Popo: The last day of summer calls for reflection on summer nights -- and baseball

Posted at 9:55 AM, Sep 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-21 10:11:06-04

It's Wednesday September 21, 2016:

REMEMBER THIS: It was on this date in 1964 that the Reds' Chico Ruiz stole home in the sixth inning against the first place Phillies. It was the only run scored in a 1-0 Reds victory. It started a ten game losing streak for the Phillies and as a result, they lost the National League pennant.

96TH WIN: The Cubs beat the Reds last night as Anthony Rizzo drove in three runs and Jon Lester threw seven strong innings. The Cubs go for a sweep at Wrigley Wednesday night.

WALK-OFF IN CLEVELAND: The Indians Brandon Guyer drove in the game winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning, giving the Tribe a 2-1 victory over Kansas City, Cleveland's 11th walk-off win of the season. The Indians magic number to win the AL Central Division is six.

THE VOICES OF SUMMER: My wife and I used to drive to Virginia Beach for vacation, and because my son was very young, very energetic and very challenging, it was advantageous to travel at night. He would sleep. And my wife would sleep as well.

That allowed me to have  complete control of the radio. On just about any night, I could dial in Marty and Joe calling the Reds. Jack Buck would blast through on KMOX out of St. Louis. Despite hairpin turns through West Virginia, Ernie Harwell was audible with the Tigers. One time, I picked up a skipping signal from the west coast with Vin Scully and the Dodgers. My wife would wake up and hear some annoying static from the radio and ask "What are you listening to?" The name Vin Scully meant nothing to her.

It was like sharing three of four hours with a friend. Every call was unique and I didn't really care who was playing. The chatter was faraway but chummy. The organ music lobbied for a rally. The crowd would rise and fall with each hit and each out.

I thought back to those nights as I listened to an interview with Vin Scully on the Dan Patrick show the other day.  He was talking about his 67 years as the voice of the Dodgers and his 80-year love affair with the game.

Vin used to do a lot of golf and football, but baseball bears his signature.

I tried to do a story on him in the 1981 season when I saw him on the elevator at Riverfront Stadium. I asked for an interview while the Dodgers were in town. He was very cordial, but said "I've been interviewed to death."  Then he told me "there's a much better story with this team.. Do you know Jaime Jarrin?" I didn't. He told me that Jarrin was the Dodgers Spanish language announcer and he had taken on greater prominence that season because he was serving as interpreter for a pudgy and intriguing rookie southpaw named Fernando Valenzuela. I followed up and did an interview with Jarrin the next day in the Dodgers dugout. And Fernando showed up and sat down with us.  The story turned out fine and Fernando became  not only the Rookie of the Year, but the Cy Young Award winner as well. Thanks for the tip, Vin.

When the Reds were winning wire-to-wire in 1990, I was working morning sports at WCKY radio. with the great Brian Patrick and Don Herman. WCKY carried CBS baseball and their world series play-by-play team was Vin Scully and Johnny Bench. I had never heard Scully do much baseball, and while Bench had been doing some television for the Reds, I always thought he talked too much.

He didn't with Vin. Scully and Bench on radio was a sensation. Scully painted each picture and Bench filled in the blanks. I always had the feeling that Bench had such high regard for Scully, he held back a little and stayed in the strict role of the color analyst. It was some of the best baseball on radio I ever heard.

Radio of course is the perfect vehicle for baseball. I grew up listening to Jimmy Dudley call the Indians and Bob Prince call the Pirates. Different styles and different trademark sayings, which we all adopted when we played wiffle ball in the backyard.

Recently, while cleaning out some junk, I found an old transistor radio that my Aunt Mary bought me for my birthday.  It was my constant companion in the summer. To my delight, once I added some new batteries it still worked.

I must admit that my favorite night at home still is swimming in the backyard, a cold beer on the deck and a baseball game on the radio. It's usually Marty and the Reds, but it could be Tom Hamilton and the Indians. Both are awfully tough to beat.

My wife and I still often travel at night, but I don't have an ornery kid sleeping in the backseat any longer. However, I still invite my wife to nod off because I know I'll find someone to listen to. Buck and Harwell are gone and Scully is on his way out. But if it's summer, there's still a game in the nighttime skies and there's still a voice keeping me company.