Monday, July 31, 2017

The Return of 44

Jason Atton - Big Jay - has been a friend of mine for almost 20 years. He being the age that he is, this means I've known him for half his lifetime.

 [2010 - Me, Fast Freddy Goodman, Big Jay, and Joe Baszkiewicz]

Big Jay has always been an athlete. You name the sport, he's probably played it. And not only has he played it, he has probably excelled at it. He played college basketball and won the USCAA national championship with NHTI (New Hampshire Technical).

[6' 7" and superb at blocking out]

I've played with him on a championship team in men's fast-pitch softball (and it was his pitching gem, on the final day of the regular season, that clinched first place for us, even though... well, more about that later.) I know few people who understand the nuances of games more quickly than Jay, and whose physical gifts could as readily make use of that intelligence. Jay has tremendous reflexes and great hand-eye (as well as foot-eye) coordination, and those are gifts, but it has always been his grasp of the details that impresses me. He may be the smartest player with whom I've had the pleasure of sharing a softball field.

That surprises some people when I say it, but it's the truth. The reason it surprises some is because Jay has a great sense of humor and he often plays the fool just to get some laughs.

But make no mistake, he always knows the score (so to speak.)

Because he has such a firm grasp of the rules of various sports, Jay is also a referee/umpire. He earns a good portion of his living reffing football, etc., and it's never a good idea to challenge Jay on a rules interpretation. He just plain KNOWS.

Now, about that softball game I mentioned earlier; the one he pitched for us to clinch first place in the regular season? That was in 2014. Jay ended that day laying on the bench, absolutely drained, and some of us were truly concerned. It had been a hot day for a game, Jay is a very big man (that's why he's BIG JAY), and his uniform was drenched by sweat. We had no idea how concerned we really should have been.

[Fred wasn't unconcerned; he just didn't know]

A few months later, Big Jay was in Houston, visiting with family, when he suffered a massive heart attack. There was serious fear that he might have suffered kidney damage that would require a transplant, since he was also diabetic (something some of us didn't find out until then.) He was more-or-less in a coma-like state for a long time, and speculation about his brain function returning to normal was also on the table.

I'm happy to report that Big Jay made a recovery from all of it. Hell, happy isn't the word; ecstatic is about right. Lots of people, me included, had prayed hard for the big man. But, since then, Jay's physical state hasn't been totally free from trouble.

His diabetes and (I'm the last person to nag, considering my own bad habits, but it has to be said) his lack of taking care of himself led to more bad news. This athletic man, who loves sports so much, had to have both of his big toes amputated. Jay took it with the good humor and grace he has always displayed - immediately after the operation, he said. "Now I can only count to 18..." - but it was a big blow. Jay pretty much had to learn to walk again, let alone be able to go back to sports.

Since then, he's engaged in some smaller athletic endeavors, such as bowling. If you didn't know about his particular handicap, you'd never guess it from his bowling. Jay still beats hell out of me (granted, everybody beats hell out of me.) Jay also took the field again to ref football, umpire softball, etc., but the one thing he wanted just a bit more - and which I have wanted to see since his heart attack - was to make a return to a playing field and pitch softball.

This past Sunday, he did.

Our regular season ended on Sunday, and there was an all-star game and cookout immediately following. In the week leading up to the game, Jay approached me with a GREAT idea. He would be at the all-star game and so would I, but not as players. We would be umpiring the game - me behind home plate, Jay covering the bases. One of Jay's very best friends, and a great guy in his own right, Joe Baszkiewicz, was one of the 24 players chosen to play in the all-star game. Jay thought it would be great fun if, the first time Joe came up to bat, he was allowed to trade places with the pitcher and throw to Joe.

The idea was greeted with enthusiasm by everybody who had to be in on it. And so, when Joe Baszkiewicz came up to bat, with one out, Big Jay called time, walked to the pitcher's mound, and - to Joe's surprise - took the ball from pitcher Brian Pacheco and got ready to pitch.

I was also in for a surprise. Pacheco walked in to where I was umping behind the plate and told me he would take over. He said I had to catch. The all-star catcher, Tony Hutchins, graciously took a seat on the sideline. Jay had specifically wanted both Joe and me to be involved. I squatted, Joe batted, Pacheco umped - and Jay pitched.

It was the first time he had taken the field in that league since that sweat-drenched gutty 2014 game three years before. It was the first time he had pitched competitively since the heart attack that almost cost him his life. It was the first time Jay had thrown a real pitch since losing his two big toes.

It was magnificent.

Big Jay legitimately got Joe out (Joe may be Jay's very good friend, but he was in the all-star game for a reason and he would have loved to have gotten a hit off Jay, I guarantee that.) Then, next up was Drew Atton, Big Jay's cousin, who was pitching for the other team. I stayed catching and Jay stayed pitching. And Jay retired Drew, too, to end the inning. Jay walked off the field to very heartfelt congratulations from both sides. He was legitimately exhausted, though. Eight pitches in a broiling sun had taken it out of him, so he took a seat in the shade and Fast Freddy Goodman took over umping the bases.

It was as good as sports gets. That Jay asked for me to be included, as catcher, means the world to me. Hell, I'm getting misty just thinking about it again. Thanks, Big Man.

And now, I'm turning this over to Jay, because he wants to say something to all of you.

"I want to say how some days were hard going to a Bombers game hurt that I could not be there playing with my family. But even if I only threw 8 pitches today, it was the best feeling in the last two years, and with those pitches it gave me hope that next year I can play with my family. How each person who said they will pray for me, or asked how I was doing, really helped out. The amount of support I received from the league today - the hugs - lifted my spirits. Me pitching to my best friend Joe, and having Sully catch me, and to share the field with my cousin Andrew, might now be my best moment in my sports career, even overshadowing my national championship season. Thank you."

Soon, with something else (but it won't be better than this. It couldn't possibly be.)

Sunday, July 30, 2017


This week's entry in the Boston Herald is all about my experiences as an emergency fill-in umpire. Even if you don't like sports, there are life lessons. If you don't like life lessons, well, there's sports!

Here's the usual handy link!

Thanks very much for reading. I always appreciate it.

Soon, with more better stuff.

P.S. The umpire in the above drawing is wrong. Since the catcher has the ball in his hand, and not in the glove, that runner is safe. Just thought I'd point that out so you nitpickers in the crowd would know I understand the rules.

P.P.S. I have no idea how the umpire and the two players could possibly get into that position. Either the batter was sliding head first on his back from third base or the catcher is facing the stands and couldn't possibly have gotten the throw from anywhere except behind the plate and that's impossible with the umpire standing in front of him.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Go To The Boston Herald

Figured I'd cut to the chase. Here's a link!

Thanks for stopping by. Here's the usual lie.

Soon, with more better stuff.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Hair (And Lack Of Same)

Here's what happens when you go from being a bass player to being a freelance writer.


Well, OK, all of my hair loss wasn't because I stopped being a rock star and became a writer. There were a few years between these photos where I was neither. However, the two photos do rather nicely illustrate what's in my latest piece, which is published in an on-line site called Purple Clover. I hope you'll go read it right now!

(If you don't, the stress you'll be causing me might make what's left of my hair fall out. You wouldn't want to be the cause of that, would you?)

As always, thanks for reading!

Soon, with more better stuff.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Just Pigeons

My piece in the Herald yesterday gave a shout out to various forms of urban wildlife. Among those I extolled as my favorites were pigeons. I know a lot of people don't share my fondness for them, but I think they're lovely birds.

As a follow-up, I recommend the book Pigeons by Andrew D. Blechman.

This is how good of a read I think it is: If you don't like pigeons now, you might be a convert after reading this fascinating account of the history of the bird. I found out things I didn't know about them; things that would have made me an admirer even I hadn't been one already. For instance, pigeons were responsible for saving thousands of human lives during times of war, via their amazing homing instincts and the carrying of messages from the battlefront, and some have been awarded their country's highest honors for bravery. As much as I like soft cuddly bunnies and such, you can't say that about rabbits.

Anyway, I thought it a good idea to turn you on to the book since I enjoyed it so much. And now I have done my job and will leave you alone.

Soon, with more better stuff.

P.S. For those who might like more about the book before rushing out to buy it, here's the New York Times book review.

P.P.S. While the Times reviewer seems to take points away for Blechman's first-person narrative, I found it one of the more charming aspects of the book. Of course, I almost always write in the first person, so I would.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Rabbits & Pigeons & Turkeys - Oh, My!

I don't know what else to tell you about today's column in the Boston Herald. I suppose I could throw in squirrels, possums and skunks, but that's about it.

Thanks for reading!

Soon, with more better stuff.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Fr. Vinny

Those who have been coming here for a long time know that I'm a nut for men's fast-pitch softball. I've played the game for over 35 years and I rarely miss games. In the Sunday league of which I've been a part for the past 23 seasons, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of Sundays I haven't been at the field ready to play. That includes times I've been injured and couldn't play at all. I still showed up to keep the book, coach the bases, etc., because I figure if you're a part of a team, you're still part of the team even if you're in a cast.

Today, I'm missing my games - voluntarily.

And gladly.

The man who performed our wedding ceremony, Fr. Vincent McKiernan, CSP, is in town as part of his 60th anniversary of ordination (yes, 60th.) MY WIFE and I will be attending the 10am mass at The Paulist Center in downtown Boston, where Fr. Vinny will be the celebrant. And I wouldn't miss that for anything, even softball.

I write about it (with no mention whatsoever of softball, for those who dislike reading about sports) in today's Boston Herald. Read all about it HERE.

Thanks for stopping by. I'm sure Fr. Vinny would be appreciative if you offer up a prayer or two as an anniversary gift for him!

Soon, with more better stuff.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Two For One! FREE! FREE! FREE!

Step right up, ladies and gentlemen! I've got a deal here you will NOT want to miss! Step right up!

Let me tell you what I'm going to do, folks... I'm going to give you TWO reading experiences for the price of one! That's right, ladies and gentlemen, instead of you coming here and getting just your usual dose of literary nutrition, I'm going to give you the opportunity - and an opportunity it is, my friends - to indulge your appetite with not just one, but TWO excursions into the wonderful world of words, the luminous light of linguistics!

Right here, right now, you're getting what you usually get at an establishment of this sort - a few aptly-chosen adjectives, perhaps a bit of gentle jocularity - but for NO extra cost - not a red cent, because they don't make 'em that color any more - I'm going to give you the chance to slurp up so many syllables, you'll be literally literarily sated.

By clicking the link to your right - THIS ONE HERE! - you will be taken to another read, a second read, an amazing read, at least equal to, if not surpassing, this one! That's saying a lot, ladies and gentlemen, but not nearly as much as I'm about to say, so pay attention! Not only will you have had the words in this space for your brain to chow down upon, but you will be presented with an entirely different concept altogether and allowed to shift gears, mentally speaking, and give your mind the superior sort of workout it has been craving!

Do you want to keep feeding your head the usual diet of triteness, trash, triviality, tripe, and other words beginning with "T", that it has been starving upon? Of course you don't! You know what's what and you want to take advantage of every opportunity to heighten your horizons, boost your brainpower, inflate your intelligence, accentuate your abilities and explode your edification! Let those bullies in the library kick George Sand in your face no longer! Become a he-man (or a she-woman, depending upon what you were when you came in) and pump up your personality with a perfect pastiche of pleasingly priapistic paragraphs or, if you are of the female persuasion, make yourself the envy of your friends, both male and female, as well as undecided, with an immersion into a sea of sexually seductive sesquipedalian semantics, and that's only PART of what's being offered here, folks - only a mere taste of what you can have if you CLICK ON THE LINK!

Not satisfied? Not enough? Tell you the truth, my friends - and that's what you are, my friends, so I wouldn't lie to you - I wouldn't be satisfied, either. I can see you're a person of taste and refinement, not willing to settle for the ordinary and mundane, so I'll tell you what I'm going to do (but keep it under your hat - that is, between just you, me and the internet - because if it gets out that I'm offering such a deal, I'll be trampled by so much traffic I won't be able to meet the demand and will have to face the authorities for false advertising and this is the real deal, friends, believe me.) Tell you what - just for YOU, you understand - I'll give you a THIRD piece of literature, guaranteed to be at least THREE times as wordy as this one and just as incomprehensible! Yes, just click on THIS LINK RIGHT HERE (but only AFTER you click on the other links, please, or else all deals are nil, null and void in every state except shock, which is what you'll leave me in if you don't follow directions) and you will be whisked away to a fertile field of fervid and feverish fecundity (the sort advertised in the back of "those sort" of magazines, folks, but keep it on the down-low or else they'll put me out of business; you understand because you're a person of intelligence and a word to the wise is entirely unnecessary) and I promise you - absolutely rock-bottom, iron-clad, stone-cold and word-to-your-momma GUARANTEE you - that you will never see anything like it before, after, since, previously, concurrently or forthwith, no matter what amount of money you... What's that kid? This makes no sense? Go away, kid, you bother me... and if I'm not telling you the truth, I will not only refund every penny you paid, but twice the amount you didn't! You can't beat that with a stick, ladies and gentlemen, and furthermore, if I can't prove the veracity of every syllable uttered on these pages, as well as the TWO others (TWO others!) I'm directing you to, then I'll shove a toy surprise up my ass and you can call me Crackerjack!

It's a limited time offer, folks, so not to alarm you, but you have to act now because supplies are liniment and I don't want to rub you the wrong way! Hah! Just my little joke to break the tension, folks, so pay no attention to the man behind the curtain - what he's doing is not for innocent eyes! - and scroll up to the first link and click it! If that column doesn't deliver everything I've promised, don't act as though I didn't not warn you, friends, because I am a man of my word, and that word is flabbergasted, which is what you will be for the remainder of your days if you do NOT act NOW!!!

Soon, with more better stuff, friends - IF you click on the links! - and I absolutely affirm that no ambiguities will be attained nor any perquisites left unperked unless my name isn't worth the paper I rode in on, and this isn't paper, it's a computer screen, so what more proof do you need?