So I'm standing in Target with an armload of leggings for the kid, wondering if she'll like the Sinestro or Abin Sur action figures when my cellphone exploded with News of the Say What? Rick Sanchez will be doing color on FIU's football radio broadcasts this season.
"Are you sure it's the same Rick Sanchez?" I asked the first caller. I've been in South Florida 22 years, so I don't assume any Sanchez, Garcia, Gomez, Fernandez, Hernandez or Gonzalez the other person's speaking of is the one that comes to my mind.
Yep, that Rick Sanchez, I was assured. The Rick Sanchez who epitomized Channel 7's stylized, highly dramatic, semi-apocalyptic news delivery that ruled the local news timeslots in the late 1980s and early 1990s (I've always thought some were riveted by their state-of-the-art graphics, scary teases and great video while others watched it as a parody of TV news, a sort of nightly Weekend Update). The Rick Sanchez who kneeled over a map of Cuba the same way he kneeled in the streets of Miami over chalk outlines or blood stains as a Channel 7 crime reporter in the Cocaine Cowboys era.
The same Rick Sanchez who rose to CNN, got his own show, then got booted when he went OFF during a radio interview. He claimed he was picked on by The Daily Show's Jon Stewart because he was a Latino and then brushed off the idea that Jewish people were an "oppressed minority" by saying that those who run CNN and many networks are just like Stewart.
The Rick Sanchez with 137,221 Twitter followers, some of whom might tune in just to hear how he does the games. And FIU AD Pete Garcia definitely had that on his mind.
I got home, threw some turkey marsala down my neck and called Jorge Sedano (follow him on Twitter, http://www.twitter.com/SedanoShow), the former football color guy. Sedano couldn't stop laughing. It actually made his life easier because he's got a weekend show on Channel 4. As he said, it's hard to have a weekend gig and have to ask for multiple weekends off.
"I had a great time going it," Sedano said. "It was fun. I want to thank all the guys over there. It was great. But the reality is, I would be a tough position because I would have to juggle my weekend show on CBS-4 and games."
FIU told Sedano they were dumping Jeremy Marks-Peltz (http://www.twitter.com/jmpeltz on Twitter) as play-by-play man, but wanted to know if he wanted to stay on to do color. Sedano, the morning drive host on 790 The Ticket, tried to argue for keeping JMP. When that didn't work, he said he'd stay on the broadcasts only if he could do play-by-play. Next thing Sedano had heard, FIU had brought Sanchez on board.
A couple of hours later, Sanchez called. I spent about an hour on the phone with him, easily the best hour of my afternoon/evening.
We yakked about myriad topics: the media, his image, hard wood floors vs. carpet for pets, the Dolphins, FIU, not necessarily in that order. Some of that wound up in the story that'll be in the Local section of Friday's paper or online now.
When he talked about what happened, he said the general point of his radio rant was there were too many people in the national media who came from the same ethno-economic background. There needed to be more diversity.
He laughed off the idea of any tension with FIU President Mark Rosenberg over his comments about Jewish people in the media by saying he and Rosenberg have talked often and have a great relationship.
I knew he had an affinity for FIU, but he truly adores the school. It's one of the reasons he's working for free. And he's a football nut -- played in high school, partial scholarship to Minnesota State Moorhead, still calls folks he knows in the Dolphins organization to obsess about the team. He went to several road games last year, including the Christmas Day bowl game.
(Now, that's a fan. I've never loved any team enough to want to be in Detroit on Christmas Day. That's like spending Easter in Chernobyl. My mother lived in Detroit for almost 24 years and once said from her hospital bed as I walked in, "Hockey and me in the hospital -- that's the only things that'll get my son to Detroit.")
Why Sanchez loves FIU is obvious: he's a proud Cuban-American and feels FIU's the South Florida campus that reached out the most to minorities, particularly Hispanics. That Mario Cristobal is head coach and Sanchez's longtime friend Garcia is AD only further bursts his buttons. He loved doing the CNN piece on FIU, with its roster of white kids, black kids and "kids with last names ending in Zs," he said, going to play mighty Alabama.
And when it comes to football, I think that pride in Miami and being raised a Cuban-American in Hialeah plays a role in his zeal. That's me saying that, not him.
Young Cuban-Americans reading this blog -- especially the ones juggle three fantasy football teams or have the NFL and college dish packages or spend their down time arguing T.Y. Hilton vs. Leonard Hankerson -- might be shocked to hear what I heard when I first got down here in 1989.
"Cubans can't play football."
"Cubans don't want to play football -- they're too into cars and they're not tough enough."
"The Dolphins will be in trouble in 15 years because there's going to be so many Cubans in South Florida and so few white and black people, there won't be anybody to be Dolphins fans."
Those folks, some of whom were high school head coaches, ignored one fact: assimilation happens.
So imagine the stuff Sanchez had to hear in the mid-1970s playing what's still the most American of the three team sports we truly love. As a black guy who grew up playing hockey, I can tell you that sometimes when you hear stuff like that, it just makes you embrace the game/activity even more almost to rub it in the face of the prejudiced. And, then, it's not just in your blood, it's in your bone marrow and you're embracing it so much because you can't let go.
It'll be interesting to see how this works out on the air with Sanchez and play-by-play man Tony Calatayud. As I said to Sanchez, he was always so "earnest" when delivering the news at Channel 7, the pauses and phrases weighed down with such gravity. That actually would be funny as play-by-play. As color, it would be a disaster. Seeing as how he's doing color instead of play-by-play, I'm betting we'll see more of the fired up show-hosting Sanchez rather than the anchorman Sanchez.
Garcia said no matter how this works out this year with Sanchez, the former broadcaster will be part of the FIU program going forward. I'm sure. Sanchez has one son at FIU with another getting ready to enroll. Being on the broadcasts gives him a chance to spend about the perfect amount of time with his college-age kids (perfect for the kids.)
I asked Sanchez if he would move back here. He now lives in Atlanta with his wife and a dog that pees on the floor (hence the earlier floor topic). He said from a business standpoint, though he's not chasing on-air jobs now, he insisted, LA, New York and Chicago would be better.
"But the heart says get back to your roots," Sanchez said.
He recalled a recent drive around Miami with someone and how every other streetcorner retained a memory for him -- personal or professional from those years on the crime beat.
"I do think within the next year, I'm probably going to make a move."
Anchoring an extended shift while covering natural disasters or big stories isn't easy, but live sports is an animal that's constantly yapping at a broadcaster's heels like the product of a Marvin Gaye night between a greyhound and a Doberman. Sanchez hasn't done sports before. Some days, it won't be pretty.
But, like those Channel 7 newscasts of yore, it'll never be boring.