Friday, December 30, 2016
2016 has seemingly been defined by it. Perhaps, it's because a lot of famous people died
in a country that's obsessed with both celebrity and social media.
David Bowie, Muhammad Ali, Prince, Arnold Palmer,Gene Wilder, Florence Henderson,
Alan Thicke, Craig Sager, Carrie Fisher, and Debbie Reynolds were among those from the entertainment and sports world that passed away, most of them suddenly, drawing shock and
awe from a majority of a society that never knew, much less even met any of them.
But we mourned them all as if they were somehow connected to us. And that's OK. Death is
not easy and there isn't a manual on how to handle it, even if you didn't know the departed,
personally. We all do it in our own way. For those like me, who are on the other side of 50,
there are far more funerals to attend these days than weddings or christenings. It's just
part of the cycle of life.
I will be attending another funeral very soon. My Uncle Jack passed away this morning,
shortly before the door slams shut on 2016, the year of death. Jack Devlin. 78-years-old.
The youngest of four children who all died with Alzheimer's disease. The Devlin curse.
Nobody dies of Alzheimer's disease, though, it's usually something else that robs them of
their last breath. Alzheimer's disease just makes the ending cruel, very cruel.
Jack was more than just an uncle to me, he was my godfather and really good friend. Jack, like
my father and his other siblings, was extremely Irish and very Catholic. I'm not sure he ever
missed Sunday Mass before suffering his cruel fate that was Alzheimer's disease. He was
successful in his career of television advertising sales and was blessed with the same sense of
humor my father and his brother, Jimmy, had.
Uncle Jack also had a heart of gold, willing to do anything for anybody at anytime. However,
he was quite blunt, and often lacked a filter. But that's one of the things that made
Uncle Jack who he was. He told it like it was, never sugar coating a thing, or steering anyone
in a direction other than the one he felt they should go. (wink, wink)
That was Jack Devlin.
He laughed like Arnold Horshack, was sarcastic in an Archie Bunker kind-of-way,
but harmless as a Teddy Bear.
Uncle Jack had some tough times recently, but my cousin and his niece, Tara, was simply
remarkable in her care for him. A pure angel and godsend, she rescued him from Wisconsin
where he lived alone and took him back to San Diego where he received tremendous care.
Thank you Tara Blackburn for all you did in taking care of Uncle Jack. You are amazing.
Jack is at peace now and in a much better place along with his brothers Pat, Jim, and sister
Mary. I am truly thankful for that and thankful that 2016 is almost over.
Good-bye, Uncle Jack. You were one-of-a-kind and will be truly missed.
Wednesday, November 23, 2016
Ralph Branca will be always be remembered as the guy who gave up one of the most iconic
home runs in baseball history. Bobby Thomson of the New York Giants crushed a fastball
off the Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher for a walk-off win in the 1951 playoffs, making it "The
Shot Heard 'Round The World."
I will always remember Branca for so much more
Branca died Wednesday morning at the age of 90. He was a great friend and golfing
buddy of my father, who passed away eight years ago. They had a special friendship which I
benefitted from greatly.
I was addicted to baseball as a little kid, often playing from sun up to sundown with my
neighborhood friends. Branca would come over to our house and we'd have a catch in the
backyard. He saw my passion for the game and helped take it to an entirely different level.
In 1974, when I was just 10-years-old, Branca, who married into the O'Malley family, whi
owned the Dodgers at the time, took me down to Shea Stadium to meet the team. Growing
up in Westchester county, New York, I was a die-hard Mets fan, but that all changed when
Branca took me under his wing on a hot summer night in July.
He ushered me into the clubhouse of the Dodgers, one that was filled with the likes of Steve
Garvey, Ron Cey, Don Sutton, and Reggie Smith. Most kids are in awe when they go
to Disneyworld to see Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. I was in fantasyland that day
meeting major league players in a real clubhouse. Not a locker room, but a clubhouse which
was filled with buckets of bubblegum, sunflower seeds, and the greatest players in the world.
After introductions to all the players, Branca led me through out through the tunnel and
onto the field at Shea Stadium. Forget about being as happy as a kid in a candy store, I
was walking on cloud nine with the biggest smile the world has even seen.
I was on a big league field meeting all these players I had seen on television. There was
Tom Seaver and Rusty Staub of the Mets. Hey, there goes Tommy John and Davey Lopes.
Oh, my god, are you kidding me?!
Branca then took me back to the dugout to meet this coach who had an audience all his
own. He was loud when he talked, even louder when he laughed. The man had a bit of
a gut that was hanging over his leather belt as he sat on the green padded bench.
At the time, I thought everybody in baseball was in shape, but I guess coaches were a
It was Tommy Lasorda, who was the third base coach at the time. Branca introduced me
to Lasorda and he was very friendly, taking care of me like I was Branca's own little kid.
He said to me, "Paul, if you think I'm going to be the next manager of the Los Angeles
Dodgers, I will give you this hat." That hat had number 52 written under the brim. It looked
brand-spanking new as if it just came out of the box. It was Dodger blue with "LA" stitched in
white across the front of it.
Lasorda said the hat would be mine. All I had to do was say I believed he'd be the
next manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers and he'd hand it over. I did. And he did.
This was the greatest day of my young life.
From that point on, I became a Dodgers fan, following them religiously while pretending
I was Steve Garvey, who became my favorite player. The hat Lasorda gifted me allowed
me to be the coolest kid in the school for a day. Of course, I wore it around even though
it didn't come close to fitting.
|Wearing the Dodgers hat Tommy Lasorda gave me.|
However, good 'ole Ralph Branca wasn't done being good to me. A few years later, while
our family was vacationing in Florida, the Dodgers legend suggested to my father he go
to the team's spring training site in Vero Beach.
My father got me in the car and we traveled a few hours to see the Dodgers play a spring
training game. Vero Beach was baseball paradise. A field of dreams lined with palm trees.
It might as well have been heaven to me.
We approached the clubhouse of the Dodgers and met a Japanese man named Nobe Kiwano,
who turned out to be the team's clubhouse man. My father said to him, "We are here as
guests of Ralph Branca." I looked around and didn't see any sign of Branca and wondered
what was going on.
Kiwano then said, "Come this way." He led me into the Dodgers spring training clubhouse.
My father stayed behind. I was like, "This is unbelievable."
That's pretty much the same thing I said when I entered the clubhouse and saw Steve
Yeager and Pedro Guerrero sitting side-by-side at their lockers smoking cigarettes.
I couldn't believe it. I didn't think any professional athlete smoked cigarettes and here
were two players I admired taking drags off butts like they were in a big hurry.
I was in a bit of a shock for a second, but was quickly re-set by the sight of Garvey
strolling through the clubhouse. He was the MVP in 1974 and my favorite player. Kiwano
saw my eyes, which had to be as big as half dollars, and he took me by the arm and
introduced me to Garvey.
The Dodgers first baseman asked me where I was from, how old I was, and what position
I played. I by-passed answering the first two questions and immediately told him I
was a first baseman just like him.
Man, that was awesome.
I went out on the spring training field, making like I was a seasoned veteran, even
though I was just 12-years-old. I was still wearing the hat that Lasorda and I was hoping
to say hello to him. However, he did indeed become the manager of the Dodgers and
every reporter was gathered around him asking him a bunch of questions.
I was lucky. Real lucky, thanks to Ralph Branca.
I saw Branca many times after that and played golf with him several times over the
years. He always took the time to ask about my baseball career and offered advice to
improve my game.
When I heard the news that Branca died today, I lost a bit of my breath. He was
a wonderful man who was a great friend to my father and a person who brought me
so much joy and happiness by taking me to meet the Los Angeles Dodgers. News
of his death brought a tinge of sadness to my day, knowing it came just before
I am so very thankful to have met Ralph Branca. I was lucky enough to have played
catch with a baseball star and soak in the advice he gave me along the way.
Rest in peace Uncle Ralph, you will be missed.
Sunday, November 6, 2016
During his lacrosse career, Graham Harden was assigned to defend against the opponent’s most skilled attackman, those trying to penetrate the zone and fire the ball on net. Harden, a New Canaan, Connecticut native, was incredibly gifted with physical tools, smarts, savvy, and unquestioned toughness.
Harden weaved all that talent into an incredible legacy which he cemented at the University of North Carolina. He was named the National Defenseman of the Year in 1991, earning All-American honors in the process. Harden also captured ACC Player of the Year honors that same season and led the Tar Heels to a national championship.
In 2012, Harden was voted to the ACC’s list of the Top 50 players of all-time, capping a lacrosse career very few have ever matched.
Today, Harden, who lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, is defending against another powerful opponent.
Graham Harden has ALS.
Harden received the devastating diagnosis in August after experiencing weakness in one of his legs. A team of physicians concluded Harden had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
ALS is a progression neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Those afflicted with the disease eventually lose all motor skills throughout their entire body.
There is no cure or effective treatment for ALS. The average time a person has left to live after being diagnosed with the disease is just three-to-five years.
Life is not fair and it can be downright cruel. One only has to remember what happened on December 14, 2012 to realize that. 20 innocent children at the Sandy Hook Elementary school were slaughtered by a deranged gunman who had no regard for human life. It made me question hard the “everything happens for a reason” statement many of us like to lean when bad things happen.
I thought about life being so unfair and so cruel when I learned of Harden’s ALS diagnosis. Graham is one of the most wonderful human beings you could possibly meet. Forget about his legendary lacrosse career, Harden is about as solid of a person as a 150-year-old Oak tree in Waveny Park.
He’s been a pillar of his community in Cincinnati, volunteering as a firefighter and EMS member. He also lends his time and expertise as a volunteer coach at a local high school. Everybody loves Graham Harden and anyone who grew up in New Canaan and knew his family, loved and respected them, as well.
Lucy Gail, the mother of four wonderful children who all grew up to be amazing people, could be one of the nicest human beings ever to walk this earth. That's not hyperbole. Anyone who has met Lucy Gail will tell you the same thing.
Just as Graham did to his opponents during his brilliant career, he is taking the insidious disease that is ALS, head on. He and his brothers, Boyd and Holmes, both of whom were also All-Americans in lacrosse at UNC, and sister, Shea, have formed Team Harden, coming together to battle ALS.
They have started “Game On! Graham Harden and G-Force against ALS.” The foundation raises money for research and medical care for those afflicted with ALS.The Cincinnati community where the Harden family resides is also giving back.
Knowing there are three children and a wife to be taken care of, friends have initiated fundraisers to help with the financial burdens that will mount in the coming years.
As of November 1st, just over $78,000 has been raised through the G-Force campaign. The goal is $300,000.
It is my hope the New Canaan community comes together to take help take care of one of its own. Graham Harden is a special person who made New Canaan proud. His entire family is part of the fabric of the small Connecticut town.
The road ahead is a tough one for Graham. He needs our help.
If you’d like contribute and help make a difference in the lives of Graham, the entire Harden family and others afflicted with ALS, you can donate via www.youcaring.com/graham-harden-ii-family-trust-660908/donate#wp
Monday, October 3, 2016
When I walked into the office of Carl Alexander at the Golf Club of Purchase
several years ago, two things stood out to me. One, the rich black and white photographs
of famous golfers that lined the walls. They are breathtaking, classic, and nearly
perfect---taken by one of the world's best photographers.
The other thing that captured my attention was the number of oversized paychecks
tucked away in the corner of it.Those paychecks represented the prize money that
Alexander, the head professional at the prestigious club which is located about a
Bubba Watson drive outside of New York City, has won over his playing career.
Last Thursday, Alexander added another oversized paycheck to his office and honored
the man responsible for all those spectacular photographs hanging on the walls.
Carl's father, Jules Alexander, passed away in August after 90 great years on this earth
and a legacy that will live on forever through the countless lives he touched through
his wonderful photographs.
Playing in his first tournament since his father's passing, Alexander won the Met
Senior PGA event by two strokes, winning the top prize at the Metropolis Country
Club in White Plains.
"I hadn't played a lot of golf since my father's death," said Alexander, "But I felt really
comfortable out there."
Before the tournament, Alexander paid a visit to his mother's home at the Westchester
Country Club and took a momento of his father for the two-day tournament.
"He had a box with a lot of valuable coins. I saw a 1969 silver half-dollar that I took
to the tournament and used as a ball marker," said Alexander. "69 is a good number
In the first round of the tournament, Alexander carded a 69.
"I knew dad was looking down on me, especially after I hit one towards the woods.
It hit a tree and popped back into the fairway," Alexander recalled. "I said, 'Yep,
dad is definitely with me now."
Alexander led by one-stroke after day one of the tournament then came up clutch
late in the second round to win it.
On the par-5 16th hole, Alexander squared up a 4-iron from 197 yards away, knocking
his second shot to within six feet of the hole. He drilled the putt for a spectacular
eagle. Alexander then birdied 17 en route to a 67 and a two-shot victory over Craig
Thomas, who had the advantage of playing on his home course.
"This won was definitely for Jules, " Alexander said. "He taught me how to play
the game and a lot was going through my mind on the course. It's a four and a half-hour
round so I had plenty of time to think of him. The win meant a lot to me."
It was a picture-perfect win for Alexander and one that had to put a big smile on the
face of Jules from up above.
Thursday, September 15, 2016
Shortly after informing me I was going to be honored by the New Canaan Old-Timers
association, historian Terry Dinan started waxing poetic on what a great event it
was going to be.
"We are going to have a big crowd, continental breakfast, a luncheon...." he said.
It all sounded great, but I was hoping to hear something else. "And Paul, it's going to
be an awesome time." No that wasn't it.
"That's great, Terry," I said. As I finished that sentence, I realized it wasn't going
to be all that great because I didn't hear what I was hoping for. As I was about to
say good-bye, Terry interjected with excitement in his voice. "And Paul, you're sister,
Kara, is going in with the you."
Strike up the band and pop the champagne! Those 11 words were the sweetest
ones I've heard in a long time. They brought a mile-wide grin to my face as a shot
of adrenaline rushed through my entire body. My sister, Kara, a 3-time All-American
swimmer at New Canaan High School would be joining me on Sunday, September
18 for a celebration I can promise you I will never forget.
To be able to share a day, the stage, and a wonderful honor with my sister is so
special, not to mention really cool. I knew we were going to be on this list of New
Canaan athletes, but to be on it as "Kara and Paul Devlin", is one of the highlights
of my life.
few and far between. Unless, I beat Mick Jagger's record for having a kid past the
age of 73, there probably won't be any more honors coming my way.
And that's ok, because this is just awesome.
I realize it's not like we are going into Cooperstown together, but it's a great honor
and something both of us are extremely happy about it. Devlin & Devlin. That's
pretty damn cool
Kara is one of my heroes. In the pool, she was as fierce a competitor as I've ever
come across in sports. I used to joke with my friends that Kara was so tough, she
eats nails for breakfast. She was driven and had the heart the size of Texas. As a
16-year-old sophomore, Kara posted a time in the 200-meter butterfly that earned
her a world ranking of 16th. No, not in town, county, state, or even the country, but
the entire friggin' world. I was so proud of that.
I'm not sure Kara was, though. She was so humble and never talked about her
many impressive accomplishments. Being boastful wasn't part of her DNA.
Chuck Warner, her longtime swim coach, was quoted in a local paper saying,
"Kara is like a country club swimmer. She dives in the water. Beats the hell out of
everybody. And then just goes home."
In this country, swimmers really only get appreciated once every four years with
the Olympics. I appreciated, admired, and respected my sister every single day after
seeing how dedicated and committed she was. She'd rise at 4:45 every morning,
eat breakfast, and then get driven by our mother 30 minutes away to swim practice.
She'd pound out a 5,000 meter workout in the morning, eat a snack on the way to
school, then do it again after the final bell sounded. I'd pick her up after evening
practice and seemed never seemed to be exhausted and never complained about
being tired. That was my kid sister.
After earning two consecutive Connecticut swimmer of the year honors, Kara was
recruited by nearly every major swimming program in the country. I was at the
University of North Carolina playing baseball when she came down on a recruiting
trip with the Tar Heels. Selfishly, I wanted my kid sister to join me in Chapel Hill.
That would've been an awesome experience. However, my parents and I wanted
it to be her decision. It was her life, her career. We wanted her to do what she
wanted to do and not be influenced by us.
Kara chose to go to the University of Florida, which at the time, was the top-ranked
program in the country. She wanted to be pushed hard by the coaches to see how just
how great she could be. Part of me was upset that we couldn't support and be there
for each other in Chapel Hill, but that's just life, I guess. I was happy she made
the choice on her own and was following her dream.
Kara earned All-America honors at Florida during her freshman year before
transferring to USC where she duplicated the feat. That was a great accomplishment.
I'm even more proud of my sister for the person she became after her swimming
career ended. Kara is a wonderful mother to four great children and a wonderful wife
to her husband, Chad. She is so loving, giving, and unselfish. Blessed with our late
father's sense of humor and our mother's heart of gold, Kara has always been a
magnet, drawing people to her in a very special way.
in Santa Barbara, CA., brother Paul in Norwalk, CT.) she has been a rock for me and
one my biggest supporters. She was always there for me during some times in life
and, of course. when I attempted to become an Ironman. Kara was always sending
me articles and videos for motivation, while getting me on a diet and training plan
so I'd be at my the best for the grueling 140.6 mile race.
A day didn't go by where I didn't have an email from her on my computer. There
would always be some words of encouragement, a motivational speech, or a "get-
your-ass-pumped-for the race" music video.
That is Kara. So thoughtful, so inspirational, and really so wonderful. I have been lucky
to experience a lot of great things in my athletic career. I had the chance to represent my
country on a baseball tour of Taiwan. I got to fulfill my dream of signing a professional
contract. And, oh yeah, there was that "Bull Durham" thing.
However, my greatest honor comes Sunday when my great sister, Kara , and I will
be honored together in New Canaan. That is going to be special---really, really special.