It all began in 1957. I was eleven years old, my family lived in Southern California, and my hard-working father was beside himself with excitement. The Brooklyn Dodgers were moving to Los Angeles. He explained to me that one Saturday when he was a boy living in Kansas, a farmer hooked up a radio to a tractor battery and he listened to his first major league baseball game. It was the Booklyn Dodgers and he became an instant fan.

Eagerly awaiting their arrival in L. A., each day dad would regale me with the names and stories of their star players such as Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snyder, Gil Hodges, and his favorite, Roy Campanella. We could never have known then the impact this team’s move would have on our lives.

In late January, 1958, I awoke to see my father in tears. His favorite player, Roy Campanella, had been paralized in a tragic automobile accident. Dad was devastated.

On April 18, 1958, my father and mother attended the very first Dodger game at the Los Angeles Coliseum. My mother loved it even though she knew very little about baseball. Fortunately, the Dodger’s radio play-by-play announcer was a red-haired young man named Vin Scully. Not only did he call the games, knowing his audience was in great part new to the sport, he saught to inform and educate them about every aspect of the game.

He carefully explained everything from the strange gestures of the third base coach called “signs” to the funny sounding stategy called a “squeeze play.” Listening to Vin Scully, my mother, and countless others would become not only baseball fans but true experts. He also taught the history of the game with great reverance. In fact, Dodger fans so enjoyed listening to “Vinny”, as we came to call him, almost everyone attending games would bring a radio so they could both watch and listen. This became so common; the public address announcer would begin each game by asking the crowd to turn their radios down. Despite the announcement, Vinny’s voice still echoed throughout the stadium during the game.

Every night we listened to Vin Scully and the Dodgers. We ate meals, did homework, watched a little television, had family discussions, but Vinny’s voice was always in the air. Our family breakfast almost always began with, “Last night Vinny said . . .”

One summer night late in a season, the Dodgers, who were still playing in the Colesium, were locked in a tight pennant race with the Giants. I’ve forgotten who the Dodgers were playing, but my father took the whole family to the game. Our seats were way out beyond the screen in left field, and as usual, the stadium was filled with radios.

At some point in the last few innings, Vinny made telephone contact with someone in San Francisco and began to call both games simultaneously. The Dodgers won their game, but the crowd stayed seated listening to Vinny call the Giants game. The Colesium was owned by the city and the workers must have wanted to go home. As it grew very late on this hot summer night, with my family and thousands of others listening to Vinny, the lights of the Colesium were turned out. There we were, thousands of us sitting in the dark in this huge stadium listening to Vinny and loving every minute of it. It is one of my fondest childhood memories.

My family’s relationship with Vin Scully and baseball has only grown stronger over the years. I loved playing baseball and eventually played winter ball with the Angels before injuring my arm and going into the military. Married, my wife and I were blessed with three sons, all of whom played baseball. One actually became a professional player and another became a television sports producer who had the priviledge of working with Vin for a number of years.

For his 87th birthday, my late father, a WWII veteran was honored at Dodger Stadium and threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Vin had an autographed ball for Dad sent to our seats. Watching the recorded game later, we were thrilled to see Vin had replayed Dad’s pitch to honor him.  Typical Vin.

It’s not surprising in a world filled with increasing self promotion and lack of civility, this consistant voice of calm, humanity, and humility still relates to fans as beloved family.

A few years ago our son Michael, who was working a Dodger broadcast in Arizona, asked my wife and I who were traveling nearby to meet him at his hotel. When we met in the lobby, our son introduced us to several of the players and broadcasters as they gathered to leave for the game. As a fan since childhood, I’ve seen Vin Scully hundreds of times at games, but now he was walking toward us and I saw our son motion him and say, “Vin, I’d like you to meet my parents.” “Sure Mike,” said Vin.

It is worth noting, I’m not star struck. I’ve worked at movie studios, music venues, and lived in southern California for many years. I’ve seen and even met more than my share of celebrities. This was different. This was Vin Scully, my hero. We chatted for a few minutes, and knowing he was going to have to leave for the game, I wanted to say one more thing to him.

“Vin, before you go I want you to know how much you have meant to me and my family through the years. At our breakfast table we called you by your first name because we considered you to be a member of our family. If a game ran late I would listen to you on my radio under the covers so my parents wouldn’t know I was still awake.

Occasionally, when a Dodger hit a homerun and you would begin your call “There’s a long fly ball . . . .,” and I would let out a yell. My mother would come running down the hall to make sure I was O.K. and I would tell her I was having a dream.”

Vin smiled, shook my hand, and said, “John, I put a lot of people to sleep that way.”

Thank you Vin.

 

Advertisements