I’m a believer that great stories are all around us. You just have to take the time to look for them. The past several weeks have been full of particularly interesting ones, even by my standards. Thanks to the power of storytelling (and a little help from technology), I’m excited to share them with you in this month’s newsletter.
July 4, 2022 was a day I will never forget. Not because of a spectacular fireworks display or my daughter celebrating another trip around the sun. But because while walking around downtown Houston just hours before our game against the Astros, I received a text from my Mom in Chicago. It said that she and my father were safe but scared. They had been walking to their town’s Independence Day parade in Highland Park, IL when a young man opened fire, shooting and killing multiple people. My parents were less than two blocks away. Thankfully they were able to run the other direction and escape tragedy, but a matter of minutes could have produced a different outcome.
The shooting took place less than a mile from my childhood home and a block from the hot dog restaurant I worked at in high school and during summers in college. Needless to say, my mind was not on baseball during the pre- and post-game shows. After the game, instead of celebrating, I sat numbly at the hotel bar trying to process what had happened.
Earlier that day, despite feeling distracted, I mustered the energy my job demands. I entertained our audience with stories from Minute Maid Park and the broadcast suffered no consequence. Win or lose, good streak or bad, I’m grateful for the unique responsibility of sharing insights with fans, even on days that aren’t the best.
I am passionate about storytelling. It’s why I rarely miss televised games. In a decade and a half, there are only two games I haven’t been at due to personal reasons. One was for a family death in 2008, one half of a game was for my son’s graduation last May and another half to move him into college last August. There were six games I could not attend in 2018, but only because I was on assignment in Kuwait. Broadcasting live with our troops to commemorate September 11 was a highlight of my career.
Last weekend brought another one. I humbly accepted the opportunity to cover the induction of legendary Negro Leagues player Buck O’Neil into the Baseball Hall of Fame. It was an honor to have been asked to chronicle the story of one of Kansas City’s most beloved figures. I told his story and sent live reports from Cooperstown to the Royals broadcast against the Tampa Bay Rays. And throughout, the gravitas of being selected was not lost.
Among the many who came out to mark the occasion were Negro Leagues Baseball Museum President Bob Kendrick, Hall of Fame pitcher Lee Smith, author Joe Posnaski and Hall of Fame broadcaster Bob Costas. I facilitated a panel they all participated in. And their storytelling demonstrated the power of this medium to the fullest. I never met O’Neil prior to his death in 2006. Over the years, Bob has spoken of him often and Joe’s book is full of anecdotes. But after a weekend dedicated to keeping Buck’s legacy alive, I felt closer to him than ever before.
Hopefully you will too after the July edition of Out of the Park, as I give you a peek behind the curtain with stories from on the road and in Cooperstown.
We only played at three stadiums in July prior to the release of this newsletter. Detroit is my favorite of the three and I’ll write about Comerica Park in the future. Rogers Centre in Toronto was the second and Minute Maid Park in Houston was the third.
If I’m being honest, I’m not a huge fan of Rogers Centre or Minute Maid Park. Domed stadiums feel sterile to me when the roof is closed. But indoor baseball and big crowds do make for loud, energetic environments. Houston in July brings a humidity that warrants air conditioning, but when the roof is open, Minute Maid park isn’t too bad.
Someone I am extremely fond of, however, is the Astros manager Dusty Baker, which I think is a universal feeling in baseball. Picking his brain during batting practice before our first game was the best part of our series in Houston. To see him move into the top 9 of all-time wins was both an honor and one of the great stories to be told. I only wish it hadn’t come at the expense of the Royals.
This month I’m mostly bypassing a restaurant to instead focus on Cooperstown. Surprisingly, it was my first visit to this quaint little town and it met my every expectation. I was working throughout the trip so we didn’t get to do too much exploring, but we did end up at the Brewery Ommegang, the sister brewery to Kansas City’s Boulevard Brewery. It hosted our panel about Buck O’Neil and we went both nights for dinner.
The greatest story of my trip, beyond the obvious historical significance of Buck O’Neil (finally) entering The Hall, is about the Dominican baseball fans. Many visited to cheer on David “Big Papi” Ortiz, their country’s favorite son. Ortiz became the fourth Dominican in The Hall, joining Juan Marichal, Pedro Martinez and Vladimir Guerrero. Everywhere you looked there were Dominican flags and shirts, proudly displayed by supporters whose love for “Papi” and the game of baseball was almost palpable. It spoke volumes about passion, identity and culture.
During the parade, the Dominican fans cheered for every Hall of Famer with the same enthusiasm. When George Brett passed by, they chanted, “Georgie! Georgie!” in unison. I’ve never heard him referred to this way, but the pure joy of the moment was moving.
Rounding the Bases Rewind
On a recent episode of my podcast Rounding the Bases I sat down with Bonnie Hagemann, the Chief Executive at EDA Inc. Our interview included discussion on culture, gender equality and the tremendous role of women in the workplace. You can listen to the full interview here.
Don’t miss new episodes released every Monday and Thursday wherever you get your podcasts.
MLB debuts strike a chord in me. Dreams are realized and the storytelling is always memorable. This month, there is one in particular that I will remember for a very long time.
Nate Eaton was a 21st round draft pick of the Royals in 2018. To give some perspective, in all of Major League Baseball, he is the only player from the 21st round of the 2018 draft to play in the big leagues. He is one of only six in the entire league who has been called up since 2014. In the Royals franchise specifically, Nate is the third player this century who was taken in the 21st round to play in the Majors (Irving Falu and Matt Strahm were the others). Sure, he was one of the minor league players called up to face the Blue Jays after Canadian Covid-19 vaccine regulations rendered many of the Royal’s regular starters ineligible. But Eaton is still a legitimate prospect, even if under the radar.
Nate’s AAA manager told me before the game to keep an eye on him and that he was ready. Hitting a homer in a key moment proved it. The fact that it was also his first big league hit only added to the excitement. When I met Nate at spring training, he was quiet and reserved. In my post-game interview he opened up completely. I take a lot of pride in making my on-air guests feel comfortable and hope that was the case with him as well. But it was what he said about his mom during that interview that got me – and others – choked up. This story says it all. Take a look.
Eaton after hitting a homer in his MLB debut: "It's everything I dreamed of. … When I was running around the bases, right as I got to second, the only person I could hear cheering was my mom. She's enjoying this probably a lot more than I am." #Royals pic.twitter.com/vmI9axrNKH
— Bally Sports Kansas City (@BallySportsKC) July 15, 2022
Keeping the Score
Every week on my podcast Rounding the Bases I get the opportunity to interview business leaders, athletes and everyone in between. No two experiences are alike, but each conversation tells a significant story and provides an enlightening lesson.
My blog Keeping the Score rounds the bases with a single, double, triple and home run from each guest on the podcast. This month, my guests and I covered topics like culture, DEI and making adjustments, or as I like to call it, hitting the curve. Check out all of the recent releases here.
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