Archive for category Heart Beat of the Texas Hill Country
This column appears in the Fall 2018 issue of Heart Beat of the Texas Hill Country
Last year, while my hubby and I were watching the NFL Draft on TV, an announcement was made that next draft would be in Arlington Texas, home of the Dallas Cowboys. I immediately added “Attending the NFL Draft” to my bucket list. My other half replied, “Your bucket list has become a wash tub!” Towards the end of February this year, there was an announcement during the local news, that volunteers were needed to work the NFL draft in April. By the end of the night I had talked my cousin Sherry as well as friend Melissa into signing up with me. One week later, our background checks were completed.
“Customer Service and Security Training” was the week of the draft. Seated on the front row, I was distracted by a backpack between the stage and us. Mental note: “Don’t trip over it when class is over!” The bag turned out to be needed for the security portion to see if the class noticed its presence and let someone know. Melissa did and won a prize! Three days later we reported to the volunteer tent and were issued our NFL volunteer red t-shirt, windbreaker and cap. What are the odds of meeting someone in line from the town next to one’s hometown over 1700 miles away? I did. Next were our assignments. Sherry was sent to the Red Carpet. Melissa and I headed to the fan interaction area with our lead, Joe. “I need two people who can throw a football,” he said. Not us. “I need two people to run alongside the fans doing the dash.” Not us. We finally found our home at the Super Bowl Trophies display. Six and a half hours after arrival, our shift was over with no break—the entire time on our feet and in the hot sun. Most volunteers elected to go home and rest up their feet for Day 2. I couldn’t. Remember – attending the NFL Draft was on my bucket list. I had free tickets for the 1st round of the draft six rows from the top of the nosebleed section. I was in envy of the fans in the VIP sections that were just a few feet away from the stage and players being drafted who were specks for me. But I was there!
It seemed like I had just fallen asleep when the alarm went off for Day Two. My feet were reminding me they were not the same feet that worked to Germany eight hours in heels over twenty years ago. Melissa and I worked an event coaching fans on how to use the special goggles which made them feel like they were on the sidelines of an NFL game. Sounded easy and was inside with A/C – a relief to my sunburned arms. Of course the goggles would overheat or I couldn’t find my laser point – Melissa was always close by to rescue me. I met hundreds of fans representing all thirty-two teams. The shift went by quickly and I was once again ready to be a fan the rest of the afternoon and night. Melissa’s common sense took over and she headed home. I found my cousin and I soon had passes for later that night back in the nosebleed section. Short crisis – I forgot my jersey to change into – $14.99 later, I was in a Gronkowski T-shirt. To kill time until the draft, we visited the displays of locker rooms, uniforms and helmets. While posing in front of a Patriots helmet, a gal in New England garb approached me. She offered us tickets for the draft and unlike ours; these were in the Patriots fan section a few feet from the stage! Soon we were looking up at the poor souls in the nosebleed section – and not only night two but day three as well! We received foil pom poms and inflated cheer sticks, got to meet a couple of retired players and Commissioner Goddell, be on the big screen TV several times and even trash-talked with fans of other teams! Life couldn’t have been any better for this sports fan! Check! What’s next on my bucket list… err….. wash tub?
This column appears in the Summer 2018 issue of Heart Beat of the Texas Hill Country
As I write this, I just finished watching the elimination game of the San Antonio Spurs to the Golden State Warriors. Sadness fills me as it is possibly the last game we will see the #20, Manu Ginóbili on the court. Manu was again in double digits just as he was in a lot of the games – Mr. Dependable. After the game was over, he immediately headed to Golden State Head Coach Steve Kerr. The two men go way back – they were teammates for the Spurs in 2002 – Kerr’s last year as a player. As the two men hugged (Yes, real men hug and eat quiche!), the reporters’ microphones caught part of their exchange. “Keep going, OK?” Kerr quipped. Seriously Steve?!? I know better! Manu and a healthy San Antonio team is the LAST thing you want to see next season.
If this was indeed Ginóbili’s ride into the sunset, he sure went out with a bang – record after record!! He became the only player in NBA history to have multiple 20-point games off the bench at age 40 or older. He was also the first player in his 40s to score 15-plus points in back-to-back games since Michael Jordan in the 2002–03 season. He surpassed David Robinson’s franchise record of 1,388 for most steals – with 1392. Teammate Patty Mills refers to him as “Grandpa Juice.” I beg to differ – he’s more like the Energizer Bunny leaving the younger players in the dust! Whatever he is doing, I want his secret formula!
In addition to Michael Jordan, Manu is in great company with others in the “Over 40” club for athletes. There’s Jack Nicholas, the oldest Masters winner in history, when he was 46. Five days before his retirement, 40 year-old Babe Ruth went 4-for-4, three of those home runs. Who could possibly forget Nolan Ryan’s seventh no -hitter thrown when he was 44?!?! I was at that game. Jack Daughtery had left me comp tickets behind home plate. In the 7th inning, I saw the scoreboard and excitedly said, “LOOK! Nolan has a ….” Before I could say what I planned to say…. “a you-know-what,” my hubby’s hand was across my mouth!!
We’ve seen Ginóbili through two Olympic medal winning performances for Argentina, four NBA Championships with the Spurs and two All-Star appearances. Yes, Manu…. You can flirt with the “R” word…. or heed Steve Kerr’s advice. Either way, we’ll see you someday in the NBA Hall of Fame.
This column appeared in the Winter 2017/2018 issue of Heart Beat of the Texas Hill Country
I moved to Houston in 1964 where the baseball team was known as the National League Colt 45s and they played in an open stadium south of the city. The following year, the team moved to the Astrodome, nicknamed the “Eighth Wonder of the World” and the team was renamed the Astros. It was fitting as NASA and the space program were just down highway 45 going towards Galveston. Because the stadium was closed in, an artificial turf was installed for the games to be played on. Above the scoreboard was an area where two bulls snorted, pistols fired and music played when the Astros hit a homerun. The Astros center fielder Jimmy Wynn was nicknamed the “Toy Cannon.” I knew when Wynn batted, there was a pretty good chance the hit would be a homerun.
My favorite player was 2nd baseman Joe Morgan who used to quickly lick two fingers just before taking his batting stance. I was a true fan and even sent him a Get Well card when he was in the hospital. All the girls loved right-fielder Rusty Staub with his red hair and the handsome pitcher Larry Dierker. Bob Aspromonte was the tall, lanky 3rd baseman. One had to be a diehard fan — – the Astros weren’t very good, but we still loved the team. Dad and I attended several games and even sat through the longest shutout ever played. The Astros beat the Mets as Houston scored the only run in the twenty-fourth inning at one-thirty in the morning!
When I moved away in the 80s to the DFW area, I didn’t get to see the Astros games since I was living in an American League city. My parents were still in Houston and my mom morphed into a huge Astros fan with her favorites — pitcher Nolan Ryan and shortstop Craig Reynolds. The ‘Stros were actually doing a lot better making it to two National League Championships and one Division Championship game in that decade, but typical of the team, they lost all three of those games. One Christmas, I found the perfect gift for her – an Astros Cabbage Patch doll waving a pennant. Also included was a cute little Houston batting helmet. My niece Jennifer was very impressed that Santa brought her Grandma such a special gift. In 1989, my mom’s Astroworld came crashing down. Nolan Ryan had signed with the Texas Rangers! Ironically, my parents moved to an assisted living in North Texas the following year. Mom reluctantly adopted the Texas Rangers, but her heart was still with the Astros. Her collection of Nolan Ryan baseballs, baseball cards and the Astros doll were displayed on a bookcase. Hanging in her closet was her yellow, orange and red striped Houston jersey. Meanwhile the team moved from the antiquated Astrodome to Enron Field. The bulls, pistols and fireworks were replaced by a whistling locomotive over the outfield.
Mom passed away in 2003. Her Astros finally made it to the big dance just two years later, but the series was ugly with a sweep by the Chicago White Sox. This year Houston not only got to the World Series but they were there as the underdog. The series went seven games with Houston shutting down the Dodgers in game seven 4 -1 and finally winning the big prize. Nolan Ryan is back with the ‘Stros as their executive adviser. Something tells me there’s an angel in Heaven celebrating the World Series Championship win and who is happy Nolan is back where he belongs.
This column appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of Heart Beat of the Texas Hill Country
Fall is my favorite part of the year – changing of the leaves, relief from sweltering temperatures and of course, football. During the summer I attended the two-day Conference USA Kickoff where I interviewed coaches and players from the fourteen schools. I wondered who of this group was in the one per cent who might see the NFL gridiron in the next few years and which coach was a winner not just in championships, but with lessons in life for his team.
Before the session even started, I had one of those, “This Could Only Happen To Me” moments. I was still trying to get orientated and passed a slender black man in a suit. “Are you Coach Frank Wilson?” No, he wasn’t. He did look to know what he was doing, unlike me, and politely gave me directions to the room set up for the media. A few hours later, I again saw the mystery man. He was now wearing a Conference USA tag. He asked me how things were going and of course, I excitedly told him about my interviews so far. We chatted about football and somehow ended up in an area I am passionate about, the NFL. “So who do you like in the Pros?” I inquired. He grinned. “The 49ers” and then walked away. A photographer I knew from NASCAR walked up to me and said, “Wow, you were talking to the man…. Merton Hanks!” Yes, I googled him when I got home. “Safety San Francisco 49ers… 4 times Pro Bowler ….Defensive Player of the Year… Super Bowl Champion.” How did I miss that gigantic Super Bowl Ring? A good thing there was a day two!!
It’s no secret with young kids being thrown into the limelight overnight; coaches have their work cut out for them being a manager, mentor and in some cases parent. Imagine having that responsibility to 115 kids between the ages of 18 to 22. It takes special men to be coaches. According to Coach Brad Lambert of Charlotte, “I look at it as I do my own children. I have eighteen years to pack their suitcase. When they leave home, they go with this suitcase. When our guys come in, you have to look at who has been packing their suitcase for the last seventeen years. Some you have to unpack then repack. It’s a fun process, just getting to know kids and bringing the right ones in. Hopefully they leave better men than they came in. “
I asked how the coaches could keep their teams from unpleasant sagas like Baylor’s. Coach Jay Hobson of Southern Miss found that having two daughters of his own is advantageous to getting out his message – “I emphasize the importance of being a good man. I’m always looking for the guy that gets between the white lines – a guy that’s an extremely physical football player, but outside the lines, it’s my wife, my daughter, their mother.” As he pointed out, the morals and the principles are the same as our era, but young men have to be careful not to put any negative vibe out there especially with social media. We agreed that coaches have their work cut out for them.
Middle Tennessee’s Coach Rick Stockstill embraces the responsibilities. “A good coach wins games, but a great coach saves lives. I want to help these kids learn how to be a good husband, good father, good parent, good son and good person so when they leave my program; they are ready to take on the world.” His athletes must understand “You aren’t going to be able to play football all your life. There are more important things than football – get your education, build relationships that can get you the job you want, get involved in the community and internships. You may play football until you’re only twenty-five.” Unless you’re Merton Hanks, I thought to myself…. Where was he anyway?
I did catch up with Merton toward the end of the session. Known for his interception gyrations during his 49ers’ tenure, he is currently Senior Associate Commissioner of Conference USA. We chatted about his playing under Hayden Frye at the University of Iowa, being drafted into the NFL and life as a 49er as well as after the gridiron. His favorite quarterback to play against? Joe Montana in practice! And his last career interception? Brett Farve on Monday Night Football. His advice to the kids coming into football? “Don’t specialize in one sport. Play a little bit of everything. Guard against burnout. Guards against injury. Your body only has so many reps.” Merton also played baseball, basketball and ran hurdles in track. “My mom ran track too,” I interjected. “I didn’t take after her. I ran after the track team though.” We laughed in unison.
We’ve all heard the Disney song “It’s A Small World.” In April, I found myself in one of those situations while at Texas Motor Speedway for NASCAR race weekend. Hubby Rick and I had gone over to see one of our favs, Brendan Gaughan at the Chevrolet display. I first met Brendan in 2013 and interviewed him the following spring so he immediately called us out by name and planted a kiss on my cheek. Just as previous times seeing him, Rick was still waiting for the camera to focus, so the picture was me reciprocating back the kiss. After Brendan, three of the newer Xfinity drivers came out. One was named Garrett Smithley and immediately caught my attention when he shared he was into theater. One just doesn’t picture a guy, who risks his life driving high speeds, being into the arts. He mentioned he was from Pennsylvania and then pointed out his parents who proudly smiled and waved. Since no one is a stranger to me (remember I am a retired flight attendant), I approached the couple. I introduced myself and asked what part of Pennsylvania they were from. When they answered that it was a small town in Western Pennsylvania, I told them my best friend lived in Ligonier. Bethanie Smithley’s jaw dropped and she replied, “Garrett, tell Carlotta where you were born.” “Ligonier, Pennsylvania,” he replied. We’re talking a town of 1,549 in the last census. But it didn’t end there. Garrett’s mom was also a former flight attendant and his dad,R K, was a pilot who flew military charters at World Airways with Barb Lambert, one of my flight attendant friends from Delta! It is indeed a small world.
The following month, we again found ourselves at the speedway. This time it was for Wheel of Fortune auditions! I begged poor Rick to go along just in case I got chosen to go on stage so he could take pictures. The next thing we knew, we were in a long line of cars to enter the midfield where auditions were being held. When we joined a two-hour line already snaking through the NASCAR garage, I realized that I was not the only one with the great idea of going!! There were several hundred people!!! We had to fill out a small 4” by 5” yellow piece of paper (the “application”) telling our names, ages, contact info and what made us unique from the others in the line. Try being original given just four lines as well as writing legibly using one’s other hand as a clipboard!! The rope finally dropped and we ended up very close to the stage. There were to be three rounds of an hour each with the names being drawn from a hopper for several games. Our Pat Sajek was a guy named Marty Lublin who was personality extraordinaire!! Our Vanna was a perky blonde named Mallory Harden with a body I will wish for in my next life. Marty did a quick interview of each contestant that was even more important than the actual puzzle solving. After all, the producers didn’t want someone whose hobby was watching paint dry, for the real show! As people came and went on stage, I was mentally rehearsing my spiel. They got to the last group for round one. They called, “Carlotta…..” finally!! “Gonzales.” Not me. They announced the last person for the round. “Rick…..” My hubby got a look of horror since everyone pauses before they try to say our last name. “Schmittgen!” Oh boy! The man, who I talked into coming as well as filling out an application and was bailing after round one, was chosen!! Rick did pretty well on the interview pointing me out in the audience…. I just wished he had added something like sports guru. I knew from the Smithleys at NASCAR to just proudly smile and wave. He mentioned he liked gardening and woodworking, then “playing with our two-month-old Boxer Katie” who was actually almost five months. I had to smile – nerves. As for the rest of the twelve hour day, my “application” was never drawn. I knew it wasn’t meant to be. They didn’t have one sports puzzle!!
This was my column for the quarterly magazine, Heart Beat of the Texas Hill Country Spring 2017 issue.
As I write this column, it is Super Bowl Sunday. Normally, my favorite day of the year, but this year God threw a curve ball and took our Boxer Rex away from us a week ago. It just won’t be the same without him. “Big Boy” Rex was the one who would obediently come to the closet when I said, “Game Day! Where’s your bandana?” He would sit and hold his neck up, still as a statue, as I put his New England Patriots scarf on. He knew it came with his mom’s crazy superstitions on game day! You ask how could a gal who lives in Texas like a team who deflates footballs? Well, I’ve lived in three areas of Texas all but 14 years of my life, but I was born in New England. Patriots football is in my blood along with fall foliage, skiing on ice, “pahking the cahr” and loving “lobstah.”
It was fortunate for Rex that he was so big that I couldn’t find game jerseys to fit him. He just wasn’t into clothes. He made his point with one torn football jersey from his puppy days. He drew the line at bandanas. One time when I put my ski hat on him, you could tell by his look that it wasn’t a game face; it was instead a “Seriously, Mom?” There were exceptions to the rule like the time Rex helped me with a Duck Dynasty contest entry at Texas Motor Speedway by donning a beard … well, sort of … it was Rex posing behind a cardboard beard.
Rex’s claim to fame came at the Texas Rangers Bark in the Park. The first year we went, Rex became the hit of section 11 as he howled at the hotdog vendor. The guy yelled back, “Ain’t no dogs for you Bud!” The following year he was chosen from over 700 canines to wear the FanCam in the pregame walk around the ballpark. He proudly stood stoic while they mounted the camera around his neck. I could tell he was thinking this was something important happening and to not to screw it up. What a great job he did! As he did his lap around the perimeter, he got the attention of the Ranger players and coaches observing from the dugout as well as fans hanging over the guardrail. He was the envy of every dog attending! And his footage ran on a Fox Sports Southwest Special including his shot of his “sister” Roxie licking his camera.
Yes, Rex led a life many dogs only dream of. R.I.P. Rex. Sports will never be the same without you.
You Tube — Rex and the Hot Dog Vendor — Texas Rangers Bark in the Park — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c423zq5PIOU A classic Rex moment !!!
My article in Heartbeat of the Texas Hill Country – Winter Issue
What an exciting year 2016 was for sports! It’s not too often that one sees so much history in the making as we did. The year started out with a Cinderella ending for NFL great Peyton Manning as he guided the Denver Broncos to a Super Bowl win. What a way to end a career!! He hasn’t done too badly in post-football either. There’s rarely a day that doesn’t go by that I don’t see Peyton in a commercial. I think the funniest is the one where he’s sitting on the couch in his bathrobe and sipping coffee. Lionel Richie is singing in the background, “It’s Peyton on Sunday morning.” Manning is on the phone with brother Eli wanting him to come and watch Sunday football on his DirecTV set-up. Eli’s seen in the Giants locker room explaining why he can’t – he’s playing football. “I’ll pencil you in for Tuesday,” and Peyton writes “Eli” in the empty calendar.
March Madness in college basketball made history too when the number fifteen seed Middle Tennessee upset number two seed Michigan State in the first round destroying just about every basketball fan’s bracket including mine! The “experts” had predicted Michigan State to make the Final Four and some had even picked them to win the championship. And it didn’t end there! The fourteenth seed Stephen F. Austin upset number three seed West Virginia and Syracuse became the first tenth seed in history to advance to the Final Four. The finals were held in Houston where Villanova upset North Carolina to win the championship on a three-point shot at the buzzer!
The NBA followed suit when the Cavaliers brought Cleveland their first sports championship in fifty-two years! Hubby was happy as he’s from the suburbs of that city on the lake. As Rick watched the TV coverage, he wondered which speck was his nephew Bret and was probably secretly envious because he wasn’t there too.
Even car racing re-wrote history when both the June and July NASCAR races at Pocono Speedway had to be postponed due to weather as well as the Indycars at Texas Motor Speedway finishing the end of the June race in August due to weather. Weather delays are never fun for fans as a lot of the spectators travel in and postponements cause havoc on hotels, car rentals, transportation and work plans. We know only too well after waiting out a few ourselves only to be watching concession stand commercials on Big Hoss and covered cars on the track as the rain dripped off our hair and clothes.
But no greater history was made with the conclusion of the Major League Baseball season! For a while, it looked like both Texas teams, the Astros and Rangers were destined for the playoffs. Houston had a September meltdown, and then the best in the American League Texas Rangers found themselves swept by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 1st round of the playoffs. Our home became a war zone with my husband’s Cleveland Indians and my Boston Red Sox meeting in the AL Championship. I was the queen of trash-talking only to eat my words as Rick’s Indians swept Boston and moved on to the World Series.
I quickly found myself OK with t he loss when I realized that I was watching sports history unfold yet again! The Indians were in the World Series in 1997 when they lost in extra innings in game seven to the Florida Marlins. They hadn’t won the title since 1948. The Cubs hadn’t won the title since 1908, and hadn’t made it to the World Series since 1945 – the infamous series where the Billy-goat curse was put on the team. We were witnessing one of the two longest championship droughts in baseball finally come to an end! It looked like destiny was going to hang onto the coattails of the Cavaliers and side with the Tribe, who jumped out to a lead of three games to one. Then Chicago shocked themselves and the Indians not to only to piece together back-to-back wins, but they also forced a game seven and won in extra innings! . I just wonder if sports will ever repeat a year like 2016!