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‘Lotta Happenings — National Championship Time

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The New Year started with Rick’s Ohio State Buckeyes playing the Alabama Crimson Tide in the National Championship semi-finals. TCU and Baylor fans were very upset that those schools were snubbed by the committee who instead chose the “revered for TV ratings” Ohio State team. I was in awe by the Buckeyes resistance to so many obstacles getting to that game including losing two quarterbacks to injury during the regular season. Rick and I watched the game in amazement as not only did the Buckeyes beat Alabama 42-35; they did it in very convincing fashion halting a late surge by the Tide. The reality hit us fast — The Buckeyes would be coming to North Texas the following week! Meanwhile in Ohio, Rick’s brother-in-law Gary and nephew Bret worked on getting tickets to the first National Championship.

When North Texas puts on a sporting event, it’s usually an extravaganza and the National Championship was beyond expectations! ESPN set up camp at Sundance Square in Ft. Worth a week before and produced their shows live. Over in Dallas, the convention center had interactive displays, pep rallies, appearances/Q & A with the teams and autograph sessions by former collegiate stars. For this sports aficionado, I found myself like a kid in a candy store trying to decide what events to attend. Friday morning Rick was off so I asked him to take me to see the ESPN production. When we arrived, it was just like what we witnessed the night before watching it on TV. Fans in both school’s colors were jumping up and down waving crazy signs in hopes of catching the cameraman’s eye. Just a few yards away from the fans were the ESPN personalities on-the-air. Between segments, I wandered around to the side entrance. As luck would have it, the ESPN security guy Kinely Williams was approachable including let us pose with him for pictures. While we stood by the back entrance, former Dallas Cowboys Darren Woodson exited by us and former Heisman winner Desmond Howard was escorted in. After we returned to our post as the backdrop of the show, the cameraman cued us to wave and yell as he panned the crowd. Despite being dressed for the Artic, the bone-chilling temperatures shortened our time at the outdoor event. We had an adventure finding our way out of the city as the high buildings confused the navigational system. Poor Rick was stressing as he needed to be at work in less than two hours.

The following day Bret spent part of the day at the convention center touring the displays as well as seeing coach and player interviews. Meanwhile at home, I took a hiatus from college football to watch the NFL playoffs. The early game became one of the most disputable games in recent history. It was disbelief (and the end of the year) for the Cowboys when their winning touchdown was nullified by a rule in the NFL handbook. Next was my Patriots game and by then Bret had arrived. Little did he realize the magnitude of watching football with me and the potential for Oscar winning theatrics. Nothing was going right for my team. I was at a loss as I buried my head in my hands followed by a checklist of my lucky clothes. Bret quietly suggested that maybe it was my hair holder. AH!!!!!!!!!! It was! I ripped out the red band and twisted in my navy one. The Patriots made a comeback and never looked back. Bret, still in shock over my game-watching, left for Love Field to pick-up his dad.

On Sunday, after the NFL games and dinner out, Gary and Bret headed to Sundance Square for the ESPN broadcasts. Since Rick had to leave for work at 330am, we stayed home to watch it on TV. Suddenly, we spotted a close-up of Bret! A few segments later, we saw Gary with Bret peeking through his armpit! We turned in early as the next day was a full game day. After breakfast, Gary and Bret headed back to Sundance Square before heading to the game. After they left, it dawned on me I could take to the train to Ft. Worth. Less than an hour later, I was stepping down the stairs at Sundance Square. I had a momentary panic as I scanned the crowd of hundreds trying to find the guys. On the front row, I spotted a man in an oversized red ESPN cowboy hat leaning on the barrier. He turned — it was Gary! He and Bret squeezed me into their prime spot for the camera pans. After Gary and Bret headed off to the stadium, I mingled with other Ohio State fans. A gal named Connie was next to me doing the arm positions of O-H-I-O for cameraman Dana Sherman. “Come on, Carlotta!” she yelled. I laughed and explained I could barely master YMCA. OSU twins Kaci and Kelli Ferrelli introduced me to their dad Jeff who played for the Buckeyes in the 70s. Way too soon, it was back to the train with fans going to the game. Bev, seated next to me, played the Buckeyes fight song over her cell as the others chimed in. It was an awesome week culminating with fourth seeded Ohio State beating Oregon by a resounding 42-20! Was I there? No, but maybe next year…. it’s now on my bucket list…

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‘Lotta Happenings — Exclusive with NASCAR’s Chris Buescher

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.

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‘Lotta Happenings — The Chase Comes to Texas

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.

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‘Lotta Happenings — Accidental Happening — Still Recovering 11 Months Later

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!

 

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‘Lotta Happenings — Another Year of Fantasy Football!

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!

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‘Lotta Happenings — Vacation Fun for a Sports Junkie

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.

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‘Lotta Happenings — Rangers Baseball — Woof Woof Style

This is my August column published in Hill Country Happenings magazine.

There is no fun more than taking man’s best friend to a ballgame. Roxie and Rex could sense that event was nearing days before the game as they watched me pack Rex’s Rangers bandana, Roxie’s red and blue tutu, traveling bowls, treats and a soft, fleece blanket. Unlike last year’s forty-one degree May freeze fest, this year’s June event was in the nineties!   Did that keep the dogs from wanting to go? No… All seven hundred and seventy mutts of all sizes and breeds lined the 3rd base building side for ticket pick-up, and then proceeded to the ramp area to “chill” for about thirty minutes. Soon it was time to start the trek through the bowels of the stadium. For Rex, who was alternating his nose between the ground and air, something was missing this year. No hot dog smell — just a lot of human and dog sweat. Meanwhile Roxie was thankful I had nixed the blue T-shirt for her; the layers of blue and red netting were quite enough of a fashion statement.   Finally we reached the huge left-field door and both our dogs wagged their tails and yapped. They knew! Showtime! About a quarter of the way into our walk on the perimeter, a Rangers representative pulled us aside and asked if Rex would mind wearing the doggie cam. Rex was all ears as he explained the pup would be filming the walk for the Rangers Insider. (Keep in mind — this is the same dog that got spooked by a moving pod last November!) How could we say no and let the dog down?!? Rex stood stoic as a stature while the cam was strapped on and we couldn’t help but laugh as he looked so official when he started his gait. At one point in the walk Roxie turned around and placed a big slobbery lick on the camera! The remaining stroll around the field was uneventful (unlike last year’s with someone’s dog getting loose and pooping in center field!). I guess it was just too hot for getting in trouble.

Before the game started, Roxie and Rex sprawled under a picnic table watching other dogs splash in inflatable water pools near the concession stands. Meanwhile I hiked to the media elevator to meet up with Susannah, wife of Rangers first baseman Mitch Moreland. I was glad Rick had to stay with the dogs as there was no doubt why the striking blonde was a former Miss Alabama beauty contestant. She and Mitch had met when they were thirteen and fourteen while on vacation. How romantic can you get — he was on the beach throwing a football to his dad. When their vacations ended, he went back to life in Mississippi while she stayed in Alabama. As in all good fairy tales, they dated others and went to different colleges before linking up again on Facebook several years later. They had a storybook outdoor wedding at the Renaissance Ross Bridge Resort in Hoover, Alabama — complete with a wedding party of twenty-six!

The Morelands have a two-year old son. Mitch wanted him to have a baseball name with a unique spelling so he came up with the name “Crue.” The couple also has two labs. The fox-red named “Sage” is a couch potato. “Judd,” a black lab, is a “duck dog in training” since Mitch’s other sport is Bow Hunting. Mitch has tradition at each game — he nods to the stands — that’s his “hi” to Susannah. Her favorite baseball cities when the wives get to tag along? Chicago and Tampa. Our chat then got cut short as player introductions were streaming over the PA system.

Again, a hike back to an impatiently waiting Roxie and Rex. Once at our seats in left field, I was immediately pleased when I spotted Rex’s favorite hot dog vendor working our section. (Last year Rex howled as the guy ignored his request for a wiener. The vendor had chanted, “Ain’t no dogs for you, bud!” Ironically, Rick’s nickname for Rex is “Bud.)   This year was another story — it was too hot to bark for the team, much less a hot dog. It was better to just lay on the pavement panting and save the effort for when the crowd cheered. In the bottom of the first, the Rangers struck fast with two runs including a Mitch Moreland RBI. The second inning, we were again on our feet when a homerun was hit just a few feet away from us. It sure got all of our attention and had us deciding who would go after the ball and who would protect the dogs should it happen again. There was a cute brown and white Cocker Spaniel named Cooper to the right of us, two Scotties behind us and a huge Weimaraner a row in front of us that sat in the chair most of the time when he wasn’t rubbing noses with Roxie. We left after the 7th inning stretch with the game tied 5 – 5. By the time we got to the car, the Rangers had erupted with three more runs.

The following night we watched the Rangers Insider to view Rex’s work. Although his name was never mentioned in the piece, we knew that the wearer of the cam was Rex. Did he do a good job? He sure did! Among the classic shots — the up-close view of Roxie’s tongue and the flying slobber. A shot only a proud Boxer Mom would cherish!

 

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‘Lotta Happenings — Love of Speed

This is my July column published in Hill Country Happenings magazine.

June brought me another birthday and the NASCAR trucks and Indycars back to North Texas. Texas Motor Speedway dodged this year’s weekly NASCAR rain curse and instead steamy, hot temperatures and George Strait’s last hurrah in Dallas beleaguered the event numbers. Those choosing to battle the desert-like temperatures were an interesting combination of true diehard NASCAR devotees and the fast Indycar aficionados. The common denominator was a love of speed and racing.

The afternoon of the truck race, I met up with Jennifer Jo Cobb, the auburn-haired owner/driver of the #10 truck. She grew up watching her dad Joe race and found herself racing at Kansas’s Lakeside Speedway by the age of eighteen. Being owner in addition to driving puts more responsibility on the forty-one year old. It takes money to operate the car, get crews and equipment so on non-racing weeks, she works hard at getting sponsorships for her truck. If I wanted to sponsor her truck one race, the costs ran from $1,000 – $15,000 depending on extras like appearances. Perhaps if I win the Powerball…. As we talked, I learned that Jen is not in racing to be a “token” female. Instead she is in it because she loves it and wants to be respected as an equal. Her favorite track other than her home track Kansas Speedway? She laughed as she explained it would have to be Las Vegas because of South Point Hotel Casino’s full infield spa offering pedicures! At that point I spotted a pink chandelier hanging over her as she filed, then blew on her nails. She looked more like a model than a racecar driver and it was hard to visualize a helmet would be smashing the auburn locks in just a few hours. This is the fourth year that Steve Kuykendall has been her Crew Chief. She shook her head as she explained that he was currently using a crutch due to twisting his knee. Sure enough, we later spotted him hobbling on one foot as he pushed the #10 truck through inspection. Later that night, Jen finished twentieth.

The following day Rick was working so I gave my brother, Craig, his ticket for the Indycars. Poor Craig experienced the “Lotta Sports obsession with sports.” As usual, I was like a kid in a candy-store visiting with other fans, TMS workers, car crews and of course, driving the simulator. After losing me twice in the Indycar garage alley, Craig said “I’m putting you on a five-minute limit and no wandering!” I can’t help myself. With my flight attendant background, talking to strangers was my way of life. While in the garage alley, I met a father/son duo, Mike and Zach Jankelson from the state of Washington. Mike (dad) flies to North Texas every year for the three NASCAR race weekends. He is a diehard stock car follower. Last April, because of the rain one-day postponement, he found himself watching the race on an airport TV. Son Zach was a college student and a huge Indycar fan. Will Power was “his driver.” The Indycar organization offered an open garage to all those holding pit passes. It was thrilling to many of us to actually get feet away from the cars and their parts. The only drawback I noticed was because some fans were so zealous; it was pulling some of the garage team from their duties. At one car, the gal next to me was shouting, “Cameron! Cameron! One more picture! Let’s do a selfie!” Poor ruddy faced Cameron couldn’t say no and found himself posing repeatedly as she clicked away. I couldn’t help but laugh when his garage boss gave him “the eyebrow.” There’s a fine line between customer service and getting the job done. Adding to the excitement of the day was the last leg of the Triple Crown so at five pm, Craig found us with front-row stools at Fuzzy’s Taco Bar in the pit. There were two local radio guys doing their show and my brother watched nervously as I asked them if they would mind breaking away during the race. Fortunately, they wanted to see the race too. It was an exciting few minutes when the Belmont Stakes ran and we almost saw history made. Sadly, California Chrome was literally out of gas having raced the Derby and Preakness while some of his competition rested. A collective groan filled Fuzzy’s as we watched him come up short.

For every person who purchased a pit pass, we were allowed at the start-finish line for pre-race introductions. Waiting for the festivities to start were the Great American Sweethearts who would be announcing the drivers. I approached them and asked, “Is one of you friends with Donnave Abt?” (Donnave worked at Delta with me) A tall blonde named Katie, in a definitive Texas drawl proclaimed, “I am! My daddy works with her husband Jim!” (I wondered if she knew she made Rick’s day when he posed with her at Big Hoss’s debut.) During the ceremonies, it was great as we found ourselves standing by a guy with a loud voice. As each driver came out, he would shout their name and say something personable. The driver would look our way and wave back so it was as if they were posing for us. Except for Marco Andretti ‘s crash on the third lap, the race itself was rather boring — until the final twelve laps. Crowd favorite Will Power had a miscommunication and exited to pit row to find his crew not ready for his arrival. A collective gasp radiated from the crowd as he passed through without stopping. He tanked to eighth, however a caution and restart gave Power one final chance to win. The crowd stayed on their feet as Power sped his way back to the front. After dominating the entire race, Power finished second to #20’s Ed Carpenter. It was not a good weekend for ANY of my favorites!

Click here to see Craig drive the Indycar simulator

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‘Lotta Happenings – Playoff Mania

Why do the people who schedule athletic events make springtime such a challenge for sports fanatics like me? Somehow I found myself balancing NBA and NHL playoffs, the NFL draft, the run for the Triple Crown, a Rangers pitcher flirting with a no-hitter and a former NASCAR champion making a lot of enemies. To further complicate my life, I gave into peer pressure and added The Voice to watching American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, Castle and General Hospital. Thank goodness for two TVs and Internet capabilities or I would have lost my mind.

This was the year NBA record books were rewritten. For the first time ever, the Knicks, Celtics, and Lakers were all missing! As if the playoffs aren’t nail biting enough, a record eight of the first round games went into overtime! For my cousin Ann, her Memphis Grizzlies went into four straight overtimes with the Oklahoma Thunder, another NBA record! Another rarity was the first round of the NBA playoffs found all three Texas cities participating. I was thrilled as finally my Houston Rockets were showing signs of being champs again. I dug out my T-shirts from ’94 and ’95 and wore them for the games. I couldn’t find the shirt with an Interstate 10 decal for the Rockets and Spurs playoff series in the 90s. That should have been my “sign”. Game six was a “win or sit on the couch the rest of the playoffs”. The Rockets played with the look of rats lost in a maze, then looked like they had finally found the cheese. The Trail Blazers, Willard, who up until then had air balls, planted hit feet and hit his first three-pointer — on the buzzer! Rockets lost 99-98. There was no game seven. Coach Kevin Hale and I both buried our heads in our hands. I repacked the keepsakes and wondered what the heck happened to the Interstate 10 shirt. Cousin Ann’s torture was ended when her Grizzlies lost their game seven. Sadly for Dallas Mavericks fans, despite being four and one all-time in game sevens, the most Mavericks shots successfully made were during pre-game instead of during the blowout by the Spurs.

Rockets Relic

Things got interesting in the hockey playoffs too when I started a challenge email to some of my Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers fans with a cc: to a couple of friends in New England. I simply put, “Well, well, well….. It’s the NY Rangers vs. the Penguins. Now what I want to know is WHO will win in this series AND in how many games ——— and will then hopefully meet the Bruins.” Little did I know that the innocent email would have more impact than Putin’s advancement into Ukraine! Two of the New York gals got a little zealous with their trash talking about the Penguins. It was good stuff like: “The Rangers can hold their own against the Penguins if they show up to play. I think they beat them twice this season and lost one game in a shoot-out. Personally, can’t stand Crosby or Malkin so I hope the Rangers kick butt.” “I’m certainly not looking forward to watching Crosby whine because he hurt his widdle pinky finger or got a boo-boo when someone dared to touch him. But he does possess an extraordinary amount of talent, and has the potential to do a lot of damage on the scoreboard. Hopefully we can contain him.” One of my guy friends responded, “Really, you ask me this? You know I bleed Black and Gold and I always will….Nuff said.” However, another Pittsburgh fan got her feelings hurt with the written attacks at her team. I quickly wrote everyone else an apology and encouraged deleting future threads. It was a long series going seven games with the Rangers moving on to the next round and me making a mental note not to ever do that again.

I find it really is hard to be a fan. It is a huge emotional investment and a crap shoot on the outcome. The hardest part is accepting that your team may not always win and dealing with it when they don’t. One of my favorite NASCAR drivers still hasn’t won this year. The other day someone posted, “He should be winning by now. Three more races without a win and he loses a longtime fan.” I immediately responded, “You’ve got to be kidding… you would dump Matt just because he didn’t win??? Hate that mentality… a true fan stays for better or for worse… like a marriage.” I wish schools had a course on sportsmanship. Unfortunately, kids are impressionable and our professional athletes can be a terrible example of a good sport. What message do the kids get when they see players kicking over Gatorade barrels, putting fists into dugout walls, brawls on the field or ice and deliberately crashing a car into another car after the race? It’s time to put respectably back into sports and be reasonable in our expectations as fans — of all ages.

My parents taught me that winning or being the best isn’t the requirement. Yep, I was lucky they felt that way since I was the one who fell off the vault, missed the balls in outfield, hit tennis balls over the back fence, knocked a windmill off a miniature golf course, did face plants in the snow ……

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‘Lotta Happenings – Brendan Gaughan Exclusive

This exclusive with Brendan Gaughan appeared in the May Hill Country Happenings

The first time I met Brendan Gaughan was June 2013 when he was in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in Texas. It was my first truck series to cover and a press conference was held with him and Joey Coulter, fifteen years his junior. When I asked him what was considered as “old” in truck racing, he grinned and replied, “Me!” To me, mature drivers were more reliable and less apt to do something dumb “to make something happen.” I knew I had found “my” driver. Brendan did well during the race until he spun his tires on the last re-start and settled for 5th place. Our paths crossed again last November when NASCAR was back in North Texas. I was at Brendan’s truck and an inspector was clarifying to me that what I thought was the engine was actually the carburetor. I heard a snicker and turned to find Brendan standing there. Wanting to overshadow my naivety of car parts and knowing he had played basketball at Georgetown, I switched subjects to the hoops. I was defeated there also when Gaughan reminded me about how his Hoyas had taken the “slama” out of my Houston Cougars “jama” in the National Championship in 1984. He did very well in the race with a fourth place finish and ended the season in seventh place for the truck standings. For the year he had thirteen top ten finishes with ten of those in the top five.

I was pleasantly surprised when the announcement came that Gaughan would be driving fulltime in the Nationwide series this year. He was keeping his number 62 and his father’s hotel, South Point in Las Vegas, would be his sponsor. Last month when NASCAR returned to North Texas, I had the opportunity to sit down with Brendan and I learned there’s a lot more to him than his stock car racing. I began the interview with presenting him with my “Phi Slama Jama” tee-shirt from 1984 and a black sharpie. He chuckled as he scribed, “Hoyas AXA … Brendan 62 Gaughan .“ That out of the way, we started our chat. It was like two old friends at a high school reunion.

Growing up in Vegas, his dad, who dirt-raced as a hobby, took Brendan to desert races and the boy was immediately hooked on off-road racing. I asked him, “Have you ever flipped over and thought while airborne… now I’ve really done it!?!”  His face lit up. His first rollover was at age fifteen. He not only turned upside down, he did it several times! “I knew, thanks to JC Dean, to get that seatbelt released right away!” Not only was Brendan into racing during his teenage years, he also was an All-American in high school football.

His college years found him at Georgetown University earning a business management degree. Between studies he shared the court with NBA great Allen Iverson when the basketball team made it to the Elite Eight. He also kicked for the Hoyas football team. He was their placekicker and very good … perfection almost every time the ball left his toe. “Almost?” I questioned. “I couldn’t believe it! I missed the last kick of my career!” he groaned. Brendan’s talents don’t end there; he is also certified to teach scuba diving. One of his favorite places to dive is Socorro Island off of Mexico. He showed me a picture of himself with a Manta Ray, an underwater creature which appeared much bigger than him. I cringed. I told him I still had my fear of man-of-war and jelly fish lurking in the gulf at Galveston. He assured me that the Manta Rays are not like that.

As you can see, Gaughan could have gone many directions with a career including working in the family casino business. Instead Brendan followed his passion for racing. How lucky to be making a living doing what you love, not many can. He loves it all – desert riding, dirt tracks, ovals and my passion, the road courses.   He even likes the pesky bumps at Texas Motor Speedway at Turn 2 and between Turns 3 and 4 caused by the tunnels under the track. What he doesn’t love are re-paved tracks like Michigan’s. His Crew Chief, Shane Wilson, provides a seamless transition from trucks to cars, as the two worked in tandem last year. According to Brendan, the car is practically the same as the truck with the exception of the position of the windshield. Gaughan’s goal is to bring Richard Childress Racing their second consecutive championship.   “Speaking of winning, what about times you have a teammate who is in position to get a win? Do you give them the push which will enable their victory?” I asked.   “If I have a good enough car to win, I race to win,” he replied.  “You earn respect,” he continued. “There are those out there that don’t have it.” “Any names?” I prodded. He shook his head sideways.

Although Brendan grew up listening to Classic Rock like the Doors thanks to his older brothers, his heart has always been with Classic Country. He also loves “spaghetti westerns” and treasures moments when he can catch Bonanza reruns.   Off-season, he enjoys time with his wife Tatum and two boys Michael and William at their home in Vail. He bragged that his son Michael is already quite a skier. Athleticism has carried on to the next generation. In March, Brendan lost one of his biggest supporters. His grandfather, Jackie Gaughan, who was the last of the founding fathers of Las Vegas, passed away at the age of ninety-three.   Jackie was buried in true Irish fashion with bagpipes on St. Patrick’s Day. As we got ready to end the interview, I asked Brendan what was on his bucket list. With a smile perfect for a toothpaste commercial, he responded, “Life is….”

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