This column runs in the Fall 2019 issue of Heart Beat of the Texas Hill Country
The Boys of Summer was more than a Don Henley hit – for me, it was my Summer of 2019. We had just made a major move from Texas to the Raleigh, North Carolina area accomplished in a quick two months. I yearned for a real vacation away from the lingering boxes. While perusing an email from Tanglewood, the Western Massachusetts summer home for the Boston Pops, I discovered Josh Groban was going to be there in concert July 2nd. It would be an easy day and a half drive from our new abode. I didn’t have to twist hubby’s arm; it’s his favorite singer.
The concert was awesome. Josh bantered with the audience between sets and the two hours flew by. Next was finding a small town to view 4th of July festivities. I hit the jackpot – a parade in my hometown – Williamstown — and fireworks after a New England Collegiate Baseball League game in North Adams, the next town over. I had actually marched in the Williamstown parade back in the late 50s! Things sure had changed. No baton twirler like me, but many more participants including the baseball team playing that night and instead of just at the elementary school, it was a sixteen minute walk to Spring Street.
After the parade, we looked for a place to eat late lunch which was not easy on a holiday. After trying several places with indefinite waits in Williamstown, we drove to North Adams and discovered the Trail House. While waiting on my burger, I gazed out the window to the people eating in the outdoor seating. Just like a magnet, I zoomed-in to a party of three. One was wearing a Vermont Mountaineers T-shirt. Our waitress confirmed the wishes racing through my mind – the baseball teams, frequented the restaurant. “I’ll be right back.” “You’re not….” my husband interjected. I was already on the patio! It turned out that it was the parents of the starting pitcher for Vermont that night and his twin brother Matt. I learned that Ryan Murphy was a top prospect and playing in the New England Collegiate Baseball League for the summer. Unfortunately, their food came right as I learned Ryan had broken Matt’s nose while throwing. Bad timing by the kitchen!
We got to the ballpark right as the Vermont Mountaineers’ bus was unloading. I wondered how many of these kids I would see in the big leagues in a few years. According to Ryan’s dad, his son would be. Once inside, I headed to the 1st base side where the North Adams Steeplecats were warming up and stretching. The great thing about the collegiate league is that pre-game, the players chat with the fans. It was there I met Alex Gomes. I knew immediately by his right arm, he was a pitcher. He was impressed. I laughed and said, “Catcher was out – you’re too tall.” I bragged to him that I knew Bobby Witt, retired Texas Rangers “rightie” and that his son Bobby, Jr. had just been drafted 2nd in the MLB draft. Alex said, “Oh! You need to meet our Mason Ronan! He was drafted by the Red Sox last year but he’s staying at Pitt to honor his commitment there. Mason! I’ve got someone I want you to meet!” The next thing I know I’m shaking hands with the leftie and Alex is positioning us for a picture together!
The game started as Ryan’s dad predicted. Ryan shut down the Steeplecats holding them to two runs (only one of them earned) and struck out five in five innings. Once he left the game with a 4 – 2 lead, North Adams began their comeback. The relievers held the Vermont team scoreless while the offense chipped away inning by inning. Our excitement wasn’t just the comeback; it was when four of the players came up in the stands and Alex was one of them. They were selling chances at fifty cents each and the number drawn would split the winnings with the team. Alex smiled as Rick dug out his bills and pulled out a ten. “Good luck, Sir” and winked at me. It was fun watching the players interact with the fans. After North Adams won 5 – 4, the team came into the stands and shared high 5’s with fans! It was an incredible night and the baseball that we knew back in to the 60s before money and celebrity took over. Long live the Collegiate Baseball Leagues!! Yes, it was a summer to remember – Ryan, Alex, Mason, and the other Boys of Summer!
I really should call this post “Redemption Time” instead. Backtrack to pregame of game two. I discovered a gate down by right field where the players came from the locker room and out onto the field for warm-ups. Rick’s “assignment” was to get pics of me with the players. My favorite on the team is Ryan Fitzgerald and easy to spot with his long locks and toothpaste commercial smile. I was standing next to two “older” guys waiting for autographs when Ryan answered their call-out. I excitedly looked up towards Rick and he was there at his post, camera ready. Ryan first signed for a guy with a book of college baseball cards, then the guy next to me. Finally it was my turn — no cards or program to sign — but I did get a huge smile from him as I told him I had called his 7th inning home-run the night before. “Really? Why didn’t you do it sooner?” We both laughed. Our chat lasted about 3 minutes, then Ryan headed out to the field as I maneuvered through band members waiting for pregame ceremonies.
I didn’t see the pictures until we got home that night. Here is “The Moment!” Seriously Rick?!?!?
Now on to the game three — the series was tied at one game each — and redemption time for Rick. Unlike the other two evening games, game three was a very warm afternoon start. Upon arrival at the park, we proceeded to the right field gate. There were a couple of players on the phones under shady trees. Meanwhile, I felt sweat trickling down my back at the shadeless gate area. Soon, the two older guys left the area under the stands and joined me as the players emerged. The first guy now had a notebook of 5 cards of each player! The guy next to me had a program and I had my program insert along with my fine tip Sharpie. Players were stopping and signing. Ryan emerged from the building. As he started across the lot, I glanced up towards Rick. He was craning his neck out towards the parking lot where a limo has pulled up!! Not again!! The two guys and I chimed in unison — “Hey Ryan!” Finally a break for me — he came to me first!
And yes, Rick redeemed himself as you can see!!
The game was great too. We were next to the dugout like the first night and even stayed in the shade until the 9th inning. Ryan ended up with 2 runs, 2 hits, hit by a pitch, a stolen base and a dirty uniform. A little 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.
Warning: Contains Language
Salem Red Sox shut out the Carolina MudCats 3 -0 putting series even at 1 each. Lots of action in the game. Pedro Castellanos launched a solo rocket in the 4th inning. MudCats Payton Henry was drilled by a Thad Ward pitch — game stopped while he was tended to, then while going after a foul ball, Sox catcher Nick Sciortino was down a few minutes after his shin guards jammed into the wall.
Advanced Class A MiLB’s los Pescados de Carolina (Carolina MudCats) rallied to defeat the Salem Red Sox 6-4 Friday night in Zebulon. Salem Manager Corey Wimberly and Zach Schellenger were ejected after Zach hit MudCats Rob Henry.
The cold front storms were not only the thing rocking the Durham, North Carolina skies last night. After a brief delay waiting for rain to let up and prep the field, the Pawtucket Red Sox lit up the scoreboard launching rocket after rocket! Final score 17 – 2 PawSox over the Durham Bulls.
This column runs in the Summer 2019 issue of Heart Beat of the Texas Hill Country
I’ll never forget the day – May 5, 2015 – 5:09PM. The email read, “Hi Carlotta, Long time no see. Was wondering if you would care to write for our magazine. Noticed that Happenings has gone dark and I always loved your columns. Would you have any interest? Either way keep writing cowgirl! -Greg”
The following day, our call lasted over an hour. I could tell right away this was going to be a fun gig! It was so easy talking to Greg. He understood my passion for sports and respected my ideas. More importantly, he was as “pumped” about my column as I was!
For the fall issue that year, he dropped me a line a couple of weeks before deadline. “Do you think you could focus on Texas football? Your take on the upcoming NFL/college season? Hoping to have all editorial in by the 15th. We’re at third down and goal to go!” I already had the column finished when I read his email. It started with, “For those of you reading this that haven’t lived in Texas, let me explain. Football is the culture — an array of delicacies from the traditional fantasy football leagues to Friday Night Lights to Big 12 and SEC rivalries to The ‘Boys at Jerry’s House or JJ Watt and Company at the NRG. Fall is Texas football!” Greg’s response? “Girl — You rock!” Go figure – it was what he wanted.
Greg not only communicated with me in sports lingo, he also recognized my other passion – the canines! He already knew about my years of chairing the Bark For Life cancer fundraiser. When I asked him to run a flyer on a Kerr County Bark in one of the issues, he said he would. A few days before print, he discovered the copy in his spam. He emailed me saying, “Hi, somehow you got in my spam list. Just noticed this morning. All is good now. Thanks! (I mean “woof!”)”
I normally decided which sport my column would touch on. Last year, he had a special request. “How about a piece on Manu Ginobili? I know NBA season will be over by summer but I would like a tribute to him.” I had just volunteered for and attended the NFL draft in North Texas. My plan was to write about that. Instead I went with a Ginobili tribute. It’s always nice to keep the boss happy. And apparently it made the readers happy too! The feedback as Greg would say, “Rocked!”
I delayed the NFL Draft to the fall issue. When he got the copy and pictures, he called me. “Girl! You met the NFL Commissioner! Girl! You have your picture with him!! Girl!! You were on the floor of the NFL draft! You didn’t tell me about THAT when I asked you to run something on Ginobili! Manu could have waited! “ We both laughed!
That was the last time we laughed together. Greg was diagnosed with liver cancer that fall. I tried to reassure him. I had been on a caregiver’s journey back in 2015 with my husband’s cancer. Medical science had made great strides. Get the treatment and stay on it no matter how awful the side effects are. Attitude is 99% of the cure. Stay strong and listen to your body. Get lots of rest. You will get through this.
We talked one more time in early March. There was nothing more the doctors could do and the end was near. He passed away on the 18th of that month. While others think they will see Greg again on the beach in the Jamaican part of Heaven, I know I’ll find him near the San Antonio Spurs angels waiting on Manu. You rock Angel Greg. RIP my MVP.
This column appears in the Spring 2019 issue of Heart Beat of the Texas Hill Country
Heisman winner Kyler Murray has decided – he has chosen the National Football League over Major League Baseball. I can’t help admire the kid – he’s very talented when it comes to throwing passes and crushing home runs. In high school, as the starting quarterback, he led North Texas’s Allen HS to three straight state championships and won 43 games in a row. He also played baseball – shortstop/second base – and was a top prospect for the 2015 MLB draft. He was the first player to ever be selected for both the Under Armour All-America Baseball Game and Under Armour All-America Football Game!
Instead of entering the baseball draft, he chose to attend Texas A &M his freshman year. Just a few months into the football season, he transferred to Oklahoma when it became apparent he would be battling against another high recruit, Kyle Allen, for a starting nod. With NCAA transfer rules, he had to sit out in 2016. In 2017, he hit the ground running as Baker Mayfield’s backup and even had playing time in a couple of games. Come spring, he switched hats and had a sluggish start playing Sooners baseball, but did so well the following year; he again caught the attention of Major League Baseball. The Oakland As took him as the 9th pick overall in the 2018 MLB Draft last June and presented him with a high dollar contract including a lucrative signing bonus. In return, he would play in the fall one more season of college football, then report to spring training in 2019.
Things got complicated when Murray led the Sooners to the semi-finals of the College Football National Championship collecting a slew of hardware along the way. He won the Davey O’Brien Award, AP Player of the Year, Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, First-team All-American, First-team All-Big 12 and the big daddy of them all, the Heisman Trophy. He finished out last year with an estimated net-worth of three billion dollars! Meanwhile, the Oakland As quietly waited in the wings for his report to spring training. Now, it is possible to play in both the NFL and MLB at the same time – about seventy have accomplished it – only a small handful since 1987 including Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders. Seahawks Russell Wilson played in minor league ball a few years and currently has a contract with the Yankees.
In January 2019, Murray teased the sports world with hints he would not be splitting time with the two sports. The A’s and MLB met with Murray, deviating from the norm, and offered him a major league contract. A decision had to be made soon since spring training was on the horizon. The suspense was over Monday, February 11th. Kyler committed to professional football citing “football had been his love and passion his entire life.” Murray would not get to keep his entire $4.66 million signing bonus with the As. Brace yourselves — He already has in hand 1.5 million, but only has to repay $1.29 million of that! He hasn’t even picked up a bat! The A’s will retain his baseball rights going forward and he will be placed on the minor-league restricted list indefinitely. Should Murray ever decide to return to baseball, he would have to return to the Oakland organization.
Did the Phenom do the right thing? Will he be a part of the Heisman Curse? Will he ever see a batting circle? Will hard hits from his bat ever replace hard hits from a Defense? Check back with me in five years.