In appreciation: How Vin Scully, at age 87, has a sense of the big picture, and Shangri-L.A. is all ears

13c1652af36511e1974722000a1c24bc_7On my mental iPod/way-back machine, Vin Scully probably gets the most search and playback requests these days.

You know how the marvelous mind works. You hear something, and it reminds you of something else. You hit memory mode and hope the audio files arranged in this neurotransmitting system are uploaded to the right version.

So now we’ve hit pause, because Father Time has called another timeout.

The Dodgers’ Hall of Fame broadcaster and city of Los Angeles treasure turns 87 on Saturday. The kinetic brain energy kicks into motion again. Hopefully, the batteries are charged.

There’s that phrase Scully turned during Clayton Kershaw’s no-hitter from last season, telling people it might be time to call up a friend to let them know some history is in the making. Then he corrects himself, saying that texting is probably the best way to go about it these days.

The story he told about Indians climbing mountains to see the sea during his 1982 Hall of Fame induction speech still brings goosebumps.

Then there’s the way he ad-libbed on a movie soundtrack for a game that never really happened – describing how Kevin Costner, as Billy Chapel, struggles to throw a perfect game in “For Love Of The Game.”

The voice of Vin. The sound of Scully.

Hear what I’m saying?

“Well, it is a little unbelievable because God has been so good and given me good health – and he did it through my mom, who lived to be 97, so certainly the biggest reason how I got this far is because of her genes,” Scully said Friday morning when asked what it sounded like to be on the cusp of another birthday.

“But our lives were totally different. She had a much tougher life than mine. But as the man says, so far good and I really have a lot to be thankful for. Baseball has helped me immeasurably. I may not be hanging out with the young players today, but in dealing with a child’s game while the rest of the world may be falling apart, it’s an interesting thought.”

Thankfully, we can Google up a YouTube clip to restore our DNA data plan. Scully lives perpetually in a digital cloud, a voice from the video-streaming heavens. If only someone had the tapes of when he first started calling games in Brooklyn some 65 years ago.

vsgesI listen to Scully converse casually on the phone, and it’s a reminder again that, frankly, my hearing isn’t what it used to be.

Decades of trying to work around insufferable tinnitus in the left ear has resulted in more than a 50 percent loss of decipherable sound from that side, and it worsens by the year. Hearing aids only amplify the non-stop ringing.

So the right ear gets overtaxed. Someone like me who loves to listen rather than talk – it’s why God gave us two ears and one mouth, I’m reminded – wonders when the other senses will overcompensate as this nonsense continues.

It’s more difficult to sit and work in an indoor sports arena where the bass-heavy music over the more sophisticated speaker systems permeate membranes and cause more permanent damage. I’m in constant preservation mode against loudness. My only recourse is that a sense of humor offsets a sense of longing for what’s never coming back.

I hope to someday to hear the pitch perfect of a grandchild’s first words as clearly as Scully’s perfect description of a Kershaw pitch.

The voice of Vin. The sound of Scully.

From his lips to my one good ear, he makes perfect sense of what sense he appreciates most at this stage in the game.

SSSvin-scully“For me, the sense of sight has to rank No. 1. Not only because there’s this great big world to look at, but when you do want to beat a hasty retreat from it, there’s always a good book you can find to read.”

Scully has spent time with generations on holidays and birthdays, and he says he can envision them beyond his mind’s eye. He’s protective of his voice, sure, the one we get pure and unfiltered the first three innings of most every Dodger home game before he goes off to narrate pictures you see on TV.

But his royal blue eyes start the process of what he’s about to tell us. And it’s imperative that we listen.

He’s resistant to celebrating his birthday much, because he says when growing up, his mother and father “didn’t have much money, so I tried to downplay it as much so they wouldn’t feel obligate to make a big fuss over it. That’s just become a habit, I guess. Please, no gifts. Forget the wrappings and everything else.”

He also explains a resistance he has when it comes to imagining how he’d see himself in a mirror if he didn’t have baseball as part of his life today, just a few months away from starting his 66th season with the Dodgers.

LostHorizonsMoviePoster“Remember the book by James Hilton called ‘Shangri-La,’” Scully begins, referring to the 1933 novel that was made into a Frank Capra movie a short time later called “Lost Horizon” starring Roland Coleman and the actress simply known as Margo.

“This plane crashes into the Himalayas of Nepal, and the survivors are met by Sherpa guides who take them off the mountain, during a terrible blizzard. The next thing you know they’re in the most beautiful valley in the whole world, absolutely magnificent – it’s Shangri-La.

“So now one of the survivors falls in love with this gorgeous girl in the valley. Finally, there comes a point when the survivors are restless and want to be rescued. So when they are rescued, this man decides to leave but he wants to take this woman back to civilization.

“When he announces his plan, the High Lama says that he can’t take her away from Shangri-La. He warns him that she is a lot older than she looks. She has only managed to stay her youthful age because she has lived in this valley for so long, and if she leaves, she’ll revert to her real age.

alternate title“But the man takes her anyway. And in the movie, there’s the scene where they’re leaving the valley, all dressed in winter clothes. The man is carrying the woman out on his shoulder. And then the camera zooms in on her. From under her hood, you can now see her face – and she looks to be 150 years old.”

Scully pauses for effect, and reflection.

The voice of Vin. The sound of Scully. The eyes have it. I’m listening even more intently.

“I’ve often thought that when the time comes to leave baseball, I’ll have lived this sheltered, lovely existence where grown men leave a child’s game. It’s like Shangri-La. You leave it, and your real age catches up with you.”

In Shangri-L.A., it’s always time for Dodger baseball with Scully. No matter what the calendar says.

See what I’m saying?


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  • steve k

    from a sf giant fan for the last 50 years, happy birthday vin, the best there ever was

  • tim

    check your title – “Sangri” Really? Typical slipshod Hoffarth.