"I could have hit with anything!"
That's what a baseball hall-of-famer, legend, record holder, maybe the best hitter ever, told me in the city where his baseball bats were made.
I'm often asked what stories stand out for me over the years. Many of them came when something awful happened. I was at Columbine on April 20th, 1999. I went to New York as soon as the planes were flying again after 9/11. I'll write about some of those stories another time. For now I want to talk about one of the greatest experiences I've had in the TV business.
It helps to know that off and on I've been a huge baseball fan. As a kid it's about all I cared about. I lived right outside St Louis from 1970 to 1975. That made me a Cardinals fanatic!
In July, 1996 I was working for the CBS affiliate in Louisville, Kentucky, home of the Louisville Slugger...or so you would think.
In reality, the manufacture of the world's most famous baseball bats had been moved right across the Ohio River to Jeffersonville, Indiana some time in the 70's. Finally, in '96 the company was opening a brand new factory, and museum, back in Louisville, where the bat maker clearly belongs.
To celebrate, they invited hall-of-fame ballplayers who used to swing the slugger. A dozen or so agreed to show up. When the assignment came up at work, I jumped at it, and got it. I was going to meet some of the greatest!
The ballplayers arrived in a bus and were escorted in to the building. We (the media) were asked to stay behind the barriers with the fans while they entered, we'd be allowed in a little later to get interviews. Fine with me. Other crews started heading in but for some reason, my photographer and I hung back behind the barricade for a few extra minutes.
All of a sudden, one of the fans in the crowd nudged me and said, "There's Ted Williams."
I looked, he was right. Teddy Ballgame had arrived separately, and with some help was slowly making his way inside.
No one was there to tell me not to, so I approached the living legend, with my photographer, and just asked him, "Mr. Williams, what did you think of Louisville Slugger?"
He looked at me and said, "I could have hit with anything, but I guess it helped that it was a Louisville Slugger."
Then, clearly finished talking to me, he moved away.
The man who hit .406 in 1941, who had a career batting average of .344 really could have hit with anything, maybe even a broomstick. He also could have ignored my against-the-rules impromptu interview. But he said something great, and I was the only one who got it.
A few minutes later I went inside and talked to George Brett. He had a huge grin on his face because he had just met Ted Williams. He told me that in spite of all the huge baseball events he'd attended over the years, he'd before never met Williams, until that moment.
After that I talked to Stan Musial..STAN MUSIAL! Remember, I was a Cardinals fan! Then I spent about 10 minutes just chatting about stolen bases with Lou Brock! He was one of my childhood heroes from the Cards.
I remember Ernie Banks, Robin Yount, Boog Powell, and so many other names I'd know my whole life.
The story I put together that night was great, and the experience was even better. Below is a picture of me with Stan The Man, and another of me interviewing Robin Yount.
I love this job!
We'll talk again soon.
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