Thursday, March 30, 2017

Sports news sparks a memory

A few weeks back in this space, I wrote about the top five things I’ve had the pleasure of doing while in this job. Of course this included the Olympics and some laps around New Hampshire Motor Speedway in the pace car.
However, there have also been numerous things that I’ve had a chance to do that had nothing to do with this job and one of those things kind of came to the forefront of my thinking this past week.
Longtime UNH hockey coach Dick Umile announced last week that he would be retiring after next season and that Mike Souza would be taking over as the new head coach. As it turns out, both of those gentlemen had a role in one of the highlights of my post-college (but still hanging around college) life.
While I was not terribly surprised that coach Umile is deciding to call it a career, I am saddened that he never was able to bring home a national championship for the UNH hockey team, though I guess he does have one more chance left to do that. He’s been at it a long time and he has earned his retirement and I wish him nothing but the best.
However, the closest he’s come to that national championship came in 1999, early April as I recall, when the Wildcats were in the Frozen Four in the hockey hotbed of Anaheim, Calif. I was there and it was one of the top non-work sports moments of my life, right up until the final moment when it all came crashing down.
I graduated from college in 1998 having played four years with the UNH Marching Band as well as in the pep band at most of the hockey games during that time. We had traveled with the team to Hockey East and NCAA tournaments around the Northeast, but for the most part, Worcester was about as far as we’d go during those days. I played more than my fair share of games in the TD Garden and the Worcester Centrum over the four years I was in school.
The fall after I graduated, I was working in Concord but also had a part time job at UNH in the dining hall where I worked as a student. One night before school started, I stopped by the band field where the marching band was having band camp and a few hours later, after meeting the new director, I was signed up for a fifth year of marching band.
My schedule allowed it and I continued into the winter, doing pep band games on a regular basis and it became obvious that this was a special team. Led by Jason Krog and Darren Haydar, they were a force in Hockey East and around the country.
The new band director had gotten in good with the athletic department and was able to secure the band a trip to California to support the hockey team in the NCAA Frozen Four. Because this was in the early days of our good relationship with the athletic department, there were not a lot of seats. The director had to choose, based on instrumentation and attendance. Being as I played trumpet (one of the most needed instruments in any pep band) and had been to a lot of games, I was one of three trumpets chosen to make the trip. I talked to my bosses and got the time off for a quick trip to California, which was also my first time on an airplane.
We had a great time in Anaheim. We went to Disneyland and did some sightseeing, but we also had a couple hockey games to play at. UNH won the semifinal game and after a day off, we were back at The Pond for the finals against Maine. We even got the chance to play the National Anthem on the ice before the championship game (and made Sportscenter in doing so). It was future coach Mike Souza who scored the goal that sent the game to overtime, but I will pretend that it ended in an overtime tie, though the Maine fans out there will surely know the rest of the story.

Anyway, as a UNH graduate and supporter, I wish coach Umile nothing but the best and I’ll be cheering for coach Souza when his time comes, just as I was on that April day in 1999 from the upper deck in Anaheim.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Another top-five moment is (hopefully) just a year away

It seems hard to believe that one year from now, if all goes according to plan anyway, I’ll be on my way to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
As I’ve stated numerous times, I am more than excited to get the chance to cover another Olympics and I’m grateful to everyone who helped me make it to my first one and who is helping to make it possible to go to a second one.
That being said, I thought it would be a good time to recount my top five moments from this job, which I’ve now been in for somewhere around 15 years.
Number five came last winter when the Brewster basketball team played in a tournament in the TD Garden in Boston. Covering the Brewster hoop team is a lot of fun, not just because they are perennial national championship contenders, but also because coach Jason Smith runs a great program and their a class act all the way. What made this tournament great was the chance to stand on the fabled parquet floor, the floor once used by greats like Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. It was pretty cool to walk out of the tunnel and into the middle of this massive arena and just be able to walk up to the parquet and stand on it.
Number four would probably be the first combined skiing championship, which took place back in 2004. The NHIAA decided to crown not just individual team champions in alpine, Nordic and jumping, but also offer a combined trophy for the school with the best performance. After slalom and giant slalom for the boys and girls, Nordic classical and freestyle for the boys and girls and jumping, the final point difference was four points, with Kennett claiming the title over Hanover. I remember a lot of intense moments of coaches calculating and remember the great sense of school pride it instilled, since all disciplines were out cheering for the others at their respective events.
Number three is probably my first trip to Florida with the Kingswood baseball team. I did this on the spur of the moment, the spring before I went to the 2014 Olympics. I booked a flight, hotel and rental car and spent three days in the sunshine of Florida, a great escape from what had been a pretty long winter at that point. I’ve been back twice since and enjoyed the trips, but the first one always holds a special spot.
Number two came a couple of years ago at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. A woman entered the media center and asked if anyone wanted a ride in the pace car. It was hard to say no to that opportunity, even though I’d done it once before. The difference was this time, it wasn’t an SUV, it was a car and that meant we went even faster. Coming out of the turns just inches from the wall was exhilarating and scary, all at the same time. Driving 85 on the highway can’t come close to 100 down the backstretch of NHMS just inches from a concrete wall.
Number one is obviously the 2014 Winter Olympics. From the moment I got approved for credentials in October 2012 through the final day I was in Russia, it was an amazing experience. I can’t sum up just how awesome it was to have the great support of the community along the way. There are few things I am going to forget about that trip, even if parts of it were a blur. But seeing the greatest athletes in the world on the biggest stage, up close and personal, was just a dream and something I am more than excited to get to do again.

It will be here soon enough.

Monday, January 23, 2017

We have to go back ... To the Olympics that is.

Back at the end of October, I got an e-mail from the US Olympic Committee, announcing that they were giving me a credential for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
As this blog tried to convey back then, my experience with the 2014 Olympics in Sochi was beyond compare. I was blown away by everything that went in to the Olympics and enjoyed everything about my trip to Russia. Getting a chance to cover local athletes who I covered in high school who are now on the biggest stage in the world was fantastic and just getting the chance to see elite athletes compete on said stage was impressive. I tried to see as much as I possibly could and got to all of the venues and saw almost every single sport, at least for a little while. And I tried to bring back as much of that experience as I could to the readers back home.
But most impressive to me about the entire experience was that so many people helped me to make the experience possible. Going to the Olympics is not a cheap venture, even as someone who is going there to work. As I worked toward the Sochi Olympics, so many people came out to help me, sending donations and holding fundraisers. I billed it as an experience of a lifetime and it indeed was just that. I was blown away by people I didn’t even know helping to make this experience happen for me.
As a result, I was able to experience Sochi without going into any more credit card debt. I remain truly grateful to everyone who made that experience a possibility for me.
As I prepare for my second Olympics experience, I realize that I can’t expect that I can promote this as an experience of a lifetime, since I already experienced it once before. So I’ve yet to figure out just how I want to go about funding this trip.
I was likely going to put off thinking about it for a little bit, but my brother, despite being in the southern hemisphere for Christmas, got me thinking about it over the holidays. One of his gifts to me was a check to go toward my Olympic experience and after leaving it on my table for a few weeks, I took it to TD Bank here in Wolfeboro last week and Donna helped me to set up a new Olympic account. Four years ago, the folks at TD Bank were very helpful in helping me get this going (while Citizens Bank came through with a huge assist when currency exchange became an issue) and I am thankful for them for helping me out.
So now there is an account at TD Bank in Wolfeboro under my name and 2018 Olympic Fund. If someone wants to help out, I would be grateful but I completely understand that this is a different situation than it was four years ago. I am brainstorming ideas to raise money and my company has again agreed to match anything I raise (in addition to paying me while I’m there), so I’m optimistic that it can happen.
Any donations can be sent to TD Bank in Wolfeboro (PO Box 549, Wolfeboro Falls 03896) or to me at the office at PO Box 250, Wolfeboro Falls, NH 03896. And any fundraising ideas are more than welcome.

And I’m hopeful that this Olympic experience will be just as much fun and just as exciting as 2014.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

On the television... and the radio

So, the news broke today that longtime NESN play-by-play man Don Orsillo, who grew up just down the road from where I live today, was not returning for the 2016 Red Sox season. This came as a shock to most of the people in New England.
When Orsillo came around 15 years ago, he stepped into the shoes of a beloved local figure in Sean McDonough. There was a period of adjustment for Red Sox fans, but Orsillo's easy-going nature and his great sense of humor, along with his skills as a play-by-play guy, won over fans pretty quickly. He bonded with Jerry Remy, the longtime NESN analyst and over the last 15 years they have developed a fantastic give and take that makes watching Red Sox games easy, even when the team is in the tank, which sadly over the last few years has been more often than not.
Additionally, Orsillo has adjusted pretty well to curveballs thrown his way over the course of the last few years. When Remy was dealing with illness, Orsillo worked with many different partners and handled it incredibly well. When Remy took time off to deal with his son's legal issues, Orsillo again handled it beautifully. This is a tribute to his professionalism and his ability.
The word around social media (which as we know, is never wrong), is that Dave O'Brien, one of the WEEI radio voices of the Red Sox for the last few years, will be taking Orsillo's spot in the NESN booth. O'Brien has a long history in television and in fact, misses all Monday Red Sox games to call television games for ESPN, among his other duties.
Because I spend lots of time in my car and in the office (where there is no television), I end up listening to a lot of games on the radio (or on my iPad on the SiriusXM app). Dave O'Brien is absolutely fantastic, one of the most incredible play-by-play guys I've had the pleasure of listening to. He gets the description right on the money seemingly every time. When he takes the day off, the broadcast suffers, despite the best work of the always-fantastic Joe Castiglione. Lou Merloni is a competent sub as an analyst, but frequent substitute analyst Rob Bradford can't string together three sentences that make sense.
I believe Dave O'Brien will do a fantastic job on television, if that is indeed how things are going to go. I love Don Orsillo and will miss him, but I also love Dave O'Brien and respect his work, so I don't expect a drop-off in the NESN broadcasts.
However, the second play-by-play seat in the WEEI booth is what I am worried about, being as I listen a lot. With Joe Castiglione getting up there (unfortunately he won't be in the booth forever), I think WEEI needs to make sure that the person they hire to replace O'Brien is a proven play-by-play guy, not just someone who can offer analysis. One of the best things about the current radio broadcasts is that O'Brien and Castiglione split the games up, with each taking a few innings at a time, giving listeners analysis when they aren't doing the play-by-play.
While I'm sure Merloni would be able to handle the job, I wonder if he's up for leaving the comfort of a daily radio gig. And while I've never heard Merloni do play-by-play, I think he might be able to do it. I have no confidence in Bradford at all and my sincere hope is that he isn't even remotely considered for this position. Dale Arnold would be a great choice (and he's already working on the network), but like Merloni, wonder if he'd be up for leaving the comfort of a daily radio gig.
This will be an interesting offseason as Red Sox fans look to see just how next year's team will take shape (that's a topic for another day), but it will also be interesting to see how the alleged vacant seat in the WEEI booth is filled.
As long as they don't bring back Glenn Geffner (the fact that he was part of the broadcast team that called a Sox World Series win still bugs me), who was by far the worst full-time broadcaster I've heard on WEEI's Sox broadcast, I think they'll be OK. Oh, and yes, no Bradford either.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

After day one, everything's just peachy

I can't stress how happy I was to hear Joe Castiglione back on my radio and Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy back on my television yesterday. I was a bit disappointed that Dave O'Brien was away from the radio booth, but I was happy that the powers that be at WEEI put Lou Merloni on the broadcast with Joe instead of Rob Bradford. Bradford makes me want to turn the radio off. But that's a whole other story.
Here are a few observations from what is one of my favorite days of the year.
Hanley Ramirez will be the American League MVP. After that performance, nothing will go wrong for the rest of the year and he'll finish with 83 homers and 210 RBIs. He won't drop a single ball in left field and will learn to play the wall better than anyone since Yaz.
Dustin Pedroia will finish second in the AL MVP voting, falling short of his teammate by three votes. He will finish with only 78 homers and 190 RBIs and will beat himself up throughout the offseason for slacking off.
Clay Buchholz will win the American League Cy Young Award after going 34-1 and finishing with an ERA of 1.03. His one loss will come in a 1-0 defeat to the Toronto Blue Jays on Sept. 9 when John Farrell elects to sit Ramirez, David Ortiz and Pedroia in the series finale to get playing time for Daniel Nava, Brock Holt and Allen Craig, none of whom had been on the field since the end of April.
Pablo Sandoval will go through the entire month of April without a hit before coming alive in May and only striking out once in the entire month. However, he will be deemed expendable thanks to the impressive Garin Cecchini parade in AAA and will be traded right before the deadline for Jon Lester. Lester will take over the closer job for Koji Uehara, who admits that he's really 55 years old when his arm literally falls off his body in June. Koji vows to be back by the playoffs. Cecchini will take over at third base and never relinquish his hold, winning the AL Rookie of the Year Award.
Shane Victorino won't have a single hit for the entire season, but will be on base three times in every single game before himself being traded to the Phillies for Cole Hamels at the beginning of May. Hamels will come to Boston with his wife, Survivor Amazon contestant Heidi (Strobel) Hamels and become an immediate fan favorite when he drills Alex Rodriguez in the butt with a pitch in his first start for the Red Sox. Victorino's trade makes room for Rusney Castillo to enter the lineup and he becomes the second coming of Dwight Evans in right field. However, he ends up suffering an injury diving into the stands to rob Mike Trout of a game-winning homer in the first game after the All-Star break, opening the door for Jackie Bradley Jr., who goes on to win the Gold Glove in right field despite only playing half a season at the Major League level.
David Ortiz will not step out of the batter's box between pitches once the entire season, and thus the longest game of the season for the Red Sox clocks in at two hours and 23 minutes, against the Yankees on Sunday, May 3.
Ryan Hanigan will make people forget that Blake Swihart is in AAA, hitting an even .350 for the season and will allow only one passed ball. However, he will only have 12 RBIs for the season because the bases are almost never occupied when he comes up.
Mookie Betts will demolish Joe Dimaggio's hit streak record of 56 games by hitting safely in the first 160 games of the season. His streak will be stopped on the second to last day of the season when Cleveland's Michael Bourn tracks down a surefire double into the right-center field gap. The end of the streak will send him into a funk throughout the playoffs, as he only registers one hit in the entire postseason. However, that hit will be a 12th inning walk-off homer against the Cincinnati Reds in game six of the World Series. The ball will soar into the October night and carom off the Carlton Fisk foul pole as Betts waves it fair while dancing down the first base line, leading Peter Gammons to break out his famous, "Then all of a sudden the ball was suspended out there in the black of the morning like the Mystic River Bridge," line in a special piece for the Boston Globe celebrating the Red Sox World Series win.
And finally, hitting coach Chili Davis will come out of retirement for one day and rip a grand slam homer in the bottom of the ninth inning to lead the Red Sox past the Rays on Sept. 21. He will promptly retire the next day and go back to coaching hitting, saying he just wanted to show Pedroia that  anyone can hit homers.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Where were you 29 years ago?

Most of what I write about in my work days is sports related, but today I am taking a trip back in time, back 29 years ago to Jan. 28, 1986.
Back then, I was a kid, not the old man I have grown into now. I was a student at E.G. Sherburne School in Pelham, NH. A testament to how long ago that was is the simple fact that the school doesn't exist anymore. The building converted to other uses years ago.
Jan. 28, 1986 started out as a day for celebration, particularly for the state of New Hampshire. It was the day that New Hampshire teacher Christa McAuliffe was boarding the space shuttle and heading into space. Much had been made of Christa winning the chance to become the first teacher in space and the buildup was fantastic across the state of New Hampshire. As home to the first American in space, Alan Shepard, New Hampshire had a pre-existing connection to the space program, but this was something new. This was a new generation of individuals getting inthralled at the idea of the space program and the possibilities that it presented.
As students in New Hampshire, we'd done numerous projects on Christa McAuliffe's exciting opportunity and Jan. 28, 1986 was the day that we were going to get to see this opportunity reach its zenith.
Nowadays, there are televisions in every classroom, or at least it seems that way. Movie presentations and the like are the norm. Back in 1986, this was not normal. Getting to watch television in school was a special treat.
The fourth grade at EG Sherburne School was in a pod sort of style. There was one big room divided into three rooms and then (for some reason) a fourth room that was separated by cement walls. The fourth graders all gathered in one of the "rooms"  (it wasn't my room) with the television at the front so that we could witness history. This was much the same for other grades (or at least I think it was, the details of that are a little fuzzy).
I remember the excitement leading up to the launch of the Challenger in Florida. The broadcast showed the faces of Christa McAuliffe's parents watching from a safe distance away. As the shuttle shot up into the bright blue sky, the plumes of smoke billowing from its tank, it seemed as if all was right with the world, as if everything was going as planned.
But obviously, we all know that things didn't go as planned. Christa McAuliffe never made it into space. The Challenger exploded in midair shortly after takeoff, as bystanders watched in horror and thousands of kids across the state (and the country) watched from their school desks, really unsure as to what happened when that one single plume of smoke changed to numerous plumes out of a large explosion in the sky.
I remember the teachers ushering us back to our respective classes, unsure themselves what they had just witnessed, but obviously well aware that it was not good. They did their best to not let on that maybe they were as worried as we were.
Quite often on Jan. 28 I recount this story. I've written about it in my weekly sports column in the newspaper and on Facebook. But for some reason, this is one of the most vivid memories of my childhood. It spawned a major science project for me the very next year and always creeps back into my mind at the end of January.
I remember the names of Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Dick Scobee, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair and Michael Smith almost from memory. And I remember watching President Reagan on television that night, giving what has been classified as one of the most significant speeches of the 20th Century, addressing America through the television in lieu of his scheduled State of the Union address. His closing line, borrowed from a poem High Flight, "We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and 'slipped the surly bonds of Earth' to 'touch the face of God.'"
Some memories never escape you. I won't forget just where I was and what I was doing, the last time I saw them.