Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Lord is My ....well you know the rest

Tonight is Major League Baseball's All-Star Game. I remember when they played TWO games every year, one in a National League and the other in an American League city. As for Fox Sports' conceit that the current exhibition is for something "real" (home field advantage for the World Series), I have to wonder what the players in the games I watched as a kid thought they were doing, where, if memory serves me correctly, pitchers threw at hitters in the batter's box and base runners broke up double plays sliding into second, spikes up. When the prelude to your showcase is a home run derby, I have trouble with your credibility. Does this mean the NFL will hold the punt, pass and kick contest at half-time in the Super Bowl or the NBA millionaires in their underwear will play one another in H-O-R-S-E? I love baseball but seriously, Unka Bud.....

Speaking of which, the passing of Bob Sheppard, at ninety-nine years of age, Sunday, came as a surprise when it crawled across the bottom of whatever TV sports channel I was watching Sunday as Spain and The Netherlands stumbled towards settling World Cup 2010. I grew up in the New York metropolitan area (= across the river, in New Jersey), north of Trenton, which sort of geographically and sport-loyalty wise divides the state in half. Phillies, Eagles and 76ers to the South and Yankees, Giants and Knicks to the North. I guess I thought he'd live forever.

As kids, my brother Kelly and I, would go to games out in Flushing, at Shea Stadium, for the National League's NY Mets (Dad was a NY Giants fan and Mom bled Brooklyn Dodger Blue, so both of their hearts had been broken when Stoneham and O'Malley had abandoned the Polo Grounds and Ebbets Field for the Golden West), but when someone our father knew scored Yankees tickets they weren't going to use, we were ready in a flash to make the journey to the Bronx and soak up all the history we knew we'd never read about in books.

Part of that, and I'm not sure we knew it, was the public address announcer at Yankee Stadium. Bob Sheppard. As a teenager I was aware that he was imperturbable, a decade or more before I could either spell or pronounce that word. The Pinstripers could be down by two dozen runs after the first inning, or a strike away from a championship season, and you'd never know by listening to Mr. Sheppard in the stadium. When you talk about rock steady, he was the gold standard for whatever rock you would choose as your unit of measurement.

By all accounts, he was a class act-not sure I can put into words a definition that survives parsing and diagramming, but you know it when you see it, and those who saw and knew Bob Sheppard say he was the genuine article. Driving home last night I detoured through the Norwich Business Park, thinking about the only time Bob Sheppard came to Norwich, but never quite made it to Dodd Stadium.

The year the Norwich Navigators, then a Double-A affiliate of the Yankees who'd relocated from Albany New York, where they'd been the Albany-Colonie Yankees, began play in their brand new facility, Senator Thomas Dodd Stadium, somewhere in the dizzying heights of Yankees hierarchy it was decided that Mr. Sheppard would announce (at least) the first inning of the first game in the new stadium.

Norwich, fifteen years ago this spring when all of this went on, was bursting at the seams with baseball fans from across the region and proud public officials who'd spent months persuading the team to relocate (to an area that had NO stadium when they agreed to come here). Those were heady days. A sellout was expected, and delivered-the problem was, as it is to this day on big attendance games, the traffic flow, and lack thereof.

Since I hate to be late (and will show up at least two days early for my own funeral), Sigrid and I were fine, but keenly aware, as the crowd straggled in, that trying to force fifty gallons of water through a five gallon funnel would create lengthy tie-ups. One of those caught in the delay was Bob Sheppard whom, I was told, had not helicoptered up from New York, but rather limoed in and whose shiny black box, with the tinted windows, was somewhere between the North American Soccer Camp and the Lightolier office complex along with several hundred, if not more like a thousand close personal friends going absolutely nowhere and making great time while doing so.

I never figured out if he made it the stadium-but I never heard him through its PA and believe me, you would remember that if it had happened. Reggie Jackson called him 'the Voice of God' and I'll take his word for it. Ninety nine years is a long time to do anything, especially to live, and few did it so well, and with such elan, for so long. Farewell, Sir and thank you for everything.
-bill kenny

No comments: