#10: Opening Night: “How did we get that in?”

(Credit John Ellis Kansas City T-Bones) Opening night 2017
01/23/2018 8:33 AM -

Dan Vaughan

Happy New Year, T-Bones fans! As you brave the cold and start to focus on the better weather just around the corner, I hope your thoughts also turn to baseball and the 2018 season with your T-Bones. To get you in the mood for the upcoming season, I thought a look back at what I thought, from the broadcast booth, were the most memorable moments of the 2017/15th season of #FunWellDone.

It was my first year in the booth, and it was a memorable one! Trying to pick 10 games was nearly impossible as we all have the ones that stand out over others. It is a matter of opinion from my seat, and your list may be totally different from mine. Hopefully it will jog your memory and, most of all, get you ready for the 2018 season.

I tried to avoid crushing losses (except when memorable) as they are parts of the twist and turns in the season. When someone asked me about the season, this would have been what I would remember if I was forced to write a book on the topic.

We begin the countdown with #10:  Opening Night: “How did we get that in?”

There is no bigger challenge for the front office staff, the field staff and the league as a whole than pulling off opening night and getting the ball in motion for the season. The cob webs are dusted off from the off season, and all those kinks you hoped you worked out during the final games of spring training are fixed, or are they?

Will the on-field mics work? PA? Is the box office ready? Are the uniforms sorted? Is team member housing set? Is that last player move that always comes at the end, is he going to make it? Did we order enough of this or that? Are concessions ready? There is so much that each individual department must cross of their list, and I always feel something was left off mine.

As a broadcaster, I ask if all the gear is in working order? Do I have enough score sheets? Are the laptops working? Have I cut the broadcast opens and spots? These are all the things that make the on-air product fly. Is the live social media ready? Am I ready? Do I know who we are playing, and can I differentiate between Kevin Keyes and Cody Winiarski? The words “ I know I forgot something” often echo in my head!

There is so much going on as each department gets ready for the long grind ahead. Once you pull it off, it all seems to go fine, but it is those last few days that seem to fly by. There is not enough time to get it all done, and in fact, if not for a fine catered lunch from the Browne household and Becky, then we might as well skip lunch the day before. It is like taking a stick to an ant pile and kicking it up. We are all scurrying around like that mass of frenzied ants. It is crazy!

It is with that hectic back drop that we begin our look at my first key moment. How we got that first game in, I still have no clue. Was it the baseball gods?  While watching the weather leading up to the opener on May 19th, there was no way that the game would ever get played. The days prior were beautiful. Our last game of the spring the Sunday before with Winnipeg was postcard weather. But as Friday approached, the forecast called for something akin to ark building weather. Rain and more afternoon rain! As if it had a lunch time appointment, the rain hit us at noon. By the time we were in countdown mode, the rain was on us big time at the ballpark.

The local TV stations that had planned on doing their live shots to tease the early news at 5 looked like they were planning a trip to Niagara Falls more than to a ballpark. I remember walking down to the ticket office and hearing the splish splash of puddles under my feet. There was no way. The rain was on us from lunch until five or so, and it was a good soaking.

Vice-President and General Manger Chris Browne was interviewed by several stations and Joe Calfapietra by another. Both took place under cover as the rain would come and go. Not a down pour, but the kind that makes opening the gates and asking folks to come out and join us pretty hard to ask. The tarp was pulled several times, and the work that was done by Nathan Miller’s crew between and during the drenching was a preview to me of his and his crews’ outstanding abilities. In the back of my head, I kept telling myself “lets just go about as if we are going to play,” and I figured if we didn’t, at least I would be ahead for the next day. (Or maybe I would remember one of those things that I had forgotten?) I honestly did not believe we would see a window for play.

But there was a window. It was narrow, but we thought—based on local reports—that we could as least begin. Anything else was up to how long the window would stay open. An hour? Two? Maybe three if we were really lucky. It looked dicey at best. The rain stopped long enough around 5:30 for us to get in game opening night gear. We were on the clock to begin. With each passing 15 minutes, I would look at the radar and breathe a short sigh of relief. I am sure my co-workers from the top on down were also doing the same thing. I imagine the conversations between Chris Browne and Scott Steckly. Poor Nathan Miller must have had all his phone data burned up with the calls and radar calls.

I remember while taping my “Top Step” with Joe Calfapietra not to say “Friday” or the date but to say “the opener,” as I was not sure it would be used for another day. Well, we went on the air—much to my surprise and to the surprise of others. I shot the opening night video and remember seeing the fans all dressed in their slickers and with umbrellas, but they were ready. I hit the start button on the air, fully thinking at some point the rain would return and the window would close.

That window? It stayed open! It stayed open long enough for Kansas City to get off to a 1-0 start.  The opening paragraph of my game story was:

“Following an afternoon-long downpour, it was questionable whether the Kansas City T-Bones would actually play Friday night. After seven and a half innings, it was questionable whether they would actually win Friday night. But Kansas City came from behind with three runs in the eighth inning to win their series opener at CommunityAmerica Ballpark against the Lincoln Saltdogs, 3-2.”

In the comeback win, Marcus Lemon drove in the game tying and winning runs with a single just beyond second base, scoring both runners and giving Kansas City a 3-2 lead in the seventh as somehow the rain stayed away. After Cody Winiarski threw a quick 1-2-3 ninth inning to secure the win, the club had won the opener, and the window had stayed open long enough to play. Did we actually get that game in? How did the rain stay away? The radar was nothing but green wave after green wave on the radar. I seem to recall rain later on that night and a wonderful weekend awaited us the next day, but somehow, we did it. We got the opening game in! The club would drop the next five games, but what a ride awaited us for the next 99 games.  Up next, moment #9 One Crazy night on the lake.