FARGO — As soft jazz plays on the stereo in the corner of the room, David LeVine pulls out a chair at the dining room table, sits down and starts paging through a binder filled with memories of what he calls an “adventurous, holy cow” kind of life.
“It’s been so much fun, I can hardly believe it,” says the 82-year-old. The one-time businessman and broadcaster looks back fondly on his years rubbing elbows with some of the greatest athletes and entertainers of the 20th century and chuckles at some of the other personalities he’s met along the way.
“I was even roughed up in Vegas once by a mafia soldier named Fat Phil,” he says with a laugh, obviously not fearing retribution in the safe space of his retirement community in Fargo.
LeVine shared some of his stories in his 2003 book, “A Minnesotan Takes a U-Turn: Chronicles of a Gopher State Guy on the Move.” But his new book highlights one of the great loves of his life: baseball.
You could call “My Eight Innings of Baseball Joy” a love story of sorts as LeVine, who grew up in Willmar, Minn., reflects on how the sport changed his life.
“The love of baseball kept me going. I came from a busted-up family,” says LeVine. “So that’s where I left my heart. In baseball.”
'Catch my respite'
In 1946, when LeVine was just 10 years old, he realized baseball would become a big part of his life. He listened to Game 7 of the World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals. It was a tie game in the eighth inning when the Cardinals’ Enos Slaughter shocked everyone by sliding into home plate from first and scoring the winning run.
“A gutsy move,” wrote LeVine, and the next day, he and his playground buddies all imitated Slaughter’s run and slide. Two years later, a semi-pro team, the Willmar Rails, started up in LeVine’s hometown and he was ready to get involved.
“I worked for them. I mowed the grass, chalked the lines, picked up peanut shells, hot dog wrappers and even manually did the scoreboard,” LeVine says.
His days were full, giving him an escape from life at home.
“It was where I could catch my respite,” he says. “For four months a year, home was just a place to sleep. I really lived at the park.”
Despite his love of the game, LeVine says he was never much of a player.
“I was the best outfielder in the city, but I couldn’t hit at all,” he says.
Voice of America
Following high school graduation and work in a grocery store in Minneapolis, LeVine joined the Army and was stationed in Japan where he was assigned as a company clerk. But fate stepped in one day as he listened to the radio.
“They were saying, ‘If you have broadcast experience, we want you to work for the Voice of America. Come out and audition,’” LeVine says. “Well, I never had any such thing. But I went anyway and I got the job. Pretty gutsy move, right?”
But it was a good fit. LeVine would work as a broadcaster doing news, sports and play-by-play overseas and in Minneapolis and Bismarck. It was while he was in Bismarck that he became good friends with legendary former baseball player and manager Billy Martin, who at the time was employed as a regional scout for the Minnesota Twins. They became drinking buddies.
“He was one of the nicest, friendliest, warmest guys I’ve ever known,” LeVine says. “But lookout if you step the wrong direction. It was going to come out.”
The two men were friends for more than 20 years before Martin was killed in a car crash on Christmas Day 1989.
LeVine was also friends with Twins announcer Ray Scott and remembers interviews with baseball greats including Satchel Paige.
By the mid-1960s, LeVine says “a silver-tongued son of a gun” talked him into trying sales. He had a successful career with Xerox, Honeywell and American Express, working in Bismarck, Fort Lauderdale, Fla, Indianapolis, Ind., and more. But he took a sharp turn in 1979 when he bought a nightclub in Las Vegas, where he met entertainers — including the "Chairman of the Board" himself, Frank Sinatra.
But by the ‘80s, broadcasting called again and he started doing voiceovers and announcing boxing matches at Vegas casinos. His memories are full of boxing greats he’s met along the way, including "Raging Bull” Jake LaMotta and George Foreman.
While you sense LeVine likes to talk about the boxers, you can see his face light up when he gets back to the subject of baseball. One of his favorite stories could be dubbed “Kismet in Cincinnati.”
While working for Xerox in the ‘70s, LeVine and some friends were given tickets to a Cincinnati Reds game by LeVine’s friend, baseball player Andy Kosco, who played in Bismarck in the ‘60s but was playing for the Reds by then. Unfortunately, when LeVine and his friends went to pick up the tickets, they were nowhere to be found.
“Pete Rose took them,” LeVine says. “He was a bigger star and he had some friends coming.”
LeVine and his friends were escorted to other inferior seats in the upper deck where, in a delicious twist of fate, Kosco would hit a bottom of the ninth home run to win the game. LeVine still has that ball today and it’s autographed by several members of “The Big Red Machine,” including Pete Rose, Dave Concepcion and Johnny Bench.
LeVine is taking that baseball to an upcoming filming of the popular show “Antiques Roadshow” at Bonanzaville in West Fargo.
Coming home again
After living all over the United States, LeVine decided to move to Fargo a few years ago to be closer to family. He even dedicated his book to his 10-year-old grandson, Kai.
LeVine says when friends learn of his colorful past, they’ll ask, “How could you have done all that?”
So many memories. So many stories. Fresh as the day they happened.
“When you love something, you remember it,” he says.
He says the book is made up of individual stories and vignettes. There is no common thread from chapter to chapter, just a love of baseball weaved throughout 123 pages.
“There are so many things I’ve observed in baseball from amateur to the semi-pro and pro ranks,” he says. “All of it has made my life a dream.”