I've always felt there's a very special relationship between sports fans and the announcers that broadcast the games of their favorite teams. It doesn't matter if its the radio crew or the television team, if they are two separate groups, they are there for you every game, every season. Its as if the broadcast team are members of our family.
If you are a fan of the New York Mets, as I am, then you know we lost a family member last Thursday when long time Mets broadcaster Ralph Kiner passed away at the age of 91.
I didn't start following sports religiously until 1970 when I was eight years old. If you're wondering how I know that, its very easy. When the Amazin' Mets stunned the Baltimore Orioles in the 1969 World Series, I was too busy playing with my train set to notice. When the Jets shocked the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III earlier that year, I didn't even watch. It must have been the 1970 NBA Finals between the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers that converted me because that is the first vivid sports memory I have.
But baseball was my first love at the time and the Mets were the team I fell in love with. Who knew it would lead to a lifetime filled with pain and suffering.
When it came to Mets baseball on the radio or TV, there were three men who were there, every game, every season. Ralph Kiner, Lindsay Nelson and Bob Murphy were the broadcast team from the Mets very first game in 1962 through the end of the 1978 season when Nelson left to call games for the San Francisco Giants.
I learned about the Mets and I learned about baseball from Kiner, Nelson and Murphy. When I heard the news that Kiner had passed away, it was like a piece of my childhood had died too.
While Nelson and Murphy were the professional broadcasters, Kiner was the ex ballplayer turned broadcaster and entertained with great baseball stories and the occasional malaprop. He was also the man who brought us "Kiner's Korner", the Mets post game show. It featured an interview with the player of the game as well as game highlights and closed with scores from around the Major League.
Kiner's death hit me on another level, a more personal level. It made me think of my Dad, Jack, who passed away in 2011. He was the director for Mets telecasts from their inception to the early 1980's and had become very close with Kiner, Nelson and Murphy. My brothers and I were frequent visitors to Mets games at Shea Stadium over the years and would see the trio of broadcasters on a regular basis.
We also got to watch Kiner's Korner from the studio. After the game, we'd go down to the control room to meet our Dad and the studio for Kiner's Korner was right next to the control room so we'd stay and watch the show. This is probably how I got the bug to go into broadcasting.
In addition to seeing Ralph Kiner, we'd get a chance to meet Mets players, depending on if they won(which didn't seem to happen often enough) and who the star of the game was. Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Tommie Agee, Cleon Jones, Bud Harrelson and Ed Kranepool were among the players we were introduced to by my Dad. Pretty cool stuff for a kid in elementary school.
Kiner's Korner also gave us a chance to meet some of the greats in the game at the time, if they were invited to do the show. To this day, one of my childhood friends can clearly recall meeting then Reds second baseman Joe Morgan and getting an autograph from the future Hall of Famer.
Kiner was such a nice man. One time after his show, he signed a baseball for me but in one of my stupider moments as a youth, I used the baseball for one of our pick up games at a local park. It was the only time I had a baseball signed in person by a Hall of Famer. You'd think that would be something to put away in a safe place.
I'm sure you can relate to the idea of the team broadcasters holding a special place in hearts of sports fans. While Kiner, Nelson and Murphy were calling Mets games, if you were a Yankees fan in the 1970's, you were hooked on Phil Rizzuto, Bill White and Frank Messer. If you grew up as a fan of the Bills and Sabres, you were very fortunate to experience legends like Ted Darling and Van Miller and are still enjoying Rick Jeanneret.
As is the case any time you lose a family member, there's sadness since that person is no longer with us but you always have the memories to cherish and that is what all Mets fans are now doing with Ralph Kiner.