Big Train, Big Al, and a little white lie.
I was very blessed with the years I spent in the media. Apart from the people I’ve met, the places I’ve been, and of course being able to feed the kids - every so often I’d get a phone call at CKNW or at CKVU or BCTV/Global, from someone out of the past wondering if I was the same guy they either went to school with or knew way back when. I usually was that guy. One day I answered the phone and the caller asked if I was the same guy who played Little League Baseball in Dunbar. I said I was, and he said, “I’m Danny Virtue, Big Train Virtue’s son.”
I hadn’t talked to Danny since the days we played baseball together. His Dad was a coach in the league, and due to school catchment boundaries, we ended up going to different high schools and lost touch. We chatted for a while and he told me after he left school he had joined the circus where he worked with the animals, mostly the horses. A Dunbar kid working in the circus? With horses? That was something that didn’t happen very often. We agreed to get together for a coffee and catch up.
Danny has had quite an interesting life. The circus led to work in the movie industry wrangling horses and other animals on various films, and he is recognized internationally as a horse trainer, stunt performer, stunt coordinator and film Producer and Director. He is also the co-executive producer and creator of the TV show Neon Rider with the late Winston Rekert.
Danny’s real love these days is The Virtue Foundation, an idea Danny had for horses too old for the heavy work of action films, to be repurposed to work with underprivileged and sick children. He started a regular riding program at his ranch in Mission, bringing in children from all over British Columbia. The mission statement of the Foundation reads, “The goal of the Virtue Foundation is to affirm children from every walk of life through a demonstration of love, compassion, and hope, as they interact with nature, caring adults, and horses.”
This is a longer preamble to my story than I had planned, but I thought it important to include Danny in the introduction of his Dad, a man who was known as “Big Train” Virtue. Big Train was a delightful man, with a love of life, and a love of the game of baseball. It’s important to note in this little tale, that when he was a younger man, Big Train was in the Pittsburgh Pirates Baseball organization.
While at CKNW I had the pleasure of working with one of the true characters of Vancouver broadcasting, “Big Al” Davidson. Al was the sports director at the station and was known for his bombastic style on the air. You never knew what Al was going to say, and the stories about him are many and legendary.
One day I introduced Al and his Noon Sportscast. Here’s how it went:
Me: “Time now for the Noon Hour Sports, here’s NW Sports Director, Al Davison.”
Al pointed at me through the glass dividing our studios, and started his sportscast like this,
Al: “You son of a gun! You son of a gun!”
Me: “Who? Me?”
Al: “Yes you. Why didn’t you tell me you played for the Pittsburgh Pirates!”
Me: (stunned silence)
Al: “Come on now, why didn’t you tell me? I had lunch today with Big Train Virtue, and he told me how he used to coach baseball in Dunbar, and how you ended up with the Pittsburgh Pirates! Why aren’t you still playing with the Pirates, instead of playing records here in New Westminster? You son of a gun!”
I was stunned, but instantly realized what had happened. Yes, Al had lunch with Big Train Virtue but somehow got confused as to who had been in the Pittsburgh organization! It was Big Train, not me! Now, I had an unwritten rule to never contradict another on-air personality while on the air, it just isn’t cool. If he thought I was with the Pirates, let him think that, I’m not going to make him look foolish on the air. So, I came up with an answer.
Me: “Well Al, I threw my arm out. The pain was too much, I just couldn’t throw anymore!”
Which was kind of true. I had developed something called Little League elbow, also known as tendonitis, and had to quit playing ball, but not for the Major League Pittsburgh Pirates, for the Dunbar Babe Ruth Baseball League! There’s a huge difference! The answer seemed good enough for Al and he went on with his sportscast. I never did tell him the truth. I just left it with him. No harm, no foul. Well, a little foul!
Later that day I heard from one of my old Little League teammates, he said was driving along, listening to the car radio, and almost drove off the road when he heard the opening to the sportscast! “The Pittsburgh Pirates? You?” I had to tell him, and everyone else who asked, the real story behind the on-air story. Thanks, Al.
Big Train, Big Al, and just a little white lie!
Till next week...
Left: Big Al // Middle: The Pittsburgh Pirates // Right: Danny Virtue
1 // BC broadcasting icon, Red Robinson, has passed away at the age of 86. See more here.
2 // It's all about the bass, 'bout the bass!
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