Blogs > From The Bleacher Seats

A roundup of news on sporting events, people and places in Southeast Michigan by columnist Jim Evans.

Friday, September 19, 2014

A coach knows the importance of high school sports

Some cynical folks have it wrong.
They dismiss sports and game results, saying they are not life and death.
High school football coach Alfredo Calderon would beg to differ.
“The doctors have told me that I shouldn’t be out here. They told me I should stay home and let my body heal. Well, if I didn’t have this, I don’t know what I would do,” said Calderon.
Calderon was on the sidelines with the Michigan Collegiate football team as the Cougars rolled over host Plymouth Educational Center Prep, 45-0, one recent Friday evening.
The locale isn’t surprising. Calderon has been the head coach of the Cougars for years.
Only he was in a sit-down walker. While he could get up and stand, those moments were brief. Calderon had on the obligatory headsets.
He knows he is not just fortunate to be with the Michigan Collegiate Cougars in the fall of 2014. Calderon is also fortunate to be alive.
It was Thursday, Oct. 31, when he began to feel ill. He told his wife that he thought they should go to the hospital.
“It was a boil. I’m diabetic and I’ve had them before, so I wasn’t too concerned. But one doctor came in and then another and another. That got me a little worried. I told them I had a game the next day.”
Michigan Collegiate was scheduled to play host Livonia Clarenceville at 7 p.m., Friday, Nov. 1, in a Division 5 pre-district tournament game.
At 3 a.m., Friday, the coach was taken into surgery. He did not wake up until December 17. He’d been in a coma. He had sepsis. His kidneys had shut down.
“Do you know what it is like to have a month and a half missing from your life? I had missed Thanksgiving. It was a week before Christmas and I had no idea. But the first thing I asked was `Did we win?’”
Michigan Collegiate had fallen to Clarenceville, 51-21.
While Calderon regained consciousness, he soon became conscious of the fact that he couldn’t talk. He could not feel his legs. He would have to re-learn some of the fundamentals of life like walking, standing and even going to the bathroom.
A month or so later, Calderon was rushed back to the hospital for an obstruction in the intestinal tract. Complications from that surgery ensued.
All told, Calderon spent over six months in the hospital. He still goes to the wound clinic regularly and has rehabilitation three times per week.
Calderon has come a long way. In football parlance, he knows there are many yards left to travel. He wears braces on his feet to combat foot drop.
“I’ve been with the team since the summer,” he said. “I was with them during passing camps. I was in wheelchair at Wayne State. It was just important for me to be here.”
Here, on that recent Friday evening, meant Kilgore Field on East Forest in Detroit. Calderon was on the headphones helping Johnny Guth, who has taken over as the head coach at Collegiate.
“Johnny is doing a great job. He was with me the whole time at Collegiate and he is like family.”
Calderon smiled and gave a thumbs up. You just knew there was nowhere he would have rather been than along the sidelines.
“This gets me going. This keeps me going,” he said. “There’s no way I would stay away if I could possibly be here.”
He missed the Cougars’ playoff game last year. They are 3-0 heading into a Week Four game against Detroit University Prep at Bishop Foley. Already, they are halfway to another berth in the playoffs.

No way Calderon will miss this one. Not with everything he’s been through. Not with everything he has done to get back.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Beach Boys span the generations

I’m watching the Beach Boys at Freedom Hill.
It is Sunday night and I’m on the lawn with my wife, Kim.
We are looking at a complete mix of people; from infants in Pampers to their grandparents in Depends. Sitting close by are teens. Also on blankets near us are folks whose high school graduations were so long ago that Abraham Lincoln gave the commencement address.
Some are eating soft pretzels. Some are drinking beverages that are definitely not soft drinks.
Spanning the generations isn’t an easy thing to do in the music business.
Filling up a place like Freedom Hill in Sterling Heights isn’t either.
It is a testament to the music of the Beach Boys.
Good Vibrations isn’t just a song. It is also a feeling and the Beach Boys make people feel good.
Truthfully, growing up, I was never that big on the Beach Boys. They were a little too straight-laced and I  was into music that had more of an edge. Groups like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath and the Stooges.
As I get older, my appreciation for longevity increases. I find it remarkable that songs first performed in the 1960s and 1970s can remain so popular today. Think of everything that’s gone on in society since Mike Love, Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, and Alan Jardine got together in California in 1961. The war in Vietnam.  Richard Nixon and Watergate. Mark Zuckerburg and Facebook. Bill Gates and Microsoft. The riots in Detroit. Detroit and bankruptcy.
The Beach Boys sing about surfing and somehow it works even though most of us have only surfed the web. They sing about a little deuce coupe when most of us are tooling around in minvans, SUVs or trucks. Somehow that works, too.
They unabashedly wear Hawaiian shirts in a Rust Belt state and somehow that works, too.
The Beach Boys sing about a life that most of us want to live. They sing about a lifestyle that most of us want to embrace.
Thanks for stopping by, guys. See you again in 2015.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Drunk teacher didn't follow the dress code

I’m no prude.
I have been known to turn on Jerry Springer when nobody else is in the house.
Sisters Dating Brothers Who Cheat With Their Mother or something like that.
But even I was shocked by this story out of Houston:
According to CBS, a newly-hired teacher was found intoxicated and not wearing any pants inside an Oklahoma high school classroom on her first day of work, said police.
Police arrested Lorie Hill after two Wagoner High School teachers found her intoxicated and without pants in an empty classroom she was claiming to be her own, KOKI-TV reported.
Hill was reporting for her first day on the job as all teachers were also returning for their first day back in school from summer break.
Wagoner police say she admitted to drinking and authorities found an empty cup in her vehicle that contained an odor of vodka.
Hey, I have worked with more than one person who couldn’t face the day without a drink or two. And I have known a teacher or two who probably felt like drinking every morning before facing their own class.
But I have never known anyone to show up to work not wearing pants. Even President Clinton wore his into the Oval Office, at least.
Like I said, I’m no prude. I even watch Naked and Afraid on the Discovery Channel when nobody is around.
But no pants? That has to be against the school dress code.



South Haven is Shangri-La

Spent a week in South Haven.
We’d never been before to the small town in southwestern Michigan before.
Rented a house, drove three hours westbound, and there it was.
Not just the house, but the town. Not just the town, but the lake.
All of the above was very, very pleasant.
There is something about Lake Michigan that is inspiring.
Not that I was inspired to go kayaking. Not that it inspired me enough to charter a fishing boat and wrestle a salmon out of the water. Not inspirational enough to swim a mile every morning.
Truthfully, we mostly watched. We watched the water. We watched our grown kids watching their own kids as they played on the beach.
After the kids left, it was just my wife, Kim, and I.
We drank coffee on the deck. We ate lunch on the beach. We read and we read some more. We relaxed and if we felt like it, we took a nap. If that sounds boring, well here’s a big hug and a big hooray for boring.
We had a great time.
South Haven is just the right size. There is enough to do without being overwhelmed. There was  some traffic, but nothing like it is here. No road rage. No carjackings.  No gripping the steering wheel so tight you develop both blisters and high blood pressure.
We ate fish. We ate burgers. We ate ice cream.
Did I mention we ate ice cream? Probably five out of seven nights.
The vacation is over. It is great to be back. I think.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Checking in at Michigan and Trumbull

It's a ball diamond now.
Well-kept, thanks to the efforts of the all-volunteer Navin Field Grounds Crew, but still just a ball diamond.
Tiger Stadium used to sit the intersection of Michigan and Trumbull. It always seemed so massive, didn’t it?
Especially when you were a kid. Stadium walls rising from the sidewalk higher than a swatted fungo. Light towers perched above the upper deck. You swear you could see them shining during a night game from Bellville and Belle Isle.
Tiger Stadium was almost intimidating from the outside.
But once inside, nothing was more enthralling. Walking through the concourse and making your way to the seats. Almost magically, urban became rural; the typical city palette of hard scrabble grays turned incredibly green.
Green is the way the field remains, even though the stadium is no longer there.
It was Father’s Day when my wife and I and our youngest daughter, Breanna, made our way to Corktown. We were going to grab something to eat at the Mercury Burger Bar that’s just a handful of blocks west of Trumbull on Michigan.
As we drove by the site where Tiger Stadium formerly resided, a vintage baseball game was being played. People in garb more befitting the 1860s than 21st century were batting the ball and running the bases.
We immediately stopped, yanked some folding chairs from the trunk, and made our way to the game. We joined the hundred or so other people who were watching the game.
Hot dogs were offered by the Navin Field Grounds Crew. So, too, was Faygo soda pop.
A man came by selling peanuts and I couldn’t resist. Old habits are hard to break, and I used to grab a brown bag full of salted peanuts from a vendor on Trumbull before every Tiger game I attended.
None of the vintage players wore gloves. None had an agent, either. There were a few bleachers. Not a single suite to be found.
Some kids were playing catch behind the backstop. A mom was feeding her infant along the first base line. Some very pleasant people from the Navin Field Grounds Crew were spooning baked beans and potato salad onto plates to accompany the Ballpark Franks. Donations were appreciated but not required.
While I am sure that food is not always served, there seems to be a lot of baseball on the menu at Michigan and Trumbull these days. Youth games are played on a regular basis. Vintage baseball seems to have found a home for obvious reasons.
While it is no longer the site of Tiger Stadium, it remains a baseball diamond and somehow that seems exactly right.
Isn’t it the essence of the game? Strip away all the garnishments and baseball is all about grass and dirt and if you're lucky, some actual bases and a fence for a backstop.
That's the way we all got started playing. Running to the playground. Sprinting to the park. Jumping over the fence into your neighbor’s yard. Grabbing a baseball and a bat and depending upon your age, that bat was either fashioned from wood or metal.
I’m an old guy. Our bats were always wood. They'd crack and we'd tape them up. The crack would get worse and we'd drive a nail or two to keep them intact.
Tiger Stadium is gone, but the baseball field remains. Say thanks to the Navin Field Grounds Crew. Not just for the hot dog. Not just for the Faygo.
But for preserving the baseball field. For keeping the memories of Tiger Stadium alive. For providing for future memories, too.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Referees wear the Scarlet R

Most high school sports game officials know exactly how Hester Prynne felt.
For those who didn’t take – or pass – American Literature, Hester Prynne was the protagonist in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Scarlet Letter.”
An adulteress in Puritanical New England, Prynne was forced to wear an ‘A’ on her forehead and was hence scorned.
Scorned is something that high school referees know plenty about. It’s their shared plight in life.
Somebody with 20/100 vision perched on the top row of the bleachers during a basketball game somehow has a better vantage point than the ref who is three feet away from the play. The dad screams in outrage at the ref’s call.
A football coach patrols the sidelines adjacent to his team’s bench. One of his players is called for an illegal block 35 yards away on the poorly lit field. The coach’s stomping sets off a choreography of outrage. The fans and players get in on the act. It is mob mentality in school colors.
A soccer mom spots an alleged infraction from the passenger seat of her Dodge Caravan. She howls in anguish. A hockey dad drinking coffee, eating popcorn and texting screams that the puck went over the goal line.
And so it goes. Refs get abused. It is a nightly occurrence. Even when they get it completely right, they are absolutely wrong in the eyes of many.
So why not step to the plate – or behind it -- yourself? How about wearing the Scarlet R? Without game officials, games could not be played. The Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) is accepting registrations by mail and online for game officials for the 2014-15 school year.
Online registration can be accessed by clicking “Officials” at Forms also are available online that can be printed and submitted by traditional mail or hand delivery to the MHSAA office. More information about officials’ registration may be obtained by contacting the MHSAA at 1661 Ramblewood Drive, East Lansing, MI, 48823, by phone at 517-332-5046 or by e-mail at
There is an test for first-time officials and officials who were not registered during the past school year. The test consists of 45 questions derived from the MHSAA Officials Guidebook, which also is available on the Officials page of the MHSAA website. Additional 50-question exams must be taken by those registering for football or basketball for the first time or those who were not registered for those sports during the previous school year. Manuals for both sports also are available on the Officials page.
I have seen countless high school games over the years. I have heard a lot of whistles in my time. Sure I have witnessed some calls that I didn’t think were correct. But do you know what; I have seen a lot more blown plays than blown calls.
I have seen kids toss up jumpers that hit so much metal you’d swear they were members of the ironworkers union. I have seen so many kids fumble footballs and miss passes you’d swear part of the pre-game ritual included smearing Crisco on their mitts. I’ve seen baseball and softball players swing at pitches that weren’t even in the same time zone, let along the strike zone.
And sorry coaches, but I have also seen game strategies that resemble something written up by General George Armstrong Custer. What was the score of that game at the Little Big Horn anyway?
So maybe a questionable call does decide a game or two every decade or so. But do you know what; those games were usually decided a long time beforehand. By a kid who couldn’t hit a free throw even if the Spalding was attached to a drone. By a kid who ran the anchor leg of the 4-by-200 relay wearing more jewelry than Mr. T in his heyday.
You’ve probably done your share of yelling at the refs. Why not wear that Scarlet R yourself?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Saying goodbye to Bob Welch

The Bob Welch most folks recollect threw fastballs in the high 90s.
Welch would rear back and the ball would come out of his hand already spitting sparks. Halfway to the plate you’d testify in court that it had a comet’s tail.
Just ask Reggie Jackson.
It was an iconic moment in game two of the 1978 World Series. It was Jackson’s Yankees taking on the Dodgers. Welch was a 21-year-old rookie out of Eastern Michigan University called into the game to protect a one-run lead with one out in the ninth inning. He got Thurman Munson to fly out before facing Jackson, one of the game’s most feared power hitters.
The at-bat lasted more than five minutes. Welch threw nine pitches and all of them were pure, unapologetic heat. There was no indecision in his approach. On a 3-2 count, Welch scorched the inside corner. Reggie swung and missed and the Dodgers won.

Welch, who won 211 games in 17 major league seasons from 1978 to 1990, died Monday in Seal Beach, California, of a heart attack. He was just 57.
Welch, who grew up in Ferndale and attended Hazel Park High School, was named to All-Star teams in both the American and National leagues, and won the American League Cy Young Award in 1990.
That’s strictly the national recollection.
But folks who knew Bob Welch from back home in Oakland County, have other memories.
Carol Sheldon was a longtime teacher and coach in Hazel Park. Sheldon, who is playing in a softball tournament down in Tennessee this week, posted this on Facebook:
What I remember about Bob was that he was always happy to come home to Tiger Stadium. He was always so good to the fans in Detroit and had time to sign a few autographs. But what I most remember was the day (near Christmas) he walked into my volleyball practice at HP and ask if he could do some throwing at the other end of the gym. Of course I said yes! After he was finished he walked up to a couple my Varsity VB players and asked them if they would teach him how to serve! He told the girls that he had moved to California and he thought he better learn how to play VB. Needless to say my girls were very excited to teach him. I know he took the time to talk to students at HP about his life. You will be missed Bob, especially in HP.
It was in June of 1974 when Bob Welch graduated from Hazel Park High. Greg Esler is a ’73 Hazel Park High grad.
“Bob and I were friends. We played little league baseball and high school basketball together,” said Esler. “He was, without question, the most gifted athlete I’ve ever seen. I have never seen anyone who could throw a baseball like him. As a freshman, he threw a football 65 yards at Webb Junior High.”
Esler has known plenty of quality athletes. He’s a Hall of Fame high school basketball coach who has been at De La Salle in Warren since the late 1990s. Prior to that, he won a state championship in 1994 coaching at St. Clair Shores Lake Shore.
Esler has won numerous league, district and regional championships as well. He has more than a handful of NCAA Division 1 athletes.
“Bob was genuinely one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. He was so grounded. I mean we came from a community where our houses were what, 1,000 square feet with one bathroom? Bob went from that background to making millions and meeting people like Frank Sinatra and Fleetwood Mac, but when he came he was always just one of the guys from Hazel Park High.”
Bob Welch never turned his back on his childhood. Not when he came back to play at Tiger Stadium years ago. Not just four years ago when he returned to play in a golf outing for Greg and Rhonda Esler’s deceased son, Doug, who died in an ATV accident when he was just 15.
“Bob just showed up. It was very, very nice of him,” said Greg Esler. “I lived right across the street from Green Acres Park. Bob lived nearby. Bobby’s parents were just like mine. Our dads worked very hard and our moms stayed home to watch the kids. We didn’t have much, but we didn’t realize it. We played sports all of the time and when it rained, we read Hardy Boy books. That is how we grew up.”
Bob Welch had his best season in 1990 when he went 27-6 for Oakland. That was his Cy Young season. It was the most wins for a pitcher since the Phillies’ Steve Carlton won 27 in 1972. The last time anyone won more was when Denny McLain won 31 in 1968 for the Tigers. Welch ended his career with a record of 211-146 and an ERA of 3.47. He struck out 1,969 batters and walked 1,034 in 3,092 innings. He had 28 shutouts and 61 career complete games.
Not all of his successes came on the mound. In his 1981 book, “Five O’Clock Comes Early,” written with New York Times sportswriter George Vecsey, Bob Welch described his struggles with alcohol. It was one of the first times a pro athlete openly discussed a drinking problem.
Bob Welch had the courage to face his problem, just like he faced Reggie Jackson and countless other hitters during his career. He won that battle, just like the one in the second game of the World Series in 1978.
RIP Bob Welch. Your home town is proud of you.