Just wrapped up my participation in the 51st annual National SportsCasters and SportsWriters Association convention in Salisbury, North Carolina. I was very pleased to accept the Sportscaster of the year award for the state of Rhode Island. The folks down south deserve a ton of credit. They rolled out the red carpet for everyone. Whether you are Hall of Famer Peter Gammons, or just plain old Steve Hyder from the Pawtucket Red Sox, you are treated like royalty.
I never put too much into winning this award. I know that there are so many talented people out there. I guess it’s just my turn. It all changes when you get there though, and mingle with the likes of Marty Brenneman and the Durhams, (father Woody and son Wes). Marty, who always has great things to say about Dan Hoard is in his 37th year as voice of the Reds. Woody Durham is a legend in North Carolina. For the last 40 years he has served as voice of the UNC TarHeels. His son, Wes is the play by play man for the Atlanta Falcons, as well as Georgia Tech. It is humbling to stand with these accomplished men and women and for at least one night, say I won the same recognition as Furman Bisher, Dan Shaughnessy or Bruce Beck.
For the most part, the winners are an anonymous bunch, known only to their listeners, viewers or readers. People, believe me, there’s a lot of talent out there. Broadcasters such as Mike Murphy of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats or Phil Elson of the Arkansaas Travelers get a moment in the sun for their work in minor league baseball. Men like Greg Papa of the Oakland Raiders and Mick Mixon of the Carolina Panthers hobnob with the “common folk”. They’re maybe a rung or two ahead of most, but you’d never know it.
Having Gammons ask my opinion about Lars Anderson or Bob Ryan approach me and ask about PawSox owner Ben Mondor really boosts the ego. Socializing with them and hearing their stories is an incredible amount of fun. I very rarely feel intimidated, but I have to say, I was sitting around a big table late on Monday night swapping stories with Ryan and a bunch of other journalists. I was almost afraid to try to match stories with Ryan, the quintessential American Sportswriter. I dipped a toe in the pool and got good response when the subject of John Calipari came up. Ryan referred to him as a “charming rogue” and I pledged my allegiance to Coach Cal for the many kindnesses he has shown me over the years. We were in the minority, but man, was I in good company! I almost felt like a studio audience member at a taping of “The Sports Reporters.”
They wined and dined us, taking us to The Lowes Motor Speedway for a dinner dance on Sunday night. Rain ruined the golf outing on Monday, but it couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the folks attending the Awards Ceremony. It’s held in an old train depot. The same one where much of the George Clooney movie “Leather Heads” was filmed. There were some tremendous speeches made that night. The great Arnold Palmer presented the National Sportscaster Award to his good friend, Jim Nantz, of CBS. The place was as quiet as a church as the 80 year old golfer told stories and bragged a bit on his “son”, Nantz. When Nantz took the stage, he regaled us with tales of a State Dinner he attended at the White House with Palmer. He was seated at table #11, with among others, President George W. Bush and Queen Elizabeth of England. Nantz may be one of the best and most natural storytellers I;’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing. No note cards or any help from a teleprompter, just genuine Jim. As the state winners received their awards, he made it a point to tell some of us “Look, down there- Arnold Palmer is clapping for you.”
Peter Gammons and Bob Ryan started at The Boston Globe on the same summer day in 1968. Along with Leigh Montville, the late Will McDonough and others, they formed the “Mount Rushmore” of sportswriters and made the Globes’ sports section, the best ever.
As you can probably tell, I’m pretty excited about being there and I really don’t get too excited about much. The executive director of the NSSA is Dave Goren. Goren is a native of Taunton, Mass. and used to come out to McCoy Stadium, when he worked at WJAR Radio back in the 1980s. Dave and his staff are to be thanked and commended for the job they do.
I am back with the club, starting with Thursdays’ game here in Fort Mill, SC.