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2015 NCAA Tournament Day One

March 21, 2015

For the past 16 years I have been working as a scorer/researcher at CBS Sports. Here is a little preview of day one of the 2015 NCAA Tournament.

Getting there is half the fun. I’d like to punch whoever coined this phrase. The agita set in early this year. I was up at 5:30 for whatever reason. My son was already up as I spotted the light peering out of his room. I guess my nervousness stemmed from the fact that I reserved a cab to take me to the train station. From what I have read about cab services in my neck of the woods they are not very reliable. I told the Dispatcher that I wanted to be on the 8:31 train. Actually I was taking the 9:11 train, but I am a firm believer in better safe than sorry.

The morning went OK with the exception of my son spilling his juice all over the rug. No worries I cleaned it up no problem. I told him that he has to focus on what he is doing. I am just glad the glass didn’t break and he didn’t get hurt. After dropping him off at daycare I waited for my car. I even called at 7:30 to verify and the dispatcher was courteous and said that he had me down and that the card would be there shortly.

Usually my cousin or one of my nephews or nieces will drive me to the station. This year everyone was working, so I had to spring for a cab. The reason I don’t take my own car is because I don’t want to leave it in an outdoor parking lot for four days. Additionally I like that it sits in front of the house with my wife’s car, this way it looks like someone is always home. Sorry that is the just the paranoid New Yorker in me.

Sure enough the dispatcher was right and my car arrived on time. I got to the station in less than 20 minutes and had time for breakfast in the bagel shop. One hurdle crossed.

Once settled on the train I received a text from Todd, who was on the same train. We decided to meet in Penn Station and share a cab up to the hotel. I have been working with Todd for more years than I can count and for the last 5 years we have been partnered up on the tournament. This year we are doing the Pittsburgh and Columbus regions.

As we walked to the studio from the hotel we spotted a huge line of people outside the Holiday Inn. I wondered aloud what they were in line for, when Todd said, “Charles Barkley must be having a meet and greet.” Todd gets the quote of the day and we didn’t even reach the studio yet.

First game up is the first game of the tournament: North Eastern and Notre Dame. This Irishman is glad he got to see the Irish as the first game.

Northeastern gave them more than they could handle, but the boys from South Bend prevailed. Next up Butler beat Texas in a game that appeared to move quickly. All of us in the research room love games like that. Good pace nice flow and not too many play stoppages.

Fortunately Todd and I had a break between games three and four so we each checked into our rooms and had our luggage delivered to our respective rooms. After a few phone calls and a quick power nap it was back to the studio, for Villanova and Lafayette. Everyone knew this was going to be a blow out and the Wildcats proved everyone correct. Games like that can get boring so you keep track of runs and big leads. I think the Cats were up by 36 points at one point.

Our last game for the day was LSU & NC State. Best game in our region out of the four. NC State was down by as many as 16 early in the second half and rallied to win by one point.

There were 12 other games going on as well, and Iowa State and Georgia State killed me and millions of others in office pools nationwide.

After all that needless to say I was beat. When I got back to the hotel room I did the only logical thing. I watched more basketball! When my roommate got back in we chatted a bit and finally I fell asleep around 1:30. Day one is in the books. Day two starts for Todd and I a 2:10 today. Unfortunately with the late start we don’t get a break between games two and three but we can handle it we are veterans at this by now. Besides we found out we have all day Saturday to ourselves, as our first game isn’t until 7:20 pm. I think I’ll take in the sights of NYC. Hopefully I won’t be doing it in the snow.

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The 2014 Book List

January 14, 2015

It’s the post you all know and love. It’s the one you have been waiting for since this time last year. It’s the TC annual book list. A look at the books I read over the past year while riding the steel rails of the LIRR. Enjoy!

Pinstripe Empire by Marty Appel. Well researched (especially the early 1900’s stuff) and well written. This tome tells the history of the Yankees from their beginnings as the Highlanders through the glory years of Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Berra and Mantle, through the lean years of the mid to late 60’s and the teams resurrection under George Steinbrenner.

Hammerin’ Hank, George Almighty and the Say Hey Kid, The Year that Changed Baseball Forever. John Rosengren. The 1973 baseball season in all it’s glory with an emphasis on Orlando Cepeda, Reggie Jackson, George Steinbrenner, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays. I will say one thing for the author he is the only person I have read so far that has correctly named the restaurant where the Yankees announced what they thought they would be their new manager, Dick Williams. It’s Terrace on the Park, NOT Feathers in the Park.

Time Change, Book 3: The Way Back – Alex Meyers. Jack Riggs is back to try and prevent the Civil War AND find his way back to his own time. I don’t want to give anything away but it seems that Riggs’ time leap has caused advances in communications, medicine and technology to advance 20 years. You would have seen that Apple Computer in 1964 instead of 1984.

Protect & Defend – Vince Flynn. The action starts in Iran where an undercover Mossad agent has destroyed the Iranian nuclear plant. Of course the Iranian Government blames the United States. However before Mitch Rapp can clean up this mess there is a little something he has to take of from the previous novel, An Act of Treason and that is to kill the bad guy. Once that is done it’s on to dealing with the Iranians, the Israelis and his own government. Of course Mitch saves the day.

Now It’s Funny: How I Survived Cancer, Divorce and Other Looming Disasters – Michael Solomon. I met the author as our sons were navigating the playground at a Long Island McDonald’s. We got to talking and he told me that he was in TV to which I replied that I also do TV work as well. He told me about his book which I jotted down and ordered for my Kindle. Cancer is not funny but Solomon takes you through his ups and downs that will have you laughing one minute and in tears the next. Thank God he came through this ordeal OK and is still around to talk about it. It’s been said that how you deal with cancer  ie: positive attitude is half the battle. Solomon really made it through with his sense of humor and a good spirit.

His Excellency George Washington – Joseph Ellis. A task I have assigned myself is to try and read a book about every U.S. President (and so far I am failing miserably). So where better to start than with number one, the Father of his country himself. Bet you didn’t know that Washington just missed being shot at 25 years old. Now imagine if that had happened. How different would American history be?

Crash and Burn – Artie Lange. Artie sort of got clean and then goes down the lonely road of drug and alcohol abuse once again in this follow up to “Too Fat To Fish.” Having met Artie a few times he is a likable guy I just wish he would clean himself up for good.

E Street Shuffle:The Glory Days of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band – Clinton Heylin. Having read many volumes on one of my favorite artists (Springsteen) I figured I’d give this one a whirl. Nothing new revealed here. I knew all the stories. Still a decent read for a casual fan.

Seinfeld: The Making of an American Icon – Jerry Oppenheimer. Seinfeld from his humble beginning as a standup comedian to his rise to superstardom of his hit comedy series and beyond. Having worked as a bartender in the Comic Strip where Jerry got his start, it was nice to see quotes from the former manager of the club, Lucien Hold. Jerry Seinfeld has led a charmed life and I am happy for all of his success, which he never really let go to his head.

Extreme Measures – Vince Flynn. Mitch Rapp’s co-worker and good buddy Mike Nash gets to share the spotlight in this one. Two terrorist cells have been thwarted but a third one is on the loose and it’s up to Nash and Rapp to stop them. But first Rapp has to be released from custody for violating a prisoner’s (read terrorist’s) rights.

Pursuit of Honor – Vince Flynn. 185 people are killed in Washington DC at the National Counterterrorism Center, including staff, cabinet members and senators. And as usual it’s up to Mitch Rapp to save the day. However Rapp is dealing with Mike Nash’s psychological scars from the previous book as well as one of the higher up’s at the CIA who want to bring Rapp down. With the self-named Lion of al Qaeda and his two dimwitted assistants running around America, Rapp has his hands full. It all come to a stunning climax at a national monument in DC.

The Last Man – Vince Flynn. One of Mitch Rapp’s colleagues has been kidnapped (or has he). Either way Rapp must muddle through Afghanistan to find the answers to some very disturbing questions concerning his buddy. Sadly this was the last full book Flynn finished as he died of cancer in 2013.

Dream Team: How Michael, Magic, Larry, Charles, and the Greatest Team of All Time Conquered the World and Changed the Game of Basketball Forever – Jack McCallum. This is quite possibly the greatest sports book I have ever read up to this point. Author McCallum gets his subjects to open up about a variety of topics that went on while this team was in Barcelona for two weeks in the summer of 1992. Never knew about Michael Jordan’s dislike for Isiah Thomas or what a tremendous competitor Jordan really was until I read this one. The Larry Bird – Chris Mullin game of H-O-R-S-E is interesting to say the least. Bird and Patrick Ewing becoming friends is another interesting, if not odd finding in this book. Magic Johnson aka Majeek as he was called in Europe was and is still loved by his adoring fans. You have to respect what David Robinson has done after his basketball career ended by opening up a school for children in San Antonio. I loved the chapter on the scrimmage between Team Magic and Team Jordan, which was played July 22, 1992 the same day my Godson Andrew was born! Jack McCallum is the luckiest sportswriter ever to have had the opportunity to cover this team for Sports Illustrated.

Catch a Wave: The Rise Fall and Redemption of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson – Peter Ames Carlin. I read Carlin’s bio on Bruce Springsteen a while back so I thought I would give this one a go, borrowing it from my library. The word genius is flung around too often, but it is perfectly applicable to Brian Wilson. The leader of the Beach Boys overcame a rough childhood under the abusive hand of his father Murry to become one of the most prolific songwriters in American history.  If that sounds like high praise, it’s warranted. I especially liked the part when Brian was in India at the same time as the Beatles and Paul McCartney played him a demo of “Back in the U.S.S.R.” saying it was an homage to the Beach Boys own “California Girls.”

The Third Bullet – Stephen Hunter. Apparently JFK was shot from the Dal-Tex Building.Yes it’s another book with yet another take on the Kennedy Assassination. I am not apologizing for reading a lot about a subject I have been fascinated with for a long time. Having never read any of Hunter’s work before, I did enjoy this one.

The Hit – David Baldacci. I have read all of the Mitch Rapp books. Now that Vince Flynn has passed away, I went looking for a new undercover super secret agent to follow. I found him in Will Robie. This is the second book of the series, and I was a little upset that I didn’t read the first one first. However I did catch on right away. Our hero is being stalked by someone who has “gone off the grid.” This one was a real page turner with a surprise twist ending.

The Innocent – David Baldacci. So I went back and read the first book in the Will Robie series and got myself caught up.  Robie befriends a tough teenager whose parents were killed. They go on a wild adventure as they are both looking for answers. For the girl, it’s who killed her parents and for Robie, it’s who set him up.

The Target – David Baldacci. Third in what I hope will be a never ending series of Will Robie books. Will and his new “partner” Jessica Reel. Nazi’s and North Korea are just two of the villains in this one. Another page turner but I am getting tired of the kidnapping yarn. How many times can one person be abducted and rescued?  Over all I still liked this one and look forward to the fourth installment.

Surrounded by Enemies – Bryce Zabel. Yes it’s another “What if JFK Survived Dallas?” novel. Only this one has a twist. It’s told from the perspective of a group of reporter from a fictitious newsweekly, Top Story. Author Zabel, who is a producer and screenwriter makes the characters come to life. JFK was at the Ed Sullivan Theater in February, 1964 to see and meet the Beatles! I connected with Zable through Linkedin and told him how much I enjoyed the book and how I look forward to any future work by him. He is currently working on another alternate history: “What if the Beatles Never Broke Up?”

Waging Heavy Peace – Neil Young. The story of Neil’s rise to fame and fortune and his work with Pono a portable digital media player and music download service strictly for high-quality audio. As a fan of Neil’s work, I thought he was all over the place with this biography, as it’s not told in a linear fashion. Neil loves his son’s Ben and Zeke who are both afflicted with cerebral palsy. Ben usually accompanies his father on tour and Neil loves looking into the wings and seeing his son enjoying the show. Neil’s hobbies are discussed as well including his love of model trains and his car collection including the famous LincVolt – an electric converted Lincoln Continental that Neil himself designed. Along the way there is talk of Buffalo Springfield, CSNY and his solo music career.

When Giants Walked the Earth: Led Zeppelin – Mick Wall. Probably the most detailed book I ever read on Led Zeppelin. Author Wall gets into the psyches of all four members plus manager peter Grant. A whole chapter is devoted to Aleister Crowley and Jimmy Page’s obsession with the black wizard. Wall even deciphers what he thinks “Zoso” actually means! The band was at it’s zenith after the Earl’s Court shows in 1975, and after that is when everything began to unwind. The author pulls no punches regarding John Bonham’s drinking and Page’s heroin addiction – John Paul Jones actually produced “In Through the Out Door” as Page was strung out during the making and mixing of the album. One annoying part were the flashback sequences where Wall would spend anywhere between a page to a page and a half discussing Jimmy Page as a sessions man or Robert Plant seeing Elvis for the first time. It slowed down the flow of the book. Other than that a great read for any hard core Zeppelin fan.

I Hate the Dallas Cowboys – Thomas R Pryor. My friend and fellow Yorkville neighbor wrote this one and gave me an autographed copy over lunch one day. There are a lot of fun stories in this one that anyone who grew up in Yorkville will appreciate. Heck even if you didn’t grow up in Yorkville, but you were reared in a tight knit community with lots of friends and family you will be laughing at these stories.

Season of ‘42 – Jack Cavanaugh. Baseball’s in America’s first full year of World War II. America’s first full year of World War II and it didn’t look good for the allies fighting wars on two fronts. As for baseball there were Teddy Ballgame and the Yankee Clipper renewing their rivalry. Unfortunately the errors in this book were plentiful and too long to list here. I did enjoy one section about Coast Guard officer John Cullen (no relation) who spotted four German spies on the beach at Amagansett. I have heard this story before but it was nice to see it told again.

Republic: A Novel of America’s Future – Charles Sheehan-Miles. Seems West Virginia wants to secede from the union. Troops are called in, battles are fought and the rebellion is put down rather quickly. Author Sheehan-Miles drew up some characters that I really cared about. Lots of linked characters like the daughter of a general who leads the rebellion. She is also the assistant to a very powerful Senator who is up for re-election. I liked this one a lot and couldn’t wait to read the sequel.

Insurgent – Charles Sheehan-Miles. And here is that sequel. With the rebellion squashed, small pockets of resistance have popped up around the state. As it turns out the rebels are backed by a religious nut (aren’t they almost always) who wants to put his own man in the White House and he comes very close to achieving that goal. One side plot in this one that really made me like the book was a soldier — previously regarded as a screw up — who begins dating the mayor’s daughter. Unfortunately her uncle the mayor’s brother-in-law is on the side of the rebels.

Obama’s America: Unmaking the American Dream – Dinesh D’Souza. The author does not like President Obama, I get it. I don’t particularly like President Obama either. D’Sousa puts to bed the rumors of Obama not being born in the United States. He WAS born in Hawaii, he just spent a lot of time in Kenya and Indonesia, before settling in Chicago. Why Chicago? That’s where Saul Alinsky began his career as a community organizer. Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign was heavily influenced by Alinsky and his teachings. Chicago is also home to Bill Ayers, allegedly an Obama friend. Ayers was a founder of the Weather Underground. You remember the Weather Underground, a Communist revolutionary group whose contribution to society was planting bombs in buildings such as the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol to protest the Vietnam War during the 60’s and 70’s.

America: Imagine a World Without Her – Dinesh D’Souza. What if America didn’t exist? I shudder at the thought and you should too. The academic D’Souza brings up the fact that President Obama was raised by leftists and that his progressive agenda is destroying America. More of the same as the previous read. There is no way in hell this country can afford to elect Hillary Clinton as President in 2016.

What’s So Great About Christianity? – Dinesh D’Souza. As you can see when I get into an author I want to read a lot if not all of his works. This is probably the heaviest book – in terms of subject matter – that I have read in a very long time. D’Souza cites noted scientists, philosophers, Christian scholars and atheists to prove that God does exist. He actually answered the question I have always asked, “Well if God created the universe, what was he doing before the universe was created?” As for religion being the cause of almost every war or act of genocide, D’Souza points out that neither Stalin or Hitler believed in God. So I guess atheism was the cause for The Great Purge and the Nazi death camps…something to ponder. And oh yes I DO still believe in God. Never doubted his existence for a moment.

Obama’s Wars – Bob Woodward. After reading about how much Dinesh D’Souza really dislikes President Obama, I decided to go to my man Bob Woodward and see what he had to say. Why anyone would want the job of POTUS is beyond me. In this book, Woodward goes way behind the scenes with Obama, his cabinet and his generals and military to look deep into the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, with a whole lot of Pakistan throw in there as well. It’s Pakistan that is hiding and harboring most of the terrorists that want to do our country harm.  Strong look at what goes into the decision making of where to deploy our troops and how many to send into the Middle East. Look we are in two wars that we can’t win. Time to pull every American serviceman and woman out of the region and let these clowns figure things out for themselves. Easier said than done I know. This book was written before we killed Osama Bin Laden.

Let’s Spend the Night Together – Pamela Des Barres. After all the political stuff I have read the past few weeks, I needed to change course. This book was certainly a different direction. One of the original ‘60s rock-n-roll groupies, Des Barres travels around the country interviewing other groupies. Tura Santana, who claimed she taught Elvis how to swivel his hips as well as swing his junk leads off the tome. A lot of names I have recognized from other rock books I have read are mentioned here, Cynthia Plaster Caster, Lori Mattix (whose name I have seen spelled several different ways over the years), Sable Starr, Bebe Buell and the legendary Sweet Connie all tell their stories. We have all done wild and crazy things when we were younger but these girls took it to the extremes. After reading this book I felt like I needed a shower.

Legendary Sessions: Bob Dylan Highway 61 Revisited. Colin Irwin. Well researched book about Dylan’s making of the Highway 61 Revisited Album. Irwin goes through each song dissecting each session. Dylan a notoriously slow worker took his time with this masterpiece and it shows. Bob recorded Positively 4th Street during these sessions which he released as a single and kept off the disc. I would recommend this one to any Dylan fan who hasn’t already read it or even just a casual fan.

Up All Night – Carol Miller. Rock-N-Roll Disc Jockey Miller tells about her rise to fame on the New York and Philadelphia airwaves. She gets personal with her relationships and her battle with cancer which she has courageously won. I have been listening to Miller for years since her days at WPLJ when then actually played great rock-n-roll. After finishing this book I dropped Carol an email telling her of my fondness for Bruce Springsteen and the fact that the night that my son was born the doctor and I got into a discussion about Led Zeppelin. The doc told me that his brother attended the show at the O2 Arena in London, two nights earlier. Carol was also there. She was kind enough to write me a note back. I love Carol’s style and I wish her nothing but more success in her career.

The Drop – Dennis Lehane. at just over 200 pages, I breezed through this one in less that 24 hours. The book is about a mob bar, a heist and a second planned heist during Super Bowl Sunday. I loved the characters and look forward to seeing the movie when it makes it’s way to Netflix. It was the last film James Gandolfini made. I intend to read more of Lehane’s stuff as I like his style.

The Fifth Assassin – Brad Meltzer. Someone is planning to kill the current President. Apparently there is a link to all four past Presidential Assassins, John Wilkes Booth, Charles J. Guiteau, Leon Czolgosz and Lee Harvey Oswald. There is also some sort of secret society that some Presidents are sworn into. There were a couple of great twists and turns especially at the end. I look forward to reading the next installment. However,  I am going to have to go back and read The Inner Circle which is the prequel to this book, as the author doesn’t do the reader the service of updating what has already happened.

Monopoly: The World’s Most Famous Game and how it Got That Way – Philip E. Orbanes. What kid did not have a Monopoly game in his room while growing up. What kid doesn’t know that Park Place and Boardwalk are THE properties to own? Fun read regarding Monopoly it’s predecessors, history and it’s future. There are so many versions of this game in various countries throughout the world. I am looking for an Oakland Raiders or a Star Wars version of the game!

December 8, 1980: The Day John Lennon Died – Keith Elliot Greenberg. Author Greenberg doesn’t really dig too deep into what happened on that day but leads us on a trail of the events leading up to Lennon’s murder. I did learn that President-elect Reagan was in New York meeting with Archbishop of New York, Terence Cardinal Cooke that day. The saddest part for me aside from John’s murder was that the piece of shit (I have vowed never to say his name)  that killed John actually went up to shake Sean Lennon’s hand call him a good boy hours before he killed his father. And like the Summer of ‘42 book above there was another Cullen (again no relation) sighting in this book. Police officer Peter Cullen was one of the officers that drove Lennon to the hospital.

Cosell: The Man the Myth and the Transformation of American Sports – Mark Ribowsky. I was taught that if you don’t have anything nice to say about someone don’t say anything. I was also taught not to speak ill of the dead. Having never worked with Cosell (I began my career at ABC Sports in 1988 a few years after Howard semi-retired) but I have heard the wild stories. Here was a man that was very good at his job. Unfortunately his ego was too big for his body. What I took for this book: this was not a nice man. He would have made a great lawyer should he have continued along that career path. What really made me see what a jerk Cosell was, was when two daughters of an ABC Sports PR Man ran up to meet him introducing themselves as the PR Man’s daughters. Cosell’s response, “Who cares?”

Rising Tide: Bear Bryant, Joe Namath and Dixie’s Last Quarter – Randy Roberts & Ed Krzemienski. The story of Joe Namath’s years as the quarterback at Alabama. Interesting to note that Namath was at the school when it became desegregated. Aside from being a good football book this one also provides a history lesson. Namath actually witnessed Alabama Governor George Wallace standing in the schoolhouse door attempting to block two black students, Vivian Malone and James Hood from registering. The football team would not become desegregated until 1970. I found it strangely interesting how the demanding and intense Bear Bryant and the laid-back, party boy Namath got along so well. If you are going to read this one, I would follow it up with a book I read last year: Turning the Tide.

You Never Give me your Money: The Beatles After the Breakup – Peter Doggett. WOW! Did these guys really hate each other? Or was it the lawyers that made the fab four not get along? If you think you know everything about the Beatles, read this book. I guarantee you will learn a few things you did not know. Turns out John had a difficult time making hit records and while John George and Ringo were doing guest shots on each others albums, Paul decided to form his own new band and get on with his life. The amount of money that the four Beatles lost through Apple Corps. and other investment misadventures was staggering.

Legendary Sessions: The Rolling Stones Beggars Banquet. Alan Clayson. There is really only one chapter in this tome that deals with the actual sessions regarding this great disc. The rest is all filler such as the bands influences, a history of the band and Brian Jones descent into drugs, despair and his eventual death. Jones contributed little to this album and would soon be a former Rolling Stone. The Dylan book in this series — that I wrote about above — was much better in my opinion.

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A Tale of Two Teams

November 4, 2014

I have the best of teams and the worst of teams.

Let’s start with my worst team. Anyone who knows me knows that I am an Oakland Raider fan. Yes the same Oakland Raiders that are currently 0-8 and pretty much a lock for the first pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. In plain English, THEY SUCK!

I’ve had the opportunity to score a few of their games this season, and they were painful to watch. This is a team that lost to the Jets! After that Jet game, my friend Mike texted me, “your team has a quarterback,” as he was leaving Met Life Stadium. Yes, I thought to myself, all we need now is an offensive line, a running back that can gain more than three yards per carry and some good receivers. I won’t even talk about the defense.

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The best thing about the Raiders so far this season!

As for my best team, that would be my fantasy team, van Eeghen & Co. Named for former Raider running back Mark van Eeghen, My team is currently 9-0 and is the only undefeated team in my league. I have scored the most points in three out of the nine weeks of the season. Led by quarterback Andrew Luck, this team is a juggernaut.

Andrew Luck

Andrew Luck lets everyone know that van Eeghen & Co. are Number 1.

Yahoo Sports graded my draft with a C+, adding:

“Despite selecting with the sixth overall pick, van Eeghen & Co. couldn’t capitalize on the opportunity and drafted a roster that will have trouble winning. Opponents will enjoy beating this team with regularity, which is projected to finish 14th in BTX Loose Enders League with a record of 2-11-0 (1,229 points). They aimed for having a roster with balance throughout, taking QB Andrew Luck (23rd overall), RBs Marshawn Lynch (6th) and Ryan Mathews (34th), and WRs Larry Fitzgerald (51st) and Percy Harvin (62nd). They have one of the worst groups of WRs in the league, as they added Fitzgerald, Harvin, Cecil Shorts III, and Nate Washington.”

Hahahahahahaha!!

Mathews and Mark Ingram getting hurt in week one looked like it would send my season into a tailspin. While Mathews is still out, Ingram has bounced back to give me two consecutive solid weeks. In their absence Eagles all-purpose offensive threat Darren Sproles provided me with some much needed points. I have since dropped Shorts and Washington, and I will admit my WR’s are a little weak.

If you have stopped laughing about Yahoo Sports grading my draft, this should bring on more laughter: “Despite being an above-average player at his position, Andrew Luck was the weakest value pick of the round.”

Really? With a league leading 3.085 passing yards, Luck is projected as just falling short or Peyton Manning’s 2013 single season record of 5,477 yards. He also has 26 TD passes which also leads the league.

As for my first pick, Marshawn Lynch, look no further than his touchdown run versus the Raiders on Sunday. He carried what appeared to be the entire Raider defense into the end zone with him for the Seahawks first touchdown of the day. When it comes to fantasy, you root for your players against your team. Best case scenario, Lynch would have scored three touchdowns, but the Raiders would have won.

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Marshawn Lynch dancing his way through your living room and into the end zone.

This football season, just goes to prove that sometimes fantasy is better than reality. Well maybe with the possible exception of that night many years ago when Carol, Jennifer and I drank too much wine. But that is another story for another time.

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Me, Mom & Frank Sinatra

October 11, 2014

FrankSinatraLike any good son that loves his mother I always wanted to do something nice for her on her birthday. And I usually did. One exception was that time when I was about 12-years old when mom told me that she didn’t want anything for her birthday. That was the year that I went out and bought a baseball glove with the money I was going to spend on her birthday gift.

When her birthday rolled around and all she got from me was a card, I could sense her disappointment. Then my Aunt Toni called me on the phone and berated me for not getting her sister a present. Needless to say I learned at a young age that women never mean what they say. That lesson has served me well in life with the exception of the one time I slipped. It was around 1987 and my then girlfriend told me, “Go to your friend’s bachelor party, have fun, I’ll be alright home alone.”

Of course when I got home I heard, “I don’t believe that you actually went to that bachelor party, and left me here alone on a Saturday night.”

I really couldn’t understand this. I mean we had cable and a VCR player, it’s not like she was all alone.

For more on the subject of women never saying what they mean see the movie Tootsie. There is an exchange between Dustin Hoffman and Jessica Lange that will drive this point home.

Mom’s birthday is October 12, which is kind of cool that a genuine Italian mother was born on Columbus Day. She’d even get a parade on her birthday! In the summer of 1982, I procured two tickets for a Frank Sinatra concert at Carnegie Hall on September 19. It was a little early for mom’s birthday but I didn’t have any say in Sinatra’s tour planning. frankstub2

I secured the ducats through my friend Mike who got them from a ticket scalper named Sidney whom Mike knew from around Madison Square Garden. Sidney was nicknamed “Mumbles” by the other ticket scalpers because he could barely talk due to a tracheotomy tube he had inserted in his neck. Mike and I never referred to him by his obviously very un-PC nickname. We were always respectful and called him Sidney. I paid $80 for two seats in the first row of the balcony in Carnegie Hall, which for a college student at the time was a lot of money. But mom was worth it.

The night of the show we took the bus across town to 57th and Broadway and walked south for a bit. We found a Chinese restaurant near the Ed Sullivan Theater and had dinner. When we got to Carnegie Hall, mom realized she would have to climb a lot of steps to get to our seats, which she was not happy about. Diabetes and a smoking habit made stairs difficult for her. I told her to just take her time and if she had to go to the bathroom now would be a good time. Once the show started I knew she would not want to get up.

The problem with seats in the first row of the balcony is that once you get to the top of the balcony, you have to walk down to your seats. I could see the look on her face that said “not more stairs!” We made our way to our seats and settled in to listen to some music. First up was drummer Buddy Rich who was absolutely amazing. I would place Carl Palmer and Mr. Rich as the two best drummers I have ever seen just for sheer speed. Keep in mind I was never fortunate enough to see Keith Moon or John Bonham.

After Buddy’s set and a brief intermission, it was time for the Chairman of the Board, Old Blue Eyes himself. He opened with “I’ve Got the World on a String.” Somewhere in the middle of the song mom turned to me and said, “The girl next to me has a tape recorder in her bag, she’s recording the show.” Obviously this was mom’s first ever encounter with a concert bootlegger. However, I am pretty sure she knew other types of bootleggers, having been born during prohibition.

I told her to just enjoy the show try not to say anything that would ruin the girls recording, clap nicely after each song and for God’s sake, do NOT yell out “Freebird.” The last reference went right over her head.

Sinatra played a decent 14-song set that included: “My Kind of Town,” “The Lady is a Tramp,” “I’ve got you Under My Skin” closing with “New York, New York.” At one point between songs, he burped into the microphone and said, “Well, what did you expect from a saloon singer?” This brought a roar of laughter from the crowd.

Another highlight was a woman, whom I estimated to be in her twenties, in the orchestra section who must have been motioning for a kiss or a hug from Sinatra. He called her over to the stage and when the singer bent down to oblige her request; she kissed him and picked the handkerchief out of the pocket of his tuxedo. She then bolted up a side aisle back to her seat waving her stolen hankie. I half expected Jilly Rizzo and some of the boys to appear out of nowhere and lean on her to give the hanky back, but that never happened. I just hope that girl still has the handkerchief as it is a nice souvenir.

After the show I told mom to just relax and let the people file out so that we wouldn’t have to contend with the crowd. This would also make it easier for me to talk to an usher or a security person to see if we could take the elevator down to the first floor. A security person that I spoke to and explained that my mom wasn’t feeling up to walking down several flights of stairs was kind enough to get us an elevator.

As we left Carnegie Hall mom was beaming, she loved the show. “That was the second time I’ve seen him,” she said to me. Obviously the first time was probably in the 1940’s at the Paramount. When she told me this I thought to myself, that at that point in time I had already seen Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones and Queen three times each. Currently I’m up to around 75 Springsteen shows, nine for the Stones, six for U2, four each for Paul McCartney and Billy Joel (including two New Years Eve shows) and three for the Who. Yeah I guess you can say I like live music. A few months after this Sinatra show I saw a great double bill at Hofstra University featuring the Ramones and the B-52’s. As you can see I like all kinds of music.

I’m just glad mom had a great time and enjoyed her birthday present. It was better than a baseball mitt. Of course if she was still here today I would probably get her the bootleg of that show! Happy Birthday in Heaven mom.

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Two Michaels

September 11, 2014

The Statue of Liberty, with the twin towers in the background: their destruction happens halfway thr

I lost two friends 13 years ago today and I want to share some stories about each of them.

Michael Armstrong worked for Cantor Fitzgerald. He was due to get married in late September. He was getting ready to go to Las Vegas for his bachelor party later that week. Needless to say he never made ether event. I don’t recall exactly when I met Mike but I would say it was sometime around the early 80’s. I used to hang out with a crew from St. Ignatius in a place we called the Sand Park – It’s really known as Ancient Playground – across the street from where Mike lived. His dad was the superintendent of a building on Fifth Avenue.

In August, 1982 Mike and I ventured out to the Meadowlands for a Queen concert. I don’t know where Mike got the tickets but I do know they were freebies as the price on the ticket read $0.00. I still have the stub. Our seats were in the 13th row on Brian May’s side of the stage. Freddie and the band were in good form that night and we had a blast.

Since turnabout is fair play, about a year later I got tickets for a show in the Beacon Theater. I do not remember the headlining band but I do recall the opening act was scheduled to be the Bangles. I always had a thing for Susanna Hoffs who I thought was really cute and I wanted to see her and her band live.

When Mike and I got to the Beacon on 74th and Broadway the theater was locked with “Tonight’s Show Cancelled” on the marquee.  This was before Facebook and Twitter where I probably would have known about the cancellation that morning if not a day or two before hand.

As I stared at the marquee, Mike just started to laugh. “You’re lucky I’m not a girl and this isn’t a date, because that would have been messed up,” he said.

“Yeah I guess you’re right,” I answered. “Well even though you are not a girl and this isn’t a date, let’s go and grab something to eat and drink my treat since I owe you one.”

We ended up in Beefsteak Charlie’s somewhere on either Broadway or Amsterdam Avenue and proceeded to drink all the beer the waitress kept bringing to the table. Everyone remembers their slogan, “Unlimited salad bar and all the free beer wine and sangria you can drink.”  Throughout dinner we just laughed at the show being cancelled.

The last time I saw Mike was a few nights before New Year’s Eve 1998 at a Fordham Rams basketball game in the Bronx. I was covering the game for the Post and Mike, being a Fordham alum, was cheering on his alma mater. He spotted me and came down to press row where I was interviewing Jeff Van Gundy, who was at the game as the NBA was on strike at this time.

Van Gundy could not talk about the Knicks but he did want to discuss Fordham’s Basketball team. Now I knew my editor didn’t want to run a story on Van Gundy’s views on Fordham basketball, he wanted news on the NBA. Van Gundy would not accommodate me and I didn’t get a story, but he was still pleasant and a great guy to interview.

Mike waited me to finish with Van Gundy whom I introduced Mike to telling Jeff that he was a good friend of mine and a Fordham Alum. Mike and I got to chat and catch up a little bit before the game started. He told me that he and some friends were going to be in a bar on Fordham Road after the game and I was welcome to join them. I agreed and told him I might be a while because I have to write and file my story after the game.

After I was all done I met them at the designated spot and had a few drinks. Then a bunch of us shared a cab back into city. That was the last time I saw my friend.

Michael Carroll was a member of the New York City Fire Department. He was also married to my good friend Phil’s sister, Nancy. Michael was also one hell of a ball player. I played against him in our grade school league in a field under the 59th Street Bridge. For a little guy (at the time) he could hit. See the Sports Illustrated article in the December 24-31, 2001 issue if you really want to read about Michaels prowess on the baseball field.

Michael also had a sharp sense of humor. One time we ran into each other on the street and he said that he had to ask me something.

“Explain to me why I have to go to MY mother-in-laws apartment for YOUR birthday,” he asked me in mock seriousness. “I’m family and I don’t get a birthday party from my mother-in-law.”

“Well it’s because I am an orphan and I don’t have anyone to throw me a party,” I answered with a fake sorrowful look on my face. “And as far as your mother-in-law not doing anything for your birthday I know you’re full of crap!”

We looked and each other then started laughing. To know Michael’s mother-in-law, Grace, is to know one of the sweetest and kindest people our neighborhood of Yorkville ever produced. I know he got birthday parties with a nice cake and even a gift or two.  As we parted, I told him that he didn’t have to bring a gift or anything, “However I have been looking at this new Mercedes…”

Michael just shook his head, laughed and walked away.

A few years later we were at a restaurant in the Bronx after Michael’s father-in-laws funeral and burial. Michael was haggling with his young son over how much time he could spend playing his hand-held video game. I was sitting across the table from them watching the negotiations. When Michael said to me, “I don’t mind him playing, but he gets addicted. I just don’t want him doing it in the house when it is a nice day outside.”

That scene in the restaurant always pops into my mind when I see my own son glued to his video game and I want him to be playing outside on a nice sunny day. I don’t recall the last time I saw Michael but I am sure it was probably at his mother-in-law’s house over birthday cake.

To my friends up in heaven I miss you both.

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First Grade, Old Friends and a Final Journey

September 4, 2014

For the past few days Facebook has been filled with parents posting their kids back to school pictures and I was no exception. I posted a picture of my little guy outside the house with his Ninja Turtles backpack. The past few nights as I have tucked him into bed, said his prayers with him and read him some books, he has voiced his concerns to me about school. Seems he was nervous because he is shy. Just the fact that MY son is shy is shocking to anyone that truly knows me. The shyness obviously comes from his mother’s side of the family.

I put his mind at ease and told him that there would probably be some kids in his first grade class that were in his Kindergarten class the year before. Of course I was right, because when I got home that night he counted five kids in his new class that were with him the previous year.

This made me think back to my first year of grade school in Our Lady of Good Counsel in September 1968. Now I will be honest and admit that I don’t remember the first day, after all it was 47 years ago. Looking back on what I have learned and read about 1968 in American History, I will say that it was one totally messed up year for this country — Assassinations, Vietnam, Chicago — as well as other parts of the world like Czechoslovakia and the Prague Spring.

What I do remember is that the first friend I made was a blonde haired kid named Bobby Rusiecki who sat directly behind me. Our teacher, Sister Consalata distributed coloring books and crayons that first week and we were to color the pictures, one a week, in order, starting with page one.

Of course as all curious kids do, Bobby and I looked through the book and somewhere in the middle were a policeman and a fireman on opposite pages. Bobby liked the cop and I was immediately drawn to the fireman. So being the little rebels that we were, we decided to skip ahead and color them first and not tell anyone. Bobby used blues for the cop and I used reds for the fireman. Thankfully we never got caught for skipping ahead. It was my first true act of defiance of authority and it felt good!

As I was looking up the correct spelling of Bobby’s name for this post, I found something that hit me in the gut like a Rocky Balboa left hand. Bobby died last week.

This was supposed to be a happy blog post about kids starting out on the journey of a new school year. Instead I get to reminisce about an old friend. Bobby and I went to school for eight years graduating together in 1976. The both of us along with two other classmates, Jack and Kevin, took the test to attempt to get into Regis High School which at the time had the reputation as one of — if not the best — Catholic High Schools in the city. We were baseball teammates when we played under the bridge at 59th Street and York Avenue. I can still see him coaching third base and touching his stomach and nodding as the sign for me to take on a 3-0 pitch.

We ran into each other in the Key Food on 92nd Street and Second Avenue, I want to say about 12-13 years ago. He still looked the same with that full head of blonde hair. He told me that he was writing comedy at the time, and I told him that I was writing sports for the New York Post. I mentioned to him that I used to tend bar in the Comic Strip on Second Avenue and that one of our friends, Phil was still working there behind the bar. We parted ways and said that we would try to keep in touch. That was the last time I saw him.

According to his obit he was living and working in Florida. Back in 2008 when I still used to buy actual physical newspapers I came across the obituary for Bobby’s older sister Colleen. I know he also had a younger sister named Elaine whom has my condolences.

Needless to say I am heartbroken today upon reading this news. All I can do is try not to cry and go to church this afternoon and light a candle for his soul. Godspeed my friend, until we meet again. Maybe when we do meet up, St. Peter can find us those coloring books and we can skip ahead to the fireman and policeman just like old times.

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My Pre-Wedding Dinner was a Killer

August 4, 2014

wedding1

 

On my eighth wedding anniversary I’d like to share a little tale about that weekend.

One of my favorite parts about my wedding weekend was the rehearsal dinner the night before the wedding. The restaurant was in a beautiful spot right on the shore of Lake Ontario. I was surrounded by my best friend, the woman I love, family and my future in-laws. It was a great evening, plus I still had time to change my mind and not get married the following day! Maybe hop a flight to Vegas with my best man and just gamble the drink the weekend away. Ah but then I would have missed a huge party with good food, good drink, loud rock-n-roll and lots of fun.

As we were sitting at our table it was me, my soon-to-be wife Cindy, my best man Dennis, my Aunt Toni and my future mother-in-law Mary Ellen. Aunt Toni would be celebrating her 50th Anniversary with my Uncle Vito in November. They were married in 1956 and there is an interesting story that goes with their wedding. I made sure Aunt Toni told the tale at our table that night.

I was six years from being born, when these events took place, but I had heard the story a dozen times and it still kind of horrifies me and makes me laugh at the same time. This would be the first time the rest of my soon to be family would be hearing the tale.

Turns out Aunt Toni and Uncle Vito were supposed to get married in September, 1956 but something happened. One of Uncle Vito’s uncles got shot and killed so the wedding was put on hold. One story goes that my cousins John and Al, who were seven and six respectively at the time, were sitting on the stoop a few days after the killing and they were quite upset.

“I was really looking forward to Aunt Toni’s wedding,” said Johnny.

“Me too,” said Al, who then asked, “Do you think they’ll ever get married now?

“I am sure they will,” replied John, “I just wished they could have waited until after the wedding to kill him, this really messed everything up.“

Ah kids!

My aunt continued telling the story about how she had to go and see about moving the wedding forward a few weeks after the wake and funeral. Remember this was long before the days of “No returns on deposits, all sales final, no you can’t have your money back, tough luck.”

At this point, my future mother-in-law is spying my aunt and myself with this look of total disbelief on her face. She mustered up the courage to ask, “Did they ever catch the guy that shot him?”

Aunt Toni answered, “Oh that guy got shot about six months later.”

I thought my mother-in-law was going to have a heart attack.

My friend and best man Dennis who was sitting there silently listening to the whole conversation finally chimed in with, “So then it all worked out, that’s good.”

I looked at my bride-to-be and in my best Al Pacino as Michael Corleone imitation said, “That’s my family Cindy that’s not me.”

Dennis and Aunt Toni laughed; Mary Ellen and Cindy had these horrified looks on their faces. For a while there I think my mother-in-law thought her daughter was marrying into the Corleone Family.

Fortunately Aunt Toni and Uncle Vito’s wedding finally went off without a hitch in early November. They never had children of their own so all of their nieces and nephews (somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 of us) became their children. There is nothing that either one of them wouldn’t have done for any of us.

Uncle Vito passed away in 2011 and Aunt Toni is now 84 and moving a little slower. She is also beginning to clean out her house and get rid of things she no longer needs. When she asked me what I wanted. I told her I want the phone from Oklahoma and her wedding album.

The phone from Oklahoma has its own story attached to it. As for the wedding album, it’s these slides that you drop into a projector. I am guessing this was pretty state of the art for 1956. The photos are pretty funny as Aunt Toni’s side of the family – that’s my side of the family, as Aunt Toni is my mother’s sister — is looking all happy and dressed in all these vibrant and beautiful colors. That is with the exception of my grandmother who was eternally dressed in black. The old joke went like this, Me: Ma why was grandma always dressed in black?

Ma: In case somebody dies, she’s ready.

Uncle Vito’s family was still in the mourning period so they were ALL dressed in black. Quite a contrast.

The next day my own wedding went off well, it was a hot day and I’m just glad it didn’t snow. Remember this is Rochester, New York we are talking about, where snow in July or August probably wouldn’t shock the locals. I’m just glad nobody showed up in black.

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