CHAVEZ RAVINE, CA – I had a good plan, it involved painting the dog poop in my back yard like Easter eggs. That way I finally get my kids to clean up out there! It didn’t meet with much success. Success, at least yesterday, went by the name of Bubba, who looks a bit like the genetic mash-up of Max Fischer and Danny Noonan. This Bubba may not strike you as very Bubba-esque at first glance -what with his pink clubs and all. But the man does own his very own General Lee. A green jacket will absolutely clash with that hot orange exterior but there’s also something kinda punk about it, so I look forward to those pix.
Now that I’ve covered the obligatory top news story, let’s turn to baseball. The Yanks and Red Sox are oh and six between them, while the Mets and Baltimore are 3-0, the Mariners are 3-1, and even the Royals took two of the opening three from the mighty Anaheim Angels. Just like The Masters, which has had six different champions in the last six years, the baseball season’s first weekend gives anybody hope…
And what gives me hope is that in a world of crappy announcers, I’ve still got Vin Scully to listen to. I can – and do – listen to as many out-of-town guys as I can during the season and while there are a few good ones out there, the majority are dull, two-person booths just kind of parroting stats at each other. Scully strives for the storyline… even it doesn’t always work. But with his lyrical tone and incredible timing, even when he starts weaving with an odd string you’ve soon got a tapestry. I was reminded of this right away this year, listening to him in last week’s final exhibition game between the Dodgers and Angels:
You can practically hear Scully looking over the notes on the 23-year old rookie (who will make the cut and stay with the big club when they break camp the next day) the way you expect announcers to do with “Minor League Guys” …
“Amarista in spring training hit .345. He’s a kid from Barcelona, but it’s Barcelona in Venezuela. I didn’t know there were two of them. His first swing in his major league career last year he doubled and drove in two runs in a game where the Angels won.”
Vin’s Google search on him seems to have paid some dividends with this fun little tidbit, the kind you’d find in any box score, and this is probably where most announcers would leave it.
“So two on two out (pop, the pitch hits the catcher’s mitt) and ball one, now the bases loaded following the walk to Trumbo and the one ball no strike…”
Even when Scully slightly loses his place in the game there, saying “two on” when it’s actually bases loaded – an honest and forgivable enough gaffe that a lot of announcers would either ignore or get distracted at – Scully quickly and seamlessly corrects himself, his eyes apparently never leaving the media guide’s stats…
“Amarista by the way is 5 feet 6 and 150 pounds, he’s listed that he can play second base shortstop and what he’s doing tonight…center field!”
“Well Rice is in a lot of trouble now 2-0…”
So, up to this point you’re saying, all right WCC, so far Scully sounds like any other guy with a microphone…and you’re right…but then he goes somewhere totally unexpected…
“Amarista’s father was shot to death in a home invasion robbery in Venezuela last November. Just hours earlier Amarista had talked to his dad…”
“That’s a high strike… And when he got that first swing for the double to drive in two runs they asked him after the game what were you thinking of? And the youngster said ‘I was thinking of my dad.‘”
Out of nowhere comes this horrible story; a bracing bucket of cold water. A brief snapshot at what life for a lot of these young players can entail, something the kids on your local Pony League team will never have to consider in their lives… and yet Scully delivers it matter-of-factly. He doesn’t linger on it. There isn’t an iota of clucking indignation or judgement or even pity. And this kind of story could never happen in a two-person booth where announcers are compelled to react to each other and offer up some less-than-sincere shock or commentary. Instead, what you hear in Scully’s voice, especially in the way he intoned “My da-ad.” – is a smile. A sweet, goddamn heartbreaking smile. The smile of a man who can boil the tragedy down to a bittersweet affirmation of a son’s love for his father and vice-versa and just blow away anything happening on the field at that or any other moment that night.
“Two and one. Ground ball fair ball fields to the bag and the inning is over.”
Amarista didn’t come through in this situation but it hardly mattered. More to the point, as he has done night in and night out for over 60 years, Vin Scully delivered a perfectly structured story built around the natural lulls between the punctuations of each pitch, and timed it perfectly with the end of the inning. Pure pro.
P.s… Did someone say “Barcelona?” Watch this oldie but goodie: