Friday, November 1, 2013


Oh, what the hell, I'm going to run the NYC Marathon. Am I physically ready? Heck, no. But
there is no crying when you run in the Big Apple, or at least not until you finish. Mentally,
I'm locked in. I'm going to make this one of the best days of my life. I never intended to run
a marathon when I started my Forest Gump training program nine months ago. I was just
looking to lose some serious weight.

But here I am. Can't wait to run, see the sights, hear the sounds, and experience the adrenaline
rush that comes with running on the streets of the greatest city in the world. Sorry, Boston.
You are hands down the best sports town in the country, but nothing beats New York for
everything else.


48, 142.  That's about the number of people that will be running with me, ahead of me, and
               behind me. If the New York Mets ever sold out Citifield, that's about how many
               of people will be running in this thing. Hope everybody remembers to roll on that

19, 178   According to STATS, inc., Nate Silver, and the random number I picked out of my
               gluteus maximus, that is where I'm going to finish in the race. Check the New York
               Times on Monday for the results. It'll be the last time I'll be in that great paper until
               my obituary is printed. Hope they don't happen to occur at the same time. It's going
               to be only time that I'll be able to say I've won after finishing 19,178.

19, 178  The number of times I will say, "What the hell was I thinking?" during the 26.2 mile

  2, 134  My bib number. I wanted number 1, but it was given to some Ethiopian guy whose
              name I can't pronounce or even spell. I offered he and his family a year's supply of
              Happy Meals from McDonald's, but he wouldn't give up the number.

     878   Number of miles I've racked up since starting my unofficial training program back on
              February 24. The miles and runs were witnessed and notarized by my 98-year old
              bartender girlfriend. Angela isn't as meticulous and that good with numbers as she
              once was, so the 878 might be a little off.

     238   My weight when I started running in earnest back in February. I'll start Sunday's race
              at 208. For those scoring at home, that's a loss of 30 pounds. My knees keep thanking
              me every day.

     226   The amount of my entry fee to run in the event. Special thanks to Tom Beusse and
              Andrew Hersam, one of New Canaan's all-time greats and record holder for number
              of pull-ups in high school, a mark established in 1981. They jumped through hoops,
              walked on hot coals, and moved mountains to get me in. I received entry just 25
              days before the event.

     217   The number of people who were injured or killed in the Boston Marathon bombing.
               I will be thinking of all of them,  especially Carlos Arredando, a lot during the race.
              The man in the cowboy hat was a true hero that day, saving the life of Jeff Bauman.

       57   The number of songs on my Ipod. That might increase before Sunday. Four of the
              songs are by the artist known as Pink. Is that a bad thing? Does it make me weird?
              Those songs by her get me pumped up. No Donnie and Marie for this race.


       21   The number of days before the marathon that I blew a tire. Calf muscle and knee.
               I figured it was better to get to the race than be on the shelf with an injury. I took
               two weeks off before trying to run again.

    18.6   The distance of my last timed race in September. Finished in 2:33 and was feeling
              good. Then came the injury.
        13   I'll be running this race for my six nieces and nephews, brother Pat, sister Kara,
               brother-in-law Chad, sister-in-law Imma, Uncle Jack, mom Charlene, and my Dad,
               Patrick, the big guy in the sky who will be watching me every step of the way.

         7   Number of miles I've run in the last three weeks. I took 17 days off re-habbing
              a calf/knee injury. I could've dropped out, but Beusse and Hersam worked too hard
              to get me in. This one is going to be all about will and desire. Will and desire.

         6  The number of half-marathon races I've completed since last March (Sleepy Hollow,
             Danbury, Brooklyn, Lake Placid, Fairfield, Norwalk. Personal best: 1:45) By the
             way,  I don't really like running. Does anybody?

        5   Are you serious? I have to worry about daylights saving time on the day of the
             marathon? I have to catch a bus to the starting line at 5:30 a.m. I'm already having
             nightmares about oversleeping and I haven't even gone to bed yet. I'm going to set
             five alarms to make sure I get up. It's Fall Back, right? If I give you my phone
             number will you call at 4:30 a.m. to wake me up? I didn't think so.

    3:47  The time I want to finish the marathon in. Is it ambitious? Hell, yeah, but what the
              hell, you gotta have a number? What's your number? And if I don't finish, it'll be
              because I probably got arrested for trying to give Pamela Anderson a floatation
              device. Yes, that Pamela Anderson and she's running in the marathon.

         3   Number of pairs of shoes I wore during my training program. I know---that's not
              a lot. I wear them until there is no tread and the labels are falling off.  Again, I know,
              it's not good for one's health. Probably the reason for the injuries.

         1   The number of people whom I know are definitely running in the race. My former
              NESN colleague and current MSG reporter, Tina Cervasio. This will be her fourth
              NYC Marathon. This will be my first and definitely my last. I'm doing the Ironman
              in Lake Placid in July, so I needed to know what the pain in a marathon was like
              before running one after biking 112-miles.

         0   The number of alcoholic beverages, slices of bread, scoops of ice cream, and bottles
              of soda I've had since February 10. Don't miss any of them one bit. But after Sunday
              night, I might have to break out the bubbly and celebrate like Big Papi and the Boston
              Red Sox.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Steve Tonra was a wonderful baseball player gifted with sprinter's speed and a little thunder
in his bat. During his high school days in New Canaan, Ct. he liked to boast that he was "the
straw that stirred the drink." He was catalyst as the lead-off man and a fleet-footed centerfielder,
but for all his talent, it was his charisma that separated the "T-man" from everybody else,
which also made him a person everyone gravitated to.

Tonra was half Kelly Leak of the "Bad News Bears and half "Super Joe" Charboneau of the
Cleveland Indians: cock-sure, carefree, and a little crazy, but in a good way. He never opened
beer bottles with his eye-lids as Super Joe once did, but Tonra could always spin a story or
find trouble like nobody's business.

I vividly remember the time Tonra and I were invited to a try-out with the Los Angeles Dodgers organization and he showed up with a 1960's gray, baggy, New Canaan uniform, a Cam motor
oil baseball hat, and sneakers that looked as if they had just  been plucked from a Salvation
Army bin. If only I had a picture of the look on the faces of all the scouts when they saw Tonra
take the field. Priceless.

That was the T-Man.

But behind the legend of the "T-Man", as he's still affectionately known by all his friends,
is a man who has an insane love for the game of baseball and the Boston Red Sox. Born and
raised on the mean streets of Brockton, Mass,. Tonra is a Red Sox fan through and through.
I know he's got Red Sox posters lining the wall of his home in Roswell, Georgia, and wouldn't
be surprised if one of Ted Williams adorns it, as well. During his playing days, Tonra wore
number 9, "mythical number 9" as he used to say, in honor of the Splendid Splinter.

I've often been awakened late at night by the buzzing of my cellphone. Booty calls have been
replaced by "Tonra's Take". I get updates, theories, and analysis from the T-man on all things
Red Sox:

"The Sox starting pitchers have an ERA of 1.93 after eating pizza's on Monday's". Ok, so that's
an exaggeration, but I'm not that far off when it comes to Tonra's obsession with the Red Sox.
I could go without him blowing up my cellphone almost every night, but I can appreciate his
love for the game and the Red Sox.

I have little doubt that if Tonra followed his heart out of college and caught a break, he'd
be a highly-successful general manager in major league baseball today. Once featured in
the New York Times for his mastery of the board game, Strat-O-matic, Tonra's extremely
bright and has a tremendous baseball I.Q. He could run circles around and build better
baseball teams than 75 percent of the GM's in the game today.

Baseball's in Tonra's blood. It drives him, energizes him, and motivates him. Today, he is an
umpire in one of the hot-beds of baseball. He has already umpired more than 300 games this
season, and as he was when he was playing, T-man is really gifted as a man dressed in blue.

I have to admit, though, when I tell people that Tonra is umpiring, the first words out of the
their mouths usually begin with the letters. N....F....W. And with two exclamation points. Ya
see, when Tonra was playing  in New Canaan, he didn't really have all that much respect
for authority and when he was on the baseball field, no pitch was a strike unless he actually
swung at it.

Now, the "T" is an umpire calling balls and strikes and kicking people out of games for
arguing and disagreeing with him. Imagine that.

Tonight, T-man will be watching the Red Sox try to win the World Series for the third time
in a decade. As any true Red Sox fan, he is guarding against the worst, after all, he has felt
what Bucky "Effin" Dent has done to heart, his Red Sox soul was torched by Bill Buckner's
blunder, and his mind was scrambled by Aaron Boone's bomb in the ALCS.

But with many things with T-Man, he usually is the one who comes out on top, and I'm sure
he'll be waking up his neighborhood outside of Atlanta tonight with screams of joy, while
blowing up my cellphone.

That is the beauty of the "T-Man."

Monday, October 28, 2013



Jonny Gomes officially became part of the fabric of Red Sox nation on Sunday night. His three-
run homer made him a World Series hero and put the spotlight on a journeyman player who was
signed by Boston more for his character and love for the game than his less-than-one-tool talent.

And it's a beautiful thing.

Gomes looks like the type of guy who lives in a one-bedroom apartment with the television
cemented to ESPN's "Baseball Tonight", the walls filled with posters of Pete Rose, Mike
Schmidt, and Thurman Munson, and his nightstand supporting Ted Williams' book, "The Science
of Hitting." He doesn't care about agents, endorsements, or Twitter. He's all about baseball
and it's refreshing to see.

In the residue of the Steroid Era and in a year that has produced some real ugliness for the
game (Biogenesis, Ryan Braun, A-Rod), Jonny Gomes is the deodorant that is covering up the
bad scent. He wears his heart on his sleeve, pounding his chest, screaming at the top of his lungs,
and showing the unbridled joy of a Little Leaguer on his way to Williamsport.

In a baseball world of egotistical prima donnas and statistics obsessed players, Gomes marches
to the beat of his own drummer. He has a body stained with tattoos and a chia pet face that
seems to sprout hair with every shower. Gomes could care less about OPS, WAR, and hitting
with runners in scoring position on Saturday night's with a full moon.

Gomes is all about winning, having fun, and playing a kid's game for as long as he possibly
can. He's helped cleanse a clubhouse that had been poisoned by the likes of Beckett,
Gonzalez, and Bobby Valentine.

To opponents, Gomes can be like sandpaper, an abrasive personality that can rub you the
wrong way. But he's perfect for a Red Sox team that is more lunch pale than catered caviar.

Nope, Gomes doesn't have the tools or talent of Bryce Harper, nor the all-American looks
of Mike Trout who seems to have been poured into his uniform by the baseball god's. But
to the Red Sox and their nation, Gomes is one of the prettiest players on the field.

Saturday, October 19, 2013


Grambling, Louisiana is a small town tucked away in the northern part of the state. It's not
on the beaten path to anywhere and is only relevant because of the college football program
that was built by the legend, Eddie Robinson.

Today, it's in the news because its football players boycotted a game in protest of travel
arrangements, poor facilities, and a coach who was eventually fired. I can't say I'm shocked,
but I am surprised that it didn't happen sooner.

In 1997, I worked as a sports anchor in Shreveport, the closest major city to Grambling
and its university. I must admit, I was anxious to go there for media day in August of that
year, even if it was on a day that was so brutally hot and humid that'd you sweat profusely
from just blinking.

This was Grambling State University, a smaller than smaller football program that had
produced big-time NFL players like Doug Williams, James Harris, Buck Buchanan,
Sammy White, Willie Brown, and Charlie Brown. This was the place where the coach,
Eddie Robinson became an American icon. This was the place where Bruce Jenner starred
in a movie called, "Grambling's White Tiger."

However, this was the place that time forgot.

As I walked to the football facility, I wondered how in the world Grambling recruited
players, much less great ones who would end up in the hall of fame. The place was like a
third-world country, and that's being generous. The grounds were far from the meticulously
groomed ones you see at just about any college in the country these days. High school
football stadiums were better than the one at Grambling and the field resembled that of
a cow pasture.

Eddie Robinson, of course, was the main reason any player with an ounce of talent in
the south went to Grambling. He started the football program and coached there for more
than 50 years. He was a man of impeccable character and integrity, teaching his players
more than just football, he taught them about life and gave them the tools and knowledge
to succeed once all the games were over. Robinson was truly special.

After one game, I found myself sitting in his coaches locker room. It was just me and
Eddie Robinson in a room no bigger than a studio apartment in NYC. I have never been
star struck, but I was mesmerized by this 72-year old man and what he had accomplished
in his life.

The grooves in his forehead were like the rings on an oak tree, telling you he had
been around forever and had seen so more than he ever cared to talk about. Robinson
had lived through some hard times as a black man in the south. He had overcome
tremendous obstacles and succeeded in a place where very have before or after him.

Robinson was already a big part of American history, winning more games than any
college coach and I was fascinated. He had slowed down considerably and his mind and
mouth didn't not work in conjunction as they once did, perhaps, it was a prelude to the
Alzheimer's disease he came down with shortly after retiring.

I said to myself, "This is unreal and one of the best moments of my life and career." If
I had a cell phone camera back then, I would've taken a selfie of the two of us. I wanted
something to document this priceless moment of my life. I wanted to show and tell people
that I had a moment with this man. It was one of those times when you say, "I wish somebody
was here to see this."

Just a few days earlier, Robinson had a book signing and I was given a copy as part of
the promotion. I didn't ask Robinson to sign it at the time, I was long past getting autographs.
The last one I ever received was one from Steve Garvey back in 1975. I thought asking
for autographs was ridiculous and it's forbidden as part of a sportscaster job.

But I still had Robinson's book in my bag during our interview and when it was over, I
didn't care about protocol. I wanted this man's autograph. He was history. He was an
icon. He was all things good about college sports. He was truly special.  I asked for his
autograph, Robinson obliged, and I was on my way, stuffing the book back in my bag
so nobody would see it.

I thought about that moment after I heard about the unrest at Grambling this week. I'm sure
the facilities aren't much different from when I was there back in 1997. There are  no
big revenue streams at Grambling and the alumni base doesn't have deep pockets. The
athletic department tries to do their best, but to the players, busing to games 750 miles
away isn't trying hard enough.

I don't think this story is going to end well. When a school cancels a game just days
before the opponent is expecting a big crowd on homecoming, there will be repercussions.
I'm not sure Grambling's football program can survive this. I'm not sure they have the
financial resources to sustain it. And when potential recruits for what is already a
downtrodden program see the unrest at Grambling, they will most likely turn and run

That's a sad thing for a program that was once the little one that could. Now, it's
the little one that can't do anything right.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


It's easy to remember a name like Wally Bell and if you got to know the same one I did,
you'd realize he'd be pretty hard to forget.

Wally Bell passed away on Monday, the victim of an apparent heart attack. He was just
48 years old. Bell lived a good life, spending more than 20 years as a Major League
umpire. getting the opportunity to call a World Series.  When I read about his passing,
I was stunned and saddened because I became  acquainted with Bell during our days in
the Carolina League, he as an umpire with visions of making it to the show, me as a player,
who was just happy as hell to be putting on a  uniform every day that had "Red Sox"
stitched across the front of it.

Back in 1988, Bell was a big, burly kid, with a tremendous presence. I called him the
Buford T. Pusser of the Carolina League. He walked tall and if he carried a big stick, he
definitely would've used it. Bell didn't take anything from anybody. He called them like
hesaw them and kicked you out of the game if you didn't like it.

As a catcher, I was closer to the umpire than any other player on the field. For nearly three
hours every night, you can hear every grunt, groan, and word that comes out of a home
plate umpires mouth. You're so close to them, you can tell what they had for the pre-game
meal and see the stains from the sweat that can drown a man's shirt on those incredibly hot
and humid summer nights in the Carolina League

When Bell was behind the plate, you never had to worry about getting a game that
was called inconsistently. His strike zone didn't waver from game-to-game, or inning-to-
inning, for that matter. The life of minor-league player can be tough, but incredibly brutal
for an umpire. Working in three-man crews, there is not a team bus that takes them from
stadium to stadium in towns that most people don't know existed, and if they did, they
would never care to visit. Instead they have to drive their own cars and sleep in all those
cut-rate hotels that usually have a  6 or 8 on the end of it. Perhaps, one with a red roof if
they decided to splurge.

Bell never took the pain that comes from the miserable life of always being on the road
and living out of suitcases, onto the field. He was professional, powerful, and a person
that you knew had the ingredients to make it to the top of his vocation. Bell was also a
funny man with a quick wit and razor-sharp sarcasm. I remember asking him what the
heck umpires do for fun in the sleepy town of Lynchburg where our minor-league team
was based. "Ah, Lynchburg, Virgina, where the men are men and so are the women,"
I vividly recall him saying. "And the cockroaches at Harvey's Motel are often bigger
than me."

When Bell made it to the big leagues, I was not surprised. And when I heard the announcers
say, ".....and Wally Bell is behind the plate tonight", I would always get a chuckle and say
to myself, "Yeah, he was an umpire in the Carolina League way back when."

When I heard an announcer on ESPN talk about his passing, I was truly saddened. 48 years
old is way to young to die, especially when you're in the middle of a great career as a well-
respected umpire in the major leagues. But I was happy for Wally in that he had done what
so few umpires set out to do while working the "bushes" they call the minor-leagues. It's
a rough road, but Wally Bell made it and he will always be remembered as a great person,
as well as an umpire.