Perched high above the stadium which adds to its celestial air, the press box is an esteemed place for budding sports journalists and a charismatic, taboo place of intrigue to the fans.
It stands above the crowd, well lit and teeming with activity. Those who attempt to gain access are turned back by warnings about authorized personnel only, making it all the more fascinating. If the time ever comes when they have legitimate business there, they scan the ballpark with an agape expression, marveling at the view.
Okay, have I made it sound too romantic? I can buy that, but as a youngster with journalistic intentions at a very young age, that’s how I always saw it. Visits to Yankee or Shea Stadium brought out the intrigue. It got me to thinking of Mel Allen, Red Smith, Red Barber, Ralph Kiner, Lindsey Nelson, Bob Shepard and others of their grand stature walking through as if they were just human beings like me.
Autumns in the late 1960s would find me at Yale Bowl, ushering raccoon coats to their seats in Portal 14, the upper reaches of which were next to that sprawling blue press box. I’d catch glimpses of the New Haven Register sports writers I read voluminously growing up, like Yale grad Bob Barton who has since become a dear friend and respected colleague. I can still recall how he waxed poetic through personal heartbreak when he reported how Harvard “beat” the Yales of Brian Dowling and Calvin Hill, 29-29, to end the Elis’ bid for an unbeaten season in 1969.
So please be gentle with that common pin as you brush past my balloon. I don’t want to lose the hero-worshipping phase of a blessed childhood.
The years passed and I am now one of the few who gets to sit atop the seats behind home plate at New Britain Stadium for Rock Cats games. I have been there for 14 years and I would venture to say that over that time, I have missed fewer than 10 games. Perhaps as few as five of a grand total that I would estimate to be quite close to 1,000.
Thoughts harken back to a framed piece of needlework that hung on the wall over the bed that I slept in at my grandparents’ house as a small boy. I didn’t fully understand the words but my predilection with words in general engraved these in the recesses of my mind.
“The ornament of a house is the friends who frequent it.”
I didn’t know until running them through Google that the thought belong to Ralph Waldo Emerson. He couldn’t have known during his 19th century lifespan what the press box could mean to an ideological boy destined to write but the words work so beautifully.
The friends who frequent the press box at the Emerald start with two old and dear buddies, great disciples of our beautiful national pastime. Scoreboard operator Larry Michaels and Rock Cats radio voice Jeff Dooley have shared summer working quarters with me for a long time.
I’ve known Larry since Beehive Field made its Eastern League bow in 1983. His children grew up there. Only a catastrophe, or milestone like a wedding or graduation, can force Larry's fingers off that scoreboard or his eyes off the home plate umpire.
Dooley’s been at the Cats’ microphone for 13 seasons, and trust me when I say the Good Lord tossed away the mold when he created the Lord of Lincoln (Rhode Island). The guy has a heart of gold and a dedication that must keep his wife Marne and sons Joe and Ryan awake nights. Hopefully you know the type, one of those guys who would stop his car in traffic to pet a stray cat.
He works so diligently to make his broadcasts sound professional that he actually lost his temper once or twice when a technician dropped the ball.
Some have come and gone, like ex-Cats media relations specialist Chris McKibben and Dools’ former partner Dan Lovallo. You hate to see good people go but circumstances dictated their departure. But Chris was replaced by ever-smiling, equally vigilant Bob Dowling and Dan’s shoes were filled by highly esteemed UConn voice Joe D’Ambrosio, both of whom bring a charm all their own to our family.
Former New Britain High teacher and wrestling coach Ed Smith came in a few years back as official scorer, and as it is with Dools, you’ll never meet a nicer man. He is however a Notre Dame fan, and enjoys the crowded city streets more than my beloved country lanes, but we’ll overlook those items.
Others include intrepid PA announcer Don Steele, the best I’ve ever known, and gallant behind-the-scenes men like technology expert Luke Pawlak, music man Mike Torres and camera whiz Mike “Manny” Papazian. There are the usual visitors like rockcats.com's Heather Cavaliere, who makes every effort never to violate anybody’s personal space and always brings delectable baked goods from her family’s bakery in Portland – for Dooley!
I was so right back in the days of Yale Bowl. The press box surveying the scene is just a little closer to heaven.