4957 words (19 minute read)

10                       Pittsburgh... with a "h"

Beer vendors generally were allowed to chill out for a half inning, or even an entire inning to grab some rest, depending upon how speedy the action on the field. Fanny’s soaked tray was empty so she spun to traipse back up. She would detour Phil’s aisle to zig-zag toward the broadcast booth. Who was around to chastise her? Hey, she was on her way up top to help Smoky if he needed any help, right? At least, that’s what she told herself. So, she plopped her tray at the Heineken station, unbuttoned her apron, unsnapped her cap, set each on the stainless steel counter behind Franz the Heineken guy, and headed up. No dummy, Franz. He took his time watching Fanny trot away. Until he felt a healthy flow of Heineken roll off his left wrist.

Smoky was hacking at a wheel of Sonoma Cheese Factory sharp cheddar like a Samurai warrior on acid. Al Michaels had wisely stepped back, but had deftly held on to his hunk of Boudin sourdough. About ten feet away, sat Kruk and Kuip, who called the game from the open air booth. Kruk and Kuip, teammates behind the mic for KFAN-TV, they had also been teammates on the field for the Giants.

"And that’s how this game gets started." Young Vin Hodges would have identified that in a press box second, Kuiper’s signature sign-on after the leadoff play of every telecast. And of course, that’s exactly how this night’s game had gotten started.

Duane Kuiper hit the majors a couple years after he had been drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the first round of the 1972 Major League draft. He went on to play three seasons with the Giants before turning to TV where he won seven Emmy awards. He had been a scrappy second baseman, perhaps best known, perhaps immortal, for his home run. His one home run. Kuiper still owns the major league record for most career at bats, with exactly one home run.

"Grab some pine, meat," was partner Mike Krukow’s signature instruction to an opposing batter who had just flailed at strike three. Dugout benches hadn’t been made of pine since Truman was in office but the expression had endured. "Just another ha, ha, ha, laugher," when a game was getting out of hand, and his, "I wanna get that," at the end of product endorsements were signature "Krukisms." Krukow, once a twenty-game winner, had pitched in the big leagues for fourteen years. The right-hander had pitched his last seven seasons for the Giants. He retired in 1989. He worked color beside Kuiper’s play by play.

Generally, the historic "call" of a play, gets attributed to the radio side because listeners rely exclusively on the announcer’s call to see the game in one’s mind. But Duane Kuiper’s TV call of Barry Bonds’ historic 715th home run to pass Babe Ruth, is definitely "the call." Definitely, because radio announcer Dave Fleming’s microphone had cut out at the very moment the ball had been hit. Sibling sabotage? Never know.

November 1, 2010, the Giants won the World Series for the first time since 1954. Young Vin Hodges had listened hundreds of times to tape of Duane Kuiper’s call when the players swarmed the field after Brian Wilson struck out Texas Rangers’ Nelson Cruz, to clinch the championship. "Giants fans... this party is just getting started!"

In the booth next to the Giants broadcast team, Vin Scully munched on sourdough slathered with Monterey pepper jack. He’d hold off on an Anchor Steam until after the seventh inning stretch.

The Phil Sage foursome would not have recognized its high falutin’ step-cousins, the orange and black, puffed out recliners that looked like cockpit seats, spread around Head Cheat’s luxury sky box, four doors down from the broadcast booths. Had any of those guys spent even an Arizona-second shackled together in a malodorous South Phoenix nightclub? Fat chance. Fat seats. So fluffy that one of Phil’s less gaudy compatriots down in Section 8, had once called the boys upstairs "wind cushions." His neighbor in Section 9 wasn’t nearly so politically correct in his description. And get this! There had been rampant rumors that a few of the new, high-nosed seats were girls! The guy in Section 9 had said he had heard that yet another group up there was referred to as San Francisco "tweeners." Whatever that meant.

Plop, plop! Eyeing the Dawg seats that Kuni and Bumper had vacated, a young couple with more piercings than body parts, had snuck up to make themselves at home atop Sammy the Seat and Izzy Dean. Next thing you know, warm beer was drizzling down Izzy’s chin. Well, where his chin would have been, if he had one. The jury was still out with Sammy. He hadn’t seen the young lady, but she felt plenty shapely around the hips, then, "ouch! I’ve got a porcupine riding me."

"Brmmm bum." Johnny Pistol.

Whoops! This time it was Mr. Hodges who had to sleeve the beer off the back of his neck. Big feller, that guy behind him. Pierce Man looked every bit of 250 pounds when he had stumbled past. Hodges’ mathematician’s brain needed only fractions of a second to conclude that it was best for him to continue to rigidly face forward. Turbo then dished him consolation when she rose before him. "Ladies room," she advised Roger Butler. Stepping out from her seat she leaned in to whisper to Mr. Hodges, "hey darling, feel like a hot dog?"

"Hit me with your best shot!" Uh, ho. Had the gimme in the world of Hawaii radio suddenly radiated into a 3-putt? Pat Benatar blasted from Boomer Boudin’s Samsung that he had set on the Sunset Grill bar among the cactus field of empty shot glasses. "Fire away."

Rocky Ocean, one slippah hiked up on the Grill’s brass boot rail, paid it no mind. His brain had been clicking like a Harvey House telegraph key since Boomer had told him, "I’ll consider whatever number you come up with. Be fair, then between you and this guy Bumper, present me a fair salary amount, then we’ll work it out." But about forty seconds later, when Boomer Boudin had clicked his cell shut, the last words that came to his mind would have been, "green grass and high tides."

Turns out the Bankoh vice-president had emailed up the chain to confirm that he had won a commitment from his prominent client to pounce immediately, as in Monday, Boomer would pay down every cent of the debt run up by Kauai broadcaster Wally Detts. And, he had informed the higher-ups, Boomer would take over operation of the pair of FMs immediately via what’s called an LMA, a local marketing agreement. It would take up to four months to win a Federal Communications Final Grant and Order which every sale was contingent upon. Only with a signed and approved, interim LMA, could a buyer take over management immediately. Detts had already signed one. Bank of Hawaii had none too subtly, forced him to.

Not only had Detts failed to pony up before his drop-dead date, he had piled on a hefty amount of additional interest due to the amount of subsequent obligations over the course of the three successive, long gone 90-day grace periods, not to mention, accompanying late fees. That final period had come and gone the previous Friday.

"Same guy up the chain, Boom, has to be. He read my email, then went over my head." The Bank of Hawaii VP harbored no doubt that whomever Detts’ benefactor was up the Bank of Hawaii chain, he was the same high muckety-muck who had now granted Wally Detts a fourth 90-day extension.

Boomer had said nothing. Then, half-heartedly, "hey, can’t win ’em all. Keep me on-deck if anything develops." After he clicked off, he slid his Samsung down the bar. From his expression, Rocky Ocean knew his high hopes for his long-time pal had piled up against a big, big rock. At least for now.

Boomer Boudin pointed at his cell, forsook forcing a smile and said, "looks like you have another phone call to make."

Kuni Noyori made nary a dent in the cavernous orange sky box seat at the far end of the row of seats on the walk-out deck. Next to her, Jewel Goldman had plenty of room in her puffed up black seat to stretch out her Hilfiger’s and click her navy blue Jimmy Choos on the deck railing. Jewel had squeezed Kuni’s sleeve to pull her closer. "You’ve given me the lowdown tonight on your hopes for Cole, why not tell me what hopes you have for you?"

"Like I said, we definitely prefer to settle here. Cole has roots, friends and family here. San Francisco is a major, major market. It could be the job to end all job searches. Forever." Forever, a word alien to all but a few radio and TV personalities.

"Cole," wondered Jewel aloud. "All well and good for Cole, but what does Kuni want? You were, are, a star, hon. Not for one minute, can I picture you alone out in the ’burbs all day long, baking bread, planting sprouts, blow drying your Corgi and playing Kuni wifey."

"That’s only part of it," Kuni slowly exhaled. "Ah heck, why not let you be the second to know? Cole and I are expecting. The proverbial stork should come to nest in time for her to see her first Santa."

Pause. Eyebrows up. Grin as wide as an old 45 rpm disc. "Yahoo! Double-yahoo. Excellent, excellent, excellent adventure. Her! It’s a girl?"

"Not for a few more months," she smiled. "But yes, our daughter is due between Thanksgiving and Christmas." The news lit up Jewel like a Roman candle and Kuni delighted in her friend’s response.

"Name? Names?"

"We have a few in mind. Sorry to inform you, ’Jewel’ did not make the preliminary cut."

"Minors, darling, minors." Jewel quickly erased a sudden tiny frown for quickly realized that this wonderful news might queer the deal that she had dragged Kuni away to discuss. But hey, she was a sales maven, here comes the pitch. "Without sounding a bit crass, don’t you feel that maybe, maybe, you’d want something else to, to fulfill you?"

"You mean, like a boy?"

Jewel felt ninety percent sure than her pal was goofing on her.

Kuni affirmed, "I know what you mean, Jewel."

"Excellent," said Jewel for the umpteenth time. Presto! She determined how to modify her scheme. "Now, let me detail the reason I wanted us to slide down this way."

"Everything Women Know About Men." Turbo had rejoined the boys, and that is how Roger Butler greeted her. Upon re-entry, Turbo hiked up her skirt more than a blush so that it waved like a handkerchief to brush the shoulder of Mister Hodges.

Everything Men Know About Women, is definitely thinner," tossed in Sammy the Seat.

"Women will never be equal to men until they can walk down the street with a bald head and a beer gut and still think they are sexy."

"Good one, Pistol." conceded Izzy. "But remember, behind every successful man, is woman. Behind the fall of every successful man is usually another woman."

"Whoa! Izmeister nails one. Brrrrrrm bum."

Paraprosdokians, smiled Phil, there’s nostalgia for you, a favorite of Winston Churchill. It’s when the latter part of a figure of speech is twisted into humor. Nostalgia, he smiled, ain’t what it used to be.

"Ladies Night next Thursday here at the ball yard. You lucky men pay just half price to escort your lady to AT&T Park."

Smoky Burgess stared in awe.

Al Michaels sat alongside Vin Scully. Once in a while, the voice of the Dodgers liked to treat his audience to an inning or two of "color" from a celebrity or an out of town announcer (never Kruk nor Kuip! No matter how much he personally liked the guys, they worked for the Giants! End discussion). Or perhaps a retired player or anyone his listeners might want to hear, might accompany him in the booth. So long as he was not named McCarver. At the top of the inning, Michaels had lead off with this about a former Dodger great: ’"What you lack in talent, can be made up with desire, hustle and giving a hundred and ten percent all the time.’"

"Yep, dependable Don Zimmer, and ’hustle’ is right," replied Scully. "They used to call Pete Rose, ’Charlie Hustle.’ Few people know that a relationship between Zimmer and Rose goes way back, long before either of them reached the big leagues. Back in his teens, Zimmer often played ball with Pete’s dad in Sedamsville, Ohio, right near Cincinnati where Pete starred with the Cincinnati Reds all those years."

During the break, Vin Scully had turned to ask Smoky Burgess if he had been named after the old-time catcher. Smoky had nodded yes. He told the legendary red head that his dad had played his teen ball in Pittsburgh and yes, he was named after Smoky Burgess, his dad’s favorite Pittsburgh Pirate.

Michaels spun suddenly to ask Smoky how to spell Pittsburgh. Smoky laughed.

Michaels said, "I’m serious."

So, Smoky spelled ’Pittsburgh’ for him.

"Nope," Michaels told him that the question had been asked for ages by journalism professors. "To get the facts absolutely correct, you have to ask which Pittsburg? Because Pittsburg, California, is spelled without the letter, ’h.’"

"In the business seven decades and never knew that," said Vin Scully. "Of course, I have never called a game from Pittsburg, with no ’h’. Now, I ask you, name another team that the original Smoky played for."

"Cincinnati," smiled Al Michaels.

Even though he and Michaels had worked in Cincinnati for years, the younger Smoky had not known that.

Vin Scully smiled as he flipped on his mic.

Vin Hodges smiled as he flipped on his mic. He knew listeners could hear the smile or frown in an announcer’s delivery. "Big inning. Bonds leads off. The noise has begun to fill the park. It might sound to you as though I am broadcasting at dawn... from Cape Canaveral... beside a space shuttle launch. Eh-eh."

If he could have stood, Phil Sage would have slapped the kid a high five.

"Hey, do that again, and I’ll slap the crap out of you!" The commotion was coming from over the wooden shoulders of Sammy and Izzy.

"Hit the road big fella."

The metallic oaf had risen up from Izzy like Gentle Ben risen from hibernation. "Yeah, you and which army gonna make me?"

"Hit the road, big fella, and take Lady Gaga with you." At right about the second "ga," a half dozen security guards materialized beside the head usher and with that, the trespassing and glittering couple was abruptly lead away. "Good riddance," managed a winded Izzy. "I feel like I’ve spent a weekend at the acupuncturist."

Mr. Hodges had gone two innings without trying to assist his son with one nugget or another. Yes! Turbo had shed her jacket again.

"Loudest I ever heard noise, ever," cracked the Pistol.

"Not as loud, I betcha, as the wail from that guy who took the Jamison in that all-star game at the Stick," said Sammy.

Phil Sage said he’s have to think about that.

Izzy looked bemused. Actually, he looked asleep. Actually, he was asleep.

Fanny Hill didn’t know whether she should knock or simply open the door and walk right inside the Dodgers broadcast booth. She rightly decided that striding in at the sound of a knock, would not be the correct way to enter a sound booth.

Al Michaels was passing along to Vin Scully’s listeners the memorable Chuck Knoblauch remark about Minnesota Twins fans when, after he was traded from Minnesota, he had returned to play in his first game in the Twin Cities as an opposing player. Twins fans had pelted him in his debut with bottles and coins when he took the field in the third inning. "Three innings," Knoblauch had said. "I guess that’s how long it takes for beer to take effect."

Fanny tapped Smoky’s shoulder. He smiled and gave her a one-armed hug.

Some guy, an intern she figured, quickly offered her a hunk of Boudin sourdough. She shook her head. He continued to stand and stare. Any other time, Fanny would have welcomed the attention. Sort of. Smoky shooed the kid away. "Bonds is coming up," he said, and nudged her closer to Michaels and Scully.

Bonds walked toward the plate. Michaels and Scully each figured it would be ninety seconds before either would see any action to call.

"Another heretofore never conceived precipice?" Sammy asked no one in particular.

"That’s twice I’ve heard that tonight," said Johnny Pistola. "Can’t you guys pronounce press pass correctly? Hah-ha-ha."

"Praecipitium, Sammy. Latin. Abrupt descent." Phil wondered where that had bubbled up from inside his over-heated brain. He had never studied Latin. Greek mythology? Yes. He had read Ovid, Metamorphoses. Every thing comes out of an egg, and all that. But he had never formally studied Latin lingo.

"We stand once again, at the precipice, and I mean stand. Every fan in the ball yard is on his feet... no one in his seat." Vinny was standing too, firm grip on the black handle of a Hillerich & Bradsby 34-inch Maury Wills model two-tone bat. Had to use that mic. He always packed it in his gear box because whenever he stood, the cord on his Senheiser mic was too short to whip it up from his Gates slide-pot board to chin level. His dad was furiously thumbing an old Pirates game day program from Bonds’ days playing for Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh with an "h") searching for a nugget. It was the first time in eons that Mr. Hodges had looked any direction except dead ahead.

Kuni and Jewel had returned from the deck to the party. There, they joined Jewel’s boss and one of her salesmen. Derek Dakine, the general manager, grabbed her gently by both arms then playfully whacked Kuni’s back. "Hey now. Of all people. How are you Kuni? I thought that was you I saw earlier with the long-haired guy. Who does his wardrobe? Ray Charles?"

But now, the long-haired guy had kind of crumpled, kind of dissolved, into the unwelcome arms of an orange seat that Sammy the Seat would have given an armrest to be. Come to think of it, he would have to lose both armrests, because the big chairs were like beanbags, no armrests down there. But Bumper Morgan was down there. Sunken. Literally. Sloop John B. had sailed from his cell phone fifteen minutes earlier. The Beach Boys’ version. Rocky Ocean had tried his best to ameliorate the devastation that he heard strike down his pal. "Ninety days. Ninety-nine percent chance it’s only ninety days." Boomer Boudin had pointed out to Rocky the length of the grace period Bank of Hawaii had proffered to defaulting Detts in the past. Perhaps that might soothe Bumper later, once the sudden pain that felt like a coral reef had strafed him, wore a wee bit away.

An intentional walk is when the catcher rises to step away from home plate to catch four soft tosses outside the strike zone from the pitcher. Since the game had been invented, it had been rare indeed to walk a runner to first base if there were no other runners aboard. Make each hitter get aboard on his own because, with the bases empty, the batter could only do immediate damage if he hit a home run. Barry Bonds regularly hit for immediate and serious damage. He hit for extra bases so often that pitchers trying to mitigate damage, had begun to award him first base freely whether or not there were other runners.

There are two ways to intentionally give a hitter a free base. You walk him on four pitches or "wham," you drill him with a pitch. And that’s precisely what Andy Messersmith had done. He had tattooed Bonds on his back right between the two and the five on his jersey. Immediately, the noise at Cape Canaveral launched into 43,000 groans, screams, boos and curses.

Barry Bonds recorded no emotion. He one-handed his bat toward the bat boy, turned, tugged at a batting glove and ambled up the first base line. It was the third time that night that Mr. Bonds had come to the plate. The way the game was playing out, the odds favored him coming to bat two more times.

The security guys had been glued to the Bonds moment and now joined the boo chorus, so a scary obese woman who looked too much like Roseanne, had made her move. She had jogged up the steps, then bounded atop Sammy the Seat. Oomph! Double oomph! He found some relief when she stood up to yell, "If I was on the field, Messersmith, I’d race over and punch your lights out. Hammer you a hard one right in the kisser."

"Mike Tyson’s Guide To Dating Etiquette." Butler’s latest book title didn’t do much for Phil Sage. He felt sandwiched. Behind him, he could feel the overflow of the woman wrestler who had rocked Sammy. In front of him, Butler the speed reader, overflowed that seat. Nonetheless, he was confident that the none too svelte amazon would soon be ejected, and he had begun to find Big Boy Butler, entertaining. Generally.

"now batting..."

"How about a Modesto olive?" Again, Fanny Hill shook her auburn streak. The intern stood stock still for as long as he dared, then skedaddled once more to scour the buffet table in hopes of finding something that the TV fox had a taste for. His overriding idea, of course, was to induce in her, a taste for him.

God Bless America! Smoky Burgess thought that he had switched his cell to vibrate, but obviously, he hadn’t. Fanny’s ears perked. She hoped upon hope that it was her general manager on the line to say that he had changed his mind. Or, to tell her she had misheard. After all, the blasts of noise from the Van Ness sidewalk in front of Symphony Hall really had whacked out something like eighty percent of what he had said. But, it wasn’t her general manager on the line. It was her news director, her immediate boss, Ken Sutherland. Ken asked Smoky if Fanny was nearby. When the Biermeister answered affirmatively, Ken asked Smoky to hang up. He needed to text Fanny. It was one sad weekend anchorwoman who waited morosely to ascertain more details about her impending termination.

Ken Sutherland was a rare bird in the broadcast business. He was a gentleman. Fanny had utmost respect for him personally and professionally. At that moment, Mr. Sutherland had pulled up to catch breath. He had been huffing toward Third Street. Afoot. Traffic was horrendous. It was compounded by the thousands of fans outside AT&T watching Giants action this memorable night on a dozen big screens as tall as industrial windmills. No taxi, not even a limousine, could wade through that gridlock. Miraculously, what looked like a Town car had been the last to eke through the throngs.

Sutherland had pulled his emerald Camry into a self-park on Geary, sixteen blocks from the stadium. Once he reached Third, he could jump the street car that would take him all the way to the Willie Mays statue outside the ballpark. He texted Fanny his predicament. After the game, he’d meet her inside the TV 20 sky booth.

Wouldn’t you know it, Jewel was after Head again. Feisty, this one, Head Cheat rightly reckoned. Well, let’s toss her a knuckler. When she ambled up he offered her a cheesy grin. "Meant to mention earlier, Jewel. Saw ya this afternoon in the Tonga Room. I was at the Hurricane Bar. Passing through, I saw you and Mister Dakine. And you two weren’t alone, tucked way back in that corner table 16, huh? I didn’t know a sports queen like you could stir so hearty a spoon in the big kitchens of hard news."

Only an eyebrow twitch, which she quickly quashed. Jewel Goldman could play poker face with the best.

"One of my managers, a fellow known to hoist a few, had been camped at the bar for a goodly long spell. When I arrived, he had asked if I knew the hottie at 16, dressed in the jovani aqua V-neck sweater. I said, ’indeed I do.’ He commented that he had been checking you out, to no avail, for going on three hours. So I checked you out. Three bottles of Dom? Mid-afternoon? Hmmm. The blond had her back to me, but you were dead in my sights. Looked very much to me that you were celebrating an impending victory? Victory, with a capital V?"

Damn! Thought Jewel Goldman. Damn. She had been sure that she had surreptitiously pulled it off. She leaned in and sucked it up. "Head, I can’t have this out in the open just now. Two major league clients here that I must break the news to one-on-one, before my news hits. Common courtesy. One of ’em hears something this dramatic from a third party, they would become as agitated as a Waikiki hotel manager during a tsunami."

"Aaaaaaah, so you have a done deal, then? The Dom was called for, eh?" He turned his cheek closer to her and winked.

"Done deal. A coup. Definitely the coup of my life. And it directly benefits you too, can’t you see?"

"Yes, I do. Well done, Ms. Goldman. Well done. Come to Pier 39 Monday. Treat you to lunch in my club. Turkey. We’ll talk turkey. There, you can show me all that you have on my HiWi roll-out. Then, I’ll show you what I want. I want a prominent role in your KFAN roll-out."

For now, a sigh of relief. "So we’re deaf and dumb till then?" It was much more a question than her usual declarative statements.

"Whaddaya give me? I’m joking. You’re solid, so quit bothering me." He grinned like a chimp at feeding time. "Enjoy the rest of the game."

So she grinned wide too. Then, she tip-toed up to kiss his cheek before stepping over to the bar to call for three fingers of Jack.

Phil was antsy. A complete inning had come and gone. Hide nor hair of Fanny and now, a slim, vacant-looking young woman with a waist the size of a training wheel, passed by while trying to balance a soaked cupcake tray. A beer vendor was supposed to first scoot down to the front row, Mr. Eucker, and from there, hoist her full tray to begin working her way up. Much better for her balance. The rookie waif had paid the price. Two cupcake indentations were empty of cups, and suds floated and stirred inside as though a child had just stepped into a tub.

"Okay, sports fans, let’s have some fun! When Barry hits his historic shot heard round the world, will the lucky fan keep it, sell it to the Hall, sell it to Barry Bonds? Or search for a higher bidder?"

"Bonds," said Izzy. "Choose Bonds, and win more tickets than the California Lottery prints in a year."

"Punch h-o-m-e-r-u-n into your cell, or go on line at homerun1000@vinhodgesbehindthemic.com. When we reach one thousand votes, I’ll crank up Vin’s famous and patented people meter. Then, I’ll keep you up to date as the game plays out. And hey, eh-eh, electronic ballot stuffing is frowned upon. Eh-eh."

"Here we go," said Sammy, playfully punching his forehead (which, in a seat, is a sight to witness). "Looks like we’re on the precipice of a major league poll."

"A poll run by a kid calling the action from right behind a foul pole," cracked Johnny Pistol.

Not bad, thought Phil, but no way, he would ever say so. Ever. Besides, he was consumed raking the aisles for any trace of Fanny Hill.

Next Chapter: 11                       Kuni’s Maneki-neko