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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Personal · #1550587
An embarrassing blooper occurs at a girls softball game.
cover art for The Blooper

word count: 2,300 

In baseball vernacular, a blooper is an "excuse me," kind of hit, lofted just beyond the reach of the infielders, but not quite within range of the outfielders. In radio and TV jargon, bloopers are a different kind of "excuse me." They are embarrassingly misspoken or mispronounced words, usually uttered during a live broadcast, that leave the announcer feeling foolish and the listener either laughing or offended, wondering if they really heard what they thought they heard.
        I got a letter the other day that reminded me of a blooper I committed while doing a radio broadcast of a softball game over thirty years ago, when I worked at a small-market radio station. The letter started out, "Dear Mr. Morgan, I doubt that you remember me. My name is Julia Kubeczka. I used to play softball..."
        I did remember. The years melted away. In 1978 The Sweethearts, a precocious group of ponytailed pre-teens from the Sugar Land area were  playing in the state championship softball game for twelve-year-old girls, against a similarly talented gang from Corpus Christi. They could run, hit, throw, field and bat on a talent level equal to or beyond many boys of the same age. For a change, the girls were getting the attention they deserved; some "air time," as they called it in the radio biz.
        Twenty-seven years old, I'd been announcing area high school baseball games for six years. When our station manager offered me the opportunity to do the play-by-play on that game and said sixty different small-market stations around the Lone Star State would carry it, my chest swelled with pride. "Shoot, yeah, I'd love to call that game," I said, and thought to ask, "Does it pay anything?"
        "Seventeen hundred smackers," the boss replied, enjoying the look on my face as dollar signs rang up in my eyeballs. In those days that represented a sizable chunk of change for a single broadcast. "But you better do your homework, Skipper," he cautioned. "Those kids have relatives all over. A lot of the advertisers that bought commercial time to pay for the broadcast and your fat announcer's fee are relatives. If you forget those girls' names or mispronounce any, you'll get hate mail from aunts, uncles, and grandparents until hell freezes over."
        "You don't have to worry about me, boss," I bragged. "I'm the research king. Heck, I'll come up with personal, sports-related stuff about those kids that their own brothers and sisters haven't heard."
        That was the trick, you know, to be able to mix in little anecdotes about the kids; things like their favorite big-league player, their favorite food, their nickname and how they got it. Mixing in that kind of stuff while you were calling the balls and strikes separated the men from the boys when it came to play-by-play. I intended to turn that broadcast into something the players and their relatives would remember for the rest of their lives.
        The boss nodded, knowing I'd bust my hump to do a great job. He had heard me do sports broadcasts for a number of years. Many times he had said, usually after three or four beers, that someday he'd do his best to help me land a job at a bigger station. I remember Mr. Thomas placing a heavy hand on my shoulder and saying, "Don't let me down, Skip. I hear there might be some sports directors from the big radio and TV stations tuned in to listen to this game. They might be lookin' for new blood." He grinned a big, wide-as-Texas grin and chuckled, seeming to be enjoying this opportunity as much as I was.
        Oh, I could just imagine getting a call from the Houston Astros broadcast team, asking me if I'd like to work for them. "Gosh, I'm pretty busy," I'd say. "I can't promise anything, but maybe I could drop by the Astrodome one day next week and we could chat." Perhaps one of the Houston TV station sports directors would like what they heard. I might get asked to come in and audition for the six or ten o'clock sports broadcasts on the weekends. My golden opportunity had arrived. The big game was only three days away.
        I started out by calling the two team's coaches. They were both great guys. Each had a daughter on the team, which explained their involvement and enthusiasm. I collected a ton of personal info from both, paying close attention to the way they pronounced each player's name when we went over their rosters. I asked the coaches if it would be okay for me to call the player's homes to talk to their moms and dads. I knew most of the parents would be eager to share some great stories about their daughters. 
        By the time the big day rolled around, I was a walking, talking encyclopedia of information about the Sugar Land Sweethearts and the Corpus Christi Mermaids. My brain bulged with so much trivia I could barely wait to spew it out.
        I got to the ball park well ahead of time, to be sure all of the microphones, amplifiers and phone lines worked. Fate seemed to be smiling brightly on me that afternoon. The equipment worked fine, temperatures hovered in the middle eighties and the skies were a bluebonnet blue.
        Five minutes before the start of the pre-game show, as the John Foster Dulles Vikings High School Band marched onto the field for the playing of The Eyes of Texas and The National Anthem, I heard a faint knock on the broadcast booth door behind me. I debated whether I should get up. I didn't like last minute interruptions, I needed to concentrate on the task at hand. Again, the knock came, louder than before. I guessed somebody really wanted to talk to me; perhaps someone from the Astros, or one of the Houston TV stations. That thought motivated me to head for the door.
        When I opened it, I saw an elderly, bald man and a silver-haired woman, holding hands, waiting to speak with me. I swear, they were perfect models for a Norman Rockwell painting. They looked so much like everyone's idea of a loving grandma and grandpa. Both appeared to be in their eighties and shook slightly, as old folks sometimes do. "Can I help you?" I asked kindly. I needed to get back to the microphone.
        The old man said, "I'm Alex Kubeczka and this is my wife, Brenda. Our great-grand daughter, Julia is the pitcher for the Sugar Land Sweethearts." He paused for a moment and turned to look at his wife as the internal clock that ticked away in my head started to make me very nervous.
        Mrs. Kubeczka picked up where her husband left off. "We have a lot of relatives around the state listening on the radio today, and we wanted to be sure you knew how to pronounce our last name."
        "It ain't the most common name, you know," the old man admitted. "Gets mispronounced all the time." 
        His wife nodded in agreement and offered a quick tutorial. "It's spelled K-u-b-e-c-z-k-a, but it sounds like this, Koo-betch-ka. Let me say it slower..." She drew it out, like a film in slow motion, her mouth carefully forming and shaping the sound of each syllable. "Koo-betch-ka, got it? Koo-betch-ka." She said it again, her eyes searching mine, making sure I looked confident about how to pronounce it.
        "Don't pay any attention to the Z," Mr. Kubeczka warned. "That'll throw you off. It's Koo-betch-ka. Say it with us one time."
        We all said it together, "Koo-betch-ka," and then, at Mrs. Kubeczka's insistence, we did it one more time for good measure. "Koo-betch-ka."
        By now the clock in my head rang, buzzed and clanged, telling me to get my butt back in the booth. I thanked them both, assured them that I already knew how to pronounce Julia's last name, shook their frail little hands, and shut the door. I got back to the microphone and pulled my headphones on just in time to hear an announcer from the anchor station introduce me. "And now, here with tonight's pre-game show, your play-by-play announcer, the sage of Sugar Land, Skipper Morgan."
        I had been in situations like this before, and I didn't rattle easily. I took my cue and burst out of the starting gate like a thoroughbred. "Thanks very much and welcome, one and all, to the Texas State Championship Softball Game for twelve-year-old girls. These two teams have overcome every obstacle in their path and have won the right . . ."
        I sounded great — handling the pressure like a pro. By the time I got down to doing the line-ups, I figured my biggest problem would be deciding whether to accept the job with the Astros, or the weekend sports broadcasting position on one of the local TV stations. In the back of my mind, as I rattled off the individual player's names, I planned a special intro that would knock the socks off of every Kubeczka in the state. Finally, the magic moment to introduce Alex and Brenda's great-grand daughter arrived.
        "Batting ninth, a young lefty who has struck out more batters than any twelve-year-old in the history of Texas girl's softball competition. Her teammates call her Little Miss Lightning. Ladies and gentlemen, on the mound tonight, pissing for the Sweethearts . . ."
        Time stood still. If only I could grab that word back before anyone noticed it. The horror! Inside my head, my brain was silently screaming, "Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, tell me I didn't just say that!"
        I imagined those sweet, elderly people gasping and collapsing in the stands, and everyone pointing towards the broadcast booth, shouting, "He killed them!"
      Something inside of me shouted, "Tell them you meant pitching, not pissing, you fool. Say pitching!" But I resisted that suggestion, knowing that if I corrected myself, everyone that only thought they heard me say "pissing," would know, without a shred of doubt, that I really had said it.
        It seemed like a lifetime, but less than a split second elapsed before my brain kicked back in gear and my mouth finished the fateful sentence, delivering that young lady's name with grace and eloquence, "Julia Koo-betch-ka." In a slightly hoarse voice, I added, "We'll be back with the first pitch after this word from one of our sponsors."
        The anchor station took the cue and started the scheduled advertisement for a local grocery store chain, reminding new mothers that Pampers, disposable diapers were on sale that week. I had thirty seconds to mop my brow and pull myself together. I wished I could rip my tongue out and stomp on it for punishment. Somehow, I managed to finish the broadcast and got out of Dodge without committing another outlandish blunder.
        When I got back to the radio station that night, Mr. Thomas sat on the dilapidated, turquoise-colored leather couch in our lobby, waiting for me. This was it. I had pissed away my future and probably my current job. Forget the blindfold. Just shoot me and get it over with. Dump my body in an unmarked grave and piss on it for poetic justice.
        He struggled to his feet, evidently under the influence of his customary three or four Lone Stars. Maybe he'd already polished off the full six-pack. "Great job, Skipper," he grinned as he reached out to shake my hand.
        "Great job?"
        "You were better than ever," he professed. "Better than most of the guys doing big-league broadcasts. I don't know how we've managed to keep you here at this little station this long."
        Right, I figured he was toying with me. "Really?" I winced, and waited for him to lower the boom.
        "Absolutely," he nodded, looking at me as if I were the son he wished he had fathered. Holy Toledo, he seemed serious! He said, "We've already taken calls from the channel 2 and channel 11 sports directors, asking if I'll allow them to speak with you about auditioning. That's the best broadcast in this station's 30 year history, except for that one, brief moment where we lost power."
        "Lost power?"
        "Yeah," With sincere regret he said, "We experienced a power surge that knocked us off the air for about five seconds, right when you were finishing the line-ups."
        "You did?"
        "Yeah, it affected the feed to all sixty stations. Missed the intro of the Sweetheart's pitcher. Didn't get back on until you said, 'We'll be back with the first pitch . . .'"
        There you have it, folks; irrefutable proof of the existence of guardian angels. My knees felt weak as I realized I'd been the only living person to hear the blooper.
        My memories of that day in 1978 were interrupted by a young man who stepped into my dressing room and said, "Mr. Morgan, five minutes until air-time. We need you in the broadcast booth, sir." I couldn't believe I was about to handle the televised play-by-play chores for Major League Baseball's World Series. I wished Mr. Thomas could still be around to enjoy this moment with me. One of the little anecdotes I'd be sure to throw in during the broadcast would be my thanks to Julia Kubeczka for her kind letter reminding me of the softball game I announced over thirty years ago. She wrote that she and all of her relatives would be watching. I just hoped I'd be able to avoid any major-league bloopers.
The End

If you enjoyed The Blooper, another Spencer Morgan story exists:
The Knockout  (13+)
A rookie reporter & a gorgeous receptionist encounter an arrogant boxer
#1554724 by George R. Lasher

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