By Bob Socci
Without fail, the same question arose almost every time we’d renew acquaintances around the batting cage. My broadcasting counterparts, especially those who’d been in the International League the longest, just couldn’t help themselves.
Understandably. For years they’d heard from my predecessors about Dave Rosenfield, a man who loved few things nearly as much as family and friends. One was baseball. Another was broadcasting.
And when it came to the art of blending the two, particularly for his beloved Tidewater-turned-Norfolk Tides, Rosenfield’s passion bordered on obsession. Anytime the announcer he’d entrusted to call Tides games said something that needed correcting, Rosey picked up the phone.
Often in the middle of an inning. Always with a few words of, ahem, constructive criticism. Uttered, universally, in no uncertain terms.
“So, how often do you hear from Rosey?” others inquired, anxiously waiting for me to further inflate what by then was league legend into the myth of Dave’s reputed wrath.
I’d listen with a smile, before offering only a shrug and a polite shake of my head. Sorry to disappoint you, I’d think to myself. Then I would chuckle and tell the truth. The phone never rang in Rochester, Syracuse or wherever else the Tides were playing on the road.
Not that my work was perfect. Far from it. Very far, in fact. By then, I think, Rosey had simply mellowed a bit to become a kinder and gentler mentor to someone he hoped would follow past proteges from Hampton Roads to the big leagues.
Rosey had run the Tides since 1963, some 41 years before being crowned King of Baseball in 2004. He’d rightfully taken pride in the numerous ex-Tides he helped nurture to the majors as ballplayers and managers, as well as a few who heeded his words to talk their way there. None better than Marty Brennaman, who as the Voice of the Cincinnati Reds received the Hall of Fame’s Ford C. Frick Award.
I was fortunate enough to catch Rosey’s ear in the early 2000s. Initially, he recommended me to the Albuquerque Isotopes, a club being operated by Tides owner Ken Young. For three seasons, I trekked from my Mid-Atlantic home in Maryland to the Southwest in late March and returned by early September.
Stuck at Triple-A, while also working in the worlds of college football and basketball, I was given the opportunity to join the Tides in 2006. After four seasons and a move to New England, my role with the club was reduced to that of a fill-in. A homestand here. A road trip there.
Yet, Rosey always remained fully vested in trying to make my big-league dreams reality. Even when I wasn’t so sure, he never stopped believing. Even after I went from an everyday baseball announcer to occasional pinch-hitter living elsewhere, Rosey didn’t lose touch.
Every so often, the phone would ring and I’d find Rosey on the other end of the line. He was calling not with one of his infamous harangues, but simply to catch up; to talk a little sports and a bit more about me and my family.
Then in the spring of 2013, soon after I got back into baseball with the Pawtucket Red Sox, CBS Boston announced my hiring as the next voice of the New England Patriots. I’d finally reached the big leagues, albeit in a different sport. Sure enough, among the first to reach out was a man who helped me get there.
By then Rosey had dealt with some serious health issues and loosened his grip on the day-to-day doings of the Tides. Still, he stayed involved with the team through 2016 and his 61st summer in minor league baseball.
Late Tuesday night, my phone buzzed again. This time, alerting me to a text from a mutual friend delivering awful news. Rosey had died from complications related to a heart attack. He was 87.
For much of Wednesday night, into Thursday morning, I called to mind memories of the life he lived. Grateful for the influence he’ll continue to have in the life I lead.
Countless times, I sat in the home radio booth, turned to my left and saw Rosey overlooking Harbor Park from his press box seat. Seemingly oblivious to the beautiful view of the Elizabeth River in the background, Rosie intensely scanned from one foul pole to the other.
If he saw that the out-of-town scoreboard needed updating, he let it be known by bellowing into his walkie-talkie. When wayward bystanders wandered into the media’s domain from adjacent suites, they were quickly halted in their tracks by the big man with the booming voice. And if the official scorer ruled an error on what Rosey judged a hit — or vice versa — there was bound to be a spirited debate.
At the same time, I thought a lot about another of Rosey’s favorite things: a good story that ended with a hearty laugh. Few in my life could spin a yarn like Dave. Fewer still told as many. And none with a sharper wit.
Thankfully, though somewhat to the dismay of my IL brethren, Rosey softened his speech when he spoke to me. Even upon offering a word of advice.
Once such occasion occurred after I’d fallen into some bad habits, trying to stretch my vocabulary and going a tad too far.
A care-free Tides slugger who would never be confused with, let’s say, Charlie Hustle, struck out looking.
“He thought the pitch was outside,” I said of this batter, who by then had become all too familiar and complacent with the long walk back to the dugout. “But much to his chagrin, the umpire called it a strike.”
Dave pulled me aside in the press box, cited that line and quietly cautioned me not to talk down to the audience in hopes of sounding (Vin) Scully-esque. Word choice was important. And by the way, you better damn well know the meaning of the words you choose.
“Let me tell you something,” Rosey said, voice rising and face reddening — but only a bit. “That lollygagger ain’t got no chagrin.”
In retrospect, chagrin was inappropriate then. Just as it is today. Borrowing from Merriam-Webster, I’m not distressed this morning because of humiliation or failure.
I’m simply sad. Especially for Rosey’s widowed wife Charmaine and their families, including friends who still work at 150 Park Avenue in Norfolk. Yes, front office staff was like family to Rosey. Granted, he could be like a curmudgeonly uncle or happy grandpa.
But I’m also proud and appreciative to have learned under someone whose body of success was infinitely larger than the remarkably rotund figure that only added to his legend.
Something tells me Rosey’s already sitting inside Heaven’s Gate — the same way he’d pull up a chair in his field manager’s office before or after game — and sharing a good story with a big-bellied laugh.
Rest in peace, Rosey. And thanks for everything.