Blogs > From The Bleacher Seats

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

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Shaking off disappointment at Lutheran North

Two-year-old Josie in a fairy costume.
Wings in pastel shades. Shimmering when they caught the sun just right. A Dum Dum sucker firmly implanted in her mouth that she refused to turn over even to her dad and who can blame her?
That was Halloween for a two-year-old in downtown Royal Oak last Sunday.
Josie’s our granddaughter. Her dad, Kyle is our son. I remember when my wife, Kim, used to make Halloween costumes for Kyle and our three other kids.
There was no Costume USA or Party City. There was fabric, a sewing machine and voila, a puppy dog or an ugly witch or a Star Wars character.
The Lutheran North soccer team will go striding into another season soon enough. (The Macomb Daily/RAY J. SKOWRONEK)
Julian is our one-year-old grandson. His trick or treating – along with many other youngsters -- was sadly rained out.
Some years we passed out full-size candy bars. Other years, it might’ve been a sleeve of Smarties. Forget the stock market;
just check out what the Evans family is handing out the front door to see how the local economy is doing.
I got to thinking about life, passing out candy, and how time passes by the other night while I was at Lutheran North’s state semifinal soccer game against Flint Powers Catholic earlier this week.
The Lutheran North Mustangs lost 2-1 in a shootout. The players were devastated, an emotion that was etched on their faces as they came off the field. Contrast that with the jubilation of the players from Flint Powers Catholic.
The pain of such a loss probably seem like it’ll last forever for the young players. Trust me, it does eventually subside. The juniors on the roster will be seniors. The sophomores will be juniors and the sole ninth grader will be in the 10th grade next year.
Noah and Kasey Lesnau are on the Lutheran North team. Their dad is Jeff Lesnau, and I knew Jeff when he was just a kid. My wife and I know their grandparents, Rocky and Mary Ann Lesnau.
Jeff wanted to be a sportswriter at one time. He’s found other career paths.
I talked to Mary Ann before the Flint Powers game. She could not have been more excited to watch the upcoming game. Rocky died a while back, but you know he would have loved seeing his grandsons playing on the field at Brandon High School at few days ago, too.
Lutheran North lost on the night before Halloween. But do you know what, life went on. At least a few hardy kids braved the weather, held out their bags, and were rewarded with Laffy Taffy, Milk Duds and Dum Dum suckers.
As tough as the moment seems to be, the sun always rises the next day. There will be another day’s worth of celebrity gossip on TMZ and the last time I looked, Butterball is still in the Thanksgiving turkey business.
We’ll be saying grace for Thanksgiving, and paying our credit card bills after Christmas.
The Mustangs will be back in the fall. They will be back with a vengeance. A year older. A year bigger. And mostly, a year better.
All the parents loved watching them play. All of the grandparents, too. I know at least one grandpa who would have loved it, too.
Next Halloween, the treats just might be theirs. A Snickers bar. Some Twizzlers. And a state championship.
“To God be the glory,” said Lutheran North coach Brian Horvath after the game.
Maybe He can pass some along in 2014.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Losing Jim Leyland is a crying shame

Jim Leyland cared.
Do you know what, that is the bottom line for me.
He moonwalked in the clubhouse. He got sprayed with sparkling cider.
He bawled and he sniffled and sure there were cynics who rolled their eyes.
Me, mine were too busy tearing up, too. Pass me some Kleenex. Thanks for the memories, Skip.
I like a guy who cares. I dislike guys who don't.
Cry me a river, Jim.
Go on and turn in our man cards, but there is nothing wrong with guys who cry.
Did I agree with everything the Tigers’ manager did on a daily basis? Hardly, but my resume in professional baseball begins at the ticket booth and ends in the beer line. Sure I played the game, but swatting a baseball off a tee, or smacking it on a high school diamond hardly puts me in the Mensa Society of baseball.
Still, bitching is part of the fun of being a fan. We're all experts because we have plunked our money down. We are all smart because we have yanked on our too-tight pants and stirrup socks and waddled out to the slow pitch softball diamond. Some of us have even picked up the phone and whined on sports talk radio. We sit around the cafeteria at work eating our bologna sandwiches with the slice of cheese and say "Geez, what was Leyland doing last night?"
That is the nature of sports. That is human nature. We are all experts even though my expertise is as imaginary as Criss Angel's levitation act.
Sure it drove me nuts when Leyland would take out a starter and hand over the team's fate to a bullpen that was held together by duct tape, twine and too many hanging curves. Sure I screamed a few times when the team failed to advance a runner be it by bunt, hit and run or whatever.
But do you know what; I scream more in a typical commute to work than I do in a week's worth of Tigers' games so I figure that is a mighty fine batting average on Leyland's part.
He gave us some fine moments, and that is not something the Detroit area is currently known for. We're the butt of plenty of jokes, but Leyland and his players kicked the butts of a lot of teams hailing from more scenic locations.
Three division titles and two American League pennants in eight years in the Tigers' dugout.
Leyland is 68 years old and when he announced that he was stepping down a week ago, he cited low fuel in the tank. He started to tear up a couple of times at the press conference with Dave Dombrowski sitting next to him. He cried plenty after the Tigers won a playoff series or the pennant. He thanked his players, the front office, team owner Mike Ilitch and also us  fans.
We’re the fans that booed him. We’re the fans that cheered him. We’re the fans that agreed with him. We’re the fans that disagreed with him.
Yep, we fans have more personalities than Sybil.
Don't take any of it personally, Skip. It is just because the Tigers mean a lot to us. Just like they mean a lot to you. Jim Leyland cared. That is why I liked him.
Pass that Jim a Kleenex. Pass this Jim a Kleenex. See you later, Skip.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

60 Minutes does Detroit

I was watching the 60 Minutes segment on Detroit Sunday evening.
Then the furor ensued but honestly, I’m not sure what the uproar is about. There was some good, and there was some bad. Just like the city itself.
Dan Gilbert of Quicken Loans talked about Detroit’s potential. He’s the second-leading landowner in the city, behind only General Motors.
There was a resident whose group razes abandoned buildings. There was an urban farmer who raises eggplant and other vegetables.
Then there were the neighborhoods and the desolation; the burned out buildings and the general disarray.
Hence, the outcry. But why, I ask. I am not a suburbanite who never ventures south of 8 Mile Road. My wife and I are in the city all of the time. Our youngest son lives on the east side of Detroit near Kelly and 7 Mile. His house will never be featured in Better Homes and Gardens.
Anybody who claims that devastation is not part of the city’s landscape is myopic. Turn left or right off Woodward Avenue and go just a few blocks and the blight can be overwhelming. Anyone who has traveled Gratiot or Grand River; Trumbull or Temple knows they are not exactly TMZ bus routes where tourists are looking for celebrities.
We were at PJ’s Lager House on Michigan Avenue a month or so ago watching our son’s band play on a Sunday night. All of a sudden, people from inside the bar rushed out the door. They were toting towels and looks of real concern. A young man from Germany had been stabbed. Somebody had swiped his backpack. Welcome to America.
But, do you know what, it could happen in any city. There are garden spots in Chicago, Boston and New York and there are areas where you wouldn’t want to go at, say, 11:30 p.m. Or 11:30 a.m., for that matter.
Detroit has its problems. There is no argument there. Detroit has its potential. There is no argument there, either.
The folks from 60 Minutes did a segment on the largest city in America ever to declare bankruptcy. Was it OK’d by the folks from Pure Michigan? No, but was it a one-sided hatchet job? No again.
It was what it was. Just like Detroit is what it is.
Let’s just move on and help the city raise itself up.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Can the tuba section play Taps for Raiola's career?

I’m a former marching band member. I say that proudly.
I’m also a former high school football player and an ex-college lacrosse player. I say that proudly, too.
For a lot of reasons, I take offense at what the Lions’ Dominic Raiola said to members of the tuba section of the outstanding University of Wisconsin marching band that played at Lambeau Field Sunday.
According to the Tom Melton Scouting blog Raiola and the Lions were on the field in pre-game warm-ups when he turned around and called tuba players “fat (expletive)” and told them “they sucked.”
From the blog, Raiola was yelling at a band member saying, “Hey fat guy, you want a hot dog?’’ Plus he hurled several other profanity-laced insults.

“Basically, they were verbally assaulted by a member of the Detroit Lions team," Wisconsin director of bands Michael Leckrone told "To their credit, they just stood there and did what they were supposed to do, which is focus on their performance. I think they were a little bit shaken by it, and they reported it to me after the conclusion of the pregame show and we were back in our seats."
On Monday, Lions’ head coach Jim Schwartz said that he’d “be very disappointed if that was the case because that’s certainly not the character we want to display.”
Consider yourself disappointed, coach. Raiola has since belatedly apologized to the band.
"My interaction with the Wisconsin Marching Band was inappropriate," Raiola said. "I apologize to those I offended along with all of the members of Wisconsin's marching band. I also apologize to the Lions' organization and my teammates. I understand the standards to which we should conduct ourselves, and my actions Sunday fell dramatically short of those standards."
The Lions lost at Green Bay for the 23rd straight time Sunday.
I played the trumpet, not the tuba. I really didn’t march at many games because I was playing football. But I had a lot of friends in the marching band. And I had a lot of friends on the team.
None of those football teammates said anything akin to what the foul-mouthed Raiola said.
Raiola is a jerk. I don’t know him personally, but from afar no one in the NFL has talked more for less reason. He is constantly yapping.
In December 2010 he was fined $15,000 by the Lions for taunting a fan in Miami after a Lions’ win.
In December 2008 he was fined $7,500 by the team for making an obscene gesture toward fans at Ford Field after a loss dropped the Lions to 0-13.
Berating a marching band member. Belittling college kids who worked hard to make the prestigious University of Wisconsin marching band.
And this guy is a team captain?
Maybe it’s time for the tuba section to gather and play “Taps” for Raiola’s mediocre career.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Listen up, you Muggs!

The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray …
Ditto with senior citizens.
Don’t I know it.
My wife, Kim, and I had made plans this past Saturday night. It was my belated birthday trek.
We were going to PJ’s Lager House on Michigan Avenue in Detroit to see the Muggs, one of my favorite local bands.
Things started out well enough. We stopped at Nemo’s to grab a burger. We were going to watch the last couple of innings of the Tigers’ game and then walk the block or so to the Lager House to hear the Muggs.

Things went as planned, until the Tigers unexpectedly came back from a 6-0 deficit to tie it up in the bottom of the ninth and later beat the White Sox, 7-6, in the 12th inning.
We left the euphoric crowd at Nemo’s and got to the Lager House, only to find that the Ill Itches – the second group on the bill -- hadn’t begun to play yet. The group had wisely decided to wait until the Tigers’ game had ended before starting its set.
Nothing against the Ill Itches, but Kim and I were getting weary. We listened for a while, but it was nearing midnight and still no Muggs. We sat near the bar. We yawned. We yawned again.
It finally dawned on us. Our demographics didn’t mesh. Kim and I are on brink of Social Security. A lot of the other patrons at the Lager House looked like they still could be collecting allowances. We got in the car and went home.
The Tigers were great. Undoubtedly, the Muggs were, too. I am sure the crowd at PJ’s loved them. By then, Kim and in were in our pjs at home.
Does rock and roll offer an early bird special?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Bad break for Lions' Nate Burleson

Now I’m not a cynical sort. I still put out a plate of sugar cookies on Christmas Eve and make sure some carrots are strewn in the backyard come Easter Sunday.
Sure I feel sorry for Nate Burleson, who was involved in a single-car crash early Tuesday morning and fractured his arm.
Burleson was on westbound I-696 in Farmington Hills at about 2:25 a.m. when he crashed his 2009 GMC Yukon into a center median. Apparently he was distracted by a pizza box sliding off his front seat, according to Michigan State Police Lt. Michael Shaw. The police report also indicates that alcohol was not a factor.
Burleson had been at Happy’s Pizza & Pub in West Bloomfield for an appearance with teammate Stephen Tulloch.  
Now I don’t know Burleson. I don’t know if he drinks or not. I don’t even know what time the appearance was scheduled for. But anything that happens at almost 2:30 in the morning is subject to at least a raised eyebrow or two.
Call me cynical. Call me naïve. Call Dr. Oz to do surgery on Nate’s arm. Or should it be Dr. Seuss?
Then again, these are the Lions. This is a team that historically has had more bad fortune than a Bernie Madoff investor. Burleson was their leading receiver this season. He had six catches for 116 yards in the team’s win at Washington Sunday. He led the team with 19 receptions through three games.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Hang in there, football players

Here's an open letter to the players on the Ferndale football team.
And the kids from Hazel Park.
And Lamphere and Lakeview and Fitzgerald and anywhere else where wins have been tougher to come by than compliments from Oscar the Grouch.

Hang in there.
I know it is not Plato. It is not Socrates. It ain't even Eminem. It is just Evans.
Right now, the easiest thing to do is quit. Listen to your alleged friends loitering in the halls at school or the mall and just turn your equipment in. Take a last glance at the scoreboard, see the way the numbers are adding up against your team, and get discouraged.
None of the above teams have won a game yet this season.
It is no fun to lose. Somehow, the cheerleaders seem a little quieter. The trumpets in the marching band are a little less strident. The trips back to school in the bus seem much, much longer.
That ankle you wrenched on the third and 23 play is a little more painful. That bump you took  on the failed goal line stand is still throbbing. Every day, a new bruise seems to take up residence somewhere on your body.
Hang in there.
It know it’s not Shakespeare. It’s not Walt Whitman. It ain’t poetry. It’s just some prose from Evans.
Keep showing up for practice. Keep hefting in the weight room. Keep working harder and when you figure you’ve had enough, punch in and get back to work.
Lead by example, no matter where you reside on the depth chart. It doesn’t matter if you hardly leave the field during games, or if you spend most every Friday night toeing the spectating side of the sidelines.
Lead by encouraging your friends. I mean the ones on the team, not the ones snickering in the halls and the malls. Trust me, those aren’t your real friends. True friends encourage, not discourage.
They want you to quit and what does that set you up for later in life? Quitting again and again. Believe me, that is not a precedent you want to set. Life is full of pot holes and detours. College classes get too tough? Just quit school. The boss at work getting on your case? Just quit your job. Your wife starts to grouse too much? Just dial 1-800-CALL-SAM. Your newborn has a sleep pattern that maxes out at three hours per night. Take a walk out the front door and don’t return until you’re lassoed by the Friend of the Court.
Wins have been tough to come by for Hazel Park's Gary Tyner (with ball) and his teammates. (The Daily Tribune/LIZ CARNEGIE)

Coaches talk about the value of sports. A reference point of that talk is often life lessons. The ironic thing is, some of those lessons are not even realized until later in life.
I know I sound like your coaches. I know I sound like your parents. I know this isn’t necessarily something you want to read or even hear.
Everybody wants to play on a winning team. That’s why the huddles get so big at some schools where W’s pile up like dirty clothes on your bedroom floor. The cheerleaders maintain perfect choreography. The tubas oomph with greater emphasis. The players sprint onto the field before games a little faster, and their cars leave the school parking lot after another victorious game with more urgency. There is plenty of strut in their steps.
Hang in there and you’ll be strutting later. It might not be this season. It might not even be this year. But the strut will eventually come.
You know how to persevere. That is the quality I want to see when a resume crosses my desk. You know how to hang in there when the going gets tough. Everybody likes to hang out in the huddle when the wins are piling up.
Just because you’ve lost some games, you are not losers.
Don’t forget that. Just hang in there. It ain’t Plato. It ain’t Lady Gaga. It’s just Evans.