Monthly Archives: January 2013

Ottawa 3 – January 26: Flames 0 vs. Kanata Blazers 2

Saturday afternoon the Flames played their third and final game of round robin competition in the 9th Annual Capital Winter Classic Hockey Tournament. The Flames played the Kanata Blazers with a playoff berth on the line. As it turns out, the Flames fell to the Blazers 2-0, and missed out on a playoff spot due to tie breakers. Let’s recap.

 

1st Period: The first period played out like I thought it might, even, conservative, and a little bit physical. It was at least all of those, as the teams combined for six total shots, and nary a scoring chance, although the Blazers did hit the crossbar with a shot late in the period.

 

2nd Period: The second period starting much the same way the first period played out, even, not many chances, and scoreless. Then things changed quickly, and they changed dramatically. I wish the momentum change wasn’t tied to something the team has struggled with all season, but in hindsight it looks that way. With 5:33 left to play in the period, or just past the half way point of the game, the Flames made their customary goal tender change. At that time in the game, the Blazers might have looked like the better overall skating team, but the Flames were getting chances sporadically as well. At this measurement point, the Flames had 6 shots, the Blazers had just 4. There were no goals scored, nor were there any penalties for either team. With 4:50 left in the period the Flames took a penalty, 2:00 minute penalties in Canada. At 3:16 left, the Flames took a second penalty; this one gave the Blazers a 5-on-3 advantage for 26 seconds. The Blazers needed just 13 seconds to score a power play goal, taking a 1-0 lead. Just like that, the Blazers had gone from 4 shots in nineteen minutes to ripping off 7 shots in the next 3+ minutes. Honestly, neither Flames penalty was brutal; however both of them could have been easily avoided. The period ended with the Flames trailing 1-0, and now being out gunned 12-6 in shots. Another note, after the change in goal, the Flames did not register a shot for the remainder of the period while the Blazers had 8 shots.

 

3rd Period: The third period was desperation time for the Flames; at least they were getting more desperate with each passing minute. Even so, the Flames only registered 1 shot on goal in the first nine minutes of the third period. During this time, the Blazers constantly had both defensemen back while making perfect break out passes time and time again, and rushed up ice, three across, like it was drawn up on the board. The Blazers also struck for a second goal in this time and were dominating play. The Blazers had sent 10 shots on net to the Flames 1 shot until the Blazers took their only penalty of the game. The Flames rallied over the last 1:48, getting 4 shots on goal, but were unable to score. Ultimately, the Flames lost 2-0, and were dominated in shots by a 24-11 margin. After losing to the Blazers it was up to tie breakers, and remaining games from other teams to determine the fate of the Flames playoff hopes. Zachary Bayer was recognized as player of the game for the Flames.

 

As it turned out, the Flames tied for first in their division, but were seeded third as a result of their goal differential. Then, the other three divisions finished play, and seeded their teams, which left the Flames as the 8th overall seed, and only 6 teams moved into the playoffs. So, the tournament was done for the Flames. No playoffs due to tie breakers, which ultimately comes back to how the team performed on the ice.

 

From this perspective I thought the team played well. They competed in every period, and gave themselves opportunities to win games, and win they did, two out of three times. The Flames scored 4 goals and allowed just 3 goals over the three games played, while taking 6 minor penalties. The goaltenders were sensational. Anders Lindberg made 29 saves on 31 shots for a save percentage of .935. Keenan Alnahas saved 15 of 16 shots for a percentage of .938. These percentages are fantastic at any level. These two and the team may have deserved better based on their abilities to keep pucks out of their own net. Either one of these goalies could have been player of the game in any of the games. In my opinion, Brendan Courtney could have been player of the game in all 3 games, as he did his best Zdeno Chara, shutdown defenseman impersonation. There were notable players up and down the lineup for the Flames and they should take pride in their effort as a team, and as individuals. Good showing Flames!

 

The trip to Ottawa was fun, even if frigid temperatures kept sightseeing to a minimum. The kids played good hockey, they played in world-class facilities, they played in a community that’s part of a country that takes this game seriously, and expects all that participate to play the game the right way. The Pittsburgh Penguins held a practice in the rink next door (in the same building) to the ice sheet that the Flames were playing on in their final game. I saw the kids scurry and scamper up and down hotel halls so they could hang out together and play more knee hockey, or go swimming, or just be together. I also saw the rosy red cheeks of one teammate after another returning from a brisk skate on the Rideau Canal. I hope all had fun. I know I enjoy the city of Ottawa and the offerings it makes available to visitors, and I hope others enjoyed a slice of their visit to Ottawa as well. Our family had fun, and I particularly enjoyed getting a 4 mile skate on the canal with both my 20-year old and 12-year old sons.

Ottawa 2 – January 25: Flames 1 vs. Kitchener Jr. Rangers 0

The Flames played their second game of the 9th Annual Capital Winter Classic Tournament vs. the Kitchener Jr. Rangers. To the point, the Flames won 1-0 in a thrilling, tightly contested hockey game. The game was played on an Olympic sized ice sheet and the extra 15 feet of width did make a difference. The additional room to move East-West allowed teams to get back on defense, break up more plays through the neutral zone, and forced much of the play to the area between the face off circles from one end to the other. The other impact the extra room had been the ability of either team to clear the puck from their own end. This has been a sore spot for this Flames team all year, and tonight was no different. Let’s get to it.
1st Period: The two teams spent most of the first period getting a feel for each other, while trying to hit each other effectively, and trying not to laugh at an obnoxiously loud Ranger fan who was clearly yelling to be heard, but not actually cheer. The period ended scoreless and pretty even. The Flames got six shots to the Rangers four. Both teams each had one penalty.
2nd Period: The second period saw only 7 shots in total, and fortunately for the Flames, one of those shots found the back of the Ranger net. After sustaining pressure for the length of their shift, the Flames finally cashed in. Wil Hebert got the goal, after he, Ryan Douthart, and Sam Hebert had cycled the puck and generated a couple of shot attempts. It was one of those hard-working goals that makes a team feel good about working so hard. In a game that was scoreless for more than 22 minutes, a game that featured tight checking and few offensive chances, this goal coerced an eruption of applause and emotion from the Flames faithful. The period would end with the Flames leading 1-0.
3rd Period: The final period was a tale of two halves. The first half of the period was owned by the Flames, getting 7 shots on goal in the first six minutes, but no goals. Then at somewhere around the 6:00 mark the puck entered the Flames defensive end and it didn’t leave for a long, long time. After numerous chances, from numerous players, the Flames, clinging to a one goal lead, could not get the puck out of their own end. Finally, with 4:09 left to play, the Flames iced the puck. At 3:44 Jackson Puzzo was called for boarding. Four seconds later Keenan Alnahas made a great save to hold the lead. At 3:27 the Flames iced the puck, but were short handed and this marked the first time the puck had been successfully cleared in more than two and a half minutes. Let me tell you, that 150 seconds felt like an hour or more watching the Flames battling for the puck, defending their net, trying to clear, killing a penalty, while holding a 1-0 lead in a tournament game in Canada. At 3:09 the Flames got a shot goal while short handed. At 1:42 a Kitchener shot hit the post. At 1:05 Kitchener pulled their goalie. At 0:57 the Flames were called for icing as Sean Moore’s clearing attempt glanced off of the post of the open net and slid wide, and across the goal line. At 0:46.5 the Flames iced the puck again. Finally the horn sounded and the Flames won the game 1-0. Goaltenders, Anders Lindberg, and especially, Keenan Alnahas, were spectacular in the shutout victory. The tandem has allowed a single goal (on a penalty shot) through two full games. Wil Hebert was named player of the game for the Flames.
This win for the Flames was a nice team effort, as they battled on the bigger ice sheet, against a team whose only real strength was their ability to hit. The Flames defense and goaltending was immense in the win. The Flames enter Saturday with two wins, and hold their own future in their hands. A win or a tie vs. the Kanata Blazers will ensure the Flames a berth in the playoffs as winners of their division. Game time is scheduled for 3:40pm at the Ottawa Citizen Arena in the Bell Sensplex.

Ottawa 1 – January 25: Flames 3 vs. Perth Blue Wings 1

The Manchester Flames Pee Wee Majors traveled to Ottawa, Ontario to compete in the 9th Annual Capital Winter Classic Tournament, and this morning they played their opening game. Walking into the complex this morning, we sought the unfamiliar relief of the cold rink as a place of warmth to get away from the wind chills of 10 and 20 degrees below zero. Feeling frozen, maybe a little bit, the Flames were matched up against the Perth Blue Wings to start the tournament. The Flames started slow but did rally to earn a 3-1 win.

1st Period: The Flames managed five shots on goal, and did control the puck some, while taking a few icing calls. They held the Blue Wings to just a pair of shots on goal. After one period, the game was tied at 0-0.

2nd Period: the second period saw the Blue Wings score first. After a loose puck sat for what seemed like an hour in the Flames empty defensive crease, Patrick Goren swept the puck aside, and clear of the goalmouth. The trouble was that Goren used his gloved hand to do so, which, by rule awards the non-offending team a penalty shot. The Perth player scored and the Flames trailed 1-0. The Flames took a penalty just 20 seconds after the goal and were in a tight spot, not wanting to go down by two goals. The Flames and, superb penalty killer, Brendan Courtney, held their own, and killed the penalty. Then with just 78 ticks left to play in the 2nd period, the Flames scored on the power play to tie the game. After a great shift from Wil Hebert, Jackson Puzzo, and Sam Hebert, they were rewarded with a goal. Sam finally tapped the puck into the net after shots and passes had trickled through traffic, bounced off of the goalie, and appeared to going wide of the net. Sam collected the puck and quickly slid it behind the goaltender before he could recover. Puzzo and Wil Hebert got the assists. The period ended with the game tied at 1-1, and the Flames holding a 14-6 advantage in shots.

3rd Period: 11 seconds into the final period, the Flames took the lead. After winning a scrum following the face off, Sam Hebert took a pass from Sean Moore and bolted up left wing. Hebert made no mistake, roofing the puck in the top right corner of the net, and scoring his second goal of the game. Minutes later, Zachary Bayer scored on a set up from Jackson Puzzo and the Flames led 3-1 with half a period to play. The Flames collapsed around their own net and kept most play to the outside in trying to preserve their lead. The final score would stay the same, a 3-1 win for the Flames. Keenan Alnahas and Anders Lindberg combined to save 10 of 11 shots and earn the win for the Flames. The Flames generated 19 shots on goal in the game. Sam Hebert was named player of the game for the Flames who move over to the Bell Sensplex, and the Mattamy Homes Arena for a 7:30pm game tonight, against the Kitchener Jr. Rangers Blue.

Lessons from Joe

Last year at this time I wrote a post to my blog. But this was not just another post to pass time, fill empty space, or impress a soul; it was my attempt at a heart-felt tribute to a friend from my youth. Once posted, the reactions, comments, and emotional outpourings I received just blew me away. People reached me from various places, people I had never before met, and others I hadn’t seen or heard from in many years, and I was deeply and sincerely touched. I meant only to speak from my heart, share some truths, and humbly partake in the celebration of a friends curtailed life here on earth. Content, I wrote my piece and I let it be.

 

I am here again, a year later for three reasons. First, the post I wrote last January remains my most viewed, most read blog post on any day I have ever written since I started writing over the last year and a half. The most read post by a long shot. Second, I want to remember my friend. I want to remember his life here among us. I want to remember his battles, for he did so much better in his than most of us could ever do in ours. I want to remember his victories because in his heart of hearts he may have recalled them, but the person in front of him, or the one of us in present focus was far more important to him than any battle he won. I want to remember his smile because not everyone lets us peak directly at their heart. I want to remember his cause as there are many others before him, and many more since, who were stronger than I could ever be, for no other reason than they just had to be; and he was. I just want to remember Joe for being Joe. Third, I wanted to address something that’s been gnawing at my subconscious since last January, and just recently some unrelated comments brought me back to this line of thought.

 

Of all the wonderful folks who thanked me for what I had written regarding Joe, a few made mention of him getting better with age or things of that nature. Recent commentary comparing men of different eras, as well as mention of getting better with age, brought me to the keyboard again. Maybe I over think things some; okay I know I over think things at times, but my take on some otherwise innocent comments led to this.

 

It’s the middle of the night but here I sit and write not to single anyone out, nor to categorize anyone’s sentiment shared with me or others. When the dust settles from the day and the noise of now quells over the course of nightfall, my mind runs. So, I will try my very best to keep up and present my thoughts in a respectful, orderly manner. Please remember that some of these words I recall are just triggers that set my intellectual instincts in motion. There are two phrases or concise thoughts that have spurred this whole point, ‘better with age’ and ‘comparison of men from now and then’. Honestly, I have no idea how I am going to convey this properly, as if there is a proper way to compile my cyclone of thought. Here goes; I will start with getting better with age. I am going to relate my process here as I saw evidence through my friend Joe. Those of us, who knew Joe growing up, were familiar with him in his youth. While others continued to know him, live with and around him, and interact in his life. Then there are others who knew him later in life, as an adult, and maybe knew nothing of his youth. So perspectives vary at the very least.

 

Now my outlook; dare I respectfully say that Joe was no better a person later in life than he was at any other time in his life. Before you get all fired up, and I know this may be splitting atoms, but I ask this. Is a person any better for having better people around them, or for having a closer walk with God? Or is the person the same, having simply changed their environment and the treasures they seek? Even if I am completely wrong here, and I may be, Joe was a man who had different treasures set aside for himself later in life than he may have when he was younger. Actually, most of us do, or at least that’s what we would say. I would challenge that theory, and contend that many of us have simply redefined our treasures with a better grasp on adult articulation. Returning to the line of thought; even though Joe remained close with many friends throughout his life, he also added a support group of some like-minded, perhaps brainwashed (and whom among us doesn’t need a good washing of our brain at times) folks, who were chasing the positives in so many things we find mundane. I think of a picture, a digital photo, taken of someone or something that nearly everyone finds repulsive or offensive. Then I think of another picture, another digital photo, taken of the most glorious sunrise or sunset, or some other scene that nearly everyone finds beautiful, and most precious. Then I ask was the camera any better when snapping the second picture then it was for the first? Or, was it the environment and the focus, treasure if you will, that affected the audience and their perspective? I believe that a person in pursuit of the positive, the greater good, that which is right, especially in God’s eyes, is dynamic, and exudes a spirit that we all want to live for a moment with. That’s how I remember Joe.

 

Are you still with me? I hope so. Now for the other thought I wanted to expand on, ‘comparison of men from now and then’. I must also convey that I will write about men, great men, and so forth. Please know that in my reference to men going forward, I am referring to all mankind, men and women. I recently read an article about some of our fore fathers and men from that time frame versus men from now making decisions that these authors clearly didn’t agree with. Then I heard a discussion on almost the same matter among a group of people who were arguing this point or that, in favor of now, or then, but it all really was an indictment on the persons. Similar to my former point, I choose not to judge the individuals from this era or that, by way of their person, but more so by their actions, and to a greater depth, by their mindset, their focus, and their level of regard for all God’s children. Maybe I am short-sighted, or looking too hard for something that is far more apparent. But you would be hard pressed to convince me that the era from whence our founding fathers came from was a less respectful period of time than present day. Yes, leaders were in positions to make decisions affecting millions of lives, as they are now. True, not all decisions have been good ones, some have been downright evil, and there will always be imperfections. I break it down as such, certainly there have been men throughout history that have been defined forever as having been great; but why is this man or that man any greater than the next, or you, or me? Our nation’s Declaration of Independence notes that it requires no proof or explanation that all men are created equal. Again, it’s the focus; it’s the values that were held in the highest esteem by these men that sets them apart. There are examples of their mindset, bound within the beauty of the descriptive, some say flowery, writings from those times, and I believe those writings to be of better quality than most written word of today simply out of respect not only for the language, but for the subjects themselves and the countless mental images internally reviewed in order to pen words worthy of that subject’s respect. This isn’t about writing, but about the mindset, the value system, the big picture perspective of those folks from a time long ago. That author may not have been any greater a man than any of us, but his respect, his pursuit of right, and his love extended beyond himself, is worthy of emulating, if not a great example. If nothing else, he was an equal man, with his head in the right place. History will record that now, in our time, there too were great men. Some will say that these times are better than they’ve ever been in all of history, and that will also be the retort for generations to come I am sure. But, are times better now? Of that, I am not sure.

 

I might be considered ‘old school’ and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I would rather arrive slower to action, with acts that induces less consequence as a result of respect and careful thought than the promise of what is to come while disrupting many, and regarding few along the way. This is where I bring this loop back around to my friend Joe. In a life, I symbolize here as a microcosm of the comparison between then and now, I remember Joe as one who perused through the images of his adult life and shared out of respect for all, provoking only the calmest of response. Was he a great man compared to a misled youth? I say no to both. He was a good kid who became a man yet remained Joe, gaining esteem and rediscovered his center further from himself, translating his experience by making everyone around him feel better as he walked with God along life’s path.

MLK 3 – January 19: Flames 0 vs. Ice Cats 2

Saturday afternoon the Flames came to the ice sheet at West Side Arena for a game with the Green Machine Ice Cats in the 2nd Annual MLK Tournament. Tourney officials, referees, and fans alike, were billing this as the game of the tournament. The Concord Capitals team might have something to say about that, but they were less impressive in their first two games than either the Flames or the Ice Cats were. This battle would determine who would be the #1 or #2 seed and enter the playoff round undefeated. The Flames had not allowed a goal, and the Ice Cats had allowed just two goals. This game lived up to its hype as both teams played well at both ends of the ice.

1st Period: Having watched the Ice Cats play their first game on Friday night, I was ready for what they had to offer. So were the Flames. There were no goals scored in the opening period and only 9 total shots on goal. The Flames took the only two penalties that were called, but killed off both disadvantages. The chances were even, the ice was defended from end boards to end boards, and the play was fun to watch.

2nd Period: In the second period came the only goal of the game that got past a goaltender. Half way through the period, with the Flames scrambling a bit in their own end, the Ice Cats scored on a slap shot that hit the inside of the far post, where iron meets netting. Flames goalie, Anders Lindberg, was screened by a mass of bodies in front of him, and the Flames brain trust were questioning the referees about the cross check that had sent a Flames defender hurdling toward the ice as the puck passed through the chaos and struck the net. There was no call coming, other than a signal of a good goal. Despite raising their game in the second period, getting more shots, getting more chances, and pressuring the Ice Cats all over the ice, the Flames trailed 1-0 after two periods. Keenan Alnahas, the Flames second goaltender of the contest, held the deficit at 1-0 with a sparkling glove save on a point-blank chance by the Ice Cats.

3rd Period: In the third period it appeared that both teams were going to clog the areas in front of their net, hold on, and take chances only as deemed prudent. Only six shots on goal were taken, combined. The Flames had chances but could not get the tying goal. Alnahas came to the bench in favor of an extra attacker with 0:50 left in the game. Then with the clock counting down to 0:13.2 left to play, a puck slowly spun and slid through the neutral zone, across the blue line, and into the empty net. At that point the reality of the Flames losing this game really hit home. Until that point it was enthusiastically possible that the Flames would tie the game and by way of tie breaker slide into the #4 seed and play in the Championship semi-final. The Flames managed 16 shots on goal and allowed just 13 shots to reach their goaltenders. The Flames applied pressure to the Ice Cats that they had not seen in their previous two games, and the pressure put a damper on their odd man rushes up ice. To the Ice Cats’ credit, they held on, and beat the Flames in a great hockey game. The Ice Cats finished as the #2 seed, and the Flames dropped to #6, a spot behind Keene who also went 2-1 but allowed just one goal.

On Tap: The Flames play tomorrow (Sunday) in Tournament game #48, as follows:

Jan 20 Sun 5:30 PM WSA #6 Flames 00 #7 Conquistadors 01

The winner on Sunday will advance to play on Monday morning at 9:30am at St. A’s.

MLK 2 – January 18: Flames 6 vs. NE Jr. Hurricanes 0

On Friday afternoon the Flames played their second game of the 2nd Annual MLK Tournament vs. the New England Jr. Hurricanes. The Flames played well and earned their second straight 6-0 victory. This set up their final game of the prelim round with a Saturday afternoon game against the Ice Cats from Long Island, NY. Saturday’s game has come down to a battle for the overall #1 seed. Now, let’s get to the action from Friday afternoon.

 

1st Period: For the second time in as many games, the Flames dominated play in the first period, but were not quick to score goals. Finally, with 4:09 to play Sam Hebert scored on a nice play up the ice from Wil Hebert and Jackson Puzzo. Minutes later, Christian Levesque, who may have played his best period of hockey this season, worked a give and go with Zachary Bayer resulting in a great shot by Levesque. The shot beat the goaltender and slip through the crease towards the net, and Bayer, on his way to the net, poked the puck across the line, giving the Flames a 2-0 lead. The period ended 2-0 in favor of the Flames, but could have been much worse for NE, as the Flames held an 18-2 advantage in shots.

 

2nd Period: In the second period, the goals came fast and furious for the Flames, after the period’s midway point. Wil Hebert scored an unassisted goal on a neat move in close. Then brother Sam scored again, this time set up by Wil, and Ryan Douthart. Zachary Bayer scored an unassisted goal, and Jackson Puzzo scored, set up by Sam Hebert, both goals coming in the final two minutes. Two periods in the books, and the Flames led 6-0, holding a 28-4 margin in shots on goal.

 

3rd Period: Running time was the story of the 3rd period, with a 6 goal lead. The Flames managed 8 more shots, but did not score any goals. In total, the Flames won 6-0, and had 36 shots on goal. Keenan Alnahas and Anders Lindberg combined for the shutout in goal for the Flames. The Flames finished Friday at 2-0, scoring 12 goals, allowing 0 goals, and taking only 10.5 minutes in penalties. This sets up the showdown today, with the Ice Cats, who are also 2-0, have scored 17 goals, allowing just 2 goals, and also have taken 10.5 minutes in penalties. More on that later.

Baseball – I

Close your eyes. I mean, really close them. Let yourself drift off to another place. Clear your mind. As Billy Chapel says in For Love of the Game, ” clear the mechanism.” You’re sitting outside, leaning back in a rigid but somehow, tolerable seat. As you let your eyes close for a moment, your other senses heighten. You feel the warmth of the sun on your skin. Somewhere a switch has been flipped and your sub conscience seeks out all that is right with the world. Now smiling, you notice that your seat is more comfortable than it was a minute before, and you slouch a little easier into the seat you are glad, now, that you chose. You smell the renewed fragrances of spring. Your senses come alive as if recovering from a long winters nap. Birds nearby sing their spring song and only now you notice. You hear the enthusiasm in voices from a distance, but those are merely background for the unmistakable sounds of wood meeting rawhide in a full-speed collision. If the trained ear listens close enough you can tell which direction the rawhide sphere is headed without even opening your eyes or disturbing your sun-seeking perch. For a split second you want to open your eyes but you decide better of it as if opening your eyes would end this pleasant dream state. So, you clench your eyes tighter still and put your favorite ball players faces from yesteryear into this dream. The sounds are the same in so many ways. And the crash of the round bat into the round ball echoing around the old yard could be the sound of Ted Williams ripping a long home run, or its Henry Aaron sending a line drive through the box, or maybe its Mickey Mantle launching a towering blast, from either side of the plate, that requires patience and a good ear to hear if it ever comes down.

You are at a ball field, it is spring, and every player, every team, shares in the renewed hopes of spring. It’s a new season. It’s fresh. It’s refreshing. It’s spring. And then it all hits you, there is no place you’d rather be. Your eyes close a little more tightly, and the sounds fade a little further into the distance. Images appear in your mind as your body shifts and gently jolts almost voluntarily when the memories behind your eyelids appear larger than life. You feel like you can reach out and touch the vivid scene you see, but then you remember for a millisecond where you are, and you think better of raising your arm to swipe at the warm empty air. And you drift back into the scene that hides behind your sun-warmed eyelids. Now you’re smiling from ear to ear, eyes still closed. It’s baseball, in some elementary ways, the same as it’s ever been. A stranger makes his way to a seat nearby, he notices your smile with eyes closed, and he understands. He hurries along to his seat so he too can dip himself in the warmth of the magical transformation that only ball fields bring and clasp tightly the memories of boyhood dreams.

There you are back in your yard, at your school field, or sandlot, wherever you first dreamed of the game and played in the spaces you could find, to win all those World Series titles. When you played everyday because you loved the game, you couldn’t get enough of the game. You knew all the stats, who batted 1 through 9, who would hit for whom in the 7th, and every member of the bullpen. You knew who would pinch-run, whether it was to steal second base or score from second on a base hit. You remember the uniform you wore, right down to the trim, and the wayward stitch or two. You lift your leg for second and shake your foot remembering how fleet afoot you felt every time your old spikes were securely fastened to your stirrup laced feet. Somehow it seems like just yesterday when you would wipe the sweat from your brow and tug the bill of your cap a little lower to shield that bright game day sun. Your hands and fingers fidget slightly as you recall your ability to grab a baseball time after time and have your index and middle fingers perfectly aligned across the seams. Now your palms practically ache just to hold that old wood bat you took thousands of swings with. You can still feel the grain and the way the barrel tapered back to a handle that was much thicker than today’s bat handles. Listening closely to the sounds you fabricate in your mind, you swear you can still hear the ‘swoosh’ your mighty swing once created as it carved through the warm air.

Then, sitting a little more upright now, you roll your shoulders a few times, still clenching your eyes shut as not to disturb the calm and comfort found inside this daydream. Today there are no aches and pains, tightness won’t be thought of here, or at least not until you have to rise from your seat the next time. You recollect the days when you felt so strong, felt so right, you felt like you could throw all day, even throw hard all day. And you did. You think for a moment, trying to figure out how difficult it would be were you to try to calculate how many pitches you threw on any given summer day. Then you just smile, knowing it was in the hundreds, and it was nearly every day. A rest day back then was eating dinner, going to sleep, and going to school for several hours the next morning. Then it was a sprint to the ball, glove, and bat as soon as time would allow.

For me, it was my yard. After school it was the place I couldn’t wait to be. I recall thinking about scenarios that were soon to unfold in my yard while I was still on the bus riding home. Actually it started when I was a young boy and it continued throughout my school years. Often times, my desk in some classroom was just the place I dreamed from. My teacher could have just as easily been any Major League public address announcer. My reality was more often a slice of my imagination playing out the details of me playing, competing, and winning, than not. It’s almost all I ever thought about, and it would have been 100% of my thoughts were it not for school, church, and the occasional conversation. In my mind, in my yard, I was the greatest there’s ever been, yet I revered and respected the greats who came before me. I shook hands with Babe Ruth on the field at the old Yankee Stadium. Hank Aaron was there to acknowledge my gracious demolition of his home run record, and maybe we chatted on the field at the old Tiger Stadium where my record homer was still climbing as it crashed into the overhanging upper deck in right field. Ted Williams marveled at my swing while we talked baseball in South Florida in between his fishing days. At the old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore I sat in the seemingly vertical upper deck behind home plate and talked with Brooks Robinson who couldn’t believe my range, and I was a lefty, to boot!

On rainy days, when I could throw the ball from just inside the dry cover of our garage roof overhang, I was being congratulated by Nolan Ryan and Steve Carlton as a pitcher that was among the all-time winners and clearly the most accurate of all time. Walter Johnson and Bob Feller asked me just how hard did I throw. Ron Guidry asked me my nickname, because even though he was a Yankee, he had a pretty cool nickname in, Louisiana Lightning. After I had twirled yet another complete game, especially on those rainy days, I would grab my wood bat and start to swing. I remember vividly looking down at the broken cement of our garage floor and checking out the shadow of my swing. My swing had to be perfect, both left-handed and right-handed. I would swing at top speed. I would swing in slow motion. I would swing that bat hundreds of times over. I imagined the ball jumping off of my bat and clearing fences all over the major leagues.

After church on Sundays it was a battle for me. I had to decide whether to take the extra few minutes to change my clothes or just go for it in whatever I was wearing. I knew full well that within minutes a ball would carom off of the garage door, too far to my right, and I would have to dive headfirst on the green grass to make the spectacular play. Then I would immediately regret the choice I made, not to change my clothes first, at least for a second or two. Of course, had I not hustled right out to make the play, then someone else would have been in the lineup, so, I was right, get out there and play. Worry about the clothes later. I mean, that was just a double that I robbed down the line. Shouldn’t that cover a for a few grass stains? Some how my mom never put as much stock in my defensive genius in the yard as I did, and as my thousands of fans in the imaginary stands around my yard, did. Neither were wrong, I was, but what’s a boy to do? Somebody’s gotta go out and win the World Series, and I felt that somebody had to be me.