Blogs > From The Bleacher Seats

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

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Pass the blow dryer, Rin Tin Tin

No doubt about it, I am a dog lover.
My wife and I have a couple of dogs at home. They sleep on our bed. They lounge on our couches. They look at me menacingly if they are reduced to reclining merely on our shag carpet and threaten to call the Humane Society.
I pet them. I nuzzle them. I coo to them. I do everything short of a Madonna-Spears greeting.
But do you know what? Their next time standing in front of a blow dryer will be their first. The next time I put on a suit coat, tie and dress slacks and go prancing around the neighborhood with them will also be the first.
That is what I don’t get about these dog shows like the Westminster Kennel Club soiree. There’s more hair spray, brushes, and blow dryers at Westminster than at your typical Miss America pageant.
I love dogs, but they are still dogs. They run in the woods. They dig in the dirt. They chase squirrels, tennis balls and birds.
It was Malachy the Pekingese with the face that looks like it took a straight right from Mayweather who was named best in show at the dog show.
Malachy looks like 11 pounds of pure, unadulterated pampered prissy pooch.
Give me a real dog. Give me a big dog. Give me a dog that does not look like it has spent the last three hours in a beauty salon. Give me a dog that could rip apart a burglar, not a purse.
I just don’t get dog shows.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Play ball!

I’m not sure if kids play Wiffle ball anymore.
Our own kids are too old, and Wiffle ball is not a game that winds up in
the headlines, on SportsCenter or Facebook very often if ever.
Plastic bats, a plastic ball with slits shaped like Hot Tamale candies cut into it, and base paths much more on the honor system than the grass itself.
But what a great game. The ball’s peculiar aerodynamics turn everyone into a Tim Wakefield or one of the Niekros. The bat speed generated means everyone can launch like Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera or Babe Ruth on steroids.

But Wiffle ball was only the start of baseball for lots of kids in my era. There was nothing remotely organized about it. Show up in a backyard with a few friends and swing away.
We eventually graduated. We grabbed balls and bats manufactured with a
little more substance. Louisville Sluggers coaxed from white ash. Balls fashioned from cork, twine and leather.
Hard ball was a rite of passage. Everybody took a bad hop or two in the mouth; we all got hit with errant pitches. But there was no turning back. Wiffle ball was a kids’ game. Hard ball had a more flinty edge to it.
It still was not very well organized. There was never a schedule taped to the refrigerator or color-coded pants and shirts. There were no umpires; we just ruled by majority vote.
Not enough players? Right field is out. No home run fence. Either the apple tree at Thibby’s signified a homer or you legged everything out in the school yard.
We all graduated to high school ball, American Legion and some even played in college.
But the bottom line was, everybody played and I think that is part of the eternal attraction of baseball. Everybody, somewhere along the line, has whacked a ball with a bat. They have picked up a ball and thrown it. They have caught a ball, or at least attempted to catch a ball, headed their way.
That is at least partially why we get so pumped up about the Tigers getting ready to begin spring training in Florida. We all can relate, at least on some level. We see Justin Verlander and we see ourselves. Granted, the Cy Young Award winner throws about 40-50 mph faster than most of us. We see Cabrera swat the ball into another zip code, and we see ourselves smacking a home run in gym class or was it little league? We see Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland and Comerica Park, and we see the ball field in the school yard or the one at Thibby’s house, only there is no apple tree as the line of demarcation for a homer in the major leagues.
Spring training in both Florida and Arizona beckons for major league players. February 19 is the voluntary reporting date for pitchers, catchers and injured players; and Feb. 24 is the earliest for full-squad workouts.
Even in a winter as mild as this one has been, that is the one true sign of spring for me. It’s not the daffodils peeking up through the clay or the hummingbirds booking a return flight to Michigan.
It is spring training. It is the Tigers on the radio and the Tigers on television. It is hearing Mario Impemba and Rod Allen doing the televised games. It is Jim Price and Dan Dickerson on the radio.
You can have your chirping birds and your chattering squirrels. I prefer the applause in the background of the broadcast and the home plate umpire who can be heard calling balls and strikes. I like listening to the concessionaires selling hot dogs and the fabled crack of the bat is still a sound that causes me to both pause and smile just a little bit.
At least a couple of decades past my last earnest trip to the batter’s box, there is something about baseball that still tugs at me.
Good luck this year, Tigers. Prince Fielder is making what, $23 million this season? We’d play all day for nothing except a bottle of Montain Dew bought from Caruso’s gas station across the street.
It is all the same thing, really.
Impemba, Allen and me. Not exactly Tinker to Evers to Chance, but plenty good enough.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Thanks Clint, you made my day

I’ve always been a big Clint Eastwood fan.
He is the quintessential tough guy. Anyone who can cause grown men to lose control of all bodily functions with just a sneer is all right in my book.
Unless, of course, that sneer is aimed my way. And I am without Depends.

From those early westerns to Dirty Harry to movies like Absolute Power, Million Dollar Baby and Gran Torino, I just like his work.
I also like his most recent effort, a two-minute advertisement for the Chrysler Corporation.
It focuses in on Detroit, and the comeback of the auto industry.
In the ad, Eastwood says, “We find a through tough times. If we can’t find a way, we make one. All that matters now is what’s ahead, how do we come from behind, how do we come together and how do we win. Detroit is showing us it can be done, and what’s true about them is true about all of us. This country cannot be knocked down with one punch.”
Right on, Clint. You made my day.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Saying goodbye to Mr. Stern

Mr. Stern was a great guy.
Great might be an overused word, but in this case it cannot be emphasized enough.
Mr. Stern was the husband of Shirley and the dad of Sherry, Jeff and Ric.
We all grew up together, and the Welcome Mat at the Stern house was always out. That, despite plenty of reasons to yank it back inside.

We played Wiffle ball constantly in the Stern’s backyard. That meant well-worn basepaths in Mr. Stern’s impeccable grass and occasionally, emphatic footsteps through his beloved garden. It meant dents in the white aluminum siding that adorned the house, and Mr. Stern never said a word of admonishment.

We’d blast music from downstairs, and our play list did not include Como, Sinatra or Bennett.  We leaned toward Humble Pie. We listened to Vanilla Fudge. We liked Alice Cooper, The Stooges and the J. Geils Band. None of the above had a lead singer named Pavarotti.  Mr. Stern never complained.

Nobody in our neighborhood was rich, either.  Garages were full of Fords and Chevys, not Ferraris and Cadillacs. Grocery budgets were often etched in stone.
Yet when we were teenagers, we would descend on the Stern kitchen like locusts shaking off a Weight Watchers regiment. There wasn’t a hot dog we could not inhale or a Twinkie we did not cherish. A full refrigerator was our Playboy magazine. We lusted with both heart and stomach.  We’d eat a week’s worth of groceries in an hour and a half. Mr. Stern just smiled.
That’s how his son, Jeff, found him the other morning. A half-smile on his face. Mr. Stern died in his sleep. A great guy is gone. A truly great guy.

Monday, February 6, 2012

A true student-athlete

Royal Oak's Mariah Gardziola puts a shot up for the Ravens. The senior center excels both on the court and in the classroom. (Journal Register photo)

The student-athlete.
More and more, it seems, that is a complete contradiction.
Check out the resumes of a lot of the high school seniors who just committed to colleges across the country. They are full of things like height, weight and time in the 40-yard dash.
Does anybody even bother to list a grade point average, or in the world of big time college athletics, is that not even an afterthought?
Royal Oak High School senior center Mariah Gardziola is, by any definition, a student-athlete. She is the talented center on a team that is 14-1 overall and 11-1 in the Oakland Activities Association Blue Division.
Gardziola scored 16 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in the Ravens’ 45-26 league victory over Bloomfield Hills Lahser Thursday night.
She also has a 3.9938 grade point average accrued at the International Academy, a school she has attended full-time since the ninth grade.
The International Academy is a public, tuition-free high school of choice for students of 17 Oakland County school districts collaborating in consortium with university and business partners. It provides a unique blend of rigorous academic standards, practical and career-related learning as well as personal development opportunities. The International Academy has three campuses: IA Central in Bloomfield Hills, IA West in White Lake Township and IA East in Troy.
Gardziola goes to the Bloomfield Hills campus. She attended both grade school and middle school in Royal Oak before going to the International Academy.
She is still deciding which college she wants to attend. Still in the mix are Kalamazoo College, the Residential College at the University of Michigan, and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
She’s both a National Honor Society and French Honor Society tutor at the International Academy. Gardziola would like to parlay her interest in languages by studying international relations in college.
Before embarking on a career as an international business liaison or in the diplomatic corps, she wants to spend time in the Peace Corps after graduating from college.
Ideally, those 18 months with the Peace Corps would be spent  somewhere in Africa where she’d like to help build schools.
“Some people think that we have problems in this country, but they are nothing in comparison to what others go through in other countries,” said Gardziola.
She has already done community service projects aimed at helping eradicate illiteracy.
There’s plenty to read into Gardziola’s outstanding high school career as a student-athlete, said Brian Sopata, her basketball coach at Royal Oak.
“Mariah takes in everything you say,” said Sopata. “While a lot of the players might not appreciate the value of what we are doing now until it’s five years or more down the road,  Mariah gets it now. She knows how important this experience is and she wants to be very good at everything she does.
“Mariah is a good player. She is among the top five players in the league. She played AAU for the first time this summer; she played AAU with Sami (Stormont) and that was really important. Those two developed chemistry,” said Sopata.
Stormont is Royal Oak’s best player. A marvelously talented junior, she knocked down a school record 42 points in a victory over Ferndale earlier this season.
Gardziola is one of just four seniors on the team. The others are Lizzie Girardot, Annie Meinberg and Monica Kucharek.
It’s not easy balancing basketball with a rigorous academic schedule. Just keeping up with the academics at the International Academy is difficult enough.
There are students. There are athletes. Occasionally, there are true student-athletes. Mariah Gardziola is one who deserves the hyphen.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A Super (Big) Bowl (Of Chili)

I’m a huge Super Bowl fan.
Emphasis on huge.
To me, Super Bowl Sunday is only a couple of pounds worth of stuffing shy of Thanksgiving in terms of gluttony.
While the fare is different, it is no less copious.
I’ve already told my wife to have the defibrillator on standby. That, plus put a bowl of nitroglycerine capsules right next to the XXL bowl of M&Ms and the massive jar of Twizzlers.
Yeah, it is going to be that kind of night.
I’ve already got my autograph on an entire tray of pulled pork. I’m going to swing by the beef jerky store Saturday so I’ll be ready before kickoff. Doctor, is there a vegan in the house?
I was talking to a woman who works for Garden Fresh in Ferndale just yesterday. She is not part of the salsa group; she works with the dips. I could not have been more excited. I told her I did not even know Garden Fresh made dips. Knowing how tremendous their salsa is, I asked her for some advice. She told me to be sure and try the Artichoke Spinach 4 Cheese Dip and the Chipotle Dip. I nearly sprinted out of the gymnasium and headed straight to the store.
There’s a vat of my wife’s delicious chili in the fridge already.
If you’re not doing anything on Sunday, stop on by. It is B.Y.O.G., though. That’s Bring Your Own Gluttony.
Tom Brady, Eli Manning and playing Taps for Hostess Twinkies.
I sure hope there’s a television in the emergency room.