Sunday, August 31, 2014

Roddy Goes To The Shop

And you go to the Boston Herald, if you want to read about it.

(Aw, go on. You know you want to.)

Roddy, at home after his outpatient procedure

As always, kind comments are much appreciated (by both myself and Roddy, as all proceeds from the column have gone into his general repair fund.)

Soon, with more better stuff.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Thoughts Upon The Passing Of Don Pardo

Don Pardo passed away this past week at age 96.

The Boston Herald has seen fit to publish a few of my thoughts concerning his death (as well as some general rambling concerning how what we hear on-air reflects society as a whole.) Please go to their website (or, if you like the heft and feel of actual paper, buy a copy from your local newsstand!) As always, kind comments will keep you in my prayers while unkind comments will also keep you in my prayers (because I'm a Christian, but the prayers won't be quite so fervent.)

Soon, with more better stuff.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

In Memoriam

I was very saddened - heartbroken - to find out that the wife of a very good blog buddy, Skip O'Brien, passed away today. Sharon (Grandma Skip, as she was known on his blog) passed away after a long and courageous battle with cancer.

 Skip & Sharon in the Public Gardens in Boston - Make Way for Ducklings statues

My only physical meeting with these two lovely and loving people came on a softball diamond in Boston. When you consider that they lived in the San Francisco area, it becomes an odd story that speaks for their willingness to go out of their way to give someone a nice little thrill.

It was 2012. My Sunday fast-pitch team, the Bombers, were in the playoffs. We were involved in the semi-final series against our arch rivals, the Titans. You have to understand my mindset when I get on a softball diamond. I'm focused on the game. Whatever other people are around will register in my mind, but generally in an off-hand way only. Near the end of the first game, I noticed a few people in the little stands behind home plate. I thought to myself that it was nice some folks who enjoyed softball had come out to see our games that day, but I didn't think I recognized any of them.

Between games, I looked at the people again. I thought I had seen Big Jay Atton chatting up two of them and I wondered if they might be related to the Attons in some way. As I looked at this man and woman sitting there, they both gave me big smiles. I smiled back. I turned away, but then something finally clicked inside my pea brain and I turned back to look again. They must have seen the light dawning on marblehead and the semi-confused look on my mug. They both laughed, most especially the man with the big mustache. Then it all came together. I was looking at folks known, on Skip's blog, as Uncle Skip and Grandma Skip.

 The best fans we had in 2012

See, I knew they were going to be in Boston on a vacation trip, but our plans to meet up had been bollixed by some extreme car trouble I had that week. Undaunted, and knowing I was playing ball that Sunday morning, they made the trip from their hotel in downtown Boston - via two trains and two buses, I believe, and then a rather healthy walk - to Smith Field in Brighton where the games were. And then they just sat there patiently, watching the games and not bothering my game face, until I recognized them.

It is definitely the farthest anyone has traveled to see my sorry ass play ball. I was extremely touched by the trouble they went to do this nice thing.

After the games were over - we had our asses handed to us that day, I'm sorry to say; I would have loved some better examples of our play for some people who came so far to see us - Sharon was kind enough to take some shots of the team and of me with a good friend.

 I'm disgustingly drenched in sweat here, but Skip insisted I put my arm around his shoulders.

Bombers, 2012 (photo by Sharon O'Brien)

I gave them a ride back to their hotel after the games, but since I was so sweaty and nasty I declined an invite for lunch. What I wouldn't give for an hour over a nice meal with her now...

God our Father,
Your power brings us to birth,
Your providence guides our lives,
and by Your command we return to dust.

Lord, those who die still live in Your presence,
their lives change but do not end.
I pray in hope for my friend, Sharon, and her loving husband, Skip.

In company with Christ,
Who died and now lives,
may she rejoice in Your kingdom,
where all our tears are wiped away.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Now What Do I Do?

There's the old joke about the dog who chases cars. If he catches one, what's he going to do with it?

Yesterday, I finally became a member of a championship team. Now what do I do?

The Bombers beat the Titans, 11 - 3 and 7 - 6, to win the championship of our mens fastpitch softball league.

L to R:
Front row - Ron Aquino, Brad Cole, some old fart, Brian Pacheco, Fast Freddie Goodman
Second Row - Joe Baszkiewicz, Ron Johnson, M. J. McCabe, Pat Atton
Back Row - Billy Botting, Big Jay Atton, Bobby Botting, Jimmy Botting, Mark Preziosi, Jack Atton
[not pictured - Robby Costello, Garrett Hauck, Marc Montesano, Steve Stalcup, Dave Nutter]

I've been chasing this particular car for 50 years, basically. I started playing ball (baseball) when I was 7. I played Little League, CYO, on neighborhood teams and briefly in high school. Then I changed over to softball. I really can't count how many different leagues I've played in, small-time tournaments I was a part of, company teams I helped to form, and times the season ended without winning the final game. For the Bombers part of the chase, it was 20 years of close but no cigar.

Hey! Here's Robby Costello! That old fart from the first photo seems to have snuck in here, too...

I'm still stunned. I'm so used to walking off the field at the end of each year being the gracious loser that I'm kind of at a loss for how to act. It was the same way yesterday. When game two ended, I was very happy but I didn't know what to do. I took off my mask and walked in a daze toward my teammates, smiling, until outfielder M. J. McCabe grabbed me with both arms and hoisted me up in the air. Then the rest of the day had that same aspect, as though I was looking down on the world from a higher place than normal. Thanks, M. J.; that was exactly what I needed at that moment in order for it to feel real.

As was the case for much of the year, Brian Pacheco (Cheeks) was the man who did the pitching. It was my pleasure to catch all 14 innings of his artful work and he deserves every bit of praise his teammates gave him. He set a number of team records this year in the pitching categories and he also beat out Brad Cole by a few percentage points for the team batting average title. But yesterday, the man who put a charge into the team early, and never stopped, was shortstop Mark Preziosi.

After Cheeks threw a scoreless top of the first, Jimmy Botting drew a walk to lead off for us. Pat Atton followed with a single. Preziosi stepped to the plate and proceeded to hit an absolute bomb for a three-run homer. We all exploded off the bench to greet him at home as he stepped on the plate to make it 3 - 0 Bombers. Brad Cole was next and he singled, followed by Cheeks with another single. Billy Botting then cranked his team-leading eighth home run of the year to make it 6 - 0 and that was all the scoring we needed for that game. In all, the first eight of our batters reached via hit or walk and, despite being the past champions they have been for many a year, you could see some shoulders slumping on the Titans. We scored another four in the second inning (the big blow was a three-run shot by M. J. McCabe) and coasted to the win, 11 - 3. Preziosi ended the game four-for-four, with three doubles added to his home run. It was a monster performance at the plate and he was almost as good in the field, hoovering up everything hit his way.

Mark Preziosi

Game two was a different sort of beast. The Titans saved their ace pitcher to begin that game (he had arrived during the second inning of game one, but they held him back for game two since the score was already 10 - 0 in our favor. The strategy, a good one, was to have him be fresh and possibly outlast a tiring Cheeks if they could force a third game (or maybe Jack Atton, if Cheeks couldn't throw another one.)

We were the visitors for game two, so we batted first. And again, Preziosi set the tone. After two quick outs, he hammered another one to center field to give us the 1 - 0 lead. Please believe me when I tell you I've never seen a guy hit five balls in succession with the authority he did yesterday. Five at-bats, all bombs and lasers, for two home runs and three doubles. He ended his day with a long fly out (the Titan outfield was playing him somewhere in Cambridge by that time) and, having seen enough, they walked him intentionally in his final trip to the plate. Combined with his excellent work at shortstop, I think it might be the best single day performance I've ever seen for the Bombers by a position player, especially when factoring in that it came during the championship series.

The Titans were the defending champions, though, and they were not going to lay down and die. Their leadoff man put a charge into one and tied the game, 1 - 1. Both pitchers were on and that's how it stayed until the bottom of the fourth.

The Titans scored three in the fourth to take a 4 - 1 lead. In times past, this is where the Bombers might have let down and come apart. Not this day. In the top of the fifth, we answered with seven of our next eight hitters reaching base (aided, in a couple of instances, by some fielding miscues from the normally sound Titans defense) and, by the time they got out of the inning, we had reclaimed the lead at 7 - 4.

Back came the Titans with two in the bottom of the fifth, leaving us clinging to a precarious 7 - 6 lead.

They played good defense and had solid pitching for the 6th and 7th, allowing us a lone harmless single in those two frames. For us, Cheeks battled through a couple of errors and a walk to get out of the 6th scoreless (he was also battling a strained hamstring, which we tried to hide on our bench and meant, in all likelihood, that he wouldn't be able to do a third game; it seemed touch-and-go for a short time whether he'd be able to answer the bell for the final two innings, but he toughed it out with ice and guts.)

Bottom of the seventh, we're hanging onto the one-run lead. Three outs for the championship. The Titans first batter, top of their order, singles. He's forced at second, leaving a man on first with one out. Topher, their third batter and a mainstay on many a championship squad, strokes a solid line drive, but Brad Cole at third base is right in the path of it. He snares it for out number two, briefly considers trying to get the double play on the man scampering back to first, but makes the right decision - not chancing an errant throw to put a man in scoring position - and stops himself at the last moment. Two out. Cheeks was squeezed a bit on the next man, giving up a walk, the tying run to second and winning run to first, with Kenny Bean - a big clutch performer, including yesterday (3 for 5, and a walk) - waiting on-deck and the last man we wanted up with a chance to win the game for his team. But he got the final batter to ground to - fittingly - Mark Preziosi, who forced the trailing runner at second for the final out.

And there I was, standing at home plate, Frankenmask in hand...

Frankenmask (three or four rolls of duct tape previously.)

... watching my teammates jump around and yell, then walking towards them until M. J. intercepted me and lifted me in the air. Other congratulations followed - big hugs, a vigorous rub of my bald head from Jack Atton, and then, after we had gone through the handshake line with the Titans (who showed great class in defeat, many of them stopping for a moment and looking me straight in the eye and saying, "Congratulations, Sully. You guys deserved it.") I got the nicest, but most shocking, moment I've ever had on a ballfield. While I was standing by our bench, looking out at the field and still getting used to how good it felt to win the final game, I received a drenching of ice and ice cold water over my head, a cooler full of the stuff. It was like the Gatorade showers after a championship football game. I was soaked. And I was extremely touched that they they poured it on ME.

Some more subtle celebrations followed. For one thing, I got a very satisfying smooch from MY WIFE. Then Mark Preziosi came over and handed me the ball with which he had made the final out. I said, "No, Mark, you were immense today. Game ball to you." He refused, handing it back. It was a sweet gesture and I appreciated it. Someone - maybe Billy Botting? - suggested everybody sign the ball. I signed it, then everybody else did, and I was saying things like, "This will have a cherished place on my mantle." But, as the last signatures were being put on it, I saw Ronnie Johnson leaving the field. I called out to him to come back. And I told the guys to give the ball to him.

The ball, presumably at Ron's home with his uniforms

Ronnie and I are the only two who have been on this Bombers team for the entire 20 years of its existence. And I was getting a lot more attention because I've done self-promotion, always talking about never winning a championship, but without Ronnie there literally would be no Bombers team. Back in April of 1995, he was enough of a good guy and a softball lifer to put together an expansion team when asked to do so by the then league commissioner. He had been on another team that folded the year before. We all answered an ad in the "Sports Plus" section of the Boston Globe, coming out to a field in Brighton for a tryout. Some of us were decent players, but the best of the lot were picked off by that louse of a commissioner before Ronnie was able to get to the field. Ronnie was left with what that bastard didn't want. We went 6 and 21 that first year, finishing 8th of 8 teams. Without Ronnie leading the team in most offensive categories, and carrying us on his back, we might not have won a single game. He was that good a hitter back in the day. And without his willingness to take on the responsibility of the team, I'm not sitting here today typing this.

(Funny story that I love: Years later, as Ron and I were sitting around after a game and reminiscing, we got to talking about that first tryout. His previous team had been called the Bowdoin Bombers, mostly - maybe all - black. He said he got out of his car at the tryout and his first thought was, "Who are all these white guys?" Until he brought on a pitcher from his previous team, Jimmy Jackson - who threw some great ball for seriously bad teams, and whose win-loss percentage was always better than the team as a whole - Ron was the only black player, and our coach to boot. I will never give him anything less than major props for taking on that role. That he has since gone on for 20 years, with myself and then Jack Atton as his coach, without ever - not once - voicing a complaint or doing anything less than being a team guy, speaks volumes about that man's character and class.)

Time to wrap this up. Everybody on the team this year did something worthwhile and valuable to get us the championship, from Dave Nutter, who played one game, to Jimmy and Billy Botting, who played every inning of all of them. I mean that sincerely. But three guys deserve just a little more praise, so here goes.

Big Jay Atton was our ace for a long time. He almost singlehandedly carried us across the finish line in 2010 when we were short five of our best players in the finals. This year, he was injured for most of the season and couldn't play. But, the one time we needed him badly, in the final regular season game, he pitched one of the guttiest games I've ever witnessed. We needed a victory to clinch first and Cheeks was unavailable that week. Jay stepped in, tossed us to a 6 - 4 victory, and we finished first. As we've since found out - and he didn't know it that day, either - he was pitching with a blood clot in his lung. Utterly exhausted - he couldn't even tie his own shoe at one point and had to have Pat Atton do it for him - he gave us everything he had that day and then collapsed on the bench afterward. I'm maybe making it sound melodramatic, but it's the truth. I've never seen a player leave more of himself on the field than I did that day.

Cheeks was a monster all year. That he didn't get a victory in every game he pitched (he had one loss and one tie in his 13 decisions) was our fault, not his. Every single time a game was on the line, he got better. In addition, he continually got big hits and fielded his position superbly. That I got to catch 10 or 11 of his gems is a career highlight for me.

Finally, Jack Atton.

What can I say? He made all the right moves as manager, made some clutch contributions when he played, and never let his ego get in the way of his decisions. He recruited the players we needed, made sure everybody knew they were a valuable component of the whole, and did all the little things that a team needs but sometimes takes for granted (managing the money, toting the equipment, designing and buying the uniforms, knowing the rules, negotiating with the commissioner, a full cooler of Gatorade for every game, and so forth.) Here's to you, Jack, you handsome bastard!

So, to get back to the question at the beginning of this, now what do I do? I'm not sure, but I know I've been doing a lot of smiling since yesterday. Maybe that's all I need to do.

Soon, with more better stuff.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Tales Of Antarctican Idiocy

I've somehow conned another publication into printing my words. A piece of fish... er, fiction... that I wrote a while back is now doing its nasty business on the pages of Broken Pencil, an otherwise fine magazine published in Canada.

A few of my close friends may know what the piece is about from the title I put on this blog post. If you do, don't give it away, because if you don't, I'm not going to tell you; you'll have to buy the magazine. As a matter of fact, I suggest you buy the magazine even if you're one of those I annoyed with the story before the fiction editor at Broken Pencil decided, for whatever damn reason, to buy it. He has to feed his family. Just because he was harebrained enough to pay me that isn't a good enough reason for his family to starve, you miserable heartless bastards.

(I should definitely go into sales. I've got the touch.)

So, anyway, there you go. And wherever you go, there you are (especially if you're already in Canada.)

DISCLAIMER: You are not a miserable heartless bastard. The fiction editor at Broken Pencil is not harebrained. I am proud to be in the magazine. I will be prouder still once the check clears.

Soon, with more better stuff.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

For One Who Needs It

I have a column in the Boston Herald today. It may not be what you've come to expect. It doesn't contain any jokes. I wrote it to help someone get through a rough patch.

Boston Herald

If you know someone who might like to read my story today - maybe someone who will get a little strength from it - I sure would appreciate you passing it along.