Wednesday, October 29, 2014

At least I wasn't naked

This is not a baseball post (even though baseball is involved and tonight is game seven of the World Series). It’s a real life version of that nightmare we all have. You know the one – it’s the day of your final and you were never in class and you woke up late and forgot your bluebook, etc. Or you’re on stage and know none of your lines and your costume is falling apart and your throat is parched so you can’t speak. For a baseball announcer, the equivalent would be you’re on the air, you’re totally unprepared, and you have no idea what’s going on in the game. I had that happen to me. In REAL LIFE.  And to make matters worse, it was my first game ever in the major leagues.   So this is not really a baseball story; it's a "why I'm still in therapy" story. 

Travel back to 1988. I was announcing minor league baseball for the Syracuse Chiefs. They were the AAA affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays. I was invited to come to Toronto to announce a couple of innings on their radio network. I of course accepted. Forget that I had only a half year experience calling professional baseball at the time.

So I fly up there (in a four seat prop plane that reminded me very much of “the Spirit of St. Louis.”) to do play-by-play for a couple of innings. Their longtime announcers Tom Cheek and Jerry Howarth couldn’t have been nicer or more supportive. I had done tons of prep work and knew everything there was to know about everything. I was READY. It was a quiet 1-0 game until I took over. I had a triple and busted squeeze play in the first five minutes I was on the air. Amazingly, I called them both well.

Somehow I survived the two innings and tossed it back to Tom & Jerry (yes, Tom & Jerry). A local TV station wanted to do a feature piece on me. They asked if they could interview me. I said “sure” and we went to the roof of Exhibition Stadium (this was before the Jays moved to the Skydome, or whatever the hell they call it these days). Meanwhile, the game continued on. I wasn’t following it. What did I care? My night was done.

After the interview I was invited to sit in on the Blue Jays TV broadcast with Don Chevrier and Tony Kubek. Cool, I thought. They’ll ask me about their farm club, we’ll chat about CHEERS, etc.

Instead, I get there just as a commercial break is about to end. I put on the headset mic, we all shake hands, and they go on the air. Don says, “We have a treat this inning. This is Ken Levine, who announces for our AAA team. Ken, it’s all yours. Take it away.” HOLY SHIT! They wanted me to do play-by-play?

First off, I had never done TV play-by-play. Ever. Was I supposed to watch the monitor? The field? Both? Neither?

I also had no idea what the score was, what inning it was, or who was up. Usually, I have a scorebook where I chart what each player does. I had nothing. A player would come up. I’d see his name on the screen and say, “Okay… Chili Davis batting now. So far tonight Chili has… been up before. The score is…” I’d now look around the stadium for the scoreboard. “Wow. 3-0 Blue Jays. How’d that happen?”

My big problem was the pitcher. Nowhere on the scoreboard could I find who was pitching. And even if he turned his back to me and I saw his number, I didn’t have a roster so I couldn’t identify him.  I find it's hard to discuss strategy when you don't know who's on the field.   Finally, I just copped to it. I said, “Tony, you’re the analyst. Let me ask you a real technical question. Who’s pitching right now?”

So basically I just had to completely fake my way through the inning – knowing that the Blue Jays telecast was seen throughout the country of Canada. There were literally millions of people of watching this.

I have a tape of the radio innings but not the TV inning. My guess is it was somewhat of a complete fiasco. Hopefully it was somewhat amusing the for the viewers. But I was never more terrified in my life. Like I said, it was one of those work-related nightmares come true. At least it wasn’t combined with that other standard dream – the one where you’re naked in public.

Angel announcer Al Conin gave me a terrific gift. He took his scorecard, highlight my two radio and one TV innings, and got all the players involved to autograph it for me then added a couple of photos. Thanks Al.  Yes, that's me in a beard.

14 comments:

MikeK.Pa. said...

I've had the it's finals and I haven't gone to class all semester nightmare along with one on which I'm on stage with a rock band and have no clue how to play the guitar (which is a fact). Regarding the beard. Nothing wrong with a little face hair and never too late to grow it back, especially with winter coming. Speaking of baseball, hoping KC can close it out tonight. Would be special for the Royals' fans and for baseball (a small market team winning the WS).

RockGolf said...

Good to hear you say nice things about Tom Cheek and Jerry Howarth.
I don't know if this is a well-known stat, but Tom Cheek announced every single Blue Jays game from their very first as a franchise in 1977 until he retired in 2004. That's 4,306 regular season games and 41 post-season games including two World Series.
That's a consecutive game record that I don't think will ever be broken.
(Also have to point out the Captcha word for this is "holeedo" which I think is short for "Holy Toledo!")

Dan Ball said...

Maaan, Ken. You're a dead-ringer for John Landis with that beard.

No offense!

Rick Wiedmayer said...

There is nothing wrong with a little face hair.

Until you look at the pictures 35 years later and say to yourself What the hell was I thinking then?

fred said...

I'm sure you were awesome Ken. Loved the way you did your Mariners broadcasts !!! Go M's!!

H Johnson said...

That's hilarious. You probably did the right thing and copped to it. You could have just started telling Cheers stories until they figured it out. But I have to wonder what's worse, listening to an announcer who's trying his best to say something helpful or listening to these chatter boxes who won't shut up.

Time was that television announcers would sometimes actually be quiet for a bit and let the action speak for itself. You could kinda feel the ballpark, so to speak. But now with two or three guys fighting for the mic and some nerd throwing up seizure inducing graphics, it's better to just turn on the radio.

I'll bet you learned a bit that day.

DBenson said...

Old magazine cartoon: A football stadium, completely empty except for a guy in the press box with a microphone.

"It's almost game time, but first let's have another look at that little old schedule . . ."

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Obviously this was before your experiences at improv.

Not Ken Wilson said...

Denny Mathews has been the voice of the Royals since their inception in 1969. And of course, Vin Scully has been calling Dodger games since the Johnson impeachment proceedings. Well over 100 years! Dave Neihaus was the voice of the Mariners from day one til he passed away in Nov. of 2010, which makes 34 seasons. 5284 games. Not consecutive but still, that's a lot of baseball and oh lordy, imagine all the air miles!

And yes, good story Ken!

Lorimartian said...

Your worst nightmare was, of course, humorous to someone who didn't experience it. “Okay… Chili Davis batting now. So far tonight Chili has… been up before." Hilarious!

Ken B said...

RockGolf: I don't know if Tom Cheek's 1977-2004 consecutive games streak is *the* record... but John Sterling's closing in on that one, he's called every Yankees game since 1989.

VP81955 said...

I don't know if Tom Cheek's 1977-2004 consecutive games streak is *the* record... but John Sterling's closing in on that one, he's called every Yankees game since 1989.

Much to the dismay of millions of Yankees fans. Hard to believe that cross between Ted Baxter and Kenny Bania, the very definition of a pompous hack, has been there that long. And he replaced a wonderful announcer in Hank Greenwald.

DrBOP said...

Oh yes.....good old Exhibition Stadium.....that caused the Blue Jays to NOT be in the 1985 World Series. EVERYtime they mentioned the Royal's last WS win these past 3 weeks, I'm reminded of sitting in the 3rd base stands....watching the rather normal looking pop fly....that at MOST should have landed about 40 feet in front of the warning track....and at its apex, a BLAST of wind off of Lake Ontario straightened that sucker out to a horizontal line directly 200 feet outside to the stadium parking lot.....with the eventual winning runs for the Royals.
Heartbreak all around for Jays' fans. But I was still hoping the Royals would win it all this year. Yep....I'm a baseball fan.
BRING ON that heartbreak!

DrBOP said...

Oh yes.....good old Exhibition Stadium.....that caused the Blue Jays to NOT be in the 1985 World Series. EVERYtime they mentioned the Royal's last WS win these past 3 weeks, I'm reminded of sitting in the 3rd base stands (1985 ALCS 6th game, 7th inning, 2 outs I think....KC up to bat)....watching the rather normal looking pop fly....that at MOST should have landed about 40 feet in front of the warning track....but instead, at its apex, a BLAST of wind off of Lake Ontario straightened that sucker out to a horizontal line directly 200 feet outside to the stadium parking lot.....with the eventual winning runs for the Royals.
Heartbreak all around for Jays' fans. But I was still hoping the Royals would win it all this year. Yep....I'm a baseball fan.
BRING ON that heartbreak!