By: Neil Best
April 2nd, 2015
Steve Gelbs is 28, around the age at which Kevin Burkhardt was selling cars in Eatontown, New Jersey, and wondering whether he ever would have a real career in sportscasting.
So Gelbs’ career path already is following a faster, straighter path than that of his predecessor as SNY’s Mets reporter.
But he knows full well fans inevitably will compare him to Burkhardt, who by the time he left SNY last autumn was a much-liked figure whom Fox is treating as a rising national star.
Is Gelbs troubled by that reality? He said he is not, insisting he will be his own man.
“Kevin was and still is, if he wants to be, the best at this job that exists, and he really redefined what it was to be a field reporter,” Gelbs said.
“From my perspective, to go in and try to be Kevin Burkhardt right away, it wouldn’t work, because I’m not Kevin Burkhardt. I’m Steve Gelbs.”
It helped, Gelbs said, that he did around 50 games last season as a fill-in. It also helped that Burkhardt has been accessible at every step, even calling him the day he left for spring training to offer advice.
“This isn’t a layup that he would be as friendly and helpful as he was to me,” Gelbs said. “He doesn’t have to be. That’s who Kevin is.”
Even though Burkhardt has departed, the rest of SNY’s Mets crew remains intact entering its 10th season, including the producer, director and all three booth announcers.
Gelbs said the magnitude of the company he will be keeping struck him during a meeting before last season that he attended in preparation for his fill-in duties.
“I remember looking around the table and saying, there’s Gary Cohen, there’s Ron Darling, there’s Keith Hernandez; something here doesn’t belong,” he said. “It is a pinch-yourself moment every now and then, but they have been extremely helpful.
“You know none of these guys are going to drop the ball and that kind of pushes me to make sure I’m even more prepared than maybe I have to be, because I don’t want to be the weak link.”
Gelbs, who grew up in Connecticut, graduated from Syracuse in 2009 and worked for four years at MSG Varsity, is no stranger to big-time sports events.
For much of the 1990s his father, Scott — who grew up in North Massapequa — worked as a physical therapist for the Rangers. During the 1994 Stanley Cup Final, he was assigned to work from the bench area because coach Mike Keenan deemed him a good-luck charm of sorts.
So at age 7, Steve Gelbs found himself attending Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals between the Rangers and Devils, then Game 1 of the Cup Final against the Canucks.
Thus, it is no surprise that his favorite hockey team is the Rangers. But there also is this: He was a Yankees fan as a child. Uh, oh.
“Yes, I grew up a Yankees fan, but so did Matt Harvey,” he said. Touche.
But that’s over now. “I think as a journalist; I’m not a fan of anybody,” he said. “I’m out there covering a team.”
Even if he approaches the job as a journalist, there is no denying a Mets turnaround would make the long grind of a baseball season more pleasant. In his eight seasons, Burkhardt never covered the Mets in the playoffs.
Gelbs is ready for his closeup and determined to smell the mowed grass along the way.
“As a kid, there was no greater feeling than recognizing, OK, I’m at a baseball game,” he said. “So, every day I walk out and stand on that dirt and look at where I am and . . . recognize the opportunity you have here, that this is your job.
“You are on a major-league baseball field covering a major-league team, and have fun with it. I say that to myself every day, and hopefully that comes across.”