- Johnette Howard, ESPN.com columnist
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The rain was still falling with no letup in sight. So much rain had fallen, in fact, there were now huge puddles on the billowing infield tarp when Bill Murray, one of the co-owners of the New York Yankees' Class A affiliate in Charleston, S.C., his latest adopted hometown, sauntered into the dugout tunnel where a few of his players had retreated.
He was bouncing a red kickball. And what happened next was captured on a video that deserves to go viral, if only to remind everyone Murray is not just one of the funniest comics alive. He's still having the sort of fun you don't see many sports owners have anymore. Especially here in New York.
"C'mon! Somebody pitch me some kickball!" Murray looked at the players and said.
If New York Jets owner Woody Johnson floated that invitation, star cornerback Darrelle Revis -- now contemplating his third holdout -- might take dead aim at his wallet.
But the Charleston players -- who were either unsure Murray was serious, or perhaps didn't want to pull a Canseco and wind up injuring themselves by pitching when they aren't even pitchers -- just looked at Murray.
"So then he just took off," Charleston pitcher Dan Mahoney said with a laugh. "And the next thing we knew, he was out on the tarp kicking the ball himself. Then he took off running in the rain around the [imaginary] bases."
The video of Murray's gallop is worth watching to the end just to see the final flourish, in which Murray does a pretty good imitation of a Labrador. It's hard to stop laughing. Murray's hair is drenched, he's running in baggy shorts that threaten to fall off and he has his arms stuck out like plane wings at times.
His loping splash through the puddles and his swan dive at the end might've had a chance to look graceful if he wasn't running as if he had invisible buckets on his feet.
But the look on his face?
Murray's facial expressions can be hysterical even when he doesn't say a word. And you can tell from videotape's sound that what remained of the Charleston crowd wasn't exactly sure what was happening at first. Or that this kook on the field was actually Murray. But it's well-known around town that he often drops into the games unannounced, and he's liable to turn up watching from any seat in the stadium -- even the dugouts.
While games are in progress.
He'll turn up in the opposing team's dugout almost as often as his own.
"He can do that?" RiverDogs general manager Dave Echols is asked.
"He's the owner -- he can do whatever he wants," laughed Echols, who was in the RiverDogs' dugout talking with umpires about postponing Sunday's game when he looked up and saw Murray romping over the roiling tarp in the wind and rain.
"The very first time I met Bill," said RiverDogs play-by-play announcer Sean Hanson, who does double-duty as a team media relations man, "he popped into my office, which I share with a girl. He just looked at us and said, 'Hey, I'm thinking about re-doing the lighting in here. Maybe some pink gel lighting?' And that was it. He was gone."
Is this any way to run a team? It should tell you something that one of Murray's co-owners is Mike Veeck, son of legendary Bill Veeck, the man who created the art of the crazy baseball promotion. Or that Murray's official title in the RiverDogs' team directory isn't owner -- he's officially listed as "Director of Fun."
Echols laughs when asked if anyone else was interviewed for the position.
"Who could be better?" he said.
The RiverDogs say the first thing other Class A team members often ask when they pull into Charleston now is, "Hey, are we going to get to meet Bill Murray?"
Murray is perennial hit at the team's charity golf event, same as he has famously been for years at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am. And there are many videos of that, too.
Hanson said the RiverDogs have the reputation now as one of the best places in the minors to play "and a lot of that is because of Bill Murray."
Mahoney -- the first player in the video to high-five Murray after his tear around the rain-soaked field -- agreed. He had watched Murray's classic comedy "Caddyshack" countless times over the years before he ever played for him ("My favorite part? Probably when he tries to get the gophers with dynamite packed into the clay squirrels," Mahoney replies) and now says whenever Murray pops his head into the team clubhouse, "It usually ends up being Comedy Hour. He's just a laid-back guy who wants everyone to have fun."
Mahoney wasn't yet with the RiverDogs when Murray unexpectedly charged onto the field a few years back -- this time as a TV crew was filming a team commercial.
"It took us a while to realize it was Bill because he came running out of the chute wearing our mascot's head," said Echols, who was there.
What's the mascot?
"A hot dog," Eckles laughs. "Bill put on a hot dog costume he must've found lying around because one of the things we're sorta known for here is our ballpark food. We've got a hot dog with okra on it. Something we call the 'Homewrecker' hot dog."
Murray's antics are the sort of fun ownership story you just don't hear about with New York teams anymore, not just the gone-corporate Yankees. The Yanks have been badly missing some spice since The Boss passed on. Sourpuss Knicks/Rangers owner James Dolan has ducked reporters for years.
The Wilpons still only peek out of their Bernie Madoff-induced bunker now and then. They've been buoyed by a recent favorable court decision and the Mets' surprisingly good start, but still don't seem ready to hang out around the batting cage in broad daylight or stop stockpiling all the MREs they might need if they have to go back into exile.
Owning a sports team can be a grim business.
If you don't let it be.
When Bill Murray sees clouds roll in, Murray says let it rain. He's the kind of owner many of us might flatter ourselves into thinking we'd be, if we could stop laughing and had the dough.
Watch Bill Murray entertain a crowd and ask, how many owners really have fun?