My Summer at Blair

I’ve hinted on previous posts about my previous job as a broadcaster for the Long Beach Armada in the summer of 2008.  In writing about my 3rd favorite sports movie “Major League” I described how that movie had a personal connection with my experience that summer.  I only touched on a handful of events from that summer.  Now I want to share the rest with you.
I got a phone call from my broadcast partner and friend J.R. Reed as I was leaving the campus of Long Beach City College.  He asked if I would like to be the play-by-play voice of the Long Beach Armada baseball team.  I was stunned and all I could immediately get out was “sure.”  Me and J.R. met with the general manager at the time Steve Bash who had a lot of ideas for the upcoming season.  I can’t remember them all, but suffice it to say it was going to be a fun summer.
The first games we were to broadcast were two exhibition games against the Chinese National team.  Yes, the same team that would play in the Summer Olympics that very year.  Now if your first broadcast for a semi-professional baseball team is when they play the Chinese National team, how are you going to pronounce those names?
Thanks to a MLB representative from the Chinese team, he helped me go over the names before the games.  Quick funny note.  One of the players names was spelled Wong Wei.  It was pronounced like you see it, wong-way.  Thankfully he didn’t play in either game. It would have been hard not to laugh on-air.
Me and J.R. interviewed the manager for China Jim Lefebvre before Game 1.  Yes the same Dodgers second baseman from 1965-72.  That was one of many great conversations that summer. During the games I was getting praise from another MLB representative in China listening to the games.  He was the head of baseball development in China at that time.  That made my day.
Another great thing during that series was a silent auction taking place at Blair Field, the home stadium for the Armada.  Before the series there was a devastating earthquake that hit China.  All the proceeds during that auction were to be donated to the Red Cross disaster relief fund.  Lots of cool items were auctioned off and in total over $6,000 was raised from the auction.  A great way to start the summer.
Former Los Angeles Dodgers and co-MVP of the 1981 World Series Steve Yeager was the manager of the Armada.  They had a slew of former major league players.  Jerome Williams, David Parrish, Cleatus Davidson, Tony Torcato and Nick Bierbrodt. There were some other players that I had heard of that didn’t pan out with their respective major league clubs, but they were talented nonetheless.
I had a special connection with Bierbrodt.  He and I both went to Robert A. Millikan high school.  At different times of course.  He went on to be the Arizona Diamondbacks first pick ever in 1996. His career didn’t pan out in Arizona, but he started to get back on track in Tampa Bay in 2001.
Unfortunately his career and life took a turn for the worst.  This I didn’t know, but he said that while he was in a drive thru in Tampa Bay, he was shot twice while sitting in his car.  It was a case of mistaken identity.  Thankfully Nick recovered from that, but he wasn’t able to stay in the majors for very long.
The first time I met him I told him that I was a fellow Millikan alumni.  He asked what year did I graduate.  Now before I give you his answer, I have fooled some people into thinking that I’m older than I actually am.  I said 2004.  Nick responded, “s*** you look older.”  I laughed and said I get that a lot.  Getting to know Nick was great.  He’s played all over the world and had some great stories to tell.
Now Yeager as many of you probably know is a character in his own right.  I won’t reveal a lot, but the funniest thing he ever said during that summer was on a road trip.  Guys were complaining about the bus, the long road trips, bad hotels.  Yeager turned around and snapped, “hey, you don’t like it.  play better and move up.”  At the time it was very true.  Afterwards it was hilarious because he timed it perfectly.  Just when the complaints started to get louder he knew it was time to strike.
Another time was when they were playing in Chico, California.  The clubhouse attendant put the Armada’s pants, which were white with the teams shirts, which were red in the washer together.  Very dumb indeed, but Yeager’s reaction was a profanity laced tirade that I can’t repeat here.  I know my broadcast partner J.R. has the raw footage.  Ask him nicely and tell him I sent you.
Perhaps the coolest part about being with Yeager was on the road trip to Yuma, Arizona.  Me and J.R. went across the street from the hotel to Carls Jr.  Yeager happened to be there eating his lunch and we asked if we could join him.  We talked about the state of the team and things like that at first, but then we asked about his playing days.
The most interesting answer he gave was his favorite ballpark. Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.  He did play one year with the Seattle Mariners before retiring.  But I figured he would say Dodger Stadium or a National League park.  He said the Kingdome wasn’t bad either.  It was interesting insight coming from him.

Quick side story.  After a home game I was waiting for Yeager to finish signing baseballs outside the clubhouse to ask him about the upcoming road trip.  As I waited a young boy handed me his baseball and asked if I could sign it.  I replied saying that I wasn’t one of the players I was the broadcaster.  He said he wanted to get everyones autograph.  I was taken back.  I gladly signed the baseball and could hear J.R. in the distance yelling, “look at Wes signing baseballs.”  That was my best moment being apart of the Armada.

Now how could I leave such a great job.  I mean after all it is my dream to broadcast for a professional baseball team.  Well, without mentioning any names the way things were within the league and the franchise it was a toxic environment.  The league owned the Armada and a handful of the other teams.  They were more concerned about the bottom line rather than the game.  People were being fired left and right in the organization.  It was chaotic at times.

Case in point.  The first game of a double header was delayed 45 minutes because they only had one case of baseballs.  I was honest and told the listeners why the game was delayed.  Why try to hide it?  The last game on the road trip to Yuma was played in El Centro, California.  They didn’t have anyone to sing the national anthem before the game so it was let go.  I was a bit disappointed, but I kind of expected it with the lack of organization.  What I didn’t expect was the game to be delayed in the middle of the second inning to sing the national anthem.  Yes, it happened.

Another thing happened on a personal note.  As a writer the one sin that I understand you must never do when writing is plagiarize someone else’s work.  I make sure to put quotes when needed and put my own twist on topics, but I never word for word copy someones else’s work.

Unfortunately for someone on the Long Beach Armada staff they didn’t see any problem with that.  My final game recap was taken down and basically copied as his own.  When confronted he said there was a part of the story that needed to be clarified.  That was fine, but it was my post and I can clarify my own work.  Basically a player that went head first into the wall at Blair Field was taken in an ambulance off the field after the game.  I didn’t speculate on his injuries, but wrote what was being said on the field at the time. That was the clarification he was referring to.

I was going to go to the league office and get him fired, but one thought came through my head.  Would it really matter to them? As mentioned before, the league only cared about the bottom line. This person who plagiarized my work was making them money by selling tickets and doing things off the field to make them money. What was I doing in their eyes?  Broadcasting the games.  That was it.  I was sure to let him know that what he did was wrong and left it at that.

The Armada would only last for one more season as the league sued the City of Long Beach over the use of Blair Field.  Smart move I know.  The league has since folded and combined with two other independent leagues.  I am still looking for another job in that field and in radio as well.  I do have a job to pay the bills, but I would love to get back into that environment again.  I have learned a lot from that summer.  I plan on taking that experience to better myself and to continue to achieve that dream of mine.

Never will I forget that time when the Armada won four straight games via the walk-off celebration.  Never will I forget the players and coaches of the 2008 Long Beach Armada.  Never will I forget the fantastic media members and press box staff that were there watching every game with us.  Never will I forget the fans who supported the team and staff that worked their butts off to show how the game should be played.  Never will I forget that fantastic summer at beautiful Blair Field in Long Beach, California.

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