There were a lot of old people there
Life is a sweet dream.
A high school class reunion is an alarm clock.
A fine educator at our equally fine local school gave me my old slide rule with my name proudly written on the back. That was awfully nice of him and it made my day. That slide rule kept my brain from exploding in advanced math class. I made the slide rule in shop class (a lie) and used it to figure appropriate tips (another lie).
I got that pleasant surprise right before my high
I’d grown a beard during an extended hospital stay. It was gray, black, brown, white, tan and some other colors not seen in the 120-count box of crayons. I thought the beard gave me a cultured look.
My wife didn’t agree.
It might have been because of all the people walking by me that had offered me their spare change.
The beard was gone before the reunion. I slicked up a bit. As much as a guy can slick up.
A good number of classmates returned to their old stomping grounds. We’d gotten older. Not the worst-case scenario. We didn’t all look and sound like our parents, but most of us did. Everyone was still in high definition. Most appeared capable of carrying in most of the groceries in one trip.
There isn’t much known about the ancient Homo sapiens that made up my class during our shared journey to infinite knowledge, but we’d been a healthy lot as not even the most retentive minds could remember our school nurse. We didn’t consult the yearbook. That would have been cheating. It was no reflection on her and we regretted our diminished powers of recollection.
Our good health was because we’d walked five miles to school each day, uphill both ways, without shoes. Some kids wrapped their feet in barbed wire to keep from falling on the ice.
We were boys who had survived dodgeball and driving cars lacking spare tires, and girls who had survived boys who had survived dodgeball and driving cars lacking spare tires.
We could almost taste the food we’d eaten at the now extinct local cafes like Vivian’s and Minske’s. This was during a time when if I were given two forks at a meal,
I thought one was for eating and one for scratching.
There was talk of teachers and their peculiarities. Mean teacher (only one) and good teachers (many). English teachers who taught us to write right and coaches who said things like, “It’s my job to instill some confidence in you bunch of losers.”
A classmate told of her brother who had grown his hair long and was told that he couldn’t participate in athletics unless he cut that hair. He cut his hair, but wore a longhaired wig to the graduation ceremonies.
Another classmate remembered that 14 of us kids were driven to kindergarten each day in the school’s woodie station wagon. Peanut butter breaths and the pitter-patter of tiny feet. A woodie is a car body style with rear bodywork constructed of wood framework with wood panels. We learned our primary colors. I think.
Blackboards taught us well. I learned how to dot my t’s and cross my i’s. I joke that we weren’t the smartest class to graduate from those hallowed halls because our class valedictorian had a C- average. That’s not true. She was and is smart, and worked hard to attain the highest of grades in order to make the rest of us look bad. She knew only A’s. I was familiar with the other letters of the alphabet.
There was no point in anyone bragging at the reunion. Everyone knew better, so we told tales of hijinks
I reveled in hearing the stories of my classmates and their spouses. I became a motivational listener.
We spread our tired wings to fly home. We looked lost, but everyone found his or her car in the parking lot.
No one in my class is in danger of becoming the next Warren Buffet or Bill Gates, but going to that reunion was a wise investment.
When I was a boy, I had an aged quilt. It was beat up, but it kept me warm. I couldn’t have imagined my life without that quilt. We had a small class. My classmates are my friends. Like me, they may be a bit beat up, but their friendship keeps me warm. I couldn’t imagine my life without them.
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© Al Batt 2017
My “Pit Crew” at Mario’s!
Maury, as you know, every Friday Grandpa goes to Mario’s great Italian restaurant in Dubuque. That’s why many times I’ve been known to say: “Friday is my favorite day of the week!” You can count the Fridays I missed going there on one hand over the last twelve years – all possible due to great friends! (I think I might be the only one in Dubuque who calls my favorite restaurant and bar when I’m NOT coming!). Maury, Grandpa has a remarkable “pit crew” at Mario’s!
It starts with a terrific and great friend, Art Allen, who picks me up about 12:30 p.m. He’s been doing this every Friday for the past three years. Debbie Gau, the great daytime mixologist at Mario’s keeps two spaces at the bar reserved for us, plus a prepared martini at my spot while keeping an eye peeled for our arrival! This is because Art briefly parks “on the corner” to remove my wheel chair from his car in a matter of seconds. While I’m getting into my wheel chair Louie Miller or Jack Crahan immediately exits the bar to push me ten yards to the dining room entrance. Debbie, also, in a matter of seconds, greets us there as this door only opens from the inside. This calls for “split second timing plus brilliant coordination!” I’ll put my “pit crew” up against the best of the Indy 500!!.
To top it all off Friday at Mario’s is called “Digger Day!”
Much love, Grandpa
1. Who was the last Kansas City Royals player before Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez in 2016 to hit a home run in the All-Star Game?
2. How many teams did Hall of Famer Mike Piazza play for during his 16-year major-league career?
3. In 2016, Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints set a team record for longest touchdown pass (98 yards). Who had held the mark?
4. Tommy Amaker became the winningest coach in Harvard men’s basketball history in 2016 (193 entering the 2017-18 season). Who had been the Crimson coach with the most victories?
5. When was the last time before 2017 that Sweden won the Ice Hockey World Championships?
6. Which of the three heavyweight boxing titles (WBA, WBC, IBF) did Lennox Lewis not win more than once?
7. Who was the fastest bowler (by number of events) to reach $1 million in career earnings?
1. Bo Jackson, in 1989.
2. The Los Angeles Dodgers, Florida, New York Mets, San Diego and Oakland.
3. Billy Kilmer threw a 96-yard TD pass in 1967.
4. Frank Sullivan recorded 178 wins (1991-2007).
5. It was 2013.
6. The WBA title.
7. Jason Belmonte reached that mark in 2017 while bowling in his 131st PBA Tour event.
© 2017 King Features Synd., Inc.
From Where I Sit
The Big Ten had its basketball media days this past week at Madison Square Garden in New York City. That may seem like an odd location geographically but the conference post season tourney will be held here in late February. That’s just one of the changes facing the league as the popularity of college basketball continues to grow. The Big Ten will go to a twenty game league schedule starting in 2018 with the theory being, tougher strength of schedule and better RPI will lead to more teams making the NCAA tournament.
On the court, Iowa coach Fran McCaffery will have his deepest team. It remains a young roster, but gifted inside and out. Big men and incoming freshmen Luka Garza and Jack Nunge join Tyler Cook, Cordell Pemsl, Nicolas Baer, Dom Uhl and Ryan Kreiner. On the perimeter Jordan Bohannon, Isaiah Moss, Christian Williams and Brady Ellingson will, by committee, look to make up any scoring slack created by the graduation of Big Ten scoring champion Peter Jok.
The Hawkeyes have proven ability inside with all those big bodies. Bohannon certainly looks comfortable at point guard even if it isn’t his true position. To me the X factors for success are Moss and Williams. Moss has worked on all aspects of his game, is a terrific shooter and slasher at 6’4 and 190 pounds. Moss can race baseline to baseline and finish with acrobatic dunks. Williams is a 6’6 point guard, and if he can spell Bohannon in running the offense, it could be a special year. Recuit Connor McCaffery will redshirt and play baseball in the spring.
Iowa just missed out on March madness last spring. Barring injury, I look for the Hawkeyes to finish in the upper half of the conference and post season will take care of itself.
Kiss My Glass
The game has changed — all of them — and it’s now up to ownership to understand the risks that fans are now being subjected to for no apparent reason.
When slap shots started to dent people’s heads in the NHL, things like helmets and plexiglass came into vogue. It took a few deaths before baseball moved to wearing helmets at bat. Football is struggling to figure out how to protect its players, but the NBA’s plexiglass backboards have worked pretty well insofar as not obstructing a fan’s view or sending a splinter into someone’s arm.
But we have a problem in Major League Baseball. Times have changed, and the danger that modern athletes wielding supercharged bats at superfast balls is literally ruining lives. A Cubs fan is suing because he took a foul off his eyeball, blinding him and subjecting him to a life of migraines. A little girl was smashed in the face at a Yankees game during the pennant race. Busted bats are stabbing people in the stands. Hey, baseball, this has got to stop.
The game has fundamentally changed. Baseball is now a power game where seemingly everybody is swinging maple bats and pitchers are blowing 100 mph-plus fastballs with astonishing regularity. This was never the case before. Fans used to cheer bunts. Slow balls covered in tobacco spit were splattering off of catcher’s gloves. There wasn’t even a net behind home plate. It was, literally a different ballgame.
Then in the 1980s, strikeout king Nolan Ryan was clocked throwing faster than anyone ever before by judges at the Guinness Book of World Records. By the ‘90s, he was still throwing 100 mph on the mound as pitchers like Greg Maddux posted ERAs that rivaled Cy Young’s. An anomaly would be a guy like Mark Wohlers, Kyle Farnsworth and Neftali Perez ... guys who could throw 100 mph with regularity but had a hard time keeping the ball over the plate and in the park.
Today, that’s not the case. Seemingly everyone and their little brother throws 100-plus mph. Take Luis Severino for the Yankees, throwing 103-mph fastballs after 130 pitches in the playoffs this season, only to give way to relievers who also threw 100-plus mph fastballs. A deflection is enough to maim anyone in the stands
Yet baseball, soooo open to change (sarcasm), can’t seem to figure out how to protect fans. A guy is going blind, babies are getting smashed to the face, but baseball is worried that netting will “ruin the view.” Here’s a clue for you owners: plexiglass. The NHL figured that out decades ago. Guess what? That won’t ruin the view, and it will solve your problems and probably save lives as players get bigger and stronger each passing year.
When Todd Frazier ripped that foul ball with an exit velocity of something like 108 mph into a toddler’s face, baseball players literally put their hands to their mouth, took a knee and cried. Do I even need to say it? THERE’S NO CRYING IN BASEBALL. Fix it before someone fixes it for you in a court of law.
Mark Vasto is a veteran sportswriter who lives in New Jersey.
© 2017 King Features Synd., Inc.