SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The voice is an integral part of baseball, but the face is not new to golf courses, particularly in the Valley of the Sun, where Bob Uecker was loading his sticks on to his golf cart at the Scottsdale Celebrity Classic at Grayhawk Golf Club earlier this year.
As has been his style in over 50 years of professional baseball, most notably as the legendary voice of the Milwaukee Brewers, Uecker underscored the importance of having fun upon formal introductions with his new teammates. That's about as formal as it got.
Particularly touching was Uecker's concern for his teammate's melon. Not wanting to see this fleshy dome exposed to the elements, he tossed me a visor, complete with spiky hair popping through at the top. It was fashionable, functional and marked the first time I'd actually experienced wet hair in more than 20 years.
On the first hole, a distinct "humph" came from Mr. Baseball, who was seemingly clearing his throat on that cool day, but the "humphs" kept coming, usually accompanied by a wide grin. "You look like Humphrey Bogart," said the Catcher in the Wry, which also doubles as the name of his book.
It's not the first time somebody has said that, but personally, I've always felt my only connection to Bogey was the number being written on my scorecard. I told Uecker he could call me Triple Bogey if he wanted, but he preferred Humph and so it went as we progressed, alternating between chip shots and Uecker yarns.
One is a classic that made Wrestlemania history years ago when the late Andre the Giant wrapped his big mitts around Uecker's neck and began shaking him. Contrary to popular belief, Uecker insists this shtick was completely unscripted and caught him totally off-guard, scared of what the mammoth Andre would do next.
What makes Uecker the ideal candidate for celebrity golf events is that you soon forget that he is a Hall of Fame announcer, movie and TV personality and celebrated pitch man.
Just like his lower-profile teammates this day, he has his regular job -- or jobs in his case -- but looks forward to getting to the golf course.
"I've played off and on over the years, going back to my active days as a player, but I met a teaching pro out here in Scottsdale by the name of Mike LaBauve, really one of the top teachers in the country. He and his wife Sandy are more than golf instructors. We've become really good friends."
Uecker adds that LaBauve's influence has taken him to a new level of passion for the game, even when he's on the road, with his particular focus these days being the importance of the short game.
"I've become more of a student of the game, of new ways to hit balls and I think I appreciate the game more and the way true professionals play the game and draw the ball and play fades and everything else, so in that respect, I think I've learned to enjoy the game more," said Uecker.
"Throughout the course of the baseball season, I'm working and travelling with the Brewers, but I'll take my clubs on the road.
"I have a lot of favourite places that I play on the road," he said, adding that the Valley of the Sun allows for several celebrity events during baseball's off-season.
"It gives you a chance to see former teammates. A lot of these guys play in these tournaments every year and you see them from tournament to tournament. It's not winning or losing, it's a chance for these guys to get together and see each other as you move on through your life."
With that attitude, a generic brand of golfer doesn't mind being Triple Bogey because the comfort zone is established immediately with Uecker.
"I've played in this tournament and other tournaments where I've seen the same people every year, played with them every year for four or five years," said Uecker of the camaraderie he helps make happen on the golf course.
It's little wonder that these regulars look forward to playing with Uecker.
Certainly, Humph wouldn't mind the chance to "play it, again" with Uecker.