Archived Story

What is your favorite sports sound?

Published 10:10am Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Column: Pothole Prairie

The crack of the bat is the quintessential sports sound. Whether metal or wood, that noise informs people throughout the neighborhood that a ballgame is being played. Come watch. In some cases, come join.

The audio reverberations of a ball hitting a bat arrive every spring in my Ward 2 neighborhood here in Albert Lea. I live a block north of Hayek Field. In our case, it is the “tink” of a metal bat. Children walk down the street to watch the game and, for some, buy an early supper at the concession stand. It’s a nice slice of Americana.

What is your favorite sports sound, besides the fans cheering and jeering?

Wooden baseball bats go “crack,” not “tink.” I like the sound of wooden bats better than metal ones. Baseball also has the “swoosh” of a sliding base runner, the “pop” of a ball slamming into a first baseman’s glove and the classic way umpires say “steerike!”

Basketball has the lovely “squeak” of sneakers rubbing against the hardwood floor. It happens so much that it becomes part of the background noise, and you don’t even notice it. The same goes for the repeated “doing” of the ball being dribbled. The most celebrated noise in basketball is the “woosh” of a basketball going clean through the basket without hitting the rim. Of course, players don’t mind the “ca-chunk” of a ball hitting the rim as long as it still goes in. You can’t talk about basketball sounds without mentioning the quick whistles the officials blow for fouls and for stopping and starting the clock. Let’s not forget that lovely long “hoooonk” blared through the arena when players substitute or when timeouts are over.

The pigskin itself rarely makes the notable sounds in football, except the “thud” made when a kicker boots it through the uprights. No, this sport’s audio track comes from the “clack” made when linemen collide, the “crunch” made when defenders hit ball carriers and the “grunts” made throughout each play, particularly during tackles. Here again, the whistles of officials are part of the soundtrack. They are longer and more frequent than basketball, as they seek to get the players to stop mauling each other: “Tweeeet. Tweet! Tweet! Tweet! Tweet!”

Hockey has its whistles and horns, too, but somehow hockey arenas always have more of an echo then basketball gyms. Is it the ice? Hockey is known for the blows, and the sounds of players, skates and the puck hitting the boards is frequent, but the best sound is the “slap” made when the stick slams into the puck for a shot on the net.

The sounds of tennis resemble clockwork. The hushed “bump” of the ball on the court and the “bonk” of it off rackets back and forth give it a rhythm, until one player gets the other out of step. And through the game, the “squeak” of sneakers on concrete becomes background noise, though it is louder than the other game sounds, such as the sound of hustle or the wide array of grunts and groans players belch.

Golf offers players the “whooosh-pop” of a metal-plated club swinging through air then hitting a plastic-covered ball. The seeming silence of the ball in the air — it’s just too far away to hear it hurtle through the air — is almost a sports sound in itself, like a home run ball headed toward the fence. But the best sound in golf is that “tappity-tap-tap” of the ball going into the cup.

The “ching” of a plastic disc crashing into metal chains is my favorite sports sound. It can be especially lovely to cap off an ace, a long birdie or even a beautiful par save. When a disc hits the pole that holds the basket up, it makes a “teng” vibrato, which, oddly enough, I associate with tengstrom, my first initial and my last name. The worst sound in disc golf is the “hack” noise discs make when they hit a tree.

Some other great sports sounds:

• The echo and splashes associated with a swim meet.

• The starting gun at track meets and the light pulse noise made by feet on the track.

• The sound of a high jumper landing in cushions or a long jumper landing in sand.

• The hard “bam” of a skateboard and its rider successfully returning to the pavement.

• The “swoosh, swish, swoosh” of skiers taming a steep slope.

• A fish pulling on a fishing line, making the reel go “zzzzz zzzzzz” before the fisher starts reeling in the catch. What’s better during a catch, that reel noise or the “splash” of a fish at the surface?


Tribune Managing Editor Tim Engstrom’s column appears every Tuesday.