Archive for the Sports Category

In memory of a teammate

Posted in Sports with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 11, 2020 by macmystery
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The Lithonia Youth Athletic Association 1981 Minor League Padres. I am at far left in the second row. Pledger Fretwell, and that beautiful smile, is center in the third row.

The baseball world lost Whitey Ford this week, just a couple weeks shy of his 92nd birthday. He was just the latest Hall of Famer to pass in the last month or two, joining Lou Brock, Tom Seaver and Bob Gibson.

Ordinarily, I would have penned something, even brief, for this space or social media about these legends, stories of whom filled my childhood. But I didn’t seem to find the time (yet).

But there was a passing this week I can not let go by.

Rest in peace, Pledger Fretwell.

Pledger graduated a year before me from Lithonia High School in 1988. He was ridiculously intelligent — a member of the National Honor Society and the Math and Science clubs. He would go on to his beloved Duke University and graduate in 1993.

Pledger was also a talented guitarist. But we were really only acquaintances in the halls. We would chat occasionally.

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Pledger Fretwell, shown here in the 1988 Bulldog (the Lithonia High School annual), shows off his air guitar skills while wearing a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt.

But for me, I would always have a bond with Pledger for something that happened several years earlier.

Despite my love of baseball, I was afraid of the ball and didn’t play organized baseball until I was 9 years old.

During that first year in 1981, Pledger was my teammate on the Lithonia Dixie Youth Baseball minor league Padres.

Pledger, like me, wasn’t very good. He was among ha handful of us who rotated in right field, along with Tony, this tiny Black kid to whom no pitcher could throw a strike, and maybe a couple others.

Pledger, quite heavy-set, was slow, but there was nobody on the team who had more fun. He was always, … ALWAYS, smiling.

My mother loved Pledger and his smile. I think if she had gotten to choose which kid she took home from a practice, it may have been Pledger over me.

I only remember one time Pledger wasn’t smiling.

It was late in the afternoon, and the setting sun was blazing, making it impossible to see if you were looking in its direction. The outfielders were warming up in the outfield. There were a half dozen of us, though I specifically remember Pledger, Tony, Chris Guy and myself.

I had ridden to the game with the mother of a teammate and neighbor. Supposedly, however, my dad was going to make this game, which was not always the case.

So in between warm-up throws, I would turn and peer behind the fence, hoping to see my mom and dad’s presence. As I was scanning the rickety wooden and metal bleachers for my parents, I heard a familiar voice say, “No, this is how you hum the ball!”

I turned in the direction from which the voice had come and all I saw was the brightness of the sun. I never saw the baseball, not even when it crashed into my face with enough velocity to break my nose, causing it to explode.

I screamed. And there was blood everywhere. I wasn’t actually seriously hurt, but tell that to a 9-year-old kid covered in his own blood.

I’m not sure if my mom was there and got me, or if my friend’s mom drove me home and we went from there. But I remember getting a brief glimpse at Pledger’s face during the commotion, and though I hadn’t seen it, I knew he had thrown the ball.

For the only instance in the time I knew him, Pledger looked unhappy. Sad. Hurt. Pained. I heard a coach yell at him for throwing the ball when I wasn’t looking. I wouldn’t have known how to describe it then, but I felt for him.

I obviously survived, and we played the year out together. I wasn’t on his team again, and because we didn’t go to the same elementary school, I really didn’t see him again until high school.

We talked and joked about him destroying my nose numerous times in the years afterward, and had discussions about music and other things.

And then, down the line, I reconnected with him on Facebook. We weren’t close, though compared to many of my high school acquaintances, I had a lot more in common with him.

But we were always connected, at least for me, by that one afternoon in the spring of 1981.

I got the news this week from my sister, who had seen someone post his passing on Facebook. I had to ask around before another Facebook friend closer to him told me it was colon cancer.

I pray he suffered as little as possible, My thoughts and prayers go out to his friends and family.

I know that the world is a worse place today without him in it.

Ella hits Tiger Town

Posted in Family, Sports with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 3, 2020 by macmystery
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Ella shows off her Tiger Rag commemorating Clemson’s 2016 National Championship. The Tiger Rags were handed out to all fans in attendance of the 2017 home opener vs. Kent State, when the Tigers celebrated the national title.

Three years ago today (Sept. 2, 2020 since this post will go up after midnight), I took Dylan and Ella, along with my nephew Brayson, to the season-opening Clemson football game against Kent State in Death Valley.

For Ella, it was her first Clemson game. And she ate it up.

The Tigers won 56-3 that day over the Golden Flashes. Since Dylan has been the focus of a lot of the photos I’ve put out there, this is Ella’s turn to shine.

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Left to right, Brayson, Ella and Dylan pose at the top of the hill in Death Valley late in the 4th quarter against Kent State.

 

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Ella gives the Tiger Cub a high five.

 

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A good photo of Ella and Dylan, though I feel like something is missing. (Note my Deshaun Watson G.O.A.T shirt.)

 

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It took a lot of work to get Ella to pose with this Clemson cheerleader on the field after the game. She is beautiful. The cheerleader’s not bad, either, I guess. If you’re into that.

 

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Ella was much more thrilled to be posing with a member of the Rally Cats, or as Ella called them, the sparkly cheerleaders.

 

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Clemson backup quarterback Zerrick Cooper pauses for a photo while signing autographs for the kids on the field after the game.

 

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The Tiger Band throws shade at Ohio State during the halftime show by spelling out the score of Clemson’s 2016 playoff win over the Buckeyes, who have never beaten the Tigers.

 

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Tiger Band gives the Clemson head coach some love.

Happy birthday, Kid

Posted in Sports with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 30, 2020 by macmystery

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The Splendid Splinter, Ted Williams (Baseball Hall of Fame)

 

Ted Williams, the greatest hitter who ever lived, would have been 102 years old today.

Williams, not just figuratively, but statistically, as well, is one of the greatest, if not THE greatest hitter in Major League Baseball history.

If you love baseball, it’s really hard not to love Ted Williams.

He is the all-time leader in on-base percentage (.482), second all-time in slugging percentage (.634) and second in OPS (1.116), the combination of those aforementioned two numbers, which essentially paints a picture of how productive a hitter is.

The leader in both categories in which Williams is second? Babe Ruth, often considered the game’s greatest player. But Williams, unlike Ruth, played his career in the live-ball era and played the majority of his career after integration, meaning all of the best players could finally make the major leagues. (More on this topic later.)

He is the last major leaguer to hit higher than .400 in a full season – .406 in 1941.

He won the Triple Crown in 1942 (.356, 36 HRs, 137 RBIs) – the last season before he joined the Marines as an aviator for World War II. And he won the Triple Crown in 1947 (.343, 32, 114), his second season back from WWII.

As a 2nd Lt., Williams was an F4U Corsair flight instructor at Naval Air Station Pensacola. He was in Pearl Harbor awaiting transport to a unit in the Pacific when Japan surrendered in 1945. He missed three full seasons in his prime (1943-45) for the war.

When the Korean War happened, Williams was called up from the reserves and assigned to VMF-311, Marine Air Group 33 in Phang, South Korea.

For much of the war, he was future astronaut and U.S. Senator John Glenn’s wing man. Glenn called Williams the best pilot he had ever seen. Glenn’s wife said he was the most profane man she’d ever met.

Williams earned the Naval Air Medal when his plane was hit across enemy lines and he guided it back safely, despite the plane eventually catching fire after a crash landing.

He finished his military career with two Silver Stars and three Bronze Stars. And he never complained about his time in the prime of his career lost to the service.

Using Williams’ averages during those periods in his career, in almost five full seasons, military service cost him 864 hits, 155 home runs and 582 RBIs. Adding those numbers to his career totals, Williams would have amassed more than 3,500 hits, good for fifth all-time behind just Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron and Stan Musial; 671 home runs, behind just Barry Bonds, Aaron, Ruth and Alex Rodriguez; and more than 2,400 RBIs, easily eclipsing Aaron as the all-time leader.

And it’s fair to say Williams could have done even more damage. He retired as a 41-year-old after a 1960 season that saw him hit .311 with 29 home runs and 72 RBIs. An all-star, he posted an OPS of 1.096. For reference, that OPS would have been second in the major leagues last season by .004.

In his retirement, Williams was an avid and talented fisherman, owning several records during his lifetime. He is a member of the International Fishing Hall of Fame, making him one of just four athletes to reach the Hall of Fame in multiple sports joining Jim Brown (football, lacrosse), Cumberland Posey (baseball, basketball) and Cal Hubbard (baseball, football).

Politically, Williams was once described as even “to the right of Attila The Hun,” except when it came to civil rights. Possibly the best thing Williams did off the baseball field during peacetime was to use his acceptance speech upon induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1966 to advocate for the inclusion of Negro League players who had been denied the opportunity to play in the major leagues and were not eligible for the Hall.

“I hope that some day the names of Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson in some way could be added as a symbol of the great Negro players that are not here only because they were not given the chance.”

 

 

Sporting another team’s colors

Posted in Sports with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 19, 2020 by macmystery

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A Patrick Mahomes/Kansas City Chiefs T-shirt passed on to me by my friend Francie Szarek.

When you get deep into the NFL playoffs, or the playoffs in any sport, most folks’ teams are no longer in the mix.

Some people just kind of roll with it, enjoying the games. Some people have a betting interest.

And then I think there are a lot of fans that kind of pick favorites for the rest of the way. Sometimes because there’s a team they like a little that’s not their team, sometimes because of a particular player or players (I root for the teams that have the most Clemson guys on the roster), and then some are simply rooting AGAINST teams they can’t stand (see the Patriots).

Today, I’m wearing a Kansas City Chiefs/Patrick Mahomes T-shirt passed onto me to wear by my friend Francie Szarek. I think she’d admit she lives in a Pittsburgh Steelers household, but her husband’s Steelers are out and as a Kansas native, she’s all in on the Chiefs.

I was already pulling for the Chiefs. My Cowboys haven’t been in the NFC Championship in 20 years. And the Chiefs knocked the Houston Texans, my second favorite team, out last week. With three Clemson players on the roster, that makes them my favorite the rest of the way.

But wearing another team’s colors, gear etc., … do people do that? I can’t remember the last time I did it. Maybe Georgia Tech T-shirts in the 1980s? But I was a kid, and that happens.

Among my adult friends, any of them wearing another team’s stuff are an indication sex is or was happening. Obviously, today, I am an exception.

Do any other adults out there wear another team’s stuff?

Sweet Caroline!

Posted in Family, Sports with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 19, 2020 by macmystery

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My niece Caroline is ready to step to the free-throw line.

Bah bah nah. That’s what come’s after Sweet Caroline, no?

If there’s any confusion, this  is most assuredly not about that popular Neil Diamond ditty. While I’ll admit it’s catchy, when you listen to the words, the song is actually quite creepy.

It is even more so when you consider it was allegedly written about a quite underage — barely even teenage — Caroline Kennedy. Think about that next time you’re singing along during the seventh-inning stretch at a shitty Boston Red Sox game.

Nope. This epic blog post is about Caroline, my niece, named after my mother, Carole.

Caroline is my sister Michele’s only child, born roughly a half a year after my own daughter, Ella. Unlike Ella, who is quite small, Caroline is big. Quite big.

I don’t mean this in a bad way. But she takes after her father in the fact that she’s tall. Quite tall. And getting taller.

At the ripe age of 11, she has already surpassed her mother in shoe size. I’m sure Michele welcomes this. It means she’ll no longer worry about Caroline stealing her shoes.

Problem is, it means she’ll be buying a lot more shoes. And the growing is far from over.

Caroline isn’t just big in stature, she has a big voice and it’s impossible not to notice she’s in the room. And issues with her ear she’s had since birth mean she’s sometimes unintentionally loud.

And my nickname for her? Lovingly, it’s Big Head.

But her size betrays her. When you’re with her, you feel like you’re in the room with another adult. It’s easy to forget, she’s only 11. Sometimes it’s tough to not be hard on her. Her size, unfairly, honestly changes your expectations.

But she’s a good kid. And something else she has that’s big — her heart.

Caroline has been playing church league basketball for a couple years now. I’ve managed to attend several games when in town.

Her coaches have tried to take advantage of her size — who wouldn’t. They want her to go to a spot, turn, and ask for the ball. When she gets it, they want her to turn and shoot. No dribble. Simply post up. There’s no one in her league who can contest her.

All this makes sense. The results? A few points — the games are low-scoring and her shooting has been suspect. And a lot of rebounds.

But not so many wins.

In fact, until last week … zero wins. Some close calls, but no bananas.

Basketball-wise, Caroline has some things to work on. I have told her a couple of times, the best thing she could do to improve is play as much basketball as possible.

There is a conflict, unfortunately. The things her coach asks her to do aren’t wrong. They are the things that give the team the best chance to win.

But she needs to improve her shooting, dribbling, passing, … and the mental aspects. And she won’t get better at those things if all she does is post up, catch the ball, turn and shoot. She can only get better at those things by doing them. She needs to play ball, a lot of it, and against kids her size, where she’s forced to do those things.

During this offseason, she made a decision to get more serious about basketball. A huge Clemson fan, she has made it her goal to play for the Tigers.

A realistic goal? Who knows. But she’s playing with a purpose.

She has actually gone and talked to the people who would be her coaches at the junior high and high school level about what she can best do to be ready to play for them.

Last week, I got the texts from my sister that I usually get during Caroline’s games. Except this time, they ended differently.

Trailing 5-4 late in the 4th quarter — with both buckets belonging to Caroline — a late score from the coach’s daughter gave her team a long-elusive 6-5 win.

Caroline finished with 4 points on 2-for-3 shooting with 11 rebounds and zero fouls.

“It feels good,” she texted me after her first win. “I played like I had a goal in life.”

I reminded her that her goal was good, but to be careful to enjoy the moment and have fun, even if the goal doesn’t work out.

“I know and I did but I still want to work on my goal.”

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This week, Caroline and her team did it again. She scored 6 points — all on putbacks —  and her team won 8-4.

A winning streak. Who’d have thought it?

There’s really no point to all of this except that I love her. And some things seem to be breaking her way.

And there is no one happier for her than me. She, and her mama, deserve it.