Column: When radio reporter crashed on Brewers’ slide, Dodgers were there to pick him up
He is part of the team, but he is not part of the team.
He flies with the team but sits with colleagues in a separate section. He stays in the team hotel but his room is on a separate floor. Before games, he waits outside the clubhouse until the general media are allowed access and, once inside, he stays within the same boundaries governing all reporters. Once the game begins, unless he is working television, he retires to a seat in the press box.
As an employee of KLAC-AM (570) radio, Vassegh, 45, has always stayed in his lane.
Which made it so awkward before a recent game in Milwaukee when that lane snaked down a giant slide and into a wall where he broke multiple bones in his right wrist and fractured six ribs.
Freddie Freeman and Trea Turner have started all 123 games for the Dodgers this season. When will they a day off? When the Dodgers clinch the division.
Chances are, you’ve seen it. Chances are, you laughed, then felt terrible for laughing. It was one of the most brutal local baseball injuries this summer. It was also certainly the most viewed.
In a stunt performed for the cameras of SportsNet LA, Vassegh traveled down the left-field slide at American Family Field, imitating the trip taken by the team’s mascot Bernie Brewer after every Brewers home run. Wearing a dress shirt and tie while lying on his back on a potato sack, Vassegh sailed down the slide shouting, “Holy crap!” five times before flying into a retaining wall at the bottom, finishing with a sickening thud as he rolls over in searing pain and while unable to breathe.
The beginning was funny. The ending was nasty. The video went viral.
“I was trying to put on a show, trying to be a little silly,” Vassegh recalled with a sigh. “It didn’t work out so well.”
Humiliated and hurt, Vassegh was taken by Dodgers director of player relations Juan Dorado to the Dodgers’ training staff, who arranged for him to visit a nearby urgent-care center because the stadium X-ray technician had not yet arrived. Knowing the media rules, Vassegh retreated to a seat outside the Dodgers clubhouse while waiting for a co-worker to give him a ride.
“There’s still that line where I’m not a player, and there’s no way I was going to wait in that clubhouse,” Vassegh said.
At which point, Justin Turner, David Price, Cody Bellinger and Austin Barnes showed up and erased that line. They dragged him into the clubhouse. They cared for him until his ride arrived. They looked at him in his moment of crisis and saw more than just a microphone.
“He was just sitting there looking like he was going to pass out,” Barnes said. “We weren’t just going to leave him there. He’s like one of us.”
Price grabbed a towel and wiped the sweat from Vassegh’s worried face. Turner gave him a chicken sandwich so he wouldn’t have to be medicated on an empty stomach. Barnes and Alex Torres, the Dodgers’ clubhouse manager, helped him take off his shirt and tie and fitted him with a Dodgers T-shirt so doctors would have easier access to his torso.
It was the beginning of an outpouring of affection that turned one of the most embarrassing moments of Vassegh’s life into one of the most revealing.
“I will always respect that line,” Vassegh said. “But when I needed them most, there was no line. I wasn’t a media member. I was just a person, and they were people helping me, and that says a lot about them as a team.”
After cameraman Mick Larson drove him 20 minutes to the urgent-care facility, a familiar face popped up on Vassegh’s phone. It was Mookie Betts, FaceTiming Vassegh from the Dodgers clubhouse.
“Man, what did you do?” Betts asked.
The Dodgers are known for slugging but are on pace to steal more bases than in any season since 2014. Their success rate is the best in the league.
The phone buzzed again. It was Orel Hershiser from the SportsNet LA studios, calling to offer support. Vassegh eventually returned to the stadium and was surrounded by more affection. While walking in front of the dugout in the top of the fifth inning, he was greeted by Freddie Freeman, Trea Turner and Betts, with Betts insisting that Vassegh give him a hug. Afterward in the Dodgers clubhouse, he was hugged by Craig Kimbrel, then returned to his hotel to discover that even former Dodgers had blown up his phone.
Through it all, Vassegh owned his actions with his trademark self-deprecating sense of humor.
“I’m the one who went down that stupid slide, it’s my responsibility, I just had to showboat,” he said. “I’m glad everybody had fun with it.”
Then there was the one-word text from Clayton Kershaw.
This referred not to Vassegh’s slide, but what happened afterward. In keeping with a reputation for never missing a day of work, Vassegh kept grinding.
“There was no way I was going out like that, I didn’t want the players’ last image to be of me going to urgent care,” he said. “I needed to show them I’m tougher than that.”
“Vassegh is the only guy in the world that could go down that slide and break as much stuff as he broke and still laugh and tell a good story about it.”
— Max Muncy, Dodgers infielder
He conducted a pregame interview with Justin Turner even though he was still in shock and had yet to be driven to the urgent-care facility.
“I’ve got to say, you’re really chiefing this out because you should be going to get a picture on that thing right now, and you insisted on doing this interview first,” Turner told him on camera.
After a Dodgers victory, he conducted a postgame interview with longball-hitting Barnes even though his busted and braced ribs were pounding and his casted wrist was throbbing.
“Yeah, that home run was for you,” Barnes told him. “I know you had a little accident today on the slide so we all rallied today for you.”
The Dodgers rally around Vassegh precisely because he is a grinder. He shows up every day, he absorbs constant teasing, he teases back, he chases them down for interviews, then he processes it all during his rollicking postgame “Dodger Talk” show. With a pleasing manner that works for both sides, he’s become a valued connection between the players and the fans, even if some have cringed at his previous stunts, such as the time he lost a footrace with the lumbering Adrian Gonzalez.
“I just try to humanize the players for the fans,” Vassegh said. “There’s a heartbeat inside of them that I try to shed light on.”
Mookie Betts hit two homers and added a go-ahead double in the 10th inning as the Dodgers won 10-6, overcoming patchwork pitching and shaky defense.
This incident illustrated that heartbeat. As soon as the players knew he would be OK, the razzing began anew, with Justin Turner walking out to that retaining wall and applying tape like it was a crime scene. A few days later players showed up wearing a blue T-shirt featuring a photo of Vassegh holding up his broken wrist next to the words, “Sliding Ain’t Easy.”
“Vassegh is the only guy in the world that could go down that slide and break as much stuff as he broke and still laugh and tell a good story about it,” said Max Muncy, who wore the shirt on the day the Dodgers announced his contract extension. “Every single guy in this clubhouse would go out on a limb for him in a heartbeat.”
Don’t look now, but the Dodgers could return to Milwaukee for the playoffs. They will play there next season. Some players have already suggested that the radio reporter stage a swooshing comeback in a compelling rematch that would …
Not a chance. Despite the heartening victories squeezed out of the most notable duel of his career, David Vassegh is fully aware of the final score.
“No, I’m never doing that again,” he said. “I’m comfortable knowing the slide won.”
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