Monday, October 1, 2012


Life isn't fair. The sports world seems to remind us of that every so often. On Monday,
the Indianapolis Colts revealed their head coach, Chuch Pagano, has been diagnosed
with leukemia and will miss a significant portion of the season while he undergoes

Pagano, 52, spent 27 years of his life criss-crossing the country pursuing his goal
of being a head coach. He worked at six different colleges and for three NFL teams
as an assistant before the Colts selected him to lead their team in January. Just three
games into his dream job, Pagano's life has been changed forever.

Doctors have called Pagano's form of leukemia "treatable", but really, when it comes
beating this disease, there are no guarantees and a return to coaching is hardly set in
stone, no matter how optimistic doctors say they are in curing it.

Seven years ago, a disease didn't derail Adam Greenberg, a 92-mile an hour fastball did.
Playing for the Chicago Cubs in July of 2005, Greenberg fulfilled a lifelong dream
of making it to the Major Leagues. Recently promoted from AA, Greenberg was called
on to pinch-hit against Marlins reliever Valerio de los Santos. On the first pitch of
his first plate appearance, the former UNC outfielder was drilled in the back of the head.
Dazed and incoherent, Greenberg left the game and would never make it back to the
big leagues. That was until Tuesday.

After dealing with nausea, vertigo, headaches, rejection, and long minor-league bus rides,
Greenberg will be back in Miami, the place where his major league career seemingly
ended seven years ago, to play for the Marlins on a one-day contract. The Marlins,
who suffered through a highly disappointing season, gave Greenberg a chance after
a filmmaker who produced "One At-Bat", created an on-line petition to get Greenberg
an "official" at-bat in the Major Leagues. Commissioner Bud Selig approved the
transaction and Greenberg will be in uniform when the Marlins battle the Mets in the
second to last game of the season.

This will be Greenberg's second chance to make a good first impression in a Major
League game. But is this just a stunt that's smearing the integrity of the game? Or
is this "one at-bat" thing really legitimate?

In 2005, Greenberg earned a promotion the the Major Leagues after mild success as a
minor-league outfielder in the Cubs farm system. Short on god-gifted talent and size (5'9")
Greenberg was hitting .269 when he was promoted to the big leagues. The Cubs liked
his defense, speed, and labeled him a good "character guy." Which in baseball, means
he keeps his mouth shut, doesn't cause waves, and plays hard.

This time around, it's hard to say that Greenberg did very much to warrant another shot
in the Major Leagues. He's been bouncing around the minor-leagues for the last several
years and hit the depths of them playing for the Bridgeport (CT) Bluefish in an
Independent League with cast-offs, rejects, and players well past their prime. Talent
rules every professional league and if you have it, some team will find a spot for you.
Every Major League team had passed on Greenberg and many players have long since
passed him by on the road to the show.

But those players may never make it to the promised land and fulfill their own dreams.
Whether it's lack of talent, need, or the game of politics, the journey ends for a lot
of great players before they ever get a sniff of making it to "The Show." Greenberg
is getting a second chance mainly because 20,000 people signed the  petition to get
Greenberg his official at-bat. He's also getting a second chance because the Marlins
needed something to go right for them in a season that went so terribly wrong.

The Marlins pumped up the payroll with the additions of Jose Reyes, Mark Buerhle,
Heath Bell and opened the doors to a new stadium. But after owner Jeff Loria and
Muhammad Ali came in from centerfield riding a golf cart on opening day in a terribly

uncomfortable moment for those at the new park and viewers at home, things went
south in South Beach for the Fish. Ozzie Guillen offended Cuban-Americans in the
city after professing his admiration for Fidel Castro, Hanley Ramirez' lackadaisical
attitude earned him a one-way ticket out of town, and the team played with the passion
of the Chinese table tennis team in the Olympics. If the Red Sox weren't around,
the Marlins season would be considered the biggest disaster in the game.

The Marlins needed some good publicity and something positive to go into the
off-season and the gift to Greenberg accomplishes both. But while Guillen is saying
all the right things, you can bet there a number of players on the Marlins who aren't
thrilled with this one-day, one at-bat thing. They've endured a brutal season that
started in February and will mercifully end on Wednesday.

Greenberg has already gained more national and positive attention in the past week
than they've had all year. Trust me, this one at-bat thing isn't sitting well with a lot
of them. Oh, sure,  they'll put on the happy face and give a few great soundbites
for the media, but inside,  most of them won't be asking for Greenberg's autograph
or taking pictures to mark the occasion or post on their Facebook pages. They have
been through hell this season and a Johnny come-lately player is making national
headlines? You saw how petty the players on the Red Sox were this season, you can
imagine how some of the Marlins are taking this.

Most fans, hardcore and even the non-baseball ones will see this as the exclamation
point on a feel good story. The kid is getting another chance to get an official at-bat
after that frightening moment seven years ago altered his life and career. But what
will it really mean if Greenberg does get an official at-bat? Will it change anything other
than the record books? Greenberg beat the odds in 2005 to make it to the Major
Leagues. He earned his promotion to the big leagues. Nobody could question it
or take it away from him. Greenberg did it all on his own.

This time around, that's not the case. He got help from 20,000 fans who put their
name on an on-line petition. Greenberg got help from a Marlins franchise that has
their own agenda. Greenberg really didn't need this. He already made it to the Major
Leagues once. There have been other players who have been promoted to the
big leagues who sat on the bench, didn't get into a game, and were returned to the
minors after being so close to their dream, they could taste it. Nobody put together
on-line campaigns to get them into a real Major League game. Nobody offered
them a one-day contract just so they could fulfill their dream. The "Today" show
didn't call them up to be interviewed by Matt Lauer on national television.

And what if Greenberg gets drilled again in his plate appearance? Will the Marlins
sign him to another one-day contract and do this entire thing all over again? Don't
laugh, it could happen. What will this mean to the next player who gets drilled in
the head in his only Major League at-bat and wants to return nearly ten years later?

Where does Commissioner Selig draw the line? How can he do it for one player
and not another? Is Greenberg's one-day contract good for the game? Is it smudging
the integrity of it? It's a great debate, but one thing is certain. Life is not fair and it
certainly can be cruel. Just ask Chuck Pagano and his family.

Friday, August 31, 2012


The game of baseball can twist your mind, evaporate your confidence, and test your
stress levels like no other sport. In life, many people often say that failure is not an option,
if you're a hitter in baseball, failure is to be expected - it's just how you deal with it.

The best hitters in the game fail 70 percent of the time. If a player does that over
a 15-year career, he's a Hall of Famer. If a quarterback does that in football, he's far
worse than Tim Tebow. If a shooter does that in basketball, he'd be out of the game
quicker than Antoine Walker blew through his $100 million fortune.

During the course of a baseball season, which lasts from February to October, failure is
everywhere. Combine that with the stress of the game and playing for your livelihood, the
chances for dugout demolitions run high.

In August of 1988, one of the greatest dugout demolitions in the history of the game
happened. I was a member of the Lynchburg Red Sox and we were in pennant race against
our division rivals, the Salem Buccaneers. The effects of a long and stressful season
were wearing on all of us. In the minor-leagues, you travel on rickety buses, make little
money, and get handed a per diem of just $12, which wouldn't be enough for three extra
value meals at McDonald's. It's anything but glamorous.

On one steamy Virginia night, all the stress and failure resulted in the perfect storm for
a dugout demolition of epic proportions. Jim Orsag was our power-hitting first basemen,
who also happened to be in a race with Bernie Williams for the Carolina League batting title.
Williams, who would go on to a spectacular career with the New York Yankees, was just
19-years-old at the time, and his style and demeanor was far, far different than that of

A third-year pro out of the University of Illinois, Orsag was half-Seabiscuit, half-
Schwarzeneggar. He was 6'3" and a magnificently sculpted 225 lbs. He ran like a
thoroughbred coming down the stretch at the Kentucky Derby with nostrils flaring
and scary, intimidating sounds emitting from his mouth. The ground shook beneath him
and there wasn't a second baseman in baseball who wanted to have to turn a double-play
with Orsag bearing down on him. He played the game with the intensity of Ray Lewis
and seemed far better suited for playing football on Sunday's than trying to make it
to Major Leagues. With his spiked hair and physical resemblance to Arnold Schwarzeneggar,
Orsag was our "Terminator."

Orsag was hitting .328 when he stepped in to face Scott Ruskin in his first at-bat of the night.
Ruskin was a left-hander who wasn't overpowering, but very smart and could baffle hitters
with his knee-buckling curve ball. Ruskin went on to play five years in the big leagues with the Pirates, Reds, and Expos.

On this night, Ruskin had Orsag's number, in fact, he just owned him, striking Orsag out in
their first three confrontations. Slowly making his way back to the dugout, you could see steam starting to come out of the ears of Orsag. He was a prideful man who took his job and career seriously. With the game in just the 6th inning, Orsag already had the "Hat Trick", a
three-strikeout performance.

The only thing worse than that, is the "Golden Sombrero", a four-strikeout game which
no hitter wants any part of. Orsag picked that up the very next inning and that's when you
could see the volcano inside of him begin to simmer. It didn't help that a fan, an elderly
woman, who probably never missed a game in that venerable, old stadium, shouted to
Orsag, "Hey, it's going to be a cold winter and I need some kindling wood. You don't
seem to be using your bat, can I have it?"

Players avoided Orsag the way they do when a pitcher has a no-hitter going. We stayed as
far away from Orsag as we possibly could. This was just a bad, bad night, which every player
experiences from the minor to the major leagues. He had that look in his eye that said,
"Don't talk to me and don't come near me." Nobody did. Orsag was in a hitter's hell and
the best thing to do was stay away from him and be ready for when the volcano erupts.

Mount St. Orsag erupted in the top of 9th inning. Ruskin had been replaced by Rick Reed,
another pitcher who carved out a nice career in the big leagues with the Pirates and New
York Mets. He was a pitcher that threw up "tossed salad", an array of off-speed pitches
that drove power-hitters like Orsag nuts. He struck out Orsag to lead off the inning. Five
at-bats, five strikeouts. A golden sombrero plus one.

When Orsag arrived after the long walk back from home plate, it was as if time stood
still. The stadium got quiet, real quiet. I was halfway between the bat rack and the end
of the bench wearing my catcher's gear. I slowly put on my catcher's mask for my own
protection. I knew what was coming next.

Using the bat he had just struck out with for the fifth time, Orsag whacked the bat rack, shattering
his Louisville Slugger in two. But he wasn't done. Far from it. He shattered another, then
another. He was picking up bats randomly out of the rack, turning them into kindling wood
for that little old lady in the stands. Jim Bibby, who was our pitching coach and one of the
largest human beings I've ever seen, just watched in amazement.

Bibby was a 12-year major league veteran who had witnessed a lot of meltdowns in his
career, but nothing like this. "Holy Mother F*@#king S*^%!" was all Bibby could say
as he stared at Orsag's performance. This was legendary. After Orsag had destroyed the
fifth and  final bat, he just sauntered back to his spot on the bench as if nothing happened.
Players on the other team watched it all in utter amazement. The umpires looked on
incredulously. Fans choked on their popcorn.

There was a silent pause that seemed to last for a minute. Nobody moved and it was eerily
quiet. And then, as if starting the game all over again, the home plate umpire said, "Play ball!"
and the game went on again, as if nothing happened, except that one of the greatest dugout
demolitions did, and everyone who was there that night, has never forgotten it.

Orsag finished the season with a .324 average with an spectacular on-base percentage of
.434. Williams won the batting crown with a .335 mark. Orsag was the best teammate I've
ever had and a lot of players on the Lynchburg Red Sox will tell you the same thing. He
played the game hard on every single play on every single night. His demolition was the
stuff of legend but in no way diminished his season or what he represented. Orsag was intense,
driven, incredibly hardworking, and quite simply, a great man and teammate.

He just had a bad night. A real bad one.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


On June 2, 2010, Jim Joyce, a longtime and well-respected umpire, saw his life
change forever, or so he thought. Joyce, manning his position by first base,
was on the verge of being part of baseball history. Armando Galarraga of the
Detroit Tigers was one out away from pitching a perfect game. In one of the
biggest moments in the history of the game, Joyce choked. He blew the call
at first base that would've sealed a perfect game and baseball immortality for

Joyce became a villain to the Tigers and baseball fans across the country. He
was the umpire who screwed up the perfect game. After watching the replay,
Joyce tearfully said, "I cost the kid a perfect game." Time heals all wounds but
the stain of botching a call couldn't be rinsed away. Joyce knew what Bill Buckner
felt like when that ball rolled through his legs. He felt the same pain Scott Hoch
did after gagging on a 2-foot put that would've made him a Masters champion.
In one of the biggest moments of his career, Joyce blew it.

Not many in life get a second chance to rectify a blown opportunity. Buckner
certainly didn't, neither did Hoch. No matter how successful they were later in
their careers, there was no way to make the pain or that bad moment go away.
They were tagged with that failure for the rest of their lives. Joyce, who is
considered one of the best umpires in the game, was sure to take that moment
to his grave, a part of his obituary and history forever.

But 809 days after that painful night in Detroit, Joyce got a chance to do something
that rinsed away the stain and all the suffering. Before working a game in Arizona,
an employee of the Diamondbacks, Jayne Power, suffered a seizure and collapsed
near Joyce. Unlike the near perfect game just over two years ago, Joyce did not freeze,
nor did he choke. Attending to someone who has just fallen in front of you is not
as easy as one might think. There have been many people who have just blanked out
and failed to help someone in need. The adrenaline, the anxiety, and the seriousness
of the moment can stop a lot of people in their tracks.

Jim Joyce was not one of those people. He administered CPR to the woman and
helped save her life. Joyce never panicked. I'm sure his heart rate went through the
roof, but he stayed calm and kept a woman from dying.

God works in mysterious ways. He challenged the strength and resolve of Jim Joyce
and then put him in a situation that was far more important than calling a baseball game.
In this day and age of Twitter, Facebook, and ESPN, people hate quicker, damn a
person forever, and seem happy to make others miserable. Joyce had to live with
a lot of hate and anger for more than two years. He had an impeccable career damaged
by one bad call.

All that doesn't matter, after all, it's just a baseball game. Jim Joyce saved a life and I
really can't think of anything that trumps that. He save a precious life. He kept a family
and countless friends from experiencing searing pain they surely would've felt if that
woman had passed away. That was the biggest moment of Joyces' life and it certainly is
his greatest accomplishment. He might not have made the right call two years ago in
Detroit, but he did the right thing in Arizona and he is a hero today, and forever.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


A great baseball man. During my short, but wonderful journey through baseball, I'd
often hear that phrase tagged on someone in the game who was a baseball lifer, a man
who'd seen it all as either a player, scout, manager, or perhaps, all three.

Rocky Bridges was the first great baseball man I ever met. He played in the Major
Leagues from 1951 to 1961 and made the National League All-Star team in 1958. After
a brief  stint as third base coach, Bridges went back to manage in the minors where he
stayed for the next 21 years.

1989 was his last season in baseball, which  happened to be mine, as well. He managed
the Salem Buccaneers and I played for the Lynchurg Red Sox in the Carolina League.
Bridges was an old-time manager out of central casting with a large beer belly and a wad
of tobacco in his cheek big enough to stuff Chad Johnson's mouth for good. I fondly
remember strands of rinds aching to get out of his mouth as he talked and a jersey
peppered with tobacco stains. Bridges managed more than 2,000 games in the
minor-leagues but never got a shot to do in the big leagues, despite being considered
a "great baseball man."

With all due respect to Bridges, he wasn't half the great "baseball man" that Johnny
Pesky was. Pesky died on Monday at the age of 92. He had become part of the fabric
of the Boston Red Sox a long time ago, having played, coached, and managed the team
during a career that lasted more than 60 years. Think about that. Pesky spent nearly
his entire life in the game an became an iconic figure in New England as a man who
was a Red Sox, through and through. He was everything good about baseball and you
got the feeling that the only way you'd get the Red Sox uniform off Pesky was to hold
him down and peel it off. He loved being a member of the Boston Red Sox.

Pesky's longevity or playing ability didn't make him a Red Sox legend, his loyalty,
kindness, and character did. He loved, and I mean really loved baseball, the Red Sox,
and helping all the players in the game. Pesky had class, dignity, and grace. He became
as much a part of Fenway Park as the pole in right field that bears his name.

I first met Pesky when I was a minor-leaguer in the Red Sox organization in 1988. When
I covered the team 10 years later for a local station, there was Pesky sitting in the dugout
with his fungo bat telling stories about his days being a teammate of Ted Williams. After
fours years in Atlanta, I returned to Boston in 2004 to work for NESN, and there was
Pesky, still in his uniform and fungo bat, still very much part of the Red Sox.

EVERYBODY loved Johnny Pesky. The players, the fans, and the media. He was often
the first person anyone would ever see when they went to work at Fenway and it was
like seeing Santa Claus over and over and it never go old. Pesky wreaked of baseball history
and people would always make a point of getting closer to Pesky just to get a whiff of it.
This is a man who had been teammates with Williams, Dom DiMaggio, and the great
Bobby Doerr. If it happened in baseball, there was a good chance that Pesky had seen

I'll never forget the image of Pesky pulling up the 2004 World Series banner during the
Red Sox home opener the following season. Tears had welled up in his eyes as he pulled
the rope that helped lift the Curse of the Bambino for good and bring pure joy to the faces
of everyone in New England who had suffered through 86 years of heartbreak. Nobody
was happier than Johnny Pesky, though. His team, his franchise, and his true baseball love
had finally won a World Series and he was as much a part of it as David Ortiz.

Johnny Pesky may have died, but his legacy will live on in Red Sox lore, forever. There's
the Pesky Pole, his number 6 has been retired, and those images of Pesky pulling up
the championship banner have been etched in the minds of Red Sox fans and will never
go away.

Johnny Pesky: A true Boston Red Sox and one of the greatest baseball men the game has
ever seen.

Monday, August 6, 2012


No matter how you carve or Favre it, the world of sports turned into a giant cess pool
over the last four years. It has wreaked of scandal, been soured by selfishness, and
punctuated by sin. There was Tiger's massive infidelity, the Penn State scandal, the
trial of Roger Clemens, LeBron's "Decision",  pictures of Brett's "little Favre", and
the Bernie Fine follies at Syracuse. Porn stars, pedophiles, and philanderers became as
much a part of the  sports pages as the standings and box scores. You'd be hard pressed
to name five feel good stories or players whom you'd want to be a role model for your

The 2012 Olympic games in London have been the giant deodorant that's covered
up the stench that's permeated the sports world over the last few years. They have made
us feel good about sports again and really appreciate the athletes and their remarkable
accomplishments.There are no holdouts, salary demands, or  the crying like Latrell
Sprewell once did because he had to find a way to "feed his family" while making just
$12 million a year.

The Olympic games have been as close to perfect as any international competition we've
seen over the last 25 years. They have made us smile and they have caused tears to well
up in our eyes. Was there a more spine-tingling moment than watching Oscar Pistorius,
a double-amputee runner from South Africa, making the semifinals of the 400-meter
dash with his carbon-fiber blades? Im Dong Hyun of South Korea set an Olympic record
in archery. He is legally blind. How inspiring is that?

The breath of fresh air provided by the Olympics has helped fumigate a sports world
that's been polluted by athletes who have the "disease of me", the malady where
self-centered prima donnas like Terrell Owens, Alex Rodriquez, Brett Favre, and
Dwight Howard try to convince very one that the world revolves around them and
them alone. Olympians like Missy Franklin and Gabby Douglas who are so young,
unaffected, and pure, have been thoroughly refreshing, helping to rinse away the
bad taste left over by a professional sports world filled with malcontents and those
with the "look at me" attitudes.

These Olympic games have made us appreciate the true greatness of Michael Phelps
and Usain Bolt, two athletes with mind-boggling talent, who've proved once again,
they indeed, are the kings of their respective sports. They chased and achieved
Olympic immortality, inspiring us with jaw-dropping performances and celebrating
with the enthusiasm of Little Leaguers who have just captured the World Series title.

To many people, watching sports is fun again, even if they know the outcome of events
long before they hit NBC in prime time. Sure, we can complain about that, but at the
mid-point of what has been a spectacular Olympic games, that's not really something
to make a fuss about. But the the games in London have been the big deodorant the
sports world has long needed, and I'm loving every minute of it.