BUSY BROADCASTER IN YANKEELAND
BY ROBERT O'NEILL - MAY, 2011
It was the last day of our road trip to New York City. Paul had come for three days to do television broadcasting for the YES Sports Network. I had come to take care of some business affairs. We stood outside the hotel in Westchester, hoping our livery car would show up on time. Finally, after six weeks of rain, the weather would not be so relentlessly rotten in late May. We could count on the sun for the day game against the Blue Jays. Suddenly, an old friend from the past, Frank, who works for the hotel, parked a yellow golf cart on the asphalt where our car should have been. I tell Frank he looks like that guy from Lord of the Rings who swings the battle ax and that his stinky cigar needs to go. We joke with Frank until we remember we left unopened bottles of wine in our rooms, a gift from the hotel for our patronage. Paul sends a bellman back to get the bottles before the maids get them. We hand the wine to Frank, make future plans and say goodbye. The car has pulled up. We didn't travel with our wives this time so we both are sure we've somehow not packed everything. Paul's phone starts ringing.
We adamantly tell the driver to go down The Major Deegan Highway today. The day before, a different driver wouldn't listen and we got into a big, stressful, traffic mess because he wanted to use the Bruckner Expressway. The car breezes down 87 South encountering very little traffic. I need to talk to Paul about business stuff but the driver wants to carry on his own conversation and doesn't care what I want. The New Yorker rises in me and I just start talking over his conversation and he finally desists. But Paul's phone continues to ring so I desist. We pull up outside the media entrance to the stadium. We have to take our luggage to the YES studio in Yankee Stadium. As we are rolling the luggage to the entrance, four or five kids with parents following want Paul's autograph. He signs a couple things as I hold his luggage. A woman wants a picture with him. He says ok. The camera is not set right. Paul gets frustrated because more fans are coming up. We get the picture taken for the grateful woman who pledges her eternal fan allegiance and head for the media entrance.
In the media entrance, a giant picture of Babe Ruth presides over three elevators. "Baseball is, was and always will be to me the best game in the world." Paul is anxious. A golf friend has sent a friend with his father and son in tow for some time on the field during batting practice. We go up to the booth and place our luggage. The booth, as small as any dorm room, is somber before the storm of the game. A radio guy next door to the YES booth ducks in and asks for an interview which Paul agreed to and forgot about. "Ok, he says reluctantly but I'm busy today." The radio guy is agreeable because like many, he is always asking for something. Paul beckons me to come and we make a plan. We are going down to the media entrance to meet the father, son and grandfather. We get there, get them passes that permit them on the field. We place the badges over their necks on a string. The eight-year old is wide eyed. People keep coming up to Paul to ask for autographs and we duck into a doorway with the trio and wind our way through a labyrinth of white concrete, the new stadium's intestines. I love the new stadium but tell Paul I miss the ancient smell of Old Yankee Stadium and wonder aloud if any of the ghosts have moved from across the street.
Once on the field, Paul discovers there is no batting practice, common to day games. He tells me to entertain dad and grandpa and takes the child to the clubhouse in his B plan. He gets the kid pictures with Jeter and a few others. The father shakes his hand when his son returns and rejoices his son is old enough to remember this special day! The grandfather says he'll donate some money to Right Field Charities he is so grateful and impressed. They wander off looking to hook up a tour of Monument Park. The grandfather, a New York native who retired down south, says with no diplomacy at all, "Paul should be out dare' in the monuments." I agree as they take off.
I stand where the backstop netting meets the stands behind homeplate. Dignataries come up to Paul from the Yankees and Blue Jays. A guy who owns many clothes stores in New York hand delivers him a rectangular box full of new ties. Paul will wear them a few times and they will eventually end up in my closet and then onto other relatives. The entire three days, he has been in demand, constantly. He makes his comments brief and we head back under the cavernous superstructure of the stadium. Lou Cucuzza, the visiting clubhouse manager, needs a few things signed. Paul does it. We find an elevator and arrive back at the YES booth. Fans in the stands, trickling in, see him up in the booth and start calling out. He waves, says some generic things to them in a yell, like "I hope we get em' today," and the radio guy from the Blue Jays next door ushers him in for an interview. I sit on a chair in the hallway, waiting. Pat Tabler, a former catcher and Blue Jays telelvision announcer, comes by. I introduce myself and say the last time I saw him, he had blond curls down to his shoulders like Peter Frampton in 1976. He laughs and responds that was twenty years ago and tell Paul he says hello.
Paul comes out of the Blue Jays' booth relieved. The interview is over and we head to the media dining room. It is crowded. The democracy and affordability of the cafeteria impresses. We sit at a table with two camera guys who care little about attire compared to Paul's brand new, just-pressed suit. Paul comes back from the buffet with a bunch of food and starts getting busy. Outside, against a glass wall, Neil Best, a Newsday sports reporter, waits. Between chews, Paul says, "Jesus, I forgot this Neil guy wants an interview." Just like my dad, Paul hates saying no to people, in a world where one must say it or there will be no sanctuary. That is sort of half my job as his representative. I tell people no. I go out and motion Neil to come in. He turns his tape recorder on at the table. The camera guys left. He does his interview and Paul gives his words between chicken and salad bites. The interview ends. I mention to Neil how fishbowled Paul is here with people wanting his attention all the time. The reporter wisely responds that if he worked here every day, it wouldn't be so bad but number 21 doesn't broadcast enough games which is the theme of his article. Then we talk about my sister Molly, making her bones in journalism when she started in New York at Newsday. How she reached the top of culinary journalism at the New York Times. Paul asks what I'm going to do because the game will start soon. I say, don't worry about me. I'll head over to the Hard Rock Café and then go meet the people from Cincinnati in the stands he left tickets for. He says I can bring them up to the media room. I say no, we've had enough people so far and they should be appreciative of the free tickets. It's too much hassle. Go and announce a great game, I tell him.
On the way to the Hard Rock Café in Yankee Stadium, I check and make sure Paul's banner in the Great Hall still hangs. It does. I go to the Hard Rock and bum a smoke off a guy on the patio. He won't take my dollar. I tell him my electronic cigarette is on the fritz. He says he sells them on a website but it makes little money. I say, yea, just another web scam. I go to the stands and talk to two guys just graduated from college. One is from Cincinnati, the other from New York. The kid from New York says he is starting an internship and his salary is just forty grand with IBM. I own IBM stock. It amazes me an intern is making that. I start thinking, why can't IBM do more for me as a shareholder if they can pay interns more than teachers in Ohio with masters degrees? I walk out of the stands and start having light hallucinations that I want a Johnny Rockets' milkshake from their foodstand in the stadium just behind the 200 level seats. It is hot. I am fixated like Homer Simpson wanting a donut in spite of talking to the Vice President of Weight Watchers on the field the day before, a guy named Andy Amill. I get to Johnny Rockets and two customers stand in front of me. I look up at the sign, nine dollars the milkshake costs? 890 calories. I duck out of line, milkshakeless, and head back to the studio thinking I should call Amill and talk with him about Paul doing some advertising, spokespersoning with his brand which is booming all over the world because hundreds of millions of people in China, India and Indonesia can now afford what we have done here in America since World War Two, overeat.
I go past the YES studio and hear Michael Kay harassing Paul that he should be on ‘Dancing With the Stars'. It gets funny. I walk to the dining room which is almost empty now. I make some business calls and then call my wife. I hoped she picked my son, her stepkid, up on time. He loses it when people are late. She did. The game is interesting on the monitors in the dining room. After a while, Kim Jones, a YES reporter who roves the stadium doing stories and post-game interviews, wanders by. She asks me if Paul's wife would let him do ‘Dancing With the Stars'. From what I know of her, which has been since she was seven, I'd say no. Besides, Paul won't give me three minutes sometimes listening to business proposals and you want him to fly to Los Angeles and stay there for three weeks training with a professional dancer? I can't see that happening but he was the only one of us five boys who learned how to dance. He and his wife did Arthur Murray classes in the winters between seasons long ago in their twenties. I wondered how much they paid those celebrities on' Dancing', if anything at all.
The game ends and we head for the elevators with our luggage. Paul stops and talks to Jose Molina. Molina is surrounded by two women and four or five young kids. Probably his family. He is hurt, waiting to come back for Toronto and catch. He was an ex-Yankee. When we get outside the Stadium, a throng approaches Paul again. I take his suitbag and someone gives him a pen. More people are attracted. I wave a cop over and he tells the people to draw back. Paul signs a couple more things, poses for another picture and we make for the car. We leave Yankee Stadium, in nightmarish traffic, heading for midtown Manhattan to meet Joe Torre at an Italian restaurant. One of his agents, Tim O'Neill, no relation, said he was in town when I talked to him at the Stadium. Joe now lives in Los Angeles. Paul's phone rings. He answers a couple and then turns the ringer off. Our driver takes a left turn onto Fifth Avenue off 53rd Street and gets pulled over by an adamant cop. It was an illegal turn. Our driver tells the cop he's an ex-corrections officer but the policeman cares not and writes out the ticket. I want to jump to the driver's defense but Paul tells me to shut up; so I do.
Weary of snarled traffic for days now, we get to the restaurant, sort of a high-tech, Italian place but it is owned by a family. The eighteen year-old hostess does not know who Paul is. She tells us to wait in the bar because the dining room doesn't open for ten minutes. Within seconds, the matron of the restaurant appears and gives Paul a big hug. He is a foot taller than she. She shuttles us to a table. The waiter is extra attentive to us. The people to our left want to talk to Paul. I assume from their dress and table in the more private part of the restaurant, they are important but I don't know who they are and neither does Paul. He exchanges with them and comes back to me. We sit and talk about business and reach few conclusions. We talk about the family, how things have changed since dad died. That's to be expected I say and we are becoming empty nesters. For the last twenty years, Paul and I have raised seven kids between us and starting in autumn, each of us will only have one child living at home. Mom has a great granddaughter already. I kid him that he can now quit neglecting business isssues with the new time on his hands. He rolls his eyes and orders some pasta. We are almost finished eating when Joe Torre walks in. Paul makes introductions and after that, immediately talks with Joe while I talk to Tim O'Neill. Paul has great reverence for Joe. I can sense a closeness when they are together. They were both youngest children in big families where baseball was paramount. He will always perceive him as a father figure in baseball. I hope Joe's attention to his business and charitable career will rub off on Paul. But most of it requires a lot of time and travel. Paul seems in a hurry to get to Laguardia so we pay our bill, say our goodbyes and jump in the car parked outside. Our driver is still peeved about his ticket and accelerates accordingly. Traffic is bad again going to the airport.
As we are doing our cabaret act of removing some of our clothing for the security screen at the airport, a fifty-something man with a thick Queens accent says, "Aunt-chu Paulie O'Neill?" Paul shakes his head no and smiles. We are in Mets country after all. I tell the guy he is, his height gives him away anyway. I've told Paul to wear baseball caps in public if he doesn't want the attention. All famous people get annoyed at the constant attention but the ones I’ve known, a few actors, a few musicians and many baseball players would flip if they suddenly were not recognized. Paul would not. He’d welcome anonymity for a good while. There are tornadoes in the south and our flight is delayed two hours. We sit in the airport and Paul gets bugged by a guy who has to take something home to Seattle, for a friend of his from New York. A picture of him and Paul. I get annoyed because someone near us at the gate has not bathed for a couple days. Paul thinks this is hilarious because I start railing against our current epidemic of people who have no civic awareness. We move our seats to a less conspicuous place. This get-yours-now-for-yourself society has led to a complete lack of civility with an in-your-face attitude. Paul laughs, what are you, a sociologist? I thought you taught English. Interrupting us, a guy nearby to our new seats says he has been stuck there for seventeen hours out of Boston going to Mississippi. Kim Jones appears like an apparition. She is heading to Birmingham to do a story on a Yankees player whose town has been hit by tornadoes. Paul says we wait two hours and head to Manhattan for the night. Finally, we have to take a bus to the airplane and I feel like I'm in the movie ‘Midnight Express'. New York is telling us to leave and we are listening. The flight to Cincinnati is packed. Both of our big bodies are squeezed into the chairs which aren't any better in first class than they are in coach. Democracy rules again. As we are exiting the plane, a blond, middle-aged woman of some looks says to me, "I know you, you're Robert O'Neill." Usually this happens to Paul. I think the worst momentarily. Is it an old girlfriend from the 1980s? Do I come up with some simplistic Dr. Phil idiocy? Do I tell her at fifty years-old now I take ‘ownership’ for all my misbehaviors at twenty-five? As if it did her any good in 1985. Paul is thinking the worst too. The cursor goes zipping through my brain. She is starting to look surprised I don't recognize her. We've been deluged with people for days. She can't understand. I still have enough brain left to find her in there and I say, "Amy Kahn, I haven't seen you for fifteen years." She smiles. It is the wife of one of my roommates from New York in the 1980s right after graduate school at New York University. She's still married to the guy who used to work on the crew of This Week in Baseball before he became a film editor, opting for a more normal job. I was at their wedding. I introduce Paul who is all out of small talk. He carried his bag on to the plane. I had to wait for mine. He says, "I'm outa here, Bob." I hate that name. "Ok, Ace, good road trip," I say, calling him the childhood name I suspect he wishes I would drop. That's just how we do things in our family. Being a child of the Cold War, I term it M.A.D. Mutually Assured Disrespect. It's the only way to remain in the fraternity of our family. "It" being too ancient and complicated to explain.
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