12 July 2010

Num-bah One, Bob Shepp-urd.....Num-bah One

New York imparts abundant magic upon little boys lucky enough to grow up there. The tinkling music of Good Humor trucks and mobile, miniature ferris wheels signaling children along our narrow Brooklyn street. I remember my mother picking me up early from kindergarten to see the Statue of Liberty, or the breathtaking blue whale suspended from the ceiling of the American Museum of Natural History.

It is not an exaggeration to say that Bob Sheppard was one of those magical things about the city, equally melodious and mysterious to a child. Sheppard, along with Madison Square Garden fixture John Condon, elevated concrete venues into civilized cathedrals, with their charming authority and, in Sheppard's case, an unusual economy of expression.

There was a solemn dignity inherent to Yankee Stadium that Shea never approached, and Bob Sheppard had a lot to do with that. It's awkward, even unseemly, to label him an "in game host", after enduring the likes of Chase Field's Mike and Vanessa, but that's what he was. And much like a party's tone reflects its host, so to with a ballgame. The worst parties are when the homeowner tries to sell you something, like Amway or a timeshare. Sheppard was like the retired millionaire with the nicest house in town, who'd politely greet you, ask that you make yourself at home - and then leave you to mingle and enjoy yourselves.

He respected fans; their intellect, sensibilities and their time. People roll their eyes when New Yorkers talk about the "voice of God" - and understandably so. There's no need to deify Sheppard's mannered good taste. But he honored the names of all players equally, regardless of the player's uniform, ethnicity or standing in the game, and there was something unconditional and regal about that. He clearly told you what you needed to know and added nothing that you didnt. His deliberate monotone gave time and space for energy to swell from it's rightful birthplace - the grandstands.

As kids, we didnt know the PA guys' names, nor did we need to. We just knew that when you settled into your seat at the Stadium (or Condon's Garden), you were the privileged house guests of gracious adults. And you were definitely in New York.

On cement diamonds and grassy backyard whiffleball fields from Danbury to the Jersey shore, we all imitated the invisible Sheppard.

Now batting......for the Port Chester Bisons..... Number 4....
BIL-ly... CUTH-bert......................Number 4.

We'd mimic him again and again, until dusk, when everyone trudged separately home for supper, followed by the real Yankee game on WPIX. After that, in quiet bathrooms and bedrooms across the tri-state area, little boys in their pajamas squinted at medicine cabinet and bedside mirrors, and whispered that voice once more, just before bedtime, as if to make dreams official.

Now bat-ting...for the YAN-kees....NUM-buh 1....the GRAY-tist play-uh of all tiiime....CEN-tah field-ah.....[insert boy's name here].....[insert crowd cheers]......... NUM-buh One.
His was an adult voice, conveying a mysterious, dignified magic, that spoke to the child in all of us.


Jeff said...

I was gonna write a nice comment about Sheppard here but then I got distracted by the vid thumbnail on the sidebar of two hot chicks sucking face.

Diamondhacks... still got it!

Diamondhacks said...

Who can quibble with the priorities of a charasmatic genius?