The voice of an Angell

Roger Angell, longtime writer and truly the poet laureate of baseball, passed away last Friday at the age of 101.

Writing with a fan’s passion and Shakespearean splendor, he achieved literary prominence in the 1970s, when Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine clubs and the intensifying of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry helped elevate the game’s overall quality. Angell’s long-form pieces captured fans who appreciated deftly crafted, cliché-free perspectives of the game.

from this MLB.com article.

The piece referenced in the tweet above (and here) is about the Boston Red Sox winning their first World Series in nearly a century. I read it last night and, true WordNerd that I am, was blown away by Angell’s command of the English language. “La Rochefoucauld” and “fritillary”? That’s a true All-Star. His style matched the beauty of the game, and his prose could be as majestic as any towering home run.

But he didn’t just cover baseball. A fixture — an icon, though that word is overused — at The New Yorker for three quarters of a century, he wrote Talk of the Town columns, humor essays and the annual holiday poem… and was a stellar editor as well.

From The New Yorker editor David Remnick’s tribute to Roger

From this NPR article

Roger Angell cared about his craft, and he heartily endorsed the passion of true fans:

Roger Angell lived to be 101. We may not make it that far into the post-season, but we can certainly try.

“Since baseball time is measured only in outs, all you have to do is succeed utterly; keep hitting, keep the rally alive, and you have defeated time. You remain forever young.”

Roger Angell in “The Interior Stadium”

Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, who’s the best at Pickleball?

It’s me! I’m the best at pickleball!

OK, I’d better pump the brakes on that superlative. In all honesty and modesty, Cary and I are the best. Oh sure, we were in the 3.0 bracket at the local pickleball tournament this weekend….and that’s the lowest possible level. But that makes us the best of the worst, right? Besides, we tried to get into the higher 3.5 bracket, but it was full. So we weren’t really sandbagging too much… more like sand-pouching.

We were rookies – it was our first tourney. But it’s kinda hard to call us “rookies” when we have a combined 132 years of living under our (Sansa)belts. We’re a mirror image team: I’m 57 and Cary’s 75.

There were 12 teams in our bracket, split into two six-team pools for round-robin play. The top two teams from each pool advanced to the “medal round.” Cary and I won our first five matches before losing to two young whippersnappers 15-9. But our record was good enough to get us to the next round, where we knocked off the #1 team from the other pool, then had a rematch against the whippersnappers… and WE won, 15-9!

I’m such an anti-competitive dude that my first thought was that the whippersnappers got screwed.. (Actually, that was my second thought – my first thought was “holy schnikes, I can’t believe we won!”) We both had the same record, and we split our head-to-head matches by identical scores. But we won when all money was on the line (the whopping $30 gift certificate!).

This isn’t really a pickleball story, though. Cary’s originally from Cadiz, Ohio, a coal-mining town in Eastern Ohio (near scenic Steubenville!). His dad worked for the coal company, and Cary’s first job was at the mines. But he was a pretty good baseball player. In high school, he played against future major league star Thurman Munson, future NFL receiver Danny Abramowicz, and longtime MLB coach Rich Donnelly. Cary got a baseball scholarship to Bowling Green State University, in western Ohio, and, in his own words, “it changed my life.”

Cary was able to escape the inexorable future of most of his classmates — a life of back-breaking, unforgiving labor in the coal mines — and get a college degree. He wound up working with “big data” and teaching statistics classes – 20 years at Bowling Green and 20 more at the University of Cincinnati. He met his wife in his first year of working for BGSU, when she was a student there and working as a waitress. They have a son and daughter-in-law and two grandsons who live in Indy. Cary volunteers at a local YMCA, teaching pickleball to beginners.

The Harvards and Stanfords get all the prestige of higher education. But let’s not discount the role of the “mid-major” state schools that offer scholarships and semi-affordable tuition to first-generation college students. They are changing life trajectories… and therefore changing the world.

I’ve learned quite a bit about Cary, and if it weren’t for pickleball, he’d be just another face in the crowd…. some random old dude. Yes, I’ve heard all the “pickleball is for old people” jokes. But the older folks I’ve met through the sport are great people, with interesting stories to tell. Maybe you should try pickleball. Or maybe you can just spend a bit more time with some seniors, and get to know their stories. You just might learn something.

Cary’s a good dude who also happens to be a pretty darn good pickleball player. If I’m lucky enough to reach the age of 75, I hope folks say the same thing about me.

Run Baby Run. But don’t leave.

Sorry for the extra helping of sports posts, but I can’t help myself. The scrappy, tough kids from St. Peter’s University in Jersey-freakin-City just knocked off Purdue last night to make their way to the NCAA Elite Eight. The Peacocks (yes, that’s the mascot) are the first #15 seed to make it this far.

From this great article by Steve Politi on NJ.com

The team’s tiny home gymnasium, on their puny campus, is called “Run Baby Run Arena.” And yesterday was “National Peacock Day.” You can’t make stuff like that up.

Guard Doug Edert has become the toast of the tourney due to his stellar play AND his cheesy mustache.

The Peacocks coach, Shaheen Holloway, has impressed everyone with his strategic savvy and his cool demeanor.

It’s thrilling. It’s magical. It’s Madness!

That’s the heartwarming part of the story. But here’s a bucket of cold water: Shaheen Holloway will be gone shortly after the “Run Baby Run” run is over.

Holloway was a point guard for Seton Hall back in the late 90s. Seton Hall’s coach, Kevin Willard, just left the Garden State for the greener pasture$ of the University of Maryland. And, in a move that was ill-advised, poorly-timed and downright stupid, Willard practically anointed Holloway as his successor even though St. Peter’s was still in the tourney:

So if Kevin Willard’s happiness is high on your wish list, congrats! But for the rest of America (i.e. those not named “Kevin Willard”)… and especially for the kids who are playing their hearts out for St. Peter’s University right now, and the entire school and all of its alums, it stinks. They’re having the time of their lives… but they know it’ll be over soon.

Kevin Willard’s base salary at Seton Hall was $2.5 million. Shaheen Holloway made $266,344 in 2019. You certainly can’t fault a guy for leaving for a job at his alma mater, in a much better conference, on a much bigger stage, for 10X what he makes now. We’re happy for Holloway, but it gives this Cinderella story an unhappy ending for the Peacocks.

15>2

15 is greater than 2.

No this isn’t a post about math. I’m not really wired that way.

I’m talking about college basketball. Over the past couple days we’ve seen why the NCAA College Basketball Tournament is the best sporting event in the United States. If you disagree, you’re wrong. The Super Bowl is way too much hype. The NBA Finals and the World Series are usually won by the teams with the fattest payroll. And the NHL? Well I don’t know much about hockey, but I imagine their finals are like the world’s worst ice fishing expedition.

Over the past couple days of March Madness® (that’s a trademarked term by the way… good thing I don’t make any money on this blog), lots of games went right down to the wire. Especially on Thursday. There were three overtime games. Two teams that were seeded #12 beat the teams that were seeded #5. Number 16 seed Georgia State went toe to toe with the top-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs for about 30 minutes…. unfortunately for them, college basketball games are 40 minutes long.

But the cherry on top was when the scrappy Peacocks from Saint Peter’s University beat the blue-blooded Wildcats from the University of Kentucky. Saint Peter’s went into the game a 17.5-point underdog. but they kept fighting and kept scrapping and knocked off one of the most storied programs in college basketball, and a perennial powerhouse. The #15 seed was greater than #2.

In case you didn’t know it, St Peter’s University is in Jersey City, New Jersey. The city where I was born.

389 Liberty Avenue, Jersey City, NJ… a.k.a. “home”

It’s also the city where my dad’s family grew up. My Uncle John (my Dad’s older brother) was a graduate of Saint Peter’s (back when it was known as St. Peter’s College). And he loved basketball.

Uncle John also loved serving others, so he became a Jesuit priest and taught at a high school in the Philippines for most of his adult life. My dad didn’t go to Saint Peter’s but he was just as much of a staunch Catholic as my priestly uncle. (We jokingly referred to him as “Pope Herbert I.”) So during the college b-ball season, and especially when March Madness® rolled around, he loved rooting for the Catholic universities. He would have been happy over the past couple days: Gonzaga, Creighton, Notre Dame, St. Mary’s, Villanova and Saint Peter’s all advanced to the next round.

Uncle John officiated at my Dad’s wedding

Schools that pull off upsets in the NCAA tourney typically get a boost in college applications. Uncle John and “Pope Herb” would surely be thrilled that a small Jesuit university in their home city is getting some extra attention.

By the time the Saint Peter’s-Kentucky game ended it, it was close to midnight on St. Patrick’s Day. My dad passed away on March 18th twelve years ago. But I know he and my Uncle John are really happy that some scrappy kids from Jersey City — kids with the odds stacked against them — kept on fighting and came out on top.

In fact, I’m sure both of them are high-fiving the original St. Peter right now!

Update: St. Peter’s beat Murray State on 3/19 to advance to the Sweet 16, only the 3rd #15 seed to make it that far in the history of the tourney, and the most unlikely one.

This is far and away the most unlikely Sweet 16 entrant in the history of the NCAA tournament.

Joe Lunardi

This article from Yahoo! Sports captures the euphoria.

“Now all you have to say is St. Peter’s University and everybody knows what you’re talking about. Our basketball team put us on the map.”

Brooke Boutchie, a St. Peter’s student and defender on the women’s soccer team.

Super United

I’ve never been a fan of the two week gap between the NFL’s conference championship games and the Super Bowl. It was two long weeks of seeing and hearing every sports journalist lionize Tom Brady (he’s the G.O.A.T., not a lion!)… and seeing Patrick Mahomes ad infinitum (a Latin term meaninng “an endless number of State Farm commercials).

Sneaker-selling season started earlier this year…

But this year, the Cincinnati Bengals are in the Super Bowl. (Spell-check just underlined the last sentence… even computers can’t believe it happened.) And I’m really digging the two-week gap. It’s an extra week for the citizens of this city to bask in the warm orange glow of a long-awaited Super Bowl appearance.

Photo credit: Personal work of Jeffrey Dean.

An extra week to hope, to dream… to believe.

An extra week to rally around a common cause, rather than dwelling on the differences that seem to divide us. There’s no red vs. blue… just orange and black. Instead of yelling at strangers on the internet, we yell “Who Dey!” together.

Of course the phrase came from beer… would you expect anything less from us?

We have more in common than we think… but sometimes it takes a sports team to help us realize that.

For the Love of the Game(s)

Not all heroes wear capes, and not all sports Trailblazers live in Portland.

WYFF News 4’s Julia Morris has been named South Carolina Sportscaster of the Year by the National Sports Media Association (NSMA). She is the first woman to win the award in the state of South Carolina.

Julia’s my niece. I’m so proud of her for winning this award. After she graduated from Boston College (following in the footsteps of her mom), she worked in the corporate world for a bit. But it wasn’t her cup of tea. So she decided to attend grad school at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University to launch her communications career. (Communications? That was the degree of her favorite uncle!)

It wasn’t easy starting over, and being older than most of her classmates. But Julia worked hard, stuck with it, graduated, and landed a weekend sports anchor gig in Myrtle Beach before moving to WYFF, the NBC affiliate in the much larger Greenville/Spartanburg/Anderson/Asheville market.

Julia’s glamorous (like her mom), but the gig isn’t. She spends her weekends hauling camera gear to high school and college football games. She has to set her work schedule around the schedule of some guy named “Dabo.”

A Yankee to the core (and a Yankees fan… perhaps her only flaw), she’s had to learn the lingo of NASCAR. But for her, the racetrack beats the corporate track any day of the week.

“Whether it’s high school sports coverage, traveling to college national championship games for both Georgia and Clemson, or covering the Carolina Panthers, Julia is up to any challenge. She’s a true asset to our newsroom and to sports fans throughout our area.”

Akili Franklin, WYFF 4 News Director.

It’s easy for the self-help gurus to say “do what you love” or “follow your passion”… but it’s a lot easier said than done. Julia didn’t win the South Carolina Sportscaster of the Year award… she earned it. And now she’s got the Palmetto State in the palm of her hand.

“I am so honored to be the first woman to be named NSMA SC Sportscaster of the Year,” said Morris. “Being in South Carolina for six years now, I have met so many amazing and talented people while covering sports. It’s a true blessing to live here and do what I love!”

You can read more here and here.

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