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September 21, 2008: This Time Last Year

Following last week’s post about September 22, 2007, in which I had arrived at the press box at 9am, following a 14 inning night game the night before, and then didn’t leave until nearly 9pm because of rain delays and another extra inning affair, what follows is the account of what I did during the delay, which was chat with Bob Rosen from the Elias Sports Bureau.

I’ve had some of my most memorable times at ballparks during rain delays. In Columbus, OH one time I spent the evening listening to the stories of Joe Santry, the historian for the Columbus Clippers, then a Yankees farm club for most of my life. Today that day dawn foggy and gray, but the sun was trying to break through the mist all morning. Batting practice had been cancelled because of last night’s extra-innings marathon, so when the writers met with Joe Torre in the dugout all was quiet in the ballpark. The sun looked as though it would burn off the mist fairly soon, and just before noon everyone trooped inside as usual to have lunch and get ready for the game.

Going up in the elevator from the clubhouse to the press box, though, some fans on their way to the luxury suites looked particularly wet.

“Is it raining?” I asked one particularly bedraggled looking young woman.

“Yes, and it sucks,” she replied.

Indeed, I got upstairs to find the tarp on the field and steady water pouring down. I had set up my computer and such in the third tier of the press box–the top row in seats means the bottom rung in terms of writer seniority–and sat down to make some notes.

A gentleman with no computer had sat in the chair next to mine and was busily filling in a crossword puzzle, but when he looked up from that I introduced myself.

Turns out he was Bob Rosen, a life-long Dodgers fan who after the team left in 1957 swore he would never pay to attend another baseball game. He loved the game itself, though, and by 1962 had gotten a job with the Elias Sports Bureau, which has had him attending major league games for free (in fact, for pay) every since.

We proceeded to regale each other for the next hour of rain delay with tales and stories of our lives as baseball fans who are also baseball professionals.

There is no cheering in the press box, that’s true. But no one signs up for a job covering or working in baseball who does not love it. It wouldn’t be worth it otherwise.

Among the topics we covered: the wild card, expansion, difficulty keeping up with all the teams, will A-rod stay or will he go, stadiums around the country, fans around the country, our first ballgames when we were young, and so on.

Bob went to his first game when he was already 12 years old. His father “wasn’t a baseball fan. he was a Brooklyn fan. He was a fan of Dixie Walker and Duke Newcombe. He didn’t know anything about other teams.” Bob was bitten hard by the bug, though, and soon was not just a Dodger fan but a baseball fan, playing dice-based baseball games and keeping stats. “That was what I liked, stats.” How perfect, then, that he found a home with the Elias Sports Bureau.

“I was working my way up the corporate ladder and hating it,” he explained. “But my wife, who was truly wonderful and still is the most perfect wife to me, told me if you don’t give this a try, you’ll always wonder.” So he took the job with Elias 45 years ago and never looked back. The boy who loved baseball stats made it his livelihood.

“Did you ever join SABR?” I asked.

“Nah. That seemed like overkill. You?”

“Yeah, I joined because I thought it would be a good chance to meet people who love baseball as I do.”

“And did you?”

“Yes. Yes, definitely.”

“The people I meet in this business are incredible,” he said. “Bob Sheppard and I are like this,”–here he held up his crossed fingers–“and I’ve made so many good friends.”

Well, Bob, it was lovely to meet you, which means, I couldn’t agree more.

And best wishes to the other Bob, Sheppard, who as of tonight it appeared would not be well enough to do the announcing at tomorrow’s curtain call for the Stadium.

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