Wednesday, February 15, 2017

REMEMBERING JIM BIBBY


Jim Bibby died seven years ago today. There may have been better pitchers who toed the
rubber in the history of major league baseball, but very few of them possessed the character
and love of the game that Bibby had. This is to honor the man who touched so many lives
and gave me a lot of laughs during the two years we spent together in the Carolina League.

I first met Jim Bibby in spring training with the Boston Red Sox organization nearly 27
years ago. He was one of the biggest human beings I'd ever come across. He stood 6'5"
and God supersized nearly everything on his refrigerator-sized frame. His legs, back,
arms, and shoulders  were massive. Bibby looked more like a current NFL defensive end
than former major league pitcher.

If you didn't know Bibby, you'd take one look at him and believe he was one of the baddest
men on the planet. If you did  know him, you'd realize Bibby was one of the nicest guys
who'd ever walk into your path. His smile, laugh, and personality matched the size of his
physical gifts, making him a person you couldn't soon forget and one you always wanted to
be around.

I'll never forget shaking hands with Bibby at our first introduction in spring training back in 1988. His hands were the size of lobster traps, making mine appear to be those of a
two month-old infant. Bibby was one of the few people in the game who could hold eight
baseballs in one hand. I can hold three. A man with extra large hands can hold five. The sight
of Bibby cradling eight is mind-boggling.


Attached to his right hand was a powerful arm that vaporized hitters with 95-mph fastballs.
Bibby enjoyed a solid 11-year career in the major leagues, recording 111 victories while
authoring a no-hitter. There was nothing secret or complicated about his approach on the
mound. He'd just hump up and fire fastball after wicked fastball, challenging you to hit it.
No games, no nibbling, no backdoor sliders. Just straight heat.

Bibby, whose brother, Henry, played in the NBA,  pitched for the Cleveland Indians and
Pittsburgh Pirates during the late 70's and, unfortunately, is pictured  (below) in two of the
worst uniforms in the history of the game.

In 1976, Bibby toed the rubber for the Tribe in those hideous all-rust colored uniforms. After
getting traded to the Pirates a year later, Bibby pitched in either all-gold, all-black, or half and
half. Imagine seeing a guy that big in those uniforms, throwing darts in the mid-90's? Scary.
The baseball looked like a Tic Tac coming out of those monster hands, rearing back in attire
better suited for Halloween than major league baseball games.




There was a lot of little boy in this mountain of a man. When I played for the Lynchburg
Red Sox of the  Carolina League, Bibby was our pitching coach. He appeared as though he
never had a bad day in his life. He was loud, funny, and still ultra-competitive. Bibby threw
batting practice to us nearly every day and always made like he was on the mound pitching
in the 1979 World Series for the Pirates.

During batting practice, Bibby moved to the front of the mound, making the distance to the
plate about 55 feet. He would grunt, groan, and release a fastball that you could hear hissing 
on its way to the plate. Bibby wanted to do two things: turn your bat into kindling wood
or blow the ball past you When he accomplished one or the other, he'd have a mile-wide grin
on his face and roar with laughter, the old man reveling in overpowering kids half his age.


When Bibby, as the pitching coach, would come out to the mound to consult with a young kid
having trouble finding the strike zone, he'd often take off his hat and bury his head deep into
his shoulder, hoping to dry the river of sweat produced on all those thick Virginia summer
nights.
  
Standing next to Bibby on the mound as he'd offer some words of advice to a struggling pitcher,
I'd flash back to his days in the major leagues and laugh to myself at an experience that seemed
so surreal. As I kid growing up, I was a baseball junkie. On Saturday afternoons, I'd always 
watch NBC's Game of the Week with Curt Gowdy and Tony Kubek. I vividly remembered the
time Bibby was pitching on a sweltering summer afternoon in Pittsburgh back in 1979.

Bibby was on the mound and I recall Gowdy saying, "Bibby is really laboring out there. Just look
at the sweat dripping off the brim of his cap." It wasn't dripping. It was more like a torrential downpour. I had never seen anything like it. I couldn't believe a human being could possibly sweat that much.

Less than a decade later, I saw first hand just how much Bibby could sweat. It was like a
tsunami rolling through the hills of Virginia. Forget about towels, he needed a leaf blower to
dry the sweat off him. Ah, but it didn't matter to Bibby, he just had that big 'ole grin on his face,
as if he was having the most fun of anybody that walked the face of this great earth.


That was Bibby, he loved life and never spent a day worrying about the past. That was gone
and he seemed like a guy who always set his alarm for early the next day because he didn't
want to miss out on what it would have to offer.

In 2002, the Lynchburg professional baseball franchise retired Bibby's number 26. It's the
only baseball number that's been retired in the city's history. Nobody deserved that honor more
than Bibby.

Nobody.


Bibby died in 2010 of bone cancer. which was about the only thing that could suck the joy and
happiness out of a great, great man. He was just 65-years-old, yet still just a kid in a large man's
body. In the journey through my baseball life, I met thousands of different people, but only a
few I can say really had an impact on my life. Bibby was a special man who was so large, so
humble, and so full of enthusiasm. He was a fun-loving guy who just never to wanted to grow up.

But that was OK. He was Bibby and everybody loved him.

                                      
                                          PITCHER BART HALEY AND JIM BIBBY

Sunday, February 12, 2017

MEMORIES OF SPRING TRAINING. THERE IS NOTHING LIKE IT.


Pitchers and catchers report for spring training.

If you're a baseball fan, those six words are simply beautiful. They mark the beginning of
a new season and unlock images of palm trees, chamber-of-commerce weather, and a tiny
slice of paradise.

As snow and sleet blanket the northeast while thick icicles hang from my window, playing
catch is seemingly as far away as the distance between Connecticut and Florida. Photos of
players reporting to spring training under sunburst skies dominate the news feed on Facebook.
Thoughts of  my first spring training flood my mind like the melted ice that will be unleashed
on our roads once the temperatures work their way into the 40's.

1988. Winter Haven, Florida.


In early March of that year, I pulled into this sleepy town in central Florida with a mile-wide
grin on my face and the enthusiasm of a Little League kid playing in a real uniform for the very
first time. After a trying and unfilled career at UNC where I played three different positions
and started to switch-hit during my junior year, I signed with the Boston Red Sox on
Christmas Day.

I got a break because the team had lost Todd Pratt in the Rule 5 draft to the Cleveland
Indians. Pratt would eventually be returned to the Red Sox and enjoyed a solid 10-year
career in the major leagues with the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets.

It didn't matter to me how I got to the Red Sox and Winter Haven, but I was there and
enjoyed every single second of it. I was wearing a Boston Red Sox uniform and the catchers
helmet I was issued, had the 'B' on it. I still have that same helmet which fits nicely in my
closet. It has no value to anyone else on the planet, but that helmet, currently buried beneath
a bunch of old sweaters, is priceless to me.

Every day of spring training felt like Christmas. Everything is new. The uniforms. The bats.
The gloves. The spikes. And, of course, the baseballs. They are so clean and shiny they look like
pearls glistening in the sun. The air was remarkably fresh and the smell from the grass on the
perfectly manicure fields was intoxicating. The roads into the facility were lined with
palm trees and if there was a cloud in the sky during our four-weeks of camp, I never saw it.

What I did see was the best hitter who ever lived. Yep, Ted Williams.

The baseball legend was Red Sox royalty. He was a roving hitter instructor but may as
well have been God in baseball spikes to me. I was 22-years-old at the time and wasn't into
hero worshipping, but this was Ted Williams. I was in awe of the man.


During the second day of spring training, I had been one of the last players to go into the
hitting cages that were perfectly placed in between the major and minor-league camps The cages separated the facilities but they were used by everybody, from Wade Boggs, Jim Rice, and
Dwight Evans, to the last player on the minor-league roster.

I had been hitting with one of the coaches when Williams stopped to watch me hit. I said
to myself, "You have to be kidding me." Then I heard the voice of God. It was a powerful,
booming voice that I had heard during interviews with Williams on television.

"Swing with a slight upper-cut. You need to get the ball in the air."

I stopped almost immediately when Williams said, "Come here, son."  I went over
to the netting that separated us and I looked at the Splendid Splinter in amazement. I
was just as impressed with what Williams did outside of baseball, as his Hall of
Fame accomplishments.



Williams served two tours of duty as a brilliant military fighter pilot for our country. If he
didn't miss all that time, there is little doubt he would've hit 700 home runs. And this living
legend was giving pointers to a non-descript minor-league player.

Williams and I eventually walked out of the dark, dank batting cages into the magnificent Florida
sun. My grandfather, a former minor-league pitcher in the New York Yankees organization,
had traveled from Venice, Florida, to Winter Haven, to see me play. I don't think he was
expecting to see Williams.

I introduced Williams to my grandfather, who received an autograph from Williams, which
he'd send me many years later just prior to his death.

I said to myself, "I've been in spring training for two days, how the hell am I ever going
to top this moment in my baseball life?"

It wouldn't happen during the remainder of spring training, that's for sure. However, playing
baseball every day in spring training was pretty damn special and I soaked it all in like the
sunshine that beat down on us every day.


There were bus rides to places like Kissimmee and Haines City to play against minor-league
teams from the Astros and Kansas City Royals. I'd become teammates with those kids on the
buses, many of whom I am still friends with today.

There would be two more trips to spring training. One more to Winter Haven and one to
West Palm Beach with the Atlanta Braves organization. They were special as well. It's
spring training. There is nothing quite like it.

In 1995, I worked in Fort Myers as a sportscaster. The team I covered during spring training
just happened to the Boston Red Sox. They had left their long-time home in Winter Haven
for a spanking new ballpark in town. Ted Williams wasn't there, but a few of the guys I
had played with were.

They had reached the major leagues and I was there covering them. The memories came back.
The palm trees were there, so was the near-perfect weather, and hours and hours of baseball, of course.

Ah, it's spring training and there is nothing like it. Nothing.











Thursday, February 9, 2017

CONFESSIONS OF A WEATHER REPORTER


(Editor's note: this article was written with tongue planted firmly in cheek and with one big chuckle)

When a big snowstorm shows up on the radar of your local meteorologist, who somehow
manages to keep his job despite hitting on only about 28 percent of his forecasts, it becomes
like the Super Bowl, Olympics, and World Series all wrapped into one for television stations
across the country.

"Severe" weather is what news directors and executive producers live for. Mother Nature
spawns an event that allows your local anchors to use big phrases like "team coverage",
"exclusive video", and "up-to-the-second information."

I always thought it was quite amazing that all these stations in snow belts act like they are
seeing snow for the very first time, even though it happens every year during December,
January, and February going back to, well, the damn Ice Age!


Having worked in television covering sports for nearly 20 years, I must admit, I didn't pay
a lot of attention to all the chaos that goes with covering winter storms, after all, I was always
trying to make deadlines of mine own while enjoying a world where I covered professional
and college sports and got paid to do it. Covering a snowfall? B-O-R-I-N-G!

However, when I got into the news side of things and was assigned to cover BIG events
(wink, wink) like snowstorms, I discovered a whole new world, one that often had me
saying to myself, seriously?




These news directors would get so gung ho they'd often fall all over themselves. Many times
I'd have to break out my best Allen Iverson because I was so incredulous and I'd re-create
his famous press conference where he said, "Man, we're not talking about a game, but practice.
No, not a game, but practice."

Members of management at some places act like a snowstorm is a tsunami that is about
to put their county underwater forever. They'd be booking hotels for three nights for
all their on-air personnel and make enough pizza orders to satisfy the state of Louisiana.




And I'd go all Allen Iverson. "We're not talking about the ebola virus breaking out in
your local supermarket, but snow falling. No, no, no. We're not talking about poisoned
water in Flint, Michigan. We are talking about....snow falling."

Now, I do know snow can affect a lot of things: roads, work, travel, schools, etc. But come
on!  These stations just love to exaggerate things a bit. But it's television and it's how
you tilt the ratings and everybody in the business knows it.

I had the opportunity to cover my share of snowstorms over the past few years. I'd get in
at 4:30 a.m. and travel around the county giving updates every twenty minutes until noon.
With sleet and snow pelting my face and my lips nearly frozen shut, I sometimes found
it quite a challenge to come up with different ways to describe snow, because after all,
it's just snow.



"Yes, Tom, as you can see, it's really come down hard right about now." I always thought
it was kind of funny reporting on the things that viewers can clearly see for themselves. I
often wondered how many times viewers at home would be saying, "Yeah, we know
it's snowing outside. We can see that knucklehead."

It's funny seeing all these local reporters asking local people who've lived locally all their
lives what they think about the snow when they've seen it over and over and over again every
year at this time. Good, grief and I was one of those reporters! Help me. Better yet, shoot me!

In the past few years, these local stations have stepped things up and gone high-tech. Some
of them actually have put cameras inside their news vehicles to allow viewers to see how
things are inside the car and what the roads are like outside. I got to experience this last year,
and I must admit, the first few times were pretty cool. The next 273 updates you had to do
over the course of three days? Um, not so much.


And it's not exactly all that high-tech, either. The camera makes you look like you're doing a
report from inside a tuna can and when I had to wear that big news parka jacket, I kind of looked
like, well, the Stay-Puff marshmallow man. Yeah, I'd finish a report and I'd get a text on
my cell from a friend that said, "Dude, good job but lay off the Oreo cookies. Have a few,
just don't eat the entire bag."  I got texts that I said, "Hey, man, are you going to play Shrek in
the sequel?"  That's cool.  Very funny. I loved it.

Invariably, there would always be that jacked up show producer who thought the viewers
would miss out on the snow covered roads if you didn't show those  snow covered
roads immediately. They'd yell in your ear, "Flip the switch to the car-cam now!", as if they
were about to miss the triple-lindy the orangutan that sits atop President Trump's head
was going to perform it on live television.

We're talking about  snow falling.....

A few times when the BIG snowstorms that had been forecasted by these weather guys

Monday, February 6, 2017

JERSEY-GATE: TOP 5 SUSPECTS IN THEFT OF TOM BRADY'S JERSEY


Tom Brady's game-worn jersey used in the New England Patriots shocking victory over
the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI was allegedly stolen from the Patriots locker room
Sunday.

In a game where Brady set Super Bowl records for most completions and passing yards
while  engineering the greatest comeback in the history of it, the number 12 jersey is extremely valuable, to say the least. Add to the fact, Brady now has won the Super Bowl a record
five times, the jersey could fetch millions on the black market.

The city of Houston has called in the Texas Rangers to see if they can crack the case. The
FBI, which spent millions of dollars sifting through all of Hilary Clinton's e-mail, has been summoned by President Trump, who claims to be a BFF of Brady, to help solve the mystery.


Who could possibly have stolen Brady's jersey? Here are the top 5 suspects.

5. Mike Leake. In 2011, while pitching for the Cincinnati Reds, the right-handed pitcher
got caught red-handed trying to steal six shirts worth a total of $59.88 from a local
department story. Sources close to Leake say he has a weird obsession with Brady, posting
several Fat Head's of the Patriots QB on the walls of his man cave. For a guy who was making
more than $3 million-a-year at the time, he could be a candidate for Kleptomaniac of the decade.


4. Drew Bledsoe. Brady stole his job in 2001, so payback is only fair. Bledsoe was seen
by Roger Goodell's security team leaving the locker room while Brady was at the podium being
asked a lot of stupid questions by the media.



3. Crying Michael Jordan. The former G.O.A.T. is still upset Brady signed with Under
Armour instead of  Nike and Jump man. May have swiped Brady's jersey as potential
negotiating ammunition. Will give back jersey in exchange for Brady switching allegiance
from Under Armour to Nike. Unless Nike and Jordan come up with a special brand of PJ's
for Brady, I don't see it happening.


2. Jim McNally. Gained notoriety for being a principal player in Deflategate. The subsequent
investigation by Ted Wells revealed the Patriots tried to deflect attention from the e-mails
sent by Tom Brady by insisting McNally was referred to as the "Deflator" because he
was trying to lose weight. He disguised himself as former Patriots offensive coordinator
Charlie Weis to gain access to the Patriots locker room on Sunday. McNally still holds grudge
against Brady for not delivering the right size of Uggs that Brady had promised.


1. Jameis Winston. The current quarterback of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was accused of
stealing crab legs during his freshman year at Florida State so authorities have pegged him
as the prime suspect in Jersey-gate. He allegedly swiped the media credential of former Patriot
Willie McGinnest to gain entry to the locker room. Sources close to SportsRip say Winston was
seen leaving the stadium with a bag of lobsters from the post-game spread and what appeared
to be Brady's jersey under his Lebron James t-shirt. CSI Houston has been called in to investigate.



Monday, January 30, 2017

RUNNING THE BOSTON MARATHON FOR 'FALLEN HEROES'


It didn't take me long to figure out which charity team I wanted to run for in this year's
Boston Marathon. As I was scanning the expansive list on the Boston Athletic Association's
web site, the second team featured was the Massachusetts Fallen Heroes foundation.

That is the team I want to run 26.2 miles for.  If I'm going to train and go through all the
pain that goes with completing a marathon, this is the team I want to do if for. This is where
my heart. This is what I want to do.

Massachusetts Fallen Heroes is a non-profit organization  dedicated to honoring those
who have given their lives in service since September 11th, 2001. The mission of is to honor
the fallen, assist families of the fallen and to empower returning Veterans.

Click this link
https://www.crowdrise.com/massfallenheroesboston2017/fundraiser/pauldevlin3

We can thank Veterans for their service, but it is not enough. Neither is a single holiday during
the year. Our team is hoping to raise more than $100,000 to help them in their transition from
the war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan to their lives back home. Many Veterans need more
than a pat on the back and a government leader saying, "good job." They need some direction
and assistance.

I am hoping this helps just a little bit.

Honoring those who have served our country or lost their lives doing it is something I've
really tried to do since 2011. Brian Bill was a Navy SEAL from Stamford, CT, a city
that borders New Canaan, the town where I spent a good portion of my life in.

BRIAN BILL NAVY SEAL

Bill was tragically killed while fighting in Afghanistan on August 6, 2011. He was part
of the Extortion 17 mission that saw the highest number of casualties of any single day during
the war. He and more than 30 other SEAL's were killed when their helicopter was shot down
by the Taliban.

I didn't even know Bill, but he became one of my heroes. I dedicated an endurance race
to him shortly after his death and have become friends with his mother, Patricia
Parry and sister, Amy. They are amazing people still dealing with their tragic loss.


I see this as another way to honor Brian Bill and so many of the other courageous heroes
who sacrificed their lives for our country. They always need to be honored and remembered.
Forever.

The goal is $7500. I've donated $250 and paid the $355 entry. Now, I need a little help
from my friends to get to the finish line. $5, $10 or $1 per mile. No donation is too small.
It all goes to the Massachusetts Fallen Heroes foundation and is tax-deductible.

https://www.crowdrise.com/massfallenheroesboston2017/fundraiser/pauldevlin3

Thank you for your support.




Saturday, January 28, 2017

A BASEBALL DAD'S GREATEST GIFT


Chris Pinder was selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the 15th round of the 1987 MLB draft.
A left-handed pitcher out of Virginia Commonwealth University, Pinder rose to AA and
played four seasons of professional baseball before retiring. We played against each other
in the Carolina League during the late 80's.

Baseball stayed in his blood, though, and literally. He and his wife, Beth, gave birth to three
boys and a girl, all of whom excelled, or are still excelling in baseball and softball. In August,
Chad, a former star at Virginia Tech, fulfilled his dream by reaching the big leagues with the Oakland's A's.

Daddy Pinder throwin' gas for the Indians in 1988

Can you just imagine being the parents of a kid who made it to the major leagues? Chris Pinder,
in his own words, describes the moment Chad received the call to the show and the greatest
gift he received nearly four months later.

All the kids were home this Christmas which is starting to become more of a challenge as we travel
down the road of life. Our oldest, Clark flew in from Houston where he is working after a very
successful high school baseball career where he was a three-time All-State selection in Virginia.  

Our second son, Chad, was able to be here as well after his third season in the Oakland Athletics
organization. Chase, who is four years younger, came home from Clemson University where he plays centerfield for the Tigers.  Our last child, Avery, is a junior at Poquoson High School where she excels in softball and basketball.  Needless to say, we have some athletes who love to compete. 

Chad had a meteoric rise through A’s farm system and was playing for the team’s AAA affiliate
in Nashville, Tennessee last summer. He called me one day in August to talk about a hamstring injury
he’d been trying to recover from. 



"Pops, just got done with the hammy and they are sending me to Dallas", Chad said over the phone. 
I was a little irritated in the fact they would send him all the way to Dallas for a hamstring injury
that he has been playing great on.   

I said, "Ok, I guess the A’s have to do what they want. Doesn't make sense,  ok.”  There was that
long silence that made me a bit uncomfortable and Chad put me at ease, then in a state of exhilaration. 
 "Dad, that was a joke. I just got the call!”, my son blurted into the phone. “I’m going to Dallas to play
against the Rangers!” 

I immediately went silent, as if the entire world came to a complete halt. Really? It couldn't be real,
is it,” I said to myself. “Oh, wait, of course it is. You have taught all the kids to believe in themselves
their entire lives! 

My kid was going to the big leagues! I just said to myself, “Wake up dad, it has finally become a
reality.” My mind became flooded with all the memories of Chad I and going to baseball fields together
and working toward his dream. After all the plastic balls tossed and the ground balls rolled
to him on the living room carpet, my boy was going to the big leagues. 



All the minutes, hours, and days spent helping him reach a dream was now really happening. His
hard work, relentless drive, God-given talent and inner fire was rewarded with a gift for Chad to join
The Elite group known as Major League Baseball. 

Many of those thoughts blitzed through my mind on Christmas day as the entire family shared
gifts and counted our blessings Chad came up to me and said, "Pops, I have one more present for you".  
Chad goes behind the couch and pulls out a large rectangular box wrapped nicely and says, "Pops, this
is for you". 

I was taken aback and froze just like when he told me he was going up to the big leagues.   
I slowly took off the wrapping paper and there it was. I was frozen stiff and speechless. Chad says,
"It's for you, Pops.” It was a shadow box with the Oakland Athletics jersey he was wearing the
day he got his first hit in the major leagues. The ball was also in the shadow box with its MLB
authentic sticker on it. So was the line-up card from that days game against the Chicago White Sox.

I just stared at it for what seemed like an eternity.  We were all just stunned that Chad would give
it to me. What a true blessing for my wife, Beth, and I to have kids who think of us in this way. There
were big hugs in the center of the circle in the living room, tears of joy rolling off our cheeks and falling
gently to the ground. 

What an emotional event and a great treasure for a proud father to have. It was something Chad
worked so hard to accomplish. I was sincerely humbled and very grateful. 

It was the greatest gift for  a father to receive!