Victory Lap

Tomorrow is Opening Day in Cincinnati. The official start of the Cincinnati Reds baseball season has been an unofficial civic holiday for decades. [Back in my day, the Reds, the oldest team in the majors (founded in 1869), used to open the season a day before any other team… ]

It’s a big deal, with a lot of pomp and ceremony, including an Opening Day Parade organized by the merchants at Findlay Market, a public market that’s been around longer than the Reds have.

This year’s Honorary Grand Marshal will be Jim Scott, a Cincinnati radio legend. It’s a fitting honor, as Jim has participated in the Opening Day parade for 56 years, usually walking the entire route and smiling, waving, and high-fiving folks along the way.

Jim walking the parade route with his wife Donna

For Cincinnati Baby Boomers, Jim has been part of the soundtrack of their lives, starting in 1968 at WSAI, an AM station that played pop music, brought the Beatles to Cincinnati, and garnered nearly 50% of the radio audience back then. He moved to WLW-AM in 1984, as the morning host, and stayed in that time slot until 2015. If you’re keeping score at home, the final tally is nearly 47 years in Cincinnatians’ ears.

But this year will be different for Jim. In the Spring of 2022, he was diagnosed with ALS. He went public with the news last year.

I had the privilege of working with Jim, as his morning show producer, back in the mid-90s. At a station with a bunch of talk radio blowhards, Jim was the friendly voice who started your day with a smile. Among a subset of the staffers, he caught a lot of flak for being “too nice.” But I worked with Jim long enough to know that his radio personality wasn’t shtick, it was just a heightened version of Jim. WLW-AM was part of a radio conglomerate that owned 8 stations in the market (if you’re looking for Reason #1 of why I got out of radio, consolidation is the correct answer.) Jim did more charity work than the rest of the on-air personalities at all the stations, combined. Charity auctions. Golf outings. Fundraisers of all sorts. And if there was a speaker’s fee, Jim donated it back to the charity. Sure, all those public appearances helped his name recognition and his ratings. But that’s not why he did it. He did it because he truly was, and is, a nice guy.

In the March issue of Cincinnati Magazine, Steven Rosen wrote a nice feature about Jim’s decades-long involvement with the parade, and his positive attitude in the face of one of the cruelest fatal diseases. Check it out at the link above.

“Being in the parade to me will be a statement that I’m not going to quit. I’ll probably be in a wheelchair, but I probably won’t be the only person there in a wheelchair.”

Jim Scott, in the article linked above

This parade may be the last chance for us to show some love to Jim Scott. He deserves every smile, wave and cheer we’ve got. It shouldn’t be a somber send-off; it’s a victory lap.

Legendary baseball player and manager Leo Durocher famously said “nice guys finish last.” Leo got it wrong in this case, because Jim Scott is the people’s champ.

Illustration by Remi Geoffroi for Cincinnati Magazine

Right now on the Findlay Market home page, there’s a link where you can send a message to Jim.

If you know Jim, please do so. Actually do it even if you don’t know him.

One Shining Moment

On Wednesday night at the Cintas Center, Xavier University’s on-campus arena, Brad Colbert sank a three-point shot against DePaul. Xavier was already up by 31 points, and there were less than 90 seconds left in the game. DePaul’s historically bad this year, and Xavier is struggling to finish above .500. A garbage basket against a garbage team in garbage time. No big deal.

Except it was a very big deal. Brad Colbert is a senior walk-on. He’s been busting his hump in every practice for four seasons — walk-ons have to learn every opponents’ offense in addition to their own offense — and rarely sees the court. All of the hard work, with none of the glory. And he had never made a bucket in his entire career. He was 0-6 in very limited minutes.

Until last night, most Xavier fans were only familiar with Brad thanks to his perm-mullet hairstyle. (It’s pretty sweet!) But now, he’s a legend.

[photo credit: Sam Greene, Cincinnati Enquirer]

And not for nothing, Brad’s three-pointer was Xavier’s 10th of the game… meaning Xavier fans could cash in on the Chick-fil-A promotion that offers free nuggets the next business day whenever X hits that mark in a home game.

Brad Colbert’s basketball career is winding down. He won’t go on to play in the NBA. But years from now, he’ll be driving past a Chick-fil-A and he’ll tell his kids the same story he’s told them many times before. How, on a dreary night in February, he came off a screen, stepped back, and totally nailed a three-point bucket that made the whole crowd go wild. It’s his very own “one shining moment.” And it’s pretty damn cool.

(This article from the Xavier fan site Banners On The Parkway does a great job summing up the magic of the moment. Well worth the read.)

John McEnroe is Still a Crybaby

I like listening to the Smartless podcast, and understand that a lot of the commentary among co-hosts Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes and Will Arnett and their guest is just for laughs. But John McEnroe went too far when he started whining (a longtime specialty of his) about Pickleball. And Will Arnett just piled on. Here’s the clip (warning: contains salty language):

Yes, whiffle ball is not the same as baseball. And pickleball is not the same as tennis. And that’s partly the point. I used to love playing tennis… that was before my arthritic knees and feet betrayed me. Tennis turned into a game of “fetch.” And if you’re spending more time walking over to pick up a ball than you are hitting the ball, it’s really frustrating. Pickleball changed the equation. Yes, it’s a more compact area. And yes, it’s a plastic ball. But there’s still plenty of movement, plenty of strategy and it’s a ton of fun.

I AM serious, Johnny Mac. There’s no need to get your all-white shorts in a wad over “some college player who didn’t make it in tennis,” because:

  1. That guy is making six figures playing a sport he loves, and definitely having fun doing so.
  2. I’d rather watch him play pickleball than watch you play it.
  3. It’s not really about Ben Johns, it’s about the millions of Bens, Johns, and Joans who are getting exercise, making friends, and having fun instead of sitting on their butts.

And I found it funny (but not the way he intended it) that Will Arnett was calling out pickleball for being “trash” and an activity that requires very little movement when, in almost every episode of Smartless, he talks about playing golf. If you want to start the “lazy person’s activity” argument, let’s start there, Willie. Because pickleball is legit.

In a 2016 study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 12 middle-aged players burned 40% more calories during a 30-minute pickleball game than during 30 minutes of walking, increasing their heart rates to within the moderate-intensity exercise zone. A small six-week study of 15 people ages 40 to 85 who played an hour of pickleball three days a week showed improvements in cholesterol, blood pressure, and cardiorespiratory fitness.

Plus, regular practice can help improve balance, which is important in preventing falls as you age. Because pickleball requires both hand-eye and foot coordination, says Casper, “your balance, your movement, and your coordination all get better as you play more.”

From this Time magazine article.

I know Arnett will come around though, probably when he’s a bit older. And let’s hope he has the whiffle balls to admit this:

Barbie Summer is Over and I’m sad.

Barbie: role model for girls, fun to play with, brought joy to many.

I’m not talking about the Mattel toy, or the Hollywood blockbuster. I’m talking about Barb O’Brien. A couple of years ago, I didn’t even know who she was. But thanks to the esprit de corps that pickleball engenders among “the regulars” at any particular set of courts, I got to know Barb (a.k.a. “Barbie”). And to know Barb was to love her. How could you not admire someone who was battling cancer but still kicking butt on the courts… and doing it all with a positivity that was absolutely infectious.

Age and ailments slowed her down, but they never kept her away from the courts for too long until recently. To say Barb “lost” her battle to cancer would be wrong – she left the courts (and this world) with her head held high and a smile on her face.

I knew Barb was a tennis star in her youth, but it wasn’t until I read her obit that I realized what a trailblazer she was:

Barb was a fierce competitor, earning a spot on the Withrow High School Boys Varsity Tennis team in 1972, prior to Title IX and dedicated womens teams. Barb went on to attend the University of Cincinnati where she played tennis, achieving a ranking of #2 in the state of Ohio. 

My pickleball pal Mitch Dunn wrote a great tribute to Barb on Medium. Here are a couple of excerpts:

Barb was a greeter, a welcomer, an ambassador, and a connector. She was a grinder, a laugher, and a lover of the game. She made an indelible impact on me and many others. She not only helped create other lovers of the game, but other ambassadors, connectors, and welcomers. They are all Barb’s legacy, and they are all longing for the old days.

Mitch Dunn in his Medium post linked above

Barb’s friend Sue posted the news of Barb’s passing on the group chat for the Clear Creek pickleball crew. Dozens of people posted notes like these:

Barb’s daughter Marci joined the chat via Barb’s account:

Barbie Summer is over. But Barb’s influence will go on for years.

Pedaling to Kick Cancer’s Butt

I’ve signed up to ride my bike 24 miles (in a row… crazy, I know) in the Ride Cincinnati event on September 17th to raise funds for the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center and the Barrett Cancer Center. If you could see it in your heart (and find it in your wallet) to support me, I’d greatly appreciate your tax-deductible donation. 100% of your contribution will go directly to life-saving cancer research and care in the Greater Cincinnati area.

Me on a “training ride”:

Me during the actual Ride Cincinnati event:

The University of Cincinnati Cancer Center is trying to achieve National Cancer Hospital (NCH) designation, which would make them eligible for more funding, and enable them to provide more treatment options to patients.

Cancer is a cruel disease. Just a few months ago, my mother-in-law succumbed to renal cancer. She went from active, independent grandma to bedridden, pain-ravaged patient in less than a year. I hope and pray for a day when cases like hers have a better outcome. With my pedaling and your support, we can help kick cancer’s butt.

I’m not going to set any land speed records on my ride, but I’m really close to my stretch goal of $1,000. With your help, I can get there. Thanks!

Sports are life. But not really.

If you need a healthy dose of perspective on March Madness, I suggest you come over to my house to watch the games.

I’m a Xavier University alum, and have been a season ticket holder for decades. But in the midst of their furious comeback on Friday, I had to turn the TV off. Because the parish priest came over to administer anointing of the sick to my mother-in-law, who is battling terminal cancer. She’s been in a hospital bed in our living room for the past month. Forget “March Madness” – this is March Sadness.

I grew up in Arkansas and love the Razorbacks. Yesterday they too rallied in their tourney game, and managed to knock off #1 seeded Kansas.

(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

But there’s nothing quite like administering liquid morphine during a commercial break to give you a better understanding of what really matters. “Survive and advance…”

Nothing I’ve seen on the TV screen can match the courage, the bravery, the tenacity, the heart, the strength that I’ve seen from my mother-in-law. Her outcome is no longer in doubt, but she’s already won.

Sports may be life, but it’s not life and death. The pain of losing pales in comparison to the pain of loss.