Saturday, February 10, 2007

Celebrity Snippets: Michael Jordan/Ernie Banks

Once a week long-time radio producer and author Rick Kaempfer shares his favorite brushes with greatness in a feature he calls “Celebrity Snippets.”

Michael Jordan and Ernie Banks are probably the two most famous and popular athletes to ever play in Chicago. Through a very odd twist of fate, I met both of them on the same day.

By Rick Kaempfer

In the early days of the John Landecker show on WJMK, I was often sent out in the field to cover big events and/or interview celebrities. Nobody was bigger in Chicago than Michael Jordan. When he retired from basketball the city was in collective shock.

When he announced that he had signed with the White Sox and was going to play baseball, we were even more shocked.

On February 7, 1994, I went to the press conference announcing Michael’s baseball contract. There was a media throng there unlike any I’d encountered before. So many credentialed members of the press were there, they had to set up bleachers for us.

This was the only time in my career that I had a chance to speak with Michael Jordan. I wish I could report to you what I asked or what he answered, but to be completely honest with you, I don’t remember. That wasn’t the most memorable moment of the day for me.

It also wasn’t watching Michael hit the ball in a batting cage, although I did take pictures of that for posterity. (That’s him in the White Sox uniform above.)

For me, the memorable moment occurred while the press was cataloguing every moment of Michael’s batting practice. I got bored after about five pitches, and looked around the room. I thought I was seeing things when I saw a familiar face about ten feet away from me. Since I already had the camera in my hand, I snapped a photo. (Yes, I know. I'll never be a professional photographer)

I must have been mistaken.

Was that my childhood hero Ernie Banks standing there? What would he be doing at a White Sox press conference?

I walked over and introduced myself. It really was him. He was wearing his “Mr. Cub—Ernie Banks” hat, and was watching the press reaction to Michael.

“What are you doing here?” I asked after I shook his hand.

“The Sox asked me to stop by,” he said.

“Do they usually ask you to stop by?” I asked.

“No, they don’t,” Ernie said. “But Michael is a friend, and I wish him the best.”

When other members of the press heard Ernie’s voice and saw that I was interviewing him, they all started to mosey over for a quote. I knew I wouldn’t have much more time to talk to him, and I had a million questions to ask him, but I was in professional mode—trying to get something for us to use on the air the next morning.

“So, how do you think he’ll do in baseball?” I asked.

“I think he’s going to be one of the all-time greats,” Ernie said.

With that, the press surrounded him, and I was slowly pushed aside. I never got a chance to talk to him about those incredible Cubs teams of the late 60s; my childhood heroes. I never got a chance to tell him how his upbeat and rosy outlook in the face of adversity was a lesson for us all.

On the other hand, I did discover why the White Sox asked him to come to the press conference. He was the only "expert" there who thought Michael was going to be a great baseball player.

Even the White Sox need that kind of optimism once in a while.

I have written about Michael Jordan before. When he retired from basketball the first time, I was inspired to write the following piece for Upbeat Chicago Magazine: Et tu, Michael?

Stories like this one (and many, many more) are available via Allworth Press--in my How-To-Guide for producing radio shows (co-written with fellow radio producer John Swanson)

Click on this link to order your copy: The Radio Producer's Handbook

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Suburban Man: They say the darndest things, part 3

By Rick Kaempfer

Every day at home with my boys brings another “Darndest Things” moment, and makes me appreciate the genius of Art Linkletter even more. He was the first one to harness this unpredictable free entertainment of childhood logic, expose it to the masses, and make himself quite rich in the process.

Alas, he also owns the copyright.

But that doesn’t mean the concept itself isn’t still entertaining. Here are a handful of recent “Darndest Things” moments from my own brood. (Feel free to contribute some of your own by clicking on the “E-mail Me” link on the right.)

1. (WARNING: Non-Catholics may not get this one.) At Christmas Mass this year 4-year-old Sean fell asleep in Bridget's arms. When he woke up, he said, "Mom, did I miss the lasagna?" Bridget asked him what he meant, and he said "You know, the song, lasagna in the highest."

2. When Tommy was seven, he noticed that my mom was having trouble doing two things at once. “I thought women were good at multi-tasking,” he said. I jokingly replied: “Old women aren’t.” My mom got a chuckle out of that. A few weeks later we were in public somewhere, when Tommy noticed a 40-something woman doing two things at once without a problem. He screamed to me: “Dad, Look! I thought you said old women weren’t good at multi-tasking!”

3. I heard screaming coming from Johnny’s room, so I ran up there to see what happened. When I opened the door, Sean was trying to console his crying big brother by saying: “I didn’t slap you! I just touched your face really, really hard.”

4. We have a tradition in our house. Each year when the boys bring home their school pictures, we take down the framed photo from the year before (which is on top of the year before that, which is on top of the year before that, etc.), and look at each of the old pictures. This year when we were looking at Johnny’s old pictures, he sighed and said “I really miss the young me.”

5. At my grandfather’s funeral, I was on the altar delivering the eulogy. I mentioned that even though my grandfather was no longer with us, parts of him lived on: “For instance, his love of music lives on in his great-grandson Tommy.” Tommy, who was sitting in the front row, was so excited to be mentioned, he raised his arms in the air and did the Rocky pose.

6. Bridget was helping deliver the Cub Scouts Christmas wreaths this year, and 4-year-old Sean accompanied her. As she was loading one wreath on top of another, she asked Sean to hold her gloves. When she started struggling with the wreaths, Sean held up one of her gloves and asked: “Mom, can I give you a hand?”

7. All of my boys ask a ton of questions. They come at me in rapid fire form, often at the same time. It takes incredible dexterity to answer them in an orderly fashion. I wrote down a few of the questions a few weeks ago to give you an idea. All of these were actual questions asked during one dinner:
=What was the first dinosaur?
=What is bile?
=Do lions hibernate?
=Who invented the words ‘yes’ and ‘no’?
=What color are butterfly eggs?
=Where do bees go in the winter?
=What is convection current?

8. On the morning of my 40th birthday, Tommy was waiting for me at the base of the stairs when I woke up. He was “dressed up” for my special birthday; dress slacks, a T-shirt, and a clip-on tie attached to his T-shirt.

9. When Johnny was three years old he came into the room holding his midsection. He said "Mom, Dad, I think I broke my heart, my bones, my soul, and my cage."

10. Sean was on his way to the shopping mall to visit Santa Claus with my mother. As he walked out the door, I stopped him, and said: “Sean, be nice to Santa.” He said. “Daaaad. I’m always nice to people who give me presents.”

OK, I'll admit it. I write these down as much for me as I do to entertain you. There are so many moments like this every week that are forgotten forever simply because I don't have a pen or pencil nearby.

At least these ten moments have been duly recorded.

If you missed any previous Suburban Man columns, click here: