#BuckFiftyADay Since March, 2014

#BuckFiftyADay Since March, 2014

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Me at My Worst

I busted my tail in high school, oh, close to 30 years ago. Stayed up all kinds of hours to learn things like trigonometry and physics. Never bothered to learn a second language.


So here I sit in Spain, on my own for about a week on an assignment, and I struggle to do the most basic things like, order a decent meal outside the hotel, instruct a taxi dispatcher as to my whereabouts.

Worst of all, my favorite on-the-road activity, conversation, is all but impossible. Understand, I’m not in Barcelona or Madrid, I’m in a relatively small city. And while many people speak a little English (a little better than my Spanish), that’s not going to work for more than, “It’s a nice day today.”

Talk about regrets.

And I know I’m not alone among Americans. We simply do not put much emphasis on languages in school. I took German in junior high and high school, seven years total, and when I went to college and took a placement test, I was placed in German 1. Was I a slacker in high school Deutsch? Sure, but to my recollection the only kids in class who became at all conversational in German were kids who had German parents. When I got to college, where the professor actually forced you to prepare and converse in class, I began to learn the language, but it was so hard I only hung in for the minimum number of semesters, escaped with a couple of C’s and called it a career. When I went to Germany for the 2006 World Cup, 20 years past my last German class, I remembered nothing. Thankfully, nearly all Germans speak English, or I’d have been lost for two weeks.

My regrets are not new. Several years ago, I invested a pretty good amount of money on Spanish CDs. I thought they were pretty good, and I thought Spanish was going to be easier to learn than German. However, when I went to a five-day Spanish immersion class a few years later, well, I was brutal. None of it made sense. Again, I bailed.

So, I’m left knowing only a few words and even fewer phrases. When attempting to comprehend Spanish speakers, I hear a word here and there, but I can’t process sentences, not even a little bit. So, I’m left, more times than not, spitting out something like, “Bien.”

It’s too late now. What a shame. I could be enjoying a week in Spain, walking the streets, meeting nice people. Instead, I sit here in a hotel lounge typing…

Friday, November 20, 2009

Like a Dog

Just took my three-and-a-half year old Lab Remy for her daily romp. It's an amazing day here at the Jersey Shore. Probably 60 degrees, brilliant sunshine, pockets of shimmering orange and yellow leaves still in the trees, but also sprinkled along the wet ground.

You'd have never felt this way as a kid, the way I felt, watching Remy chase the ball over and over again. No, as a kid you'd have been wondering how many more times she would chase the ball before you could call it quits and get back to whatever it is you were doing. You'd have mixed in a few yawns and maybe a "come on, Dog" under your breath.

But today, I could've chucked that tennis ball forever, because I was just captivated by my dog's pure joy. With her ears pinned back against the wind, she'd bolt full-speed ahead, somehow sensing -- as if she has eyes behind those ears -- the direction the ball was headed. When the ball would take the perfect bounce, she'd spring into the air and try to make the sensational catch. Why? Not for the applause. It was just me and her. No, I can only guess that Remy thinks going airborne to make the grab is...fun.

Her gait coming back is always so proud, with her tail wagging and drool spilling off the ball, spritzing in all directions. Whether she makes the catch or bungles it, she always comes back proud and loves to veer in for a quick pat on her belly.

For some reason, I feel like an Old Sage today. Maybe it's the glorious weather, or maybe just some inner happiness that my two sons are no longer sick and are getting back to being themselves. Today's run with Remy just made me reflective.

Remember as a kid, how it felt to sprint? I'm not saying I was ever fast, but I think every kid "feels" fast at one moment or another. Maybe it's playing flashlight tag (don't you always feel like you're fast in the dark?), or maybe it's running downhill, your feet slapping the pavement as you push the limits of your balance.

That's what I thought of when I was watching Remy run. And it made me feel good.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

You Big Dummy

Man, I'm feeling inferior lately. So confused. Let me try to explain...

I do not care for Sarah Palin, but I do like a lot of what she supposedly stands for. I'm a conservative-values type of person because, well, that's what works for me. That said, I don't want anyone discriminated against. So, I'm not really all the way there.

I mean, for example, I sit in church on Sundays and my heart is comforted and warmed by the words of my pastor, his message and the way he delivers it. Yet when someone starts screaming to me (at me) about JESUS, it makes me feel kinda icky.

I'm a registered Independent because I can't make up my mind.

I hate name-droppers, but at times I drop names like a banshee. I also cut people off when they're talking, even though I know that's about as annoying as it gets.

I hate the way fast food makes me feel, yet now and again I crave it. I mean really crave it, especially Chik Fil A sandwiches.

I can watch Keith Olbermann and nod my head a lot at points he's making. Yet, other times I listen to Glen Beck and feel like shouting, "Amen, Brother!" Needless to say the whole healthcare debate has me wondering if Cliff Notes will come up with a version this idiot will be able to understand. Am I alone?

I want to be cool, but I cringe when I see people my age trying to act cool.

I like the strategy of the National League, but think the American League is better baseball. I also hate that the Yankees buy all their players yet want the Red Sox to get get Roy Halladay, Adrian Gonzalez this winter and possibly bring back Johnny Damon to be a role player.

I work with really intelligent people...and I consider myself pretty-well-below smart.

I yell at my kids for eating too much candy, but sometimes throw back Sour Patch Kids by the handful. Along the same lines, I like to drink beer with my buddies from time to time but I absolutely live in fear of the day my kids decide to take their first sip.

I don't want my kids to make the mistakes I made (because there are times I feel pretty lucky to have survived them), but I want them to have every bit as much fun as I had. Is that possible?

Bruce Springsteen is my all-time favorite rock and roll performer and a guy I really admire, but when he starts going political on-stage I run for the bathroom. Yet with that said, I'm a sucker for political music."A time to be born, a time to die...A time to plant, a time to reap...A time to kill, a time to heal...A time to laugh, a time to weep." Song gives me goosebumps. Is there something wrong with me?

Lately, I've been thinking...I believe in Good Guys, but I also believe in Bad Guys. I cannot hear enough stories about the Good Guys on this planet. Yet, I believe really, really Bad Guys should pay the ultimate price.

I feel like such a Big Dummy...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Parenting in 2009: Home Sick

Both of my sons are home sick today. They are both suffering from the flu, but resting comfortably in the family room, spread out on couches, covered in blankets, eating toast and drinking tea with honey off TV trays.

Got my wheels spinning.

We all know that as parents in 2009 we are confronted with challenges our parents did not have to face. From having to monitor all the stuff on the internet to wondering (as you watch the World Series!) if they're getting some of those Fox TV ads, not to mention the incessant Cialis and Viagra ads (my sons get those and laugh at the "if you have a...exceeding four hours" line).

Now, have you ever thought of this challenge...the "home sick" day ain't what it used to be.

Hear me out.

Remember when we were kids, the "home sick" day began with a few cartoons. Probably Rocky and Bullwinkle. Maybe a little Bugs Bunny. Cartoons, however, ended around 8 because, well, kids were off to school and with limited channels, there was no way a network was going to keep showing cartoons into mid-morning.

What was next? Morning game shows. The Price is Right was one, for sure. I think you could also catch the $10,000 Pyramid. Maybe Match Game. Whatever they were, those shows were barely enough to keep you going until noon.

Come lunch time, when you returned to your couch for your second Ginger Ale (the only time we ever had soda in my house, by the way), you were pretty much forced to go to Channel 13. If you were too old for Sesame Street, you could perhaps handle Zoom or the Electric Company. The noon to 3 interval was tough. Channel surf all you want, but it was pretty much guaranteed you'd find nothing but soap operas and bad movies on channels 2-11.

Once you made it to "after school" hours, you were back to some decent programming. Maybe the Little Rascals, the Munsters, the Addams Family. Maybe a few more cartoons.

Point is, one or two days "home sick" was about all you could handle, right? I can remember missing a week of school in 7th grade with, of all things, a bad case of poison ivy. Seriously, that was the longest week of my life.

As I watch my boys now, they've gone from SportsCenter to NCAA Tip-Off Marathon (saw a bit of Monmouth-St. Peter's!). They've got some programs DVR'ed. There's talk of an afternoon movie. Yesterday was "Glory Road." I haven't even mentioned there are probably four 24/7 cartoon channels. And they've got a 46-inch HD screen...

Will they ever be well enough to go back to school? I have a feeling they're not going back without putting up a fight. My only hope is that the amount homework that's picked up at school today is huge.

Parenting in 2009...yet another challenge.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

What I Do

Do I write this? Or do I keep it to myself? Do I tell the whole story in graphic detail? Or do I keep it vague, to protect myself? These are the questions I ask myself this morning as I sit on a plane, flying from Phoenix to Newark, wrapping up a three-day business trip.

Gonna be vague.

I’m scared. That much I can tell you. Having just caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror in the airplane lavatory (nothing brings the nose hairs out like the lighting in those tiny bathrooms) it’s safe to say I’m also scaring others this morning. A 4:45 a.m. wakeup call probably didn’t help my appearance, but I can’t blame it all on the hours I keep. Fact is I’ve been stressing for the last few weeks and doing my best to keep a brave face. The mirror did not show a brave face this morning. Just a creased, tired and unshaven one.

I’ll just think out loud for a bit. I’m two weeks away from my 46th birthday. I’ve held a full-time job in the profession of my choosing (utilizing my chosen educational background) every day since October of 1986. I have a loving, caring wife of 15 years and two incredible sons (13 and 11) that I adore more than anything in this world.

I’ve never been a chart-it-out guy but if I were, I’d have probably tagged the next 10 years as the most important of my life. Pretty obvious, right? I know a few people who set themselves and their families up pretty well in their 30s and early 40s, but not many. Most people’s peak years occur right about where I am now…late 40s. This is the time we build up the money to educate our children, pay off our debts and, yeah, retire. My dad retired at 59 and I always thought Pop got it right. Seriously, now…who’s laughing?

I’m not retiring at 59. No chance. But that’s not what’s got me scared. I’m not afraid to work into my 60s, not if I could keep doing what I’ve been doing for so long.

But there’s the problem. What I do…

I’ve never considered myself very good at what I do. Passionate about it? Oh yeah. Doing what I do is all I’ve really cared to do since about the age of 16, when I realized I wasn’t going to be a Major League Baseball player like my brother. Lucky to do it? So lucky. I’ve always credited my good luck to my passion. Like, if you love something enough, hey, you deserve some luck, right? How else to explain my position in life? It’s luck.

There are a number of people who do what I do who are really good at it and know they are really good at it. I wish right now I were one of those guys. Fact is, I am not.

There are others who do what I do who may not think they are good, but have this incredible drive to be “that good.” Most of them are 10-20 years younger than I am. They are willing to work incredible hours and argue on behalf of themselves as they climb. I know I need to be more like them, but it’s not a good fit for my personality.

I don’t like to argue. I’m a terrible self-promoter. When I was a kid, growing up in North Jersey, my two most hated athletes were local heroes Walt “Clyde” Frazier and Reggie Jackson. Why? Because they were “braggers.” I became a fan of Jerry West and George Brett. You may say that was pretty white of me, but I was simply attracted to modesty. West did not name himself “Mr. Clutch” and Brett, well, he was all about the dirty uniform. As I got a little older, I loved NFL running backs Earl Campbell and Walter Payton, mostly because they refused to spike the ball when they scored a touchdown.

Back on point, I’ve probably allowed myself to get too comfortable doing what I do. And I see that could come back to haunt me. All around me, I could see that people who do what I do were also doing other things. My flawed logic was that if I did those “other things” they’d distract me from what it is I do. Even as others told me that doing some of those other things would help me make more money, my thought process was, simply, “Don’t screw up a good thing.” A few extra bucks were not going to make me happier.

Driving in my rental car yesterday I heard a radio talk show guy saying, basically, that people who do what I do – at the level I do it, which I explained above – are soon going to be history. He was a bit smarmy when he said it (saying that what he did for a living was blazing ahead even in a bad economy), but he had a bit of sympathy. He even said that it was the work of people who do what I do that fueled his work on a daily basis.

Still, I believe my future is bleak. I’m now in “Re-invent Myself” mode, and not brimming with confidence in my ability to pull that one off. When I get home, I’ll begin with a shower and a shave. I’ll trim my nose hairs.

The mirror is harsh, but it don’t lie.

I guess I should wrap this up by saying I know there are a lot of people out there who are in the same place as me. Some do what I do while others do whatever it is they do. There is some comfort in the mere fact that I’m not alone in being scared. And I can even laugh a bit knowing that I’ll always do what I do. Even if it’s not my job.

Because it’s what I do.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Tradition Unlike Any Other...Well, Not Really

It all started 20 years ago. We were two and three years out of college, trying to find our way in the Real World. Some had serious girlfriends, others had no commitments whatsoever. I was working in New York for Sports Illustrated. The rest were scattered around the Southeast, mostly in North Carolina. "Let's go some place and play golf," I said to my friend Steve one day over the phone. A few days later, he told me he had uncovered a $99 "Sizzler" package in a place called Ocean Isle, NC. Four days of golf, three nights accommodations and free Continental breakfast. It was set.

The first annual "college friends golf trip" was created.

In the beginning, the golf was really bad. None of us had played much growing up. We'd all taken the game up a little bit in college, but entry-level jobs with long hours and little pay had rendered most of us "beginners"...at best. I can remember buying used golf balls (knowing I'd lose them by the dozen) and wondering to myself if I really needed golf shoes. I tried to practice before the trip, but it didn't matter much. Quickly I learned that the golf trip was not going to be the place for stellar play. What it was, however, was the place for Drop and Draw and Credit Card Roullette. It was mostly where you went for belly-aching laughs.

Over time, we all became better golfers. For some that meant consistently breaking 100. For others, the guys who succeeded most in the Real World (or the guys who never married or got divorced), it meant some rounds in the 70s. Guys started showing up with better equipment and nicer clothes.

Still, it was always about the laughs.

In its best years, the trip attracted 20 or more players. In its leanest years, maybe eight. We divided in Year 10 as some guys got the go-ahead from their wives to go to the Bahamas (I was not one of those guys), even though everyone knows you do not go to the Bahamas to play golf. You go to gamble. Half of us ended up in Myrtle Beach and had a good time. Of course, we were rewarded for our loyalty to the game of golf by learning that everyone on the Bahamas trip made a killing playing craps and got the whole trip comped. Of course, as predicted, they didn't tee up a single ball.

We did Pinehurst. We did Myrtle. We did the North Carolina Outer Banks. Two years ago, we got eight guys to go to Kohler, Wisc., to play The Irish and Whistling Straits and Blackwolf Run. Last year, we did nothing...and I figured it was gone forever.

But the trip wouldn't die without a fight. The email went out a couple of months ago. Outer Banks, weekend of November 6th. Anyone interested? We've got a foursome.

And talk has begun about what we're doing next year. Gotta keep the tradition alive.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Growin' Up

I had no plans to attend another Bruce Springsteen concert. I've been to approximately 93 shows since 1980 and several years ago decided that unless someone (like my friend Denis) offered me the chance to see something unique (Bruce solo acoustic at the Paramount in Asbury Park in a benefit show for victims of Hurricane Katrina, thanks Denis), I'd call it a career.

And then last year I thought to myself...Bruce is about to turn 60 and cannot possibly be touring many more times, so I really owe it to my sons (then 12 and 9) to get them to a show. So, I forked over $100-plus for tickets and took them to Giants Stadium last July and got to see Bruce and Patti Scialfa bring their kids on stage for Twist and Shout and, well, it was pretty nostalgic. Me and my kids watching Bruce and his kids...all of us belting out the words and shaking our asses.

Glad I did it. But I figured that was probably it.
Until last week, when the lure of hearing all the songs from my favorite Springsteen album, Darkness on the Edge of Town, drew me back to Giants Stadium. I forked over $170 for a pair of tickets with a face value of $100 (below face value, a sign of the times) then started emailing some of my oldest, hardcore Bruce fans to see if they'd join me for an evening of Darkness.

The regrets were legit for the most part. Business meetings, youth sports practices, tickets to later shows, whatever. Still, I started to feel very 45 as one polite "no thanks" turned into 20. Finally, an old friend got back to me with a positive response. I had a running mate for the show.

There was, of course, a tailgate party. A tame one, to say the least, with another friend and his wife and their two kids, both under the age of six. I had as many burgers (two) as beers. Even with only two brews in me, it seemed like I had to make about a half-dozen trips to the port-o-potty. Another sign of the times. And around 8 p.m., it was time to head in for the show.

And as I stood on the floor of Giants Stadium, giving myself enough elbow room so I wouldn't have to worry about bumping into anyone, I just watched. I sang a bit, not like the old days when I'd leave a Bruce concert drenched in sweat, with no voice remaining. The early part of the concert was perfectly fine, but it didn't take long before I was glancing at my watch, wondering when he'd start the Darkness part of the show. Looking around at the crowd, looking pretty much as young, if not a bit younger, than most of the crowd, I wasn't sure if I should laugh or cry. There was a dude with a hairpiece in front of me dancing like it was 1984. I laughed.

The whole experience made me think about my first Bruce show, which I attended with my brother Bob back in 1980 at Madison Square Garden. I remember that show as an "out-of-body" experience. I was simply mesmerized by Springsteen for, I swear, over four hours. I was quietly thinking to myself that two hours, on this night in 2009, would be plenty. The experience was very much "in-body." Bruce's energy, while impressive for a dude who's 60, is really nothing like it was when he was in his early 30s (hard to fault him there). When I watch old youtube clips, particularly those from 1978-81 shows, I am still blown away by his raw passion. The passion is still there, for sure, but it's different. I'm different, too, so I am understanding.

But then, for nine minutes, I was transformed. At the risk of sounding like an old fool, when piano player Roy Bittan broke into Racing in the Street, I was once again 16 and standing in the Garden. It's never been Racing's lyrics that get to me, but rather Bittan's piano-playing. As Bruce finished the songs lyrics, "For all the shutdown strangers and hot-rod angels rumbling through this Promised Land, tonight my baby and me, we're gonna ride to the sea and wash these sins off our hands...Tonight, tonight..." I felt the lump in my throat growing. I closed my eyes and listened to Bittan play, extending the song some four minutes. It was just so...great to be there.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Kids and Sports...Sports and Kids

I need to begin by saying, "I'm no saint" when it comes to kids sports. I've yelled at my sons during practices and games, including one time when I yelled so loud at my son Tyler that a few dads asked me to take a seat in the dugout to relax. Talk about embarrassing.

This past year, in a Memorial Day baseball tournament, I went semi-ballistic over what I thought was a missed balk call. The umpire, basically, told me to shut up or he'd run me. I shut up.

But later in the spring when I complained to my dad about a Little League coach who intimidated an umpire, my father (as always) was quick to point out, "Was it worse than when you argued the balk call?" My answer was, "Uh, no." Thanks, Pop.

So I make mistakes and, if there's a silver lining to my confession it's that I am usually overcome with guilt immediately. The point is, I know better.

It's so basic, isn't it? The games are for the kids. The games are supposed to be fun. There's really no reason to yell at a kid unless he's really misbehaving or possibly going to injure someone. I honestly believe this to be true, and try really hard to live up to it...even though I fail sometimes.

I do have my good qualities (in my own humble opinion) as a coach. I'm steadfast in my belief that baseball is a game that kids can only play well when they're relaxed. So I am pretty good at keeping kids loose (maybe not as good with my own sons) and staying positive.

I'm also pretty good at letting the kids decide the game. I've never been big on the "hands-on" youth baseball coaches. The guys who, in my opinion, turn the game into Kid vs. Adult rather than Kid vs. Kid. In all my years of coaching town-level Little League I've never told a kid not to swing the bat. In other words, there's no "take" sign. We do try to teach a kid that if he's going to swing at, say, a 3-and-0 pitch, he should be taking a good swing, not a defensive swing.

It's my personal philosophy (it's okay if you disagree) that it's my job as a youth coach to try and help the kids improve their baseball skills. Honestly, I do not think I need to teach a kid how to draw a walk. I've had a lot of my less-talented kids through the years make their best contact on 3-0 pitches, when the pitcher is trying to put the ball right over the plate. Pretty elementary.

I've got other philosophies, but I won't bore you with them.

But the point of today's blog is simply that, more and more it seems to me that the only people capable of ruining kids sports are adults. In recent weeks I've seen:

* A U-11 soccer game called at halftime due to rain, with the score 0-0. OK, fine that the game was called (even though there was no lightning), but then the league officials declared that the game was "official." Now, shouldn't these officials have asked the coaches of the two teams how they felt about that ruling? Don't you think, maybe, the kids wanted to play a full-game? If the coaches were able to get their kids to the field, either for a replay or a resumption, shouldn't the league have given that the ok? Nope. Of course, there was something in writing, in the bylaws or whatever they're called, to back the league's stance. Blech. Let the kids play.

* A U-14 soccer game where a team, depleted by injuries, down to 10 men, was forced to play, even when one coach asked the other ahead of time if they could re-schedule. "No," the coach responded. "Show up and play with 10, or forfeit." Think that coach asked his players, A. How they would feel about a forfeit, or even, B. How they felt about playing a depleted team? My guess is that the kids would've voted for playing against a full-team. Maybe I'm wrong. Doubt it.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Remembering Johnny

Here's a column I wrote eight years ago on ESPNTheMag.com about my friend Johnny Salamone, who died on September 11, 2001. It had probably been five years since I'd last seen Johnny when he died, but his passing hit me hard. I guess mostly because we were both young dads. Memories of Johnny came flooding back to me and all I could do was get into my car, drive north and search for old high school friends to make sure they'd gotten the news. In the time that has past, I've thought so much about Johnny. He was truly a one of a kind character. When I go back and re-read this column, I know I could've done much better...but this is what came off my fingertips that day. The one line that rings true to this day is that it was indeed Johnny Salamone who taught me to laugh...hard...at myself. I can't thank him enough for that.

Anyway, because it's a stay-in kinda day, I've decided to go back through this column and make some comments. You'll find them in italics. Peace, Johnny. You'll never be forgotten

Go ahead, Johnny
ESPN The Magazine

Twenty-five years ago, or around the time I met Johnny Salamone at West Essex Junior High, I thought I'd forever remember the soccer games we played together. Sports were such a big deal, I figured the scores, the highlights, the details of every goal, would survive for eternity in my mind.

I was wrong.

All these years later, I don't remember much at all about the games. But as I learned this week, when I found out from old friends that Johnny had been lost in the World Trade Center tragedy, you never forget a teammate.

What's funny is that in the eight years that have passed, so many memories have re-entered my brain. Yes, memories of games and moments. Some of them you'll see in previous blog entries of mine. I want to thank Johnny for that. Of course, they're not memories of anything good I did on a field...usually the opposite.

On Saturday, Johnny will be eulogized at St. Aloysius Church in Caldwell, N.J. He was a bond trader for Cantor Fitzgerald, up on the 104th floor. Those closest to him will remember him, most of all, as a loving, doting father to his three children, Alexander, Aidan and Anna.

I regret that I didn't get to know that Johnny.

I am thankful to Johnny's family, his dad especially...and to some of my old high school buddies (Kenny, Fritz, Campy, Pete) that I've been able to hear so much more about Adult Johnny.

But I'd like to tell you all a little bit about the Johnny Salamone I knew. Because I have a feeling you know him too.

If you know a guy who never lost at anything, you know Johnny. In our little suburban world, Johnny ruled the street hockey court, the Wiffle ball field and, later on, the poker games. And he never let you forget about it, either. "Suckers!" he'd shout when he bluffed everyone to win a hand.

Johnny's college friends from Oglethorpe appreciated that last line. Made me feel better than me and my high school buddies weren't the only suckers out there. Also, years later, we rented the ice at South Mountain Arena in West Orange for some 2 a.m. ice hockey. I had no idea that Johnny could even skate, but rest assured he made us all look like fools that night, weaving around us like traffic cones. Suckers again.

If you played soccer and know a guy who wasn't particularly good at the nifty little skills, like juggling a ball, but was always one of the first players chosen once the real game started ... you know Johnny.

Truth be told, Johnny was a blade. He was the kind of player, when you went in for a ball, even if you came away with it, you got dinged in the process. He took no responsibility for his elbows and knees. Not a dirty blade, but a blade. You wanted him on your team. You didn't want to play against him.

If you know one guy who was not the least bit afraid of things like "tryouts" and "cuts," then you know Johnny. When we were freshmen, about 75 of us tried out for 20 spots on the baseball team at West Essex. Most of us were petrified, trying to show a coach in two days we could hit and field. Johnny? He nicknamed himself "The Cobra" and used the tryouts as a chance to brush up on his imitation of then-Pirates star Dave Parker's batting stance. Oh yeah, there was never any doubt he'd make the team.

Years later, most of my teammates remember even more than those freshman tryouts the way Johnny used to do spot-on impersonations of JV Coach Tony Ortiz, complete with rubber Spock ears. Johnny's gift is that he could do the impersonation right in front of Coach Ortiz and all anyone could do was laugh.

If you know a guy who could hurt you physically and make you laugh about it at the same time, you know Johnny. The game he invented in our high school cafeteria was called "Fresh Bait." Basically, it meant if you put a hand flat on the table, it was "fresh bait" and anyone who could reach you had the right to hammer it with their fist. When your hand was pulverized by Johnny, he'd just say, "You know the rules."

Just thinking of this game makes my hand throb. The truth is, at times, this game would set me off. But what was I supposed to do when 15-20 kids were laughing at me? All I could do was laugh at myself.

If you know a guy who called you by your last name, but your parents by their first names, you know Johnny. "Bradley, Bradley, Bradley, what are Mary and Jerry going to think about you getting a D?"

If there's someone out there who was your first "ride," you know Johnny. Better yet, if you know a guy who could take the least-cool car of all, an old family station wagon, nickname it "The Jet" because of its loud engine and turn it into something cool, then you really know Johnny.

Have to add that The Rolling Stones "Some Girls" was usually blasting from the tape deck.

Most of all, if there's someone out there who taught you how to laugh at yourself, then you know Johnny.

Not only do you know him. But you're never going to forget him.

Since this is a soccer column, I would like to share one story of Johnny from the field. A junior varsity game, can't remember where, but I'd been taking every free kick for our team, with no success to speak of. Finally, late in the game, a foul is whistled, another free kick, Johnny brushes me aside, says, "This one's mine, Bradley."

"Go ahead, Johnny," I said.

I knew what was about to happen. Seriously.

From about 25-30 yards out, Johnny nailed a ball into the upper corner. He didn't celebrate. He looked at me and said, "See how you're supposed to do it, Bradley?"

Then he smiled.

Go ahead, Johnny.

Hope to see a lot of you on Sept. 21st at Green Brook Country Club. It means the world to Johnny's dad and his entire family for people to show up and reminisce.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

What's Inside?

I've had to criticize my share of athletes through the years. I'll never forget having to write about the decline of the great Don Mattingly during my days on the Yankee beat.

I wrote how he could not possibly remain the Yankees No. 3 hitter if he was going to only hit 10 home runs a season. Many times I had to flesh out his failings with ugly numbers. I never liked doing it, but knew it was part of my job. I could not lie.

But I also could not make stuff up. And that has always been my approach when having to write critical analysis. Back it up with facts. Don't make stuff up. Don't write what you can't support.

And for that reason, I never, ever, ever...(emphasis, EVER)...felt comfortable writing about what was inside an athlete. I could question Paul O'Neill, for example, when he slammed down his bat and did not run hard to first base on a pop-up that ultimately fell in for a hit...because I had the video evidence to support it. I would not, however, write that O'Neill's head wasn't into the game. Why? Well, how could I know exactly where O'Neill's head (aka his brain) was? A media credential got me into the lockerroom, but not into his brain...or his heart.

Why I'll Never Be Any Good

It was 1989, I was 25 years old, and I'd just been granted my dream job, a reporter's position at Sports Illustrated. This was going to be the ultimate. I was an SI fanatic through my college years. poring through each issue, reading every word, clipping my favorite stories and filing them away.

I idolized SI writers as much as I idolized professional athletes as a kid. Peter Gammons. Steve Wulf. William Nack. Gary Smith. Craig Neff. I knew them all and studied their styles. When I got the job at SI, I could not wait to meet them face to face and pick their brains. And I did.

But one lunch meeting from 20 years ago stands out more than any other. It was a sit-down with E.M. ("Ed") Swift, a former Princeton hockey goaltender who could turn a phrase with the best of them. Ed wrote mostly about hockey and figure skating, but could really write about anything. What fascinated me about him, also, was that he was a former college athlete. In fact, one of my favorite Swift stories of all-time was a first-person story about tending goal for a horrendous (1-22) Princeton hockey team. While I can hardly call myself a "former college athlete" (unless a year of JV baseball at Carolina counts), I did consider myself more athletic than the typical sportswriter. I mean how many scribes can say they even practiced alongside guys like B.J. Surhoff, Walt Weiss and Scott Bankhead? Anyway, I couldn't wait to talk to Swift.

And I'll never forget what Ed told me...as soon as I referenced that Princeton story and the fact that I'd dabbled as a utility player at UNC. "In order to be any good at all as a sportswriter," Ed said, "You've got to forget just how hard it is to play. Wipe it from your memory."

Swift's point was, more than anythinng, that if I achieved my goal of writing at SI, I'd be writing about the best athletes on the planet...that they were expected to perform amazing acts in front of millions of fans...and I could not be sympathetic to their failures just because I knew what it was like to face a 90 mph slider ... or in his case, a 110 mph slapshot.

Twenty years later...I'm a writer for ESPN The Magazine, not SI (never elevated above reporter status there), but I've never really been able to heed Swift's advice. I've never, ever been able to overlook just how hard it is for professional athletes to perform at such high levels. Sorry, Ed, it's nothing against you (still think you're an amazing writer), but having grown up now in a house where one of my brothers (Scott) made it to the big leagues as a player and where another (Bob) has worked his way through the ranks to become the coach of the U.S. national soccer team, and where my nephew (Michael) has battled his way through Europe as a professional soccer player, it's just impossible for me to ignore how difficult it is (in Scott's case was) to play or coach at the highest level.

Maybe I'll just never be any good.

Or maybe I'll just have a different opinion than those who write or speak as if it's easy.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Win it For...

So, the Tar Heels are making their fourth straight trip to Omaha for the College World Series, which is pretty damn impressive. But isn't it high time they win it?

I don't know any of the current Tar Heels, but fully expect I'll be watching Dustin Ackley and Alex White play in the big leagues soon, at which point I'll introduce myself and tell them that I once carried the water and picked up dirty jocks for the Tar Heels back in the early 80s.

But before I get that chance, I'd like to tell the 2009 Tar Heels to win it for the old gang.

For the obvious guys...

Win it for Walt Weiss, my suite mate, the slick-fielding shortstop who used to ask me to hit him ground balls at, oh, 3 a.m., if the lights were on over at "the turf." Weiss was a famous insomniac at night, maybe because he'd pound Coca Cola and pizza nightly at 1 a.m. He'd more than make up for the lack of sleep during the daytime hours...when he was supposed to be in class. Walt will not be happy for me saying this, but I'd pay money to see what his final Carolina transcript looks like as he began searching for "slides" beginning in the second semester. Gotta stay eligible.

Win it for B.J. Surhoff. To know him was to love him. To not know him? I can only imagine. We knew him by various (usually ironic) nicknames, including Mr. Laughs, Mr. Happy. My favorite line from B.J. came one night in Purdy's (a disco, I will admit it). With the music pumping, hot girls everywhere, beer flowing, BJ looked at me and said, "I'm outta here. It's way too crowded and there's nobody here." Yogi Berra could not have said it better.

Win it for Scott Bankhead. Twenty straight wins over two college seasons for Bank, but we never got to Omaha. Back in '83-84, with mullet and mustache, there was no finer collegiate pitcher.

Win it for Todd Wilkinson. Born in upstate New York, there was no more Southern dude than Wilky in Chapel Hill by the time his career was over. Cried like a baby when we won the ACC championship at Boshamer. Someone tells me they've got the newspaper photo to prove it.

Win it for Jeff Hubbard. Magnum PI 'stache, Porsche 944, a legendary Trust Fund, and that memorable semester in the spring of '84 when Hubbard -- so sure he would be drafted after a good season -- majored in baseball. I did appreciate it when "Marv" would let me drive the Porsche, to take him to Henderson Street just before we'd leave on a road trip. Marv would knock back a few beers and play Donkey Kong. It was a pre-road trip tradition.

Win it for Mike Jedziniak. Hard-hitting (on and off the field) second baseman from Toms River NJ. Jedz was Pedroia before Pedroia. Loved to scream at the hardest throwers, "Throw harder!"

Win it for Hawks, and for Boopie too.

Win it for Chris Mench. Because, it's called "Big Cheese-al" and we know who can survive. And for Tim Kirk, because he spit out the only sip of beer he ever took. Win it for Bill Robinson, because he's still the only dude I've ever met in my life who likes Circus Peanuts. Win it for Roger Williams because even when State had lit him up for about 11 runs, "Crow" was still PISSED that Coach Roberts was on his way to the mound to take him out. Win it for Ken "Butch" Turner for his ability to fart on demand and for Glenn Liacouras, for his germaphobia. Win it for Paul Will and his bowl of fries.

Win it for fellas from my brother Scott's era. For Barney Spooner and Gals. For Peanut and Roy. For Pitter and LB. For Oshe. For the late Dwight Lowry. Win it for Joe Reto.

Win it for me, because there's no way there's ever been a less-talented player who was even allowed to take batting practice or groundballs at Boshamer Stadium. Win it for my shoulder, which I blew out freshman year throwing Jon O'Leary December batting practice. Win it for me and Matt Barratta and Grafton Garnes, for folding Carolina laundry and polishing Tar Heel shoes. We had some great teams in '83-'86, and we never got to Omaha. The program is bigger and badder than it was back then, and I'm sure there are characters too...so win it for yourselves.

Me and my mates will surely raise a glass if you do.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Simple Things

So, I just got back from lunch with an old buddy, Jedz.

Jedz and I went to UNC Chapel Hill together from '82-86 ('87, actually, but who's keeping score?) I met him on a hot August day, as I was taping a Springsteen poster up on the wall of my dorm room. He did not greet me with, "Hello" or "What's Up?" but with a question.

"You like Bowie?"

Soon, we realized we were kindred spirits, passionate about our music, our sports, but more than anything, we loved to laugh. And oh how we laughed. Some of the things that made us laugh were sophomoric and childish, others, I must say, a pretty high-brand of humor.

Twenty-plus years have passed since we would stay up all night, because we couldn't stop laughing...but we've still got a bond. I can send Jedz a three-word email and I know he'll get, as we used to say, "an abdomen workout." I send these emails because I know he'll respond in a matter of seconds, and get the same reaction out of me.

As I've grown up, become a husband and a father, been able to earn a living to feed and clothe my kids, pay the mortgage, etc., I can say, it's all been good. It's also amazing that my kids have grandparents that live 10 and 20 minutes away. Truly, I'm a lucky guy.

As those T-shirts say, "Life is Good."

But if there's one thing I miss, it's the laughter I shared with Jedz and other college buddies. I don't know, it's been the one thing in my post-college life that I've never been able to replace. I think I've gottean along well with co-workers, and made some great friends in my profession from age 25-45, but...none could make me laugh like Jedz.

Honestly, it's a void in my life.

And why am I choosing to write about this today, after more than a month in hibernation? Because Jedz works about a half a mile from my house and this was the first time I'd seen him in probably five years. How the heck does that happen? I know, I know, people tell me, life gets in the way. Jedz has a 14-year old daughter and a six-year old son. I've got my boys.

There's always stuff going on.

But doesn't there have to be time to laugh?

Thanks Old Pal...let's do it again soon.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Fine Line

I love my job.

Not always, mind you, but on nights like last night I realize how lucky I am to do what I do. And how, in 20 years in the sportswriting business I've been able to meet some really cool people.

Back in the fall of 2005, I got to write a story about the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament, aka Q-School (also aka Hell Week). I got close to a number of players, including Boo Weekley and Will MacKenzie. But the guy I have followed most closely since that story is a gentle giant named Ryan Hietala. And, here at the Masters, I ran into Ryan and some of his buddies. It was great to see him.

Ryan is a 35-year old Nationwide Tour veteran who earned his PGA Tour card back in 2005 at Q-School. He didn't make enough cuts (or money) on Tour in '05 to keep his card, so it was back to the Nationwide where's been grinding it out for the last couple of years.

Ryan is here at Augusta as a fan this week and will head to Athens, Ga., on Monday for the Nationwide Tour's Athens Regional Foundation Classic, which will be followed by the South Georgia Classic in Valdosta. People who know way more about golf than I do have told me Ryan's got what it takes to be a Tour player. They told me the same thing about Boo Weekley (who played so horribly at 2005 Q-School that I basically wrote him off).

And I can't help but think of how it must feel for Ryan to sit at Augusta (it's his first time here, it's my seventh) and watch players he's rubbed shoulders with compete for the Green Jacket. In fact, at Q-School, I watched Ryan completely outplay Steve Stricker, who happens to be sitting in fourth-place on the Masters leaderboard heading into the final round. "One round at a time," Ryan said to me last night, when I told him he was ready for a Boo Weekley-type breakout.

It's a fine line, for sure...one I hope Ryan can cross in 2009.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Moving Day

It's Day 3 of the Masters aka "Moving Day" and it's Day 6 for me on the road, aka "Twice as Long as I Like to be on the Road." It's been an interesting week that started with a 12-hour delay in Newark, then brought me through Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill for the Tar Heels' fifth NCAA Hoops championship and then about 250 miles South to Augusta for the Masters. Time to give you some of the highs and lows.

I Miss My Family

Not to get melodramatic here, but I am not a big fan of the long road trip. Yeah, I know it's the Masters and every dude worth his salt would give up a limb just to be here, but it's a long time to be away from Linda, Tyler and Beau (and Remy). I am grateful, however, that I am a feature writer for ESPN The Magazine and not a beat writer for a newspaper. Those guys grind it hard.

Hard to believe it's nearly 14 years ago I made the decision that I could not be a baseball beat writer and a husband and father. During the 1995 American League Championship Series between the Yankees and Mariners I learned that Linda was pregnant with Tyler. I learned over the phone while in Seattle and was not home to celebrate for another three weeks. Not being around for that moment was all I needed to know. I was not going to spend my life on the road.

Still, it was five years ago that I stood here in Augusta, covering the Masters while Tyler played his very first Little League game. None of the dads could believe it, but I was despondent. To this day, 100s of youth sports games later, there is no way I'd choose the Masters over one of Tyler or Beau's games. Amazingly, this week, I haven't missed any. But I will be here on Sunday as the family heads off to church, hunts for eggs and sits down for Easter Supper. I miss you guys.

Wayne the Giant

Now, to the fun stuff. I wandered into Hooters Augusta the other night, because old friend Timmy Cutting asked me if I could check out the John Daly Merchandise truck (never found it) for him. Of course, looking for the Daly truck made me hungry and thirsty, so I sat down for a drink and a bite. And I found myself sitting next to a giant. Seriously.

He introduced himself as "Wayne" and he was, seriously, 6-foot-9 and 400-plus pounds. He had a gray beard that touched his chest and the squeakiest voice I've ever heard. Wayne told me he had lived in Augusta his whole life and that he used to come to Hooters "every night" but was now down to "three nights a week" because "Momma said I got to start taking care of myself." At which point, Wayne pointed to his ginormous belly.

I swear to you this is true.

Wayne (and I) sat up at the bar, near all the fryers as the Hooters Crew (many imported, I was told, from other Hooters in Georgia and South Carolina, for Masters week) prepared wings and burgers and other delicacies. Wayne drank diet Coke (actually sent one back, declaring it was not diet (a weight-loss program has to start somewhere) and passed out candy bars to the waitresses whenever they wandered by, which was often. Every couple of minutes, a Crystal, Amber or Cheri would wander by and ask, sweetly and Southernly, "Wayne, can I have a Butterfinger?"

Wayne was a nice fellow and was very happy for the owner of the restaurant because the joint was hopping. He told me a few times how much money they'd made on the night, though I wasn't really paying attention. He also invited me to attend the bikini contest with him (I declined) and told me, "I'll see ya tomorrah." That was Tuesday night and I have not been back. But there's always tonight. And I'm guessing Wayne will be there.

Teeing Off

This ain't really writing, but I'm going to throw out some things here rapid-fire...It's going to be sort of a laundry-list of things that are getting on my nerves here at the Masters...I have bought some Masters merch through the years, a few different hats, shirts and windshirts for the boys, chairs, coffee mugs and, last time I was hear, a belt (which I'm wearing today). But for some reason, I get irked when some guy feels it's necessary to wear all his Masters gear at the same time, logo'd up from his hat, through his shirt and shorts, through his watch and belt, down to his socks. Why I find this offensive, I'm not sure...When did it become fashionable to put your college major on your college sweatshirt. I saw a guy with a shirt emblazoned "Virgina Tech Industrial Engineering" and have seen many others this week touting law schools, pharmacy programs, business schools and the like. Annoying...If I'm not having a beer, I do not want to be near anyone else who's having beers. As funny as the guy who's got a comment for every shot coming into 11 green and off of 12 tee, and as much as he's killing his boys, I hate him with every ounce of hate inside my body. Shut up....Any dude out here who's dying his hair, Note to that guy: I can see you're dying your hair. You look stupid. Especially you, Red....Overly polite Southern people wear me out after a while. There's no way you're that nice. Go away...The press center Men's Room on Day Six of the Masters is rank. When you consider what a bunch of sportswriters have been eating and drinking all week, while putting in 15-hour days, sorry, I just dry-heaved...Note to guy in golf shoes and TaylorMade hat. You do not have to wear your Oakley sunglasses on the back of your hat. Sergio Garcia does that because he's paid to display the TaylorMade logo. You are not. There is absolutely no funcionality in wearing your sunglasses that way, OK?...Who dressed Phil this week? The tight pants, white belts, and tight shirts are for skinny European guys, not Philly Mick...Just because the players are close to you when you're in the gallery does not mean they want you to talk to them...And they do not need to be told, "bad break" or "the wind is kicking up" or even that you are "pulling for" them. Seriously...Finally, the tradition of the green jacket is great, but I think only person wearing a green jacket is the Masters champion on Sunday. I mean, the only person who should EVER be wearing a green jacket, at any point, at any tine, in the WORLD, is the Masters champion on Sunday.

Friday, April 10, 2009

In Memory Of: Connor O'Gorman

Today, I'd love for you to read the words of my brother Scott, who learned last Sunday that one of his former Princeton players, Connor O'Gorman, had been tragically killed...struck by a car as he crossed a Manhattan street.

Thursday, when I watched all the news reports of Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart's tragic passing, I quietly thought about Connor and how he touched the life of my brother and so many of his Princeton teammates.

All week I've been contemplating writing a tribute based on the words Scott spoke to me on Tuesday over the phone. But lo and behold, today as I googled the name Connor O'Gorman for the 100th time this week, I saw that Scott had written a tribute of his own on the Princeton sports website. This weekend, Connor's teammates past and present will return to Clarke Field to honor their friend.

"Impact Player"

By Scott Bradley
Head Baseball Coach
Princeton University

In July of 1997 I was hired to be the head baseball coach here at Princeton University. And as I anxiously awaited the start of my first season, I often looked at the names of the returning players as well as the members of the incoming class, wondering who the impact players were going to be. I reviewed the statistics from the previous years and tried to figure out which player would provide the leadership we needed to have a successful program. Little did I know at the time but the pleasant young man who walked into my office with his Dad, asking to tryout for the team would become exactly the player we needed.

About a week before Orientation began for the Class of 2001, Connor O’Gorman knocked on my door and asked for an opportunity to walk on to the baseball team. He seemed like a good kid and his baseball resume was different than most of the other players. He learned to play baseball growing up in the Atlanta area but his high school years were spent in Singapore where he attended the Singapore American School. Still, there was something special about this young man and I agreed to let him work out with the team when our fall practices began. I was certain that I would let him practice for a few days and then he would figure out that he was not good enough to play with all of our recruited players.

For the next two weeks Connor lived at Clarke Field. He was always there. When I drove past the batting cages on the way to my office he was hitting off the batting tee. When I went to get some lunch, he was there. And when I left at the end of the day he was still there. I jokingly asked him, "Are you actually enrolled at Princeton?" because it seemed as though he did not have any academic responsibilities or worries. He smiled and looked me directly in the eye and said, “Coach, I handle myself very well in the classroom and you do not have to worry about my grades. But baseball is what I live for.” Not long after that, I told him that, more than likely, he'd never play a meaningful inning while at Princeton, but if he promised to work hard and keep his positive attitude he could have a uniform for as long as he wanted. He once again looked me directly in the eye and responded, “That is all I needed to hear.”

For the next four years Connor O’Gorman was our impact player. He made everyone on the team a better player because of the work ethic and passion he brought to the field every day. He was the best friend and teammate anyone could ever possibly have and he impacted all of our lives.

We won Ivy League Championships in 2000 and 2001 and although Conner did not have many opportunities to play, he put his stamp on the personality of the team. He was well-known for making passionate speeches about the importance of Princeton baseball and what it meant to be part of the baseball family. For several years after graduation Connor would return to campus in the fall so that he could give his speech to the freshman players, so that they also understood.

We played Harvard in a doubleheader this past Sunday and Connor was to meet up with his best friend and Princeton teammate Andrew Hanson in Boston so that they could watch us play. He did not make it to Cambridge. Connor was tragically killed early Sunday morning when he was hit by a car, while walking back to his Manhattan apartment. In between games of the doubleheader, I spotted Andrew along the fence behind our dugout and I immediately walked towards him to say hello. As soon as Andrew looked up I could tell that something was wrong.

While it is hard to imagine that someone who appeared in only 16 games during a four -year career could be considered an impact player, after reading the numerous e-mails I have received in the past two days from former players, some who played with Connor and others who had not, there is no doubt that the title is accurate.

Connor may not have impacted the game between the lines but he impacted all of our lives in so many ways. His passion for the game of baseball was contagious and his devotion and loyalty to the program as well as his friends and teammates was undeniable.

He cared more about wearing a Princeton baseball uniform than any player or coach we have ever had -- or will ever have -- in the program.

Our team won the 2001 Ivy League Championship with a dramatic come-from-behind, extra inning win against Dartmouth. We had one last regular season game at home before the NCAA Tournament began and in the hours before the final contest virtually every one of the team's usual starters came to me and asked that Connor take their spot in the lineup. If my memory serves me correctly, Connor went 2 for 4 that day with a couple of RBI’s and as he told me after the game, “ I finally did something to help the team.”

Little did he know.

Rest in peace, Connor.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

My Athletic Career...Golf

I once shot 74. That's right, 41-33 at Wild Wing in Myrtle Beach. That was in November of 1999.

Of course, my friend Steve likes to remind me that we were playing the "magenta" tees. I don't care. My 74 was sent from above, I believe, because it was on a college-buddy golf trip that was supposed to be the 10th Anniversary of our first golf trip. But somewhere in the planning stage of that fabulous 10th Anniversary Trip our group became fractured.

There was a faction of fellas who decided we needed to go "big" and that meant Atlantis in the Bahamas. Now, I was not born yesterday and know that Atlantis in the Bahamas is not a "golf trip" destination. It's a casino. So, I revolted. And me and the guys on a more modest budget decided on Myrtle Beach, site of the first ever golf trip. And that was that.

Now, in nine years of golf trips, I'd always gone through the same ritual. A lot of practice, some new equipment, a new shirt or two, maybe new shoes. I always wanted to play my best.

And without fail, I'd play horribly. Of course, by the Back Nine of Day One, I did not care how I was playing. I was with my buddies and it was going to be 72 hours of fun, regardless of scores.

But in 1999, I had no time for any pre-trip preparation. No practice. No new driver. No new nothing. I basically threw my stuff in a suitcase, packed up the sticks, flew to Myrtle Beach, bolted over to Wild Wing and spiked a ball in the ground. And I shot 74. Afterward, I went to the bar and told my buddies, I was going to celebrate the greatest round of golf I'd ever play in my life. Understand, I'd never broken 80 before, so to shoot 74 was a pretty big deal.

For a second, I thought of trying to call the gang in the Bahamas to boast. But I thought better of it. I'm sure they'll have fun. But none of them are going to be able to say they shot 74. Ha!

It was a little while later when I touched base with the Atlantis Boys. Turns out they didn't even play golf. Didn't even take their clubs out of the travel bags. I was right. It was not a golf trip.

Nope, they'd spent all their time in the casino and on the beach. And I was justly rewarded by higher powers for my dedication to tradition and to the great game of golf. Right?

Well, I guess you could say that. Turns out, the guys in the Bahamas had a nice run of luck on the craps table. I think someone told me the low man in the group brought home about 2-grand. And did I mention they got comped the rest of the trip? And were offered free return visits.

But I shot 74.

I came to the game late, taking golf as a Phys Ed. class at UNC in 1986. Then, when I moved to Boston, I did not play for three years. I did not pick up the game, for real, until the fall of 1989, when I moved back to Jersey and started playing with my dad. I've been hooked ever since and still try to play as much with my dad as I can.

But the thing that means more to me than anything in golf is not my 74, nor the fact that I'm now covering my seventh Masters, it's that my 12-year old son Tyler and 10-year old son have taken it up at a young age. That means with me, Ty, Beau and Dad, we've got a foursome.

Tyler, who is 12, has already beaten me. I'd say he plays to about an 18-20 handicap and has played in a number of U.S. Kids Golf tournaments. If he continues to find time to play in between soccer and baseball games and practices, there's no doubt in my mind that one day he will be a single-digit handicap player, and perhaps even a scratch player. It's all up to him. (That photo above is from Akron, Ohio, where last summer Tyler got to play the Firestone 9 while we attended the World Golf Championships at Firestone Golf Club.)

Beau, 10, is going to have a big year in golf. I just know it. At the end of last summer, I could tell he was not only starting to strike the ball better, he was also beginning to like the game.

As for me, when I'm playing with my boys and my dad, it's like I almost don't even care about my game. I've broken 80 a few more times, but I'm pretty sure that 74 will stand the test of time.

The Road Rules

So here I am, on a seven-day roadie that's already started out in weird fashion (more on that later).

Because I consider myself to be an "interesting person" (translated: bored out of my mind with nothing but a laptop and some time go kill) I am often compelled to share stories from what I like to call, "A Sportswriter's Life." Often glamorous, never lonely (ha!), here's a snippet.

I like to rent the ugliest car on National's Emerald Aisle. Why? Because when you have to park in big parking lots outside of stadiums, arenas and golf courses, it's pretty easy to forget if you rented the charcoal gray Pontiac Sunfire, the black Chevrolet Impala or the silver Saturn Ion. I go for things like the PT Cruiser (got a royal metallic blue one for spring training once) or, this week, a black Chevrolet HHR. The other reason I go ugly early is because...I amuse myself.

Lack of water pressure sets me off. I'd rather stay in the Super 8 than the Ritz-Carlton if the shower in the S8 has a powerful shower head and the RC has a dripper. I bring this up because here in Augusta, I'm staying in someone's condo (lovely) for the week, and the shower does not produce enough pressure to remove soap from my body, much less shampoo from my hair. Speaking of soap, my host provided me a bottle of "body wash" instead of a bar of soap. I will be making a trip to Walgreen's later.

Jeff, Party of One, Your Table is Ready. So, last night, I had to break one of my Road Rules. I always eat at the bar when dining solo. And then you come to an event like the Masters and the bars are all packed with people in official Masters merch, and...you gotta eat. So, I had to walk up to the hostess and put my name on the list. "How many, sir?" she asked. "Just me," I said, staring her right in the eye, daring her to even so much as roll her eyes. So, just me, my Blackberry, some bread and a glass of wine. That's such a good look.

The Masters. If you have never been to Augusta and you are a golf fan, I encourage you to try and get here at least once in your life. Come on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, walk the grounds, buy a shirt or hat, eat a Pimento Cheese sandwich (I actually prefer the egg salad), take pictures and have pictures taken of yourself in all the usual spots, smell the fertilizer, then go home and watch the golf on television. Seriously, if you want to enjoy the Masters and see the shots that matter, it ain't happening out here, especially on Saturday or Sunday when the field has been cut.

Plus, it's hard not to get irritated by golf fans, dressed up to play, practicing their grip and putting stroke with their umbrella. Saying, "Nice swing" to Phil Mickelson after he's hit a shot. Or, better yet, "Good roll."

PS: My son Tyler is picking Geoff Ogilvy.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Not a Travel Nightmare Story...No!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I know, I know...no one wants to hear my travel nightmare story...not when I'm on my way to the Masters...but I'm stuck inside of EWR with nothing but time on my hands.

Alarm rang at 4 a.m.

Left house with coffee in hand at 4:20.

Gassed up the Subaru.

Flew to Newark, in the airport an hour and 45 minutes before my scheduled departure at 6:50 a.m. A line I cannot fathom awaits me at the US Airways Ticketing/Baggage Area. Fast-forward...I barely make it to the gate in time for my flight.

I buy coffee and a muffin for the flight, because U.S. Air (like most airlines these days) gives you nothing for free ($15 for a bag to be checked)...sit down. Immediately hear, "This is a full flight." I'm on the window, not the middle, which is usually a good thing. 'Cept I now see the fellow who's going to be sitting on the end is carrying a seat belt extender with him. Dude's pushing four bills. I swear. He sits down and immediately falls asleep and, like all obese people, starts snoring like a mountain lion. Drool, the whole bit.

And now the flight's "delayed" and, 45 minutes go by, and I've had too much coffee and I gotta pee and the fat dude's basically so "out" that there's no waking him up. I'll just hold it.

Another half-hour passes, we're still on the runway..."We've got a medical situation onboard, so we've got to go back to the gate." Fat dude is still sawing logs. I really gotta pee.

Another 30 minutes pass, we're at the gate, fat dude hasn't budged..."This flight has been terminated...your bags will be at Carousel 10 and US Airways Attendants will be at the gate to assist you with your travel plans."

We have to bang Fatso on the arm about 15 times before we can startle him. I get out, run to the men's room, get my bag and now, the line at the US Airways ticketing/baggage counter is twice as long as it was, oh, four hours ago...

I won't make it to Augusta today...

But I'll have another story to tell tomorrow.

Couldn't get to Columbia, SC...which is where you fly when going to Augusta, so the closest I could get to Norther Georgia today was Raleigh-Durham, which puts me kinda close to Chapel Hill, where I could find a familiar (if 23 years ago remains familiar) watering hole for the big game tonight. So, hopefully, all's well that ends well.

Go Heels.

(PS: As of 3 p.m., I'm still in Newark Airport and now considering buying a Hugo Boss suit, a pair of Ray Bans, a new cell phone, MP3 player and a vintage 70s NASA orange space suit).

Thursday, April 2, 2009

My Athletic Career...Baseball

This chapter in my life has made me laugh...and cry. In recent years, it's been more laughs. But there was a long period of my life where tears ruled.

I love baseball. Always have, always will.

Probably more than anything in my life, I wanted to be a good baseball player. I thought I was headed on that path for a couple of reasons. Number one, in eighth grade, I was pretty good...and I'll leave it at that. Number two, I wanted it so bad, and I was going to work twice as hard as I needed to work in order to be good.

If I lived in today's youth sports landscape, I'd have probably dropped all other sports for baseball by seventh grade (that would've been sad, glad I didn't have the option). I contrast that with my son, Tyler, who simply (thank God) cannot tell me whether he likes baseball more than soccer or soccer more than baseball (or anything more than golf when he has a good round).

I was never far from my baseball glove (Rawlings XPG3, Heart of the Hide). When I'd go to (EF Reference) "the courts" to play basketball, I'd bring my glove and a rubber-coated baseball to throw against the shed. On warm fall Saturday afternoons, I'd beg my dad to throw me batting practice, even though I'd have just completed a soccer practice or game. When I got to high school, I'd stow my glove in the bottom of my gym bag during basketball season and (against Coach Garvey's wishes), grab Tom Paranzine or Kenny Turnbull to throw with me, because I wanted my arm to be ready come March 1, the magical day when we were allowed to start baseball practice...usually in the gym or on the parking lot. My sophomore year, when JV basketball games were scheduled for 6:00 (before the Varsity games at 7:30), I'd get home from school and go to Verona "Nautilus" to get in a lift. My buddy Turnbull, a basketball guy first, was never happy to hear me say, "I'll trade a missed jumpshot now for an extrabase hit later," but that was my thinking.

I wanted to be good.

Looking back, I'm sure it was because I was Scott Bradley's younger brother that so many opportunities came my way. I can't BS anyone there, so any of my old mates who were throwing out those accusations in the late-70s, early-80s, you were probably right. The first opportunity I got was a roster spot on the legendary (multiple NJ state champion) Caldwell Legion team when I was a freshman. I'm sure there were better players out there than "Little Bradley," but I got a roster spot (and so did fellow freshman John McHugh, which softened the blow). It's not like I got a lot of playing time for Post 185, but I was on the team and used a lot as a pinch-runner (for Bob Pezzuti) and a little as a mop-up pitcher. Perhaps Coach Venezia's thinking was it would be better for team chemistry to have two happy freshmen than a couple of disgruntled seniors, I don't know. Johnny Mac and I were happy to be on the squad, that I do know.

The truth of the matter is, I was not even a great player on my high school freshman team. I was just another guy. The only difference was my love of the game. I was, seriously, over-the-top. It is not hard to understand why I was so gung-ho. At that time, Scott was down at UNC, tearing up the Tar Heels record book. In the summers, he was playing in the Cape Cod League. My attitude was, I see what's out there if I put in the hours...in the gym, in the cage, taking groundballs, etc.

By my sophomore year I was the starting shortstop at West Essex, and having a pretty good year. One day, Carolina coach Mike Roberts happened to be in New Jersey on a recruiting trip and came to see me play against Barringer HS at Newark Schools Stadium. While years later, Coach Roberts remembers, and will still laugh at Barringer's 300-plus-pound catcher (his teammates called him Capicola, which any good Jersey boy knows is pronounced "Gabagool") and his ill-fitting chest protector. Me? I remember having a big game. Made all the plays. Hit a triple.

It was that day that Coach Roberts told me that he thought I could play for Carolina, and that if I continued to work hard ("200 groundballs a day"), there'd be a spot for me in Chapel Hill in a couple of years. On the spot, I gave up basketball (not that anyone cared) and determined that the summer would be "all baseball." Soccer would be there in the fall, but summer was for baseball. I had to up the ante on my lifting. I had to work harder to get faster and stronger.

My junior year, after a winter of hard-lifting and running sprints up the hill next to the West Essex Junior High School, I took the field ready for a big season. What happened was a disaster.

Seriously, I've tried to erase most of the details from my brain, but I was truly horrendous. I recall missing three straight (boom, boom, boom) groundballs in one game. I recall fumbling an easy one-hopper in an extra-inning game, which cost my buddy, our pitcher Jimmy DiOrio the game. Mercifully, our coach Mr. Schnauffer yanked me from shortstop. I was a mess. Here I was, thinking about going to North Carolina to play ball, and I'm now a high school right fielder.

That summer (1981), I went back to the Legion team for my third season to realize that I was not going to be a starter there. The team was loaded up good. Even had some college freshmen who met the age requirements. What the hell was I going to do now? I wanted to play all summer long, and now I was nothing but a scrub on a team I'd made as a freshman. There were many nights I'd lie awake, just crying.

Why was I so bad at something I loved so much?

Thankfully, there was my dad, who went out and started a Babe Ruth team for me and some of my friends. And I remember a day when Caldwell Legion was playing and I actually had to tell Coach V I was leaving mid-game for Babe Ruth. Obviously, Coach was so unhappy that I was leaving in the middle of a Legion game (he'd given me a spot as a freshman!), but with tears in my eyes, I said to him, "Coach, I'm sorry, but I stink, and I've got to play in some games or I'll never get any better."

I figured I'd never wear a Caldwell Legion uniform again. But, my dad was behind me and Coach V was understanding. Clearly, he could see my pain. I don't think I missed any more Legion games, but I didn't play much for a long stretch. Slowly but surely I started to play better (albeit at the lower Babe Ruth level) and because our Babe Ruth roster was so small, I started to pitch a bit. I've probably never had more fun than I had on that Babe Ruth team. We'd all just gotten our drivers' licenses, which made the road trips, way up into Morris County, full of laughs.

As the summer wore on, some strange things happened. The Legion team went on a tear, winning a bunch of games (18?) in a row. And one night, Coach V felt it was OK to insert me back into a game. I came up to pinch hit and did something I only did once in my life (post 8th grade). I went deep. Hit one out onto the basketball court at the Kiwanis Oval.

Next thing you know, our second baseman got injured and I got some more playing time. Then, a little later on, I was asked, "Can you give us an inning" on the mound, and I actually threw the ball well (it ended up being a freakish summer in so many ways because, for a month out of my entire life, I had a really good curveball...it later disappeared). Our team continued firing on all cylinders and, incredibly, I was contributing. I was a utilityman. I'd play second some days, third others. I actually became a relief pitcher who got the call on a number of occasions. We rolled through the County Tournament and started advancing through the States. In the quarter finals, we came up against our Essex County rivals from Irvington and we were out of arms. So, doing little more than throwing it over the plate, I threw a complete game. We were to play in the semi finals of the double-elimination tourney that night against Paterson, the team that had given us our only defeat earlier in the tourney. We blew them out. We were in the state finals.

I was not in the starting lineup for the state finals against powerful and undefeated Brooklawn. But as the lineups were being announced, Coach V came up to me and said, "We're in trouble. We've got a bunch of sore arms. Can you throw?" I had thrown nine the day before and only had three innings left under Legion's 12-innings/72 hour rule. But I said, "Of course, I can throw. It's the state championship. Let's go."

I got shellacked. And we were done.

The Legion run got me fired up more than ever for my senior season of high school baseball. I accepted that I'd been beaten out for shortstop by John Salvato (our best position player and hitter) and would play wherever the coach wanted. That turned out, mostly, to be in the outfield. I also pitched (not well...the curveball disappeared) and our team was pretty bad. Meantime, Coach Roberts told me I could still come to Carolina and walk-on (to this day, I have nothing but praise for Coach for keeping his word...even though I was not close to being a Division I player). Coach said, "Keep working hard...get stronger...don't stop working." And I did not.

Senior Legion season was bizarre. We were really good, but too many guys knew it. We breezed through the regular season with a great record and went to the states, where we accordingly got drummed out in the early rounds. There would be no repeat run to the finals.

The day after we lost and were eliminated, I got in my dad's packed car and drove South to Chapel Hill. Again, I'm sure because I was Scott Bradley's brother, I was allowed to practice with the varsity all fall of my freshman year and played on the JV team in the spring. Every day I was taking groundballs next to future major league Gold Glove shortstop Walt Weiss, and in my mind telling myself, "Keep working hard, you never know, maybe you'll be a late bloomer." I played half the innings (like everybody else) on the Carolina JV team, playing doubleheaders against junior college programs, with Game 1 typically starting around 8 p.m. I can still remember my friends, all beered up, heckling me from the balcony of Ehringhaus dorm. "What are you doing down there, when you could be here!" they'd shout, and cackle. They'd bring speakers out on to the balcony and blast Van Halen during our games. A couple of years earlier, I'd have been offended, but now reality was starting to set in. I was never going to be good.

I went home that summer after freshman year and played for the Belleville Braves in the Essex County League. I would cut grass all day, come home, grab a sandwich and my uniform and drive somewhere along the Parkway to play against fellow college-aged guys who couldn't give it up. It was actually a fun team. A bunch of Belleville Italian-American guys who accepted me, (and even took me and my Lacoste shirts out to a few Newark discos from time to time).

I went back to Carolina to give it one last try, but halfway through the fall, I'd had enough. I asked Coach Roberts if I could hang around the field, throw batting practice and hit fungoes and he said, "Sure." I felt it was a fair compromise, and Coach ended up letting me make a lot of the trips with the team (including big roadies to Florida, Maine, Arizona State and Mississippi State). I actually dressed out in uniform (mine said "Tar Heels" on the back, not "Bradley") and made many, many life-long friendships with a lot of guys who could really play.

I'd still get sad from time to time. How come I wasn't any good? Isn't hard work supposed to pay off? But I never stopped loving the game..and eventually, I was able to laugh it off.

And, as you know, I love telling stories, so I'll close with my favorite Jeff Bradley baseball story, one my UNC boys have heard a million times, but still ask to hear again. There was this old man named Gene, who went to every Caldwell Legion baseball game, year in and year out. Gene was hard of hearing and wore a massive hearing aid. When he spoke, the whole world could hear.

So, on the day we were eliminated from the states my senior year, Gene came up to me with his big toothy smile and he patted me on the back. "I remember you when you were a FRESHMAN!" Gene shouted, heads turning everywhere. "I remember telling people, that Jeff Bradley, when he gets a little bigger, he's going to be ONE HELLUVA BALLPLAYER!"

And then Gene patted me on the back again, and caught his breath.


How can you not laugh at that?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

My Athletic Career...Soccer

I started playing soccer in second, maybe it was third grade, but in fourth grade, I was somehow sucked-in by the sport of football. Maybe it was the barking of Coach Bo Sullivan, which I could hear loud and clear through my bedroom window. Maybe it was the cheerleaders and their "Be Aggressive, B-E Aggressive" cheer. Ah, who am I kidding.

It was the helmet and shoulder pads. It was the orange jerseys. So, I switched over to football in fourth grade, becoming a part of the storied Essex Fells Bengals program only to realize in, oh, a day or two, I did not like tackling. And I did not like being tackled. Nor did I like blocking, being blocked ... or any contact of any kind.

So, in fifth grade, after a year of watching Mr. Addis and most of my friends kicking the ball around as I held tackling dummies and tried to block guys three times my size, I went back to soccer. And I played through high school.

I'm not afraid to brag here. In grades 5-8 (especially 7th and 8th grade), I was a terror. Of course, let's temper it by saying, I was a terror in a league that consisted of four ultra- suburban towns and, for the most part, a bunch of "nice boys." Now that's out of the way, yeah, I tore it up.

I was also a better-than-average player at the freshman and JV levels in high school. A starter who rarely left the field and a guy who scored a few goals. Of course, the really good players at West Essex were playing varsity as sophomores (and some -- Mike Bellino and Torben Agesen -- as freshman). Nevertheless, the WE freshman team went 20-1 (shout out to Bobby McDermott and Chris Kubek!), and the JV squad went A Lot of Wins-and-1. I remember this because I've lived at the Shore for 16 years now and one of my buddies played on the Toms River North team that handed the WE freshman (78) and JV (79) its only two defeats, both in the Kearny Tournament.

(A quick aside. I did get the call-up to the Varsity as a freshman. The V was playing the legendary Kearny Kardinals (yes, that's the way they spell it) under the lights on a Saturday and the Essex County Tournament game with Columbia was going to be held the next day, so Coach Albanesius said, "Bradley, stay here..." And he played me in a varsity game, under the lights, in Kearny. If you've ever seen the Movie "One on One" with Robbie Benson, when he tries to practice on speed. Well, that's my memory of the Kearny game. The game was whirling around me for about five minutes. Then Coach Albanesius got me off the field.)

When it came time to really play varsity soccer at the end of my sophomore year, a time I like to call, "when the rubber met the road" I was...eh. I played a fair amount, gave it a decent effort, I guess. It is 100 percent fair to say I failed to live up to any expectations my brother Rob may have created during his four-year varsity career (something like a zillion goals), which included the 1973 State Championship.

We had a number of good players at West Essex, many of whom went on to play college soccer. I played with Mike Agesen (Virginia) and his brother Torben (Penn State). I played with the Commandatore Brothers, Anthony (St. Peter's) and Marc (Rutgers). Mike Bellino played for UMass. My best buddy, Dave Addis, played at Dartmouth and our goalkeeper Mark Stanisci played for Bucknell. And another one of my pals, the late John Salamone had a fantastic career at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta. All the good players had become pretty focused on soccer, playing for Mr. Agesen's Essex United team. I was still a muti-sport kid who spent his summers playing baseball while the soccer guys traveled to Denmark and stuff.

Still, I rode some pretty good coat tails, playing it safe for the most part. Trying to give up the ball in as few touches as possible, and trying to get in the way of the other team when that was in order. I could never juggle a ball a million times like the Agesens, or dribble through a world of defenders like the Commandatores. I could never, ever strike a clean ball like Addis. I was nowhere near as tough as Johnny Salamone.

My best memory is probably from my junior year, my one and only goal that year, a long, lucky, left footed shot that skipped past the goalkeeper (Parsippany Hills) on a rainy day. I was too in shock to celebrate, but as I jogged back to the center circle, Anthony Commandatore planted a big wet kiss on my cheek.

Those Italians.

My soccer career ended in the fall of 1981 in a state tournament loss at Westfield High School. I'd pretty much started every game since the beginning of my junior year, but on the day of this state tournament replay (we'd tied Westfield the day before and the game was called in OT due to darkness), our coach Tom Taylor called me over before the game and said, "You're not going to start today." I said I understood because, truth be known, I'd been horrendous the day before. By the end of the game, I was choking back tears as my butt never left the bench and my team went on to lose on PKs.

And that was all she wrote. I hid my face in my jacket on the busride home, completely humiliated that I'd not seen a minute of action in my final high school game, and guilty as hell that I'd played so badly the day before that the coach lost two years worth of confidence in me. I was also sad because I thought we had a good enough team to win the state championship that year...and we were much better than Westfield.

But that was that...and all that was left was...