Saturday, October 30, 2010

Banner Night at BC

For the first time, I got to see live and in person a championship banner rise to the rafters. Friday night, BC celebrated its 2009-2010 NCAA hockey championship with a banner-raising ceremony that involved members of the 2010, 2008, 2001 and 1949 (yes, 1949) championship-winning teams.

Also in attendance was the scrappy team from Merrimack, which nearly ruined the party. Merrimack was physical, borderline dirty, and early in the game got into the heads of BC's players, who looked uncharacteristically slow and sluggish throughout the game. Merrimack's goaltender was nothing short of heroic, stopping 39 pucks and fending off penalty kill after penalty kill.

It was almost sad, then, when the goalie's error led to BC's winning goal. The Eagles sealed Merrimack's fate with a power-play goal by Pat Mullane about five minutes into the third period and skated away with a hard-fought, come-from-behind 3-2 victory. The Eagles were 2 for 11 (eleven!) on the power play, got outplayed all night and still managed to come away with a victory. Great teams are the ones that win even when they don't play well, and BC was one of those teams tonight.

I probably won't be back to a BC game until January, but I do plan to get to Conte Forum fairly often this winter. BC hockey is still the best sports deal in town. As always, my unfiltered, unedited photo set from Friday night's game is online. Go Eagles!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Isaac Meets the New England Patriots (and Peter King)

Well, this was exciting. I read Tuesday morning in the Herald that a few Patriots, including Tom Brady and Vince Wilfork, would be in Waltham on Tuesday afternoon to help build a playground at the Boys and Girls Club. I live about a 10-minute walk from the club, so I figured I'd take the lad down to see what we could see.

My lovely wife and I trooped down with Isaac to Exchange Street around 2pm to find a few people waiting outside the Boys and Girls Club building. What we quickly came to find out was that this was not an event for the general public--it was intended for supporters, volunteers and members of the Boys and Girls Club. We don't currently fit into any of those categories. That's actually pretty important to this story.

The playground is outdoors but not visible from the street, so we decided to wait for the players outside the entrance to the building. That made us celebrity stalkers, something we had never been before. A few folks waited with us: a radio DJ from a station in Providence with her two kids, a retired school teacher with two kids in a huge stroller, a mom whose kid didn't appear to be there and a young man holding an autographed football.

Brady had been the last to arrive, and we figured that he would be one of the first to leave. As the players trickled out, though, he wasn't among them. They were friendly as they left the building, but they were clearly headed home. Most of them smiled and waved but didn't really stop as they headed to their cars--remember, this was not an appearance for the general public that they were making.

Nevertheless, Ike and I made our way among them. A mother had arrived with a two-week-old (even smaller than Isaac!) baby, and she approached Jerod Mayo for an autograph, which he signed for her.
The lady with him (I don't know who she was) was very friendly and started asking whether Isaac and the other little baby were twins. I said no, and she cooed over how cute both of them were. Players were headed to their cars by now, so Isaac and I started scouting out interesting faces while chatting politely with Jerod Mayo's friend.
About that time, I noticed that the lady with the two kids in the stroller was headed to the parking lot across the street. She had managed to corner Vince Wilfork, the huge nose tackle, and he was signing an autograph for the kids. I decided to follow her. I approached Vince Wilfork as he was getting ready to get into his car. I asked him whether he would take a picture with and sign an autograph for my baby.

I was extremely impressed with Vince Wilfork. He was genuinely friendly and without hesitation took Isaac in his massive arms while my wife photographed us. (Only one month old, and my baby has already been held by a Super Bowl champion and a Pro Bowler. That's pretty cool. If I had a photo of myself being held by, say, Bob Lilly at the age of one month, I'd have it framed and hanging on my wall to this day.)

Vince Wilfork signed an autograph for my boy and could not possibly have been more cordial, especially given the fact that I had pretty much chased him down at his car. He's not especially tall for a football player, but his width is astonishing--and his forearms speak for themselves. Count me as a huge Vince Wilfork fan. I'll always be appreciative of the kindness he showed Isaac and me. Even though Ike obviously won't remember this experience, I hope that he'll treasure these photos for a lifetime.
After Vince Wilfork left, the Brady watch was on. We were standing near the car he had gotten out of when he arrived, but a driver hopped into that car and pulled up right next to another exit from the building. Brady--after having participated quite animatedly with the kids in the Boys and Girls Club--was clearly not in the mood to be mobbed (again), and I can't say that I blame him.

The DJ from Providence and the lady with the kids in the stroller made something of a beeline for Brady, and he politely signed an autograph for the stroller lady, who rather nudged her way in front of the disgruntled DJ (who had, at least, introduced her kids to some of the other players as they entered the building earlier that day). With that, Brady was done, and he hopped in the passenger seat of his car as his driver slowly pulled away.

Again, and this is very important, Brady wasn't being a jerk. He had been there to entertain the kids at the club, which he very much did. I don't blame him for wanting to make a quiet exit; his presence on the street in Waltham had suddenly changed a small grouping of people into something of a bustling crowd. The waiting horde cheered for Brady has his car pulled away, which I thought was nice somehow. I did manage to snap a quick picture of him signing the autograph for the stroller lady.
After Brady departed, the gathering on the sidewalk thinned considerably. Not long after Brady left, a man wearing a Boys and Girls Clubs volunteer shirt and walking a dog approached me. He asked how long Brady had stayed and I answered not long--but I did tell him that Vince Wilfork held my baby. He made a comment about how much larger Vince Wilfork was than a month-old baby, and we chuckled. He then talked about how cute Isaac was and moved on. Nice man, I thought...and he looked for all the world like Peter King.

In case you don't know, Peter King is the preeminent pro football writer in America today. He does live in the Boston area, but I hadn't heard that he would be at this event. Besides, this guy looked much younger and thinner than the Peter King I watch on TV. (Much younger and thinner--he's actually in very good shape and looks 10 years younger in person.) As you might imagine, I came to find out later on that the gentleman who spoke with me was indeed Peter King. Unfortunately, I didn't get a photo with him, but I did enjoy our brief chat. Seriously, if you ever want to meet celebrities outside and event, bring a baby. It works exceptionally well.

There weren't more than two or three people still waiting outside the building when a man exited to mild fanfare. I had no idea who he was, but I thought that he looked at bit like Mark Walhberg. There was a reason for that--it was Donnie Wahlberg, but I didn't know that until the guy with the football told me. I snapped a picture of him. A lady who was with him made goo-goo eyes over Isaac--seriously, bring a baby. Just find one and bring one.
By that time, nobody was really outside the building except for a few volunteers who were still hanging around. I spoke for about 15 minutes to a volunteer named Paul, who was exceptionally friendly and very loyal to the cause of the Boys and Girls Clubs. He told me some funny stories about what had gone on inside during the playground construction--particularly about how Vince Wilfork had given Brady a hard time for being the last to arrive and one of the first to leave.

In all seriousness, though, the Boys and Girls Clubs is a great cause. I saw kids going in and out while I was there, interacting with each other and the staff. They all seemed very comfortable and happy. Paul told me about how he'd grown up going to the Clubs and wanted to give something back. It would be a great cause for donation if you're so inclined. I'll probably give a little something; Paul said that if everyone in Waltham gave just $1, that would add up to $60,000 for the Clubs and would be a nice little chunk of change for improvements to the facilities. That seems more than reasonable.

Just as my family and I were about to amble home, Paul let me know that there was one other famous person left in the building--Patriots owner Bob Kraft. Now, I have always liked Bob Kraft. Before he came into money, Kraft was an average Pats fan, a season-ticket holder at the old Foxborough Stadium who sat on the cold metal benches in the cheap seats with the other regular guys.

As Pats (and New England Revolution) owner, Kraft saved the NFL franchise from being moved to St. Louis by its previous owner and then turned down a huge public-financing offer to move to Hartford, instead spending his own money and building a whole new stadium in Foxboro.

Unlike Jerry Jones, the Arkansas scoundrel who owns the Cowboys, Kraft didn't use eminent domain to kick people out of their homes in order to build his private playground--nor did he use public money on the stadium the way Jones did down in Arlington. It's icing on the cake, really, that Kraft turned one of the worst franchises in NFL history into a winner and has thus far brought home five AFC championships and three Super Bowl titles to New England. 

Accompanied by no entourage at all, only a driver, Kraft exited the building and waved. I approached him about taking a picture with Isaac, which he was more than happy to do. He stood for several photos, actually, and in his best politician moment, he leaned over at one point and kissed my baby on the head. He was an exceptionally nice man and even put his arm around me at one point while we were taking photos. Needless to say, I was very impressed with Bob Kraft. I'm a fan.
That, then, was how Isaac met Vince Wilfork and Bob Kraft and got to spend an hour or so stalking the Patriots. All three of us had a wonderful time and came away very impressed with the Boys and Girls Clubs (maybe Ike will play there when he's a little older) and with the Pats organization. Isaac's first brushes with greatness were a huge success.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Yanks Yammer for Mercy from Rangers

I am not a Texas Rangers fan. I grew up outside of Dallas and went to a fair number of Ranger games as a kid, but I never developed an emotional connection to the team. If anything, I resented the Rangers for being so lousy. More on that in a bit.

When I was in the third grade, circa 1983 (actually, it was 1983), my teacher handed out in class one day some sort of little newspaper. In it, there were tips about how to write headlines for news stories. (Why we had this, I have no idea, but we did.) The hypothetical story this little newspaper offered headlines for involved the Texas Rangers beating the New York Yankees 10-0. (It was, I assure you, purely hypothetical.)

The main thrust of these headline tips was that alliteration was a cracking idea for headline writers. The first title the little paper offered for its fake story was "Rangers Rip Yankees 10-0." Not bad. But the second one is the one I've never forgotten for whatever bizarre reason. It said "Yanks Yammer for Mercy from Rangers." And that brings us right around to current events.

The apocalypse is surely upon us. Winged donkeys are flying. The sky is raining fire. I'm about to sprinkle rock salt where hell froze over. The Texas Rangers are going to the World Series. And they're going because they beat, in six games, the mighty New York Yankees, until Friday night the defending world champions. Presumably, by the ninth inning, with the Rangers in command of Game Six, the Yanks were indeed yammering for mercy from the Rangers.

When I was a kid, the Rangers tried to play up some sort of rivalry with the Yankees, which, of course, never existed. But then the Rangers would do just about anything to sell tickets--which they did, in enough numbers to stay afloat and stash a little money into the pockets of their various owners. What they almost never did, though, was compete.

For most of the 1970s and 1980s, the Texas Rangers did not play baseball; they inflicted it on the innocent sporting public of Dallas-Fort Worth. In blast-furnace heat, in a minor-league stadium that was still dumpy by minor-league standards, the former second coming of the Washington Senators stumbled to losing record after losing record, trading off good young players and bringing in washed-up old veterans who were out for one last payday.

Many moments stand out in Texas Rangers infamy--too many to name here. My personal favorite occurred when Bert Blyleven (born in the Netherlands, incidentally) famously endeared himself to Ranger fans one day by responding to their booing with a middle finger that he administered evenly to every fan in the park by slowly turning 360 degrees on the pitcher's mound. Even when the Rangers weren't bad, they were mired in constant chaos. And when they were bad, they were absolutely horrible.

So bad were they that the franchise kept a constant stream of promotions going to keep fans coming to the park. I went to Arlington Stadium on cap night, bucket hat night, bat night (yes, full-size bats, not those little novelty jobs), plastic batting helmet night, Arlington Stadium commemorative pin night... I could go on. There were, to my memory, 81 promotions for 81 home games a year, some of them more intriguing than others.

For years, I had a Louisville Slugger Buddy Bell bat from bat night. I had gone to the game with my friend, Todd, and his father, who was rather a crusty fellow from Chicago. On the way back to Midlothian, we stopped at Braum's for milkshakes. At some point during the ride home, while Todd and I were rolling around in the back of a station wagon that had the seats down (wow, have times changed on that front--we were probably eight years old), I accidentally spilled my shake on his bat. Todd was furious; he insisted that we trade bats, and despite being scared to death of his dad (who did not intervene), I refused. He swore after that that his bat didn't work properly because the shake had softened it or something. It didn't matter much; he was a pretty darn good ballplayer, and I was awful. But I did have, perhaps, the superior bat. 

Of course, I do have some nostalgic thoughts about the old Arlington Stadium and the old Rangers. The games were cheap and easy to attend--sellouts were extremely rare, and it was very possible on a given summer night to walk up to the stadium entrance and pay maybe $10 to get into the game and sit just about anywhere. Traffic was never bad. The nachos were decent. Arlington was much easier to get to and around than Dallas or Irving. Drunken fights in the broiling outfield seats provided entertainment when the Rangers didn't.

I used to be able to drive by the old stadium on Collins Street in Arlington and look at the scoreboard in a gap between the stands to see how badly the Rangers were losing. When I worked at Six Flags Over Texas in the summer of 1990, I could hear, from the depths of the Six Flags parking lot, the very occasional roar of the Arlington Stadium crowd, as the stadium and the amusement park were next to each other. The Ranger TV broadcasts used to be entertaining only because Steve Busby, the play-by-play announcer, called the games in the same way a singer at the Airport Hilton lounge belts out The Impossible Dream. I'm not really sure how else to explain that. He should have worn a half-unbuttoned disco shirt and a medallion in the booth.

Nostalgia, though, always gives way to a bit of resentment when it comes to the Rangers. With their lousy field and terrible teams, they deprived me of a real baseball experience in my childhood. Texas was a baseball outpost, a searing stop where real teams picked up a few wins, got dehydrated and moved on without fanfare. I took as a kid to cheering for the New York Mets, in part because the National League--then largely inaccessible on local television--fascinated me and in part because New York seemed like a real baseball city. (Don't ask me why I didn't cheer for the Yankees, but I'm glad I didn't.)

When the Rangers finally built the Ballpark in Arlington (or whatever it's called now), they ceased to be completely irrelevant and became only somewhat irrelevant. But it was too late for me by then--I was in college, and my interest in baseball had waned considerably, never to return in any serious way. So, it was with mixed, even confused, emotions that I watched the Rangers win the American League Championship Series and vanquish the hated Yankees. I'm happy for my cousin Roy and for my childhood best friend, John, both great guys and lifelong Ranger lovers. I'm happy that the Yankees lost. I do hope that the Rangers will go on to win the World Series.

But other than Nolan Ryan--whose son, Reese, was a classmate of mine at TCU and a very nice guy--I don't know who these Rangers are. Their uniforms are different. I've only been to the "new" Ballpark once, the year it opened. The fans are young, suburban and seemingly pretty middle-class, not like the crusty drunken fighters of years past. Men like former owner Brad Corbett, a pill of a man to whom I once sold socks at Neiman-Marcus in Fort Worth, are long gone. Eddie Chiles is no longer mad. The Rangers are good, very good, and completely unfamiliar. A generation of Texas baseball fans is growing up with real team that plays real baseball in a real ballpark. I can't help but think that that generation doesn't know what it's missing--and probably doesn't want to know.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Little Superfrog

Ike and Daddy watched TCU beat Wyoming 45-0 today. Little Man is signaling first down in that second picture...

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Little Man Loves Football

Isaac and I watched the Pats beat the Dolphins tonight. He was very excited, as you might imagine. He's getting a steady diet of all three types of football--American football, soccer and rugby. Hockey season starts soon...Mom is obviously thrilled.