Winning & Musing…..Volume 7.12

Okay NBA…NOW you have my attention. As we celebrate Memorial Day summer has unofficially begun, which means baseball, basketball playoffs, and 1100 glorious miles of cars going in a circle really really fast.

 

 

Back in January of 2008 I was amongst the plethora of WV Mountaineer fans simultaneously celebrating an improbable Fiesta Bowl victory over the mighty Oklahoma Sooners while also heaping curses upon recently departed coach Rich Fraudriguez. Since Rich Fraud took several of members of his staff to Michigan with him (and just look how well that turned out) the job of leading the team into the lion’s den on that memorable January night had fallen to career assistant coach Bill Stewart. Basking in the afterglow of a huge win, the powers-that-be in Morgantown handed Stewart the full time gig the very next day without conducting any sort of thorough search process. Almost immediately there were those that pegged the hiring as a mistake, but most…including myself…turned a deaf ear to such criticism. However, slowly but surely the chorus grew and even I eventually turned on Coach Stew. Despite the fact that he won 9 games for three straight seasons, it just didn’t seem good enough, especially for a team that had been on the cusp of playing for a national championship before Fraudriguez, in what would prove to be his last game on the Mountaineers’ sideline, screwed the pooch against a lowly 4-7 Pitt team. Over those three seasons there were inexplicable losses to what we fans perceived as inferior opponents like South Florida, Cincinnati, Syracuse, and Connecticut. The team seemed to lack an edge, to not have the killer instinct that great teams possess. And so change was demanded and by 2011 Stew was forced to resign. His greatest strengths as a person were seen as being tremendous weakness for a coach. You see, Stewart was a true blue gentleman, a kind soul…the dreaded “nice guy”. Bill Stewart died last week. He dropped dead on the golf course of a heart attack. He was 59 years old. He left behind a wife and a son in high school. He didn’t seem to be overweight. To my knowledge he didn’t engage in vices like smoking, drinking, or drugs. Who knows why these things happen?? What I am pretty sure I do know is that Stew is now walking the golden streets of Heaven in continuous praise of his Lord & Savior Jesus Christ. Those of us still here will continue to cheer for our team and enjoy each & every victory, but we will do so knowing that no coach can ever duplicate Stew’s unique personality and genuinely benevolent spirit. We have realized…too late…what a tremendous gift he was. Coach Stewart’s motto was “Leave No Doubt”, a mantra to which he lived up. Bill Stewart left no doubt about the kind of person he was, what his priorities were, and his love for his family, his team, his school, & his state. Maybe he wasn’t the best college football coach in the universe, and I’d be willing to bet he understood his place on the totem pole. At the same time, he was seemingly comfortable, confident, and happy with whom he was as a person. We should all be so fortunate. Godspeed Coach Stew, and thanks for being such a shining example.

 

Kudos to Scotsman Dario Franchitti for winning his 3rd Indianapolis 500. I’m tempted to be envious of a man who not only has drank the milk at the ol’ Brickyard three times but also gets to see the quite fetching Ashley Judd naked whenever he wants. But then I realize that he actually has to live with Judd and hear her ramble on & on & on like a lunatic and suddenly I feel better about my own life.

 

What is the deal with Detroit Lions DL Nick Fairley?? He was a monster at Auburn, and could form one of the most imposing lines in football alongside Ndamukong Suh, but he has now been arrested two times in two months. The first time Fairley was speeding & smoking pot. The second time he was speeding, got a DUI, and ignored the cops & wouldn’t stop. This is the kind of stupidity that ends careers prematurely, because no matter how talented you are there’s always another gifted athlete just around the corner, so at some point a team will cut a player loose after he embarrasses them too much and refuses to be a mature adult.

 

For a very brief period of time I was truly convinced that the Indiana Pacers were going to pull off the impossible, that they were going to oust the hated Miami Heat and The Whore of Akron Lebron James in the 2nd round of the NBA playoffs. The Pacers were up 2-1, Heat star Dwayne Wade was playing more like Dwayne Wayne (alert!! – obscure 80’s TV reference), and the impact of Miami’s Chris Bosh being felled by injury was greater than anyone had imagined. For a couple of days the talking heads seemed unanimously swayed that a cold front was about to end the Heat. Unfortunately for Indiana Wade woke up from his Jimmy Carter-esque malaise and all the sudden…for maybe the first time ever in the playoffs…Lebron James seemed to realize “Hey…I’m Lebron Freakin’ James!!”. So now it is on to the Eastern Conference finals, where I have to rely on the geriatric Boston Celtics to take out the garbage. Let’s just say I’m not holding my breath.

 

Just in case you were wondering…

My Pittsburgh Pirates are in 3rd place, 4 games out of the division lead. Not bad for a team that ranks near the bottom in every single hitting statistic. I think the front office has concentrated so much on pitching for the last several years that the system has failed to develop anyone with any kind of pop in their bat outside of Andrew McCutcheon. If they could somehow get ahold of a couple of guys able to hit .300-ish and drive the ball out of the park on a regular basis the Pirates might actually begin to resemble a legitimate team.

 

More kudos, this time to Kasey Kahne, for winning the annual Coca-Cola 600. As usual I was rooting for my man Tony Stewart, but he just never got it going.

 

One basketball team that is no longer actively participating in this year’s playoffs is the Los Angeles Lakers. There is much debate about what kinds of changes need to be made to get one of the NBA’s most celebrated franchises back on top. Please allow me to pontificate. First of all, Mike Brown ain’t gonna cut it as a head coach. He failed in Cleveland, and now he’s proven his mediocrity in L.A. Secondly, I don’t care how solid of a player he is, I’d get rid of Ron Artest in a heartbeat. He’s been trouble everywhere he’s landed. Dennis Rodman was an eccentric weirdo…Artest is nothing but a wacked out ghetto thug. And yes, I absolutely refuse to refer to him by the asinine name which he prefers. Next I’d jettison both Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum while both still have trade value (especially the 24 year old Bynum). From what I’ve seen Gasol oftentimes doesn’t play full throttle and can’t be counted on to be the force that a 7-footer really should be. Bynum simply has shown an unwillingness to grow up, plus most of the time he makes Gasol look like a workhorse in comparison. I’d go out and grab now former Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy (unless one could coax Phil Jackson out of retirement), then use Gasol & Bynum to add pieces that’d complement an aging Kobe Bryant. Of course I expect the Lakers will do absolutely none of that.

 

I’ve grown sort of weary of the whole football/concussion debate. After the unfortunate suicide of former all world linebacker Junior Seau this issue once again became a hot topic, especially after retired QB Kurt Warner said that he might not want his children to play football knowing what we all know now about the injury risks. Predictably tough, crusty, old school players of all ages attacked Warner for insulting the game that had changed his life, providing him a plethora of opportunities and presumably a certain level of financial comfort after he had once been a stockboy at a grocery store in Iowa making minimum wage. As with most things, I have tried to understand both sides of the debate and cannot understand why folks seem unwilling to meet in the middle on this one. On one hand I think it is wonderful that technology & medical science allow us to have a much better understanding of head injuries, and certainly an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. However, football is an inherently dangerous & violent sport. Players understand that and are well aware of the risk. I do not want to see the game watered down by typical PC “good intentions”. As for folks like Warner, I have no problem with him espousing his opinion and raising his children the way he sees fit. After all, it’s still a free country…for now.

 

 

You Don’t Know What You’ve Got ‘Til It’s Gone: An Ode to Moms

When I was a kid I had a teddy bear. His name was Teddy, because evidently my imagination hadn’t quite kicked in yet. I can’t exactly remember the details, but I think my great Aunt Garnet got him for me when I was about 4 years old. At any rate, Teddy was my constant companion in times of fear, like when a big ol’ thunderstorm would roll in. Yes, I can admit it now…I wasn’t exactly a mini Chuck Norris growing up. I had to have Teddy by my side every night, clutching him in my nightly slumber like the prized possession that he was. Over time his original outfit got all tore up, and all of his little paws got torn off…not due to anything sadistic I did, but just because of wear & tear. Fortunately my Grandma Pigott was a wiz with needle, thread, & a sewing machine, and she performed many a cosmetic surgery on Teddy. I probably kept him a little bit too long (if you know what I’m saying), but eventually the time did come when my smoldering machismo started to kick in and I knew it was no longer cool to sleep with a stuffed animal. I guess the transition wasn’t too traumatic, since it isn’t really etched into my memory like so many other life events. I look back on my time with Teddy and smile, appreciating that small chunk of my childhood…but I can honestly say I don’t yearn deeply to somehow hop in the ol’ DeLorean time machine and bring him back.

 

It is a far different thought process when it comes to my Mom.

 

I’m not a big fan of Mother’s Day, for kind of the same reasons why I loathe Valentine’s Day. VD (ha!!) is a pretty pointless holiday when one is single, and only serves as a gloomy reminder that, for some reason, I am not cool enough, hot enough, or rich enough to satisfy the shallow needs of the average 21st century woman. Similarly, Mother’s Day is a melancholy reminder of what I have lost.

 

Nearly 13 years ago…on a temperate February night…my Mom slipped away. I was living at home at the time, and I still remember it well. The 911 call…my Dad’s worried look…the fire department & paramedics working on her. She held on for a few days in a vegetative state, and what will haunt me for the rest of my life are her eyes, tears flowing, as she apparently understood everything that was happening but couldn’t speak. Mom had a living will and did not want to be kept alive by machines for more than a few days, so eventually my Dad had to make the tough decision to honor her wishes and have her taken off life support. She was 52 years old, but had been in poor health for two decades, including having a lung removed due to lung cancer 5 years earlier. At the end her heart simply wore out. The day we buried her was an unusually sunny, warm day at the end of February. I wrote a letter that was placed in her casket, and I’d like to think she read it once she got settled in up in Heaven.

 

I realize that I was blessed in many ways. I had my mother until I was 27 years old. I got to spend every day of the last five years of her life living in the same home. Since she’d had so many health problems for such a long time there was a tacit understanding that it was unlikely she’d live to be wished a triple digit happy birthday by the weather guy on the Today show, so there was a subconscious preparedness. And most of all I was blessed to have been raised, taught, taken care of, and loved by an amazingly strong, kind, and selfless child of God. I have always said and will continue to say that any positive traits I may occasionally display are entirely due to the way I was raised by my parents.

 

Having said that, I must also concede that every day of the past 12+ years has been…different. The old cliché is that “time heals all wounds”. I’m not sure that is completely true. I sometimes feel…with all due respect to our men & women in uniform…like a soldier that has been wounded, that even though life moves forward and I do what must be done on a daily basis there will always be a scar and a noticeable limp. It’s just that my scar & limp aren’t manifested physically. I do not say that to elicit any sympathy. Not at all. I am forthright for two reasons. First because I know that my feelings aren’t unique. Lots of people have experienced loss. Many many people will “celebrate” this Mother’s Day not by buying a present for or taking out to eat their very much alive mother, but by visiting a gravesite or shedding a tear. Secondly, I wish to give a friendly nudge to those whose mothers are still on this Earth. When my Mom died one of the most overwhelming emotions I experienced was the desire to be able to talk to her just one more time. I could not…still cannot…remember the last thing I said to her. It haunts me, even though I wrote that letter. So if your mother is still around, call her. Visit her. Give her a hug & kiss. Tell her you love her. One certainly cannot go around thinking in morbid terms like “this may be the last time I ever see you”. That’d drive a person nuts. However, I would recommend keeping the thought somewhere in the subconscious. If nothing else it is good motivation to be good to people and not act like a complete idiot.

 

As for Mother’s Day…I try not to let my own gloominess affect others’ appreciation of the event. Mother’s Day was actually founded in my home state of West Virginia, just about a half hour down the road in Grafton, by Anna Jarvis in 1914. Therefore I suppose I should feel a bit of home state pride. And of course the whole idea behind the holiday is splendid. Mothers should be recognized & celebrated for all they do. In 21st century America we have been conditioned by equal rights, women’s’ liberation, and the near economic necessity for two incomes to not revere motherhood as a job in & of itself. But I suspect that if modern mothers would compare notes with their maternal ancestors the conclusion would be that, despite the wonders of technology, amazing advances in medicine, and evolving societal norms, it’s still as tough a gig now as it was then. So kudos to all the mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, etc. out there that have ever raised a child or are in the process of doing so. We live in a world with many pitfalls, temptations, and opportunities to royally screw up. Your child may not grow up to be rich, famous, or successful by the world’s definition, but if you help them navigate the many twists & turns of life without too much collateral damage, instill some good values & morals, and guide them toward being a reasonably productive member of society then I don’t think it is unreasonable to set aside one day a year to say “job well done”.