As the brass at the MLB Network mulled how to introduce the 2018 baseball season to their viewers, they initially thought they’d call on Sam Elliott — the Hollywood star and voiceover legend. But in the end, they chose Meeteetse resident Bob Taylor to narrate the network’s Opening Day promo.
When Taylor first heard the pitch last month, he couldn’t help but think he was being pranked.
April Fools’ Day was just a couple days away, after all, and the idea sounded beyond preposterous. But since the guy on the other end of the line was his longtime friend, Cody filmmaker Preston Randolph, he decided to give it some credence.
“Had it been anyone else, I wouldn’t have bought it for a minute,” Taylor said, laughing. “But since it was Preston, I thought I better pay attention.”
The MLB Network was looking for a small-town, western angle for the Opening Day promo.
Someone at the network had seen Randolph’s award-winning documentary “The Summer of ‘81” — shot in five days on a shoestring budget back in 2012 — and decided that was the look they needed.
The award-winning documentary short details Taylor’s decision to leave the big city, become a Wyoming cowboy and build both a cabin and a baseball field on land outside Meeteetse.
“They cut the logs and put it all together without a ton of machinery, and lived for years without even electricity,” Randolph explains of Taylor’s cabin. “He raised his daughters there — and he built Outland Field.”
The MLB officials liked the idea of juxtaposing the spring opening of Taylor’s small Outland Field in rural Wyoming with cathedrals like Yankee Stadium and Wrigley Field.
Late last month, Randolph unexpectedly awoke to an email saying the Major League Baseball officials had watched the documentary, liked it, “and thought it fit well with what they were wanting to do with this year’s opening day,” he recalled.
“It’s a day that means nothing in the sense of the entire season, but it means everything to a lot of people who love baseball,” Randolph said.
The MLB Network initially wanted to just use footage from “The Summer of ‘81” to bookend the promo, and lined up Sam Elliott to narrate. But after watching the documentary, the powers that be decided Taylor’s voice would be more authentic, and reached out to Randolph to recruit Taylor’s participation.
“The documentary was Bob [Taylor]’s story, so it made sense to have him narrate it,” Randolph explained. “So they sent us a script, and I headed out to Bob’s place in Meeteetse to record it. We shipped it off, and within a day, they had it edited and airing across the country. It all kind of happened really fast.”
So fast, in fact, that Taylor had his doubts the footage and his monologue would even be used.
He recorded the voiceover on Tuesday, March 27, and Opening Day was Thursday, March 29.
“I thought, ‘Hell, this will never happen,’” Taylor recalled. “But then I’m up having breakfast on Thursday, and at 8 a.m. I turn it to the MLB Network and here comes me and my old truck coming down the road and it [the graphic] says Meeteetse, Wyoming.”
“I watched that and it absolutely gave me the shivers,” he said.
Airing of the promo has generated a renewed interest in “Summer of ‘81,” which can be streamed online on Amazon Prime. Randolph said he’s happy to see his documentary find a new audience, but even more gratifying is the spotlight it shines on his old friend.
“For me, it was all about Bob being featured, because he’s one of the greatest guys you’ll ever meet,” Randolph said.
Every Memorial Day, Taylor hosts a baseball tournament at Outland Field that’s reached legendary proportions — with people from all over the West and even other countries descending on the field each year for a weekend of fun, camping and baseball.
“We’ve played a lot of baseball on that field over the years,” Taylor said, including his girls.
“The tournament started out as a way to celebrate my brother’s 50th birthday, and we had a lot of fun with it and continued it,” he said. “I think we’re working on 16 years now, and it’s just become a really neat event, setting up tents, eating good food and playing a lot of ball.”
Response to the opening-day promo has been quick and a bit overwhelming, according to Randolph. He and Taylor have received calls from all over, with folks intrigued by this small town in Wyoming that captured the attention of the major leagues.
“It’s cool to see how it continues to play out,” Randolph said. “Bob has a very American story, and it connects with people — not just here in Wyoming, but really across the country.”
Randolph and a few close friends went out to Taylor’s home on opening day with a copy of the promo to watch with him. The two friends talked about “The Summer of ‘81” and what it’s meant to them both as the years have passed; the MLB Network promo only served to strengthen the bond between the two.
“What makes this all so great is the story, it’s Bob’s life,” Randolph said. “So many people around the community know Bob. He’s lived here forever and worked in the Cody school system for a long time. I was fortunate to be able to tell his story.”
Taylor is quick to deflect praise back on Randolph, and is pleased that the MLB thought enough of the film and story to use it to promote its biggest day.
“It’s a pretty dandy spotlight to have shine on him [Randolph], I think,” Taylor said. “It reminded me once again what a tremendous job Preston did with ‘The Summer of ‘81,’ and what a great filmmaker he is. He’s a helluva good storyteller.”
And if being courted by the MLB Network to use that story wasn’t cool enough, the opportunity to one-up a movie star was the icing on the cake. Randolph goes back to his initial call with Taylor to illustrate just how crazy the whole idea sounded.
“So I tell Bob [Taylor] all this — what the MLB has in mind with the footage and that they want him to read the narration,” Randolph said. “I don’t get a response on the other end, it’s just dead silence. I said, ‘You going to be OK with that Bob?’ I think he was still in shock.”
“I was just nervous I was going to mess it up,” Taylor said with a chuckle. “But I figured if I did mess it up, they could always go back to Sam Elliott.”