Abp. Listecki introduces Bob Uecker at the Vince Lombardi Award of Excellence Dinner

This past Saturday, I was invited to give a brief introduction and invocation at the Vince Lombardi Award of Excellence Dinner held at the Pfister Hotel. The organization raises funds for cancer research – the disease that claimed Coach Lombardi’s life.

I had the privilege of sitting with Don Tendick, his wife, son and daughter-in law. Don’s father was one of the founders of the dinner to honor the legendary coach. Even as a Bears fan, I am the first to recognize Mr. Lombardi’s greatness on the field, but more importantly, off the field, especially as a Catholic who wore his faith (daily Mass) on his sleeve.

When I reached the podium to deliver my remarks, I began by stating that when I arrived, I informed the receptionist that I was a special guest of Mr. Uecker. With that, I was immediately ushered to a seat next to the dishwasher in the kitchen. After a few polite laughs, I became serious. Perhaps it was the spirit of Minnie Minoso (my boyhood baseball idol from the Chicago White Sox) or the imagery of the late Ernie “Mr. Club” Banks, saying, “Let’s play two!” (both passed away recently) that directed my words as I stated:

Our honoree this evening, Mr. Bob Uecker, uses self-effacing humor to bring appreciation and joy to those who share a love for the game he so well represents. I say appreciation, because the 99 percent of us who have played the game of baseball never had the talent to play in the “bigs.” Our accumulated batting averages, fielding percentages or the ERAs never amounted to anything that would draw attention or that one could brag about.

Yet, true success came for many of us in the love of the game and the ability to be a part of a team: the smell of the freshly mowed grass in the spring, the crack of the bat or the smack of the leather catcher’s glove receiving a fastball. Bob Uecker leaves no doubt in the mind of every fan of his love for the game. He willingly plays the “fool” so that others may “appreciate” the exceptional talents that professional athletes display on the field.

There is a person who is forever young when Bob Uecker announces a ballgame. It is the joy of a person recapturing their youth, who would rather be a part of the action of the baseball game in whatever way possible – be it playing, announcing, cheering or listening – than to do or be anywhere else in the world. This type of joy is contagious. It fills our lives with a spirit that elevates us from the everyday doldrums and makes us a part of something so much bigger.

The great Vince Lombardi said, “The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have.” Bob Uecker took his life and placed it before a game he loved and the game has used him as an ambassador. This brought more attention to baseball; attracting those who may not love the game but love to listen to Bob Uecker.

In a famous commercial that I’m sure all of us remember, Mr. Uecker mistakenly takes a seat in the reserved section of the ball park, but is told by an usher that he’s in the wrong seat. Thinking that a greater place of honor was reserved for him, he picks himself up to follow the usher with the words it must be “front row.” Of course, he ends up in the last row of the upper deck grandstands. Well Bob, I don’t think you have to worry about your seat in the hearts of the fans. Without a doubt, Bob, it is front row.

Bob Uecker has become part of the fabric of Milwaukee Baseball, as there are those who have never heard a Brewers game broadcast without the voice of Bob Uecker. He is identified with the game many love. Amid the commentary and the laughs Bob Uecker offers, we must remember the treasure that we possess.

Coach Lombardi once said: “It’s easy to have faith in yourself and have discipline when you’re a winner, when you’re number one. What you got to have, is faith and discipline when you’re not a winner.” Help us, Lord, to always have faith and discipline in following your command to LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

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