Blogs > From The Bleacher Seats

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

Thursday, February 28, 2013

The check's in the mail

I opened the mail today.
There’s nothing remarkable about that.
I do that pretty much every afternoon I come into work.
There was an envelope from Ralph Haney, the varsity baseball coach at Clawson High School.
We’ve known each other for years.
The envelope contained a money order for $100 and a short note. The $100 goes to the Renal Race 2, a run that will take place in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, in mid-March with the proceeds going toward the eradication of renal cell cancer.
It’s a cause I know plenty about since I was diagnosed with renal cell, or kidney cancer, about three years ago.
Ralph wrote:
Jim, I read your article. I spoke with my team and thought we could help out. We were part of a chili cook-off with Rick Guzowski. Thanks for all your efforts in sports. You are welcome any time to Clawson Baseball.
Clawson High varsity baseball coach and Craig Bynum, one of his players.

Honest to a handful of Kleenex tissues, it brought tears to my eyes. So did an earlier offer from Jim Martin, the revered athletic trainer at Lamphere, to donate money to the race, too.  I told Jim to forget it; to just have a cold bottle of water waiting next time I’m at one of his school’s events.
People do the darnedest things. Just like Ryan, the high school kid who lives across the street, who came out to help while I was shoveling our driveway. When I tried to give him some money, he refused.
There are plenty of great people in this world. Like Ralph and his Clawson High baseball team. Like Jim at Lamphere. Like Ryan who lives across the street.
I’m feeling great today. In more ways than one.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Renal Race 2: Running for our lives

The Renal Race 2.
Until I got the diagnosis a few years ago, I did not even know what renal was.
Then the doctor added that my renal cell cancer had metastasized.
All right, the word cancer got my attention. I did not need a Merriam Webster dictionary, a Roget’s thesaurus or even cursory Google search.
I found out that renal cell cancer is a type of kidney cancer.  It wasn’t content to just loiter in one kidney, either. It had spread to my bones, lungs and soon thereafter, my brain.
I was not too worried about the last locale. There’s not a whole lot of intelligent matter to adhere to inside my cranium. I prove that on a pretty regular basis.
Still, it is hardly the greatest diagnosis you want to hear. The only reason I even went to the doctor in the first place was that my side was aching and I thought I’d pulled a muscle from raking leaves or maybe even had a collapsed lung.
Three years or so later, I am feeling great. So don’t start sending those sympathy cards just yet. Sorry you can’t go cheap on me and turn those wilting Valentine’s Day roses into a funeral arrangement. Just keep me on the prayer lists while I pray that God grades on a very liberal curve.
The Renal Race 2 will be held on March 16 in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and I plan on participating. There will be a 5k and a one-mile fun walk. A T-shirt is promised to the first 100 to register. The deadline to pre-register is March 5, and the cost is $15.

Proceeds go to the fight against kidney cancer. The cause is near and dear for obvious reasons.
It’s pretty much the same reason the race was initiated last year by Erin Rebo-Pikul, whose husband, Frank, got a similar diagnosis as mine a couple of years back.
Here’s part of their story, as told by Erin:
“In a dimly lit emergency room, our privacy only being curtains, we stared at each other. The last thing we heard was, “We looked at the scan, and there’s an 85 percent chance it’s cancer.”  My only response was, “Well, that leaves 15 percent doesn’t it?”  No one ever expects to hear those words; or wants to believe them. But, it happens every day. And, it’s terrifying and sad and you feel like you want to throw up. You feel alone and overwhelmed and beyond helpless.
"After a year of keeping it to ourselves, I couldn’t handle it anymore. It was only made worse by finding out that after surgery and months of treatment, it was back. How do you look at your husband, who’s fighting for his life and not have one answer or solution? I vowed to take care of him always until death do us part…I was certainly not ready for that part. How do you look at your baby, so innocent and unknowing?  Or your mother-in-law, your husband’s mommy, and have no comfort to give? Such responsibility was placed on me and yet I never knew it until something like this happened.
"The Renal Race changed all of that. When I told our story, out loud for the first time, I was just as scared as the night in that emergency room. “How will people perceive this?  Is Frank going to be upset when people starting asking questions? Will anyone even read it?” But, there you all were, and continued to be. It wasn’t until then that Frank could really begin to grieve or really accept that this happened. But, moreover, The Renal Race became bigger than the cancer. We were helping other people when we didn’t even know how to help ourselves.  And that is something unbelievable.”
Honestly, I am not looking forward to the eight-hour drive just to waddle through the one mile I’ll be handling. That is not the point, though.
The point is supporting a cause of such a personal nature. A handful of years ago, I wouldn’t have thought about driving that far for a run. But a handful of years ago, I didn’t have a scar that is about a foot long across the lower portion of my back. A handful of years ago I was not on a regiment that required a handful of pills every morning followed by a handful every night.
I’m feeling good, but every three months they do another scan. There’s always that trepidation when you wait for the doctor to deliver the results.
I just had a scan on Friday. No matter what the results, I plan on making the drive to Wilkes-Barre next month for Renal Race 2. I’ll be there to support Frank, Erin and their son. All right, I’ll be there to support me, too.
For more information on Renal Race 2, visit or go to The Renal Race page on Facebook.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

It's time for spring training

I’ve never been to spring training.
Well, not really. Years ago, I spent a day or so in Vero Beach and saw the Los Angeles Dodgers. I still chuckle when I recall while the team was doing laps, a few of the veterans hid behind a backstop at the far side of the facility.
They stood there and chatted, waiting for the guys to come around again, and then they promptly joined their teammates.
Man, there’s no way this team is going to do much of anything this season, I thought.
So what happens? The Dodgers made it all the way to the World Series that year, only to fall to the Oakland A’s.
So much for the value of spring training.
Still, I would love to go to Lakeland to watch the Detroit Tigers.
Spring training seems to be much more intimate than when the teams come north. The ballparks are much smaller, therefore the players are more accessible.
We’ve gone down to the West Palm area in Florida for years. The place we stay is near Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter. Both the Miami Marlins and the St. Louis Cardinals use the stadium and the surrounding facilities for spring training.

It’s a great environment. While we have never gone down in the spring time, we are there during the summer. While we are in Florida, we go see the Jupiter Hammerheads, a Class A team that plays in the Florida State League.
Tickets are cheap, site lines are fantastic, and parking is free. Hot dogs go for a couple of bucks, and you don’t need to re-mortgage your house for a few beers.
Take me out to the ballgame. Especially if the game is in Florida at a minor league ballpark.


Monday, February 11, 2013

No cheating heart for this student-athlete

Lance Armstrong’s coolly calculated cheating.
Titus Young’s juvenile behavior on the football field.
Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Alex Rodriguez. The Black Sox Scandal, the City College of New York basketball team point-shaving scandal, and Danny Almonte pitching in the Little League World Series when he was over-age at 14.
It’s pretty easy to get jaded in the world of sports. Until you run across the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s collaboration with Farm Bureau Insurance. This is the 24th year of Farm Bureau partnering with the state association to give $1,000 college scholarships to deserving student-athletes who represent their high schools in at least one sport in which the MHSAA sponsors a postseason tournament.
Royal Oak Shrine’s Connor Lockman is one of those scholarship winners.
Connor Lockman wins the 800-meter run at the Catholic League track and field championships last spring.
Lockman will earn his fourth letter in track and field this spring to go with four letters in soccer and one letter in cross country. He has served as a team captain in cross country as well as track and field. An all-league performer in all three sports, Lockman was the 800 meter champion the past two years. He has participated in the state meet in both cross country and track.
Lockman is also involved in ski club, backstage tech crew, the Winners Circle leadership forum, and Kairos. He has also been a youth soccer coach and referee and will attend Michigan State University to study pre-law.
A requirement for scholarship applicants is to write an essay.
A quote from Lockman’s essay follows: “Sportsmanship is turning for the finish line with one hundred meters left and not giving up.  Running toward the pain because you are the anchor of your 3,200-meter relay.  Second place would not matter than much for you because you have three more opportunities at a championship.  Your teammates may not though.  You run towards the pain for your teammates and that is true sportsmanship.”
Wright Wilson is Lockman’s cross country coach, as well as the track and field coach at Shrine.
"Connor is a very appropriate recipient for this award. He puts maximum effort into everything he does, whether in the class, on the track, on the course, or on the field. He's really adept at keeping everything in balance as well, and that indicates the type of person who is going to succeed in college. MHSAA has made a fine choice," said his coach.
"Connor sets the pace with his dedication to running, and he continues to challenge himself both in the workouts and in the meets. He's a dependable anchor for several of our relays and we are never out of the race if we are going to hand the baton to Connor," continued Wilson.
Barry Bonds flexing artificial muscles. Mark McGwire and Alex Rodriguez smacking balls into the stratosphere with pure deceit. A bum birth certificate from a 14-year-old kid. A Tour de France winner with more additives than a couple of Ball Park Franks.
Thank goodness for student-athletes like Connor Lockman. Thankfully, there are many more Lockmans than Armstrongs. They just get much less attention.

Friday, February 8, 2013

A Barry memorable occasion

Barry Sanders was undoubtedly my favorite Detroit Lion.
His ability to run with the football was absolutely amazing. He could brake quicker than a hyperactive Ferrari entering a speed trap. He could change directions more rapidly than a 12-point buck who finds itself jogging into a National Rifle Association picnic.
Sanders provided more highlight film material than anyone who carried the ball before him, and anyone who has carried it since.

It was his misfortune to be with an organization as inept as the Lions. While the team  had some good seasons with Sanders in the huddle, it never even came close to reaching the greatness of its greatest player.
Who can blame Sanders when he abruptly up and left for good? How much punishment -- both mental and physical -- could one guy take?
Sanders is signing autographs at the DC Sports store at Lakeside Mall in Sterling Heights on Saturday, Feb. 9.
That sounds intriguing, but I am just not an autograph guy. In fact, I think the only one I ever got as a kid was from John Gordy, an offensive lineman with the Lions, when he was a speaker at a youth football banquet in my hometown. I was probably nine years old, and my gut was full of chicken, peas and mashed potatoes.
The only other autograph I have is from Muhammad Ali. I had the good fortune to visit Ali's house in Berrien Springs with my friend and former Michigan boxing commissioner Stuart Kirschenbaum a handful of years ago. The former champion signed some boxing gloves.
I figured I would cherish the glove because I'm a huge boxing fan and an even bigger fan of Ali's, but these days the red leather glove is down in the baseman resting somewhere in close proximity to the furnace.
If I was going to get another autograph, it would be from Barry Sanders. Only I am not wide-eyed enough. As much as I marveled at his running, I just don't think that highly of a person's signature.
It might be because of this occupation, whereI have seen plenty of the biggest stars in sports up close and personal. They are much more like you and I than most of us can imagine.
Still, the best Barry Sanders story I can muster occurred far away from the football field. I was eating at the food court at Great Lakes Crossing with my famly one summer evening and Sanders came in to pick up a carryout order of General Tsao chicken or something like that. We were sitting at a table near the counter where he was picking up his order, and he looked my way. We had some minor league semblance of a relationship because I was doing a lot of work for the Detroit Lions back then, and Barry Sanders smiled and nodded.
The kids still talk about that, and they do not qualify as kids any longer. They are much older. A couple of them have kids themselves.
I'll take a nod over an autograph any day. And that is no B.S.