By Bob Elliott
Canadian Baseball Network
We were told front the start:
Working for a newspaper “YOU CAN’T CHEER.”
Jerome Holtzman, the Hall of Fame scribe who used to work the Chicago Tribune, even wrote a book about it.
Before heading out to cover coach Tic Langlois’ KCVI Blues play the hated Queen Elizabeth Red Raiders, the direct order was delivered. Kingston Whig-Standard sports editor Pete Fowler knew I had attended Kingston Collegiate. Tic's son Paul did OK, growing up to be so hip, he joined the Tragically Hip.
So all those years in press boxes -- main or auxiliary -- the only thing I ever rooted for was the team leading after seven to hold onto the lead. Those bottom-of-the-ninth rallies gave many of my friends ulcers and me grey hair.
Yet, it is confession time.
Now that I am no longer working at a newspaper, I was rooting for Milwaukee Brewers Ryan Braun during their two-game series this week. I really didn’t care who won ... but I was sort of, kind of hoping that it would be nice to see Braun get a hit.
He did single in the ninth and stole second facing Roberto Osuna ... but I didn’t see it. I was walking behind the WestJet flight back in centre since I was still looking for Rogers Centre employees young and old to talk to about home openers.
And he was hitless in Game 2, a 2-0 Brewers win.
You see Ryan Braun saved my butt.
In January of 2012, I was invited to the annual New York chapter of the Baseball Writers of America awards dinner at the Hilton in Manhattan. Tickets were $350 US. Tuxedos.
I wound up seated next to Braun at the head table since I was the J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner. Braun had been named the 2011 National League MVP, beating Matt Kemp, Prince Fielder and Justin Upton, who also received first-place votes. His Milwaukee Brewers lost the National League Championship Series to the St. Louis Cardinals.
It was a grand time in New York. My son came with me -- his first visit to the big city. We went to the Stage Deli, saw the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden and then luckily headed to see Robert Earl Keen at the Irving Plaza.
Phil Rogers, a buddy of mine from Chicago, was in town with his wife, Annie. He was going to the concert and asked if we wanted to go. We said sure since The Road Goes on Forever ... He called a friend in Atlanta and another in Los Angeles asking for help as we went to the NBA game. Leaving the Garden we arrived at the door of the Irving Plaza to find we had four tickets. Now, there is a connected guy.
But the banquet was not a lot of fun since I had to speak. Braun was making his first public appearance since word leaked in December of a positive drug test. However, with the ballroom jammed with writers watching and Tweeting the Milwaukee slugger’s every move, I could not resist talking to Braun.
“I have a couple of serious questions for you,” I asked as Braun’s eyes widened, wondering what this Canadian knucklehead was going to ask. The head table is not the place ... he was there to be honored, not given the second degree.
My two ...
“How on earth did the Brewers win anything with a Canadian front office?” I asked nodding towards Doug Melvin (general manager, Chatham, Ont.) and Gord Ash (assistant GM, Toronto, Ont.) seated to our right.
“And how in the world did you guys win with a Canadian closer (John Axford, Port Dover, Ont.)?”
This time he laughed.
I told our series of waiters each time the attempted to place food in front of me, that I was not eating. And each course Braun would take a bite and say “Are you sure? Sure you aren’t eating? This is delicious.”
Finally, it was my turn. Jeff Idelson of the Hall of Fame made me sound almost worthy of the award, when I was not. I had five talking points: being from Canada, home of Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins; Jack Morris, Larry Walker and the Hall of Fame, my tuxedo which had to be back by 11 and Gary Carter’s health.
Returning to my seat I sat down and grabbed a drink of Diet Coke in a glass. One problem. My hand was shaking so much I had to put the glass down.
Braun congratulated me: “Good job,” he said shaking my hand. So did Steve Popper, who covered the New York Mets for the The Record in Bergen County, N.J. from the other side.
I said let’s see how I did and I pulled a scrap piece of paper out of my pocket with the five names on it.
I had gone 4-for-5 and forgot to mention my son’s name.
How was I going to make this up to him?
Braun asked what was wrong, so I told him.
He may be smooth running the bases, but he was smooth this January night. At roughly 10-minute intervals he started asking questions.
“What’s his name?” Bob.
“Where is he sitting?” Over there with Martin Noble of MLB.com.
“What does he do?” He’s an accountant, much smarter than me.
After Justin Verlander, who won both the Cy Young award and the MVP in the American League, after Clayton Kershaw, the NL MVP, after managers of the year Kirk Gibson and Joe Maddon all spoke, it was Braun’s turn at the his turn at the microphone. The cameras and photographers zoomed in as Braun spoke on the subject for the first time since news of a possible positive test.
“Thank, you Mark (Feinsand, NY BBWAA chapter chairman who introduced Braun),” Braun began. “Before I get started, writer Bob Elliott said he forgot to thank his son, Bob Jr., during his speech and wanted to make sure I did it for him.
“So, Bob Jr., Bob Elliott truly appreciates you being a great son and supporting him.”
There was some applauuse and some chuckles.
Braun really didn’t have to do that.
* * *
Tom Haudricourt of the Journal Sentinel called the next day when we were at La Guardia for the flight home to ask if Braun was nervous.
“Nervous? He ate everything on his plate, I was the nervous one, too nervous to eat, too nervous to remember to mention my own son in the audience,” I told Thomas. Braun did read and re-read his hand written speech.
Thomas asked if I had asked Braun to fix my mess, but no he did it all on his own.
My son and I sat at the gate reflecting on the three days in the city. He had met Hall of Famers, had his picture taken with Arizona Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers, New York Yankees GM Brian Cashman (the office wanted art work), saw Robert Earl Keen, seen the start of the Jeremy Lin era with the Knicks and a couple of dozens other highlights.
Besides Braun what was my son’s favorite moment?
“Well, you know your friend, Ken Rosenthal, I overheard him at the table behind us and he said to his wife ‘see that guy there, that’s Elliott, he does a good job.’”
I saw Kenny after but it was his daughter Sarah, the famous Broadway actress, who came to the event. A junior, Sarah now attends USC.
My son is a tough marker. In 1999 he was with me when I was the head of the BBWAA I went to Cooperstown for one of the best attended induction classes as first-time HOFers George Brett, Nolan Ryan and Robin Yount, along with the Veterans Committee Orlando Cepeda, Nestor Chylak, Frank Selee and Joe Williams were inducted.
He met a handful of HOFers. On the drive home he woke up from a nap around Rochesterr, NY and I asked who was the most impressive person you met?
"Mr. (Tim) Mead, from the Angels, I liked him a lot," he said in the openess children have after a nap: half asleep, half awake and 100% from the heart.
* * *
Braun came out of the first base dugout Tuesday night. I was unsure if he would remember an old goat from 5 1/2 years ago.
“Hi Mr. Elliott,” he said.
Ah, it’s Bob.
“How are things?”
Hey I just wanted to thank you for mentioning my son at that banquet when I messed up.
* * *
Braun became the first major leaguer to win appeal of positive drug test on Feb. 23, 2012, when an independent arbitrator ruled in Braun’s favor.
The Miami New Times printed alleged Biogenesis documents linking Alex Rodiguez and numerous other players to Biogenesis on Jan. 29, 2013.
And a month later Yahoo! Sports reports Braun’s name is listed next to monetary figures. And on July 22, Braun wass suspended by for remainder of 2013 season (65 games).
Now, he’s in the name again? Will he or won’t he be traded to the Los Angeled Dodgers?
* * *
Later that night in 2012 at Foley’s, Manhattan’s best saloon since Runyon’s closed, my son and I had our first father-and-son beer together. After thinking it over I thought one could not hurt ... and he was 30 at the time.
As my son walked the room looking at the collection of autographed balls Jack O’Connell, secretary-treasurer of the BBWAA stood alone.
Jackie, how bad was that? Forgetting to mention my own son ... AND I had it written down on my list.
“No offence, but who would do you think your son would rather have a shout out from in a packed ball room in mid town? The reigning National League MVP or his father.”