By Mike Johnson
Did you ever pull the “transistor radio ear-phone up-the-sleeve trick" in school?
Now you could lean your head on your hand, supported by elbow on desk, blending in with half the other kids using that posture.
The difference being, you weren’t listening to Teacher, you were listening to Minnesota Twins announcer Herb Carneal.
There is surreal pleasure in bringing an at-home activity to school, secretly. Your body is in attendance but your brain is playing hooky.
It’s an out-of-context scrambling of the familiar. Like bringing your dog to show & tell, or giving parents a tour of your desk during parent/teacher conference, some things are just pleasantly out of place in a classroom. And ANYTHING pleasantly different in a classroom is a welcome distraction.
My best times in school were when they showed movies, took us on field trips or shared my birthday snacks in late May, just days from summer vacation.
Because I so hated captivity, I celebrated freedom wherever I could find it. Even today, I leave my clock in the barn permanently set at 3:00 pm. The clock is from Clover Leaf Dairy, who supplied our school milk. It reminds me I survived 1,200 days of elementary school captivity.
Anyway, Herb Carneal announced Twins games for 45 years. He’d started in 1962, the year I entered kindergarten. My first ear-phone trick occurred in 1965 when the Twins made the World Series. It really wasn’t a crime because the teacher actually brought a TV into the classroom one day so we could watch a few innings. If the teacher bent the rules, I figured I could too.
Sports announcers narrate the backgrounds of our lives just by doing their jobs. One season leads to the next. First pet. First bike. First crush. Herb was there during them all.
In 1991 I was 34 years old. Herb was still at it but I had long ago left the Twin Cities. I was married, had 2 daughters and lived in Ft Myers, Florida. My life was the lesser for missing his background narration.
Then wonder-of-wonders, the Twins moved their spring training facility to my city. Of course I bought season tickets. But what I really wanted was Herb’s voice.
So I wrote a letter to Herb, asking if he’d be broadcasting the games on our local radio. He sent a gracious, handwritten reply. Yes, yes he would be broadcasting.
So it came to pass, one day in early April, 1991, I hung around after the game and waited outside the press box.
Out stepped Herb. Friendly, attentive, chit-chatty. That warm baritone voice that broadcast to millions was now directed only to me.
It was as if I’d dropped by the Beatles and they spontaneously sung me a rendition of “Lucy in the Sky With (Baseball) Diamonds.”
Margie snapped the photo. I wish she’d captured a recording.
Herb met up with his wife on the catwalk. From the top of the stadium, we watched them walk across the parking lot, to their car, alone. Even a man who touches millions steps back into normal life.
The lesson for me was that with kindness and sincerity, everyone is approachable. People are people. Herb was a working man like you and me. His job just carried his voice to millions he’d never meet.
Herb passed away in 2007 at age 84.
Of course I was saddened. But I felt content that I’d taken the time to let him know how very much he’d meant to me.
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