Wednesday, September 28, 2016

"Vin Scully Once Threw Me Out Of His Announcer's Booth"

A belated companion to (the late, beloved baby doctor) “T. Berry Brazelton Once Punched Me In The Stomach.”

I was hired to adapt a book entitled A Pennant for the Kremlin for the movies.  A titan of industry dies and, during the disbursement of his numerous holdings it is discovered he has left the Chicago White Sox to Russia.

And hilarious, baseball-inflected “culture conflict” ensues.

I was ultimately relieved of my responsibilities on that project, but not before securing unlimited access – through connections at Universal Studios where I was working – to Dodger Stadium for the duration of that season.

I was understandably excited. 

There are multiple freeway approaches to Dodger Stadium.  I got there driving on Sunset Boulevard, which took inordinately longer but preserved the safety of countless freeway frequenters, and myself.  (Though they’d have had interesting stories to tell when they got home.)

A veteran Universal P.R. executive named Herb met me at the stadium.  Herb took me into the Dodgers clubhouse and later onto the field.  As we headed up the tunnel, I called to him, excitedly tapping the bridge of my nose.  The message:  I could smell the ball field’s grass before I saw it.

I have a lot of evocative memories of that experience but the “grass smelling” story will have to suffice.  I need to move this along. 

Herb showed me the Press Box, which led to my meeting Vin Scully.

As you may or may not necessarily know, after a record sixty-seven years broadcasting Dodger games – both in Brooklyn and in Los Angeles – Vin Scully is finally hanging up the microphone. 

In his season-ending game announcing at Dodger Stadium, which included a tenth inning home run, gaining the Dodgers victory and the Division Championship, Vin handled this “Crescendoing Moment” like he was friskily in his prime. 

In modulated rhythms – simply, accurately and succinctly:

“Swung on, a high fly ball deep into left field, the Dodger bench empties… can you believe it? – A home run.  And the Dodgers have clinch the Division and will celebrate on schedule.”

And then, as is his “M.O.”, Vin strategically went silent, the roaring crowd – better, he knew, than words possibly could – grandly accessorizing the accomplishment.

Meeting Vin Scully in person… I don’t know… 

Herb and I were sitting adjacent the Press Box and, after we were introduced, Vin casually sat down and joined us at our table.  The rest of it is a bit of a fog.

I recall a massive World Series Championship ring he was wearing.  I recall Herb reporting that there would be (apparently requested) complimentary tickets to the Tony Orlando and Dawn concert waiting for him at the Universal Amphitheater “Will Call” window.  (A possible “quid pro quo” for my Dodger Stadium opportunity.  It felt exciting being part of a deal allowing Vin Scully to see Tony Orlando and Dawn for nothing.)

I recall – because I’m an idiot – quoting one of Vin’s trademark “flights of poetry” I’d retained from a recent broadcast back to him.       

The camera panned to a toddler sitting in his father’s lap, wearing an oversized Dodger baseball cap, and Vin, talking about the child “waiting for his dreams to grow into his hat.” 

I think that one drove him away.  Though maybe he just needed to get to work.  In any case, during our ten-minute or so visit, Vin Scully could not have been more gracious, humble, personable or companionable.

FLASH FORWARD:  A week or two later.

I am up in the Press Box, drawn to the game by a momentous encounter:  The two phenomenal young pitchers of that era, the Dodgers’ Fernando Valenzuela and the New York Mets’ Dwight Gooden would be squaring off in what would be a classic confrontation.  (Gooden pitched nine innings and Fernando eleven, in a game ultimately captured by the Mets, 2-0, in the thirteenth.)

The Press Box was bulging with media.  There were not enough seats, so I stood quietly in the back.  Then I overheard someone say that the Press Box “overflow” would be shunted to unfilled seats in the uppermost bleachers.  (The worst seats in the house.  And, more importantly, not in the Press Box.)

Thinking fast, while acting invisible, I slipped down the hall till I spotted Vin Scully’s broadcast booth.  Weighing my options – which were zero – I opened the door to Scully’s announcing “Inner Sanctum” and stepped noiselessly inside.

This was my answer, I thought.  They would not be able to find me and I would be spared being exiled to the hinterlands.

I was tempted to ask, “Is this okay?”  But I instead remained mum, hugging the booth’s back wall and hoping I could stay.  I mean, I wasn’t some crazed interloper.  We had sat down and chatted.  And the guy was really nice.

I watched for half an inning, enjoying not just this incomparable pitcher’s duel but hearing Vin Scully describing it… from a seat just a few feet in front of me.

Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, a voice said to me, “Would you step outside, please?” and I was escorted into the hallway.

And that was it.  A whispered message had been sent to “Security” and, just like that, I had had been booted from Vin Scully’s broadcast booth.  (Although not from the Press Box where I was, thankfully, permitted to watch the rest of the game.)

Later, back at the studio, I wrote a contrite letter of apology to Vin Scully, whom I sadly – though not necessarily to Vin – never encountered again.

This story is inevitably about me, because I am the “Designated Writer.”  But I met a great man, and it seemed the appropriate occasion to pass it along.  
Just a Note: Today would have been my mother's one hundredth birthday.  Happy birthday, Gertie.  Wherever you are. 

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