Worst Christmas Card Ever…

Most of the time I try to add humor to my posts, but this won’t be one of them…I found out this week when I received a Christmas card in the mail, that a friend who I grew up with had been tragically killed when he was run over by a police car…as hard as that card was to receive, I can’t imagine how difficult it was for his wife to send…

For close to 30 years, Tom was the person who knew me better than anyone…at least until my wife came along anyway…my wife…who Tom introduced me to one hot day on the beach in Cape May, NJ…

…of course, as friends will do, Tom and his girlfriend…his future wife and now sadly his widow…also then took us (me) for a round of drinks that day at one of the beachside bars after a round of couples miniature golf they shamed us in…if I didn’t know any better, I would have said THAT was Tom’s true motivation for introducing me to my future wife…she was really bad at miniature golf…

Tom and I were part of a group of 8 friends who, starting in high school and into our 30’s did everything together…there were always other people who passed through our little Communal group from time to time, but once the nolvety of them wore off…well, you get it…mostly what we did together though, was drink…we also played a lot of bad golf together…it was Tom who took me golfing for the first time…he taught me a couple of lessons that day…Tom bounced a tee shot off my rear end as I was reaching into the cart to get a ball, then walked over, picked up his ball claiming a mulligan (a free do-over in golf)…still hear him laughing…he also taught me what a $2 Nassau in golf is…and how expensive it can be to lose every side of one…

As a friend, Tom was also supportive…when my mother passed away too soon, he (and my other friends) all came to the viewing, but it was Tom who took off work the following day to come to the burial and spend the next day with my family as well…some years later, after my wife and I had moved to PA, my father passed away…even though we had lost contact for some time…when my father was buried, it was Tom who came to pay his respects to my family…

Tom and I took a couple of vacations together…a week skiing in Killington, VT…a week where we each skied our first expert hills, ready or not…none of the other guys enjoyed skiing as much as we did…we also went golfing down in South Carolina…Tom’s father and mother once took Tom, his wife and newborn son, and my wife and I with them to Montego Bay for a vacation one cold winter…I remember Tom and I took a walk one afternoon off of the estate and surprisingly ended up in a beach bar where we spent several hours just talking and catching up on things…drinking too…but not like the old days…and watching some sort of photo shoot with women who were wearing varying styles of swimsuits…what can I say, we were still young…I remember walking home that day and we decided that we each had to get a coconut to take back with us…we also learned that it’s a lot harder than it sounds…especially after you’ve spent the last couple hours drinking Red Stripes…no matter how hard we tried to just shake them from the tree?… they weren’t coming down…not until we found a couple of large sticks laying close by and put 2 and 2 together…I remember a group of local girls walking by and laughing at our ridiculous efforts…at least we got one coconut any way… 

I was the Best Man at Tom and his wife’s wedding…and him at mine…we went to Eagles, Phillies, and Flyers games…I remember his father had gotten tickets for us to Game 5 of the 1983 World Series…even though we knew the Phillies were going to lose the series, I was still excited about going to the game…Tom felt the tickets would be more valuable if we scalped them for whatever we could get…the Phils lost 5-0 that day, ending the series…Tom was right…

…neither Tom nor I went to college, we were blue collar workers right out of high school…he worked for his uncle installing gas mains and services and I worked for the township where we lived…at least I did until I got a DUI one night on my way home with Tom after celebrating his birthday…sadly, my mother passed away the following year, on Tom’s birthday…I never celebrated another birthday with him again…and he never asked me to…

Tom and I saw less and less of each other after my wife and I moved to Pennsylvania…something I’ll forever regret…this week has brought back a lot of memories…some good…some not as much…I could write a book about growing up with Tom and our group of friends…I’m sure if I had taken more time I could have come up with a better tribute to my long-time friend…one thing Tom’s passing has taught me is I need to be a better friend…somehow I’ve forgotten what that means and how to do that…

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I Really Hate It When…

Is there such a thing as a journalistic code of ethics in sports? If not, when and why did it disappear?

Does anyone share my irritation when the sports media uses “sources close to”… or “sources with knowledge of”… as their way to substantiate information used in a report or column? To be honest, if you won’t name the source, then you’re report simply amounts to here-say. 

…and if you’re a source willing to give information, go on the record.  If you won’t go on the record…again, how can you be considered a credible source?

I know, this is only sports, grown men playing kids games, not the Watergate Scandal and it’s confidential informant Deep Throat. That kind of journalism brought down a President and earned a Pulitzer Prize for The The Washington Post. Much of today’s sports commentary is just not that important. And if an important event occurs, whether an actual sporting event or something in an athlete’s personal life, be it legal or illegal, just about any caller can get on the air and present him or herself as an expert, someone with inside knowledge, someone with a phone, someone given the use of public airwaves to say just about whatever they want. Mostly unsubstantiated. Not vetted. Just like information we get from some members of the media.

Consider the 2014 release of the Eagles DeSean Jackson. The original NJ.com report quoted only “sources within the organization” regarding Jackson’s ties to 2 Los Angeles gang members. The story also quoted the “infamous” source within the organization saying the team was concerned about Jackson’s influence on younger players.

Meanwhile, Derrick Gunn from Comcast Sports Net broke this story wide-open with information from his well-founded sources:

“I talked to someone (?) this morning that basically said that when a player is one of your highest paid players in the Eagles’ organization, especially with the new culture and the new attitude, the new direction they’re trying to build now in Chip Kelly’s regime,” Gunn said, “they expect you to hold yourself to a certain standard both in the locker room and outside the locker room as well.” 

You could almost see Chip Kelly’s hand in D. Gunn’s back manipulating his mouth. 

“And there’s a lot of stuff (really, someone and stuff?) that probably hasn’t even come out about DeSean yet (and it never did) that we’re going to find out in the days, weeks, months and even a year from now that we’re going to learn about, but he was not the kind of player in the locker room that the Eagles wanted to have an influence on the younger players.” and…“I was told by a couple of sources that he did not have the best work ethic in the locker room.

So D. Gunn, gives us “someone?”,”a lot of stuff?” and “couple of sources?” See any Pulitzer Prize winning journalism there? I realize that DeSean Jackson getting cut is an old story, but this story says more about the not so ethical environment that exists in the world of sports talk radio, internet reporting, and even TV news and talk shows. And let’s not be naive, sports teams use these guys all the time to advance their own agenda. And the media knows it, sometimes they have to walk a thin line between what information the team wants released versus the opportunity for future stories.

Remember all of those book reports and term papers we did in school? If we wrote that something was a fact, we had to list the source of that information, be it encyclopedia, newspaper article or some other source. “A lot of stuff” wouldn’t have been accepted as fact, and “unnamed source” wouldn’t fly as a reference. When did members of the media decide that this fundamental rule no longer pertained to their reporting?

I know, I can hear the battle cry now, ” We have to protect our source. If sources can’t remain anonymous then we won’t be able to get the information needed for the article. After all dear reader (or listener), it’s all to keep you better informed.” I have a different theory. How about the lack of naming a source comes down to a couple of simple factors…

…the unwillingness of the reporter to keep digging for a credible source who will go on the record and the competition between news agencies to….get it first!

Honestly, I can’t see how it matters who got a story first with the way the the news is reported, especially in the case of sports, where stories are hashed and re-hashed by multiple hosts over and over again on multiple media outlets for days and weeks at a time.  After beating a story like a rented mule for a day or two, most fans don’t remember or care who got the story first. And if you listen to multiple stations as I do, often times you can recognize the same caller on those stations voicing the same ideal or opinion. Over and over and over…To be honest, it must be difficult for some sports talk hosts to show up for work everyday given the repetitive nature of their industry.

So in the true spirit of some of today’s media employees…

“Unnamed sources with first-hand knowledge of the decision, say the Sixers are considering trading this year’s first pick in the draft Ben Simmons, to the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Cavaliers 2017 and 2018 first round picks. Someone said he believes the Sixers need more assets if they are going to make a run at the 2022 playoffs. The source also said Sixers coach Brett Brown couldn’t be happier and is excited about starting the 2016 season with the same team that finished last year.”

There, see how easy that was? I didn’t even get off the couch or call anyone. And if it doesn’t happen, I’ll just blame it on my source, that I can’t name. You heard it here first!

Like many sports fans I listen to sports talk radio during the course of my workday. I understand that interviews are a part of the job, but isn’t it somewhat disingenuous for a host to call for the dismissal of a team’s general manager or openly criticize an athlete’s play (pick a player, any sport) then fail to bring up those criticisms when interviewing that front office person or athlete? Consider the end of Phillies G.M. Ruben Amaro’s tenure with the team. Talk show hosts openly called for his immediate dismissal daily, then complimented him on his “honesty and his availability to the fans”. A typical interview might consist of a question or two about what to do with Ryan Howard, the teams current home stand or road trip, and maybe a hot prospect in Reading or Lehigh Valley. In other words, largely vanilla and lacking any controversy, and filled with clichés like, “one game at a time”, ” I can’t say enough about him”, or “he always gives 110%.”

Some members of the media bill themselves as the voice of the fans…and I guess that’s true, however with that claim comes the requirements of objectivity, accuracy, fairness, and accountability. And adhering to those principles are where some members go off the rails.

Don’t be too hard on yourselves sports media, at least you’re not sensationalizing the weather like our local TV/radio stations or The Weather Channel.

My Best Friend And A Ball Game

Baseball, probably more than any other sport, is constantly promoting the next big give-away day at the ballpark. Teams also have “special events” such as a 4th of July Fireworks show to lure in more fans. As a Phillies fan, one of the biggest events the team has each year is celebrating the Phillie Phanatic’s birthday. Mascots from everywhere show up, some recognizable, some not. This year marked the Phanatic’s 38th birthday in human years, not really sure what that adds up to in Phanatic years, and of course his mom Phoebe was there to help celebrate the big day, along with the Zooper Stars (Ken Giraffey Jr., Shark Mcguire, and the umpire-eating Clammy Sosa).

Unfortunately the Phanatic and I don’t get along ever since he climbed into my car at a public appearance and knocked a box of popcorn out of my hand, (true story) making my then 2-year old daughter cry. Apparently it’s okay for him to unroll that tongue of his in your face, but don’t ever give him a playful slap to the back of his fuzzy green head. He doesn’t like that. Of course my daughter being just 2 got over it, but being somewhat of an adult, I just can’t let it go. 

This month’s Can of Corn Challenge is to write about your favorite give away day that you’ve attended. For the sake of transparency, I’ve never been to a baseball game where something was “given away”. I did almost get a foul ball once, however my friend was able to grab it from underneath of the woman’s seat next to him before I could get to it…

…the ball’s live until it’s in someone’s hands. Beneath someone’s seat doesn’t establish ownership.

That was our rule back then, but to be honest, I always thought he should have given the ball back to her so she could give it to her grandson. Especially since he was sitting right next to her. But, it was the Vet in the late 1970’s after all, a place where manners and common courtesy went to die many deaths.

My choice of games to attend would be one of the newer, more popular event days baseball teams have, an event that is on the schedule of over 20 Major League teams…Bark At The Park.

Dog days, or nights, have become so popular in 2016 that many teams are offering them multiple times during the season. In Arizona, the Diamondbacks have made dogs welcome every Sunday in 2016. The Texas Rangers even combined a bobble head give-away, (for you traditionalists), followed by a post game concert by Cody Johnson. I don’t know who that is since my music knowledge ends at 1990, but I’ll assume he’s a Country & Western singer?

In May this year, the Phillies held their Bark At the Park Day for 300 of our Best Friends and their families. Dogs were encouraged to wear their Phillies gear for the chance to win the Becst In Show contest, and participate in the on-field parade prior to the game. The opportunity to be on a Major League Baseball field was a dream I was encouraged to give up when I was 12. Who would think a 13 inch Beagle would give me the best chance to ever “live that dream” imagesome 40+ years later? Of course, just like my inability to hit a curve ball, his love of a good cheesesteak would make it a challenge to get him by the concession stands in Ashburn Alley and make it on the field for the parade. I know, I know…the Phils are too smart to allow dogs in Ashburn Alley, they prefer them to be on the field. (You can interpret that last statement however you want.)

Bark At the Park Night also helped to raise money and awareness for PAWS (the Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society) and ARF (Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation). Representatives from PAWS had some adoptable pets on-hand and fans were encouraged to bring much-needed items like food and cleaning supplies.

Maybe someday Bailey and me will make it to a Bark in the Park game because I can’t think of a better way to spend a day with a loyal best friend. 

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My Favorite Ballpark…

Being a life-long fan of baseball and the Phillies, Citizens Bank Park should be my favorite park, except…“Ain’t never been there, they tell me it’s nice.”

Connie Mack Stadium gets no vote here either. I went just once as a first year minor leaguer with my local Rec Council. Phils lost, kids stole the Cookie Rojas autographed program I had waited in line for him to sign. Older little leaguers I think. I promised myself if I ever pitched against any of them, they would get plunked. Depending of course on the game situation. I never did. Pitch that is.

My favorite stadium, the one with the greatest memories, and one sure not to get very many votes, was Veterans Memorial Stadium. I was in left field on April 10, 1971, the day the stadium opened. As an 11 year old baseball fan I was in amazement. I had been to Connie Mack Stadium in 1970, and it looked old. The Vet was a cement marvel of ramps and concourses with its bright new field of Astro-Turf and multiple levels of different colored seating used around the stadium. There was also a state of the art scoreboard (for 1971) that played funny cartoon videos. The Phillies even gave us 2 new “mascots”, Philadelphia Phil and Phillis, the colonial kids who along with the giant Liberty Bell were part of the Phillies new “home run spectacular” which went something like this…

When a Phillie would hit a home run, Phil would appear in center field and hit a baseball. It traveled toward the message board in right center and struck the Liberty Bell. The bell glowed and its crack lit up. The ball continued and hit little Phillis in the fanny and she fell down. As she fell, she pulled a lanyard on a cannon causing the cannon to explode. After some smoke and sound effects, a Colonial American flag dropped down. And, if that wasn’t enough, dancing waters would come to life to the tune of Stars and Stripes Forever.

As for the game, every Phillies fan can tell you that Boots Day made the first out (who doesn’t love a good Boots Day memory), Larry Bowa got the first hit and 3rd baseman Don Money the first home run in stadium history. More important, the Phils beat the Expos 4-1 and were in first place. And in an exciting pre-game stunt, catcher Mike Ryan caught the first ball after being dropped from a helicopter. The ball, not Mike Ryan. And the Phils were in first place…

I saw many games at the Vet over the years. In 1972 my dad took me to the Vet with the gang from Skippers Seafood Restaurant and Sports Bar when the Phils were the best team in baseball…but only on the days when Steve Carlton pitched. His 27 wins that season were almost half of the team’s total wins and made it easier for us to forget we gave up Rick Wise to get  him.

 In 1983, I went with some other inebriated friends to see the Phils finally beat the Dodgers and win the National League pennant. Gary Matthews hit a 3-run homer in the first inning that night giving the Phillies all the runs they would need to win the game. We almost missed it thanks to the time it took to ascend to our 700 level seats. Seats so high even a good Sherpa Guide would advise against going there. It didn’t matter that we were too high up to see anything, it was more about being there and taking in a moment that was a long time coming. The rest of the night was spent caught up in the post game drunken revelry of South Philly. I also had a ticket to Game 5 of the World Series against the Orioles. I was smart enough to scalp the ticket prior to the game. You didn’t have to be Joe Garagiola to know the Phils were done. Looking back on it though, I wish I would have gone to the game. I may never get a chance to go to a World Series game again.

In 1984 I sat with my girlfriend, now my wife, in the 700 level drinking melon balls from a thermos we brought in with us. That was back in the era of the Vet where you could bring in a thermos, you just had to promise there was no alcohol in whatever concoction you were smuggling into the park. And you could also bring in sandwiches as some thrifty fans on a budget did. How many cans of beer came into the park each night disguised as hoagies?

I saw the spectacular fast pitch softballer Eddie Feigner and his 4 man team, The King and his Court play an exhibition between games of a doubleheader. To be honest, he probably could have won with just himself and a catcher. Even against the home team.

And in 1993, baseball came full circle for me when I finally went to a game as a Dad. I took my daughter to a couple of games that season so she could see her favorite player…the Kruker. And the Phanatic. In ’93 the team also banned smoking from the seating areas and limited it to just the concourses. The Phillies had finally begun to remove Big Tobacco from the Vet.

The tradition of delivering the first ball led to one of  the great moments in Vet history as Kite Man crashed with his kite after falling from a ramp in the outfield seats prior to the opening day game of the 1972 season. In all fairness, he was a last minute replacement for the actual Kite Man, and after he crashed he did try to throw the ball, believing he could reach the pitchers mound. It ended up in the Phillies bullpen and the fan base booed him for his efforts. The Phillies continued the tradition of unsuccessful Kitemen until 1980 when a ball was finally delivered as planned. Oh, and in August of that year Karl Wallenda walked 640 feet across a tight-rope that was 168 feet above the concrete and plastic grass surface of the Vet. Without a net. He did take a break during the walk, to do a headstand over the second base cut-out. I’ll take this kind of world class entertainment over a CB Park bobble-head or bucket hat giveaway any day. I think most people would.

The Vet has been called a toilet, and in many unintended places such as the 700 Level and the bathroom sinks, it lived up to that billing. But for many of us Phillies fans, it was the proverbial toilet where we wallowed with our favorite baseball team from April to September. It was where we went on hot summer days for an over-priced, watered down, flat beer or soda, ball park hot dogs boiled in that gray-colored water in boxes and carried by vendors to all parts of the park, except the 700 Level. If you wanted food there, your best bet was to buy it on the way in and haul it up to your seat. No wonder they were always so pissed-off up there.

 And finally, the opening of the Vet in 1971 coincided with the first year of the greatest broadcast team we as fans had the pleasure of listening to, Harry and Whitey. Sadly all three are gone, but we will always have the memories.

“Hard to believe Harry.”

My Favorite Ballpark…