Lotta Sports from the Women’s POV – Hanging Up His Helmet

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!

 

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Lotta Sports from the Women’s POV – Blast from the Past – Chris Gilbert

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!

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‘Lotta Cinderella in Last Night’s AL Wild Card Game

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!

 

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‘Lotta Irony in Last Night’s NL Wild Card Game

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.

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Lotta Sports from the Women’s POV – Boys of Summer – more than a Don Henley hit

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!

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Lotta Sports – Salem Red Sox at Carolina MudCats – A Special Pregame Before Game 3

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

 

 

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Lotta Sports – Salem Red Sox at Carolina MudCats – Game 2

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.

 

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