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Making his Major League debut

Newhall man, former athletic director of The Master’s College hired as Dodger Stadium tour guide

Posted: August 4, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 4, 2014 2:00 a.m.

Newhall resident Paul Berry - in his tour guide uniform - poses for a photo on the field level at Dodger Stadium. Courtesy photo by Mark Langill - Los Angeles Dodgers.

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At 72 years of age, Paul Berry has made it to the big leagues.

It’s a dream come true for the Newhall resident and lifelong Dodgers fan, who wanted, like many young boys, to be a professional baseball player as far back as he can remember.

His route to the pros took longer than most, with stops in Vietnam and across the U.S. as a soldier, coach and administrator.

But three years after he retired from his role as athletic director of The Master’s College, he got the call. 

The Dodgers hired Berry this spring as a stadium tour guide.

And though the job requires a light-blue polo instead of a jersey stitched with name and number, it’d be hard to overstate what it means for Berry to truly say “we” when referring to his favorite professional baseball team.

Lifelong fan

Berry was about 6 years old when he was snared by the game. He still remembers first stepping into view of a baseball diamond playing surface in the late 1940s — Los Angeles Wrigley Field at East 42nd Place and Avalon Boulevard, owned by the Cubs and home to the Pacific Coast League Angels. (The field was demolished in 1969.)

Raised in South Central L.A. by a sports-loving family, he rode electric-powered streetcars to see the PCL Angels play at Los Angeles Wrigley Field — and years later to the Coliseum to watch the second game the Dodgers ever played in Los Angeles.

Berry was at first disappointed when the Dodgers bought the PCL Angels and moved the team to Spokane, Wash., where it changed its name to the Spokane Indians. He loved PCL baseball.

But it wasn’t long before the major-league-level play of L.A.’s new team and the commentary of its legendary announcer Vin Scully won him over.

“Hearing him, it didn’t take long (to realize) that Vin was good,” Berry said.

Berry frequented Chavez Ravine to watch Dodger Stadium as it was built.

“That was our big Friday night activity,” he said, “then we’d cruise Hollywood Boulevard.”

A three-sport athlete in high school — baseball, basketball and football — Berry continued with baseball in college at Biola University in La Mirada.

There he met his wife, Carolyn. Four or five times a summer he’d take her to the unofficial Dodgers fan pre-game hangout, Philippe’s French dip sandwiches on North Alameda Street, and then on to the only Dodgers’ seats he could afford — top deck. 

“(A Dodgers game) was one of our first dates,” Carolyn said. “(And when) he was playing (at Biola), I’d be at all his games. Baseball has always been a big part of our lives.”

Drafted

Berry played three seasons at Biola. His high-80s fastball, good control and curveball kept alive his dream of a pro career. But in 1966, to finish his physical-education degree, he transferred to Long Beach State University.

His dream of a baseball career ended, Berry was drafted by the Army in 1967.

“I got drafted by the team with the funny, green uniforms,” Berry said, smiling.

He served one year in Vietnam as bodyguard for a chaplain who, according to Berry, was particularly hell bent on seeing combat. No thanks to the clergyman, Berry survived and received an honorable discharge in 1968. He took a high school teaching job back in Southern California.

In 1969, the man who had wanted to play professional baseball so he could share the gospel joined a sports-evangelism baseball team. Berry’s crew played professional opponents in the Philippines, Taiwan, and South Korea.

Crowds reached as many as 30,000 people — roughly 9,000 more than Los Angeles Wrigley Field seated.

“I got to do exactly what I told God I wanted to do,” Berry said, “except we did it his way and not my way.”

During the trip, he met the athletic director for Cedarville University in Ohio, a connection that led to his coaching the school’s baseball and soccer teams from 1971 to 1974.

“I’d never seen a whole soccer game,” Berry said. “Missionary kids took me under their wing and taught me (the game).”
Despite the dual-sport schedule, Berry made time to see the Dodgers whenever they visited the Reds in Cincinnati. He remained a Dodgers’ fan, Carolyn says, regardless of where numerous coaching and athletic-director jobs took them over the years — whether it was Ohio, Oregon or San Diego.

“He’s a diehard (Dodger) fan,” said Berry’s daughter Michelle. “Win or lose, every single year, regardless of where we lived ... it’s in his blood.”

Called up
Berry took over as The Master’s College’s athletic director in 2001, a position he held until he retired in 2011. He stayed on as a part-time teacher.

Then in March, he received an email from TeamWork Online, a company that alerts subscribers to job openings in the professional-sports realm. This email’s openings: Dodger Stadium tour guides.

About 170 people applied for multiple guide positions, Berry says.

He had applied for two jobs with the team previously but didn’t get an interview. This time he received an interview and the job that Carolyn describes as a “mini dream.”

Friends and family agree it’s a perfect fit for the man who, off the top of his head, knows Dodgers great Maury Wills stole 104 bases in 1962 and that the team’s Roy Campanella benefit game was in 1959.

Since May, Berry has led 80- to 90-minute tours of Dodger Stadium two or three days a week. He guides fans across different levels of the stadium, through the press box, onto the field, and into the Dodgers’ dugout.

“I usually pickup a sunflower seed (in the dugout) and say, ‘This seed was spit out by Clayton Kershaw,’” Berry said. “‘Anybody ... want to put this on eBay?’”

Berry says even when he feels a tour went poorly, fans tell him how much they appreciate it: the perfect level of job pressure for a man retired from life as a coach and administrator, he says.

On July 26 he celebrated his 72nd birthday. Family and friends gathered for a tour of Dodger Stadium led by a man who watched its construction.

But as Berry stood in Chavez Ravine all those years ago, he couldn’t possibly have known the role he’d play at one of Major League Baseball’s most historic venues — nor the road he’d take to get there.

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