Leaving Las Vegas … Looking back on four days in the desert

As the Airbus 320, flying as Jet Blue Flight 611, made its way over the Utah mountains, banking towards lower Nevada, the lights down below finally came into view.

With every drop in descent, they grew brighter and brighter until right before landing when the city below became clear as day, even in the darkness of the hot desert night.

Las Vegas.

When the wheels touched down at McCarran International Airport, I had no idea what to expect from the next four days.

I was at the whim of myself, which is exactly what started this journey almost two weeks prior to landing.

• • •

It all began with a tweet, believe it or not.

“Taking a loaded squad out to Las Vegas July 20-23 for the BigFoot Live event,” read the words of @douglasrscott, boys basketball coach at Greens Farms Academy. “This crew = me being popular w/ scouting horde there #ctbb”

I quickly shot Coach Scott a text message asking why I wasn’t invited.

A tongue-in-cheek follow-up tweet asking if anybody had room in their carry on for me got me thinking.

Why couldn’t I go to Las Vegas?

To be honest, Vegas had never been a bucket list item for me.

If Kenny Rogers is “The Gambler” … If Darrell from Storage Wars is “The Gambler” … then I am the antithesis of that.

I lose money playing solitaire, so wasting money at any casino has never been high on my list of fun nights out.

But the more I thought about it – Las Vegas – the more I thought, “Why not?”

It might not be a bucket list moment, I figured, but as a full-blooded American male I should visit Sin City at least once, right?

I hopped online and booked my trip within minutes.

I was going to Las Vegas.

• • •

The Luxor, where I stayed for four days.

The first thing you notice is the heat. Sure, it’s a dry heat, but even at 11:36 p.m., PST, it was toasty hot.

I was staying at The Luxor, which is located on the south end of the infamous Las Vegas Strip – a stretch of land I would get to know very well a few nights later.

The second thing I noticed is taxis are expensive. More expensive than New York City, believe it or not.

Trying to make the trip as inexpensive as possible, I wasn’t renting a car until the final day. Uber, I found, was much cheaper and would be a key mode of transportation for me.

Checking into the hotel shortly before midnight was another big key to enjoying Las Vegas.

The team, its parents and its coach were all staying at The Luxor, so that’s where I chose to stay.

For those of you who don’t know Vegas, it’s the big pyramid hotel/casino nestled between Mandalay Bay and The Excalibur.

During day light hours, there was a long, twisting line of people waiting to check in and, sometimes, eight to 10 workers waiting to check them in.

At midnight, I was able to walk right up to the clerk and get pointed to my room.

Considering it was 3 a.m., Eastern Time, my body was ready for bed and nothing more.

• • •

Four members of the Greens Farms Academy boys basketball team joined forces for a summer AAU basketball tournament in Las Vegas.

Those who know me know I love basketball, especially at the high school and college level.

After all, four boys – four members of the GFA basketball team who joining forces to play on a make-shift AAU basketball team – were the big reason I flew almost coast to coast.

They had already played one game against an opponent from Houston while I was flying west on Thursday.

On Friday, at 8 a.m., they were to tip-off against a team from Montana and I would be there. After all, since my body was still on East Coast time, it was closer to 11 a.m.

And, they won again.

The game on Friday afternoon should have provided a different ending. After all, the “Dragons” as the team dubbed itself was squaring off against a team called the Las Vegas Prospects.

To put it simply, the Prospects are sponsored by Nike. They play in the EYBL, which stands for Elite Youth Basketball League.

This is big time AAU basketball, but our eight players – seven Connecticut bred and one out of New York – were more than worthy.

In fact, they were victorious, 57-53.

It gave them the No. 1 seed from their pool and a berth in the Sweet 16 of the tournament, where they would face a team from Chicago on Saturday.

Finally, after Friday’s second game, I was able to experience a little bit of Vegas.

I had made plans for Friday, to go see Hall & Oates and Tears for Fears in concert at the T. Mobile Arena.

The T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

It would be my 103rd concert, albeit first west of the Mississippi River.

Tears for Fears didn’t disappoint. I enjoyed them.

Hall & Oates, however, was the opposite. They sounded like a bad karaoke band trying to sing Hall & Oates.

I left early.

The highlight of Friday night, though, was the fact T-Mobile Arena wasn’t that far from The Luxor so I was able to go on foot patrol to get there.

I made a dry run in the early afternoon, picking up my ticket from the will call window.

I only had to be outside for about 200-meters of time.

The Luxor and The Excalibur are connected through a series of hallways and conveyor belts. From The Excalibur, I only needed to walk 50 yards across a bridge – and below a rollercoaster – to get into New York, New York, which literally looks like New York, New York.

The T-Mobile Arena was located just behind New York, New York.

Before the show, I decided to grab a bite to eat at a little Irish Pub located within New York, New York.

The great thing about each and every casino in Las Vegas is each one is a city onto itself.

In addition to the slots and table games there are a bevy of restaurants, bars, stores and other things to fill a day.

This particular bar had one of the best chicken pot pies I’ve ever had.

Thankfully, I didn’t vomit it up after Hall & Oates’ yak-job.

On the way back to The Luxor, I took my time checking out the different casinos.

The time change was catching up with me, though, and I was in bed before midnight – which I later found is when Las Vegas is really picking up.

• • •

Saturday meant another basketball game, against a team from Chicago.

It was the Round of 16, which meant if the boys lost their Las Vegas run would come to an end.

Instead, they again stepped up and won, advancing to Sunday’s final day of games.

I used most of Saturday – which was the hottest day of the trip — to stay local and explore the connected hotels.

First, I explored the rest of The Luxor before making my way over the Mandalay Bay.

Next door to The Luxor.

On the way I found a Guinness Store, complete with a Guinness bar. I was told it was one of just two in the entire world, with the other being located in Ireland.

I bought a t-shirt, saving myself $25 in lost gambling money.

After returning to The Luxor, I also decided to put my money where my devotion is.

I stopped by the Sports Book and put $20 down on the Boston Red Sox winning the World Series. If they win, I get $120 (plus by original $20) back.

I also decided to pick a National League team, opting for the Washington Nationals. They matched the Sox at 6-to-1 odds, meaning $120 would be coming my way.

Needless to say I’m rooting for a Red Sox-Nationals World Series.

I made it past midnight on Saturday, but not by much.

An 8 a.m. quarterfinal game awaited us the next morning.

• • •

Spring Valley High School, Las Vegas, Nev.

I didn’t get up early with the team and parents and arrived at Spring Valley High School by the end of the first half.

The boys were play a team based out of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and with two 6-foot-9 players they were the tallest team we had faced.

Again, it proved not to matter as the eight-man Dragons slayed another opponent, running their record to 5-0 in four days.

Not to switch sports terminology to those who got this far, but a curve ball was thrown into the tournament at this point.

AAU basketball being what it is – let’s face it, it’s about making money for the tournament organizers – the quarterfinals, semifinals and championship games are sometimes held in one day.

Anybody who has played basketball knows three high-tempo games is a lot and injuries are more apt to happen on such days.

With departing flights scheduled to start at 1:40 that afternoon, Coach Scott decided to pull his team out of the tournament.

He brought his team to Vegas so players could be seen by college scouts and that mission had been accomplished. Two of the eight players would be heading off to college soon and Coach Scott wasn’t going to send them off injured.

With that final buzzer, so ended my basketball duties.

My final 36 hours in Vegas were all about me.

During a nap back at the hotel, I received a text from some parents saying they were going to visiting the Red Rock Canyon and go out for some Thai food.

I paused and opted not to answer, but it would be something different. After days of basketball and casinos, nature would be a nice break.

And I’d never had Thai food before.

Red Rock was beautiful. Not to be confused with Colorado’s Red Rocks musical venue, Vegas’ Red Rock is on the western side of town and was clearly visible from Spring Valley High School, which is why a journey there appealed to us.

A 13-mile loop gave us views we simply don’t get here on the East Coast.

I’m glad I went.

As for the Thai food, I was cautiously optimistic.

The restaurant itself – Lotus of Siam – didn’t look like much.

Located inside of a strip mall, it opened at 5 p.m., and by 5:15 it was packed.

And oh my was it good.

We sampled each other’s appetizers and wolfed down our meals.

From Duck to seafood to some sort of spaghetti-esque meal with seafood and chicken on my plate, we gobbled down nearly $200 worth of food which was worth every penny.

I even had a Thai beer.

That night I decided I was going to walk part of the Las Vegas Strip.

Around 9 p.m., I left the Luxor took a Uber up to The Venetian.

I got out and began my journey back, step by step, under the lights and sounds of the Las Vegas night.

• • •

I walked through the Venetian and into The Palazzo, which I must admit I’d never heard of.

Entering The Venetian Casino.

I found a bar and ordered a margarita. When I got the tab, it was $16.

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas and thank goodness that goes from the prices of alcohol.

I paid because … well what the hell, it’s Vegas … and once it was gone I was on the move again, back through the Venetian and outside to the strip where I had options galore.

There was Treasure Island to the right, Casino Royal or Harrah’s to the left.

I opted to cross the road and head to The Mirage, which wasn’t as advertised, but really stood there.

And the air conditioned inside told me I’d be stopping at most of the casinos on the strip to at least cool off.

The $16 margarita.

I had another drink and walk around the casino, checking out the games and those who were playing.

People who go to Las Vegas run the gamut of mankind, that’s for sure.

Old people, young people, families; people both foreign and domestic.

It was the kind of human mash-up that gives New York City it’s unique vibe and energy and you could feel a little of that energy in Vegas.

After leaving The Mirage, I walked to Caesar’s Palace and this is where I became a winner in Vegas.

I had dropped $20 in the slots at The Luxor earlier in the trip.

But sitting and playing black jack I decided to call it quits when I was $13 up.

That way, I figured, I could say I left Las Vegas having lost just $7 in gambling.

Not bad, I figured.

But it was also while walking around Caesar’s that I witnessed another Las Vegas first – the hooker picking up a man at a bar.

She was in her 20s, he was in her 60s and, as odd as it sounds, it was a pleasure to watch them work the back and forth before heading off together.

There were a lot of young woman walking all over Las Vegas, most of them in packs.

This was the only time I saw a pro in her natural habitat, though, going after her prey and successfully taking them down.

With that, it was time to head to the Bellagio.

• • •

The Bellagio.

If I had my druthers – not to mention the money – I would have stayed at The Bellagio. To me, it’s the cream of the Vegas crop and it looks like it.

I wish I had spent more time checking it out, but I could feel myself growing tired and I was just a little over halfway back to The Luxor.

On the way out, though, I was caught up in the crowd standing by the water that sits in front of the facility and once the song “Hey Big Spender” started, I was treated to the infamous Bellagio water show, which was a lot of fun and brought a lot of joy to a lot of people.

I continued south, hitting a few more casinos in the process.

The Aria and the Monte Carlo were connected without going outdoors and once I realized New York, New York was on the horizon I got my second wind for the finishing lick to The Luxor.

I got turned around in The Excalibur for the second time (casinos are made to confuse people, thus keeping them inside, you know?) but before long I was back on the conveyor belts heading home.

Once I got into The Luxor I found a bar and ordered a rum and coke and some water.

I glanced at the pedometer app on my cell phone and realized I had walked more than 20,000 steps that day.

That’s more than 10 miles to you and me.

It was after two in the morning – which meant people back home in the east would be waking up soon.

I drunk texted a friend back home in Maine who I knew would be asleep, but would laugh when she woke up. (She later responded with “Yay”).

Then, hooker-free (not even hit on … am I that old and ugly?) I made my way back to my room.

I ordered a late check out for $30 more and found myself falling asleep with sore feet shortly before 3 a.m.

The last day in Vegas would come soon enough.

• • •

Again, to cut cost, I took the cheapest flight home and that would be the infamous red-eye, which was schedule to pull away from the gate at 11:56 p.m., Monday night.

That left me all day to find something to do.

I had budgeted a rent-a-car into my trip for Monday and was fortunate enough to get a Jeep for only $49. (They had no small cars left, but gave me a bigger model for the puny cost).

I returned to the hotel, packed up and checked out, hitting the streets of Vegas with no set schedule and only a mini-plan of what I wanted to do.

The first thing was to swing by the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.

Keeping up with my basketball theme of this trip, I was a huge UNLV fan back in the day when they were good and winning (and losing) an NCAA title.

The Thomas and Mack Center – the place where UNLV played – wasn’t far from The Luxor, so I drove into the parking lot and took a picture of the place Larry Johnson, Greg Anthony and Stacey Augmon once called home.

I then found the school bookstore and bought a t-shirt.

Then I set my GPS for The Hoover Dam.

Why?

Well, why not?

When you have a day to kill in Vegas and not much money left in your pocket or on the credit cards you need free things to do and such a man-made treasure was only 45 minutes away.

Before getting to the damn dam, I was pleased to find out that bridge that runs high over the dam and offers a spectacular view was named after former NFL star Pat Tillman, who left the league to join the armed forces and was killed by friendly in Afghanistan while protecting our country.

I even drove over the dam and into Arizona (technically another state I can cross off my list).

Growing ever more hungry, I decided to find a nice hole-in-the-wall palce instead of a chain restaurant.

I found it in the Boulder Dam Brewing Co. in Boulder City, Nev.

I ordered a Shandy (half-lemonade, half beer) along with some outstanding beer-battered mushrooms and not-so-great Philly Cheesesteak.

Some local talker who had bellied up to the bar proceeded to tell me how he special ordered his Toyota truck (“Cement is the official color,” he said) and was soon to retire from the national park service for which he walks.

With a full belly, I was soon on my way back to Vegas (another $20 poorer since I bought a Boulder City Brewing Company t-shirt), arriving by 7 p.m.

I still had five hours to kill and there was a movie theater on the way to the airport, so I pulled in and shelled out $12 to see Dunkirk.

I give it two thumbs up with the realization that anything that has Kenneth Branagh in it is usually really good.

After returning the rent-a-car, I took the shuttle to the airport and, in my heart, wished I didn’t have to leave.

There was so much more left to see in the valley of Las Vegas.

That means one thing: I’ll have to go back and finish the job.

You can bet on it.

Celebrating 100: I’ve Got The Music In Me

Bryan Adams in concert, the author’s 100th show. (Photo by John Nash)

“Without music, life would be a mistake.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche

I have always loved music. I can’t carry a tune from here to the shower, and can’t play any instrument worth a potato, but do I love the music from those who can.

For as long as I can remember, a radio, a record player, a cassette player, a CD player, an iPod, and Spotify have always been one of my closest friends.

And live music?

It has become a pretty big part of my life over the past 10 years.

On Thursday night, I walked into the Mohegan Sun Arena and watched Bryan Adams in concert.

It was the 100th concert of my life, a milestone moment that nobody but me truly cares about, but that’s OK.

Music is personal. Music is memories.

It was probably early in 2016 when I hit my 75th concert – seeing The Ballroom Thieves for the second time, at Stage One in Fairfield, Connecticut – that I realized my 100th show was fast approaching.

I wondered back then who would it be. Phish or the Barenaked Ladies, perhaps? I’ve seen them both seven times each, as they lead the pack of the bands I’ve seen the most.

Or, would it be somebody more obscure, or unique?

It wound up being Bryan Adams.

Somebody mentioned to me in passing that it was too bad it couldn’t be somebody better, but the more I thought about it that more I realized that I was alright with Adams being my milestone 100th.

And here’s why:

One of the reasons I love music so much – and sometimes hate it, I suppose – is because of its uncanny ability to take us back in time, to a place we will never forget.

More often than not, it’s a happy time. But it can also take us to places we don’t want to go, too.

That’s the power music has over all of us, and why we join together as one – as an audience – to see our performers do what they do best.

During the sixth song of my 100th show, that’s what Adams did to me … he took me back in time in an instant.

“Oh, thinkin’ about all our younger years
There was only you and me
We were young and wild and free

Now nothin’ can take you away from me
We’ve been down that road before
But that’s over now
You keep me comin’ back for more

Baby, you’re all that I want
When you’re lyin’ here in my arms
I’m findin’ it hard to believe
We’re in heaven.”

All of a sudden I was 19 again. Young and wild and free, and I was dancing with the girl of my dreams at her prom.

Just like that I could remember everything about that relationship and what it meant to me at that time of my life. I could remember her face, her beauty, every essence of her being — her eyes, her smell, her touch.

It all came back through a single song.

And it happens a lot.

When I hear America sing “Sister Goldenhair,” I think of standing in my sister’s bedroom at 9 or 10 years old, listening to that song and her trying to get me to guess the title.

When I hear Nazereth sing “Love Hurts” or ELO sing “Telephone Line” I think of middle school dances where a force field of nerves and teacher’s prying eyes would keep the boys and girls, stiff-armed, slow dancing two feet from each other.

When I hear “Hotel California” by the Eagles, of “If” by Bread, or “Baby Come Back” by Player, I think of the girl that got away.

When I hear “Careless Whisper” by George Michael or “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” by Meatloaf, I think of a girl who was taken from us far too soon.

It’s the music, I tell you. It’s inside of us and the fastest way to our emotions.

It’s makes us dance. It makes us cry.

Sometimes at the same time.

I remember my first concert like it was yesterday, even if it was 34 years ago.

It was my senior year of high school and a friend, Pat Ross, had a ticket to Duran Duran at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland, two hours south from where I lived.

The band Duran Duran played the Mohegan Sun Arena on Thursday night. (Photo by John Nash)

I ended up going with him and everything fell into place. It was the perfect evening. The lights, the music, the energy from the crowd. I even met a girl that night – Valerie from Brunswick – and went home knowing my life had changed a bit from that one show.

Later that school year, I saw Aerosmith in concert at the Bangor Auditorium.

Talk about “Sweet Emotion.”

In 1999, my affection for live music and attending concerts went to the next level. I started photographing the bands as they performed.

The Barenaked Ladies came to Manchester, NH, and I put in a request for a photo pass to shoot them while they performed.

Three songs. That’s all they give you, you know. Then they usually kick you out of the building, unless you have a ticket.

(For the record, Bryan Adams was one song. “Do What You Gotta Do” – which has a run time of 2 minutes, XX seconds. I banged out 159 shots, of which nine different ones were useable).

But back to BNL. As I developed the film from that night’s show, and saw my images come to life, I realized I had a new hobby.

Concert photographer. Soon after, I shot Green Day. And so began a new chapter of my life.

Before 2013, I had seen one show at the Mohegan Sun Arena. It was, of course, the Barenaked Ladies.

I had gone to the Eastern Connecticut area to see a baseball game, but stopped by The Sun to kill some time before the first pitch, and realized the Ladies were playing.

I had already seen them twice, yet instead of going to the baseball game, I shelled out $35 for a ticket and went to the show.

Three years later, I was shooting my first show at the Sun when a lady naked “Pink” emerged from the sky and started performing.

Pink

Pink in concert at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Photo by John Nash)

Since that night in 2013, I’ve shot 62 different shows at Mohegan Sun, and have even started writing reviews of the shows I’ve attended.

People ask me what my favorite concerts have been and once you’ve hit 100, you’d think it’d be hard to pin-point a top five.

I think my favorite of all-time was Phish at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. It was the first time I had ever seen the band and the energy created at such a magical venue was intense and enveloping. That single show is a big reason why I keep going back.

Seeing Prince meant a lot to me, too. I was a big fan of his when I was growing up and he was one helluva performer. I only wish I had the chance to shoot him (Photographers weren’t allowed … typical Prince).

Bruce Springsteen was another show that stands out. I’ve heard how good he is live, but you just don’t understand how good he and the E Street Band really are until you see it for yourself.

Hour photo/John Nash – The legendary Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band was at the XL Center on Wednesday night.

The first time I saw Bob Segar stands out, too, as does seeing Sting perform.

I think that’s my top five with my first Duran, Duran show coming in a close sixth.

The worst I’ve ever seen are much easier – Jackson Browne and Avril Lavigne.

I saw Browne at the Oakdale Theater and his setlist that night was a major disappointment that left most of the crowd sitting on its hands.

And, Lavigne, who I saw at the Foxwoods Casino’s Grand Theater, was closing her tour that night and she short-shifted the crowd with a 12-song set list that lasted a little more than hour.

One thing I’ll never be accused of, though, is being a fair-weather concert-goer.

I don’t just pick and choose the bands I want to see. I try to get to as many shows as I can, which is why I’ve seen Jay Z, the Jonas Brothers, Selena Gomez, Kid Rock, Demi Lovato, Justin Timberlake, Ariana Grande, Paramour, The Killers, Hunter Hayes, Neil Diamond, Tony Bennett, Ed Sheeran and Lady Gaga.

I try to embrace the music, no matter the performer, and rate the show on the effect it has on the crowd and myself.

Sometimes I get surprised by how good a band is – O.A.R. and Twenty One Pilots, quickly come to mind – while sometimes I walk away with less than I expected.

I’ve seen a lot, too.

Mosh pits. Drunken fools being carried away by security. A girl breaking off her engagement and giving back her ring, with the man storming off and leaving her alone. People throwing up or urinating against a fence (outdoor venues are fun). And, of course, boobs …. But not as much as when I was younger. That’s not as much of a thing anymore.

What will I see and who will I see in the future?

Good question.

All I know for sure is as I sit there letting the music in, I hear the word of Friedrich Nietzsche ring true: Without music, life would be a mistake.”

Monday in Manchester: The World Just Changed Again

An injured girl is helped from the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, on Monday, May 22, 2017. (AP photo)

Every tragedy seems to carry with it that one image that becomes iconic because it gets splashed across television screens worldwide, and in newspapers from Calcutta to California.

For Monday night’s terrorist attack at the Manchester Arena, at an Ariana Grande concert, of all places, the image is that of a teen-age girl being helped outside the venue (See above).

Her pants have been cut open, her knee has been wrapped up, blood streaming down her left arm.

But what grabs you – what hits you right in the heart – are the faces inside the photo.

The girl’s face. The face of another girl – a friend, perhaps? – behind her. To the left, a bystander looks stunned. Even the faces of the police woman helping this young lady seem stunned.

What the hell just happened?

My heart sunk when the news alert hit my Twitter account.

All it said was an explosion rocked the Manchester Arena after an Ariana Grande concert.

Ariana Grande in concert at Mohegan Sun Arena in February of 2017. (Photo by John Nash)

Terrorism. Period.

We knew. We all knew. It took a couple of hours, but we all knew what was coming.

Yet another piece of shit in this world’s Us vs. Them battle decided to attack.

Only instead of flying planes into a building filled with some of the greediest, money-loving adults on the planet, this one decided to attack our children.

Our children.

OUR FUCKING CHILDREN!!!!!

This is the world we now live. Just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does.

Our children are now terrorist targets. As if sending them to school here in the United States isn’t dangerous enough.

When terrorists opened fire and blew things up at the Bataclan theater in Paris, raining terror down on an Eagles of Death Metal concert, it shocked the world.

It was the next salvo in attacking soft targets and adults everywhere went into the next concert with their eyes wide open.

I know I did.

I’ve been blessed to see 98 concerts in my life and have never felt unsafe inside a venue. Walking in and walking out, though, you realize how easy it would be to pull off an attack like Mondays.

On Feb. 17 of this year, I walked into the Mohegan Sun Arena, to take photos of Ariana Grande.

I got a first-hand look at her audience and, for the most, they were children. They were little kids no doubt going to their first-ever concert. They were teenagers who idolized Grande for her ability to sing and act and dance. They were college-aged fans who undoubtedly watched Grande grow from a child actor on Nickelodeon’s “Victorious” or “Sam and Kat” into the actress who wowed a nation in a live performance of “Grease.”

They were people just like 18-year-old Georgina Callander, a person who could “light up a room,” according to friends. She was the first victim identified out of the 22 who were killed.

Georgina Callander, left, and Ariana Grande with a friend at a previous concert. (Photo via Instagram)

Who would attack this crowd? And why?

Why?

Because they can.

In the wee hours of the Manchester morning, Grande took to Twitter to send a message to her fans: “broken. from the bottom of my heart, i am so sorry. i don’t have words.”

None of us do.

This is a broken world and the hatred is too strong, coming at us from too many angles.

It’s wrong. Just wrong.

And now our children are dying.

We are left with lasting images that will remind us of the carnage that occurred, wondering when it will end even as we fear what is coming next.

The Unwritten Bucket List Loses Another Item

The view from left field at Charlotte Sports Park, spring training home of the Tampa Bay Rays. (Photo by John Nash)

Before I ever loved basketball – before I even truly knew what love was, in fact – I loved baseball.

It was 1975. I was 9. And it was beautiful, even after it broke my heart.

The Boston Red Sox went to the World Series that summer and captured my heart my heart while doing so.

My first favorite player was Doug Griffin, a little-known second baseman who played on a team that included a host of quick-hitting one-namers — Yaz. Rico. Pudge. Rooster. Louis.

The team featured two pitchers that season – one who gave me my first autograph (Jim Willoughby) and one who gave me my first double-entendre schoolboy giggle (Dick Pole).

As the 1970s rolled by players like Fred Lynn, Jim Rice, Bill Lee, and Butch Hobson would just continue to grow in stature to a young boy growing up in Maine, which was as much Red Sox country as downtown Boston.

I loved just two sports in my life … baseball and basketball. Basketball would be the girl with the great body and all the right moves and we were connected by affection for one another … but baseball, that first love, is something you never forget.

All these years since 1975 – and that’s 41 and counting – I’ve seen baseball games played far and wide at all kinds of different levels.

I’ve seen a 10-year-old national championship game in Florida. I’ve seen a college no-hitter in a conference championship game. I’ve been to dozens of Minor League Baseball games. And, I’ve sat in the nosebleeds at a World Series in New York City in 2015.

But I had never been to a spring training game.

Until Monday.

That’s when I trekked to Port Charlotte, Fla., to the Charlotte Sports Park – home of the Tampa Bay Rays’ Single-A farm team and site of the parent squad’s annual spring training pilgrimage.

I joined an old friend of mine and we watched the Pittsburgh Pirates hold off the Rays by a 5-4 count.

We saw players we knew – Evan Longoria of Rays and David Freese of the Pirates – both stood at third base not more than 10 yards from us when the game began.

By the time it was over we had seen a plethora of players take the field, grab a bat and throw off the mound.

We drank beer, ate a steak and cheese, circled the stadium and watched baseball at a leisurely pace under a gorgeous Florida sunshine.

Like baseball itself, it was almost perfect.

If I’m going to watch a sport on television, I’d pick basketball. College basketball to be specific.

But if you’re going to give me a ticket to go to a game, I’m likely to pick baseball.

I’m old school that way.

I like to sit back, relax, let the game unfold, while people watching and eaves dropping and talking to the people around me. (One of my Facebook friends is a woman I met when I trekked to Pittsburgh to watch the Red Sox play the Pirates in a three-game series a few summers ago at PNC Park).

To this day, baseball is pretty much the same it was when I was nine.

Nine innings. Four balls. Three strikes. No clock ticking down.

You throw the ball. The ball is hit. You field the ball.

Watching from the stands with 5,000 people was just what I needed on my first Monday in Florida, this latest work-ation that I find myself undertaking in the spring of 2017.

Would a Red Sox game have been better? Not necessarily. If the scheduled had fit better, I would have tried, but it didn’t, so that’s OK, too.

I don’t have a bucket list of things I want to do before I die. But I do have a mental list and I’d say attending a spring training game was on there somewhere.

Not anymore.

The played baseball on Monday in Port Charlotte and I was there to see it.

Mentally, she’s checked off.

Happy Anniversary To Us

• • •

Four years ago — well, four years and one day ago, to be exact — The October Weekend was reborn.

I was sitting around, feeling old, and wanting to write, so I moved off my couch, sat down at my computer chair, and still feeling old, I started to write.

Over the past 1,424 days — well, 1,425 days to be exact — I’ve sat down with “The October Weekend” and spilled my guts about things both personal and random.

The results have produced 169 posts — this one is 170 — and 28,502 people have taken the time to read my words.

Some of you are loyal readers who read everything I post (Thanks Mom, thanks Dad) … Others are regular returnees who are trying to figure out what’s going on in my mind (Is that you, Liz?) … some of you randomly find me through Google or word of mouth … and most of you get bored too easily and perhaps click here to lull yourself to sleep late at night.

Better me than porn, I suppose.

I didn’t know exactly what life “The October Weekend” would take when I started. I haven’t posted nearly as much as I wanted to when I first hit “publish” on my very first post back on Feb. 22, 2013.

But, alas, like a good friend who is always there for me, this space has allowed me to spit out my thoughts on a variety of topics that have popped into my head, touched my heart, or simply pissed me off.

I’ve publicly backed a loser for President — though most of us know the real loser appears to have wound up in office — and reminisced about friends and loved ones from long ago.

I’ve also told stories both sad and motivational about people I don’t know, but whose tales came to my attention, made me want to know more and allowed me to share their story with you.

Just like I was clueless to the future of all this white space when I first sat down four years (and one day) ago, I remain in the dark as I move forward.

When I feel the urge, I’ll sit down and write.

That still is what “The October Weekend” means to me. A place to express my feelings, my emotions, my memories and more.

Feel free to keep enjoying the ride.

My life if Donald Trump was Coach Trump

If Donald Trump were a basketball coach ... (Photo courtesy of SI.com)

If Donald Trump were a basketball coach … (Photo courtesy of SI.com)

If Donald Trump and his people were in my world …

Reporter: Hey Coach Trump, tough loss tonight, what do you think happened?

Coach Trump: Loss? What loss? We won. Season-opening win. Go team. Make Team Great Again.

Reporter: Coach, the other team scored 65 points. Your team only scored 62. You lost by three points.

Coach Trump: No, that’s not right, we won the first, third and fourth quarters. We won 3-1. Victory is ours.

Reporter: Coach, you’re one preseason scrimmage was against a team of Russian players. How do you think that helped you prepare for this game?

Coach Trump: Russians? There was no Russian help whatsoever. Coach Putin and I saw each other at a basketball camp once, but there was no Russian help. They’re hackers. They foul a lot. Not that I would know that because we didn’t play them. Who told you all this? Somebody intelligent? Anybody with intelligence is worthless and horrible and not worth my time as Coach. Next question.

Reporter: Umm, uh… Well, on the 3-point shot at the buzzer, the one that gave the other team the, umm, uh, 65-62 score … It was launched from 50 feet away. Was there a breakdown?

Coach Trump: Launches from far away? It’ll never happen. Not on my watch. And how you can say you this team has broken down? It’s the first game. That’s it, no more questions from you … Next question, Doug Love Donald’s Basketball Blog … where are you?

Reporter looks around and sees assistant coach Kellyanne Conway gathering her things by the bench.

Reporter: Coach Conway … Can you comment on how much the crowd might have bothered the team the down the stretch?

Coach Conway: Crowd? Why are you talking about the crowd? Eight years ago when a game was played here, the crowd wasn’t bigger. It was just you people in the press who said this crowd wasn’t as big.

Reporter: Umm, that game was a first-ever meeting of rivals from the same city. Of course, people came out to support their teams. Your team are outsiders. A bigger crowd wasn’t expected.

Coach Conway: It was the rain. They said it was going to rain and with all the acid rain falling from the sky, people know acid burns the skin and we need skin to survive, because how many people survive without skin, except for those patients who have had skin grafts and it’s important for us to raise doctors to help these people while making sure car manufacturers stay in America, and before the start of the next game we’re going to build a wall that other team won’t be able to come on our side of the court and …

Reporter: Coach … You’re not answering the question. I’m asking if the crowd …

Coach Conway: I am answering the question. I can’t believe your laughing at me. You can’t make that comment. That’s not your job. This crowd wants us to build that wall so doctors who help people will stay and not get paid by Obama-care because on our team nobody is insured until we come up with something better, and once we do that, we’ll come out with a point guard who can push us further to the right and then we’ll be ready to …

Reporter: Coach, answer the question, please?

Team spokesman Sean Spicer then stepped into the press gathering. He takes no questions and just starts to speak.

Spicer: This was the largest audience to ever witness a basketball game – period – both in person and around the globe. This game was on the internet and billions of people have the internet. These attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the game are shameful and wrong. There’s been a lot of talk in the media about the responsibility to hold Coach Trump accountable. And I’m here to tell you it goes two ways. We’re going to hold the press accountable, as well.

Spicer storms off leaving the reporters stunned and looking at each other. They know how to do their jobs, but if they report the final score as 65-62, they know Trump’s people will counter with a 3-1 victory. There are no winners in the world of sports anymore. That is obvious.

Reporter: That’s it. I’m done. I think I’m going to go cover girls field hockey.

Reporter 2: Yeah? I hear there are going to be a bunch of players walking to the National Mall to play some pick-up games tomorrow.

As the reporters walk out, they pass Coach Trump talking with a recruit he hopes to join the team.

Coach Trump: Say, you’re pretty intelligent. I love intelligent people. I’m behind them 1,000 percent. Come play with us. You won’t regret it.

And, scene. Or, as they in my business … 

— 30 —

EPILOGUE: Sports writing never felt so good, even in this day and age of newspapers dying a slow and painful death.

2016: The Year Our World Grew Darker

Arnold Palmer, left, and Jose Fernandez (inset) were both lost to the world on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016.

Arnold Palmer, left, and Jose Fernandez (inset) were both lost to the world on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016.

Sunday was, perhaps, the roughest day of all.

The future was taken from us in the waters off Miami. The past faded away inside the cold, sterile confines of a hospital in Pittsburgh.

Jose Fernandez, 24, a Major League Baseball baseball player whose story of his escape from Cuba, and success at such a young age, caught the eye of sports fans young and old was killed in a boat crash in the wee hours of the morning.

Later that day, the great Arnold Palmer, 87, the man credited with changing how the general public looked at the sport of golf, succumbed while waiting for heart surgery.

The kid and the king.

Gone.

The year of our Lord — or 2016, as the calendar calls it — has been a tough one.

In a time where the world needs hope, we have people being taken away from us at an alarming rate. What stuns as much as their deaths, though, is the realization of what we’ve lost with each passing.

In the spotlight of our stages, Prince and David Bowie and their artistry could lift us up from the lowest of lows. Our hearts broke when we heard the news — two more days when the music died.

Muhammed Ali was the greatest not just because of what he did in the boxing ring, but the effect he had outside of it, through the rest of the world — a place that has grown especially dark in 2016.

Death after death has rocked the year the 2016, but it is not just those losses that have created darker and sadder times.

Every day, we are seeing innocent people dying by the never-ending wave of culture-created violence in our country.

We claim we’ve had enough, and we step out on the streets to protest. But, when those whose hearts are true and pure and care enough to try to fight back the right way, when they go home, we leave ourselves vulnerable to our lesser side who destroy not just the physical objects in front of them, but the hope of all of us who think somebody we’ll find a better way for us all.

Black lives matter. Blue lives matter. All lives matter.

We are living in a society where nobody matters and, sadly, we prove it every single day in our actions as a society.

We walk down the street staring at our cell phones. Instead of talking to one another, we text. Sit down and visit? Why bother when we can just e-mail and stay home to Netflix and chill.

Until somebody else is loss and then we are shocked.

So, yes, we weep for our losses – for Prince and Bowie and Ali … and even Jose and Arnie … but we must soon start to weep for ourselves.

Once we mourn what we have truly lost, only then can we begin to heal.

And we need to heal.

Fast.

We have no true leader before us to step up and follow, so we wander, aimlessly, and as the world gets darker it grows harder for us to see our way.

Will it become so dark that we can no longer see our way back? Or the way forward?

There are still three months left in 2016 — one quarter of the year.

Anything is possible.

More people will die — famous, infamous, strangers, friends, family. When we think we can’t be shocked anymore, something will stun us into complete silence.

The world, I fear, will grow darker still.

I do try to find the light and sometimes there it is … in the smile of a child whose life is full of hope … in the embrace of friends and family … in that glimpse of something magical that is there for just a minute and then gone with the next waft of wind.

But that’s not enough.

I need more.

We need more.

Jose Fernandez came to this country full of hope. Arnold Palmer once raised an army and changed an entire sport.

Right now, we need an army of hope to light a path to tomorrow before its too late.