The love-hate relationship between readers and writers

I’ve been doing this sports writing thing professionally since 1976, which is the year I was named the Sigma Delta Chi South Carolina Rookie Journalist of the Year while working as a one-man sports staff, backup photographer and backup news reporter for the Beaufort Gazette.
I’ve won state press association honors in three states — South Carolina, Florida and Indiana. I’ve been named a top 10 columnist by the Associated Press Sports Editors Association. I’ve served as a vice president of APSE and overseen the small newspaper caucus. And, as I like to brag, I’ve spent time sitting in a golf cart with Jan Stephenson. And it was the 1986 Jan Stephenson, too. So yeah, there have been days where it has been good to be me.
Alas, there have been a lot more days when it hasn’t been good to be me.
Having been a sports editor at three newspapers in three states for a total of 23 years, I’ve been accused of being a grad of at least 50 high schools and 15 colleges.
And at the moment there is a group of Evansville IceMen fans who are convinced I hate hockey.
Seriously, that’s not true. When I was the sports editor in Tallahassee, there was an ECHL team, the Tallahassee Tiger Sharks, that my staff covered. I even had a dedicated writer for the team.
But three years after I arrived in town, the Tiger Sharks moved and Tallahassee was no longer a hockey town.
Keep that in mind as IceMen owner Ron Geary makes his threats about moving the team if he doesn’t get a better deal with the city over Ford Center rent.
Guess what, folks? UE isn’t going anywhere. Neither is the USI. Neither are any of the SIAC high school athletic programs.
But the IceMen? Who knows if Geary’s threats are real or if he’s just crying wolf again.
There’s one other factor that sometimes forces us to chase the IceMen when they are at home. It’s simple, really. We only have a five-person sports staff compared to the 11 I had in Tallahassee, so we have to prioritize what we staff at times.
I wish that wasn’t the case, but its the reality of newspaper economics these days. The number of newsroom staff in Tallahassee isn’t what it used to be, either.
But I want to make it clear that I don’t root against any of the teams in Evansville. I also don’t cheer for any of them like a fan. I’m a journalist, and we aren’t supposed to cheer in the press box.
But I would prefer that the Aces, Eagles, IceMen and Otters won. Ditto, for the best area high school teams in each sport.
Losing coaches and players make for grumpy coaches and players, which makes it much more difficult to write entertaining stories anyone will read on the web or in print.
So please don’t hate. And I’ll try to be a little less snarky on my Tweets.

The test of friendship

I’ve got a former college teammate, now Facebook friend, who has much different political views than me.
He’s also way less tolerant than me, posting things from political blogs and other websites that he can’t possibly believe are true but commenting as though he has drank the Kool-Aid. And one of his confounding and absolute views is that all journalists are commie scum who should have their hands and tongues cut off.
And don’t get him started on sports writers who criticize our beloved Gamecocks (and there’s been plenty of that this season).
Anyway, this is the comment he left on my Facebook page after we had a recent political sparring session over my belief that there should be tighter gun control laws nationwide. He essentially called me an idiot to which I had responded that I was disappointed; that I never thought it would get personal between us.
“Your are one of my friends and a teammate but you already know how I feel about journalists in general and sports journalists in particular. Mostly you are all left and I never have claimed to be tolerant.”
I’ve been called worse by readers through the years, and lately by Evansville IceMen fans. But hey, I’ve got thick skin (maybe too thick in the middle).
I still love you Bourne. Next beer is on me at the next reunion.

Don Mattingly wants to build an R.B.I. program that lasts in Evansville

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No one was more disappointed that Don Mattingly when his plans to launch an R.B.I. – Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities — league fell apart a year ago.
He had connected with a former Babe Ruth All-Star teammate, Dean Hall, and felt that Hall would be an ideal point person to roll out the R.B.I. program because of his connections in the Center City. But somewhere along the line Mattingly said the program “got off track” and he and the board of Mattingly Charities chose to pull the plug and cut ties with Hall.
Even Hall admitted that he didn’t clearly communicate his vision to Mattingly when the two talked about starting a league. Hall wanted to involve as many churches and community organizations as he could, possibly lining up more than two dozen teams in various age groups for baseball and softball. He also made late requests to the Mattingly Charities board for stipends he could offer coaches. He reportedly also sought a salary for himself.
Other R.B.I. leagues have done that, so Hall wasn’t completely out of line with his requests. But he also made the wrong assumption that Mattingly would be willing to write a check to cover all the league expenses, no matter how much they piled up.
“That’s kind of the philosophical problem of it,” said Mattingly, now manager of the Miami Marlins.
Consider it the curse of being both rich and a part-time resident of your hometown. There’s always someone coming out of the woodwork who believes the know how to spend your money better than you.
Mattingly has been dealing with sketchy business proposals in Evansville since his Donnie Baseball playing days with the New York Yankees.
He’s disappointed the R.B.I. league took that sour turn shortly after holding a launch party at the Blush Ultralounge that attracted a lot of community support.
From his standpoint, Mattingly envisioned that the league would start out as a program for younger age groups, involve no more than 50 to 75 players and rely on volunteer coaches.
When he learned that Hall was trying to throw together a much larger program, involving hundreds of players in five or six age groups, Mattingly and his Mattingly Charities board were concerned that their charitable resources would be spread too thin. They had planned to operate on a much smaller budget that would pay umpires. cover field maintenance expenses and give every player a ball, bat and glove.
“I wasn’t comfortable with the direction it was going,” said Mattingly. “It never changed what I wanted to do, it just had to reorganize a little bit. The goals are still the same, it’s just a little different leadership in place now.”
He’s now aligned himself primarily with the Boys & Girls Club of Evansville.
He and wife Lori are also hosting a fund-raising event at the USI Theatre on Thursday night with country singer Toby Keith and former St. Louis Cardinals player Albert Pujols. Sorry, it’s sold out.
Additionally, he has arranged for Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter to speak to a business group on Friday with the money raised from that event going to Mattingly Charities to fund programs in Evansville.
He said the Mattingly R.B.I. league definitely will be launched in the spring.
As for how he managed to line up Toby Keith for the event: Mattingly said he and Keith became friends after the country icon performed at Roberts Stadium in 2009 and he learned that Keith was a fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“I’m a bit of an all music fan, but if I’m turning the radio on, I usually end up on country,” said Mattingly. “Whatever city I’m in, I usually end up on country.”
He’ll be relieved to learn that even Miami, with its airwaves jammed with hispanic, hip-hop and rock stations, does have one country station, WKIS-FM – Kiss Country.

Big ‘birthday’ coming up for me

Next Tuesday I’ll be celebrating one of those “best-days-of-the-rest-of-your-life” moments.
I’ve even come to look upon Oct. 27 as my second birthday. That’s the day I had my aortic valve replaced after I had grown concerned about some angina issues and learned I had a birth defect.
At the age of 60, mind you.
Being married to a nurse had made me promise her I would never ignore chest pains, even something as insignificant as indigestion. It explains how I ended up having my gall bladder removed nearly 14 years ago (at least I think it was that long ago).
Anyway, I had never had a problem with stamina until last summer while cutting grass on a hot day, and even then it was only as I was nearly done. But then it hit me when I was walking to the stadium in Bloomington for a Maryland football game at the end of September, lugging a 30-35 pound bag packed with a laptop, media guide, digital recorders, notebooks and assorted accessories.
Since sports writers don’t qualify as big-spending boosters, I had been parked in the back of the lot, but the walk still was only about a half mile. Yet there I was stopping to catch my breath.
The last time that had happened was having to walk up the steep hill from press parking to the stadium at Clemson. And that’s nothing to be ashamed of as dozens of my sports writing comrades will attest.
Understand, I had played college soccer, coached soccer for 25 years while frequently scrimmaging with my teenage players, and had spent the past couple of decades working 50-60 hours a week while still getting in workouts at the gym. OK, maybe not as often as I should have.
Still, I’ve always handled work-related stress as well as anyone. And trust me, this job comes loaded with it.
But I didn’t know what stress was until Drs. Starrett and Wagmeister double-teamed me with the bad news after I had a heart catheterization procedure the week before I was scheduled to fly by to Columbia, S.C. for a University of South Carolina soccer reunion.
I believe it was Dr. Wags who gave me the answer I didn’t want to hear by saying that it was my decision when to have surgery, that I could go to the soccer reunion if I wanted, but I could also have a heart attack while away.
I skipped the trip and had surgery the following Monday, Oct. 27, 2014.
Best decision I ever made, by the way.
The Heart Hospital and its staff of nurses, respiratory therapists, physical therapists and nursing aides are all top-notch. One nurse in particular, Elsie, was there when I woke up and managed to ease my fears that I could survive the trauma Wagmeister had put my body through.
My wife has had some abdominal surgeries (six in 13 months) that have had me skipping more gym sessions than I’d like over the past year, but I’m still better off physically than I had been before the surgery.
So on Tuesday, I plan to celebrate the day, maybe even with one candle on a cupcake. I’ll be 61 plus 1, after all.

I’m back, and now I really do have heart

When I was playing soccer (humor me) at the University of South Carolina in the 1970s, my redeeming quality was an overabundance of perseverance. I managed to score an occasional goal and make a nuisance of myself, mostly to opponents.
At least that’s the way I remember it.

Flash forward to last October when I discovered just how amazing my college soccer career had been. I started having episodes of angina in the summer, which became progressively worse. The one that got my attention, and told me I was more than just a little out of shape, came on Sept. 27 while I was walking from the back of the parking lot at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington for the Maryland-Indiana football game. Married to a nurse, that proved to be the last warning shot.

I mentioned it during my physical a week later and a murmur was detected by nurse practitioner Kelly Traylor. That set off the chain reaction of an echocardiogram, a heart catheterization and then open-heart surgery.

Not only did I need two bypasses, but I learned at the age of 60 that I had a bicuspid aortic valve. In other words, my valve only had two flaps to manage the blood flow instead of the normal three.

Before having to be replaced by pig tissue, those two overworked valve flaps had done quite well in allowing me to play and coach soccer for more than half my life. And I know I wasn’t exactly easy on them, either.

I was given a choice of booking surgery within days of my cath or putting it off for a couple of weeks. Because I had planned to attend a reunion of my teammates that weekend, I was tempted to put it off.

But Dr. Lee Wagmeister has a way of bringing his patients back to reality. He said it was my choice, but “you could have a heart attack and end up getting surgery in South Carolina.”

I skipped the reunion and had my chest split open on Oct. 27 – exactly a month after I finally suspected something wasn’t right.

I’m forever indebted to Dr. Wagmeister, Dr. Scott Starrett and the nursing and rehab staffs of The Heart Hospital at Deaconess Gateway. And yes, I had the loving support of family, friends and former teammates.

I received encouragement from about a dozen former teammates, but there was one in particular that took me back in time and had me slipping on a Carolina soccer T-shirt the morning of my surgery.

It came a few weeks before my surgery from another “doctor.” Bob “Dr. Dirt” Heath was the no-nonsense captain my first two years with the Gamecocks.

“You know the thing that ALWAYS impressed me about you was that you NEVER gave up.”

Anyone who saw me play might question that characterization, but it was nice of Bob to say it. It motivated me going into surgery and again entering cardiac rehab, and now I’m within 15 to 20 pounds of reaching my college playing weight again.

I’m going to get there. I’m not giving up now.

The sportswriter hunk and the golf babe

Jan Stephenson, the LPGA’s pinup girl from the mid-80s, has always been a source of friction between The Wife and I, so the woman of the house was none too pleased when I announced recently that Jan was coming to Evansville to visit me.

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Yes, visit me. And probably a half dozen other members of the media for one-on-one interviews. But really, he intention was just to visit me since I’m 110 percent certain that no one else in this town was fortunate enough to have the experience I had in 1986.

It was at the Furman Pro-Am, a fundraiser for the university’s women’s golf program that is still held because of the dedication of former Paladin golfers Beth Daniel and Betsy King. Each year a dozen or so other current or former LPGA stars show up in Greenville, S.C., and play in foursomes with donors.

In 1986, Stephenson made one of her appearances toting a bunch of pinup calendars that equipment sponsor MaxFli had produced. Anyway, I was on a mission to interview Jan and scored big time when she invited me to sit with her in a golf cart.

Alas, that’s as wild as the fantasy gets — dang reality.

But I’m sure our legs had to touch, which someone makes my brush with Jan all the more meaningful. Shhhush, I never told The Wife that intimate detail.  It’s that calendar, which included a risque photo of Jan in a bathtub with apparently nothing covering her but golf balls, that caused mucho friction with The Wife.

At the time she was a stay-at-home mom (when she wasn’t taking classes) and we had an 8-year-old daughter, a 5-year-old son and another son who may have turned two by then. And I had my moment with Jan.

Anyway, that meeting has forever been listed in my bio through the years as I recap some of my career highlights. Click on my bio on this blog if you don’t believe me.

Flash forward 27 years later, and my second date with Jan came in the newsroom here at the Courier & Press. When I showed her the bio reference and told her of our first meeting, she graciously claimed to remember our time alone in the golf cart.

“No, you don’t,” I replied.

‘Yes I do,” she said.

“No you don’t,” I responded again, too stupid to ask her to share the details that she remembers from that encounter.

“Yes, I do remember. I didn’t until you reminded me, but I do remember meeting you,” she insisted.

“Nah,” I said, too stupid to let a sex symbol flatter me.

Of course, there’s no way she could have remembered. I was 30 pounds lighter, had hair and was still relatively fit. Heck, I was still playing soccer, so I was in semi-terrific shape..

Wait … Maybe she does remembers me. But even better, this time she insisted on being photographed with me so we would have a scrapbook memory to share.

It’s too good a memory not to share with all of my loyal readers.

Yes, it’s good to be me.

 

My mom’s death has had me out of the loop

My mom passed a week ago Monday at the age of 85 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease and other health issues.
I had just taken some vacation time two weeks ago to visit her in Columbia, S.C. and two days after I was back in Evansville, my younger sister called to tell me that mom had died shortly after going to bed Monday night.
She was a strong-willed Christian woman who made my dating life difficult in high school. If she could have conducted instant background checks on any girl I was interested in, she would have. She wanted to know the names of parents (I rarely knew that), what church the family attended, how they were doing in school, etc.
But even then, she had to like them. As far as she was concerned, if they didn’t go to North Trenholm Baptist Church, I was wasting my time.
I made the mistake as a high school sophomore of falling for a girl who was a year younger than me who wasn’t a member of our church. And poor Dorothy made the mistake of sitting on my lap in my mom’s presence. The relationship didn’t last much more than a month after that.
My mom never did get over her judgmental ways when it came to girlfriends and boyfriends of her children. She made it known in various ways that she didn’t care for any of the people my sisters and I chose to date.
It took a couple of years for her to admit that I had made a good choice when I popped the question to Marie. After all, our relationship had started off on the wrong foot when Marie moved in with me in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Our living in sin was a practical matter. Marie lived in Sarasota and I had taken a job in St. Petersburg, so it was either move in together or risk my demise driving an hour each way every night after work.
The revelation came to me in the wee hours one night when I momentarily dozed and found myself on the path of destruction with a concrete barrier at the Bradenton side of the Sunshine Skyway.
Marie and I have been married for more than 33 years, so my mom was wrong at least once in her life.
But she was an amazing woman who had a career as a nurse, then opened her own catering business and eventually decided to pursue a history degree at the University of South Carolina in her 50s. She did so well, she was chosen for a year long program based in England that allowed her to study European history.
I write this as way of explanation for my absence the past couple of weeks.
My dad died 10 years ago at the age of 75, so I now know the pain of losing both parents. It’s not easy.
I will be back at work on Wednesday.