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.

Upon further review, I still say RIP Abbey

Abbey Meany
(1990-2017)
Photo courtesy of Abbey Meany’s Facebook page.

Earlier today, I published a post in this very space about a young lady named Abbey Meany, a 27-year-old Connecticut woman, and mother of one, who took her own live last week.

In that 429-word missive, I pondered how sad it was that such a young person with seemingly so much to live for met such a tragic ending. Looking from the far outskirts of her life, I openly wondered how it could happen.

In the hours after I hit publish, a couple of people — people who claimed to truly know Abbey — left a couple of comments, which i quickly approved.

As one person said, “She was wonderful person and mother.”

However, it also became obvious to me that the way I had written the post confused some people, who didn’t quite grasp what it was I was trying to say.

As a writer, this is on me.

Despite my obviously stating that I didn’t know her, and was just searching for the reasons why she might opt for such a way out of her life, somebody who claimed to know her seemed to think I was painting her in a light far less flattering than the Abbey they knew.

As I’ve stated in this space time and time again, I don’t care what the reader thinks about what I write. This space isn’t about them. It’s about me and this time of my life.

However, I have decided to take the previous post down from public view because the post was also about Abbey, and the last thing I wanted is for anybody to come away with the wrong idea about who she was as a person.

Most of my readers wouldn’t have a clue or a care about who Abbey Meany was in life, but in death I certainly don’t want anybody thinking less of her while her family and friends remain in mourning.

As such, I end this post the same way I ended the last one … which sums up my ultimate feelings about the entire incident.

Rest in peace, Abbey.

Don’t run and hide: Join me on our bully pulpits

President Donald Trump, the man who people are letting divide the country.

President Donald Trump, the man who people are letting divide the country.

I was called a bully the other day.

Anybody that knows me — truly knows me — would laugh at that as much as I did considering over the course of my life I’ve loved and accepted everybody that has come and gone.

My only “fight” was in fourth grade with a kid named Joe Vachon, both of us urged on by our blood-lust filled peers, and we danced around in a circle at recess, and threw one punch each.

Once we connected fists and felt the pain, the fight was over. We were friends again.

Yet here I am, now in my 50s, still friendly and accepting of everybody, and I get called a bully because of one Facebook post.

Here’s what happened: On Monday, I shared a story from CNN on my Facebook page. The CNN headline was, “Trump: Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.”

It was such a stupid, asinine statement from the guy less than half our country elected President that in the comment section of the post, I opined, “Nobody knew? Well except for the countless presidents who did everything they could to find a way to give everybody in the United States healthcare — and that’s people far smarter than you, sir. When one finally did – even with a few flaws – you were the blowhard who came in saying you were going to blow it all up. Not so easy, is it, “Mr.” President … Go ahead and fix it, if you can, and find a way to make it better. Just quit being an embarrassing human being that is destroying America and start taking steps to fulfill your ultimate promise of making the country better.”

Just a flat-out reaction to a stupid statement with a touch – barely, but it was there – of support at the end.

Later in the day came a comment from a Facebook friend, a man I respect and love on a personal level.

“Keep acting like a school yard Bully John. GOOD BYE.”

I checked. He had un-friended me on Facebook. Again.

The first time this man de-friended me on Facebook, I was upset. This time, not so much. This time I was much more flabbergasted.

Bully?

I wasn’t the one who ordered ICE Agents to storm through neighborhoods in caravans, jumping out, guns drawn and scaring the hell out of children and mothers and grandmothers, in search of illegal immigrants who might or might not have done something wrong.

I wasn’t the one overseeing a country where custom agents accost travels on a domestic San Francisco-to-New York flight, demanding to see people’s paperwork to prove they were Americans who deserved to fly across what was once the land of the free.

I’m not the one shitting all over journalists world-wide who are doing their job, taking the term “Fake news” that was started to combat all the non-reputable websites and blogs who were printing out-right lies against both parties, and turning it on to main stream media like the New York Times, the LA Times, CNN — who were writing and reporting things that our leader didn’t like.

So how am I the bully?

Because I called Donald Trump a blow hard? (He is! There can be no argument about it. Even his supporters would have to admit his characteristics are that of a self-serving blowhard. It’s an adjective that, to me, can’t be argued). Just like I’m fat because I weigh too much.

Because I called him an embarrassment to the United States, because some of the things he has try to pull off (immigration ban, Russia, grabbing pussies, insert many other proofs of not-so-Presidential actions here that the world has laughed at)?

When I post political opinions to my Facebook page, I try to limit myself to one a day. After all, Facebook has become a deluge for hatred and divisiveness in this country, but the positives still outweigh the negatives – barely – in terms of keeping up with old friends.

I’m proud to say that I have not de-friended anybody over any post regarding the election of this president, because I do love the fact that, as Americans, we can support different sides and ideas, and yet still somehow work together for what’s best for our country.

Some people, I guess, can’t handle that type of America – Where we argue and debate and support what we believe in.

They want it their way, the only way, period .. and I guess if you don’t support their way of thinking you’re nothing but a bully.

And that saddens me.

I have friends and family who support Trump and I love them all. I have friends who lean so far to the left, I’m afraid they’re going to fall into the Pacific Ocean, but I love them as people with all my heart.

And, I’m a liberal-leaning independent who sees things differently – Nashist, I call it – and there are times I have defended Trump (not many, but I have) while also laughing at his comically frustrating first 40 days.

Trump the President doesn’t scare me. Not one single iota. Those powerful men he surrounded himself — after his broken promise to drain the swamp – are what scares me.

From what I see, they are the bullies in this world.

But if one man wants to call me a bully for standing up for what I believe in, then I’ll carry that banner proud.

Because when I see something that I feel is wrong, I will have the courage to point it out. When I support something or somebody, I’ll proudly stand before anybody who has the guts to listen to me argue my point.

I will not run and hide, head in the sand, from those who have a different opinion than me. Join me in the fight. Tell me why you support what you do. Don’t run away and be scared of the other side.

To the contrary, I will give them their own bully pulpit to try and out-shout me in our arguments.

When we’re tired and hoarse, then we can climb down, embrace and headed to the local bar for a beer.

That’s the kind of America I want.

I fear, though, that it’s gone forever.

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.

The Woman Who Traveled The World

A church in Italy, one of the sights my world-traveling friend's eyes have seen.

A church in Italy, one of the sights my world-traveling friend’s eyes have seen.

We were 16 and in love. As such, young couples don’t tend to weigh risk vs. reward, opting instead to jump feet first into a new adventure and just enjoy the ride.

That’s how we – me and my girlfriend in the spring of 1983 — ended up climbing a fence at the Bangor International Airport, just to take a closer look at the airplanes.

Read that again.

There we were, two precocious 16-year-old kids, climbing over the fence of an international airport.

Needless to say, what was an unwise decision back then would likely be a serious federal offense that would find its way to CNN these days.

The reason I bring this up today is because I just read a Facebook post from her that made me smile and remember. Dancing with ghosts, she calls it.

So dance I shall.

She’s flying to Ethiopia. Hopefully going through the main gate and customs, though.

One of my favorite stories about us is how we both wound up living the same dreams we had back then.

Well except for the one where we’d be together forever, grow old and watch the grand kids drive their parent’s – our children — crazy.

But, what were the odds of that happening, really?

Instead, her mother moved her away at the end of her junior year. I’ve only seen her once since then, shortly after my marriage when she returned to Maine for a visit.

Over the years we’ve talked on the phone a few times, written letters and emails back and forth.

We’ve lost touch and found each other again.

Fate, at the very least, has given us that.

And we realized both of us had kept following our dreams and embraced them with a passion.

Anybody who has known me since third grade knows I’ve always wanted to be a writer. So I write.

She always wanted to see the world and go on adventures, both near and far.

My dear friend, Yvette, served in Iraq, just one of the places in the world her eyes have seen.

My dear friend, Yvette, served in Iraq, just one of the places in the world her eyes have seen.

And I love the fact that she’s gotten to do just that.

I don’t know how many different countries she’s visited in her life, but it’s been a bunch. And she’s currently living in Germany, where she continues to help our troops through her job

Buried in my box of memories are postcards and pictures of some of the places she has gone, sent over the years when we were in touch with each other.

She served her country in Iraq – God bless for her for that because she’s my ultimate hero in that sense – and has vacationed in far-away exotic places my eyes can only dream about.

She has skied her way down mountains and soaked herself in tropical waters with gorgeous sunsets.

She has lived that part of her life as she always wanted.

And today she’s off on another adventure, seeing another part of her world, making another small part of her dream come true.

Safe travels, my friend.

And never forget the final words written on the card in 1990!

To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before

Photo courtesy of askideas.com

Photo courtesy of askideas.com

You are all so welcome.

Today, the day of Cupid, you are not with me … so that is my Valentine’s Day gift to you.

On the day when love allegedly conquers all, I offer you up eternal happiness, away from me and the few things I bring to the table.

Humor. Friendship. Understanding.

Yeah, that’s about it.

I’m alone on yet another’s Valentine’s Day and I’m perfectly fine with that.

I’ve made my bed and I get to sleep in it … alone, spread out, hogging my own sheets and pillows.

It’s nice.

Even when it’s not.

I may not believe in love anymore, but it’s not like I don’t think about it.

My 50 years are scattered with a plethora of failed romances, broken hearts, destroyed relationships. It’s also dotted with missed chances, lost smiles, and even more broken hearts.

And for that I am sorry. Truly sorry.

As such, I’ve waved the white flag on chasing/pining for/having a significant other.

It’s been more than 10 years.

And I’d say 99.9 percent of the time I don’t miss it.

I do what I want, when I went, how I want and I answer to nobody but myself.

I’d buy myself chocolates, but I weigh enough as it is and I don’t want to create any expectations for myself.

A romantic dinner, alone … A bottle of wine, alone … Suddenly tipsy, I take myself home … alone.

Well, you get the idea.

Valentine’s Day is not for me.

But it’s not that I don’t believe in love.

I do.

I think.

At least, I did.

I look back over these last 50 years and, for the most part, I do cherish the times I was in love and the happy memories that were made during those segments of my life.

It doesn’t matter that, technically, each and every one failed … often leading to tears, heartbreak, heartache.

The tears dry, the heartbreak mends, the heartache fades over time.

So now that I’m — as I’m wont to say, in “The October Weekend” of my life — I can look back over a lifetime of loves and appreciate each of them for what they really wore.

Complete failures.

Wait, I mean, opportunities to grow.

My first kiss was in fourth grade and it was nothing more than pure peer pressure.

I remember the girl, I remember the place, but I barely remember the kiss.

Sorry, no Winnie Cooper “Wonder Years” moment here.

Just the facts, ma’am … who, what and where.

The next relationship I remember was my eighth grade year.

Hormones raging, mind spinning, hearts pounding and getting to second base was more important off the baseball field than on it. Talk about confusion.

High school was where love really introduced itself and all it had to offer, the great and the bad.

Puppy love with the girl who sat in front of me in Mr. Dexter’s Civics class my sophomore year.

First love a year later with a girl from another school.

The funny thing about those two is that both moved away from me in the middle of our relationships. That’s heartbreak, right there … When you first start to innocently believe in forever and get dealt with the crushing forces of reality.

The next six years were a flurry of relationships … some I look back fondly on, some are names I couldn’t recall with a gun to my head … lasting anywhere from one night to a few months.

I think it’s fair to say that I really and truly did love some of those people during that time.

And some of those people still tug at my heart. You quite likely know who you are, if you are in that category.

A marriage soon followed. Seven years. A house, a child, a future.

She deserved better.

Because a failed marriage soon followed.

I won’t lie. The next few years after that were an alcoholic-induced and drug-created haze, divided up amongst some poor choices and least proudest moments.

Even with the scattering of good “opportunities” I couldn’t take advantage of anything to pull myself out. I was far too lost down the rabbit hole.

One – an absolute angel, from a least expected place – was put in front of me to save my life, and she did.

I’m certain of it.

But it wasn’t meant to be, either.

None of them were.

Depending on which edict you follow, there is one true love for everybody out there. Have I met mine? Did I blow that opportunity? Or is fate playing a cruel game?

I don’t know. I think I met her and lost her. But that’s just me.

So, having been burned, and having self-destructed a few relationships myself, I wrote them off for all of time.

I was done chasing. I was done with the game.

I was 40 years old.

Game, set, match.

Only I wasn’t the winner. I was just done playing.

And I haven’t played in over a decade since.

So it’s Valentine’s Day, 2017.

If we once loved, you and I, then look around you. If somebody else is there and your heart sings, then you’re welcome. I was just a stepping stone to today’s bliss.

If you are like me, alone, on this Valentine’s Day, I at least hope you can look back and find some positives from yesterday’s relationships and hold them close. Even with me.

We’re born into this world ready to be loved and certainly deserving of it.

Sometimes, though, life – and love — just doesn’t work out.

I’m OK with that.

At least 99.9 percent of the time.

 

Sometimes You Just Want To Feel Close To Home

Patrick Stewart of Bangor, Maine, was a senior at Colby College this winter (Photo courtesy of centralmaine.com)

Patrick Stewart of Bangor, Maine, was a senior at Colby College this winter (Photo courtesy of centralmaine.com)

Walking through the under belly of Wesleyan University’s Freeman Athletic Center in Middletown, Connecticut, I came across the Colby College hockey team.

I was there for the 2017 National High School Squash Championships. The Mules were there to play hockey.

One by one, earphones plugged in to drown out the outside, they were lugging their gear from the bus, heading to their locker room, their eyes focused on what was to come.

Suddenly, I was focusing on what once was.

Colby College. Waterville. Maine.

Home.

Well, almost home.

Waterville is located about a 50-minute drive from my hometown, but it’s a place I’ve been to too many times to count.

As an athlete. As a sports writer. As a coach. As a fan.

Colby College was a place I knew well.

One of the highlights of my life occurred at Colby College way back during my sophomore year in high school.

The school was playing host to the Maine State Cross Country Championship meet and that day I happened to have the race of my life, finishing 27th … right on the heels of our No. 2 runner who was usually more than a minute in front of me.

From start to finish, I felt great. It was a hilly course and I loved it. It’s one of the highlights of my athletic career (27th? Shows you how pathetic my overall talent level was, I suppose).

The Waterville-campus continued to play a role in my life after I started working at the Bangor Daily News. I was covering a lot of Husson College basketball games back then and it was a pretty intense in-state rivalry with Colby that made those sojourns down I-95 so worth it.

I saw countless good Division 3 college basketball games inside the Wadsworth Gymnasium, and many good players.

For a few summers, when I was in my 30s, I got to work on the basketball courts that Colby College offered up. I was coaching basketball in those days and working basketball camps in the summer.

We stayed in the dorms, ate in the dining commons, and, like kids revisiting our college days, drank a little too much at night.

So, yeah … Colby … great memories.

It wasn’t long after the hockey team walked past me that Colby’s men’s basketball team entered the facility, as well. It too was facing Wesleyan that day.

“Any Mainers on the team,” I asked a random player, recalling the program’s love for in-state players. “I grew up in Bangor.”

“Bangor? Patrick Stewart is from Bangor,” a player replied, pointing up the hallway at the 6-foot-6 Colby senior walking well in front of us.

I left Bangor 19 years ago and never looked back.

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Patrick Stewart, Colby College basketball player.

That meant Patrick Stewart, if he had been born in Bangor, was likely just three years old when I left.

I knew nothing about him short of the fact of what I just learned. He was from Bangor and played for Bangor High School before going off to college.

Suddenly, I wanted to see him play. I wanted to see Colby play. I guess, for even a few moments, I just wanted to feel close to home again.

Where I live in lower Connecticut, about an hour from the Wesleyan campus, it’s a six-hour drive home — Short enough to be able to make the trip in case of an emergency, long enough to be just enough of a pain-in-the-ass to make it home regularly.

There are times when I miss Maine a lot. My family. My friends. The chosen few who have never left my heart and I think of every day.

Things trigger those memories. A song. A smell. A word.

Colby.

Those Colby College athletes walking past me did just that.

So, after my squash duties were done, I made the walk back through the Freeman Center and I slipped into a side door of Wesleyan’s gym. I found myself a seat in the back row of the Wesleyan stands.

It was a close game at halftime, the two teams knotted up at 33-33.

Over the course of the second half, Wesleyan proved to be more athletic and the cold-shooting Colby team was no match for the home team.

The final score was 82-67.

Stewart, who finished with 11 points, two rebounds and an assist, came out of the game in the closing seconds. He walked down the bench, hugging each and every teammate, one by one.

It didn’t take me long to realize I just witnessed the last game of his college career.

Representing Bangor and supporting Bangor: I found myself applauding him as he reached the end of his bench.

Stewart played and started in all 24 of Colby’s game this season. He averaged 16.1 points per game.

Over the course of his five-year career — he missed his junior season with an injury and earned a medical redshirt — he had scored more than 1,000 career points.

And, I’ve since discovered that Patrick has a sense of humor.

While doing some research to write this, I discovered a Q&A with Stewart on the Colby athletics website. When asked by the school why he picked Colby, his opened his reply with, “Well besides the appeal of coming south for the warm weather …”

Bangor humor. My humor.

A second-team All-Maine player at Bangor High, Stewart plans on becoming a teacher. If I had to guess, that means he’ll become a coach, too. He’s following in a long line of many great Bangor High athletes if he does that.

Had I stayed in Bangor, and had life gone differently, I might have watched him grow up as a Bangor High player and appreciated him all the more.

Instead, it was a one-shot deal.

One game; one-half of one game, to be more accurate.

But for nearly an hour watching Patrick Stewart represent his parents, his hometown and Colby College, I got to feel a little bit closer to home.