Thanks, Vin!

Flashing back to my childhood, I remember that the times were so turbulent. Racial tensions were high, there were riots in the streets, and…oh, wait. We’re still doing that.

But back when I was single digits in age, it was the 1960s, the time I started becoming aware of my worldly surroundings. I attended a private school at a Lutheran church and I mean SMALL school. As in there were two classrooms–1st through 4th grades and 5th through 8th grade. My memories of that era are scattered. Church picnics, vacations to South Dakota, playing with the neighbor kids.

This is back when there were only three television networks and–outside of the Saturday morning cartoons–what we watched on TV was pretty much determined by my parents. I remember our school once sending home a note to mom & dad, saying that the school felt the TV show “Combat” was too violent and that kids shouldn’t be allowed to watch it.  It was one of my favorites and we continued to watch it.  Well, dad & I did.

There was “Get Smart”, “The Red Skelton Show”, “Bewitched” and other gems.  Saturdays were reserved for Lawrence Welk, followed by “The Hollywood Palace.” And on Tuesday nights, after my sisters were put to bed, I remember mom sneaking into my room where the TV resided so that she could catch up on “Peyton Place.”

But what we watched on TV was all determined by one thing: what the Los Angeles Dodgers were doing.

During the early part of that decade, I remember more nights than not being spent listening to radio broadcasts of the Los Angeles Dodger games. There was the team of Vin Scully and Jerry Doggett, but it was Scully that made those games magic. He was a story-teller, a guy who knew how to transform everything that happened on the field into pictures in your mind.  This is back when only a few games actually made it to television. When they did, they were a treat. Especially after the family budget allowed us to have a color TV.

Vin Scully began broadcasting games for the Brooklyn Dodgers back in 1953 when he was just 25-years-old. He’s been providing the soundtrack for Dodger games longer than I’ve been alive.  At the age of 88, he’s seen the greatest moments in that team’s history and made sure we didn’t miss the excitement of a single play.

I got to hear them beat the Yankees 4-0 in the 1963 World Series. Sandy Koufax’s perfect game. The come from behind win in the ’65 World Series against the Twins. The time San Francisco Giants pitcher Juan Marichal took a bat to Dodger catcher Johnny Roseboro, I can still hear Vin saying something like, “You Little Leaguers at home, don’t do that!”

Mr. Scully is going to call it a career at the end of this season. In fact, while he hasn’t traveled for the past couple of years and only broadcast the team’s home games, this Sunday he’s making an exception. The Dodgers wrap up the season against their arch rivals, the San Francisco Giants in San Francisco.  Vin wanted to go full circle and make his last broadcast a Dodgers/Giants game, since that’s where his career began: calling a game between the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Vin decided to go out while he still had game. He’s a perfectionist and felt that his calls were slipping a little bit. That was reason enough for him to retire, although Dodger fans would have preferred to listen to him until his last breath. He will be sorely missed and will always be the high-water mark for any broadcaster doing the play-by-play of any sport, anywhere. I’m giving him full credit for my love of baseball, for continuing to be a long-distance Los Angeles fan and for being the voice in my head whenever I think of that team I grew up with.

Thanks, Vin.

Tim Hunter

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Take Me Out Of The Ball Game

sad baseball

I’m a baseball fan.  This must be understood if anything good is to become of this blog.

Wow, how Dickens!

Seriously, I was raised a baseball fan. The games were on the radio every night at our house. Back then, TV games were a treat and rare.  You either went to the ballpark or listened to Vin Scully & Jerry Doggett call the play-by-play.

I played Little League.  Baseball was the sport and a big part of my life. Other sports weren’t as organized at that time, although I began to dabble in basketball in my later years of adolescence.  But having a team like the L.A. Dodgers as your team, it meant winning and going to the World Series most years. Because they played the Series games during the day back then, teachers would actually bring in a black & white TV with ‘rabbit ears’ so we could watch those historical events.

Fast-forward to present day Seattle.  We have a team called the Seattle Mariners that made a couple of runs over their decades of existence, none ever resulting in a World Series. 1995 was a magical year with miracle wins along the way and a dream team combination of stars and over-achievers.  In 2001, we won an amazing 116 games only to get blown out in the first round of the playoffs.

And that’s been it. Since then, season after season, the routine has become hope that turns to despondence anywhere from April through late-July…and then, it’s football season.  I was thinking about it.  In Seattle, the difference between fans of the football team and the baseball team can be summed up like this: If you’re a Seahawks fan, you go to the Team Store and spend some serious bucks on a jersey.  If you’re a Mariners fan, you take whatever Fred Meyer or Penney’s has on sale and call it good.

Oh, now there are the die-hards who love their Mariners and are getting pretty pissed off at me right now. Tune in any of the home games in the next few weeks and they’re the ones you’ll see sitting down by the field, checking their phones and looking for the fast-forward button for life.  As a baseball fan, it’s hard for me to get excited about this team.  Oh, we have the stars, we just don’t have the leadership or that special “it.”

The “it” is what takes a team like Kansas City from a bunch of rag-tag, dreamy-eyed players to winning the World Series. Last year’s Fall Classic was exactly that.  I’ve had 14 years of post-season baseball to enjoy that didn’t include the Mariners.  Real baseball fans know what I’m talking about. Sure, by then, football is underway, but those final weeks of baseball’s endurance challenge keep me coming back year after year.

Coming back?  Yeah, part of that 14-year history is knowing that, by August, the Mariners are done. By then, I’m no longer checking to see if they won or lose and I’m actually paying more attention to my back-up teams (you need those in Seattle) the Red Sox and the Dodgers. At least one of them usually makes it to the post-season.

Again, the die-hard Mariners fans will call this blasphemy, but I’m just not finding them to be a team I can believe in.  I would LOVE for them to prove me wrong.  I hope they right the ship and get this collection of players to live up to their potential.  But the biggest reason behind my doubt is inspired by the ownership’s decision to name a manager who has never managed a major league team before. Ever.  Or a minor league team, for that matter. It sounds like the plot of a Disney baseball B-picture.  At least in “Damn Yankees”, the guy with no experience had the devil helping him out.

If I accept this, I’d also have to hop on board a 747 with a pilot who has never flown before, or have a surgery performed by a guy who isn’t a doctor, but who has watched every episode of “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Yes, I’m venting.  It’s because I care so much about the game of baseball that I’m sad it’s not taken seriously when you’re lucky enough to have a major league team.  I’m not asking for an immediate championship. Hell, I’m 40 years into this adventure. I’d settle for a competitive team, that shows up and has the desire to win every day.  I’m just not feeling that with this year’s edition of the Seattle Mariners.  At least, not yet.

It was the great Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda who said it best:

“No matter how good you are, you’re going to lose one-third of your games. No matter how bad you are you’re going to win one-third of your games. It’s the other third that makes the difference.”

Here’s hoping the Mariners figure out that final third.

It’s early in the season.  I think I’ll wander over and check on soccer for a while.

OK, I’m back. Go Mariners. Please.

Tim Hunter

It’s How They Get You Hooked

World series

Baseball’s second season, the playoffs, begins next week.  Sadly, my current home team, the Seattle Mariners are going only if they buy tickets. It’s now been a dozen seasons since we’ve had the thrill of post-season baseball in this town.  Seattle fans who were in town for either the 1995 run or that 116-win, first-round elimination 2001 season, know what it’s all about.  But for the fair-weather crowd, baseball in Seattle is usually over by June.

It’s for that reason that people look at me strangely when I care so much about the post-season.  By now, the majority of the people I know have moved on to football–college, pro or both–and don’t understand why I’m not letting go since Seattle doesn’t have a team involved.

Of all the sports, baseball has been there all my life.  Go back to my childhood and I can recall (while I still can) having the TV off and most evenings, listening to Vin Scully and Jerry Doggett call the Dodger games on the radio every night.  Seems unimaginable with today’s standards, but there was a time when NBC had a baseball game of the week and select out-of-town series were put on TV.  Otherwise, the way you followed the teams were to go to the games or the radio.

Several things fueled my interest in baseball.  It was the only sport, as a kid, you could play.  Little League was about it, if you wanted to play organized sports.  Back in those dark days while the earth cooled, a Helms bakery truck would drive up and down the street selling freshly baked treats and offering packs of baseball cards for a nickel.  You’d get 10 cards and chewing gum that tasted like pink cardboard for just 5-cents.

Baseball was a lot like fishing to me.  One of my first-ever fishing experiences was going out on the Missouri River back in South Dakota and fishing on a boat with my uncle James and my dad.  They gave me a kiddie reel, which I resented…but when the day was done, we had caught a bunch of Northern Pike and I landed the biggest!  Needless to say, that set the stage for a lifetime of being out there on opening day every year.

In baseball, I was lucky enough to be a Dodger fan at the peak of their franchise.  As I grew up, I got to cheer for guys like Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Maury Wills and so many others.  Even eventual Seattle Mariner manager Jim Lefebvre (le FEVER) played second base back then for “the bums.”  As I grew up, they swept those nasty Yankees 4-0 in the 1963 World Series and in the 1965 series, they lost the first two games to the Minnesota Twins, but came back to win the series in 7 games.  If that kind of magic doesn’t get you addicted, nothing will.

For as long and drawn out as the regular season can be, the playoffs have that magical intensity that every pitch matters.  Every out gets you one step closer.  Every home run could be all you need.  Mr. Octobers step up or an entire team of very talented players chokes.

So, yes, I’m excited about the post-season, especially with my childhood team—the Dodgers–making a run at the National League title, while my back-up team–the Boston Red Sox–are looking real in the American League.

Oh, I’ll still be there for every second of Husky and Seahawk football.  But now it’s time for the Boys of Summer to see if they can land a few Northern Pikes of their own.

Tim Hunter

former players