Night after night, with these immortal words begins my next communications workshop, led by my Hall of Fame, baseball-broadcasting mentor, Vin Scully.
See, here’s the thing. When I was in high school, my 10th grade drama teacher called me into her office one day and gave me some sage advice. She wasn’t trying to be cruel or hurtful in any way. She genuinely cared about me and didn’t want me to make a huge mistake.
And so, her heart filled, I am sure, with ample amounts of compassion, she let me in on this little secret: “In the 15 years that I have been teaching Drama, you are the single most boring student I have ever had.” Yes, that’s an exact quote.
She continued, “You are unexpressive. You speak in a monotone. You have a speech impediment that makes it irritating to listen to you. And frankly, if you have to support your family by talking, you and they will starve.”
She finally brought her solemn soliloquy to a soul-searing crescendo when she added, “When it comes time for you to choose a career, whatever you do, DO NOT GO INTO PUBLIC SPEAKING” (capital letters added by me to convey the intensity with which she emphasized this final point.)
And with that, our little tête-à-tête came to an abrupt end.
Not sure how you would feel if you had been on the receiving end of that little speech. Me? I truthfully thanked her because, truth be told, I never, ever harbored any ambitions that even remotely resembled my going into any kind of public speaking. Any way. Anywhere. Any time.
Are you kidding me? Just the thought of me standing in front of people, them all looking at me, each person with two eyeballs watching my every move, making a mental note of every drop of sweat, every quiver of my eyebrow, hearing every stutter of a syllable… Just my imagining that made my stomach retch in rebellion.
Fast-forward two years. I invited Jesus into my life. And He proceeded to call me to preach/teach His Word, the Bible, to young and old — anyone who would listen.
Great. Just great. Apparently, He didn’t hear my drama teacher.
Long story short, I had to learn how to do this… as a matter of survival. This was make or break for me. ‘Cuz neither I, nor my growing family, wanted to starve.
So what to do? I decided to learn from the best. And the best of the best was Vin Scully.
Night after night, and on Sunday afternoons, radio in hand, I listened to every syllable, dangling participle, and split infinitive that flowed effortlessly out of Vinnie’s golden mouth. So many times, more times than I can count or even estimate, I’d park myself in the top deck at Dodger Stadium where I got a bird’s-eye view of the activity on the field. I’d try to imagine how I would describe each play, and then I would listen to the master magically transform the action on the field into poetry. A symphony of words.
When I listened at home, I would close my eyes and “see” each play materialize right in front of me as if I was there.
You’ve got to understand: Vin Scully didn’t just talk. He painted. Painted fantastical scenes using nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs for his colors.
Vin is not a man to say that it’s windy in the ballpark. Not by a long shot. He’d say, “There’s a brisk breeze rippling Old Glory high atop the flag pole in center field.” I can remember when Steve Garvey hit a booming fly ball into the right field bleachers at Dodger Stadium. At that exact moment the crowd began ogling a scantily-clad young lady who stood up to cheer. Vin Scully captured the moment and froze it in time when he described Garvey’s blast as “the homerun that was heard by many but seen by few.” (I’m proud to tell you that I was one of the few!)
Vin Scully did not tell me what happened. Vin Scully took me there. His word choice (Paints, remember? Colors, contours, textures, shapes and shadows), voice inflections, pregnant pauses — all wondrously combined in a perfect formula that allowed me to see, hear, smell, touch, and taste the action as if I was sitting with him in his broadcast booth. Just him and me talking baseball, and savoring the magic of the moment together.
And so it is that to this day (Yep, Vinnie’s still doing it. He’ll begin his 64th year in April.), once the last out of the last inning is recorded and Vinnie’s microphone goes silent, as he is making his discreet exit from his broadcast booth, at that very moment I am logging off of my MLB.com account, then kneeling by my bed, and praying this little prayer: “Dear God, please, help me to do with the Bible what Vin Scully does with a Dodger Game. Help me to ‘take them there.’ To see the action within each passage, to hear the voices, to feel the emotions, to smell the aromas, to taste the flavors, to touch the face of God as You touch the lives of those who listen. Help me to make this book — Your book — come alive in their hearing. Yes, help me to do with the Bible what Vin Scully does with a Dodger Game.”
I’ve been praying that prayer for 42 years.
Whether or not God has answered my prayer, I’ll let others be the judge. But by God’s grace, for over 42 years now, despite the counsel of my well-intentioned 10th grade drama teacher, I have been earning my living by talking, and my family has yet to starve.
All of that to say this: “Thank you, Vin Scully, for the priceless impact you have made on my life, my career, my ministry. And on this, the 29th day of November, in the year of our Lord 2012, God’s richest blessings to you and to yours on this, your 85TH BIRTHDAY. Viva, Vin Scully.”