Blogs > From The Bleacher Seats

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

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Where there's smoke ...there is football practice

We smoked some cigars.
Nothing Cuban, mind you. That would have been way too expensive. Probably R.G. Duns or Tiparillos. Anything that fit into a budget that also included Turkish Taffy, Atomic Fireballs and Hostess Snowballs.
Who cares if the cigars tasted like road kill wrapped in pita bread?
We had a lunch break between our two-a-day high school football practices in the summer. The theory was that everybody would eat a healthy lunch and relax for a couple of hours before the afternoon practice got underway.
The reality was a little different, at least on one particular day in mid-August. Jack the quarterback and I opted for cigars while listening to Jimi Hendrix and Vanilla Fudge on the eight-track player in his car. I think we might have also devoured some beef jerky and swigged some Faygo pop for lunch.
About midway through the second practice session that day, Jack vomited. I think I made it a sprint or two longer, and I followed suit.
We still laugh about it today. Playing football is definitely a bonding experience.

There is certainly the shared misery aspect of the sport. According to the MHSAA, the first official day of practice this year is Monday, August 12.
Sprinting up and down a sunbaked practice field during the dog days of August is nobody’s idea of enjoyment. Doing calisthenics when it’s 95 degrees while all of your non-football-playing buddies are at the beach gives a sane person reason for pause. Bumps and bruises and much, much worse are nothing to celebrate.
Fortunately, back when I played, most of us were already in pretty good shape. A lot of the guys played baseball or basketball during the summer. Many of us also had jobs that required physical labor. Guys cut grass. Guys wielded shovels and planted trees and shrubs for a local landscaper. Guys caddied or sprinted for cars while valet parking at the local country club. Some guys even baled hay.
Absolutely nobody sat around all day long. There were no video games. There were no remote controls for the television. If you wanted to watch something else, you got up and changed the channel. The same with the garage door. If it had to be open, you got out of the car and opened it. There wasn’t a drive thru restaurant on every block, and gas stations sold gas, oil, cigarettes and soda pop and that was about it. Gas stations weren’t mini marts like they are these days with pizza, doughnuts, Slim Jims, fried chicken and 12 different kinds of flavored coffees.
So it was a lot more difficult to get fat and out-of-shape. It actually took a little effort to prepare food. You had to whip out a pan, not just your wallet, for a meal. For the rare kid who was a little plump, the coaches worked the fat off him in a hurry. They ran us mercilessly, even in heat that would cause a Bedouin to cry “Uncle.”
Somehow, we still had fun. We made memories. It is nearly time for high school kids to huddle up again. A word of caution: Healthy foods should be on the training table. Cheap cigars should not be.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Do cheaters prosper?

It was our confirmation exam at church.
After two years of classes, it was time to prove we had what it takes to sidle up to the altar on Sundays and take communion at Shepherd of the Lakes Lutheran Church.
I do not recall how many of us were in that class filled with junior high-age kids, but I do remember being allowed to take breaks.
An hour or so into the test, my buddy, Art, and I went outside for a breather.
Safely outside and out of sight of the pastor, Art pulled a book from the pocket of his jacket. It was the same book we had been studying for two years. Not the Bible, but close enough.
He looked at me. I looked at him and shook my head. A divine presence must’ve been looking down on the both of us. After a moment, Art put the book away without opening it.
Adam and Eve were tempted. So were Art and Jim.
Sometimes the impulse to cheat is just too much. Take a look around us in the world of sports.
Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers was suspended for the rest of the season for using performance enhancing drugs.
If rumors prove true, some variation of Braun’s fate seem likely for players like Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees, Nelson Cruz of the Rangers, the Tigers’ Jhonny Peralta and Melky Cabrera of Toronto.
They have all been linked to the Biogenesis clinic in Miami run by Tony Bosch. It was Bosch’s former employee, Porter Fischer, who blew the whistle.
Fischer said in a recent interview on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” that he and associates have also identified athletes from the NBA, NCAA, professional boxing, tennis and MMA, in addition to other professional baseball players who have not yet been identified.
"In just the four years that I know, it's got to be well over a hundred, easy," Fischer said on ESPN. “It's almost scary to think about how many people have gone through (Bosch's treatments) and how long he's gotten away with this."
That’s a discomforting thought. Much more discomforting than a couple of junior high kids wrestling with their conscience outside of church.
You have to wonder how widespread cheating is, don’t you? How long and how loudly did Lance Armstrong claim his innocence before admitting that he had cheated? How about that East German women’s swim team that dominated the Olympics in 1976? Tests revealed the women were full of more additives than is in a case of hotdogs.
Cheating is not just about drugs, either. What about the Black Sox scandal? Or Mike Tyson biting off a juicy chunk of Evander Holyfield’s ear? Or Rosie Ruiz taking a subway ride, hopping out and claiming she had won the Boston Marathon? Or Danny Almonte claiming to be just 12 when he pitched the Bronx team to the Little League World Series championship? Unfortunately, his birth certificate said otherwise; he was 14.
It’s not only in sports, either. The high school kid glancing at the work of his classmate. The business owner fudging his taxes. The husband who steps out on his wife, and the wife who does likewise on her husband.
Years ago, Art and I listened to our consciences. Believe me, we were not saints.
Maybe some other people should listen to their consciences, too. Saints or not.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Bankrupt Detroit doesn't need a new hockey arena

I don’t even balance a checkbook.
My wife does it all.
I don’t use a credit card.
Buy something online? Right, and while I am at it, would you like me to split an atom or possibly get to the bottom of E equals MC squared?
So my views on financial matters are tainted by a decided lack of knowledge.
But I do have a sliver of common sense, and that makes me question whether a new arena for the Red Wings will or should be built.
Detroit is a bankrupt city. It has not and cannot pay its bills. So how, in a city where creditors might be getting 10 cents on their dollar, and retired folks with pensions might be receiving the same kind of return, can a new hockey arena be justified?
Just last month, plans for an 18,000-seat arena were unveiled by the Red Wings’ owners and local economic development officials. The total cost of the new building would be $650 million, with $367 million coming from private investment and the rest public funds.
Believe me, I am all for a new hockey arena. While I have not seen the blueprints, I like the idea of not hiking up the side of Mount Everest just to get into the place and reducing the wait time in the line for the bathroom for women to, say, 45 minutes.
But how do you justify spending any public money on spit shined Zambonis and opulent luxury suites when huge chunks of the city itself are up on blocks?
Detroit is in serious trouble. Basic services are lacking. Nobody bothers to turn on the street lights and response time for police is measured by the calendar and not the clock. Public transportation is a joke and nobody is laughing. Unemployment is the norm and optimism in the neighborhoods is not.
Our youngest son lives on Detroit’s east side. While it is hardly the worst neighborhood in the city, there certainly haven’t been any home tours there recently.
The streets are full of pot holes. The sidewalks are cracked and unfortunately, many of the houses are unkempt. There aren’t any white picket fences to be seen. Plenty of bars on windows and front doors, though.
A neighborhood park? Hardly, and about the closest to that concept comes when one of the guys who lives in the house with our son rolls a basketball hoop out to end of their driveway and about 50 kids show up in under five minutes.
That appeals to me since I am a sports fan. That is also why I like the idea of a shiny new hockey arena. I like the idea of staring at a gargantuan scoreboard whose resolution would be so clear you could take out a protractor to measure the angle of Mike Babcock’s nose. I’d like eating something other than popcorn that tastes like it came straight out of a packing crate or chicken strips that no self-respecting hen would share DNA with. I’d prefer to park in a safe, secure lot and not some abandoned field that looks like Jimmy Hoffa might be buried two feet under the steel-belted radials of our Taurus.
But do you know what I’d like even more? Some peace of mind. I would like to have the streetlights go on outside of our son’s house. I’d like to have a police department that is fully staffed, one that would respond if he hears someone breaking into his house or the neighbor’s car or both.
I’d like that for everyone who resides in Detroit.
I love sports. But I love our son more. Build it and they will come. That is probably true. But once the game is over, us hockey fans will go back to the suburbs.
Detroiters will remain in the heart of darkness. Would someone please turn on the streetlights?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

George "The Animal" Steele visits a barber shop

The barber had George “The Animal” Steele in his chair.
Hence, the dilemma; what to do with a hulking former professional wrestler whose head is completely devoid of hair?
So, Brian Thayer, the owner of the Rochester Barber Shop, did the next best thing; he brought out a towel and buffed Steele’s head.
“I haven’t been in a barber’s chair in 35 years,” bellowed Steele, who is in the Detroit area promoting his autobiography, “Animal.”

Obviously George "The Animal" Steele did not appreciate barber Brian Thayer's efforts.
Steele proceeded to entertain the gathering by posing for pictures, signing autographs and telling stories about his days when he wrestled.
Steele’s wrestling career extended from the 1960s through the 1980s. He was one of the most popular wrestlers during the heyday of the World Wrestling Federation. His battles against Randy “Macho Man” Savage were legendary. So was his infatuation with Miss Elizabeth.
Nearly all the while, Steele was leading a double life. His real name is Jim Myers. He was a teacher and coach at Madison High in Madison Heights. He and his wife, Pat, now reside in Cocoa Beach, Florida. They have been married 58 years.
Financial distress that led him to wrestling. In 1962, he was making $4,300 as a teacher and coach. Jim and Pat had two children with another on the way. He needed a part-time job.
A drooling, monosyllabic persona in the ring, Myers actually graduated from Michigan State University and got a master’s degree from Central Michigan.
Myers, a.k.a., George “The Animal” Steele, will be on Fox 2 News in Detroit Wednesday sometime between 9:30 and 10 a.m.
He will have book signings at the Royal Oak Barnes and Noble store at 7 p.m., Thursday, July 18; at a Barnes and Noble in Grand Rapids at 7 p.m., Friday, July 19; and at the Barnes and Noble store in Troy on Saturday, July 20, at 2 p.m.

Monday, July 15, 2013

A Get Well card for Coach Frank Stutcher

Some things I always just took for granted.
The Slurpees at 7-Eleven; the squirrels swiping the sunflower seeds from the bird feeder; and Frank Stutcher in a dugout.
I started writing about sports in the early 80s. Frank Stutcher was the varsity baseball coach at Berkley High School.
It was a position he held for 47 years.
During the summer, he also coached Connie Mack baseball.
Even after Frank Stutcher retired from teaching and coaching, he helped some of his former players who had gone on to become head coaches themselves.
He was with Jim Ellis for a season or two when Ellis coached the team at Troy High.
Frank Stutcher in the dugout. Frank Stutcher in the third base coach’s box. Frank Stutcher leaning up against a chain link fence that surrounded a ball diamond.
Those were the sightings that I expected.
But Frank Stutcher at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak for the past six weeks? Most of that time the former coach was in a medically induced coma.
“It was just a day or two ago when dad came out of his coma. The first thing he said was to get these darn things off of me, or something to that effect,” said his oldest son, Kolin Stutcher.
All right, so Frank Stutcher’s language might have been a bit more strident. Who can blame him? A feeding tube isn’t anyone’s idea of a five-star restaurant. And a ventilator will never remind anyone of some bracing mountain air in say, the Colorado Rockies.
Both were very, very necessary, though.
“Dad is an epileptic. He had been on medication all of his life, and his epilepsy has been controlled. But for some reason, the medication stopped working. He started having short seizures nearly every minute or so. The seizures lasted 15 or 20 seconds,” said Kolin Stutcher.
Doctors induced the coma. The former Berkley High coach remained comatose for nearly six weeks.
“Dad is now out of the coma and he’s fairly alert. He is talking to people, but he does not recognize everyone. They are not sure if there has been any long-term damage or not,” said his oldest son.
Frank and Anastasia Stutcher have been married 50 years. Anastasia has been at her husband’s side every day he’s been in the hospital.
“We had a party planned for my parents on June 2,” said Kolin Stutcher. “They were supposed to go out to California to visit my younger brother, Peter, and his wife, Marisa. They live in Stockton.”
Instead, Peter and Marisa made the trip east.
Kolin Stucher is 48 years old. He was a tennis professional for years. He now is a wood artist who specializes in handmade children’s furniture and accessories.
He also is a baseball umpire.
“I run into so many people in baseball who know my dad,” said Kolin Stutcher. “That’s what makes it difficult sometimes. Imagine following a legend. Dad was known for his knowledge of the game.”
Frank Stutcher was certainly a fixture on the local baseball scene. He is a member of the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame.
He spent nearly 50 years in the dugout and in the third base coach’s box. He taught them game he loved to generations of kids.
I’ve known Frank forever. I’ve known him in the dugout. I’ve known him in the third base coach’s box. I’ve known him leaning against a cyclone fence that surrounds a baseball field.
Get well, coach. There is a coach’s box waiting when you get better. I promise we will find one for you.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Indepence thinker

It took an oncologist from Iran to remind me of the importance of Independence Day.
The Fourth of July is not just a day off work highlighted by beer, hot dogs and three-legged sack races.
Instead, it is a reminder of the foundation on which this country was built. During the American Revolution, the legal separation of the 13 colonies from Great Britain occurred on July 2, 1776. Two days later, the county embraced the Declaration of Independence.
God bless, America. God bless the Iranian oncologist from the Karmanos Cancer Institute.
Yep, I’m a regular at Karmanos.
Every three months or so, I check in so the docs there can check me out.
I get scanned, poked and prodded on a regular basis. I’ve given more blood than an extra in one of the “Twlight” flicks.
Believe me, I am not complaining. Back in 2009, the diagnosis was kidney cancer that had metastasized and things looked decidedly bleak.
Almost as bleak as the last will and testament I subsequently had to scrawl that left my wife and kids with little more than Past Due bills, a 1997 Honda Civic with more than 200,000 miles on the odometer, and about 25 sweater vests.
Get Well cards started arriving. So did casseroles baked by well-meaning friends.
Four years later, I am alive and well and I swear on a stack of Paula Deen cook books I’ll return those Pyrex dishes someday. Thanks to God and all of the good people at Karmanos.
My primary oncologist is Ulka Vaishampayan. On my most recent visit to Karmanos earlier this week, another doctor joined her in the room.
I don’t recall his name, but we struck up a conversation. He was from Iran. I asked him about the weather back home. He replied in centigrade. I looked at him blankly, which is my typical expression. He smiled and translated the temperature into Fahrenheit.
I asked if he’d be going back to Iran when his education was complete.
“I hope not,” he said. “We don’t have freedom in Iran. I would rather stay here.”
That got me thinking, especially with Independence Day looming. I can’t conceive of living in a country where you don’t have even the basic freedoms.
Here, I can write anything I like. No matter how imbecilic or uninformed. Nobody is peeking over my shoulder censoring my thoughts. It does not matter if I am a raging liberal or a hard core Republican. Or if I reside somewhere in between.
It does not matter if I write that Obama should be impeached or Jim Schwartz should be fired; that Paula Deen should’ve kept her mouth shut or Jim Leyland should chew with his mouth closed while doing television interviews.
A free press isn’t the only thing we take for granted. Freedom of speech is a big one, too. We can put our elbows on a bar, hold a sweating long neck bottle of beer and rattle on and on about what the government should do or shouldn’t do; what the Pistons should or shouldn’t do; and what Alex Avila is or isn’t doing at the plate.
Sure there are imperfections. Just ask a Tea Party member who is being audited.
But all things considered, we have it pretty good. Better than just about anyone else in this world. We’ll eat our hot dogs, baked beans and talk about pretty much anything we want on the Fourth of July.
It is called freedom and that is what Independence Day is all about. Sometimes we take things for granted. Funny that it took an oncologist from Iran to remind me of that fact.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Discovery Channel grins and bares it

Naked and Afraid.
That has all sorts of different connotations.
It might sum up a few unsettling dreams of mine over the years. Here’s the CliffNotes version of them: I have left the house. I might be shopping. Or golfing. Or playing in a beer league softball game. Or in a pew at church. All of a sudden I look down and I’m not wearing any pants.
Is Dr. Freud in the house?
But in this case, Naked and Afraid is a television show on the Discovery Channel that I stumbled upon a week or so ago. (At the time, I was Fully Clothed and Confident)
The show’s premise: Drop two totally naked people in the middle of nowhere (Tanzania or Costa Rica or just about any other locale where there’s no mint on your pillow). Don’t give them any food, water, Hanes underwear or anything tagged by Charmin (wait, does this sound like a Carnival cruise)? They have to forage or kill their own food.  How does snake tartare sound? They have to locate a source of water (what no Evian?). They have to survive for 21 days.

In summation: Two strangers who are totally naked who must stick together for three weeks Is it me, or does it sound like one of those Kardashian weddings?
The whole concept sounds ridiculous, and it is. But for some reason, it is also captivating.
The show is part Survivors. It is part Bear Grylls. It is also part 1950s era peep show, although due to the necessary blurring no private parts are even remotely discernible. With the camera’s glaucoma, you could not tell a chicken breast from a can of Spam.
So there is absolutely no titillation. There is plenty of dehydration and starvation, though. There’s no place for dirty minds; there is lots of mud and grit, however. There are also ravenous hyenas, jagged thorns, blazing fires and raving tirades by stressed out participants.
Fortunately, one of tirades did not come from my wife, Kim. She walked into the living room and saw me prone on the couch.
What are you watching? she asked.
“Naked and Afraid,” came my reply.
That was that. Even though she had no idea what the show was all about, she shook her head sadly. It was one of those expressions that convey both sympathy and disgust. I tried to explain myself. The whole Survivor thing. She wouldn’t hear it. She just kept walking.
And I just kept watching.
But that show got me to thinking. Forget the so-called extreme sports. Pinky up activities like BMX, kite surfing and snowboarding. You want extreme? What about playing football naked? Get ready for a remake of Sopranos, and that has nothing to do with organized crime. What about nude hockey? It’d be tough trying to find a goalie. It’s 11 o’clock: Do you know where Jimmy Howard is. There’d be no hand checking in basketball and how many times do you think Austin Jackson would slide into second base?
The possibilities are endless. Anyway, Naked and Afraid on the Discovery Channel is worth watching. Just don’t tell my wife I told you so.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The 'Animal' will soon be roaming nearby

He drooled. He was basically monosyllabic. He ate the stuffing out of turnbuckles. His tongue was the color of Kermit’s derriere. He was professional wrestler George “The Animal” Steele.
He was a high school teacher. He coached wrestling and football at Madison High in suburban Detroit. He was a college grad with a master’s degree. He spoke eloquently. He is Jim Myers.
George “The Animal” Steele and Jim Myers are one and the same.
Jim Myers has published a book about his unique life. Appropriately enough, it is titled “Animal.”

His wrestling career spanned the decades. He roomed with Haystacks Calhoun. He battled Hulk Hogan. He took on everyone from Bruno Sammartino to Randy “Macho Man” Savage.
His most serious battles were not inside the ring at all. He has dealt with dyslexia his entire life. They almost blew Taps his way a couple of times due to the ravages of Crohn’s disease.
Myers will be in Michigan later this month signing his book. He will be at the Barnes @ Noble stores in the state in the third week of July.
His first stop will be at the Ann Arbor Barnes & Noble (in the Huron Village at 3235 Washtenaw Avenue) on Monday, July 15. The signings begin at 7 p.m. On Thursday, July 18, Myers will be at the Royal Oak Barnes & Noble store on Main Street. Once again, the signing session starts at 7. On Friday, July 19, Myers will be at the Barnes & Noble in Grand Rapids at 7 p.m., and on Saturday, July 20, he will be at the Barnes & Noble store in Troy. (396 John R Road). He will be visiting at 2 p.m.