“Well, I owe you one,” Mr. Enberg asserted after I graciously turned down his offer to buy me a meal. He then respectfully stabbed his fork into his short stack at his favorite little hole-in-the-wall in La Jolla , Harry’s Coffee Shop, and started the interview.
It’s been nearly eleven months since I first sat across the table from the gold standard for North American sports broadcasters. In the time since our first interaction at Harry’s, I have gotten to know Mr. Enberg fairly well. For every game of his farewell tour at Petco Park, I was just feet behind him in the Fox Sports San Diego broadcast booth. Through the short moments of exuberance and long stints of agony that seem to accompany almost every Padres’ season, I made a promise to myself, which my emotions as a baseball fan would not affect: “Keep your eyes, ears, and brain focused on one person that can really have a lasting impact on your life: DICK ENBERG.” Looking back on the season, I can wholeheartedly say that I stuck to my promise. With that, I was blessed enough to get to know Mr. Enberg in a way that few others have as his personal intern. More importantly, however, I was able to soak in the greatness and genuineness of a true legend, leader, and role model.
– – –
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous walking into Mr. Enberg’s office for the first time…
“Let me grab you your media guide for the season,” he said as he dove into the bag to his right. After a few awkward moments of uncomfortable shuffling and throat clearing, he rose up to hand me what I assumed to be the start of my internship. That is, until I found myself gazing at the cover of the “Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition.” He waved it back and forth a few times, and with the flair that only a wise old fella could swing, he proudly announced, “I haven’t had the chance to look at this yet,” and added with a smirk, “but I definitely will.” Good God Almighty. What better way to make your college intern feel comfortable on his first day than to crack a joke about the swimsuit mag?
I owe you one, Mr. Enberg.
I guess I fibbed a bit earlier…I wasn’t at every Padres home game in 2016, more like 90 percent. As much as I would have loved being there every night, I had to make money and work my other paid job from time to time. Mr. Enberg made it clear during my interview that this would be an unpaid internship, a sacrifice I was 100 percent willing to make. As far as I was concerned, you couldn’t put a monetary value on the experience I was going to get… until I was directed to a little white envelope.
“Hey, there’s something on the table for you,” Mr. Enberg calmly stated as I walked into his office, which is just down the hall from the booth. My eyes shifted from his desk to my right, which was cluttered with books and papers and had just enough space for his scorebook to sit comfortably, to the small table directly in front of me, which was disorganized in the same manner. However, there was a little white envelope, complete with a yellow sticky note on the front and “Connor” written on it, that somehow escaped the grasp of the pile and found it’s own precious patch of empty real estate. As I reached for the segregated envelope, I asked, “What is this?” I had no expectation of receiving “fan mail” at the ballpark. “Oh just a little payment for your work,” Mr. Enberg said reservedly. Shocked, I could only manage to stutter, “Uh, wow… thank you.” After a short check-in on my duties for the day, I turned and left his office, still surprised and intrigued by the envelope. I made my way to the corner of the broadcast booth and slid my hand inside the white paper mystery. With a quick check over both shoulders to make sure no one was peering over me to get a peek at the “payment,” I pulled out a check.
“ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS EXACTLY”
I owe you one, Mr. Enberg.
Yes, the Hall of Famer has been calling games for significantly longer than I have been alive, but I see him for what he was before that: a teacher – “The Professor.” Most of the lessons he taught me this year weren’t with me at my desk while I watched him at the chalkboard. The classroom was the ballpark. His actions–those were the lessons. A couple key instructions you ask? How to treat people the right way and how to come ready to work everyday. Yeah, those were reiterated constantly.
“You’re coming early today, right? I need help with a major bidder on Pads experience.” I complied, of course, especially since this was Mr. Enberg’s penultimate broadcast (One of my jobs throughout the season was to accompany and chauffeur some of Mr. Enberg’s guests around Petco Park, which allowed him to get some extra time to prepare for the broadcast). So, this wasn’t one of your typical games. People would be listening closely to his broadcast, and he wanted to be prepared. But, as it is customary for legends who announce their retirement before the season ends, everyone wants one last piece of you. “Man, I have been in interviews all day.” He was exhausted and clearly not where he would like to be with his game preparation. With about an hour left before game time, a time when Mr. Enberg is almost always in his office preparing for the game, there were two groups of people vying for the Professor’s attention, asking for pictures, autographs and some face-to-face time. Like you could imagine, he complied, putting off his work once again to give people the “Pads experience.” I could read his face. The lines on his forehead read “frustrated and frazzled,” but he continued to put on a smile while his work waited patiently at his desk. After one group left (a group that he didn’t know or expect to take some of his time), he sought some relief from the second group. “Okay Connor, how about you take these gentlemen down to see the truck.” 10-4 boss. I patted one the guys on his shoulder and led them down the hallway from the booth towards the elevator. After a few steps, I looked to my left and one of the gents had a smile plastered so big across his face that you couldn’t slap it off him. “Pretty cool, huh?” I chirped. With his hands full of Padres memorabilia laced with Enberg’s John Hancock all over, the gentleman gleaned, “Man that guy is a legend, and we got to be in there in the booth with him. Can you believe that?!” Yes. Yes, I can.
We owe you one, Mr. Enberg.
Mr. Enberg never really needed an intern. Endless accolades precede him over his nearly 60-year career. National Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame, one of two individuals to have entry in each of the Baseball, Football, and Basketball Halls of Fame, 14 Emmy Awards, and even two best-selling books. Clearly he didn’t need an intern, but he wanted one so he could help that individual. I think when Mr. Enberg chose me, he saw himself helping a young Dick Enberg, so to say. We were both collegiate baseball players who put our hearts and souls into one day making it to the Major Leagues, but there was another plan for our lives. And just like a young Mr. Enberg, since lacing up the spikes for a living is no longer a possibility, I want to do whatever else it is that will get me to the “majors” one day. “What you want to get out of this is up to you,” he said during the interview. A challenge and a warning, I thought. I was ready to work hard for him. But, maybe that challenge was just a method for Mr. Enberg to live out to the old saying, “leave the place better than you found it.” What better way to leave the broadcast world than to ship off some personally trained, motivated young people who want to work in the same field? All he really wants is to leave the broadcast booth and the world in better shape than when he first found them.
– – –
Hanging on his office wall to the right of his desk, Mr. Enberg has a poster of his favorite player, Ted Williams, who is pictured following through on his iconic Hall of Fame swing. In plain white letters just to the right of the .344 career hitter is his famous line, “Baseball is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of ten and be considered a good performer,” a benchmark for success in baseball for a hitter. “Three times out of ten” for your entire career, and you’re probably headed to Cooperstown. Well, congratulations Mr. Enberg. You and your “three times out of ten” got you a spot next to your hero, forever. Maybe one day, someday, my “three times out of ten” will get me a spot next to you.
Oh My…we owe you one, Mr. Enberg.