07/11/10 12:48 PM ET
Miller: Meeting Sheppard was a thrill
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
Mike Scioscia's up-and-comers were in New York to play the Yankees, a key series for a club battling back and forth with a great Oakland A's team for American League West supremacy. On the morning of the Sunday game, I did my interviews in the visiting clubhouse and then got in the elevator to head back up to the press box -- the normal, daily routine. But this was far from normal.
As soon as I heard "Hello," I didn't have to look to see who was standing next to me. I had heard this voice so many times as a kid sitting among the vast blue seats of my personal paradise after an hour in the car with my dad on all those magical spring and summer days.
That voice thundered over everything else in the monstrous ballpark. A game just didn't start the right way until I heard him introduce the Yankees' leadoff hitter, and it stayed that way from "Now batting, No. 17, Mickey Rivers," to "Now batting, No. 2, Derek Jeter."
The press elevator was notoriously balky and slow, and I was thankful for it that day. As we rose up to the loge level, I decided that I couldn't waste this opportunity. I had to tell him how much he had meant to me.
"Hello, Mr. Sheppard," I said, practically shaking.
"Please," he said. "Call me Bob."
I told him that I grew up in Rockville Centre and he told me he lived right next door in Baldwin.
I told him I was there the day in 1984 when Don Mattingly rapped out four hits to beat his teammate, Dave Winfield, for the batting title, a rare day of pure joy in an otherwise sadly silent summer in the Bronx.
I told him that I had been a huge Chris Mullin fan, knowing he had been a speech professor at St. John's.
I told him my dad had football Giants season tickets, knowing he did the PA work, there, too.
It's very possible that he had had quite enough of my stories by the time we exited the elevator, but he smiled graciously and shook my hand as we parted. I went to sit back down at my computer along the crowded, muggy press row. He headed for that famous, exalted seat.
But as I turned away, he tapped me gently on the shoulder.
"Say, Doug," he said as I turned back to him, startled that he still wanted to talk to me and even more startled that he remembered my name.
"Would you do me a favor?"
That didn't take long to answer.
"I'd be honored," I said.
A minute later, he walked me through the door and we ascended into his domain. He pulled out the day's lineup card and asked me to confirm that he had the proper pronunciations of the Angels players.
He was perfect through the navigation of the names David Eckstein, Darin Ersad, Scott Spiezio, Garret Anderson, Troy Glaus and Shawn Wooten.
When he got to the No. 7 hitter, he stopped. The name was Benji Gil, the day's second baseman.
"Doug, is it pronounced 'Gill' or 'Heel'?" he said.
"Gill," I answered.
"Good," he said. "That's what I thought."
He effortlessly rattled off the last two -- Bengie Molina and Alex Ochoa -- and I told him he was golden and he thanked me.
I remember pausing for a moment as he spoke with that musical cadence that so many people had depended on and basked in for so long.
I thought of how assuring that voice was not even a year earlier, when the city and the game needed assuring, maybe more than any other time as long as that big stadium had stood.
"No, Mr. Sheppard," I said, not caring that I was issuing a sappy response he'd probably heard 162 times a year.
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.