My Inning in the Booth with Mr. Belding
What did you do after school when you were in elementary school and middle school?
The memories are always slightly muddled, but here’s what I think I did: played sports, did homework, hung out with friends, and watched Saved By The Bell. I watched a lot of Saved By The Bell. Usually at 5 and 5:30 every day. If only Kornheiser and Wilbon had started yapping on ESPN sooner, perhaps I wouldn’t embarrass myself with this revealing blog post.
I saw every episode. And over the years, I saw every episode multiple times. Probably dozens of times. The Miss Bliss ones. The Tory ones. Even the College Years ones. (I did skip out on the New Class seasons. Belding and Screech were fine and fun, but Saved By The Bell needs Zach Morris. Without that common denominator, the New Class never grabbed me.)
But anyway, you get the point. I grew up with Saved By The Bell. I loved Saved By The Bell.
And I know Saved By The Bell. Seriously, I really know it inside and out. We all have our own areas of expertise, and one of mine, for better or worse, is Saved By The Bell trivia. Even without watching the show in many years (Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I actually watched an episode), I’m still quite confident that I could answer most of your trivia questions regarding even the smallest tidbits of minutiae. Would it be better if I actually used this space in my brain for something more productive? Yes. I realize that. But every now and again my precise Saved By The Bell memory helps me out in some way.
So when we arrived in Myrtle Beach last Friday and I discovered that Dennis Haskins aka Mr. Belding would be on hand for Saturday’s ballgame for “Teacher Appreciation Night,” I was fired up. Might I get to meet Belding? Could he possibly join me for a half inning on the radio? Would he dare to test my immense Saved By The Bell knowledge?
Well, it turned out the answer to all of those questions was yes!
He joined me in the bottom of the first inning, just after we had scored four runs in the top of the first. With Salem ace Henry Owens on the mound, I feared a dominant six-pitch inning might give me just two or three minutes with Belding.
I like Henry Owens and would never root for him to struggle, but he picked the right inning to have his nadir of the 2013 season so far. The first five Pelicans reached, there was one mound visit, two home runs, and 13 minutes passed before I had to say goodbye to Mr. B.
But at some point during our chat, he realized that I was truly a Saved By The Bell nut. Maybe when I knew that Ed Alonzo ran The Max. And deep down, I think he really appreciated that. It didn’t hurt that I knew exactly where Belding was from and where he went to college (Thanks, Wikipedia!). As the conversation progressed and I peppered him with questions about some of his Saved By The Bell colleagues (He’s still in touch with Miss Bliss and Mr. Dewey, but unfortunately Mr. Tuttle passed away), his cameo as the “Head of Desserts” on AMC’s Mad Men last season (“I was trending”), and whether he even watched the “Malibu Sands” episodes (“No!” Deep down, there’s some inner vengeance toward Leon Carosi).
Numerous times, he would pivot back to baseball, telling me about Henry Owens’ leg-kick and how minor league baseball is for the fans yada yada yada. But I seriously had so many questions, he could have been with me for the entire four-game series and I barely would have scratched the surface. Plus, I did owe it to our loyal listeners to provide the basic play-by-play of the events of the inning. Belding also decided to drop in that his buddy from N’Sync was in town (Chris Kirkpatrick, not JT, but he does know Justin!), and he’d be hanging out with him after the game.
When the inning finally ended, our conversation naturally spilled into the break. Off the air, we took a picture and I asked if he had any other trivia questions for me. He proceeded to ask me if I knew what Slater’s pet chameleon was named? I thought about it for about 0.003 seconds and replied “Artie,” which was the correct answer. I asked him if he remembered the name of the leading flea in Screech’s flea circus, and he did not know! (The answer is “Zondo”) So yea, I stumped Mr. Belding.
I thought that was it. He left the booth and I grabbed the headset about five seconds after my bumpback music had ended to return to the airwaves for the top of the second, at which point he comes back into my booth and grabs my microphone and says, “Best trivia guy I’ve ever met, right here in the booth fans. Mr. Belding endorses Evan.” And he walked back out, leaving me to try and gather myself to do play-by-play for the top of the second. I was justifiably frazzled.
I was mostly thinking about how ridiculous and absurd this scene would have seemed to 10-year-old Evan, who watched Saved By The Bell basically every day. Looking back, I don’t even know why I liked the show so much. Putting it in a bigger context, there were and are other shows I like more (If only I could ever meet Mr. Feeny!). But because Saved By The Bell was so much a part of my routine, I think back on it with such nostalgia. For better or worse, it was a tremendously large part of my childhood television experience.
After the Salem Sox lost 9-8 in a dramatic walk-off finish, I tweeted at Mr. Belding (How ridiculous is it that his Twitter handle is actually @MrBelding!?). Around 1:30 AM, presumably after he had finished harmonizing with Chris Kirkpatrick, he replied.
@evanlepler the best Bell trivia contestant ever!
— Dennis Haskins (@mrbelding) May 12, 2013
Wow. Just wow. Maybe Dennis Haskins was just being nice. Maybe he actually was genuinely impressed. But it was pretty ridiculous to wake up the next morning and share with people the preposterous sentence, “Yea, Mr. Belding tweeted at me last night.”
I retweeted Mr. Belding’s praise, and seconds later, this e-mail popped up on my phone.
Yea, that happened too.
Here’s the complete audio from the bottom of the first this past Saturday night:
And here’s the brief beginning to the top of the second, when he lavished me with his impromptu endorsement:
Lastly, a couple photos of me and Mr. B:
It’s alllllright, cause I’m saved by the… It’s alllllright, cause I’m saved by the… It’s alllllright, cause I’m saved by the bell!
(Crazy piano riff outro thingie)