Monday, May 31, 2010


The premise behind Memorial Day -- honoring those who have given their lives so that we can live in freedom -- should be far from a one-weekend commitment. Personally, a day does not go by without my thinking about the courage that our military personnel have and continue to display.

The nature of the holiday is to gather with family and friends for a welcome-to-summer barbecue. It's a terrific tradition, one that has been a favorite throughout my lifetime. I remember vividly meeting my Little League teammates to walk down a mile or two down the avenue with the whole town lining the route. Go ahead, attend those festive parades, enjoy that burger and relish your relationships.

But nobody should lose sight of what Memorial Day truly means.

In the last year, I have visited Gettysbury and shivered with the words of Abraham Lincoln's address ringing in my head as I stood in the very place where he spoke one of history's greatest pieces of rhetoric. Please read what he said, think of the sacrifices made by gallant young men on both sides of the battle line and try to absorb the meaning.

I also visited Yorktown, Va. How many of you remember its significance from your grade-school days? On a field in Yorktown, General George Washington accepted the surrender of the British to sanction the birth of the greatest nation Earth has even known.

Soon, I will be headed for Antietam in Maryland. It's many miles from any beach or ballpark. I don't expect to attend any carnivals or swill cocktails at a pub. I will stand at Burnside's Bridge and reflect on the 23,000 men who were killed or wounded there in the Civil War. I will walk those hallowed grounds and recall the description noting that you could walk for a mile without touching the ground because of all the dead bodies left behind.

I will go to Harper's Ferry, WV, where a man named John Brown and his five sons gave their lives in an ill-fated plan to eradicate slavery. When the Torrington native was hanged on Dec. 2, 1859, he said, "I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood." Was he a terrorist or freedom fighter?" Some questions history will never be able to answer.

Thus, I have two extra Memorial Days on my agenda. I will shed some tears. I will feel that familiar shiver tingle through my chest.

So many have died in so many wars fought to preserve our way of life. Baby boomers like me are fortunate that our parents' generation made the sacrifices that World War II demanded so that some goose-stepping control freaks and power-mad lunatics wouldn't be controlling our destiny. Similar sacrifices were made since by the brave souls who endured the bitter cold of Korean battlefields, the thick jungles rife with instruments of torture in Vietnam and the brutal conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Let's not forget them, please.

Saturday, May 29, 2010


I've never had the chance to cover UConn men's basketball. I've never met Jim Calhoun. I cannot say that I have any professional insight on what goes on inside a big-time college program. My perspective is nothing more than that of a casual observer who once treasured college sports a lot more than he does today.

College sports began with nothing but good intent. You know, my school's better than your school so let's have a game. Now, like so many other things that were once wonderful, it's all about money.

I believe it was that great TV philosopher Dr. Benjamin Franklin "Hawkeye" Pierce who said something to this effect: "The three basic human drives are greed, sex and greed." Division I college football and basketball rake in so much money and universities across the land have become so dependent on the windfall that greed courses through the very heart of the institution.

Big-time television contracts and huge revenue from tickets and advertising have created a recruiting scene dominated by shaky individuals under the auspices of AAU that rivals the underworld made relevant by crime and corruption. On the other side of the fence is an administering body so holier than thou that otherwise honest people can't help but become corrupt.

Which brings me to the issue at hand, the NCAA sanctions coming down the pike that have UConn fans holding their breath and the subsequent resignation of two assistant coaches. One of them -- Patrick Sellers -- was once a humble high school coach at St. Thomas Aquinas in New Britain.

I got to know Patrick in those days and found him to be a heck of a coach who loved his kids and a man who a sports writer could enjoy chatting with about the game. Patrick appears to me to be a scapegoat in this shady episode of flesh-peddling intrigue that hangs like a cloud of mustard gas over people who are inherently good.

I'm not smart enough to write a dissertation on how the NCAA could evolve into an organization that is fair to the so-called student athlete, tough on the criminals who have perpetrated an erstwhile benevolent organization like the AAU with the common sense necessary to alter the No Man's Land of major college basketball. All I know is that it must be done.

I do feel that college should be for those who wish to study and that the NBA's Developmental League is more geared for those who have no intention of seeking a college education and just seek to polish their resume for the pro game. The D-League should be to the NBA what minor league baseball in to MLB.

That's as far as I'm going to go here. Perhaps if they began there, people like Patrick Sellers wouldn't have to be hiding from the media now as my colleagues who cover the UConn beat do their best to find out exactly what went wrong and who's to blame. My only concern isn't whether UConn will be able to compete for national championships or not. I hope Pat Sellers lands on his feet.

Monday, May 24, 2010


Perched high above the stadium which adds to its celestial air, the press box is an esteemed place for budding sports journalists and a charismatic, taboo place of intrigue to the fans.

It stands above the crowd, well lit and teeming with activity. Those who attempt to gain access are turned back by warnings about authorized personnel only, making it all the more fascinating. If the time ever comes when they have legitimate business there, they scan the ballpark with an agape expression, marveling at the view.

Okay, have I made it sound too romantic? I can buy that, but as a youngster with journalistic intentions at a very young age, that’s how I always saw it. Visits to Yankee or Shea Stadium brought out the intrigue. It got me to thinking of Mel Allen, Red Smith, Red Barber, Ralph Kiner, Lindsey Nelson, Bob Shepard and others of their grand stature walking through as if they were just human beings like me.

Autumns in the late 1960s would find me at Yale Bowl, ushering raccoon coats to their seats in Portal 14, the upper reaches of which were next to that sprawling blue press box. I’d catch glimpses of the New Haven Register sports writers I read voluminously growing up, like Yale grad Bob Barton who has since become a dear friend and respected colleague. I can still recall how he waxed poetic through personal heartbreak when he reported how Harvard “beat” the Yales of Brian Dowling and Calvin Hill, 29-29, to end the Elis’ bid for an unbeaten season in 1969.

So please be gentle with that common pin as you brush past my balloon. I don’t want to lose the hero-worshipping phase of a blessed childhood.

The years passed and I am now one of the few who gets to sit atop the seats behind home plate at New Britain Stadium for Rock Cats games. I have been there for 14 years and I would venture to say that over that time, I have missed fewer than 10 games. Perhaps as few as five of a grand total that I would estimate to be quite close to 1,000.

Thoughts harken back to a framed piece of needlework that hung on the wall over the bed that I slept in at my grandparents’ house as a small boy. I didn’t fully understand the words but my predilection with words in general engraved these in the recesses of my mind.

“The ornament of a house is the friends who frequent it.”

I didn’t know until running them through Google that the thought belong to Ralph Waldo Emerson. He couldn’t have known during his 19th century lifespan what the press box could mean to an ideological boy destined to write but the words work so beautifully.

The friends who frequent the press box at the Emerald start with two old and dear buddies, great disciples of our beautiful national pastime. Scoreboard operator Larry Michaels and Rock Cats radio voice Jeff Dooley have shared summer working quarters with me for a long time.

I’ve known Larry since Beehive Field made its Eastern League bow in 1983. His children grew up there. Only a catastrophe, or milestone like a wedding or graduation, can force Larry's fingers off that scoreboard or his eyes off the home plate umpire.

Dooley’s been at the Cats’ microphone for 13 seasons, and trust me when I say the Good Lord tossed away the mold when he created the Lord of Lincoln (Rhode Island). The guy has a heart of gold and a dedication that must keep his wife Marne and sons Joe and Ryan awake nights. Hopefully you know the type, one of those guys who would stop his car in traffic to pet a stray cat.

He works so diligently to make his broadcasts sound professional that he actually lost his temper once or twice when a technician dropped the ball.

Some have come and gone, like ex-Cats media relations specialist Chris McKibben and Dools’ former partner Dan Lovallo. You hate to see good people go but circumstances dictated their departure. But Chris was replaced by ever-smiling, equally vigilant Bob Dowling and Dan’s shoes were filled by highly esteemed UConn voice Joe D’Ambrosio, both of whom bring a charm all their own to our family.

Former New Britain High teacher and wrestling coach Ed Smith came in a few years back as official scorer, and as it is with Dools, you’ll never meet a nicer man. He is however a Notre Dame fan, and enjoys the crowded city streets more than my beloved country lanes, but we’ll overlook those items.

Others include intrepid PA announcer Don Steele, the best I’ve ever known, and gallant behind-the-scenes men like technology expert Luke Pawlak, music man Mike Torres and camera whiz Mike “Manny” Papazian. There are the usual visitors like's Heather Cavaliere, who makes every effort never to violate anybody’s personal space and always brings delectable baked goods from her family’s bakery in Portland – for Dooley!

I was so right back in the days of Yale Bowl. The press box surveying the scene is just a little closer to heaven.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


As we scour the Connecticut countryside in search of simple pleasures, we discovered an avenue of decadent delight in the quiet corner.

State Route 97 runs north and south between the well-traveled northeast Hartford-to-Providence connectors routes 44 and 6, a gentle country lane that breezes through the farmland of Abington and Hampton.

The first of two stops on our taste bud-tempting tour is one my missus and I discovered more than 10 years ago. On that beautiful spring Sunday, we spotted a small hand-painted sign on a hill overlooking Route 44 that simply said, “We-Lik-It, Ice Cream, 1 mile,” with an arrow pointing south on 97.

Well one lesson that has been driven home time and time again is if you want something to eat or drink when you’re out in the country, don’t start pining for something familiar. Go where the natives go. If you see a cluster of cars and a smattering of cycles buzzing around a little shack, don’t scan the horizon for golden arches. For heaven’s sake, get in line!

I sidled up to the counter where a stunning young lady had scoop in hand, ready to serve.
“Is this ice cream fresh?” I asked in an attempt to stimulate conversation that my family and friends know well.

Answering a question with a question isn’t always the thing to do but it worked well here.
“Do you see that cow over there?” she said, gesturing around the side of the building where a bossy or two were grazing.

I got the picture.

The ice cream was out of this world, so we keep making excuses to return to the northeast corner.

“Tag sale? In Pomfret?” said I.

“Sure, why not?” said Lisa. “We-Lik-It!”

One strawberry rhubarb on a wafer cone later, we hopped back in Lady Avalanche in search of an adventure to make this Saturday a success. Boy, did we ever find it!

About two miles south of We-Lik-It, we saw a familiar sign indicating one of the state’s fine wineries was off the beaten track.

Now neither of us is one of those connoisseurs that smells the wine, swishes it between our molars, wrinkle our brow and hand out descriptions that mean nothing to most people, many of who spent their late teenage years and early 20s swilling either Boone’s Farm Apple Wine, Ripple or Yago Sant’gria at The Ground Round.

The bright sun that had the temperature into the low 80s glinted through the forest on either side. We navigated a few curves and suddenly the forest opened into a beautiful meadow of the greenest grass and wildflowers.

About a quarter-mile later, a sign welcomed us to Sharpe Hill Winery and a more fortuitous right-hand turn I’ve never made. A meticulously maintained 1700s-era farmhouse was surrounded by a sprawling vineyard. A colonial-style fence snaked up a stone drive where we parked and entered a pristine barn-like structure where a friendly woman was pouring out concoctions, some as clear as spring water, others with a hint of red and some deep maroon.

She directed us to an outdoor patio where we sat in rocking chairs, soaked up some sun and wet our lips with Sharpe Hill’s labor of love transformed lovingly from what was growing on the nearby vines not so long ago.

For $10, Lisa and I got to taste five different varieties. I guess the server appreciated my gentlemanly charm because we got to sample seven, including two of the delicious dessert wines that we have come to enjoy from time to time.

We kept sipping, that sun kept shining and she kept bringing more. The only problem was the 45-minute ride return to reality loomed.

Sharpe Hill also operates a restaurant on the premises, a thought that we food junkies found tantalizing. The salivary juices bubbled through the wine when she announced what was on the menu. Unfortunately, there were no openings for dinner and we weren’t prepared to stay.

The restaurant operates only selected hours so our hostess suggested that we make plans well in advance, particularly if we thought the idea of dining, sipping local wine amid the changing leaves of late September or early October offered any attraction. Ummm, yes.

Well we had pushed hospitality to the limit. Our $10 had been astutely and refreshingly spent and it wasn’t fair to sit there much longer with the first traces of an eager dinner crowd crunching up the stone drive.

We were on our way home – Hampton, Ashford, Willimantic, 384, over the river and through those nasty West Hartford curves. A Saturday well spent.