The day began amid sunshine, warm temperatures and blue skies.
But most days in Hawaii are like that. On March 6, 2005 I was just weeks into my first season as baseball play-by-play broadcaster for one of college baseball’s all-time great programs at Florida State.
Lucky for me the Seminoles had planned a ten-day trip to the islands for that March and that day found us in Hilo for a doubleheader vs. Hawaii-Hilo.
As the day went on, my cell phone started to ring off the hook. Soon I found out what all the calls were about. Close friends and family were calling from Baltimore to tell me Chuck Thompson had died that day.
That was five years ago this past Saturday.
Later, after both games when I had time to reflect, I was so sad that I could not be there to pay my final respects to this legendary Baltimore broadcaster.
But then I realized the reason I was thousands of miles and an ocean away. I was broadcasting a baseball game, something I loved to do.
I fell in love with baseball and broadcasting in large part because as a kid I got to hear Chuck Thompson call the Colts and Orioles games. Later, when I began working for WBAL Radio I got to meet Chuck. He could not have been nicer or more easy to talk with.
I never got to know Chuck well, but it seemed like I had. That was because of him.
In 2003 or maybe it was 2004, I interviewed Chuck during an O’s pregame radio show. By then his eyesight was badly failing him and he could no longer call a game.
He said no one should feel sorry for him, he had a great life and career. But if a miracle could give him his sight back, he would love to call one more inning and then hang it up for good. Just hearing him say those words that day made my eyes well up.
With all due respect to anyone that has ever worked a Baltimore sports broadcast, Chuck, for me, will always be “the voice” of sports in Baltimore.
At a time before every game was on TV and before ESPN and the internet, Chuck and Bill O’Donnell were our voices of summer. What a voice Chuck had. Even very late in his life he never lost a step there.
To me, he is every bit the Baltimore treasure that Johnny Unitas, Cal Ripken and Brooks Robinson are.
His voice, talent, grace and class graced the Baltimore airwaves for over 40 years. He received the Ford Frick award from the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1993 and in 2009 was named among the top 50 sportscasters of all time by the American Sportscasters Association.
In 1993 in Cooperstown, he gave one of the most eloquent speeches ever heard at the Hall of Fame.
He ended that day saying something to the effect of:
“If you walk through the halls here one day and someone sees my name and asks ‘did you know him.’ I hope you’ll say ‘yes, I did, he was a friend.’
Check out Kate Wheeler’s Orioles Buzz blog for more on Chuck and some pictures of the legend.