Saturday, August 06, 2022

Weekend Post

 

This is not a baseball post (even though baseball is involved. 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.

8 comments :

Andrew said...

Are you sure this wasn't a prank, or a hazing ritual?

Michael said...

You referred in your book to how when CBS Radio had the hometown inning--God, I miss that coverage--you might be on for half an hour or for five pitches. I thought of your old partner Jerry Coleman, who was breaking in with the Yankees with Mel Allen and Red Barber. They basically left the booth and threw him in the water. He said he'd never learned to keep score, and there were something like 9 runs in that inning. When it ended, Mel came in and said, "Jerry, I think you've had enough." Coleman's line was that he went into a corner of the booth and curled up in the fetal position.

YEKIMI said...

That's one version of your nightmare...as a DJ did you ever have the nightmare of turntables/cart machines not working, go to pull records tapes and not a single one was even remotely near the format of the station or all the records were blank/carts were erased, end of your shift and the next DJ didn't show up and it continued on that way for the whole damn day, PD/GM/MD coming in and screaming at you for random crap happening that wasn't any way in hell your fault, lightening constantly striking tower/transmitter/station while you're doing your best not to get electrocuted?

Lorimartian said...

Possible Friday question...are you or anyone following "Westworld?" I admit I haven't been paying strict attention, but I was all-in during season one but am totally lost this season. I wish they'd kept it in present time, but maybe they decided advanced technology was necessary to make the story work...but it's not working for me. I'm curious if you or your readers are more invested than I am and it's just a matter that I can't keep up.

Michael said...

Friday question - I think you have alluded to this before, but do you think you would have pursued your baseball announcing career if you had a better experience working on MARY, even if it was still cancelled after 1 year.

Mighty Hal said...

What a great story! I wish I had something interesting to add to this, but I got nothin'.

Except, now, this possible FQ: I was unexpectedly introduced to an artist I admire. This came out of nowhere (I had no idea the artist was in my country, much less visiting my hometown), and my mind went completely blank. I couldn't think of anything to say until much later, when my opportunity was long gone. Has something similar ever happened to you?

Mitch said...

Bring back the beard

.

JS said...

I'm thinking about going to an Orioles game for the first time in years It is amazing what a winning team can do for a City.