Strap, put Ollie on your shoulders (1K A DAY)

HoosiersEarlier this year, I finished a somewhat arduous revision of a manuscript that’s currently on submission. I’m really proud of the results of all my work but without a doubt it was A LOT OF WORK.

I needed a break from full length novels so I entered a period where I worked on a lot of short stories. I fell in love with the short form all over again, even getting a few of my pieces placed for publication (see my Stories page for more details).

I started to question myself, though. (Isn’t that the way we keep our writer cards? Questioning ourselves?)

Could I return to full-length novel work? I mean, short stories and flash fiction are moments of light, flashbulbs of inspiration. Different from novels in so many ways.

Looking ahead to tackling another novel started to feel like looking up at a mountain I had climbed before but wasn’t sure I had the stamina to climb again.

But I had a new, great idea burning a hole in my mind. It needed to come out.

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On Tony Gwynn

Tony GwynnI’m normally not one to be sentimental about particular athletes. In fact, even as a “sports guy” (I guess I can call myself that), I avoid the human interest tales about this athlete or that one, those dramatic “life stories.” I just want to watch and enjoy the games, not delve into the struggle one athlete or another had to “get there.” It seems they all faced compelling journeys and overcame significant obstacles to succeed. After all, they’re people.

But Tony Gwynn died on Monday, June 16th. And this made me very sad.

It’s possible my emotions are a little raw these days for a variety of reasons I won’t go into here (or, actually, anywhere). These raw emotions may have made losing my favorite athlete of all time this particular week a little harder than might otherwise have been the case.

But it turns out Tony Gwynn meant a lot to me. Here are some of the reasons why.

The year was 1984. I was thirteen (stop doing the math) and, along with all my friends, a huge baseball fan. Also…math geeks. Which meant not only did we play actual baseball on a field, but we also played all sorts of nerdy statistical card games in dark rooms when we should have been outside in the sun. But I digress.

The thing is, it was time to pick a favorite team. See, growing up in Buffalo, NY, there is no local major league baseball team. We’re sort of equidistant from the Cleveland Indians, Toronto Blue Jays and Pittsburgh Pirates. In fact, most people just punt and root for the Yankees. It’s the same state, after all. And the Yankees are always good and therefore easy to root for.

Bah. Front runners.

Most of my friends weren’t this way at all. They all liked different teams: Milwaukee Brewers, Detroit Tigers, Boston Red Sox. For my part, I’ve never been much of a follower. I didn’t want to root for any of these teams because it felt like they were already “taken.”

Enter the San Diego Padres and Tony Gwynn.

See, in 1984 the Padres were very good. They had a new rising star in right fielder Gwynn. They reached the World Series (losing to the Tigers). San Diego has lots of sun and seemed like a pleasant place to visit. NO SNOW. Most importantly, no one else would have dreamed of picking the *Padres* to root for. Therefore, I had my team.

Alas, there followed (for the most part) many years of ineptitude. But no matter how bad the team might have been, they always had one bright shining spot – Tony Gwynn. He was the best hitter the league has seen in probably thirty years. There are lots of statistics I could dump on you, but I’ll refrain and instead point you to a link here if you’re into that kind of thing.

Sometime in the mid-’90’s I got to see my first live Padres game. I drove all the way from Buffalo to Philadelphia for a weekend series between the Padres and the Phillies. I went to all three games in the sweltering heat, watching from nosebleed seats. Tony Gwynn was there, had a couple of nice games, but he was small and very far away. I didn’t get his autograph. Still, I loved it.

Some years later I moved to Atlanta and started going to Braves games. Of course, if possible, I’d go when they were playing the Padres. Once, resolute to finally get close enough for an autograph, we went early and I brought a baseball. Gwynn came over to the stands to sign. A huge group of kids gathered around him. Not wanting to get in the middle and be the only adult, and being a severe introvert, I hung back. But my wife stepped in, knowing how badly I wanted the autograph, and called after him. He turned and smiled at me, said something nice (I can’t recall exactly what) and I tossed him the ball. He signed it quickly and tossed it back.

The rumors that I knocked over a five-year-old to catch that ball are just that. Rumors. You can’t prove anything.

What I can say is, it wasn’t very smooth. I’m nothing like this kid. Never have been.

Several years later the Padres built a beautiful new stadium in downtown San Diego – Petco Park. I had to go see it. It was like Mecca to me. And, because I had been smart enough to select a team who played in a gorgeous city weather-wise, both my sisters came on the vacation too. I’ll always remember that trip, especially the part where my sister made me sit between her and home plate so I could “catch any foul balls before they hit her.”

So I’ve been a Padres fan for a long time, but a Tony Gwynn fan just as long. And I have lots of great memories from the experience. The thing about Tony Gwynn is, he was a great player, but darn it, he was just as much a nice guy. And I rooted for him for so long I do feel a real sense of loss that he’s gone now, even though he retired from playing many years ago.

Supposedly nice guys always finish last. Maybe that’s true, but I’m not so sure. I think we men should value a well-earned nice guy label a little more.

Because nice guys don’t always finish last. Sometimes, they even go to the Hall of Fame.

CLEEEAN! My obsession with Olympic curling

Curling British WomenI’ve come to realize I have a strange infatuation with obscure sports. In a country of over three hundred million, I’m one of perhaps only two or three hundred who practice a form of Japanese archery, Kyudo. In college, I lingered a long time at the fencing club table before deciding I should probably focus on studying instead.

And now…curling.

That’s right, curling. I’ve watched a frightening amount of the sport since the 2014 Sochi Olympics began. I keep tweeting jokes about it, as if I’m only watching because it’s funny.

But this is denial. And it’s not true.

The truth is, I’m enamored with curling. I grew up in Buffalo, NY. In the old pre-cable days when we only got about five local channels, it was great to be so close to Canada because it increased the channels from five to about eight (I remember CBC was channel 5. I don’t remember the others, and I’m too lazy to look them up. Deal.). And I can remember, on certain dull, wintry Saturday afternoons, turning on one of those Canadian channels and watching curling for a while on a tiny thirteen-inch television.

The sport must have ingrained itself into my brain, because now, since the start of these Olympics, I am watching it daily. DAILY, I say. Men’s, woman’s, United States, other countries, doesn’t matter. If it’s curling and it’s on MSNBC in the late afternoon, chances are I’m tuned in.

It’s getting ridiculous. My wife keeps wandering into the room only to groan, “Curling? Again?” The other day I even looked up whether there was some place in Atlanta where one could learn the fine art of curling. I expected to come up empty, but not so, sports fans. Not so. It turns out the Atlanta Curling Club maintains a home in the Marietta, GA area.

They offer, twice per week, a Learn to Curl class. And, can I just say….”Winter Leagues Starting Soon.”

Winter leagues, people. Starting soon. This could be a problem.

I mean, in what other sport can you scream things like “CLEAN!” and “SWEEP!” at the top of your lungs without gender reprisal? (Trust me guys, do not burst into the kitchen and yell either of these if your wife is holding a dustpan and broom. It doesn’t end well.)

Those Norwegians...

Those Norwegians…

In what other sport can you wear pants that went out of fashion twenty-five years ago? (the Russian trousers were the worst, but Norway gets the award for changing them every match).

In what other sport can you hear manly, war-like terms such as “Shot Rock,” “The Hammer” and “Corner Guards?”

What other sport is like chess on ice, with the spirit of tic-tac-toe, bowling and bocce ball married together using the equipment from your high school’s janitorial closet?

The answer is none, folks. Very definitively none.

So look for me in South Korea in 2018.

I’ll be the one with the broom.