On the evening of December 20, 2017, I had a phone call with a humble, kind man in California. Although that previous sentence reads like a potential opening sentence of a novel, the conversation happened. I realize it’s a mundane way to start a blog post, not necessarily catching your interest, but I ask you hang in there and read on.
You see, I had never met him, but I’ve seen him many times. I had never spoke with him prior to that call, but before that moment he’s spoken to me on more than one occasion. He’s painted pictures in my head, drawn my attention to details I didn’t notice, described things to me in a modest, heartland sort of way making the complex quite simple yet powerful, and has taken me to places and events I could only dream about as a kid.
His name was Dick Enberg. For those of you who may not immediately recognize him, Mr. Enberg was a Hall of Fame, world-renowned sportscaster with a career spanning almost six decades. He covered many of the leading sporting events of our time, from Super Bowls to the Olympics to Wimbledon and pretty much every sport in between. Born and raised in central Michigan before beginning his career in Los Angeles, he never seemed to lose his Midwestern qualities and brought those to bear each time he was on the air. Perhaps his most famous line was “Oh, my,” which he spoke after particularly exciting and outstanding athletic plays with regularity. That phrase’s understated utterance perfectly overstated those great moments with two simple words. It became his on-air signature.
My background is in the professional sports business, and it was a particular event that I was involved with that brought me to the conversation I had with Dick Enberg. I was with the Detroit Tigers at the time. We were holding a big splashy dinner and program to honor two of our players who had just been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. We knew we needed an emcee of some stature. Someone everybody would know so we could raise the bar and bring even greater celebrity to the event for our business partners who we were entertaining. Hence, our PR guy reached out to Dick Enberg who graciously agreed to do it for free. Being a Michigander, the Tigers had a special place in his heart.
As the date drew near (middle of January), the logistics and travel details for Mr. Enberg fell to me as it was my department’s event. I reached out to him on December 20th to finalize details before the holidays hit so we would be ready to go come January. That call was the first time I ever spoke to him and all I can say is that he was so straightforward pleasant that I remember the conversation almost crystal clear. He had zero pretentiousness, and he restated that he was thrilled and so looking forward to it as a Tigers fan himself. The call lasted maybe ten minutes, and we wished each other Happy Holidays before we clicked off. It was probably around 8:00 PM Eastern.
The next day, December 21st, I was at work at the ballpark when I heard the news that Dick Enberg had died. He was found in his foyer that morning with his bags packed at the door of his home waiting for a ride to the airport. Stunned, shocked, incredulous…pick a word. I was at a loss for one. I had just spoke to him hours earlier for the first time ever. It hit me almost immediately that I was one of the last human beings on the planet to have talked with the man.
It was a life lesson. Dick Enberg brought his warm-hearted approach to a stranger, namely me. His kindness and humble attitude came through loud and clear on that phone call. It took a while for the shock to dissipate, but I’ll never forget that interlude of a moment.
As a take-away, just pause occasionally and understand that the random stranger you meet could use a dose of kindness. Giving to someone else does indeed make the longest lasting impression, made more powerful if you don’t know them. That person may not be around the next morning, and Mr. Enberg reminded me that we may not be either. Say hello to someone with a smile and a touch of grace. You could be the last person they ever hear from, or vice versa.