God to meet His Voice?

What does God sound like?

Anyone who grew up in the New York metropolitan area between the mid-1950s through the early parts of this decade knows the answer: Bob Sheppard. The long-time New York Yankees public address announcer, 99, died at his Long Island home July 11.

No matter how bad or good the Yankees were during the 1970s, the kids playing ball at Edgemere Park in Long Island, particularly the Met fans, knew our American League rivals had us beat at one position every home game. Sheppard, a university-level speech professor by profession, announced games at the old Yankee Stadium for more than 50 years (1951-2006).

It was his vocal manner, both regal and accessible, and his tone, sonorous yet sophisticated, that set him apart, that led those kids playing baseball or softball on long summer days to imitate him. “Batting sixth, number 24, Joe Feuerherd,” I would slowly and clearly intone, as if it was Mickey Mantle or Babe Ruth approaching the batter’s box.

“Number 24.”

For all those who announced themselves out loud, an equal number whispered as they aimed for that short right field porch. Bob Sheppard brought considerable joy and a strange sense of austere friendliness to those who heard him. Not a bad legacy.

It turns out, moreover, that the Voice of God was Catholic, a serious one.

“I don't want to sound sanctimonious as [in] being overly prayerful and posing as a saint,” Sheppard, a ‘devout Catholic who attends Mass daily,’ told the Yankee fan magazine. He continued, “I am a man who enjoys a cocktail before dinner, but I really believe in prayer because God has treated me well. And one of my perks is this job.”

In the confusion of post-Vatican II catechesis, we were taught that God has no gender, that the image of “Father,” while understandable given our cultural baggage, falls far short of a more difficult and complex reality.

Fair enough. I accept the teaching completely.

But I’m blessed. I have been given a small sense of heaven. I know what He sounds like.

Bob Sheppard, RIP.

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