This is my January ‘Lotta Sports column published in Hill Country Happenings
This month, Rick and I will be married twenty-nine years. Rick found out from the get-go just what a sports enthusiast I was. How many guys can say that on their honeymoon in Honolulu, their new wife forfeited hours on the warm sands of Waikiki to watch Super Bowl XX? Yes, I was camped out in our hotel room watching a rather lopsided slaughter of my Patriots by the Chicago Bears. In between cursing at the likes of “Refrigerator” Perry, Walton Payton and Coach Mike Ditka on TV, I was also bantering with some Bears fans in the room above us via our balconies.
The first years of our marriage found me working baseball charters. I continued to amaze Rick with my knowledge not only of the players’ uniform numbers but their wives and kids’ names as well. It was fun getting to know Texas Rangers rookies like Bobby Witt, Kevin Brown, Ruben Sierra and Pudge Rodriguez as they started their professional careers. One night, Rick picked me up at the airport from working a charter. As we started to pull away from the curb, I shouted out to two of the players waiting for a cab. “Need a ride home?” To Rick’s surprise, Bobby Witt and Jeff Huson jumped in the back of the Jeep and within ten minutes, we were letting them off at their homes. Soon our ski vacations were substituted for trips to Rangers spring training in Port Charlotte and in the fall, trips to New England scheduled where we could watch the Major League Baseball playoffs although minus the struggling Rangers.
With our marriage also came a merging of favorite college and professional teams. Our Christmas trees were adorned with ornaments of many teams. It was common to find us watching the games on different TVs when our teams played each other and verbal attacks got too personal. However, if either one of our teams made the playoffs, the other was politically correct in supporting the spouse’s team. In 2009, we visited friends in Pittsburgh to watch the Steelers-Cardinals in the Super Bowl. Rick, a Browns fan, shocked us when he donned a Steelers shirt and actually rooted for them!
Throughout the years, Rick has learned that he’s married to a “social butterfly” who talks to strangers and it’s usually about sports or being a flight attendant. Last month while we were in Ohio visiting Rick’s dad for an early Christmas, we had breakfast at Panera Bread every morning. The first morning, Bob’s table was already occupied so we sat facing another table in front of the fireplace. At the other table sat an attractive older woman in a sable brown outfit. As she interacted with the people at her table, she looked happy with life. I thought to myself, “I hope I’m like that in twenty years.” She and I caught each other’s eyes and exchanged smiles. Once in the car, I remarked about the woman. My father-in-law shared that she had been married to a professional baseball pitcher. I knew it!! I am always a magnet to sports. I call it “The Connection.” The following day, we returned to the restaurant. This time she was at a different table but with the same group. Bob’s usual table was available and her back was to me. As luck would have it, someone in her group stopped me enroute to the restroom to compliment me on my Santa sweater. Here was my chance to strike up a conversation about her husband. Instead I told her how I had admired her outfit the day before when they were seated in front of the fire. It was then the whole group chimed in that the table the previous day was their “usual” table and someone else had beaten them to it this day. We all laughed when I explained the same thing had happened to my father-in-law the previous day. Once in the restroom, I reprimanded myself for not asking about her husband. When I came out, she was at the coffee stand. “It’s now or never,” I told myself. After I stumbled through my explanation of knowing about her husband, we chatted several minutes just like old friends. Her name was Polly and her husband Dell Bethel, had pitched for the New York Giants in the early 50s. When I told her how I had worked several MLB team charters when at Delta, she smiled and said, “You have had an exciting life!” I shook my head and said that hers was probably a lot more exciting. She shared that they rode trains instead of planes back when Dell played. I yearned to talk to her more. As I reached for my purse to grab one of my cards, I discovered I didn’t have it. After a few seconds of internal panic, I spotted Rick in the entry way swinging the bag back and forth, and then shaking his head. Just another day of keeping up with his wife and her “connection” with people….Happy Anniversary Rick!
On Friday of race week was my interview with rookie Nationwide driver Chris Buescher. I was set up to meet Chris at Fuzzy’s on the infield. Fuzzy’s was packed and it was a gorgeous day, so I opted for an outside picnic table. There was no doubt when he approached the fence around Fuzzy’s that it was him. Like a baseball pitcher having that distinctive solid arm, Chris had the race car driver build. His 22nd birthday was two days before so I greeted him with a Tootsie Pop and apologized for it not being a Bit-O-Honey (Chris’s sponsor). We sat up on the picnic table with the wind occasionally flapping the umbrella behind us.
I congratulated him on his win in August at Mid-Ohio, one of NASCAR’s few road course races. I love road racing as it’s not the norm of “Turn Left.” It truly tests a driver’s racing skills on hills, curves and straightaways. The race Chris won was particularly exciting as he was on fuel conversation the final laps of the race. I shared with him that I was on my feet the last five laps — standing just a couple of feet away from my TV monitor when the announcer said he was racing on fumes. Chris laughed. “Yes, driving changes when you’re shifting fuel on each turn and each hill. Coast and save!” The last three laps seemed to last forever with his fuel pressure light flashing and Chris expecting to run out of gas at any moment! On the last turn, he jiggled the Mustang just right and crossed the finish line ahead of Regan Smith and Brian Scott. His crew greeted him from atop a barricade and shared in the jubilance of the driver’s first Nationwide win. “So, do you like racing road courses?” I asked the rookie. He laughed and replied, “I do now!” What was even more meaningful to him that weekend was bonding with the kids from Children’s Hospital, the race’s sponsor. Chris was paired with Patient Champion Luke Benner, a six year-old diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. The boy’s picture was displayed on Buescher’s car. I had predicted on Twitter for Chris to win that race. “You did?” he replied surprised. “Yes and I also picked Brendan to win the road course at Road America,” I shared. “So, how are you feeling about the Texas race?” he inquired. I smiled. With the Cup drivers participating, I felt a top 10 was a possibility. His hope was to do better than the Texas race in April where he was involved in an accident. I asked him if he had ever flipped over. He had but it was not in a stock car. One thing that fascinated me during our chat was when Chris explained how his driver’s seat is custom made to his body. It’s similar to how a cockpit is made in a fighter jet where the body is restrained and protected in case of impact. (However, the custom fit also has a disadvantage which was evidenced the following day when Elliott Sadler took ill before the race and the search was on for a driver with the same tall build as Sadler so they could replace him.)
When he’s not racing, Chris is consumed in his 1955 classic truck rebuild. It was evident he just loved wheels. He was already looking forward to attending an automotive show in Vegas and in his next life; he would come back as a race car driver. Unlike married-with-kids cousin James (also a racer), Chris is single but “in a relationship.” Although he didn’t share any details, I learned that she’s a Carolina Panthers fan and is trying to get Chris into following football. I couldn’t resist asking him about his cook when on the road — since it’s a friend of mine. “So, tell me… how is Eloy’s cooking?” I probed. “It has its moments…… but his French fries are on point!” he laughed.
Last month NASCAR returned to Texas. The first sign of life at the track was the miniature city of RVs and tents which spouted up around the perimeter starting the week before. Wednesday night found the haulers for the truck series scheduled in followed by the ones for Nationwide the next morning — or so the published schedule claimed. I camped out on the pedestrian bridge early Thursday to gets pictures and hear the toot toot of my friend Eloy’s hauler. After an hour of no movement from the staging area, I texted Eloy asking how much longer it would be — I needed a bio break! He texted back, “LOL — well, I’m going to Walmart to do a little shopping – go ahead and pee.” It turned out the times had been changed to the evening. The wait was worth it as we watched the parade of lighted transporters against the backdrop of the setting sun and later the darkness.
Friday’s fun included watching practices and qualifying. With the purchase of our pit passes, we had a pretty good view as the cars zoomed out of the garage area and onto the track. However, as the day went on, the crowd cloned. Grown men literally knocked over women to get a look at their driver. On tippy-toes, I finally found safe haven and a good view from atop a barricade. Speaking of barricades, one separated me from one of my favs, Brendan Gaughan. “Hey! Brendan!” I shouted. When he saw it was me, he backed up and reached across the barrier giving me a bear hug. “Did you get a picture of my bear hug?” I excitedly asked my husband. “No, I was waiting to take one of Matt’s car. It was then I discovered we had way too many favorites.
The fun of race weekend is meeting other fans. While watching the cars practice, I chatted with a photographer standing next to me. I detected a Midwest accent so I asked him where he was from. “Hi… Larry…east side of Cleveland, “ he replied as he extended his free hand. I laughed and pointed at my husband. “Meet Rick….west side of Cleveland. They proceeded to talk Buckeyes and Browns football with Larry photographing the cars at the same time. There also was an “older” red-head who I spotted chasing down a golf cart containing Carl Edwards. Upon meeting her the following day, I found that Shirley was just as avid a motorsports fan as me. She was thrilled when I told her I had captured a pic of her with Edwards. My favorite fan was a little boy named Landon. I asked him who his driver was. “My uncle,” he replied. The uncle turned out to be Nationwide driver Jamie Dick who came over and gave him a hug. Since the race was during football season, there was a mix of fans wearing their favorite team or player jersey. Although, Jerry Jones claims to own “America’s team,” Cowboy fans were outnumbered by the Saints, Broncos, Texans, Bears, Packers and Steelers in the apparel wearing department. Those most fun to view were the couples who wore different NASCAR drivers apparel. Interesting combinations made for jabbing at their spouses in the stands. Although Rick and I are miles apart on football teams, we do like the same drivers.
Prior to the races, I talked to pit crews and officials as they set up and prepared their areas. As I entered pit row, I spotted my Twitter friend Chris Taylor, rear tire changer for Matt Kenseth. Despite being entrenched in a sea of tires, he snuck in a cute grin as our cameras clicked away. Further down, I spotted a female checking tires for the #66. During a quick chat, I learned from Liz that she was the only female on a Cup pit crew. A few yards away from her, I met up with Kevin, an official in a bright orange jumpsuit. He camps out at the pit in case of fire. I told him about witnessing a fire last year when Kenseth’s car had one during a pit stop. Yes, Kevin has job security. An interesting stop was at a computer display lined up with the start/finish line. NASCAR official Dona Harris explained that the equipment measured where each driver was in the race. She said it was the equivalent of a photo/finish shot at a horse race. Towards the end of our pit row stroll, I had my “This could only happen to me” moment. I got to a pit area which had a smaller number of tires and I turned to Rick and said, “This is one of the smaller teams not in the limelight.” A nice-looking tall, lanky guy approached us so I said, “Now, what is your job on the team?” He smiled… “I am the driver….” he replied. I composed myself. “Are you going to be changing into a racing uniform?” I asked while pointing at his black slacks. Hello to #33 Timothy Hill. Needless to say, the other crew member was amused. The rest of the day I kept thinking to myself, “Where do I know that Hill guy from?” (Upon googling I found that he had rear-ended MY driver during a caution earlier in the year!) On the way to our seats, I passed a display of the bracket for the Chase. The drivers’ names and numbers had Velcro backs so fans could post their individual predictions. After I reset the display, I posed for Rick. He handed me the camera saying, “Did the picture come out?” As I looked at the picture, up walked George Reba, sports with WFAA TV. As the cameraman filmed, Reba questioned me on how the bracket worked, and then asked me my favorite driver. Meanwhile, I still had Rick’s camera in my hand behind me frantically waving it to Rick in hopes of getting a picture with George! After the interview, George said he planned to run the segment on the late sports.
Our seats were in the center of the row and the people on each end were not very accommodating. One time I was forced atop the seat panel and I teetered with uncertainty with each step I took over the jackets, blankets and food on the bleacher. One guy reached over to help me and caught his heel in the bench, then fell into the next row. It’s probably the last time he will ever come to anyone’s rescue. The race itself was rather boring until the last five laps when Brad Keselowski wrecked crowd favorite Jeff Gordon. This led to a brawl on pit row with the two drivers and their crews after the conclusion of the race and our seats were right across from the melee! When I got home, I stayed up until after midnight to watch a rerun of the sports. Alas, the clips with George were axed to cover the fight on pit row.
This is my November column for Hill Country Happenings magazine.
This Thanksgiving will have a different backdrop from last years’ when the holiday was spent in a medical rehabilitation facility. Yes, the accident walking my dog Rex changed my life forever. I relive the accident and so does Rex every time I talk about it in front of him. I’m sure he has become a champion of the song, “Let It Go.” Dr. Lue had said it would take up to a year to get functional and he wasn’t kidding. So many things I took for granted like scratching my nose, getting dressed, combing my hair, bathing, eating and using the bathroom — I couldn’t do for weeks. I lost all my independence. It was an experience I never want to repeat.
There was a domino effect for everything. Since I couldn’t use my left hand, elbow or right shoulder, I couldn’t drive and therefore I had to stay under home health for rehabilitation for five months. Several times a week my occupational therapist Tiffany would work with me. Both dogs had a keen sense of her arrival even before the toot of her horn as she locked her car door. By the time she got to the front door, both dogs would be there wagging their hind ends — since Boxers wag with everything that’s connected to the tail. Tiffany also owned a Boxer so she was tolerant of Roxie’s assistance during my therapy sessions. Roxie would lay her head in Tiffany’s lap while the therapist worked on my elbow. One time I was crying out in pain and Roxie gently pushed her paw on Tiffany’s arm and looked at me as if to say, “Is this really necessary?” “It’s OK, Roxie,” I would respond and the canine would retreat to her post under the table. With home health also came nurses to monitor blood pressure, temperature and medication. My nurses were Sommer and Shannon, who alternated visits. Both had an interest in sports so we always had something to talk about. Sommer’s brother-in-law was one of the leading high school basketball recruits. Shannon was a huge Saints and LSU fan so she scheduled her visits when she knew I would have on football. With nursing visits came Rex’s fascination of the blood pressure cuff. He was mesmerized by the pumping sound, but when he heard hissing, he quickly exited.
Finally in May, I was showing enough mobility that Dr. Lue released me to drive. Less than a mile from our house was an outpatient therapy group. When I got evaluated I noticed that both therapists were very pregnant. That didn’t keep Jen and Christina from administering intense pressure on my stubborn muscles in both arms. I saw the gals several days a week all summer. Come September, they went to have their babies and I was assigned a guy named Dave. I’ll never forget the day I met Dave. He spotted the bright green “Boston Monstah” tee I was wearing. He grinned. “You know what that is?” he inquired. I laughed and told him about my trip to Fenway Park in June and about being a native New Englander. It turned out that Dave was also from up there, and like me loves the Red Sox. After we commiserated about the awful season, we moved on to football. It turned out that they he too is into Fantasy Football. Not only that, he and I had both had pretty close to identical lineups! I was so into discussing football that my mind was taken off the aggressive therapy session. The next time I met with Dave, I had made progress with rotating my left wrist further. I was elated and told him I was so lucky that I hadn’t had the accident back when I was a flight attendant. I explained that it would have been pretty tricky carrying out the meal trays. Dave looked back with a blank stare. I extended my arms and pretended to carry meal trays, with my left hand tilted so the imaginary food would have spilled. “Carrying out meal trays?” he questioned. I stared at his young face and then realized the generation gaps. “Go ask your grandmother,” I suggested. We laughed. The next session, Dave targeted my right shoulder extension. “Now raise your arms and give me a touchdown!” he ordered. I proudly raised both arms almost in a perfect parallel, and then positioned my fingertips to meet. “Safety!” I proclaimed. Dave shook his head. “That’s not good for our quarterback.” I don’t care — a safety is good for rehabilitation and the defense too!
This is my column in the October Hill Country Happenings magazine.
Fall is my favorite season of the year — cooler temperatures, leaves changing colors and Fantasy Football! High in the hills above Kerrville, we convened for our annual draft. The twelve of us chose a place to sit; most of us camped out at the long table adjacent to the draft grease-board. Commish Alek stood at the kitchen counter, hostess Laura manned the food area and Brad set up a command center at the far corner of the room. Brad carefully guarded his post which included facing the laptop screen out of view of all of us and neatly stacking his notes. My brother brought his secret weapon too, a computer drafting program. Rick had two draft magazines while I chose to go with the one day-old computer printer out. We had the same participants as last year except for Roger who passed away mid-season and he was replaced by a guy named Eric. When I exhibited my scar, plate and protruding screw on my left elbow, several joked to the newcomer that I had tripped over the tennis ball on my walker. I’ll have to admit. That sounds better than doing it walking the dog!
First was the Rookie Draft. I drew number nine and ended up with Latimer of the Broncos since my wish list of A & M’s Evans and the Buckeyes Hyde were gone. I figured anyone catching balls from Peyton Manning was a pretty good gamble. Mid-way through the second round, Ralph posed the question, “If a rookie is not picked in the second round, can they still be picked in the regular round?” The answer was yes; Ralph took a running back for the Patriots. When it got back to me, Manziel was still available. I toyed with the idea of picking him but at that point, Johnny was still the announced back-up. I settled on Matthews, a wide-receiver with the Eagles. We were down to the last rookie pick by newcomer Eric. As he wrote his choice, his body blocked the easel. When he stepped back, a roar left our mouths and Ralph slammed down his pen. In Eric’s block were the words, “T.F.ND. – QB CLEV.” The initials stood for Tivy Fight Never Dies. No one needed a name. Much to Ralph’s chagrin, Mr. Manziel was no longer available.
We took a quick break for people to load up their plates with food before the main draft started. Instead, I opted for the restroom since I didn’t want to miss any of the selection process. I chuckled as I entered the bathroom. I’ve been in the league several years and gone was the potty chair on the toilet. I wasn’t gone long and I came out to find all the numbers except for two drawn for draft order! I swirled my hand through the two numbers. I could sense it was going to be a bad draw and reluctantly opened the folder paper. Two! And the unchosen? Number One…. Two was quite OK. This year I scrubbed choosing my favorites and went with whatever fell in sequence with what the experts went with. As in every year, the Commish’s strategy for his picks immediately blew up when Rick drafted quarterback Aaron Rodgers third. Alek shook his head again in the third round when I took the first Defense. Ok, that was a deviation from the book’s order, but isn’t a woman’s prerogative to change her mind? Besides, I knew it was driving the Commish crazy.
Of all our drafts, I think this was my favorite so far. Despite the intense looks on the participants, humor dominated the entire afternoon. While Laura was on break, her mom AKA Ralph’s wife, was chosen to “guard” her daughter’s notes. Instead she picked up Laura’s folder, got a devious laugh and broadcasted, “Hear ye, hear ye….Would you like to know who Laurie is going to pick?” When Brad drafted Ron Gronkowski, he grinned at me and said, “That’s Polish for broken arm.” There was also the blonde moment by my sister-in-law Tonya where she studied her picks and carefully scribed, “Emmanuel Sanders WR DEN” on the board. Brad strolled up behind her and quipped, “Tonya, I make my own picks…thank you” as he gently erased her pick out of his box. During a discussion of why the Oilers had changed their name to Titans with the move to Nashville, my brother Craig had an explanation. “Oil has nothing to do with Tennessee” long pause “Although, there was the Beverly Hillbillies.” The first kicker to go was in the 7th round. When Tonya wrote “Phil Dawson K SF,” the room groaned. A look of panic spread across her face. “Has he lost a leg or anything?” she asked. Our group never tips their hands. After all, in fantasy football, it’s all for one & one for all!
June was Rick’s birthday and I really wanted to do something cool for him since our lives had been anything but fun after my accident last November. One night I discovered that Tommy MacDonald, star of Rick’s favorite TV show, Rough Cut, had a book on Amazon.com. I wrote the woodworking legend and asked him if I could get an autographed copy of his book for Rick’s sixty-third birthday. The next morning his response was in email. “Better yet, maybe you could do a surprise trip to watch a taping for about an hour.” Since the taping was in New England, I had to confess to Rick what his present was and we decided to make the occasion a real vacation.
Flying on standby is nearly impossible with summer loads and we got on both flights by the skin of our teeth. After we rented our car, our adventure began when we decided to take in some of the local sites. Google Maps showed Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, just nine minutes away from Logan Airport. We did great until we got to a street which forked out in multiple directions. We discovered quickly that GPS didn’t work in the city. We also discovered why the guide book said, “Locals are very confused giving directions as they use the transit system rather than drive.” We became VERY familiar with the Charles River scenery including a Harvard rowing team, Boylston St and the multitude of one-way streets especially those with no street signs. Back at the original fork for the fourth time, we finally noticed just past the Fenway sign a smaller sign showing Fenway Park going the other way! Finding Fenway Park was worth the effort. Although it was just an hour tour, we experienced the ambiance of the historic stadium. We sat at the top of the Green Monster (pronounced by our tour guide Joe, Mon-stah) as well as other areas throughout the stadium. The right field bleachers housed a lone red chair amid all the blue ones. It was where the longest home run, 502 feet, landed. According to Joe, the hitter was Ted Williams and no batter has come close to the feat. We viewed a hallway of memorial plaques of famous Red Sox players, coaches, owners and announcers as well as different uniform jerseys worn by the team. Joe also pointed out the neighborhood of Fenway located on the horizon. Yes, we already knew where that was!
The following day was the Rough Cut filming. In route to the studio was Gillette Stadium. This sports nut was again in her element. Time only allowed me to peer through the tall locked gates at the turf that my hero Tom “Easy on the Eyes” Brady calls his football home. Rick was relieved at the time constraints since the gift shop was on the pricey side and I loved everything I saw. I came out with two Patriots bandanas for Roxie and Rex. Before I could check for a price on a helmet made out of Legos, Rick had us back on the road to Canton and meeting Tommy MacDonald. After all, that was the point of the trip. One side of a warehouse was where Rough Cut was filmed. The set consisted of a large room with monitors, equipment cords, bright overhead lighting and huge air-conditioning tubes. It was a woodworker’s paradise complete with orbital sanders, saws and clamps of all sizes. Although we had never met, Tommy greeted us like we were long lost relatives at a family reunion. There was furniture all over the place in different stages of completion and the room reeked of fresh cut lumber. Rick was “in the zone.” We sat quietly in an area right under the monitors and the director’s left arm. A script lay to the side with arrows and scratch-outs on the typed material. We discovered later it was rarely referred to as each re-take was spontaneous. Just as we saw on TV, Tommy filmed in front of a large wooden cabinet with bookcases over it. A military flag in a wooden case on top of the furniture piece reminded me of my parents and brought a tear to my eye. Tommy was fun to listen to. His thick Boston brogue and humor brought more tears to my eyes. It was apparent he loved doing the show and his goal was to entertain as well as educate viewers. The two hours there went quickly as we watched the production take shape. While the crew was on break, we lunched with John, the director. It was then I spotted a chair complete with baseball bats for the legs. Yes, there is always a sports connection for me!
After we left, we headed southeast to seek out where our forefathers landed at Plymouth. Again, despite GPS, it was not an easy journey. I had loaded Plymouth MA. not realizing that the town was different than where the rock was. The diversion was worth it as we went through an area of gorgeous Colonial estates nestled in tall trees facing the Atlantic Ocean. As we had been already warned, Plymouth Rock is a small rock set down in a display in the ground so one couldn’t actually touch it. A replica of the Mayflower was docked at a wharf on the shore behind it. It was still neat to imagine part of American History began there. The week went by way too fast as most vacations do however it did have its benefits. Rick reorganized the garage when we got back so he could get to his tools. He added pegboards and shelves similar to Tommy’s. <smile> It would make a great home for a Lego helmet.
I completed the Ice Bucket Challenge for raising money and awareness for ALS and I passed on the challenge to Hector Reyes who encouraged me to believe, my wonderful brother Craig Williams, my best friend in Ligonier PA — Trish and of course, for being overzealous in the ice and water, my husband, Rick. You have 24 hours to compete the challenge. Click here to view all the action!! And here is Rick’s answer to my challenge.
For more information on how you can help, click here.