By Pedro Velazco
Dick Enberg is trusted to call hours and hours of sports for an audience of millions on television. So keeping an audience of a couple hundred enthralled at a dinner in Kokomo was a piece of cake Saturday night.
The broadcasting veteran was in the City of Firsts as the featured speaker in the fourth-annual Joe Thatcher Pitch In for Youth dinner and auction at the Kokomo Country Club. Charismatic and bright, the 77-year-old was overflowing with funny and touching stories in an hour-long talk with those in attendance.
This year’s edition of the dinner benefited the Carver Community Center, and the Joe Thatcher Endowment, with money being split between the two. Thatcher uses his position as a relief pitcher with the San Diego Padres to help put on the event with the help of his family, and this season he was able to lure Enberg, the Padres’ play-by-play announcer, as the guest speaker.
“[I’m here] because of Joe,” Enberg said. “He’s one of our favorite Padres, not just for his athletic talent but he’s a terrific guy, he’s a ‘good Joe.’ You think of all the negative stories in the press [about some athletes] and the people that get that are just the minority, but the majority of the people are like Joe. They care about their hometown and want to give back to it.”
Enberg left the national scene to become the Padres’ play-by-play voice in 2010 and has come to know Thatcher a little in the two seasons in San Diego, though the broadcaster says he knows him a lot better after making the trip to speak at the Pitch In for Youth dinner.
“One of the best expressions in baseball is ‘I’ll pick him up for you.’ Guy comes up with bases loaded, ninth inning, tie game, one out, strikes out, and when he goes to the dugout the guy following him says ‘I’ll pick him up for you’ and he gets a base hit, you win, everyone forgets the other guy struck out,” Enberg said.
“Relief pitchers, that’s really in their contract. He’s always picking up for somebody else. He comes in, the guy’s got a mess, bases loaded, nobody out ‘just go out and strike out the side, OK?’ It’s a nice thing in life, not just baseball, to pick somebody up. That’s what this event’s all about.”
The evening included raffle give-aways and items for auction, with an emphasis on sports memorabilia. Included in the items were jerseys from Thatcher, and other local products like Atlanta Braves pitcher Brandon Beachy and Oakland farmhand Nolan Sanburn. Also, an Aaron Rodgers jersey donated by the Packers quarterback fetched a princely $3,000 for the cause.
“There were a number of people here, we had a lot of great items up for auction, we raised a lot of money with ticket sales and all the auction items, raffles, tickets, but the highlight of the evening was definitely Mr. Enberg,” Thatcher said. “He was outstanding. He captivated the room and the people that had a chance to be here definitely had a memorable night listening to him speaking. He’s a legend in the sports world, not just broadcasting, but the sports world.
“We had the privilege of hanging out with him this afternoon, took him around Kokomo, took him to Memorial Gym, took him to see Jimmy Rayl. He has a story for everything, and he’s such a good story-teller, such a nice guy, really opened up to the people here. I’ve had so many people tell me it was awesome hearing him speak.”
Rayl and Enberg have a shared history. Enberg earned master’s and doctoral degrees from Indiana, and called football and basketball games for the Hoosiers — including watching the 1959 Mr. Basketball when Rayl played for the Hoosiers.
“He still thinks he can shoot it from 30 feet,” Enberg quipped.
Enberg entertained with stories about calling UCLA basketball in its glory days when John Wooden had the Bruins on a historic run of championships (Enberg called eight title seasons for the Bruins), talked about a final meeting last year with Wooden, an Indiana hoops legend, and related colorful tales of coworkers and athletes.
Thatcher was grateful to have Enberg’s time and enthusiasm there to highlight the evening. It helped him serve his cause for the evening, aiding the Carver Center, where he’d spent so many days as a youngster growing up in Kokomo. During the dinner, he’d thanked all the sponsors who donated time, money and items for the event. After the dinner, he was thankful for all the help to put the show on in the first place.
“My parents [Phil and Sara Thatcher], they do so much of this,” he said. “People don’t realize how much work goes into this thing, and it’s just us that does it. It’s a lot of work for them. I can’t thank them enough.”