and he would bring this other element to announcing a baseball game.”

Shaeffer’s day job might be teaching philosophy for most of the year, but to him, there is no better place to be during the summer than high up on that perch above the Arcata Ballpark, watching baseball.

“If I find somewhere where there’s baseball, I go,” Shaeffer said.

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