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.”

 

 

A Dozen about the Dark

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 29, 2020 by macmystery

 

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“It’s Not Dark Yet, but it’s getting there.” — Bob Dylan

My friend Sandy posted something on her blog, Frazzled Daisy, about losing power for a few hours last night thanks to remnants of Hurricane Laura.

Her post brought back memories of when the power would go out when I was a kid, either because of thunderstorms, tornadoes, hurricanes or ice storms, and the things my family and I would do to pass the time without electricity.

It also inspired me to pick out a dozen of my favorite songs about the dark, or at least that incorporate “dark” or “darkness” in the title. I’ve listed them in reverse from No. 12 to No. 1.

I’m sure I’ve failed to list some that others would include, but these are those that meant the most to me.

Enjoy. Or don’t. Either way, if you got this far, thanks for reading.

12. Whistling In The Dark, They Might Be Giants

This is a strange little tune – aren’t they all – off the band’s 1990 seminal release, Flood. Whistling in the dark is an oft-used phrase that holds numerous meanings, usually in reference to oxymorons or paradoxes. To speak knowingly of something despite possessing little actual knowledge about the subject. Or scraping up the courage to deal with a frightening, life-threatening or life-altering situation.

 

11. Promises In The Dark, Pat Benatar

The first lady of 1980s rock wrote this song with her guitarist and future husband Neil Giraldo. The subject matter is the scars from prior relationships and how they affect lovers’ current relationship.

“Just when you think you got it down, … Your heart securely tied and bound, … They whisper, promises in the dark.”

 

10. The Dark Side Of The Street, The Flying Burrito Brothers

A 1967 soul song written by Dan Penn and Chips Moman, this tune has been recorded by a number of prominent artists I listen to – Percy Sledge, Linda Ronstadt, Ry Cooder, Aretha Franklin, Richard & Linda Thompson, Gregg Allman and Elvis Costello, to name a few. But it’s the version by the late Gram Parsons and his Flying Burrito Brothers that I’m talking about.

 

9. Dark Star, Crosby, Stills & Nash

A popular non-single off the trio’s No. 2 album CSN from 1977. Stephen Stills wrote and sings lead on this tune, which like many of his at the time dealt with his marital issues.

 

8. On The Dark Side, John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band

This Springsteen-esque tune actually predated Born In The USA as it was released along with the movie “Eddie And The Cruisers” in 1983. Cafferty and crew were originally credited on the soundtrack as Eddie And The Cruisers. The move was a dud, staying in theaters for a whopping three weeks. And the song didn’t do much better, reaching No. 64 on Billboard Hot 100 chart. But when the move was re-released to video, the song shot to No. 7 on the Hot 100 and No. 1 on the Rock Tracks chart. And it’s been repeatedly made famous at venues like Crybabies and The Fillin’ Station when my buddy Ken Szarek belts it out on karaoke night.

 

7. Shot In The Dark, Ozzy Osbourne

Written by Ozzy and bass player Phil Soussan, the song off 1986’s The Ultimate Sin album was one of Osbourne’s biggest chart hits. Soussan originally wrote the song with references to the 1964 Pink Panther film A Shot In The Dark. Ozzy reportedly changed the lyrics to make the song more night stalker-esque.

 

6. Dark As A Dungeon, Johnny Cash

A coal-mining lament written by country singer-songwriter-guitarist Merle Travis, it’s been covered by a who’s who of Americana artists – Cicso Houston, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Harry Belafonte, Grandpa Jones, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Dolly Parton, The Weavers, The Seldom Scene, The Chieftains, Kathy Mattea, Willie Nelson, Vince Gill, John Mellencamp and Bob Dylan only name about half. But it was Johnny Cash’s version from At Folsom Prison that is the ultimate. During the performance, several inmates start to laugh, causing Cash to chuckle and address them, “No laughing during the song. … It’s being recorded, I know, … Hell!” After the song, Cash makes the announcement, “I just wanted to tell you that this show is being recorded for an album released on Columbia Records, so you can’t say ‘hell’ or ‘shit’ or anything like that.”

 

5. Dark Hollow, The Grateful Dead

A 1958 folk song written and recorded by Bill Browning, the tune received two late-60s reworkings by bluegrass stars Mac Wiseman (1967) and Dr. Ralph Stanley (1969) and was later often covered by the likes of Bill Monroe and The Del McCoury Band. But the Dead’s Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir made this their own on the 1973 live album History of the Grateful Dead, Vol. I (Bear’s Choice), though it was originally recorded Valentine’s Day 1970 at Fillmore East in New York City.

“I’d rather be in some dark hollow, where the sun don’t ever shine, … Than to be in some big city, in a small room with you on my mind.”

 

4. Fishin’ In The Dark, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

Written by Wendy Waldman and Jim Photoglo, this 1987 ditty was The Dirt Band’s third No. 1 song, and the single has since gone platinum. I always found it interesting … many of the girls I knew in college of the sorority persuasion would talk of how they abhorred country music. Until you played this song. And then it was like someone screamed, “Hey white girls, let’s sing “Grease” songs at karaoke.” On another note, this is what Wikipedia has to say about the song’s content: “The premise of the song is a couple contemplating a late-night fishing expedition. Specifically, the adventurers plan to make their way to an undisclosed river and chart constellations during an evening in which a full moon is present. Furthermore, the tentative date for this excursion is set in the late spring to early summer.” Come on. We all know this song has nothing to do with fishing.

 

3. Darkness On The Edge Of Town, Bruce Springsteen

The title track from Springsteen’s fourth studio album, this 1978 song is emblematic of The Boss’ moving away from the romantic and youthful lyrics about escaping with girls in cars and toward the adult world where his song’s characters make a decision to stand their ground and fight for whatever it is they desire. And the consequences of winning and losing those fights. And it’s easily one of my top 10 favorite Springsteen songs.

“Well now some folks are born into a good life, and other folks get it anyway, anyhow, …
Well now I lost my money and I lost my wife, them things don’t seem to matter much to me now.
Tonight I’ll be on that hill ’cause I can’t stop! …
I’ll be on that hill with everything I got! …
With lives on the line where dreams are found and lost, I’ll be there on time and I’ll pay the cost, …
For wanting things that can only be found …
In the darkness on the edge of town.
In the darkness on the edge of town.”

 

2. Not Dark Yet, Bob Dylan

You knew there would be a Dylan song on here somewhere. A song on 1997’s masterpiece Time Out Of Mind, which won three Grammys, it was the album’s first single. I’ve read some things saying his writing on this song was inspired by Keats. Who knows? I don’t care. I care more that this was one of the three dozen or so songs featured over the closing credits on the three seasons of HBO’s Deadwood, a favorite of mine. It appears in Season 2, Episode 1, if you care about such things. It’s also mentioned in the movie High Fidelity, also a must-see. This is just a damn good song.

“She wrote me a letter, and she wrote it so kind. She put down in writing what was on her mind. I just don’t see why I even care. It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting’ there.”

 

1. Dancing In The Dark, Bruce Springsteen

If you know me, you had to know this would be No. 1. There are better songs on this list. But this one holds the most meaning. Written by Springsteen as an afterthought in a couple of hours, it was the biggest hit on the album that changed my musical world. And it was literally playing on the anesthesiologist’s radio when my son Dylan came into this world. It’s an upbeat pop song on an album full of songs that are depressing. But like the title track Born In The USA, the up tempo and passionate delivery belie the song’s true meaning. It’s an incredibly sad song. In Mary Chapin Carpenter’s cover version of this song, a 1990s live B-side, she introduces the song as a “bummer sad song by someone else.” (On a side note, find this version and listen!) Unfortunately, the emotions in this song are emotions with which I’m familiar.

“You can’t start a fire sitting around crying over your broken heart. Well, this gun’s for hire, even if we’re dancing in the dark.”

Oh, did I forget to mention Courtney Cox?