Wednesday, February 14, 2018

FIVE YEARS DRY: WHY I QUIT DRINKING


February 10, 2013.

That was the last time I voluntarily drank poison.

For those keeping score at home, that's 1,825 days without alcohol. No sips, shots, or
supercharged funnels at a tailgate before an NFL game. No Jack with Ginger or Tom
with his good friend Collins for five entire years.

My liver loves me and the scale no longer spits out  big crooked numbers that had
me screaming to the heavens, "What the f#*k?!!!"

It's all good. Real good.

When I tell people I don't drink, the usual response is, "Do you have a problem?" And
before I can respond with the smallest negative word in the digital dictionary, I get
ambushed with the, "Are you in AA?" thing.


After ordering a cranberry and seltzer, the bartender gives me the look, the nod, and
asks, "Are you a friend of Bob?"

No, no, and no with an exclamation point.

I realize that's our society. Thinking and almost hoping for the juiciest piece of gossip that
becomes fuel to keep pace in this social-media driven world. Sorry, folks. I never had a
problem.

Five ago today, I gave up alcohol along with bread, butter, baked goods, ice cream,
candy, and pizza. Pretty much anything that was poison to the human body, I gave up.

The original plan was to give it up for the Lenten season, which starts with Ash Wednesday.
I was so anxious to clean up and clean out my system, I began my mission the Sunday before
it.

Getting through the six weeks of Lent was a breeze, so I went without some of life's guilty
pleasures for the next 10 months. That's right. No cookies, candy, bread, pizza, ice cream
---and most importantly, alcohol, for almost a year.


I started working out like a maniac, completing seven half-marathons in preparation for
the grand daddy of them all, the New York City Marathon. Man, I felt great. Those early-
morning alarm clocks were like music to my ears. Yep, jump out of a bed for a 10-mile
run.

It's all good.

I wanted to continue my journey without alcohol so I signed up for an Ironman. I more or
less used training for a 140.6 mile event as an excuse not to drink. "Hey, Paul,
you want a Jack & Coke?"

"No, thank you. I'm training for an Ironman. That's a 2.4 mile swim, a 112-mile bike
ride, and a 26.2.  Nope, can't do it." Whatever it takes.


Not one, not two, but four Ironman events later, I still haven't had an ounce of alcohol. And I
don't think I ever will again.

Oh, life has kicked my ass many a time over the last five years. Ripped my heart, soul, and a
few other things out along the way. It would've been easy to give in and tie one on, so to speak.
Could've medicated myself to take the pain away for a night and  just forget about everything
for a while.

That's the easy thing to do. With Jim (Beam) and Jack (Daniels) staring me in the face,
ready to soothe my soul and bandage whatever ailed me, I just said, "Whatever,
it's not worth breaking the streak."


(Huge: definitely when I was drinking)


Sure, Peyton Manning can ask me over to drink a lot of Budweiser and hum the
Nationwide jingle, but I'm not going to give in. A Papa John's pizza, yes, because I'm
indulging in that again, as well as bread every once in a while. An ice cold
Budweiser? Um, no.

The streak has become kind of sacred to me. I don't count the days, but I always
remember February 10th as the anniversary. 2-10 is a good number and is just about
what I tip the scales at now which is what I weighed as a senior in college when
I was drinking them big 'ole blue cups of beer at "He's Not Here" in Chapel Hill.


I have friends who've tripled my abstinence streak for alcohol and I sincerely
applaud them. I discovered what they have: alcohol is an unnecessary evil. There is nothing
good about it. 

People can judge me all they want for not drinking. They can think whatever they want,
as well. I do not care one iota.

I never had a problem. Ever. I didn't start drinking until I got to college and regret that
I ever did. It is the single biggest waste of time, money, and poison to your body and
mind in society today.

I do often wonder if nobody ever drank. I wonder how much money this country
would've saved in lawyers, court costs, and civil suits. I wonder how much property
damage and bodily harm could've been avoided.


I wonder how many marriages and families could've been saved if over-consumption
of alcohol didn't result in infidelity, unwanted pregnancies, and the like.

I wonder about the pain that goes with the death of a loved one because of a DUI. I wonder
about the nightmare parents experience when getting a call from a university president
telling them their 19-year-old daughter died at  a sorority party because she consumed
so much alcohol her heart stopped.

And I wonder about the embarrassment a parent feels when they learn their son away at
school got so intoxicated, he lost his mind and killed a girlfriend.

Yep, it happens nearly every day in this country. Don't believe me? Google is just
a few clicks away.

I have friends with kids just entering the work force and enjoying the spoils of a
big city. I've heard them complain about $10 beers and the tab a night of drinking
adds up to and the hangovers they endure.

I don't preach, but I try to tell them the quicker they learn that alcohol serves absolutely
no purpose, the better off they'll be, physically, mentally, and financially.

I do not judge and I don't like to make it seem like I'm standing at the pulpit. But
drinking is not a sport. You don't get medals or win anything for doing it. Nobody's
obituary has ever read, "Yeah, but that boy sure could drink."

Drinking is a badge of nothing. Not courage, not manhood, not toughness.

One way or another, it catches up to you. The only way you can outrun it, is to quit.

And trust me, it's not a hard thing to do, even at my age.


Tuesday, January 30, 2018

IN SEARCH OF 'EL GUAPO'



After the Hall of Fame ballots were tallied and the results were announced, I had a conversation
with a friend about the class that will be ushered into Cooperstown later this summer. My friend
is a die-hard Boston Red Sox fan and a real baseball junkie.

"Clemens should've gotten in, same for Schilling," my friend screamed through the phone. As if
I was surprised. He thinks Oil Can Boyd should be immortalized in the Hall of Fame, too.

I responded, "Any election that doesn't include El Guapo has to be rigged."

A big, hearty laugh blitzed its way through the cell phone and pierced my ear. "I loved
El Guapo! He was a great guy," my friend said. "I wonder whatever happened to him."


El Guapo is Rich Garces, who pitched for the Red Sox from 1995 - 2002. He was a cross
between Bartolo Colon and Pablo Sandoval: all belly. I covered Garces and the Red Sox on
my first tour of duty in Boston and  El Guapo was the sunshine on a team of prickly assholes.
He was a lovable guy who always had time to say hello - to everybody.

The media guide listed El Guapo, (the handsome one) at 215, which was off by about 35
pounds. He always had a smile on his face as he meandered his way through a clubhouse filled
with players who acted as if they'd rather be anyplace other than Fenway Park.


El Guapo could pitch a little bit, too. He morphed into one of the American League's premier
set-up men, posting a 5-1 record with and 1.55 earned run average in 1999. The following year,
the handsome one had a record of 8-1  with a 3.25 ERA. General Manager Dan Duquette, a
card-carrying member of the physique police, urged El Guapo to lose weight. He did and
was never the same.

El Guapo, who is a still a folk hero in Boston to this day, was done with the Red Sox in 2002, his
velocity disappearing along with his excess weight. However El Guapo found a home in 2007 pitching for the Nashua Pride, an independent team in New Hampshire.



El Guapo was such a draw for the Pride, they scheduled a bobblehead night for him. Well,
it wasn't exactly a bobblehead. The anatomy was a little off. It was a bobblebelly in honor of
El Guapo's boiler.


How awesome is that?

Two days after my conversation with a friend about El Guapo, I walked into a baseball facility
in Fairfield, Connecticut for a feature I was producing. The owner of the top-tier baseball
program said, "We have a great staff here. There's Willie Upshaw, he played for the Blue Jays,
and you remember Rich Garces, don't you?

I said to myself, "You have to be sh*%ting me! It's El Guapo!"

There he was in all his glory. El Guapo is still a handsome devil after all these years. He
didn't look much different from the guy I watched and covered at Fenway Park in the late
90's. He had that same geniune smile along with the same body type and was very approachable.

I was a minor-league player in the Red Sox organization and had covered El Guapo in Boston.
We talked and shared a few belly laughs. It was one of the moments in life, that you find
yourself saying, "Damn, what are the chances of that?"



He still had the bobble-belly, too, but that's OK. After all, he is El Guapo - a true character of the game.