Tag Archives: sports

Spring training for baseball fans

March 24, 2015


Podlasek’s was where as just a boy I first was accused of being brainwashed into being a Cubs fan.

On the way home from, well, just about anywhere, dad would stop in at the neighborhood tavern at 47th and Kedvale on Chicago’s southwest side — White Sox territory. Since I was invariably wearing my Cubs cap, I was invariably verbally harrassed and ridiculed by the suds-sipping gentlemen on the bar stools.

I call the teasers gentlemen because they’d regularly buy dad a Pilsner and a root beer “for Eddie’s kid.”

When my father was in his formative years in the 1930s the Cubs had winning teams, which is why he was a Cubs fans.

A Nice Little Place on the North SideThanks to dad, if graditude is in fact appropriate, I’ve been a fan of the Chicago National Leauge Baseball Club literally since birth, a lifer as my Cubs fan brother-in-law Mike says, his words leaning toward meaning fated to a life sentence.

Naturally then I loved George Will’s “A Nice Little Place on the North Side,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist’s history of Wrigley Field and my Cubs, published last year upon the 100th anniversary of the ballpark at Clark and Addison. Any fan of the national pastime — not just Cubs fans — will be be entertained by all the baseball lore Will has dug up.

The 194 pages are actually a history of the nation, the world and life itself captured anecdotal style, because Will works into his book connections that Ernie Banks’ “friendly confines” have had with war, politics, organized crime, racism, love, McDonald’s, beer, and of course, chewing gum.

The famous, oft-told baseball stories are all there and superbly rendered in detail: Babe Ruth’s alleged “called shot” home run in the 1932 World Series; Gabby Hartnett’s “homer in the gloamin’ ” in 1938; the disastrous Lou Brock-for-Ernie Broglio trade; the Bartman foul ball episode in the 2003 playoffs; and the full, expletives-adjusted text of manager Lee Elia’s tirade against booing fans.

The obvious characters are all there, too: owner William Wrigley, his reluctant successor son P.K., Hack Wilson, Leo Durocher, Banks (of beloved memory!), Harry Caray and the infamous “College of Coaches,” plus personalities readers may not have known have a Wrigley Field connection, including Al Capone, Jack Ruby, Ray Kroc and Jim Thorpe.

The stories Will shares and enhances so well with his own research and that of previous Cubs historians understandably couldn’t possibly include everything in Wrigley’s hundred-year history, yet a few classics seemed to be missing, including:

walt moryn• Walt “Moose” Moryn’s catch of a sinking line drive to end the game and save Don Cardwell’s no-hitter in 1960.

• The tragic off-season plane-crash death in 1964 of Kenny Hubbs, the Cubs’ errorless game record-setting, Gold Glove-winning, rookie of the year second baseman.

• Carl Sandburg making the book but not Ryne Sandberg, who in 1984 hit a game-tying home run off legendary closer Bruce Sutter in the ninth inning, then a game-winning two-run homer off Sutter in the 10th, on the nationally televised “Game of the Week.”

Props, however, go to Will for giving the appropriate credit to each and every one of the sources of the tales he shares. And for writing a truly satisfying book that even has a few religious notes.

New Yorker essayist William Zinsser is quoted comparing baseball fans to “parishioners,” who every half-inning pause “to meditate on what they have just seen,” and the author himself finds that fans cheering “a kind of prayer in a secular setting that somehow helps their teams’ successes.”

It would have been easy for Will to take the “lovable losers” theme too far, but “A Nice Little Place on the North Side” avoids what could easily have turned cloying.

Instead Will puts a professorial spin on being a Cubs fan, terming it “a lifelong tutorial on delayed gratification” and Wrigley Field “the most pleasant of purgatories.”

There’s baseball trivia on these pages enough for a game-full of between-innings challenges, and any fan who picks up the book now can consider it their own spring training.

Opening day, after all, isn’t that far away.

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Reflections on the Triduum – The Easter Vigil

April 1, 2013


Easter Lily For the last 7 years or so I have helped with the liturgy for the Easter Vigil at my parish.  I love helping with this liturgy.  Their is so much going on! Baptisms, confirmations, first communions and the history of the the Church all rolled into one.  When I went to my first Vigil some 10 years ago it was the beauty and drama that caught my attention.
The church was filled with flowers and banners and the choir was singing “Horse and chariots are cast into the sea!” and the night starts outside with a fire.    Even to a secular eye their is allot going on – I remember thinking “this is like a Cecil B DeMille movie or an opera!”

The history of the world unfolds in the readings.  Present day new Catholics are welcomed into the church.  The culmination of the last three days is given its context.
But their is such paradox and depth and mystery.  Every year I try to understand it more.

Their is always something that surprises me in this liturgy, this year it is the line from the Exulet.

O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a Redeemer! Most blessed of all nights, chosen by God to see Christ rising from the dead!

Happy fault and necessary sin?

I went on line to read Pope Francis’ homily for Easter Vigil  to look for insight.  He speaks of the surprises  too, but he speaks of the surprise of the  women as they entered to tomb.

“We can imagine their feelings as they make their way to the tomb: a certain sadness, sorrow that Jesus had left them, he had died, his life had come to an end. Life would now go on as before. Yet the women continued to feel love, the love for Jesus which now led them to his tomb. But at this point, something completely new and unexpected happens, something which upsets their hearts and their plans, something which will upset their whole life: they see the stone removed from before the tomb, they draw near and they do not find the Lord’s body. It is an event which leaves them perplexed, hesitant, full of questions: “What happened?”, “What is the meaning of all this?” (cf. Lk 24:4). Doesn’t the same thing also happen to us when something completely new occurs in our everyday life? We stop short, we don’t understand, we don’t know what to do. Newness often makes us fearful, including the newness which God brings us, the newness which God asks of us. We are like the Apostles in the Gospel: often we would prefer to hold on to our own security, to stand in front of a tomb, to think about someone who has died, someone who ultimately lives on only as a memory, like the great historical figures from the past. We are afraid of God’s surprises.”

I understand the fear – the fear of newness.  When I come on the unexpected I become fearful.  I want to control and if I can’t control the situation I usually lash out at those closes to me. When I left the Easter Vigil on Saturday night (well close to Sunday morning) My plans were set for the next day.  Family to church in the morning, Easter brunch at my sister’s house followed by driving my children back to their respective colleges.

But something unexpected happened.

My husband got a call in the middle of the night.  His father was dying and he left to be at his bedside.  Suddenly, our world turned topsy turvy.

My father in law died on Easter in the afternoon.  Pope Francis words came to me.

“We are like the Apostles in the Gospel: often we would prefer to hold on to our own security, to stand in front of a tomb, to think about someone who has died, someone who ultimately lives on only as a memory, like the great historical figures from the past. We are afraid of God’s surprises.”

The Easter Vigil, like every Mass is meant to remind us,

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; but has risen” (Lk 24:5-6)

As I tried to find the words to comfort my mother-in-law and my husband, those words of the angels came to mind.

This isn’t the blog post I intended to write.  Things happened and we deal with the unexpected.

A little about my father in law.

Bob was once asked to a tryout for the Yankees baseball team, but declined the invite because of various complications. I think their were times in his life that he regretted that he didn’t try.

In the last few days of my father-in-law’s life he was asked, “Bob, if you get better what are you looking forward to doing?”

In those moments when a person is ill and the life here and our past seems to merge in our minds, Bob replied “Play Ball.”

The days and months ahead will be filled with grieving for Bob.  The thought though comes to mind that if we truly believe the Easter story, we wouldn’t be sad.

If we believe in the resurrection Bob will get to “Play ball.”

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

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Archbishop invites champions to lunch

April 26, 2012


Archbishop John Nienstedt’s residence was abuzz with activity this week, as two local Catholic high schools sent groups of students there for lunch.

First, there was the Benilde-St. Margaret’s varsity boys hockey team, which won the Class AA title last month. They arrived Monday for Mass and lunch. I stopped by briefly for a photo shoot of the players and coaches with Archbishop Nienstedt. There were smiles all around, and it looked like everyone enjoyed the event.

Then, just this afternoon, it was DeLaSalle High School’s turn. The school sent not one, but two teams – the varsity boys and varsity girls basketball teams, both of which captured Class AAA championships. Things got a little crowded on the steps on the back side of the archbishop’s residence when it came time for a group photo. But, we managed to squeeze everybody in, even the student managers.

I think having the championship teams over for Mass and lunch is a great idea. Hats off to Archbishop Nienstedt for thinking of it. Not sure if Archbishop Flynn ever did it. If he did, I was not aware of it. I got to witness all three teams win their respective championship games, so it was fun to see them celebrate with the archbishop.

I did not attend the Masses, but I found myself very curious what Archbishop Nienstedt talked about in his homily. Vocations, perhaps? I think it would be great to see someone from a successful sports team pursue a religious vocation. That could help open doors of communication to many more student-athletes.

A grade-school classmate of mine, Kelly Scott, has a son who played for DeLaSalle. Kelly told me that after one of the state tournament games, his son, Luke, went to a eucharistic adoration chapel that night.

I’ll bet the archbishop would be pleased to know this – and see more Catholic high school athletes do the same.


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DeLaSalle is tops in AAA basketball, boys and girls

March 26, 2012


Junior guard Luke Scott of DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis keeps the ball away from a Minneapolis Washburn defender during the state Class AAA championship game March 24 at Target Center in Minneapolis.

Two story lines emerged from the state boys basketball tournament in Class AAA. One was the dramatic win by the DeLaSalle High School boys on Saturday, March 24 at Target Center in Minneapolis to complete the first boys-girls sweep of state titles in school history. The girls won the championship the week before, winning their second consecutive title.

The second was the fact that the Scott family now has produced its third state basketball champion. Junior Luke joins his older brother, Joe, and older sister, Veronica, as gold-medal winners. Joe played on the Islanders’ championship team of 2006, while Veronica played for Totino-Grace’s title team in 2008. Though records are not kept on things like this, it may be the most amazing family title run ever. All three made the all-tournament team.

I went to grade school (St. Charles Borromeo in St. Anthony) with the kids’ dad, Kelly, who played for the Gophers in the early 1980s with the likes of Randy Breuer, and was on the last Gopher team to win the Big Ten title (1982). Kelly was featured in The Catholic Spirit for a program he runs called Spirit and Sport. He also has written a book about his playing days called “Inspirations from the Bench.”

Kelly emailed me yesterday to make sure I was aware of yet another milestone in the Scott household. Indeed, I knew about Luke and was looking for him in the championship game, and was fortunate to get a few photos of him (see photo above). As excited as Kelly was about his son’s basketball success, something else fueled his pride even more. He writes:

“The neatest thing was what a neighbor said about Luke. He said his sons were so excited as Luke was named Player of the Game for Thursday’s game [62-49 win over Grand Rapids in the state quarterfinals]. But what really caught their hearts is when they went to the [eucharistic] adoration chapel that night – there was Luke in deep prayer. You see, Luke goes to the adoration chapel every day to lift up the family and the world in prayer. As much as it was very exciting to win a state championship, he knows what is even more exciting is to spend that time in the presence of our King and Savior.
I am blessed to have his example to the family.”

Perhaps, Luke may have lifted up a prayer to Brother Michael Collins, long-time president of the school who died Jan. 8 after a very short battle with lung cancer. Brother Michael’s name came up during the interviews after the state-championship game. I watched head coach Dave Thorson choke up when he started talking about Brother Michael.

“The last three months have been very tough. My best friend died in January – Brother Michael Collins,” Thorson said. “He’s smiling up there someplace.”

Thorson’s sentiments were echoed by assistant coach Todd Anderson, who said both the boys and girls teams were inspired by Brother Michael in a special way this season. In fact, players on both teams wore jerseys with the letters BMC embroidered on them, in a tribute to Brother Michael. Players from the boys team could be seen grabbing at their emblems and pointing to them after the championship game.

“He’s been with us the whole time, if you want to know the truth,” Anderson said. “You can almost feel that presence.”

Hearing those comments by Thorson and Anderson made me flash back to 2006, moments after the DeLaSalle boys had won their previous state title. Thorson and Brother Michael embraced, and I was able to capture that moment with my camera. Little did I know how meaningful that image would be.

The DeLaSalle boys and girls gave me lots to photograph this year. Congratulations to both teams – and the Scott family – for making history!

Q: What did you enjoy about the state boys and girls basketball tournaments?

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Priest has proud basketball moment

March 20, 2012

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Providence Academy senior AnnMarie Healy takes a moment during her state championship celebration to pose for a photo with her uncle, Father Andrew Cozzens, a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

As the Providence Academy girls basketball team was celebrating its state Class AA championship at Target Center on Saturday, I scanned the crowd of pumped up fans that stayed to watch the post-game festivities.

I was looking for Father Andrew Cozzens, a priest of the archdiocese who currently serves at the St. Paul Seminary. Several weeks ago, I learned that his niece, senior AnnMarie Healy, is one of the team’s top players. This discovery came as I worked on a feature story on her scoring 1,000 points and, in turn, giving $1,000 to the charity of her choice, thanks to an anonymous donor.

Sure enough, Father Cozzens was in the stands watching Lions players cut down the net. With very little prompting, he came down from the stands and onto the court to greet his niece and get a photo taken with her. I was only too happy to oblige.

It was a touching scene, with Father Cozzens turning to hug her after I snapped a few photos. He was instrumental in helping Healy pick her charity, the newly-formed Handmaids of the Heart of Jesus in the Diocese of New Ulm. Who knows? Maybe Healy will join them someday. She certainly is open to that possibility.

But, for the moment, she is busy celebrating the first state title for her team. There could be more. She is only one of two seniors on the squad this year, along with forward Katie Nordick. There are a bunch of talented players returning next year who could make another run at the title. And, with a talented coach, Ray Finley, who now has won state titles with three different schools, there’s no telling what this team could do next year and beyond.

Congratulations to Healy and all of her teammates on a job well done! They appeared to be in trouble during the state finals against Sauk Centre, but they came on strong in the second half to erase a five-point deficit and win, 46-40. Don’t be surprised to see the Lions back in the state tournament next year!

Q: What is your favorite memory of this year’s state girls basketball tournament?

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A fun night of hockey

March 12, 2012


Junior forward Grant Besse scores a goal against Hill-Murray in the state Class AA boys hockey finals March 10 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

Little did I know what was in store when I took my place atop a small platform inside the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul for the state Class AA boys hockey championship game featuring Benilde-St. Margaret’s and Hill-Murray on Saturday.

I had hoped to grab a spot in the area where I had been for the Class A finals between St. Thomas Academy and Hermantown. I sat next to a veteran hockey shooter, Mike Thill of Let’s Play Hockey, and had a great time shooting side by side with him and witnessing the Cadets make it two in a row in the state finals against Hermantown. Last year, they fell behind early, played catchup and won in overtime. This year, it was St. Thomas who staked an early lead. But, unlike last year, the early leader did not falter, and the Cadets dominated the entire game and won, 5-1.

I thought arriving an hour early for the AA game in the evening would be plenty of time to secure one of the four chairs in front. But, I was wrong. They were all taken. So, I hustled to the other side of the arena and grabbed the only chair on that side.

With plenty of time to kill, I struck up a conversation with several BSM fans seated directly in front of the platform I was on. Turned out two of them were Grant Besse’s grandparents, Bill and Jane Collien. They were decked out in the school’s red and white colors, and noted they had a chance to go to California on vacation. But, a gut feeling about their grandson’s team had them changing their minds about going out of town.

“We stayed home to come to the state tournament,” Bill said, noting he and Jane had been to all but one of the Red Knights’ games this season. “This is the year they have a chance to go [all the way]. They have all the right pieces.”

Turns out, the team had THE one right piece – their grandson. Smiles and high fives were commonplace between the Colliens as they watched Grant score all five of his team’s goals in the game. There were only a couple of rough spots – when Grant went down hard after a check and had to be helped back up, and when BSM senior defenseman Christian Horn took a five-minute major penalty for spearing in the third period. With the Red Knights leading 3-1 at the time, the Pioneers looked to score once and maybe more during the five-minute man advantage.

But, Grant spoiled their plans by getting a shorthanded goal and adding his personal exclamation point on the victory. He then added one more goal to complete the scoring. That gave him eight for the tournament and 52 for the season.

It was fun to witness and photograph. Like I did after the first game, I hustled down to the ice level to shoot celebration photos from the BSM bench. Then, when I was done, I walked by the team’s locker room, where Jack Jablonski was brought in to congratulate the team.

Oh, how I wish I could have gotten inside to take pictures of that! I can only imagine what the celebration must have been like. Hats off to the Red Knights and head coach Ken Pauly for a terrific season.

And, here’s praying that Jabs will keep making progress in his recovery.

Q: What did you enjoy most about this year’s state tournament?

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A good time at state wrestling tournament

March 6, 2012


Ben Rynda, left, a senior at Trinity School at River Ridge in Eagan, squares off against Taner Trembley of Lake Crystal-Welcome Memorial in the state Class A finals at 132 pounds. Rynda lost the match, 2-1, and placed second.

One of my annual traditions is attending the state wrestling tournament at the Xcel Energy Center. It is the kickoff for March Madness, with the boys hockey, girls basketball and boys basketball tournaments held in successive weeks after wrestling (girls hockey and dance team tournaments happen in late February).

This tournament has special meaning  for me. A good friend of mine, Pat Murphy, is the wrestling coach at Trinity at River Ridge School in Eagan, where one of my sons goes, and from where my two oldest boys graduated. Pat has been at it a long time and, more often than not, he manages to get a wrestler to state.

This year, he had two – senior Ben Rynda at 132 pounds and junior James Goman at 113. Both went to state last year, with Rynda placing fourth at 125 pounds and Goman going 1-2 at 103. This year, they both made it to the state finals, Goman at 113 and Rynda at 132.

I went to both of their quarterfinal matches on Friday and shot action photos. It was exciting to see both of them win, and I was filled with anticipation at the prospect of both reaching the state finals. That has never happened for the Trinity program so far.

After winning their semifinal matches,they prepared for the finals Saturday night at the “X”. For those who have never attended the wrestling tournament, I would highly recommend it. I know the hockey tournament gets lots of headlines – and rightfully so – but the wrestling tournament generates plenty of energy, too. In fact, the building rocks at times, especially during the individual finals. You’ve got three mats going at the same time, one each for Class A, AA and AAA.

What I like about it is that so many communities throughout the state are represented. You’ve got the metro powerhouses like Apple Valley and Simley, but also the outstate triple-hyphenated schools that live, eat the breathe wrestling.

Junior James Goman of Trinity School at River Ridge in Eagan, top, battles Shane Novak of New York Mills in the Class A finals at 113 pounds. Goman lost the match, 4-1, and took second.

All that mixed together produces lots of excitement. I’m a little sad to say that both Trinity wrestlers lost in the finals, but I still had lots of fun watching and photographing their matches. Along the way, I got to shoot some other Catholic wrestlers – Mitchel Lexvold (senior, 120 pounds) of Kenyon-Wanaming0 (and St. Michael in Kenyon), plus a pair of wrestlers from my alma mater, Totino-Grace High School in Fridley: Lance Benick (ninth grade, 182) and Joe Schiller (junior, 220).

Lexvold won his second state title and completed a remarkable run in which he and two of his brothers won a total of five state individual titles. They also combined for more than 700 wins, making them one of the best wrestling families the state has ever produced.

After watching Lexvold win his match, I stuck around for a few more matches simply because of the excitement. I always get a kick out of the way the sellout crowd loves to cheer against Apple Valley wrestlers. So many folks have accused the school of recruiting, if not illegally, at least unethically. I will admit, the school clearly has a huge advantage over other schools, with a stacked lineup every year no matter how many seniors graduate the year before.

Some say the program is more like an Olympic development program than a high school program. I would have to agree. I put the wrestling school in the same category as Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Faribault, which is an elite hockey program for high school kids, but does not compete in the Minnesota State High School League due to its unfair competitive advantage. It does, however, play some games against high school teams looking for a challenge. It seems to work for this school, and I think that would be a good idea for Apple Valley to consider.

So, I watched several matches involving Apple Valley kids before heading for the exit. Sure enough, one of the kids lost and the crowd roared. As I made my way up the stairs from floor level, I heard an announcement over the p.a. system that stopped me in my tracks – Benick was wrestling in the finals.

I ran back down to photograph his match. He dominated throughout, then pinned his opponent, Jamison Evans of Grand Rapids. After that, I decided to stay and see if any other Catholic wrestlers took to the mat.

Sure enough, two weights later, out walked Schiller. He was in trouble from the beginning and trailed most of the way. After his opponent, JD Struxness of Dawson-Boyd/Lac Qui Parle, padded his lead in the third period, I figured it was over for Schiller.

I was wrong. He eventually got away from Struxness and scored an escape, then added more points in the final seconds to win, 6-5. It was one of the most dramatic matches of the night, and a nice surpise that made my extra time at the “X” well worth it.

Can’t wait to see what this week brings with the boys hockey tournament kicking off tomorrow. St. Thomas Academy will try to defend its Class A title, with Hermantown waiting to try and yank the title away. A year ago, Hermantown dominated the Cadets early, but couldn’t hold on to an early lead and lost in overtime. Hermantown is seeded No. 1 in the tournament, and surely has a possible finals game against St. Thomas Academy circled on its calendar.

Meanwhile, Benilde-St. Margeret’s School is making an appearance in the Class AA tournament. The Red Knights have the emotion of the Jack Jablonski tragedy on their side, and I have no doubt the school will find a way to get him to the “X” to watch. If they are able to win in the quarterfinals, they would potentially face Duluth East, which finished second last year and is seeded first in the tournament this year. The Greyhounds have been ranked No. 1 all year and have only lost one game.

Meanwhile, Hill-Murray is in the other bracket, and there is at least the possibility of Hill-Murray meeting BSM in the championship game. An all-Catholic final happened in 2002, when the Academy of Holy Angels beat Hill-Murray 4-2. In fact, three of the four teams in the finals that year were Catholic schools, with Totino-Grace defeating Red Wing, 3-2.

That would be exciting, but no matter who advances, I am guaranteed to experience my favorite highlight of the tournament – listening to Lou Nanne on the air. He has been doing the games since I was a kid, first at the Met Center, then at the St. Paul Civic Center and now at the “X”. He brings so much enthusiasm and knowledge to the broadcast. I can’t even bear the thought of him retiring.

This week, at least, I don’t even have to think about it. If any Catholic schools reach the finals, I will be there with my camera to document the results. If not, I can sit home to watch the game and listen to “Sweet Lou.”

Either way, I can’t lose.



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Baseball story mixes fastballs, faith and acts of kindness

December 5, 2011


Heaven is like a baseball game, and it’s what you do in life that determines if you’ll be in uniform for God’s team, the “Saints.”

Timothy gets a chance to pitch for the heavenly home team in “Timothy’s Glove,” Kathleen Chisholm McInerney’s new book for young people.

While there’s never really a doubt about the outcome of the game, the back-story about Tim’s journey to make a place for himself on the home-team squad is what the colorfully illustrated book is about.

Adults will find the simple tale plot line reinforces the types of acts of kindness and goodness that everyone wants to see grow in children, and if a sports analogy helps get the message across to young readers, great.

To find out more about “Timothy’s Glove,” check out the author-illustrator’s website.


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Cretin-Derham Hall rally falls short, Wayzata takes Catholic Spirit b-ball tourney title

December 30, 2010


Down by 20 points with 12 minutes to play, Cretin-Derham Hall’s boys team crept within two before falling to Wayzata in the championship game of the annual Catholic Spirit Christmas Basketball Tourney Thursday night, 68-64.

The Raiders struggled on offense, losing both starting guards Raijon Kelly and Cortez Tillman to early foul trouble, but Wayzata was taking apart the CD-H defense fairly easily through the first 10 minutes of the second half, thanks to guard Aaron Roth’s clever passing and timely scoring.

Roth, an all-tournament team selection, led the Trojans with 16. Forward Eric Robertson added  15 and guard Tanner Helgren 13 more for Wayzata.

Better defense got Cretin back in the game, and Kelly came off the bench — where he’s sat with four fouls — to spark the rally. He hit a triple, Taylor Montero came up with a steal and a driving layup, and Kelly scored down under to pull the Raiders within three at 61-58 with 2:10 to play.

Wayzata hit seven of eight freethrows down the stretch, though, and Cretin’s replies wouldn’t drop in the new baskets at the University of St. Thomas’ new Anderson Athletic Center.

Kelly finished with 21, and Raider forward CJ Neumann had 14. Both made the all-tourney team.

Eric Robertson and Chris Burt joined Roth on the all-tourney team for Wayzata.

In the third-place game, Hill-Murray took apart Totino-Grace, 72-52, behind the inspired play of 6-5 forward Jim Remke.


Damon Woods, Holy Angels

Alex Kreuser, Totino-Grace

Montrell Williams, St. Paul Central

Jim Remke, Hill-Murray

Dave Simmet, Hill-Murray

Raijon Kelly, Cretin-Derham Hall

CJ Neumann, Cretin-Derham Hall

Aaron Roth, Wayzata

Chris Burt, Wayzata

Eric Robertson, Wayzata

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Latest biography of Mickey Mantle as much about America and sports heroes as it is about baseball

December 22, 2010


Saying the name Mickey Mantle in the 1950s and early 1960s conjured an image of the all-American boy for baseball fans.

Just as golf aficionados today say the name “Tiger” and even non-golfers know of whom one speaks, that was the star power of “The Mick”  — an image with legs for decades, one that sparked the baseball memorabilia craze of the 1980s and beyond.

Mantle was the best player, the best hitter, on the best team in baseball, the New York Yankees.

Jane Leavy, a former sportswriter, presents in a new biography all the reasons the name of this professional ballplayer  received — and deserved — that kind of recognition. But “The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood” goes well past the box scores and on-the-field heroics to give us the complete picture of Mickey Mantle.

Children of the Fifties who had to have the Mantle signature glove or who had to use the Mantle signature Louisville Slugger — guilty as charged, your honor! — will meet a different Mantle, Mantle the off-the-field man:

  • the self-admitted terrible excuse for a father;
  • the falling-down alcoholic;
  • the all-star who cried when he struck out;
  • the womanizer who constantly had a female “business manager” as well as a wife who was the mother of his children;
  • the amazingly good friend and supporter of worthy causes;
  • the jerk who wrote foul-language comments on baseballs for autograph seekers;
  • the humble athlete who was filled with self-doubt about his talent and who felt he never got the praise for how he played, at least not from whom he needed to hear it.

Baseball, yes, but much more

“The Last Boy” has just enough baseball to keep a sports nut turning pages. You’ll enjoy the comparison of Mantle, Willie Mays and Duke Snider — all centerfielders in New York at the same time in the 1950s. You’ll come away thinking less of Casey Stengel and Joe DiMaggio. You’ll learn about the true friendship of Mantle and Roger Maris. And you’ll wonder if the baseball teams today coddle and protect their players the way the Yankees did there stars back in the day.

There are great anecdotes, including a brief one involving the Minnesota Twins’ pitcher Jim Kaat:

“Two-and-oh on Mantle, Earl Battey (Twins’ catcher) would wave his arms and make the sign of the cross.”

But there’s less baseball in this 420-page Harper hardcover than the typical fan might expect. That’s not a criticism. This is a exceptionally good book that I highly recommend. The number of interviews Leavy conducted with Mantle’s Yankee teammates, players on other teams, minor league teammates and opponents, hometown Oklahomans, family, fans, friends, media and medical people makes this an extremely thorough capturing of history. The study of the kinetics of Mantle’s swing alone is worth the price of the book ($27.99, but available now with discounts.)

Rather than being a baseball book, though, “The Last Boy” explains Mantle and major league baseball in the context of life in small-town America, life in the big city when you’re a star, and the sports hero worship of Mantle’s time. The Mick is the centerpiece for explaining all-too-frequent father-son relationships — both that of he and his father and he and his sons. The all-star centerfielder’s life helps us understand the perpetual childhood of some athletes, the privileged existence shoved upon the likes of a poor kid from Commerce, OK, and his inability to choose wisely when success on the field brought him celebrity and its perks.

In so many ways, Mantle’s story is a tragedy. Very late in life he came to realize that, and blessedly went through rehab to spend his last 18 months in sobriety. But from start to finish I found I could only take small bites of reading Mantle’s life story, and there were two reasons for that.

The pain no one knew

The first was that I was savoring this so-well-written work. Peavy has a great story to tell, and she tells is extremely well. But I came to feel so sorry for Mantle — sorry for the injuries that kept him from being even a greater player than he was, sorry for his inability to handle stardom, sorry for his sinning and the people he hurt — that I often found I had to stop reading because I couldn’t take anymore of this tragic waste of God’s gifts.

What was perhaps the most painful was reading how many people — teammates, reporters, members of the Yankee organization, even New York City cops — were unable or unwilling to help Mantle help himself. Swinging my 32-inch Mickey Mantle bat in the 1960s I knew nothing of the injured knee Mantle played on almost his entire 18-year career, nothing of his public drunkeness, nothing of his family life, what little of it there was.

This was a time — and I’m not sure it’s over completely — when reporters didn’t write that The Mick was unable to play because he was hungover.  Or that he had a succession of both mistresses and one-night stands. The fear of Mantle — or any other star player or celebrity — no longer speaking to a reporter kept them from doing anything more than praising the on-the-field Mantle, the powerful clean-up hitter, and gauging the distances of his home run blasts.

For my money, Leavy spends a bit too much time on what is allegedly one of the longest homers ever, but there is so much more that is interesting and informative and insightful in “The Lost Boy” that that misstep is easily forgiven. Her saga of interviewing the retired Mantle actually made me squirm; I’m wasn’t sure I wanted to read about that Mickey Mantle. But there’s a good point: Something in us doesn’t want our heroes tarnished

And today’s ‘heroes’ ?

Did we want to know that Tiger Woods had a mistress in New York when he had a supermodel wife  in Florida — or would we just rather see him making birdie puts on Sunday afternoons?

Did we really want to learn that Brett Favre had sent nude photos of himself to a woman who wasn’t his wife — or do we just want to remember him driving a team down for that final-minute winning touchdown?

To put this in a Catholic context, do we really want to know that a priest has abused young boys — or do we want to hold onto our image of our priests as holy men with no faults?

No place to hide

The end of America’s childhood. That’s the story that circulates around the life story of Mickey Mantle. There’s no more covering up. There’s no place to hide. There’s no one who can stop the foibles and failings of our heroes from being spread across television and computer screens, no less the pages of newspaper and magazines. And there’s no reason to do so.

Readers of “The Last Boy” may come to loathe some of the things Mantle did that tarnish his image, yet at the same time find much to like about The Mick, more than his 536 career homers. For one thing, he understood the power of his celebrity could be used for good, and did so both on behalf of many charities but also to help former teammates cash in on the trading card phenomenon.

It’s a wonderful reminder that we humans are neither all good nor all bad. What a great lesson to remember, especially in our own time, when so many choose to demonize others. None of us is perfect. None of us us all good, all holy, nor all evil. – bz

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