Picking up where I left off

A love of sports drew me closer to my parents. A love of music draws me closer to my children, who’ve inspired me to make peace – and hopefully harmony – with one of my greatest regrets.

My son and I were listening to classic rock the other day, as we usually do when he’s riding shotgun, less than his arm’s length from the radio tuner.

Only 12, he has the musical taste of much older generations. Same with his preferred mode of listening as we ride: frequency modulation over data compression. FM over iTunes.

Typically, we bounce back and forth between presets, deciding which one of two favorite stations to settle on, one song at a time. If our vote is split, his choice wins. At this moment, as we head to a nearby park to unleash our dog and walk in the woods, he stops on “Pet Sematary” by The Ramones.

I’ve never been a punk rocker (shocking, I know), much as I appreciate the music’s influence on artists more to my liking (Bruce Springsteen, for one). The number of songs I recognize by The Ramones and The Clash — two punk groups I’m most familiar with — would fill out a “Two For Tuesday” and, at most, “Three For Thursday.”

But in the few minutes of this short drive set to, as I’m about to learn, a characteristically brief song by The Ramones, I’m enlightened. My son tells me their “Pet Sematary” was written for the film adaptation of Stephen King’s “Pet Sematary.” Perhaps I should have known.

Then he adds a tidbit I had no reason to know: “The Ramones’ longest song lasts only about four minutes.”

It’s true, I confirm, give or take a half minute. “Bye Bye Baby,” from first to final notes, is timed at 4:35. Close enough.

The next day, he awakens and enters the kitchen as I finish school lunches while shuffling a playlist over the Bluetooth speaker on our kitchen counter. “The Boxer” by Simon & Garfunkel comes on. As Paul and Art sing, their lie-la-lies are met by echoes of loud smashes.

Again, the boy drops knowledge on his old man.

“Did you know that drum beat was recorded with an elevator shaft?” he asks, popping a plain bagel into the toaster oven.

“No way!” I exclaim.

Yes way, I soon learn, after picking up my phone and googling: “the boxer drum elevator shaft.”

It was recorded on a Sunday in an empty building along New York’s East 52nd Street. Drummer Hal Blaine hammered away in a hallway; the percussion picked up by a microphone placed in an elevator shaft, its doors propped open. Another fun fact from a kid full of them.

My son has a photographic memory. What he reads, he retains. It’s also “phonographic.” What he hears, he records.

It showed itself in elementary school when he flipped the pages of his many DK and Smithsonian books, consumed history videos and committed minutiae to memory. At 8 or 9, he came up with one of his first fun facts, pointing out that the Hundred Years’ War is somewhat of a misnomer. Did you know it actually lasted 116 years?

Now a middle schooler, music is his jam. He plays piano, fiddles with a violin, and occasionally picks at an electric guitar. He memorizes trivia about bands, musicians, and vocalists; albums and songs; genres and sub-genres. He links singles to albums, guitarists to riffs, and drummers to solos like I used to pair shortstops with double-play partners, outfielders with great catches, and pitchers with masterpieces.

Guitar heroes are for him what sports stars were for me at the same age. And just as games brought me closer to my parents, music has made us tighter.

My late mom often sat by my side watching baseball on TV. Rusty Staub, ‘Le Grande Orange,’ was her favorite. One of mine too. When I asked to dress like other favorites, she found a pattern, bought fabric and sewed me double knits. At a time when replicas were rarely for sale, I played backyard ball decked out like Johnny Bench, Reggie Jackson and Dave Cash (I already had a store-bought Tom Seaver uniform).

The subject of sports, especially talking baseball, broke the ice between my dad and me during his rare breaks from working day and night. Asking about the Yankees of his youth, then laden with Italian-American stars, always exposed a soft spot beneath the usually hard exterior he wore in my youth. I treasured those moments. So much so I couldn’t bring myself to declare Willie Mays, and not Dad’s favored Joe D, the greatest ever.

Although my mother didn’t raise a future big leaguer, she made sure I looked like one.

My son is much less of a sports fan. Sure, he wants the Patriots to win, and sometimes he joins me on the couch when there’s a game on at night. But music is our go-to conversation starter. In place of comparing center fielders, we contrast lead guitarists. In the car. Around the house. While trailing the dog on nature’s paths.

The same thing, though not the same songs, has also drawn me closer to my daughter.

Like her big bro, she takes piano lessons and strums a guitar, along with a ukulele. She sings and dances. She sometimes sits at the keys and composes tunes. And she ofttimes replaces lyrics of popular songs with rhymes of her own imagination. Each one is a wonder, if not a commercial hit.

Unlike her big bro, she prefers downloads over tuning in when we’re in the car. She and I used to be playlist shufflers during our half-hour commutes to school in the fall. Around December, we changed our tunes to the soundtrack from Hamilton.

Playing and replaying it, her every-morning instruction became my automatic assumption. She no longer had to ask me to hit play. It became as instinctive as shifting from park to reverse. Mile by mile, track after track, she sang along in the back seat. Sometimes, I joined in.

Two Thursdays ago, we finally saw Hamilton in person at the Citizens Bank Opera House. All evening, my eyes shifted from my daughter to the actors on stage; her face aglow as she lip-synced what they were singing.

All of it was unforgettable. Those songs now play themselves inside my head. Any hour. Any order. And any time the music starts up again, my mind is filled with images of that night.

For weeks, my daughter sang the Hamilton soundtrack during our daily commutes. Two Thursdays ago, she finally got to sing along with the show’s cast on stage.

Neither child is a musical prodigy destined for Berklee, the New England Conservatory or “American Idol.” Getting them to practice piano sometimes requires a gentle nudge, if not a push. If not, the fail-safe ultimatum of “No screen time!” But when they do, the house comes alive again with the sound of their music. To these ears, it’s always fabulous.

Hopefully, they’ll keep playing. The importance of creative outlets is unquestioned. So is the realization of what’s lost when the music stops. I know because I gave it up.

As a little kid, I had a different outfit for every day of the week. One, as relatives reminded me well into my adolescence, was a country-music getup: cowboy hat, vest, boots and toy six-string. While my father was partial to Eddy Arnold and Chet Atkins, I paraded around the house, pretending to be Johnny Cash or Glenn Campbell.

I outgrew that costume but held onto the guitar. My parents signed me up for Saturday morning lessons with a longtime teacher in town. He taught me some notes to cover hits like “On Top of Old Smokey.” But, regrettably, I didn’t stick with it long enough to learn “Smoke on the Water.” Games got in the way of lessons. Baseball practices took precedence over practicing chords. Then one day, the music died.

Decades later, if given one do-over in life, I’d never put that guitar down. And if offered a second mulligan, I’d pick up a second instrument. Probably piano.

The sports-obsessed child I was had no idea the adult I became listens in envy every time I take in a live performance. A stadium concert. A soloist at a neighborhood pub. A subway busker. Or a loved one beside a bonfire.

Several years ago, my wife and her father, once a collector of acoustic guitars, picked at the strings on Maine’s Hills Beach, accompanied by the crackling of logs aflame under a summer sky. On a more recent vacation, my daughter did what I’ve long thought to be the coolest: she sat down at a grand piano in a hotel lobby and started playing. If only I could do either.

Some of my friends have called World Series and Stanley Cup Finals. That’s great and all. But more impressive to me is they’ve also entertained on stage. At a Manhattan piano bar. And just off the Vegas strip. Me, I’ve never done karaoke.

Occasionally, however, I have grabbed my father-in-law’s old Jose Ramirez model and opened my Yousician app or tried YouTube tutorials. More than once, I vowed to learn the basics at least. It never happened.

But this winter, our mutual interest in music led me to search for documentaries to watch with my son. With each, I became further fascinated with the styles and stories of artists who make strings sing.

Following one of the docs, “Guitar Stories,” featuring old Dire Straits mates John Illsley and Mark Knopfler, my wife and I decided to sort through her dad’s collection. His guitars were weathered. Some had no strings attached. Some had cracks in their wood. But thankfully, some were still playable.

I took two of them to a tech at the local Guitar Center. He noticed one’s heel starting to separate and the other’s neck warping slightly. Knowing I couldn’t hear the difference anyway, I had them cleaned up and restrung. They’d be great to keep around our home, I reasoned, in case, you know, anyone wanted to play.

That same week, I was in the Park Street T station after teaching a class at Emerson College. An older gentleman sat nearby on the Red Line’s southbound platform. He was on a tiny folding chair, caressing his acoustic guitar, between a dolly used to cart his gear and a case opened to collect his tips. I complimented his playing — Latin music — dropped a fin in the case and struck up a short conversation.

Waiting on the Braintree train, I mentioned my musical regret and offered an inkling of my growing desire to make that ‘do-over’ a reality.

“Take lessons,” he advised, looking up from under the bill of his Red Sox cap while pausing between songs. “That way, you won’t develop bad habits.”

“Take lessons,” Rafael advised me while breaking between songs.

I heeded his words. Two weeks ago, I had my first lesson. Four chords in a half hour. Last week in my second, I got seven more chords to learn. It’s a start, and as much as I need practice, I love to practice.

Making up for all the lost time is impossible. Finger-picking like Knopfler or playing as well for as long as Johnny Ramone is beyond my wildest dreams. Becoming good enough to one day take a stage somewhere, especially someplace like Manhattan or Vegas, is highly improbable. It’s likely, I’ll always be in the audience.

I’m cool with all that. Just playing what I can already makes me feel a little less unhip. But there are a few goals I believe to be within my reach. Provided I stop the buzzing when my short fingers try to hold the C7 chord.

One, I’d like to master a song — and not ‘Old Smokey’ — well enough to play it by the fire this summer. A huge bonus if it goes for at least 4 1/2 minutes. More importantly, I want to motivate the kids who helped inspire me to pick up the guitar again to never put their instruments down.

And ultimately, I hope I’ll be good enough to be included with their favorite guitarists.

Though old, a new addition to the home office.

Keepers of flame still light a spark.

By Bob Socci

January 31, 2022

After learning a favorite colleague and I have similar pre-broadcast rituals, I wrote about the story tellers and myth makers who helped pro football become our most popular sport and influenced a kid who would grow up to call it.

Millions of miles of NFL history are kept in a vast climate-controlled room at NFL Films.

By Bob Socci

For all but the past few months of my nine seasons as a New England Patriots broadcaster, I kept an admittedly peculiar ritual a secret between me and my playlist, positive that it was exclusively mine.

It’s one of my first acts settling into my seat on the bus before leaving the team hotel on the road or heading to the home radio booth at Gillette Stadium. I pull out my iPhone, insert ear pods and search the music library for one artist in particular.

One composer, actually. Seeking one song, specifically. 

Sam Spence, and The Raiders

Maybe you know his name. If you love football, surely you know his score. 

Probably, you’ve heard it as a drum-beating bed beneath poetry being read by a Philadelphia news legend with the ‘Voice of God.’ 

The Autumn Wind is a pirate

Blustering in from sea,

With a rollicking song, he sweeps along, 

Swaggering boisterously.

So goes the opening stanza of The Autumn Wind, which even to a childhood Raiders-hater, resonates from the lips of the late John Facenda and returns me to the mid-to-late seventies; again a kid dreaming of doing what I’d someday be lucky enough to do.

When I hear the song, I reflect. It’s a reminder as I ready for air that I occupy the seat of a dream fulfilled, in the role of all-time Patriots predecessors like Bob Starr, Curt Gowdy and Gil Santos.

Nerdy, I know. But, that’s me. 

Until early October, I couldn’t imagine anyone else observing a similar game-day rite. 

During the August week of Patriots-Eagles joint practices in Philadelphia, I toured nearby NFL Films.

Few colleagues calling NFL games locally or nationally on radio have done it longer than Kevin Harlan. First hired by the Chiefs in 1985, he’s about to broadcast his record 13th consecutive Super Bowl for Westwood One. 

When Kevin speaks, either thunderously and painstakingly describing a live play or as an interviewee humbly dispensing lessons from a career as full as his baritone pipes, I listen. 

Around the fifth week of this season, Harlan appeared as a podcast guest of the NFL Network’s Rich Eisen. As soon as the episode appeared, I pressed ‘play.’ Halfway through, I discovered I had company. 

Harlan shared some anecdotes about people who’ve influenced his career. One was Steve Sabol, who with his father, Ed, co-founded NFL Films in 1962. Another was Facenda.

“The first real voice that captured my imagination,” Harlan said, while reaching for and fiddling with his phone. He looked down, trying to access something he listens to before every football assignment — on Sundays for CBS and Mondays for Westwood One. 

Then he hit play.

The Autumn Wind is a pirate

Blustering in from sea,

With a rollicking song, he sweeps…

“I won’t get too emotional here,” Harlan gushed, his face aglow as he paused the recording of Facenda reciting words written by Steve Sabol to a song composed by Sam Spence. “When I hear that it just, it just puts me in the frame of mind of doing the NFL…we all feel so lucky and privileged to be a part of this great thing.”

Don’t you know, he was speaking for me.

Facenda’s voice, Kevin explained, was his “first football memory.” Much like the music of Spence was the soundtrack to mine. Lyrical and lyric-less, both take us back in time. We are men living dreams of children.

For me, those dreams flourished first in the finished basement of a duplex in Auburn, N.Y., a small city smack dab in the middle of the state. We lived a half-block from a large park, the Y-Field, where kids convened daily to play the main sport in season. When done for the day, I retreated inside to our downstairs TV to watch the athletes we had just imitated.

On fall Saturdays, following mornings of two-hand touch, I made sure to be back for afternoon college football offerings on ABC. Bill Flemming or Chris Schenkel, then Keith Jackson handled play-by-play. Dave Diles came on with the Prudential College Football Scoreboard. Once he dropped in a Slippery Rock update, we were off to church for 7:15 mass.

Sunday worship started with Notre Dame highlights, hosted by Lindsey Nelson, before moving along to further action with “This is the NFL” and “NFL Game of the Week.”  The latter opened with locker-room scenes, including players speaking the last line of the Protestant version of the Lord’s Prayer. Over the next half hour of slow-motion replays, orchestral strains and gospel according to Harry Kalas, I found my religion.

Network pregame shows set the table for our weekly family macaroni dinner coinciding with the one o’clock kickoffs. Unfortunately, the menu of early games via Syracuse affiliates — usually involving the then inept Bills, Jets or Giants — were often hard to stomach. 

Highlights for me as a viewer were, well, the highlights.   

It’s why I pleaded with my mom to let me stay up late on Mondays, to hear Howard Cosell’s halftime rundown, and so appreciated Friday invites to my pal Mike Murphy’s house. Unlike us, his family had HBO and, hence, Inside the NFL

Long before 24-hour sports networks, the internet and on-demand, I couldn’t get enough. Decades passed, and as I moved on from describing games in my mind as a kid growing up to calling them for real all over the country, I collected NFL Films originals on VHS tapes, DVD’s and, eventually, digital downloads.

They helped pass time on lengthy bus rides through baseball’s minor leagues and filled the background as I prepped for Navy football broadcasts. Years before marriage led me to Boston, I wore out early editions of 3 Games to Glory, the series chronicling each of the Pats’ championship journeys. I loved them as much for Gil and Gino as Tom and Bill. 

Then in 2008, my fiancé and I left Annapolis for Quincy. We got married, she started a new job and I began a search for same.  Still voice of the Midshipmen, I took Friday a.m. flights to BWI, returned to Logan late on Saturday nights and listened live on Sundays to the Patriots radio legends.

During the week, I knocked on doors. One opened a year later at 98.5 The Sports Hub, the fledgling all-sports home of the Bruins and Pats. I introduced myself to the program director and his assistant and handed them an audition CD on my way out.

Meantime, I continued canvassing for openings or, at least, critiques. An out-of-market radio producer thought my play-by-play had a ‘college sound.’ An agent who turned me down suggested voice lessons. 

I listened more closely, with real purpose, to the NFL Films radio cuts. What does an ‘NFL sound’ sound like? And how can I capture it? I paid a local opera singer moonlighting as a voice coach in hopes of losing my nasality. It was either that or pay a more harmful price by pairing cigarettes with scotch.

Real or imagined, I noticed a difference during Navy’s 2012 season. That December, three years after calling on 98.5, I heard back. With Gil retiring, they wanted samples of my recent work. I sent some, was granted an interview and got the job.

My first season began in Buffalo, only a couple of hours west of Auburn. Tom Brady led a fourth-quarter comeback that Stephen Gostkowski completed with his last-second, game-winning field goal. 

It felt awesome, yet didn’t feel real. 

Searching for validation, I turned on Inside the NFL two days later and waited for Pats-Bills highlights. Hearing myself, I cringed. Wow, I can do better. Then I smiled. Whoa, it’s really me! 

Now nine years in, little’s changed. I still listen critically, and the experience of hearing anything I say on NFL Films is still a stamp of authentication. It could be a regular-season call on a weekly show or turning point on postseason commemoratives like America’s Game and Do Your Job. And 3 Games to Glory

In my role, I’ve gotten to know the filmmaker who oversaw production of all that Patriots content, Ken Rodgers. He’s a protege of Steve Sabol, whose vision for the company endures more than nine years after losing an 18-month battle with brain cancer in September 2012.

Sabol saw himself as a storyteller and NFL Films as myth makers. Mixing the arts of cinematography, provocative writing, muscular musical scores and the raw reactions of mic’d up coaches and players, as author Rich Cohen once wrote in The Atlantic, they “taught America how to watch football.” (1) 

Sixty years have gone by since NFL Films grew out of a small company Ed Sabol started with a 16-millimeter Bell & Howell camera focused mainly on family events, including Steve’s high school games. Thousands of programs and features earning hundreds of Emmy Awards have had as much to do with pro football’s enormous popularity as the men and moments they’ve mythologized.  

Much of football’s history is archived inside rows of canisters at NFL Films headquarters.

The Immaculate Reception. The Holy Roller. The Catch. The Tuck Rule.

Mention of any one immediately conjures up the way they were captured among the millions of miles of film saved today inside endless rows of canisters stored at NFL Films headquarters. Built a decade ago at a cost of $45 million in Mount Laurel, N.J., about 20 miles east of Philadelphia, it sits on a 26-acre campus.

“Hollywood on the Delaware (River),” Steve Sabol called it in the Philadelphia Business Journal. (2)

Development of the sprawling campus was overseen by The Staubach Co. Yes, that Staubach, Roger, the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback at Navy who went into commercial real estate when he retired from the Cowboys.

While in Annapolis, Staubach was a hero to a young Bill Belichick, who grew up to become the subject of numerous NFL Films documentaries, before becoming an Emmy-winning co-host of the 100 Greatest series. 

In August, with the Pats in Philly for preseason practices against the Eagles, Belichick and his team crossed the Delaware to Mount Laurel, where Rodgers led them on a tour of NFL Films. The next morning, Rodgers did the same for a second group from New England. Thankfully, I was included.

Back in the summer of 2019, the Patriots paid a similar visit, stopping in Canton, Ohio on the way to joint practices near Detroit. The entire traveling party entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I studied the exhibits and stood in awe of its bronze busts, taking photos of many, including Staubach’s. And Ed Sabol’s. 

A statue of Steve Sabol and bust of his father Ed (middle right) at NFL Films, in addition to Pro Football Hall of Fame sculptures of Roger Staubach (upper right) and the older Sabol.

I snapped another upon entering the NFL Films lobby, where a similar sculpture of the older Sabol greets visitors. Winding in wonderment into and out of creative suites and recording studios, past photos and artifacts, we eventually ended our several-hour stay where the gears of the younger Sabol’s creative motor constantly turned. 

It is kept as it was. Boxes of index cards marked with Steve’s musings sit atop a credenza. Post-its featuring messages both banal and poignant, from phone extensions to life philosophies, stay pinned to cork boards. Though chairs around a conference table and at Sabol’s desk are empty, his spirit fills the room. 

You hear it in Rodgers’ voice and see it on his face as he talks about his mentor and runs his fingers along those index cards. And feel it, perusing what’s written and displayed on the surrounding walls. The same spirit has gone into every tight shot of a spiral or close-up of a cloudy breath since the early sixties, dramatizing a game to make it much more than it is. 

George Halas referred to NFL Films as “keepers of the flame.” In my life, they helped ignite a spark. Years later I still sense it in their work. 

Stumbling on Hank Stram calling for “65 Toss Power Trap” on an NFL Network special. Straying down the YouTube rabbit hole to find Billy “White Shoes” Johnson dancing in the end zone. Scrolling through football historian Kevin Gallagher’s Twitter content and coming across the 1971 Pro Bowl.

And when starting my game days with a song synonymous with the ‘Voice of God.’

Because like the voice of the Super Bowl, I’m so lucky and privileged to be a part of this thing.

Since Steve Sabol passed away from brain cancer in September 2012, his office has been kept as it was.

  1. – “They Taught America How to Watch Football” by Rich Cohen, The Atlantic, Sept. 18, 2012.
  2. – “NFL Films kicks off new digs” by John George, Philadelphia Business Journal, Oct. 7, 2002.

Remembering Jimmy Piersall

By Bob Socci

Since his death on Saturday night, remembrances of Jimmy Piersall’s colorful life have reexamined his nervous breakdown as a Red Sox rookie in 1952 and renewed appreciation for the way he played the outfield upon return.

Some rely on word of mouth, while others employ analytics to describe and demonstrate how Piersall’s guile and glove kept him in the big leagues for 17 seasons, despite volatilities that included a fluctuating batting average.

But for me, word of Piersall’s passing didn’t conjure up the image of a fleet center fielder running down fly balls at Fenway Park.  My first thought was of a clumsy slugger taking oversized cuts along the Mississippi River.

His name was (is) Alex Cabrera.  And if you saw him in any of his 31 major league appearances, all with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2000, you’d know exactly how Cabrera looked playing for Peoria six years earlier.

Cabrera was then the property of the Chicago Cubs and a Class A prospect whose every trip to the plate epitomized cliches like ‘feast or famine’ and ‘all or nothing.’  Pitchers threw him something straight at their own peril.  By breaking one off, however, they added to their own amusement.

In his brief stint with the D-Backs, Cabrera homered every 16 at-bats but fanned in nearly a fourth of his other trips to the plate.  For every prodigious hit there were a fistful of ugly swings.  And misses.

So it was in the summer of 1994, when Piersall was roving between Cubs’ affiliates as an outfield instructor and moonlighting on radio.

From 1977-81, Piersall had partnered, both famously and infamously, on White Sox telecasts with the legendary Harry Caray.  But outspokenness and too-frequently-unfiltered opinions eventually forced Piersall out of the booth.  The title of his 1985 book said it best.  The Truth Hurts.  Often, the pain was self-inflicted.

Not that Jimmy stopped calling it as only he could see it.  Even while coaching, he appeared regularly on Chicago sports-talk radio.  When Piersall’s travels took him to the Midwest League, he pulled up a chair in the booth of the Peoria Chiefs.

The Chiefs were property of the late, great Pete Vonachen, who was every bit the outsized personality as his close pals Caray and Piersall.  Pete introduced Jimmy to the twenty-something calling games for his club — me! — and offered a standing invitation to sit in on broadcasts.

So Piersall spent pregame hours on the field with the Chiefs.  One of them, Dan Madsen, later made a name for himself in scouting by signing Dustin Pedroia for the Red Sox.  Another, Bo Porter, became manager of the Houston Astros.

Following warm-ups, Piersall put down his fungo bat, showered, changed and took a seat next to mine.  No different than when working with Harry on Chicago’s Southside, Jimmy aired whatever crossed his mind.

One early-May afternoon, Piersall was sitting in Davenport, Iowa, where the Chiefs were playing the Quad City River Bandits and Alex Cabrera was in full, free-swinging form.

As one of the few Chiefs with facial hair, Cabrera’s dark mustache lent years to his listed age of 22.  And at 6-2 and 217 pounds, he seemed even larger.

Cabrera’s swing must have been what poet Ernest Lawrence Thayer imagined for the Mighty Casey.  When he cut it loose, usually air (was the only thing) shattered by the force of (his) blow.

Every now and then, like in the game at Quad City, Cabrera flailed away to somehow contort his body into both a jackknife and corkscrew.

Having done that to corner himself into a two-strike count, Cabrera was fed another curve ball.  In his haste to devour it, he uncorked his massive right-handed cut.  Cabrera’s backside jutted toward the third-base dugout, while his head snapped hard over his left shoulder and his eyes rolled toward the sky.

With his weight pulled forward, Cabrera’s hands lunged high over the top of the off-speed pitch descending to the dirt.  The Mighty Alex had struck out.  Again.

So the author of The Truth Hurts lashed out.  Again.

“Will you look at where his ass ends up on that swing!” Piersall exclaimed, before muttering something not nearly as memorable as the three-letter synonym for someone’s posterior.

Remember, this was 23 years ago, when the a-word — believe it or not — was seldom heard on the radio.  Especially on small stations broadcasting to the Heart of Illinois.

The half inning ended, we broke for commercials and Jimmy removed his headset.   I needed mine on to stay in touch with the studio back in Peoria.  That day the young producer — probably no older than his late teens — was all but flipping out, fearful that we’d just run afoul of the FCC.  Which made two of us.

Jimmy couldn’t hear both sides of the conversation, but he did infer what was being said by the other party from my reactions and replies.  After 60 seconds or so, Piersall put his headset back in place and the bottom half-inning began.  Before I could re-set with the score, Jimmy interrupted.

“What’s wrong with the guy in studio?” Piersall asked, smiling slyly, as the first pitch went by.

“Hasn’t he ever read the Bible?” he continued, as the next pitch reached the catcher.

“Doesn’t he know about the story of the ass?” Jimmy quipped, quoting the King James and citing from the Book of Numbers while describing the so-called game of numbers.

It was his way of saying, “Relax kid.”

About a month later, Piersall re-joined the Chiefs in South Bend, Ind. for a series against the Silver Hawks.  I remember it well, because of the white Bronco.

It was June 17, 1994, and as Piersall hit fly balls to outfielders during batting practice, the radio station blaring out of the P.A. speakers broke into music with breaking news bulletins.  Wanted man O.J. Simpson was riding in Al Cowlings’ car, being chased by the California Highway Patrol on the Santa Ana Freeway (5).

In that ‘where were you when?’ moment, I was in foul territory, a few steps from Jimmy Piersall.

Later that year the Chiefs changed their affiliation from the Cubs to Cardinals.  Before they did, Jimmy gave me one more memory to hang on to.  He was talking to someone in the press box before a game and motioned in my direction.

“This kid’s going to be in the big leagues someday,” Piersall declared.

Maybe Jimmy was just trying to help me believe I could talk my way out of ‘A ball.’  But if it that’s how he honestly felt, that aforementioned book title was a bit of a misnomer.  Either way, the kind words meant a lot.  They still do.

Jimmy helped me learn about the game and kept me entertained.  He made me laugh and occasionally caused me to cringe.

Of course, I never would have experienced all of that if a young Piersall’s personal fear hadn’t met the same fate as so many Alex Cabrera at-bats — by striking out.