His voice is as familiar as the rising moon or setting sun.
I first heard him through the dashboard speakers of my grandfather’s Pontiac when I was eight or nine years old. We sat in the parking lot of Stater Brothers Grocery in Costa Mesa, CA, listening to a Dodger’s game. Since that summer day more than five decades ago, Vin Scully’s voice has been one of the few constants in my life.
Like millions of others who grew up listening to the master storyteller, I feel like I know him personally; a wise and gentle uncle with a calm and steady voice in an ever-changing and often confusing world.
He calls life through a baseball portal, a three-hour conversation with a therapist.
I have few possessions I value; I am not a “stuff” person, I prefer relationships. But of the items I’ve kept, a personal note written to me from Scully after I spent an afternoon with him in the broadcast booth in 1999 photographing him for a story, remains treasured. It’s a reminder to be personal and make time to reach out to others no matter how busy I am. If a celebrity like Scully can take time to write a personal note, so can I.
We have those moments – flashbacks I guess you would call them – when something, usually a smell or a sound stops us, and for a fleeting moment carries us back through the years, pinching our heart with sweet memories. I had one of those transcending moments Wednesday evening during the fifth game of the national league playoffs between the Dodgers and Cardinals.
As I walked across quiet, wet streets toward home, Scully’s familiar and comforting voice spilled out into the rainy Ohio night.
Instead of a nine-volt transistor radio, I held a $600 smartphone with Internet service. I chose to listen to Scully over watching high definition streaming video, suddenly thankful for the technology I often grumble about, the technology that carries Vin’s voice from sun-drenched Los Angeles, 2400 miles away to the dark, wet streets of Kent, Ohio.
Scully reports that game time temperature is 82 degrees with a “bright blue canopy overhead.”
Already homesick, I could shut my eyes and see it, feel it.
At the end of my street, I stopped and breathed deeply, tears beginning to pool.
Listening to Scully carried me back to a time when radios chirped from opened kitchen windows and front porches, sending the sound of baseball out into steamy summer nights and cool fall evenings. You didn’t have to go somewhere to hear a baseball game. Baseball was everywhere.
His voice is a bridge to my past, my childhood. Listening to him call a game, any game, is as soothing as slipping into a warm bath on a chilly night.
I thought about how much the world had changed in 60 years, and how some things – the best things – like hearing Vin reverently call a Dodger game, had not changed at all.
Through wars and natural disasters, since Harry Truman was president, his soothing voice has been healing salve for troubled spirits, first in New York and then California. He began broadcasting games for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1950, a year before I was born.
Like most of us, Scully is no stranger to personal grief or heartache, though he has kept most from the broadcast booth. Blessed with the rare gift of sharing his emotions while living above them, he is the personification of professionalism. His calming voice allows us, if only for a few hours, to escape life’s hardships and run the bases with our heroes.
Sometimes I wonder if the redhead from The Bronx has any understanding of how familiar and reassuring his voice really is?
I guess he would say he does, when he listens to old broadcasts of his mentor, the late Red Barber.
Perhaps it is his deep understanding of life that allows this optimistic poet, who talks with his audience as though each is a treasured friend sitting in a nearby chair, to bring comfort to so many, especially those far from home? “Wherever they might be.”
For Dodger fans, our season is over. And while I will miss the games, I will miss the season-long conversation with Vin even more.
Scully announced he plans to be back for the 2014 season. And Lord willing, so will I.
Photos © David LaBelle