Enjoying a Different Kind of ‘Ball + Chain’

 

Rebecca Lobo, Steve Rushin and family. (Photo courtesy of masslive.com)

I have two new best friends. I’ve known who they were for many, many years, but only recently I have let them into my life on a personal level.

Well, truth be told, they’re letting me—and thousands upon thousands of others; especially those in St. Petersburg—into their lives on a personal level, and it’s absolutely priceless.

Former UConn women’s basketball star and present-day ESPN talking head Rebecca Lobo and Sports Illustrated writer Steve Rushin have a podcast called “Ball + Chain.”

They’ve put together 35 episodes, so far. I’m about 26 episodes in as I’m still playing catch up, but I’m enjoying the ride. So much so, in fact, that I’ll sit in the car for a few extra minutes, or drive around the block, just to finish listening to a segment … or perhaps the entire remaining minutes of a podcast.

It’s a home run. Or, in Robo-speak, it’s a pure swish.

First, let me say this: A big part of this podcast is right in my wheel house.

A former college basketball star that I once saw play joining forces with an SI writer, who I’ve spent a lot of my life reading?

What’s not to like, right?

But it’s more than the sports talk that keeps me hooked. It’s the people … well, the family, really .. that’s involved.

It’s like sitting on a back deck with friends, listening to them play off each other to much amusement. It’s like being invited to their breakfast nook the morning after spending the night and listening to husband and wife discuss their day in absolutely entertaining fashion. It’s like being in a car, with your friends in the back seat, gabbing about their family, their world, their lives.

And it’s so much fun. Yet it almost wasn’t.

When I first gave “Ball + Chain” a try, I didn’t even make it through the first episode.

There were some major sound quality issues that made listening to it almost impossible.

Many months later, on a recent road trip to New Jersey, though, when I was stuck in a car, driving through Connecticut, New York and New Jersey traffic, I gave it another try.

SI writer Steve Rushin, half of the “Ball + Chain” podcast. (Photo courtesy of jeffpearlman.com)

They fixed the sound issues, making the podcast much easier on the ears, and by the time my trip to and fro was over, I must have been eight episodes in.

I was hooked.

I was a fan.

I had two new friends to keep me company on pretty much every journey I’ve taken since.

If my drive is more than 30 minutes, I switch off my Sirius XM and tune in to the “Ball + Chain” podcast.

And, I repeat, it is so much more than the just the sports that keeps me tuned in and coming back for more.

First some background: Rushin is going to be turning 52 years old soon, while Lobo is soon to be 45.

As such, both are from my generation and for the most part grew up watching the same sports teams, sports moments, television shows and commercials and listening to the same music as I did.

They are my generation and they relish in their memories of growing up during the same era, and as they reflect on such moments, so do I.

Lobo grew up in Massachusetts, Rushin in Minnesota.

Fate, however, brought them together in a New York City bar. It’s a topic that is frequently brought up on the podcast, and it’s as a great of a first-meeting story as there is out there.

Rushin had once written, “Although Wilt Chamberlain claimed to have slept with 20,000 women in his lifetime, I had once slept with 7,138 women in a single night: We were all snoring in the stands at a WNBA game.”

Lobo happened to be a WNBA star at that time and confronted Rushin at the bar during a chance meeting.

Rebecca Lobo, half of the “Ball + Chain” podcast.

“She asked if I was the scribe who once mocked, in Sports Illustrated, women’s professional basketball,” Rushin later wrote. “Reluctantly, I said that I was. She asked how many games I’d actually attended. I hung my head and said, ‘None.’ And so Rebecca Lobo invited me to watch her team, the New York Liberty play at Madison Square Garden. We both reeked of secondhand Camels (and, quite possibly, of secondhand camels: It was that kind of a dive.) But my insult had been forgiven. It was—for me, anyway—love at first slight. She had the longest legs, the whitest teeth, the best-sown cornrows I had ever seen, and I imagined us to have much in common. I ate Frosted Flakes right out of the box, and she was on boxes of Frosted Flakes. I am ludicrous, and she was name-dropped in a rap by Ludacris. We were, I thought, made for each other.”

Give them a listen and you realize, they really are made for each other.

That’s why it works so well, I think.

I have this little fantasy in my head: Rushin makes Lobo laugh a lot and every time he does I can almost picture him smiling with the knowledge, “Yup, she still loves me.”

Their connection to each other radiates through their words and mannerisms. I don’t recognize true love when I see it. In this case, though, I hear it.

The two married and have four children—three girls, one boy—all of whom come up from time to time in the podcast.

I told you it was about more than sports.

The ball and chain—“Who’s the ball, who’s the chain? is a key line in the podcast’s opening ditty sung by Tom, Dick and Harry (Tom is Steve’s brother, by the way)—talk about their lives and everything that happens in it. Fathers, sons, mothers, daughters … even grandparents, uncles, aunts and neighbors.

As often as they trade good-natured jabs at one another, they also obviously keep their hearts open for each other, as well.

It’s funny. It’s interesting. It’s touching. It’s just a great listen, from start to finish.

It doesn’t matter if they’re reflecting on Larry Bird, Geno Auriemma, the Minnesota Vikings (or Twins), changing their car oil, or Steve’s inability to cook anything other than microwavable White Castle, they will keep you entertained.

While many podcasts have tunnel vision (i.e., I listen to The West Wing Podcast, too, which is focused just on the hit television show), you never know where “Ball + Chain” will take you.

Each episode is a different adventure, but is filled with enough memories and running jokes that Lobo and Rushin make it feel like you’re part of their larger extended family.

Sometimes, literally, it’s an adventure, too, as Lobo and Rushin discuss their different travels and travails, from airports to hotels to Uber (or Lyft) rides. Or maybe just a mini-van ride to an AAU basketball tournament in Massachusetts, or the local grocery store.

They’ve had some special guests—Lobo’s sister, former NFL player and current ESPN personality Mike Golic and his wife, and the podcast’s producer Deny (With one N!) Gallagher– to name a few. Even when others enter the podcast, it doesn’t throw off the enjoyment.

Semi-spoiler alert: The ending of the podcast with Deny (With one N!) is one of the best endings in podcast history.

The author, a Minnesota Vikings fan despite hailing from Maine, with his old friend, Charlie.

In closing, I remember the moment I realized “Ball + Chain” and I had a special connection.

It came when Lobo talked about a ventriloquism dummy she had received as a gift when she was younger. And, Rushin reflected on what it was like to work as a 14-year-old during a Minnesota Vikings game.

It took me back to a picture of myself when I was younger. Of me, wearing a Minnesota Vikings sweatshirt, holding on to a ventriloquist dummy I was given as a child.

Basketball. Sports. A Sportswriter. UConn basketball. A dummy. The Vikings.

How’s that for a fate?

In a different time and in different places, I could have been friends with Lobo and Rushin. We would have shared a lot of laughs.

Instead, I’m just a loyal listener, taking my new friends—one a ball, the other a chain–with me on countless rides to keep me company.

 

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A Return To The Links: Giving the Game Another Go

The author captured this photo of a golfer hitting an approach shot earlier this spring.

For pretty much all of my life, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with the game of golf.

It has given me many great memories; yet it has cost me dearly, both physically and emotionally.

Today, just two weeks past my 52nd birthday, I’ve made a decision to take the game up again.

I’m Tiger Woods Redux, only paler and fatter and older and nowhere near as good as he is … left-handed.

 

I went out and low balled the heck out of second golf career, spending $300 for clubs, a bag, a glove, 36 balls, 100 tees, and a pair of Nike Golf Shoes.

Less than a mile from house, there is a nine-hole Par 3 course. The Short Beach Golf Course, it’s called.

It’s only $10 a round, so that’s where I’ll start my comeback.

Hole by hole, I’ll play to the future. Getting better, I hope, while both my weight and my score drop lower and lower.

As I sit here thinking about my next first round, I can’t help but dance with the ghosts of my foursome as I tee off on this thought and making it become a reality.

• • •

Insert wiggly flashback special effects here.

• • •

I was just a boy that day my dad and I went to the golf course in Eddington. Watchoverya, is what I called. Even today, I don’t know how to spell it.

It’s where I first swung a club and even though it’s long gone now–closed, defunct, overgrown, no doubt–it still holds a special place in my heart for that reason.

Father. Son. Bonding over a sport.

Golf is one of my favorite memories with my dad. And that’s where it all started.

• • •

Insert wiggly flashback special effects here.

• • •

In middle school, eighth grade to be exact, I had a student teacher named Mr. Blodgett.

Donald Blodgett from Penobscot, Maine.

Growing up in a small town like Orrington, Maine, most of my teachers were wily and cagey veterans. Too damn old to be cool or to be able to reach students on a certain level. It was there way or the highway.

They wouldn’t put up with much bullshit and—as good old Robert Bradford, a science teacher, showed me that same year—if you dished out you’d get a punch straight to the forehead.

But, I digress. Mr. Blodgett was probably my first “favorite teacher”, even if he was just a student teacher who would be gone by the end of the year. He was cool and it was fun to be in his class.

Once the school year was over, I was saddened to see Mr. Blodgett go. But one of my favorite middle school memories was playing a round of golf with him that following summer at the Pine Hill Golf Club.

I also made one of my all-time great golf shots that day: A long, winding, twisting putt from one end of the green to the other that found nothing but the bottom of the cup.

I knew where my golf had gone after that. I never knew what happened to Mr. Blodgett.

Thanks to the wonders of Facebook, though, I found out for this post.

Mr. Blodgett lives in Scarborough and retired from the Old Orchard Beach school system.

I wonder how his golf game is. Chances are when I’m out on the course later this week, he’ll surely cross my mind.

And thanks, Mr. Blodgett, for having such an effect on a student before your career truly got off the ground.

• • •

Insert wiggly flashback special effects here.

• • •

I was 19 going on 20 and it was at a time when I loved three things.

My new job as a sports assistant at the Bangor Daily News; my new girlfriend, Jennifer; and the game of golf.

Any chance I got I would tee it up and play. Bangor Muni, Pine Hill, Woodland Terrace. My friends and I would even trek to Portland to play when we could.

That summer I got pretty good, or at least I thought I did.

I shot an 84 at Woodland Terrace, a Par 60 course – my lowest score ever for 18 holes. And I shot a 93 at Bangor Muni, my best-ever score on a real par 72-course.

One day, playing the sixth hole at Bangor Muni, a 169-yard par 3, I struck the ball perfectly. Seven iron, if I remember right.

I watched my shot sail into the sky, reach an apex and fall back to earth.

It was a pinseeker if there ever was one and for the only time in my life I thought I might get a hole-in-one.

The ball landed and skipped slightly left, winding up four inches wide of the hole.

I tapped in for birdie. So close and yet so far.

That’s the thing about golf.

You can stink it up for 17 holes and then hit three perfect shots on the 18th and walk off with a birdie.

And that’s what keeps you coming back.

If you can do it once, why can’t you do it all the time.

And doing it all the time is what cost me my relationship with Jennifer. Instead of walking back, I walked away.

Golf got in the way, she got angry and the eyes of another caught my attention.

That led me down a path where I got away from golf a little bit, playing only from time to time.

Did golf remind me of what I lost too much? Hard to say, even all these years later.

But I never forgave the game for what it cost me.

• • •

Insert wiggly flashback special effects here.

• • •

The last time I played golf was in Somersworth, N.H. The year was 2000? Maybe 2001.

I don’t even remember the name of the course.

I just remember taking a shot, hearing a pop and feeling a burning sensation in my right shoulder blade.

Just like that, the golf clubs were put in a closet for good.

I haven’t played a round since.

How much will I play in the future?

Who knows?

Will my shoulder handle the wear or tear again?

Who knows?

Will I find the sport a bore, a bad walk spoiled and thus have wasted all this money giving it a go?

Again, I ask, Who knows?

But I’m going to try to comeback. Just like Tiger did.

He has the whole world watching.

I have nobody.

So let’s tee it up, let it fly (in whatever direction it heads) and we’ll see what happens.

In the meantime, “Fore!”

Happy 2017-Plus One (at least for now)

Let’s not flush 2018 away just yet, eh?

It took approximately two and half hours to fully realize that the peace-and-love salutations of the New Year were long gone.

From the time “Auld Lang Syne” ended to when the last party favor was sounded, peace and love took a back seat to an inebriated asshole pounding on his hotel room door.

And yelling. Loudly.

“Let me in! Quit being a bitch! What the fuck?!”

On the other side of his door – which just happened to be on the other side of my paper thin New York City hotel room wall – I could hear her crying as she yelled back incoherently.

She let him in – finally – but that didn’t stop the clamoring.

What was I listening to exactly?

A domestic situation? A lovers spat? A brother and sister disagreeing on who gets the family portrait and/or cat after the funeral? A guy downgrading a hooker because he didn’t get what he wanted for his $100?

It was 2:45 in the morning in New York City, but if it had been Atlantic City it’d be 1 to 5 to pick ‘em.

Part of me kept waiting for a gunshot, and for Detectives Briscoe and Green to show up at my door as the Law & Order music played.

Alas, neither came.

Finally, after a while, there was just silence. And sleep came again.

When I left the city for the trip home to Connecticut this morning, there was a note slid into the door-jam of the offending room.

I wondered who the author was.

Was it from him?

“I’m sorry, baby … Come back to me … I’m downstairs in the lobby, waiting for you … You’re my life, baby … I love you … They’re just words, baby …  You’re not really all those things I called you. It was the booze talkin’, baby … I’ll see you soon. Don’t forget my wallet. It’s on the dresser. Love, Man Who Yells A lot.”

Or, was it from her?

“Go to hell you rotten no good piece of shit … You know what you did last night and the fact you were still carrying on about it at two forty-five in the morning proves you don’t belong with somebody like me, so bite me! Sincerely, A Women Who Cries A lot. PS. I flushed your wallet down the toilet.”

As much as my curiosity wanted to get the best of me, and as much I as I had every right to read that note since they opted to be so loud as to include me in the early morning brouhaha, I opted to leave it all behind.

I pressed the elevator button and went down, hoping there wasn’t a dead person behind that closed door. Try explaining that finger print on the note to Detectives Briscoe and Green, as the Law & Order music plays.

Detectives Briscoe and Green (Courtesy of NBC)

I bring you this story because on my train ride home from the city that never sleeps, yet often brings the fight right to your doorstep, I realized that 2018 is simply the end of 2017, only a day later.

On my iPhone I perused my social media walls over and over again; from Facebook to Twitter to Instagram, and back again, updating over and over.

I saw so many people saying all the right things about 2018. How we have to be nicer to each other, care about each other more, and do all the right things to make this world a better place.

And then I realized some of them meant they would do so, only after they trashed this person with their words, or relayed/retweeted/shared somebody else’s thoughts on somebody in negative fashion.

Goodbye 2017. Hello 2017-plus one.

The guy I call 45 is still president, the country is still as torn apart as it’s ever been in my lifetime, and people just keep letting me down.

I wasn’t even 12 hours into the New Year when that hit me.

Like dominos falling, though, a second thought hit me soon after.

Why follow the negativity? Why have it as a daily part of my social (media) life? Why let it in?

I have the power to block, or unfollow, or unfriend, or X out people with the click of a mouse … and I don’t have to leave a note in the door to finalize what direction these online relationships are going.

I have the power.

I’ve used it before (after Newtown I unfriended family members and unfollowed long-time friends who made asinine statements) and it made my life better.

Certainly everybody has their First Amendment right to opine in any way they see fit, and I support that 110 percent. But I have my First-Plus One Amendment right to make sure I don’t have to read what I’m tired of reading in the safety of my own living room.

In some cases, I even agree with what’s being said, but if it’s negative, why even say it? I’m just so tired of the negativity. I think back to that lesson I learned as an 8-year-old about if you can’t say something nice.

So I’m going to take my power back.

Maybe I and I alone can make 2017-Plus One feel like 2018, at least to me, personally.

Maybe in my own pathetic little world (yes, that’s a negative, so maybe I’ll just block myself on social media), I can make things a tiny little brighter for me.

And, in doing so, maybe that extra watt of brightness that radiates from me, maybe it might rub off on somebody else.

Just like that the world is a better place. Maybe not a lot, but I’ll take a little these days.

Last week, I read a post about the butterfly effect, about how if somebody goes back in time and does something as insignificant as stepping on a butterfly, it could change the future.

The post asked, if do so something so little today, why can’t we realize we’re changing the future, too?

So here is my note, slid into all of your social-media door jams: Change the future. Think positive. Be positive.

And watch Law & Order. Such a good show.

Happy 2017-Plus One.

Oh Danny Boy: Hoping an old friend finally finds peace

Danny Paul Carroll. (1963-2017)

He was sitting in a hot tub, buck naked with two women, dressed like-wise, or so he said, and even though Danny Paul Carroll was all about having fun, something was missing.

So sometime after midnight – the drinks having flowed freely all evening, no doubt – he picked up the telephone and made a call.

I answered almost immediately.

When you’re single and living in party mode, phone calls after midnight are either really bad news, or truly great opportunities.

Plus, they didn’t sell home safety systems via telemarketers after the sun went down in the early ought’s of the 21st century, so I knew answering wouldn’t be a waste of time.

And when Danny called it was never a waste of time.

I won’t lie. I entertained the idea of driving the 20-or-so minutes down to the New Hampshire seacoast to frolic the night away with my roommate and his two new friends in a Portsmouth hotel room.

But, in the end, after working all night, and finding the couch simply a little too inviting and far too comfortable, I never left the house.

An hour later, Danny walked through the door, a devilish grin on his face and a twinkle of mischief in his eyes. He made himself another drink, sat down and finished his story.

One of the women’s husbands had figured out where she was, he explained. He showed up, obviously upset, pounding on the door, demanding to see her.

Danny barely escaped with his boxers and socks on, the rest of his clothes in his arms and a story for the ages.

And that, in just one brief story, was Danny in a nutshell.

A man for the ages, full of stories for the ages. He lived them (probably embellished a few for comic effect), loved them, told them and retold them to anybody who would listen.

Sadly, on Wednesday afternoon, one last story was told.

The headline simply read: “Dead Man Found In Cocheco River.”

As they pulled his lifeless body from the Cocheco’s cold, unforgiving waters, Danny’s story was over.

He was 52 years old.

The end.

• • •

I met Danny sometime in 1998, shortly after I moved from Maine to Dover, New Hampshire.

He wound up dating my first New Hampshire roommate, Monique, when the two of us started being regular customers at the pub where Danny worked.

As I often joked back in the day, when the two of them finally broke up, he got me in the divorce.

I moved in with him and we were roommates for close to three years, living in a house just off Route 108 in Somersworth.

Living with a bartender meant one thing.

The parties didn’t stop at last call, and I can’t tell you how many times I would be rustled from sleep by the noise of an after-hours party going on in the pool room, the living room and the kitchen.

And I never got mad, angry or frustrated.

How could I?

Circling around us during this time – at the pub, at our home, at other houses and apartments – was a tight circle of friends who cared about each other despite our eclectic idiosyncrasies.

We were all vastly different people from vastly different places with vastly different backgrounds, but we were tight-knit and loved each other dearly.

I’ll never forget any of those people which is why I’ll never forget Danny, the man who in a way helped bring us all together beer by beer, story by story.

He was a bartender to many, but a friend it seemed to many more. For a while, when we lived as roommates, he was one of my best friends.

Even as his demons started to rise up from inside him, you could still count on him.

Until you couldn’t.

More and more nights he would disappear into his room and I wouldn’t see him again.

One night I was finally invited in and immediately felt the draw of the slide he knew all too well.

In the end, that’s the reason I moved out of the house, taking a step to distance myself from him. I had to get away from Danny and his demons and in a heart-felt and brutally honest face-to-face I explained that to him.

He never held my decision against me and we remained friends even as he continued his struggles, as he switched jobs, changed apartments.

His world was being snatched away from him one small bag of white powder at a time, but Danny was Danny and it seemed as though he could charm the devil himself to find a way out of it.

Until he couldn’t, I suppose.

• • •

When I left New Hampshire, I left a lot of people and the past behind me. I cut the cord as a way to survive, or at least that’s what I told myself.

That slide – the one Danny couldn’t control, or stop – was too scary for me, no matter how great it felt. Getting away from all of it was my only option to escape.

I relocated and came out the other side.

I don’t know if Danny ever did.

I’ve reconnected with many of my friends from my New Hampshire days through the magic of Facebook, and I’m grateful.

In times like this we can mourn together and remember what was great in all of us, as individual people and as a group.

Jennifer England, who worked as a bartender with Danny and is now a school teacher, changing lives for the better wrote, “I loved Danny. I hated his addiction, but I always loved him.”

Her husband, Marty – who had made such beautiful music his whole life, including for a time with Danny – wrote, “Full disclosure: I haven’t seen Danny in at least 8 years. It doesn’t lessen the love at all.”

Both statements are so true.

Danny was a guy who once he tugged at your heart, you could never let him go. Even when you had to.

It’s been more than 13 years since I’ve seen Danny, but I’ve thought of him a lot over that time.

Memories would pop up out of nowhere. Songs would trigger a smile (I can’t listen to Alice in Chains without thinking of him and his Jeep.) Dreams would make a life lived long ago seem so current.

On random trips back to New Hampshire, I’ve reached out to people who knew him, looking for updates on my old friend.

But nobody seemed to know anything.

I heard things had gotten so bad for him that he was homeless for a while, really struggling with the demons that dragged him down.

But, the most recent messages popping up on Facebook, following Danny’s death, paint a less bleak picture.

He was doing better, it seemed. Somebody had seen him out in the last year and wrote, “We had a good hang.”

It’s what makes the news so much harder.

What happened on the shores of the Cocheco earlier this week? Nobody knows for sure. Two people walking along a path saw a body floating in the water and called police.

According to Foster’s Daily Democrat, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has said the cause of death was drowning.

“At this time, there does not appear to be any indication that Carroll’s death was the result of a crime,” the release stated.

Danny’s obituary reads simply he had passed away “after losing a long battle with addiction.”

Just like that Danny’s last story was told.

Another of my closest friends talked about all the positive messages and wondered aloud if Danny knew so many people loved him.

I hope so. Because I did. He was a good guy, so good-hearted to the people who knew him the best.

Rest in peace, Danny.

And I truly hope you have found the peace you so deserve.

Remembering Walter: A long-lost weekend’s lesson remains true

Walter Crabtree, left, touched the author’s life more than 30 years ago. It hasn’t been forgotten. (Photo stolen from Walter Crabtree’s Facebook Page.)

I didn’t know Walter Crabtree well, but it’s safe to say he taught me one of life’s most important athletic lessons.

Play your role 100 percent and you’ll be successful.

After a life full of teaching those around him, Walter passed away two days after Thanksgiving Day at the age of 60.

Personally, I’m thankful I got to know Walter over a couple of weekends, far too many moons ago.

I actually knew of Walter before I met him.

As a young cub sports writer at the Bangor Daily News, his athletic prowess in his native Maine was larger than life.

A graduate of tiny Sumner High School, in an even tinier town of East Sullivan, Walter was one hell of an athlete; or so said those who knew him.

I never saw Walter play in person, at least not to my knowledge.

My life-changing run-in with Walter came in Act 2 of our athletic careers.

I had just turned 21, was living in Bangor, and I was hand-picked (read invited) to play in a regional softball tournament with a team that was based out of the Ellsworth.

Walter Crabtree was a member of the team and, perhaps, the one closest to my age, though he was likely pushing 30 at the time.

Being 21, I had a cockiness about me – probably one not as deserved as I thought. I thought I was pretty good.

In truth, looking back on it with hindsight, I wasn’t that good.

I was average, which in slow-pitch softball isn’t saying much.

But I digress.

During that regional tournament, I mostly played catcher – which, to be honest, I didn’t mind doing.

Sure, at the end of a long six-game weekend, my knees would be worn out, but I was playing and plays at the plate were always fun.

If my mind, I believe we finished as regional runners-up, which meant we qualified for the state tournament in division.

That meant an overnight weekend in Lewiston, playing softball.

Good times, right?

Not really.

It was one of the worst weekends of my athletic life.

I was no longer catching. Somebody else was added on to the roster from a team that didn’t qualify, so I was relegated to the bench.

Once a game, I might get an opportunity to pinch run for some fat guy in his 50s.

Life is funny, you know.

Today, I am one of those fat 50-something guys wishing I had a pinch runner that could run to the bathroom for me at two in the morning.

Walter knew I was having a miserable weekend, though.

I’ll admit it. I was pissed. I drove two hours to Lewiston to play softball, not collect splinters on my ass.

As Saturday became Sunday and we kept winning, I remember Walter sitting next to me before a game and it was then he gave me sage advice.

I might not have been the best softball player in the world – even though my 21-year-old mind would have fought that – but in those days I was fast.

“Why do you think you were picked for this team?” Walter asked me. “We all know how fast you are and we’re going to need that speed in one of these games.”

The message was obvious: Play your role. It’s going to help the team.

I had always heard coaches talking about playing your role through 13-plus years of my sports career.

It never truly sunk in until Walter Crabtree sat down next to me and taught me that important lesson.

In our last win of that tournament, late in the game, I was called on to pitch run during a rally. I was one of the runners who scored, helping to send us to the next round.

We would get blown out in that next game and the running joke on the bench during the final inning was whoever made the last out would buy a case of beer for everybody to indulge in.

With two outs, I was finally given an opportunity to pinch hit.

I laced a single into the outfield.

I got stranded on the bases, but after the final out was recorded, the first person to shake my hand was Walter Crabtree.

In his obituary, printed in the Bangor Daily News, it was written, “Walter dedicated his life to using his talents, abilities, and skills to help others succeed. Over the years, Walter filled a number of roles as he touched literally thousands of lives; teacher, coach, referee, mentor, colleague and friend.

“He was a role model for both his students and his peers. His wisdom, common sense, kindness, compassion and humor will be greatly missed.”

That sums him up quite nicely. I should know. I was one of those people whose life was touched just by knowing him.

Rest in Peace, Walter.

And, thank you.

Remembering my 13-mile long classroom

Many of my friends and former classmates are mourning the loss of a former teacher today.

The news of Jeffrey Johnson’s passing takes many of us back to our high school days, to our interactions with him and how he changed our lives.

I never had Mr. Johnson as a teacher, however.

Instead, he changed my world as a friend, and I realize now – suddenly, now that he’s gone — what a debt of gratitude I owe the man.

As the crow flies, my family home in Orrington, Maine, was just about two miles or so from Hampden Academy, the school from which I graduated.

It was directly across the Penobscot River and from certain points in Orrington you could look across the river and the see the school.

By car, however, it was 13 miles away … six-plus miles to Brewer, across the bridge to Bangor, and six-plus miles to Hampden on the other side of the river.

When I made the decision to transfer from John Bapst Memorial High School to Hampden Academy for my senior year, transportation was my biggest hurdle.

This is where Jeff Johnson changed my life.

I had known Jeff prior to my year at Hampden Academy. In fact, looking back on it, I had known him when I was in middle school.

He lived in Bucksport, the town south of my hometown, and was a regular visitor to the convenience store my mother and step-father owned.

As one of my stomping ground places where I spent much of my time, I got to know Jeff and his wife, Pam, also a teacher, enough to ask them a big-time question leading into my senior year.

Could I hitch a ride to school every day?

As far as I know, they never gave it a second thought.

So pretty much every morning from Labor Day of 1983 to graduation in 1984, I would walk a half mile from my house to the Main Road where Jeff and Pam would pick me up and allow me to attend Hampden Academy.

Every morning, we would talk about life and love, family and education.

(As an athlete who always stayed after school for practices, I rarely if ever got a ride home. Instead, I hitchhiked the journey home … though that, too, became a regular journey of regulars who would pick me up and drop me off at certain spots).

The Johnson family decision to allow me to ride with them to school changed my life.

First and foremost it allowed me to avoid attending Brewer High School, a thought I dreaded.

It gave me a new set of friends I still care about to this day.

And, it opened my door to two new English courses, one of which was journalism, pushing me further down the path that would become my life’s career.

I’m sure I thanked Mr. Johnson for the rides back then, but only today – after hearing of his passing – did the magnitude of them hit me.

My heart hurts knowing he’s gone, but what an effect he had on so many lives, as a teacher … and as a friend.

Thanks again, JJ.

May you rest in peace.

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.”