It was Summer of 2019. Having survived the major move in the spring, it was time to venture out and see what North Carolina had to offer. My new friend Sandy knew my love of sports, especially baseball. She had read all my blog posts starting with the baseball ones. Her husband had played minor league ball. “Carlotta, have you been to a Mudcats game?” I explained to Sandy that we had been to some Durham Bulls games when the Paw Sox were in town. However, the drive to the ball park was during afternoon work traffic leaving Raleigh and my nerves were shot by the time we got there. Parking was also challenging. After talking to Sandy, I pulled up the Mudcats schedule. As luck would have it, the Red Sox’s Advanced-A league would be playing the Mudcats in August!
It was a nice country drive over to Zebulon with the worst of the traffic leaving our town. Suddenly I spotted a huge baseball tower on the horizon. The parking attendant acknowledged Rick’s handicapped placard and directed us to parking closer to the stadium. Families were milling near the gate; kids with their gloves hoping to take home a souvenir fly ball. Our tickets were affordable and our seats were fantastic – front row next to the visiting dugout at the end where the players came out of the dugout to the on-deck circle. We could see the players waiting and lineup swings as the pitcher threw to the player batting. I smiled at the bat boy intent on his important job and wondered if years from now he would instead be in the on deck circle.
Game 1 los Pescados de Carolina (Carolina Mudcats) (it was Hispanic theme night) rallied to defeat the Salem Red Sox 6-4. The Salem Manager and a pitcher were ejected after the pitcher hit a Mudcats player. Game 2 ‘s pre-game, I had noticed fans gathered at the right field corner gate greeting players coming from the clubhouse into right field for warmups. I joined them and spotted one of the players I had talked to Game 1. I yelled to him that I had called his 7th inning home-run the night before. “Really? Why didn’t you do it sooner?” We both laughed.
Our tickets were behind home plate. Lots of action with a Mudcats player getting drilled again by a wild pitch — the game stopped while he was tended to. Then while going after a foul ball, the Sox catcher was down a few minutes after his shin guards jammed into the wall right in front of us! It was great seeing the pitches coming in and hearing the home plate umpire call balls and strikes, but I missed the seats by the dugout. Salem shut out the Mudcats 3 -0 putting series even at 1 each.
Game 3 was an afternoon game and when I first got the tickets, I got second level seats. When I realized our seats would be in the direct sun, I ventured back to the main level. It was still a few minutes before game time and I saw lines at the ticket booth outside. One of the workers must have spotted my dejected look. “May I help you?” When I explained how I wanted to upgrade the tickets, he told me that I didn’t need to go back outside and directed me to an area behind home plate. The exchange was quickly accomplished and we were in our seats before the first pitch. We were next to the dugout like the first night and even stayed in the shade until the 9th inning. There was excitement in the 7th when the manager and catcher for the Mudcats were thrown out of the game! The Salem Red Sox won 4 – 1.
It was a fun three days. On the way home, I made a mental note for my bucket list — already a washtub as Rick claims– to check into working there the following year – 2020. Well, as we know, that didn’t happen. With the COVID shutdown, the Minor Leagues were put on hiatus while the Majors played a limited season with only a taxi squad close to the team’s city so players could get there quickly and safely if they needed to replace players.
Thankfully, things are getting back to almost normal — the minor leagues are back and I did not forget my bucket list entry. When I was contacted about an interview, there was momentary panic as I remembered the jeans, T-shirts and athletic shoes filling my closet. I settled on flowered Capri pants, short-sleeved black top with lightweight cardigan and yellow-gold flats. All went very well and it looks like I’ll be one part of the Mudcats organization! Most of all, I am looking forward to a fun summer helping fans feel part of the experience and of course, checking off that bucket list item!
This column runs in the Winter 2020/2021 issue of Heart Beat of the Texas Hill Country
As I write this column, the first week of the College Football Playoff rankings are on TV. The committee convenes weekly through mid-December in Grapevine, Texas to chose the top 25 football teams and also assign those teams to the major bowl events including four teams who duke it out for the National Championship in January. I smiled as I thought about the bowl games I have attended.
It was New Year’s Eve Day in 1969. I was a sophomore at the University of Houston. I worked part-time as a desk clerk and switchboard operator at the Holiday Inn on the Gulf Freeway at Wayside Drive. The hotel was booked full of Auburn fans as well as their cheerleaders who were in town to attend the Bluebonnet Bowl at the Astrodome. Now this wasn’t just any bowl game; it was my #17 Houston Cougars playing #12 Auburn.
While checking in one group, one guy inquired, “Do you allow pets?” I assumed he meant a dog so I replied, “As long as we know they are in there and as long as you clean up after your pet.” While I retrieved a dog marker for the room card, another guy said, “Thanks for letting us have War Eagle in the room. Would you like a free ticket to the game?” It turned out that I had just checked in the Auburn mascot! Yes, I had just checked in an eagle – a real, live eagle!! And, more importantly, I was getting to go to the Bluebonnet Bowl – free!
My seat was on the 50-yard line on the mezzanine level. There I was, decked out in my scarlet red and white, amidst a sea of orange and blue clothed fans screaming their battle cry, “War Eagle!!” Houston, which was an Independent, was considered very much the underdog to the SEC opponent. Because my dorm was across the street from Baldwin House which housed the athletes and through classes, I had friends on the team – Gary Mullins, Robert Newhouse, Elmo Wright, Earl Thomas, Riley Odoms, Leroy Fisher and Butch Brezina. That night, the Houston Cougars shocked the nay-sayers and upset the Auburn Tigers 36 – 7! It was thrilling to see Coach Bill Yeoman carried off the field by Butch and Ken Bailey as Cougar faithful sang the fight song!
Ten years later, a friend who taught ROTC at the University of Houston gave me his tickets to the Cotton Bowl where the #9 Cougars, that season’s Southwest Conference Champions, were playing #10 Notre Dame. At the time, I was still on reserve as a flight attendant for Delta and after finding it impossible to get New Year’s Day off, I gave the tickets to my brother. I was called by IAH operations for a 1:40 AM sign-in New Year’s morning. It was a turnaround to Atlanta and back. I was elated! I would be back in time to at least watch the game. It turned out to be a blessing that I didn’t get to go. Dallas had an ice storm on December 31st and my brother ended up watching the game from his hotel room. At the game, temperatures were in the mid-twenties! Notre Dame quarterback Joe Montana was sick with the flu. Despite this, he rallied Notre Dame in the final minutes and they beat Houston 35 – 34.
There would be two other bowl games for me. In 2012, we drove to Dallas to watch the Cougars face Penn State in the Ticket City Bowl. That day was cold and saw me adding my long underwear after we parked the car. We saw Case Keenam explode with 532 passing yards and lead Houston to a 30 – 14 win.
The other game was sheer torture to be at and it wasn’t because of weather. In 2018, Army routed the Cougars 70 – 14 at the Armed Forces Bowl in Ft. Worth. Each time Army scored; the cadets would do pushups in the end zone near us. Needless to say, we saw a lot of calisthenics!
This column runs in the Fall 2020 issue of Heart Beat of the Texas Hill Country
Summer 2020 continued to be a crazy period for sports while each entity tried to put together safe plans to resume play despite outbreaks in COVID-19. Gone were the TV reruns of every Super Bowl, World Series, NBA Championship and College Championship. Even the most avid fan was tired of the same endings, but willing to watch anything for the fix.
NBA Basketball proved to be the most creative and successful as twenty-two teams were invited to the “Bubble” – a closed to the public, hotel complex in Orlando where each team was sequestered at a hotel and only allowed to go back and forth to the arena to play. Families of the players were not allowed from Mid-July until the end of August during the second round of the playoffs.
Professional Hockey followed a bubble concept also except they had two bubbles, both in Canada. Twenty-four teams, the best twelve out of each conference, reported to Edmonton or Toronto for a one-week quarantine before resuming play August 1st.
Major League Baseball plotted a 60-day regular season beginning July 23rd. Instead of the bubble concept, they tried playing by geographical regions so travel would be limited. This idea forced teams into an interleague schedule with the leagues playing each other on a regular basis. The designated hitter, which for years was rejected by the National League Teams unless in interleague play at an American League stadium, became a mainstay. Arguments with umpires were accomplished with proper social distancing, masked and no spitting. No worries, the guys still got the bench clearing brawls in at least once a week! Some teams at the beginning struggled with players who tested positive for COVID and series would be postponed or re-matched with open teams. There were lots of doubleheaders at a reduced seven innings each to keep everyone on schedule for a planned regulation season ending September 27th. No one was complaining – America’s past time was back!
Sports had one thing in common — no fans in attendance. Players quickly learned the heart and soul of the game were the fans and the cheering or jeering. The sounds were solved with last year’s game noises piped in. Within a few weeks, sound engineers had it down to a science with the pop of the bat, groan of a misplayed ball and of course, the roar of a crowd when a homerun was launched. As for fans, support staff and the bullpen pitchers, all socially distanced and masked, were scattered throughout the lower deck. It still wasn’t the same and the TV audience yearned for more. Enter cardboard cutouts! Teams got fans involved offering their picture on the cutout for a donation to the team’s local charity. And, it didn’t stop with the fan. Bark in the Park had been a mainstay since launching several years ago. Well, canine cutouts had it even better! Instead of the normal outfield seats of previous years, the dog cutouts had seats behind the dugout and even Home Plate!
As I write this, some college football teams and the NFL have started with a few states allowing fans in the stands at twenty-five percent capacity. It’s baby steps, but maybe, just maybe, sports will be back to normal soon.
This column runs in the Summer 2020 issue of Heart Beat of the Texas Hill Country
No one saw it coming. Wednesday, March 11th, 2020. Fans at Chesapeake Arena were excitedly waiting for their Oklahoma City Thunder to tipoff against the Utah Jazz. It was an important game with playoffs just weeks away; especially for the Thunder who were on a three-game winning streak, nipping at the heels of fourth place Utah. Twenty-thousand fans in the stands watched the warmups, then the gathering of the head coaches with the referees as the pump-the-team-up music blared throughout the arena. Thunder fans had a reason to be excited. The Jazz’s weapon, center Rudy Gobert was not in the line-up due to illness. Suddenly it became evident that the nationally televised matchup was on delay. Coaches were still conferring with the referees while the players shrugged at each other and TV broadcasters tried figure out what the holdup was. Finally, the head coaches returned to their benches and herded the players off the court and back to the locker room. Fans started to boo as the head referee donned headphones at the scoring table. The announcer leaned over the microphone. “Due to unforeseen circumstances, the game tonight has been postponed” followed by “You are all safe” twice.
Within minutes, breaking news came over TVs across the nation – Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert had tested positive for COVID-19!! The NBA had already decided to start games minus fans the following night because of this strange virus which had recently surfaced in Washington state in a nursing home and was showing up in other states. But now an NBA player had tested positive and it just happened to be Gobert who just two days before had joked around with reporters touching every microphone and recorder in sight! By the end of the next day, every sport began shutting down!
Major League Baseball advised players to leave spring training facilities and return to their homes. The National Hockey League “paused” their season which was just a few weeks from the playoffs. Major League Soccer and the World Cup qualifying cancelled. The Players Championship golf tournament in Florida was stopped at the end of the first round. While college basketball’s “March Madness” was days away from their conference tournaments to be followed by the selection process, some conferences considered playing to an empty house; others cancelled theirs. The conference tourneys and selection process never happened. The Summer Olympics was postponed until 2021. Even NASCAR shut down when it was evident that support teams would be too close to each other while servicing the cars. Sports went on hiatus for sixty-six days!! Never had sports experienced such a disruption since World War II.
On Sunday May 17th, NASCAR paved the way for other sports to resume. They ran nine races in sixteen days at just two tracks in two states. Masked support crew numbers were cut in half, drivers wore masks when not in their cars, practices cancelled and the stands were empty of fans. Other sports began processing plans acceptable to states and health experts while fans crossed fingers and toes that all sports would be back soon!
We have been trying to take some road trips just for a change of scenery from “Stay At Home” guidelines. Last week turned into a challenge when we took both pups with us and tried a five hour day. (We had forgotten when we did the cross-country drive on our move last year that Jake was tranquilized for the three days in the car.) Jake, our Boxer who turns three next month, is still finishing up his puppy stage and so hyper. Once he discovered it wasn’t a drive to the vet, he calmed down while our three and a half old Boxer Katie got a concerned look on her face. I’m sure she was thinking, “Last time we took this long a ride, we didn’t come back home!”
So today we decided to start with a mini-trip with just Jake through the neighborhood. He actually was doing pretty good. He abandoned window-cleaning after one firm, “Leave it.” Then there was a someone walking their dog. “No bark!” quietened warm-up yaps — that is until the dog decided to go potty! Then both Jake and my husband chimed in their irritation since they were both sure the dog didn’t live at that yard. A “That’s enough!” by me quieted both. “Since Jake is doing so good, let’s go to the front of the subdivision, “I suggested. And that is where it all began!
As we made the turn to the densely wooded area near the front, there was a car parked off to the side with two teenagers unloading a stroller. We drove to the top of the hill where the entrance is and turned around. As we passed the car, Jake’s cowlick bristled which is an indication he is uncomfortable with something. The car was still sitting there with a woman inside as well as a child looking as hyper as Jake. This is where my Nancy Drew intuition kicked in — after all, I read every book starting with The Secret of the Old Clock to The Clue in the Old Stagecoach. She was my heroine — an amateur sleuth who always put her skills into use when something appeared amiss. Or maybe it was my one year as Neighborhood Watch Captain or the experience at our last subdivision where a group would let their kids out at the front of the complex to case homes. Jake was bristling and I needed answers!
When we got home, I got the keys to my car. “Where are you going?” Rick asked. “I’ll be right back. I’m not leaving the subdivision. If I’m not home in an hour, come look for my body!” Rick’s mouth was agape as I took off in my blue roadster …. um…. gold sedan. I passed the two teens enroute. We exchanged stares as I passed. Further down the road, the car was still there and with another car behind her! It was a red convertible with a man and a little boy. I went to the top of the hill again and turned around. This time I snapped a shot of both cars. May as well have something on my phone records when they investigate my disappearance. It would been at that point the back ground music on my soaps would have done “da da!” On the way back to my house, I got ready to pass the girls who were still proceeding down the road pushing the stroller. I stopped and put down the window. “Hi! Are you new to the neighborhood?” They looked at each other. “What street do you live on?” “We live down the road.” I must have given them the eyebrow my mom used to give me. “Regulator,” one finally offered after they shared uncomfortable glances. Suddenly I realized maybe they were just being safe and trying not to talk to strangers. “Well, it’s nice to meet you. It’s a nice day for a walk.”
Rick was relieved to see me back at the house. I told him what transpired. “I think I’ll swing down to Regulator,” he offered. He must have read the Hardy Boys. His findings? The girls went into a house. A little later I headed out for my daily two mile walk. With all the things in bloom, I found my self stopping and admiring the properties making mental notes for Rick’s “Honey Want List.” Suddenly I heard a, “Hi! Are you new to the neighborhood?” I laughed to myself. Another Nancy Drew.
Who would have ever guessed four months ago what 2020 would bring — a whole new way of existing in life.
Life without a hairdresser — It starts with my bangs. How spoiled I’ve gotten depending on my hairdresser for those trims once a month! Well, it wasn’t by choice — I did attempt a couple of bang trims back in the 80s — my hairdresser at the time issuing me an order – “NEVER try this again!” OK. She had her reasons.
My first attempt was a tad on the short end. In my defense, maybe I was going for that Mamie Eisenhower look! OK. I wasn’t, but if I had been, my mother would have given me an A-. Mom used to love my bangs short and I didn’t have a whole lot of control over what she did with them! There were the years they were short and then those years she permed them! What was she thinking?
The second attempt wasn’t my fault. My hairdresser Luis, who I had found at Memorial City mall, was discovered by someone in California. Last I heard he was getting top dollar doing celebrities. So in the interim while trying to find Luis’s replacement, I attempted to try another bang trim.
Bang Trim #2 was before you could go to You Tube or DIY for guidance. I knew that my bangs had a slope up to the middle from both sides. So I started from the far right diagonaling towards the center. It looked great except my estimated center and what the final look showed, was way off! It was then I retired my scissors until last week!
I was finally to the point that my bangs were bothersome getting in my eyes. I’ve gained an appreciation for how a poor sheepdog sees! So with great care, working very slowly, I started the scissors cutting upwards following the existing edges barely snipping. It took me almost twenty minutes for what Rebecca normally does in two minutes. No worries Rebeeca — when things get back to normal, you will have your day job back!
This column runs in the Spring 2020 issue of Heart Beat of the Texas Hill Country
As I am writing this column, qualifying for the pole at the Daytona 500 is being televised. So many changes this year; drivers switching teams, younger drivers coming in from other NASCAR tiers and legends racing for their final year. One of my favorites is hanging up his helmet – Brendan Gaughan.
I first “unofficially” met Brendan at a Texas Motor Speedway press conference back in Summer of 2013 when he was racing in the Camping World Truck Series. He was alongside fellow racer twenty-two-year-old Joey Coulter who was fifteen years younger so he kidded about himself being “old” in racing. I raised my hand. “What do you consider old?” I asked. Without skipping a beat, he responded, “Me!” I decided at that moment I had found the truck driver to root for!
Later that year NASCAR came back for the fall races. It was a sunny fall day when I hiked to the parking lot where the truck haulers were lined up providing an outside work area since the Cup and Nationwide cars had the two garages. There was the #62 South Point Hotel and Casino truck; over the driver’s door, the signature Brendan Gaughan. I craned my neck trying to see in the open hood without touching the truck. “Looking for anything in particular?” a familiar voice asked. I turned and it was Brendan. “uhhh… is this where the carburetor is?” I followed it with a laugh and explained that I knew nothing about what’s under a hood!
That night I got to hang at pit row thanks to my media pass. Brendan was doing last minute checks on his truck, then gave his wife Tatum a kiss and she headed to the pit stand pushing one of his sons in a stroller. He looked across and waved hi to me looking quite different in his racing uniform. “Good luck tonight!” I shouted. He finished 4th in the race.
The following spring, I contacted Brendan’s media person to request an interview with him. As a freelancer, I was appreciative of those who were willing to talk to me and there were many who would not grant one-on-one interviews. I explained to her the carburetor story. She said she would check with Brendan and get back to me. Several weeks later, I met Brendan at Fuzzy’s in the TMS Pit. He was now racing a car instead of a truck. I started off assuring him that I wouldn’t ask the typical girl question about how they used the bathroom while racing. Instead I pulled out my University of Houston “Phi Slama Jama” Tee-shirt. My Cougars had lost to the Georgetown Hoyas in the NCAA finals in 1984. Brendan played basketball for Georgetown in the 90s. Yes, I had done my homework. He burst out laughing. “Yes, we slama’d your jama!” he confirmed.
We talked about so many other things in addition his racing – his family, being a high school football All-American and a placekicker at Georgetown, scuba diving, skiing at his second home in Colorado, our common love of “The Doors” music and his future employment, helping run the family casino in Las Vegas. I asked Brendan what was on his bucket list. With a smile perfect for a toothpaste commercial, he responded, “Life is….”
Each season he raced at TMS, we’d exchange “high 5’s” or a hug. He went through many looks – mustache, beard and even a hint of sideburns like his early racing years. One time when Brendan was doing an appearance at the midway, a fan asked him if he participated in Fantasy Racing. Gaughan bragged about his fantasy team and how many fans were with him on Twitter getting advice each week. He pointed to me in the audience. “Just ask Carlotta! She’s on my team!” Yes! I not only had me a driver; he knew me by name!
This column runs in the Winter 2019/2020 issue of Heart Beat of the Texas Hill Country
My high school reunions have always been fun, but my favorite of all time was in 2003. It was an All-School Reunion where former players of our Spring Branch (Houston) football team faced alumni from rival Memorial in tag football. The game was played at Darrell Tully Stadium off of I10 and Diary Ashford Rd. (I remember when they built it in 1965. It was in the middle of nowhere and we thought the planners had lost their minds!)
Spring Branch High School had closed in 1985 so the players as well as the Bruin Brigade drill team, cheerleaders and band participants were anywhere from their early sixties to mid-thirties. Former Texas Longhorns All-American Chris Gilbert was there doing the coin toss. As luck would have it, I watched from afar in the Victory Line for our Bears players to run through. Chris was still as good-looking as he was when he was voted in as Most Popular in 1965.
Our cheerleaders lead the stands in chants as the band played the fight song. The drill team thrilled everyone with their high-kicks and dance routines in a half-time show. I twirled a baton and threw a few aerials into the bright stadium lights. I was overjoyed! No drops! The months of practice in my living room and later the backyard (where I was sent after putting a soft dent in our living room archway) had paid off! It was a fun evening with nobody getting hurt, but a lot of groaning especially when Memorial won. The MVP was former Longhorn Brad Dawson from Memorial. Also playing was Brad’s younger brother Doug who was a guard for the Houston Oilers in the 90s.
The next night we had a casino event at one of the hotels. Chris Gilbert was there as a dealer. I must have stood an hour waiting for someone to leave his table! The former football star was the perfect dealer. He would peek at the next card. “Nah… I think you might want to let me keep this one” and then would wink. Between hands, I questioned him about his years after Spring Branch where he shattered school records. “Rumor has it that the reason you went to Texas is because our Coach Tully’s wife Edith was good friends with Edith Royal, wife of the Longhorns head coach.” He grinned with a smile made for toothpaste commercials. He neither confirmed nor denied.
I tried not to stare at him as I thought; here he is – he led our high school to three state playoffs, first Longhorn to record three consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons, former All-Southwest Conference three times and All-American! It was because of Chris Gilbert that my favorite item of clothing in the late 60s was a Texas Longhorns sweatshirt. As predicted, he got the attention of the NFL and was drafted in 1969 by the New York Jets. “You turned down playing with Joe Namath!” I blurted out. He smiled and then said, “I think you might want this next card.” I swiped my fingers across the green felt. Twenty-one!
The Tampa Bay Rays shocked the baseball experts as well as a sold out Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum and beat the As 5 – 1.
It should have been of no surprise to the As. They are snake-bit in the playoffs with an 0 – 6 record in winner-take-all playoff games at home since 2000!
Lord have mercy! They had their chances!! Rays starter Charlie Morton loaded the bases in the first inning!
35 years/11 months old Morton remained collected and got out of the jam. Charlie was on my fantasy baseball roster this season — he is what got me to the finals this year — last night was so-not-Charlie! He allowed eight runners to reach base in five innings (actually nine if you count the one reaching by an erratic throw from third to first)! He may be considered an oldster to the youthful bats, but this isn’t his first rodeo either. It’s his fourth time to the post-season – 2013 with the Pirates and the Astros in 2017 and 2018.
A franchise-record 257 homers launched from Oakland bats this season was non-existent in last night’s game. Eight singles was all they could muster.
The Rays only had seven hits, but four of those rockets — two back-to-back by Yandy Diaz — fresh off the DL. Some blame it on the decision of As Manager Bob Melvin choosing Sean Manaea for the start. He had a fresh arm for sure — he had just resumed pitching recently after being off for shoulder surgery. And in fairness to the decision, he was 4 – 0 in September with a 1.21 ERA. But there sat fifteen-game winner Mike Fiers, who pitched a no-hitter May 7 and was12-0 since then! Oakland fans have to be scratching their heads!
Here come the Rays — next stop Houston! ‘Stros beware — Tampa Bay may have the lowest payroll in Major League Baseball, but there’s a wealth of talent just waiting to become the next Cinderella in playoff history!
So much irony in last night’s Milwaukee Brewers 4 – 3 loss to the Washington Nationals!
An eighth inning error by rookie Trent Grisham — a ball that rolled under the glove of the right fielder — scoring what would be the game winner.
Grisham was playing right field replacing MVP candidate Christian Yelich –out on season ending injury after fracturing his right kneecap on Sept. 10.
Grisham was Milwaukee Brewers Minor League Player of the Year.
Grisham was 1st batter in the game and scored the 1st run.
The press mobbed the rookie afterwards – flashes going off and microphones jammed in his face. Seriously? Give the kid a break. If it hadn’t been for a sloppy performance by Josh Hader — All-Star lefty who saved 37 games this year – Brewers would have been on a flight to Los Angeles!
Hader loaded the bases with two outs —allowing a broken-bat bloop single —hitting one batter with a pitch (a strange HBP — getting both batter’s hand and the bat — Brewers challenged — wasn’t “clear and convincing evidence to overturn the call.”), and a walk. A 96 mph fastball and that’s all she wrote…
Brewers had their chance in the top of the 9th. Daniel Hudson on the mound for the Nats. Hudson who wouldn’t have been there had it not been for a phone call at the trade deadline.
A soap opera writer couldn’t have scripted it any better.