Monday, July 11, 2011

Congratulations to the Captain: Derek Jeter...Mr. 3000

Derek Jeter has been a Great member of the New York Yankees ever since he broke into Major League Baseball in 1995. 5 rings later, I place him in the conversation for being one of the top five Yankees of all time. We all know about Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle, but the Captain is right there.

It is fitting that, at age 37, he gets his 3,000th hit on his 2nd at bat of the home...With a homer, becoming the first Yankee to reach the milestone. And, only the 2nd player get there with a big fly. (Wade Boggs while with Tampa Bay). By the way, he had a five hit game and stole a couple of bases in a 5-4 team victory in which he also drove in the game winning run.

To my mind, Jeter should be a first ballot, unanimous selection into the Baseball Hall of Fame. But, he won't be, and for most preposterous of reasons. Here it is. He's too clean. No steroids. No controversy or scandals. Nothing the media could feed upon in all these years. Nothing.

And, for as much as the writers who will someday vote Jeter into Cooperstown want the 'clean guy', some would simply rather have the lightening rod, dumb, quote machine. Were Jeter one of these guys, they'd killed him for it. You can't make the media, for the most part, happy I'm afraid. I hope to never find myself in that particular subgroup.

Finally, my favorite memory of Derek Jeter came as I covered him with the YES Network my first year with the then start-up operation. I took our young son to Spring training in Tampa. And, as we sat in the dugout, I noticed our son talking to Jeter as I was conducting another interview on the field. Our son then handed Derek my cell phone. A brief conversation ensued with one of our son's grade school classmates.

When I returned to the dugout, my phone was ringing. It was the kid's dad apologizing for his son lying about speaking to Mr. Jeter and burning minutes on my phone. All I could tell him was that his son was NOT lying, and that Mr. Jeter was a very nice man and one of the outstanding role models in sports I've ever encountered.

Derek Jeter has done nothing in all these years to make me consider changing that opinion.

Monday, July 4, 2011

A Tribute to the Troops...Happy July 4th!

It was my honor and pleasure today to partake in Fox Sports South's 'Tribute to the Troops' at Turner Field in Atlanta. What a thrill!

The network, in conjunction with the Atlanta Braves welcomed more than 70 servicemen and women to the ballpark along with their families. But, this wasn't just a show and tell kind of deal. These brave warriors had just returned from their posts in the middle east 15 days ago, and will soon be taking the 14 hour flight back to stand in harm's way once again for you and me. It was great to treat the troops to a little red carpet treatment, a good meal, and to a ball game before heading back into the fray.

I cherish every hand I shook, every smile I encountered, and every family member I met. I cannot imagine the turmoil they are returning to, but I know my family and I could not not do what we do if these brave souls didn't do what THEY do.

Thank you, and Happy Independence Day!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Letter to a Friend from a Friend. Dear Nick Charles,

I was just looking at an old trophy we both have from our CNN days marking our three thousandth Sports Tonight show together, and it made me smile...'More than Lucy and Desi', we were told! That was in 1994, and we did more and better after that.

Seeing that old hunk of Lucite also made me want to express to you how wonderful it was working with you all those years and beyond, and how much you taught me as a journalist. How to never skip the details. How to cultivate, work and respect your sources. And, above all, how to tell a story and paint a picture for the viewer.

We had a great team, and I was sorry to see it broken up, but that choice was not ours. Just the way of the business I guess. Boy, we got our money's worth though, didn't we?

I recall broadcasting the Olympic Winter Games with you twice and the Goodwill games from St. Petersburg, Russia from the roof of a floating hotel on the Gulf of Finland. The latter was at night...outside...with full lights, and every flying bug in Russia attacking us!

There were all those Superbowls...lot's of work, but lots of fun. I always tell people that we didn't have the glamorous office space. Remember the Redskins-Bills game in Minneapolis when we worked in a hallway between the hotel kitchen and a dining room...dodging the wait staff all week? And, there was one of many in New Orleans where were once visited live on set by the Voodoo Queen...the REAL one...bearing gifts? No way I was eating that candy, Pal!

One of my fondest Superbowl memories was of us in Miami at the Niners-Chargers game...they were just about to kick, and there you were reading the travel section of the New York Times planning your next exotic trip to the Himalayas or, somewhere else involving pack animals and Sherpas.

Yeah, we started in the old manual typewriter days of 1980...back when if you found a GOOD machine, you'd run for a sharpie and write 'NICK' on it. My guess is that by the time we switched over to computers, 'Nick' was inscribed on at least twenty of those old beasts.

Good times, man.

We ALWAYS had good times. We never...not all those years of shows and over two decades working together...had a beef or a harsh word, no matter the circumstances we might have been going through personally or professionally. I'm more proud of that than anything.

You have been my mentor and a great inspiration since my younger days watching you in Springfield, the thrill of knowing the late, great Bill Macphail was teaming us up at CNN Sports. I've always appreciated our phone calls since then, and seeing you last year after all those years.

But, you have never inspired me as much as you do now as your light in this world is fading. It pains me to see you ill, but it makes my heart glad to see the way you are finishing the race, just like the thoroughbred fan you are! Trying to catch your patented 'Lightening in a Bottle' a few last times for your wonderful wife Cory and your beloved daughter Giovanna. I know they give you strength the way my wife and kids empower and encourage me.

All I can pray for is to be as courageous in living the rest of my life as you are in the last days of yours. But don't leave yet. Remember, you owe me dinner in New Mexico. And, I've never seen you welsh on a deal. God bless you...and, thank you from the bottom of my grateful heart.

Your Friend Always,

Monday, February 21, 2011

NASCAR Racing: Our First Experience...COOL!

My wife and I just returned from Daytona, Florida and the running of the Daytona 500. And, I must say, of all the major sporting events I've been blessed to cover and attend over the years, this ranks right at the the top.

As a disclaimer, please know I don't get anything about cars except for the fact that they get you from point A to point B in rush hour traffic and cost $3.55 per gallon to fill these days. But, Daytona is a whole different experience. And, the EXPERIENCE part is what makes it special.

We were guests and treated as royalty by Talia Mark, Mark Lewis, Todd Ervin and the rest of the great folks at NASCAR. We got a pace car ride before the Nationwide race, which my hot rod wife loved. Quote: "If I could have kicked the driver out and driven myself, I would have done it". :) We had total access to the garage area, and were treated to a great show by all the drivers and crews BEFORE the race even started.

The thing which impressed me most was the access ALL the fans had to such thrills in one way or another. Superbowl fans don't exactly get to hang out on the field during pre game ceremonies, you know? NASCAR is a totally fan friendly atmosphere, even if you (like me) don't know at times exactly what you were looking at out there.

But, we learned quickly, and gained an appreciation for the sport you can only get by going and hanging out with 140-thousand of your closest friends.

Ticket prices were reasonable. Everyone had their favorite driver for which to root. The whole week is geared to let the fans have a great time. And, the drivers' attitude toward their fans was refreshingly open and encouraged by the teams.

We loved it! And, the other thing I appreciated was the diversity effort the sport has undertaken in an attempt to introduce other cultures in America to the sport. The affore mentioned folks are doing an outstanding job. I wish them luck, and pledge my help through Fred Hickman Communications and our associates in the future.

I never thought I'd ever enjoy watching guys turn left for 500 miles. I was mistaken! I'm already planning for next year.

One hint: Budget a little extra for the hotels...they know you're coming. :)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Past, Present and Future of African American Baseball

I had the great honor and pleasure to moderate a very special panel of baseball stars speaking to a very special audience in Birmingham, Alabama. I was with the Atlanta Braves Caravan with outfielder Jason Heyward, Pitcher Kris Medlin, first base coach Terry Pendleton, and former Brave Terry Harper. Pretty high brow company right there. But, it got much better upon arrival.

First, there was a stop at the 16th Street Baptist Church for a tour. You know the place - this was the church that was bombed in 1963, killing four young girls attending Sunday school....September of the most heinous hate crimes of the civil rights struggle. Moving. Touching. Inspiring. More...

Then, across the street to the Civil Rights Institute where the Braves players addressed some local middle schoolers. But, the panel had some very special speakers in attendance.

Roger Brown, Ernest Fann, Leroy Miller, Tony Lloyd, Henry Elmore, and Sam Bryson. Ring any bells? Try the Philadelpia Stars. The Birmingham Black Barons. The Indianapolis Clowns. The Memphis Red Sox.

These elegant gentlemen were all enormous stars in baseball's Negro Leagues. And each came forward to offer the youngsters words of encouragement about overcoming societal hurdles, the importance of family and education, and the beauty of the game of baseball at it's essence.

But, the thing I loved above and beyond the kids was the reaction of the current and past players... a real show of reverence, which has been earned by these pioneers and very much deserved.

Atlanta will host the 5th Civil Rights Game in May, and God willing, many of these historic greats will be in attendance. Please turn out as the Braves host the Phillies and tip your cap to these baseball pioneers. I'm honored to have been in their company, and will soon be posting photographs on this site.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Best Day of the Football Season

I love Championship Sunday in the NFL because it's the last of the REAL NFL action. The Superbowl is more of an event, and I love it. But, for good, old fashioned, smash mouth play, today is the ultimate. Hence, my picks.

I like the Bears over the Packers for the NFC crown. Aaron Rogers is growing into a star quarterback, but I think the Bears defense will be too quick for him, and can cover those big Green Bay receivers. If Kyle Orton can play within himself, the Monsters of the Midway can book their flight to Dallas.

In the AFC, give me the Steelers over the Jets despite the fine post season play of Mark Sanchez who's proven unflappable in playoff road games. I like the way Pittsburgh came back from two touchdowns in the hole to out slug Baltimore last week. I think Mike Tomlin's crew will continue to ride the wave. Rex Ryan has backed up all his big talk so far, but I think after winning at New England, The Jets may feel they've already played their title game.

So, the Bears and the Steelers in the Superbowl with the nod going to Chicago. And, I'm always right about these things...unless I'm wrong.