Vin Scully memories from the media: Brian Wheeler

Blazers radio play-by-play man Brian Wheeler at the Rose Garden in Portland in 2012.

Blazers radio play-by-play man Brian Wheeler at the Rose Garden in Portland in 2012.

They have been Vin Scully’s colleagues in the media.  As Scully heads into his final broadcast at San Francisco on Sunday, here are some more of their stories:

Brian Wheeler, the play-by-play voice of the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers since 1998, is someone whose life story, when told recently by The (Vancouver, Wash.) Columbian, was under the headline “An All-Too-Real Cinderella Story.”  “Wheels,” as he is called, had put a streak of more than 1,350 consecutive games for the Blazers.
He read many of the previous Vin Scully media tributes and was nice enough to contribute this to add to the collection — and perhaps give some advice to Joe Davis about how to step into the booth that Vin Scully once did and carry on a traditon with the listening audience:

“I was fortunate to be a young sports fan, growing up in L.A. in the early to mid-’70s.  Unlike today, each local team didn’t televise any of their home games, and most didn’t even televise that many games period.

“I lived in Hollywood so was a Dodgers’ fan primarily when it came to baseball.  I remember they would televise every Sunday road game, and all the road games with the Giants.  Came to about 25 total most seasons.  I had a good friend who was also a big Dodgers’ fan, and we got to go to a lot of games at Dodger Stadium since his dad had always been a fan too.  His dad would bring his transistor radio, insisting we had to listen to Vin or we wouldn’t really know what was going on.  I thought it strange at first, but while we were in our seats if it was quiet enough, you could hear the echo of Vin’s voice from all the other fans that decided to bring their transistor radios too.  Vin must have known about this phenomenon.

“I remember during one home game he was giving the explanation of a convoluted baseball rule.  When he was done, he paused and said, ‘Oh, sure, I know you knew that, but what about her sitting over there?’  It was as if he were right in the seat next to us, and I began to understand why so many folks felt the need to bring a radio with them to the ballpark.  If they hadn’t, it would been like leaving a good friend home, and who’d want to do that?

“I was lucky at a young age to figure out what I wanted to do in life.  I was above average as an athlete, but I discovered I wasn’t going to excel in any one sport enough to play it seriously as I got older.  So I wondered how I could stay connected to sports if I couldn’t play.  I think it was my mother who chimed in with, ‘Well, you like to talk a lot, maybe you can do something with that.’  A light bulb went off in my head and I said, ‘You’re right … I’ll be a broadcaster!’ And so I told all my friends that would be my life’s calling.   As we played games in the neighborhood streets or in the schoolyard, they’d tell me, ‘Hey, announce the game while we’re playing,’ and so I would.

wheelere“I was an only child, so I also spent some time calling make-believe games in my bedroom to entertain myself.  And I also spent some idle time listening to the many wonderful L.A. play-by-play announcers on my radio dial.  Chick Hearn with the Lakers, Bob Miller with the Kings, Dick Enberg with both the Rams and the Angels, Tom Kelly with USC, Fred Hessler with UCLA, and of course, Vin with the Dodgers. They all were special in their own way, and it wasn’t until I grew to be much older that I realized how fortunate I was to have so many talented broadcasters to listen to.

“Being such a big Dodgers’ fan, I of course heard Vin more than the other guys.  I would always marvel at how he could keep track of all the important things going on in the game he was calling, while also entertaining his audience with a story or three or four that always added an extra dimension to his broadcasts.  And his timing was impeccable, yet he never seemed to have to rush to get in what he wanted or needed to say.

“Basketball became my favorite sport as time went on.  My family and I moved to the Midwest during my high school years, and I ended up going to college at Loyola University in Chicago.  Still, I never stopped loving my L.A. teams, and I would brag to all my Chicago friends about the terrific broadcasters that were better than any of the ones they grew up with.  This led to some heated arguments, but I usually stayed determined until they came around to my way of thinking.  Loyola had no football, baseball, or hockey team so basketball was the No. 1 sport.  So when I joined the student radio station, I gravitated towards calling play-by-play for the men’s basketball team.  That gave me some valuable experience to what I hoped would lead to an eventual job in the NBA.  With a faster pace, basketball didn’t lend itself as easily as baseball when it came to story-telling, but I tried to do what I remember Vin did, and look for good background information on the players and coaches to supplement my calling of the game action.  I knew I could never be Vin, but I could emulate some of the wonderful qualities that had made his broadcasts a must-listen for so long.

“After coming in second for four full-time NBA play-by-play positions, I finally got my big break in 1998 with the Portland Trail Blazers.  I was asked to replace a legendary announcer, Bill Schonely, who had been the main play-by-play announcer for the team since they entered the NBA in 1970.  The team removing him was a very unpopular decision, and I knew I could be walking into a tricky situation, being the guy who would try to replace a beloved figure.  But I think it helped that I wondered to myself how I would feel if one of my L.A. broadcasting heroes like Vin had been asked to step down before he was ready.  I’d be upset too. So I told the Portland fans that I could understand what they were feeling. I assured them I wasn’t coming in to replace Bill in the hearts and minds of Blazers’ fans.  I was just hoping to carve my own niche alongside his, and that in time, hopefully fans could still love Bill, and maybe think I was OK too.  Well, the strategy must have worked in some form or another, because I am now beginning my 19th season with the Blazers.

“Ironically, one thing will be different about this season for me from the other 18.  I’m going to be working by myself for the first time with no color analyst.  I’ve always liked having someone else to play off of during a broadcast, but now we’ll see if I can carry things on my own.  I’m already thinking about the way Vin went solo on Dodgers’ broadcasts.   I never longed to hear another voice because he always took care of anything I needed as a listener.  Now this season I’ll hope to have similar success.  I know I’ve learned some lessons listening to him over these many years, and they should come in handy more than ever this season.

51cdd3e333a61a3824449f2bf37fd6da“One of my favorite movies is ‘Mr. Holland’s Opus.’  For those who haven’t seen it, Richard Dreyfuss has the starring role.  He has a dream of making it big as a music composer.  Over time to pay the bills, he becomes a music teacher. Budget cuts at his high school eliminate the music department and he’s forced into a premature retirement.  On his last day, his wife and son help him clean out his desk.  They start walking to their car, only to hear some commotion in the auditorium. Curious, Dreyfuss as Mr. Holland opens the doors, and to his surprise, there is an auditorium filled with well-wishers to honor him.  As he makes his way to the front row with his family, he sees many of his former students, some that he hasn’t seen in years.  The lead speaker for the event is the Governor, who just happens to be a woman who Mr. Holland helped immensely when she was one of his music students.  She comments on how Mr. Holland didn’t become rich and famous, but that he could still be proud, because he had helped to shape the lives of everyone in that auditorium, probably more than he ever realized.  Those people were his Opus.

“I bring that up because I’m not sure Vin realizes how many lives he enriched over the years.  He says he needed us more than we needed him.  Who am I to argue with him? But I’d beg to differ.  Like Mr. Holland though, I’m glad that Vin’s been able to experience this season all the adulation he so richly deserves.  He’s too humble to ever fully embrace it, but I think he at least has a greater understanding of why his many legions of fans will miss him dearly.  He told us in his last broadcast not to be sad that our time together is over, but to smile that it happened.  I know in time we will.  Right now, it’s a bit of a challenge.

“I’m thankful I got to listen to him during the years when I was discovering my vocation in life.  I knew I couldn’t be as great as Vin, but I hoped that one day maybe I could make a listener of mine smile at a play I called, or a story I told during a broadcast.  I may never have a chance to tell Vin how much he made me smile over the years.  He called us ‘friends,’ and even though our relationship with him will be changing, he sure left us with memories to last a few lifetimes, didn’t he?”

= Previous Scully media memory stories:
= Ross Porter, Charley Steiner and Dick Enberg
= Joe Davis and a second entry later.
= Fred Claire
= Derrick Hall
= Josh Rawitch
= Joe Jareck
= Mark Langill
= Toby Zwikel
= Steve Brener
= John Olguin
= Brent Shyer
= Jon Weisman
= David Vassegh
= Jon SooHoo
= Matt Vasgersian
= Ken Korash
= Tim Mead
= Ryan Lefebvre

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email