Legendary broadcaster Vin Scully is all smiles as he calls the Freeway Series… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)
I always loved opening day, the transistor radio earpiece running down the length of my shirt to avoid teacher detection, or later parental accomplices allowing me to skip school.
But here I am at Dodger Stadium on Monday night for the Freeway Series in preparation for the season starting Thursday, never before caring so little about baseball.
The Dodgers lineup is uninspiring, second place considered a lofty goal, while much of the attention here centers on the owners who bought something like eight expensive homes only to reside now in the poorhouse.
The stadium still offers a spectacular view, but the place is a dump and no longer as family friendly.
Anywhere else this would be beyond depressing, but I'm walking into the Vin Scully Press Box. A press box that still has Vin behind the microphone — the perfect baseball pick-me-up.
So under the guise of asking only one question, I joined him for a few minutes before the game. Baseball is fun again.
"It's fresh, new faces, the game I love and so, yeah, I'm excited about the season," he says. "I don't think is this going to be a first-place team, a third-place team. That doesn't enter into the mix. By Thursday, with this place full and that roar when they take the field, yeah, yeah, I'll be ready.
"Am I excited about tonight? No."
Then he remembers a story, and doesn't he always?
"We're in Vero Beach and the Dodgers have an outfielder named Henry Rodriguez. A left-handed hitter, nice guy. In an exhibition game he hits four home runs and the people go crazy. I was happy for him. But inside, a little voice says, 'So?' You know what, that voice leaves on opening day."
Imagine if Scully had decided to announce his retirement rather than return. Talk about a dark cloud hanging over Dodger Stadium.
"I do that very well," Vin says when asked if he spent a relaxing off-season. "I broke my toe, and that was fun — slipping on a wood floor in my stocking feet. I had a root canal, and that was fun. Oh, yeah, I had something that's one less than having a colonoscopy. So yes, I'm looking forward to coming to the ballpark."
Scully requested a spring-training game off, the first time he had done so since asking to attend his sister's wedding more than 50 years ago.
"I wanted to see my granddaughter," he says. "She's 14 and had the lead in 'Grease'. All the women cried and I had goose bumps. I was thinking of this little kid up there, and it got me. You know I've missed so many things. I knew I must not miss this."
Scully, 83 but going on like a teenager, looks refreshed. One by one Dodgers employees stopped by the booth just to say hello, Scully greeting each like a family member.
"I really feel good right now,"' he says, his shoes, socks, pants, tie, coat and little hanky in his pocket all matching. And then joking, he adds, "My wife laid it out the night before like your mother, you know, when you went to school.
"We call this a distraction," he says, pointing to his hanky. "Robert Redford always wore a solid tie in his movies, so it wouldn't be a distraction and you'd look at his face. I go the other way, wearing the ties and pocket handkerchiefs that will distract you."
There's a touch of gray in the red hair, so I ask if he has colored his hair.
"Yeah, I had it colored gray; I was tired of looking so young," he says.
One question turns into whatever it takes to keep the conversation going. Later we'll meet by coincidence in the bathroom, and while standing there, of course, Vin has a story to tell.
"The Dodgers had a player, Lamar Bridges, who was called, 'Rocky.' Well, Rocky Bridges lines up for the national anthem and tells the guy standing next to him that he's not a big fan of the song because every time they play it, he has a bad game."
I might never have a more memorable visit to the bathroom, or a louder laugh.
Back in the press box, he says he'll have a new scorebook Thursday that he will throw away at season's end. Now would be the appropriate time to gasp. Imagine what a Scully scorebook might draw in a charitable auction.
He'll have two thick binders filled with notes and stories to help him. When he reads something about an American League player, he saves it just in case the player ends up in the National League.
When I sound surprised he does his own homework, I get a look that suggests he had his moments as a stern father.
"I live in fear of messing up and not being prepared," he says. "When I was a little boy going to school, the only reason I studied was out of fear I might be walloped by the nuns."
He then tells the story about a mistake he made in the 1953 World Series. It obviously takes him a while to get over things.
"It stays with you," he says. "You make a mistake and you really want to bang your head against the wall."
Just imagine how much the wall that Vin bangs his head against might draw in a charitable auction.
Time for him to work, but I have one last question: "How will you pronounce the name of the left fielder?"
He says of Marcus Thames, "Tems, like the river, which is 215 miles long. Did you know that? I looked it up.
"I'll tell you a great story," he continues, and that's right, he has a story about the river, the Bank of England, a robber and, as if anyone needed a reason to listen to Scully this season, I'll let him tell it as the season goes on.