Saturday, March 3, 2012

You Can't Be Too Careful

I got a call yesterday from my cousin Douglas Greenwald, who is following in the footsteps of his father, Hank Greenwald, the play-by-play voice for many years for the San Francisco Giants (with a two year stint with the New York Yankees).  I wasn't able to schmooze any seating out of Douglas for today's sold-out D-backs/Giants game, so I couldn't do any in-person research for this Flog - but it's early in the month and my editor/gallery manager/business partner assures me that she will harangue me daily about nepotism as it pertains to box seats.

It's March 3, 2012 - BATTER UP!

Last season was a year for the record books. At 15 teams strong, the Cactus League Spring Training season in Greater Phoenix set the all-time record for overall league attendance with 1,595,614 attendees at 233 games. The 2011 season also represented the first time all 15 Major League Baseball teams were consolidated in the Phoenix-metropolitan area and we saw the opening of the league’s newest stadium in Scottsdale, Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Diamondbacks were supposed to be also-rans with limited fans in 2011. But with the super-enthusiasm of my editor and her family, attendance was up more than 90% from the previous year’s figures. Season-wide attendance was 2,105,432.  Eileen was personally responsible for D-backs winning streaks (those come-back games in late September resulted from the force of her will) and ignited my enthusiasm, taking me to Chase Field where I set a personal record, attending seven games, (every one of which the D-backs won). And, we introduced my fabulous 4-year-old granddaughter, Izzy, to baseball. She knew every word of Take Me Out to the Ballgame and sang it in preparation for the 7th Inning Stretch, although she didn't care much for the Legends (the giant heads that run around the bases and thru the concourse) - except for at a safe distance.

I grew up in Seattle, an avid fan of the Seattle Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League. I listened intently to the “recreation” off of a ticker tape of the incomparable Leo Lassen.

Leo was a sportswriter and publicist who became a living legend as a baseball radio broadcaster in Seattle. He covered the city’s Pacific Coast League teams from 1931 to 1960.  His glory years coincided with those of the Seattle Rainiers when they played at Sicks' Seattle Stadium.

Baseball was the biggest game in town, and Lassen was its voice. His distinctive rapid-fire delivery, packed with detail and baseball knowledge, was known throughout the city. His broadcasting career ended with a salary dispute and he withdrew into private life, never returning to the ballpark where he had earned fame. A lifelong bachelor, he spent his retirement caring for his mother and tending his roses at his Wallingford home. He died without any surviving family members but with legions of fans who remembered him with appreciation and affection.

When my cousin, Carla Reiter, married Hank Greenwald, my connection to baseball and Leo Lassen was renewed. I followed the SF Giants until Eileen introduced me to the Diamondbacks.

Hank Greenwald had the same kind of remarkable knowledge of baseball and there are myriad stories of his career. My favorite was his tradition of turning over the play-by-play for one inning in each game to his color side-kick, who one night became speechless when the grounds crew came out and the game was delayed. The surrogate play-by-play guy managed to tell the listeners what was happening and said he would send somebody down to the field to find out what was causing the delay and returned to the microphone minutes later to announced that there was a problem with the rubber.

Wherein, Hank leaned into the mike and announced:  “We practice safe baseball in San Francisco.”

I’ll return soon with a second inning of my baseball report.   Incidentally, the Diamondbacks beat the Giants 9-6 today.

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