9/11 Memories

I love my country. Of all the traits instilled in me by my Mom and Dad, a sense of patriotism is among the ones I hold most dear. I’m free to express my opinions and pursue a career I wouldn’t be able to in most other nations throughout human history. I’m inordinately blessed to be an American today. That Patriotism also requires a look back at the saddest chapters of my country’s history. Today is one such milestone, and one I was alive for.

September 11th, 2001 is a day marked by fear and pain. I was only seven years old that day, but I knew as it unfolded that something horrible happened. I grew up in West Hartford, CT. It’s a border town. It’s 50/50 between Red Sox fans (New England/Massachusetts based folks) and Yankee fans (New York based). I knew people who’s parents worked in the World Trade Center or had family in New York. I didn’t know any of them, but my parents had coworkers and business associates who lived in and worked in the city. I was aware that my mom and dad went to New York for business. And my grandparents (Mom’s side and obviously knew well) were native New Yorkers from Manhattan. I myself am a son of New England, but I have my share of New York connections.

I remember seeing the teachers of my school seeming distressed that day. I think they knew what we would come to remember 9/11 for before us kids did. We went home early. I could walk to my elementary school, and walked home by myself. When I got back, I walked into our den where my brother and Au Pair were parked in front of the television. I turned the corner and saw the second tower come down. I don’t remember if it was live or if it was a clip of an earlier happening. But regardless, I didn’t fully understand what I saw, but I knew it was awful. Our Au Pair, who normally was pretty talkative was completely silent, shocked by what we all saw.

My dad regularly talks about how they wheeled out televisions into their office, unusual to have in 2001, to watch the ongoing news. My mom was abroad, traveling to Poland. She was intending on traveling back the next morning, on her birthday no less, and was stuck in Poland for a week after the attacks.

Beyond the immediate aftermath, I grew up in a political world shaped by that day and the reaction to it. I still remember debates about how to conduct the War on Terror, discussion around the 9/11 attacks in the 2004 election cycle, and the days when Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Ladin were captured and killed. It is the single most significant and impactful day, politically and practically speaking, I’ve ever experienced. I recently had the chance to remember and reflect on that day at Ground Zero.

Back in August, I covered The Northern Trust golf tournament held at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City. There are spectacular views of downtown Manhattan from all over the course, most notably from the 18th fairway (where this picture is from). It’s the most distinct and famous skyline in the world. The Freedom Tower is a beautiful piece of that skyline today, almost an iconic piece along with the Chrysler Building or the Empire State Building. Even still, there still is a visual hole in the string of buildings with just one tower that looks different from the original Twin Towers. I don’t have a clear memory of seeing NYC before 9/11. But even I can tell there’s a hole that shouldn’t be there.

On an early day of the week, when it was just practice and interviews, and after I submitted my pieces for the day, I took a trip into lower Manhattan and went to the World Trade Center. I had been there only once before, back in 2006, as part of a family trip. And it was a construction site back then. The Memorial fountains weren’t installed and the Museum wouldn’t be opened for another eight years. But it was still harrowing to imagine that bustling stretch of New York under siege by hijacked commercial airliners. Since then, the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum opened and serve as a beautiful reminder of the terror and heroism on display that day.

I didn’t get to the museum. It had closed for the day and my friend who works there was out of the country. But seeing the memorials and the fountains in the footprints of the Twin Towers was a harrowing experience. The air around there is somber. The memory of the day and what existed before 8:46 AM has never left the area. Seeing the memorials and names of the workers in the buildings, pilots and crew on the planes, the police, Port Authority officers, and firefighters is a gutting thing. The site is so beautifully maintained. Yet, I could not help but imagine hearing the sounds crashing planes, fearful pedestrians, and falling metal that have been seared into my memory from all the news clips and documentaries of the day. The contrast of the sounds with the present day site is a remarkable contrast, and an inseparable one for me, despite being 122 miles away from Ground Zero that day.

Reflecting on 9/11 is sad. I didn’t directly know any of the victims, But my country was irreparably changed that day. And it’s impossible to look at the pictures and names and not be saddened by how raw the day was. It from the first hijacking to the second tower collapsing (a time which included the Pentagon attack and the United 93 crash in Shanksville) was only about two and a half hours. And the world changed permanently in that time.

It’s also invigorating in a way. The heroism of the firefighters, police officers, people like Welles Crowther, the amazing civilians on Flight 93, and many more are a wonderful reminder of how much good exists and how the human spirit is resilient. May God be with the families of the victims this day and forever. And God bless the United States of America.

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Heroic American Freedom Stories

I’ve been wished a Happy Fourth of July for much of my life, including many times this week. While I appreciate the sentiment, I’m not a big fan of celebrating the Fourth of July. It’s a day on the calendar, the 185th on a non-leap year calendar, which 2019 is. It’s not that different from July 29th, or August 10th, or any other day in the summer. So why do we set it aside? Because the actual holiday is Independence Day in the United States. I always wish people that instead, wanting people to join in the holiday being celebrated, not just some random day in the middle of the summer.

It might be unfashionable to call it Independence Day, but that is the holiday. It’s the day the Declaration of Independence was approved and delivered to the public. The separation was actually voted for by the Continental Congress on July 2nd, but the wording of the Declaration was debated a little longer to ensure everyone was on the same page. John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, predicting that the legal separation would become the day of great celebration.

The second day of July 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.

Well, only two days off, John.

Still, Independence Day is a great time to celebrate the history of this country. So I’ve found a few stories of remarkable American figures who’s stories remind us of our heritage and past. Enjoy!

Samuel Whittimore

On April 19, 1775, the British Regulars marched to take the munitions held by the Massachusetts Militia in Concord. Along the way, they encountered 77 Militia on the Lexington Common for the first skirmish of the American Revolution. The Regulars marched onto Concord and were turned back. On the march back, 78 year old Samuel Whittimore, a veteran of King George’s War and the French & Indian War and retired farmer in Menotomy (present day Arlington), saw a rescue brigade led by Earl Percy headed aid the retreat.

Whittimore rallied to join the fight. He loaded his musket and dueling pistols, and equipped a sword. He took position along a wall and fired his musket, killing a Regular. He then unloaded his pistols, killing a second and mortally wounding a third. The Brits figured out where he was and rushed him as Whittimore drew his sword. He engaged, though it ended poorly. The 78 year old was shot and bayoneted many (some say 18) times, and beaten with the butt end of a rifle. The Brits left him for dead in a pool of his own blood.

When the colonial forces found him, not only was Whittimore not dead, he was reloading his musket to get another shot off. The locals took him to Medford’s Dr. Cotton Tufts (yes, as in that Tufts family who’s name adorns a prominent university in Medford). The good doctor proclaimed there was no hope for Whittimore’s survival. In fact, not only did the man live another day, he lived for 18 additional years, passing at 96 years of age on February 2nd, 1793. He is interred at the Old Burial Ground in Arlington and is memorialized with a monument on the town common. In 2005, Massachusetts proclaimed Whittimore as the Commonwealth’s official hero.

The Samuel Whittimore Memorial in Arlington, Massachusetts

Declaration Signers

A year after Lexington and Concord, the Second Continental Congress gathered in Philadelphia unanimously approved the Declaration of Independence, as it exists today. What happened to the 56 singers of that revolutionary document? Well, many lost money, fortune, family, property, and their own lives. Paul Harvey’s telling of their stories is so good that I will simply link it below. It’s a tradition of mine to watch this and be awed at the courage present in America’s birth.

https://youtu.be/SRSHA7F3mIw

John Clem

Its often I look on the course of my life and realize I’ve had it easy compared to my ancestors. But no story has so thoroughly given me that feeling than the tale of Civil War hero John Lincoln Clem. Born in 1851 in Newark, Ohio, his mother was killed in a train accident when he was 10 years old. Shortly thereafter, Clem ran away to try and join the 3rd Ohio Infantry as a drummer boy in the Union Army. They rejected him because he was too small. He then went to Michigan and tried to join the 22nd Michigan Regiment. They didn’t allow him in, but he followed behind and was adopted as a mascot and drummer boy. There is plenty of myth surrounding his service, but what is clearly true is a rapid rise up the Military ladder.

In September, 1863, a Union offensive was pushed back at Chickamauga, in Northwestern Georgia. Over the course of three days, from the 18th to the 20th, nearly four thousand soldiers died and an additional 24 thousand injuries. It’s one of the bloodiest battles in American history, only edged out by Spotsylvania Courthouse and Gettysburg. Famed journalist and Investigating Agent of the War Department Charles A. Dana wrote of Chickamauga: “My report today is of deplorable importance. Chickamauga is as fatal a name in our history as Bull Run.”

In the midst of the Union retreat, Clem was in the grasp of a Confederate Colonel and shot his way out of danger. For his bravery in the fight, the Drummer Boy of Chickamauga was promoted on the spot to Sergeant of the Army of the Cumberland. He was 12 years old at the time. He continued fighting and a month later, was captured in Georgia by a Confederate Cavalryman. He was included in a prisoner exchange shortly after and was most upset about the confiscation of his uniform, including his cap with three bullet holes. His service in the war was actually used as Confederate war propaganda. Many newspapers in the South asked the question “What sore straits the Yankees are driven, when they have to send their babies out to fight us.”

Clem, despite his young age and small stature, fought bravely in the Union Army and helped win the Civil War. He continued to serve in the American military until 1916 and was the last living Civil War veteran at the time of his passing on May 13th, 1937. He was 85 years old.

Lance Sergeant John Lincoln Clem

These are just a few of the heroes who sacrificed life and limb to create our home and give a free nation to us today. I call the Fourth of July Independence Day because of the heroes who went before us. And I’m eternally grateful to those who lived and died to make this country a reality.

Happy Independence Day everyone!

John Havlicek: Forgotten Basketball Legend

It’s been a while since I posted anything here on this blog. I’ve had my hands full with various work projects and personal stuff. I wish I had chosen something more cheery to write about as my first post in a while. But the news that came down the wire last night is enough to spark my reflection and the memory of Celtics and Ohio State fans with far more experiences than I have. One of Basketball’s most overlooked all time greats has passed and must be remembered as such.

John Joseph Havlicek was born in Martins Ferry, Ohio, on April 8th, 1940. He was a natural athlete and grew to stand 6’5″ and had natural stamina that few in his hometown could keep up with. He was a multi-sport talent and became a legend at Bridgeport High School, the same place that produced famed Arizona State and Iowa State wrestling coach Bobby Douglas, MLB Hall of Fame knuckleball pitcher Phil Niekro, and MLB All-Star pitcher Joe Niekro. All were in attendance at Bridgeport around the same time.

Havlicek starred on the school’s football, baseball, and basketball teams. On the gridiron, he quarterbacked the team to many wins and was voted an all-conference performer. He was recruited by schools like West Virginia and Ohio State.

On the diamond, Havlicek hit .400 as a shortstop and led his team to two conference championships.

His best successes came on the hardwood, where he averaged 27 points a game for his career and led his school to a championship in 1958.

The super-athlete decided to stay in-state, attending The Ohio State University, a hotbed of athletic talent with Woody Hayes leading the football team to National Championships and Jack Nicklaus toiling on the golf course in those days. While at Columbus, Havlicek stopped playing football, but continued time on the baseball diamond. But ultimately, Hondo found his greatest success on the hardwood. In three years playing (freshmen were not allowed to play varsity in those days) the Buckeyes reached three Final Fours and three National Championship Games. Havlicek averaged 14.6 PPG on 50.8% shooting and added 8.6 rebounds per game. Teaming with future Cincinnati Royal and New York Knick great Jerry Lucas, future Boston Celtics teammate Larry Siegfried, and future Indiana coaching legend Bob Knight, Havlicek helped the Buckeyes to a Final Four win over New York University (yes the Violets used to play big time NCAA Basketball) and a National Championship Game win over Cal Berkley. Havlicek scored 12 points and pulled in 6 rebounds in the only National Title Game Ohio State has won in their program’s history. They followed it up with two more Title game appearances and two losses to in-state rival Cincinnati.

After college, Havlicek was drafted by the Boston Celtics with the seventh pick in the 1962 draft. In an enormous credit to his natural athleticism, the NFL’s Cleveland Browns (a model franchise at the time) drafted him in the seventh round, 95th overall, to be a wide receiver despite not playing organized football for four years while attending one of college football’s premier schools. He actually joined the Browns for training camp but ultimately was cut.

Celtics Coach Red Auerbach commented that the decision was a mistake by Cleveland. But, Auerbach wasn’t complaining. When Hondo arrived, the Celtics had won five of the last six NBA championships and the last four consecutive, including a legendary series with the Lakers in the most recent Finals. Bill Russell, Sam Jones, Tommy Heinsohn, and Bob Cousy were the cornerstones of the greatest dynasty in sports, yet they improved dramatically when Hondo arrived.

Auerbach created the role of sixth man by bringing Havlicek as his first man off the bench. His stamina and adrenaline allowed him to lift the Celtics when the starters needed a breather and gave the team a near unbeatable formula. It were as if the C’s had six starters. As Cousy and Heinsohn retired, Hondo (a nickname inspired by the 1953 John Wayne movie and character of the same name) continued to help the C’s win, earning four straight NBA Titles to open his career and getting the Celtics and unfathomable eight consecutive championships. In the middle of all this came Hindi’s defining moment.

On April 15th, 1965, the Boston Celtics hosted the Philadelphia 76ers for Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals. Sam Jones led the Celtics with an astounding 37 points while Bill Russell pitches in 15 points, 29 rebounds, and 8 assists while mostly matched with Wilt Chamberlain. Havlicek had one of his best performances of the season, posting 26 points and adding 11 rebounds. The Celtics led by 11 in the dying minutes and Auerbach lit his traditional victory cigar. But Wilt Chamberlain has none of it. He proceeded to score 10 of his 30 points (some off his game high 32 rebounds) consecutively to bring the Sixers to within 1 point with five seconds left. Auerbach put out his cigar and Russell took the inbound. He made the mistake of hitting a guide-wire that held up the backboard. That meant the ball was out of bounds and possession went to Phili. In the ensuing timeout, Russell pleaded for someone to take the goat horns off his head. Hondo came to the rescue.

Future Hall of Famer Hal Greer took the inbound for the Sixers. The play was for Greer to inbound to Chet Walker (also a future Hall of Famer), who would then pass to Chamberlain in the post. Havlicek knew the inbound timing, with five seconds to put the ball in, and read the strategy based on prior matchups. Auerbach always relied on intel gathered by his players through the course of the game, demanding that the players be ready to coach themselves on the floor. Hondo followed his coach’s direction and read the play perfectly. As he counted the inbound time down to four, Hondo broke toward Walker and looked up to see the inbound pass. The forward leaped and tipped the ball to an awaiting Sam Jones, who dribbled the ball into the front court and killed off the remaining time. The fans at Boston Garden rushes the floor to mob their hero and Celtics radio announcer Johnny Most immortalized the play with basketball’s greatest call.

Greer is putting the ball into play. He gets it out deep. Havlicek steals it! Over to Sam Jones! Havlicek stole the ball! It’s all over! Johnny Havlicek stole the ball! Johnny Havlicek is being mobbed by the fans! Bill Russell comes over to hug John Havlicek; he squeezes John Havlicek.

The play not only stands as Hondo’s iconic moment, but also as an all-time moment for the Celtics and the NBA at large. It’s the most famed play in Celtic history and rightly so. The C’s went on to beat the Lakers and in five and win that year’s NBA Championship, but 1965 will forever be the year in which Havlicek stole the ball.

In the waning years of the 60’s, Hondo became a starter on two final Bill Russell led championship teams, including on the unlikely 1969 edition that saw Russell and Sam Jones walk into the sunset.

Under new Head Coach but familiar friend Tommy Heinsohn, the Celtics retooled and followed Havlicek’s lead to two more NBA Titles in 1974 and 1976. Hondo was voted Finals MVP in an epic struggle between the C’s and the Kareem Abdul-Jabber and Oscar Robertson led Milwaukee Bucks that went seven games. Two years later, his heroics helped the C’s to an unprecedented 13th NBA Championship over the plucky Phoenix Suns, including a famed triple overtime game five at Boston Garden (my dad’s first ever NBA game).

Havlicek continued to play until 1978 when he decided it was time for retirement. When all was said and done, Hondo played more games and minutes and scored more points than any Celtic to ever set foot on the parquet floor. He’s still the Celtics’ all time leading scorer and only Elvin Hayes and Robert Parrish have played more games in NBA history than Hondo. In 16 seasons, Havlicek’s line was 20.8 PPG, 6.3 RPG, and 4.8 APG. He was an All-Star 13 times over and a member of the First or Second All-NBA Team 11 times. He stamped his name on the Celtics history with eight championships. Only Sam Jones (10) and Bill Russell (11) have more rings as a player.

Despite all the success, Havlicek is often not mentioned as an all time NBA great. Of his era, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Hal Greer, Jerry Lucas, Walt Fraser, Kareem, and others earned more notoriety. Hondo never won an MVP and was never considered the best in the League. And when the NBA ballooned in popularity in the 80’s with Bird, Magic, Isiah Thomas, Dr. J, Moses Malone, and the new television deals, then dominated the sports landscape behind Michael Jordan’s Bulls of the 90’s, Havlicek’s legacy was forgotten, cast aside as little more than a relic of a bygone age.

The line became that Hondo was great for his time. Nothing more. I’d argue that John Havlicek is and ought be remembered as an NBA superstar on par with the greats of both his day and the current age. He was an ambassador for the greatest dynasty the sport ever knew, a participant in several moments indelibly marked in NBA history, and a humbly clutch performer who put the objectives of the team before his personal goals. He is everything a professional athlete should be. As far as the Celtics are concerned, Hondo is only outpaced in importance by Larry Bird and Bill Russell. He will forever be linked with the legacy of the Celtic green and white, but also with the Buckeye scarlet and grey.

His passing became real when Doc Emmerich, calling the Boston Bruins vs Columbus Blue Jackets playoff series opener, announced the sad news over the image of Hondo’s retired number 17 hanging in the rafters of TD Garden. The legendary Celtic and Buckeye was 79 years old and will forever serve as a beacon of athletic and leadership excellence and as a model for how a professional athlete ought act in the public eye.

May God rest the soul of the great John Havlicek.

Evan Gattis’s Winding Championship Road

It took the Houston Astros 55 years to win the World Series for the first time. With the win over the Dodgers, they take their place as the best team in the sport. Theirs is a remarkable story of organizational perseverance through many failures, recent natural disasters, and rising from the ashes of one of the worst records ever in 2013.

There’s plenty of individual stories that make this team special. Jose Altuve rose from poverty in Venezuela to the MVP of the American League after being signed for $15K in an Astros camp as an unproven 5’6″ infielder from Venezuela after multiple failed tryouts. George Springer came from the relative baseball no man’s land of the University of Connecticut to win the MVP of the World Series. Alex Cora becomes the manager of the Red Sox on the heels of winning this series with the Astros, and now looks to win World Series as a player, coach, and manager. Justin Verlander and Carlos Beltran are both certain Hall of Famers and both finally won World Series rings. Beltran has been playing since 1998 and barely missed playing in the Fall Classic with Houston in 2004, with the Mets in 2006, and lost in the World Series in 2013 with the Cardinals. Verlander was the MVP of the ALCS and experienced a rebirth in Houston after a decorated career in Detroit.

All these men have compelling stories that merit recounting. All these men have lessons to teach to onlookers and fans. However, of the Astros players and coaches, no one is more worthy of admiration for his perseverance and painful ride to the show than Evan Gattis. Gattis is a 31 year old catcher/designated hitter from Dallas, Texas. He’s a .252 career hitter over five seasons split between the Atlanta Braves and the Astros. He split time this season with Brian McCann behind the plate and hit .300 in only ten at-bats in the World Series this year. He was a good contributor to the team and a clubhouse glue guy, but not a star on his team or in the sport. But the fact that he was even able to play in the World Series, let alone in Major League Baseball at all, is nothing short of a miracle.

James Evan Gattis grew up in Forney, the Antique Capital of Texas, just north and west of Dallas. At eight years old, his parents divorced. At 12, he moved from his mother’s house to live with his father, who had remarried and started a new family. Gattis didn’t process this well, as he was too busy playing baseball. Fortunately for young Evan, he was a talented player and Dallas was a hotbed of baseball talent. He played on travel teams with Clayton Kershaw, Corey Kluber, and Yovani Gallardo. As he got older, he played on a travel all-star team with Austin Jackson and later in the Junior Olympics with Billy Butler, Homer Bailey, and Justin Upton. All the mentioned teammates made the Majors and had some sustained success at various levels. Gattis proved himself among his peers on the travel teams and in high school, bouncing between R.L. Turner, Forney, and Bishop Lynch high schools so he could play for his favorite coaches.

He was viewed as a good draft pick in the 2004 draft, but he decided against playing professional baseball. Rice University and Texas A&M both offered scholarships for Gattis to play college baseball for them. He accepted A&M’s offer so he could play catcher. But he never played an inning for the Aggies. Before he ever suited up, Gattis had some demons to deal with. His parent’s divorce fed an in-built sense of anxiety and stress that he bottled up for years playing baseball. He started doubting he could succeed in the college game when he left home for College Station and practiced with his new teammates.

These stresses led him to abuse alcohol and marijuana. His mother grew concerned and personally drove him to a drug rehabilitation facility for a 30 day inpatient stay when she found out how Evan was doing. The counselors determined he did not have a drug issue, but he had major anger issues. Gattis was sent to outpatient therapy in a halfway house in Prescott, Arizona, for three months. After his therapy months, Gattis left A&M and enrolled at Seminole State College, a junior college in Seminole, Oklahoma, after the coach recruited him. He redshirted his freshman season and played half of the 2006 season before injuring his knee. After the injury, he burned out and quit baseball. Telling his father he never wanted to play the sport again after doing nothing but baseball to cope with his parent’s divorce. Gattis moved back to Dallas and worked as a parking valet.

Shortly after, he visited his sister in Boulder, Colorado. He liked the area, so he decided to move there, selling his truck and starting work in a pizza parlor and as a ski-lift operator at the Eldora Mountain Resort. That summer, in 2007, Gattis went into a tailspin. He was depressed, unable to sleep, and contemplating suicide. Eventually, he couldn’t take it anymore and checked into an inpatient psychiatric ward. There, he was diagnosed with clinical depression and an anxiety disorder. Gattis was then released into the care of his father. He moved to Dallas with his brother, with whom he found work as a janitor for Datamatic Global Services, then as a cart boy at a local golf course.

Years past and Gattis went on even more absurd adventures. He was homeless in New York City for a bit, worked at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, and in 2009, Gattis met a New Age spiritual advisor who convinced him to leave his possessions behind and go to Taos, New Mexico. Gattis lived in a hostel and worked at a ski resort while there.

Three months later, Gattis went to California to find a particularly famous New Age Guru. The starter in his 1995 Dodge pick-up truck, so he had to push start his truck to get Los Angeles and then to Santa Barbra without stopping the engine once. He went from there to Santa Cruz where he found the Guru and started to talk to him about the meaning of life and the trials of life. All the Guru said to Gattis was “Evan, maybe you need to chill out.” The disgruntled Gattis thought he had wasted his time and went to San Francisco the next day.

Eventually, after being woken up by a cop tapping on his window while sleeping him his truck, Gattis had some time to reflect on the Guru’s words and the ride he had been on. Here he was, 1,752 miles from his home, close to four years removed from his knee injury, and no longer an athlete. He was not in a psych ward or driven by crippling depression. He had sought direction from famed spiritual gurus and was still wandering. He was still searching for the key to his happiness. He still wanted to close the door on his anger but did not know how to move on. That day, miles from home, it clicked. Evan Gattis was happiest playing baseball.

The now 22 year old Gattis decided that he wanted back on the diamond. Not to bury his anger or be away from his family, but to find solice and peace within himself and in the union of a team again. He pointed his car towards Texas and push started his car with some help from a homeless man in exchange for a six pack of beer. Once moving, Gattis called his father and told him “I’m coming home.” There was only one problem: Gattis had no idea how to get back to playing organized baseball after so long away.

He made one more call, to his step brother, Drew Kendrick. Kendrick was also a baseball player; pitching for the University of Texas-Permain Basin Falcons, a Division II program in far western Odessa, Texas. Kendrick told his head coach, Brian Reinke, about his step brother and Reinke remembered the powerful hitter from his high school days. The Falcons Head Coach offered Gattis a spot on the team with the words “Play a year here and we’ll get you drafted.”

In his first season playing organized baseball in four years, Gattis dazzled, hitting .403 in 57 games, belting 19 doubles, two triples, 12 home runs, and taking 35 walks, 19 of which were intentional. He was named to the All Conference team for the regular season and tournament in the Heartland Conference. True to Reinke’s word, Gattis was drafted after one year in Odessa. Atlanta selected the wandering catcher in the 23rd round of the 2010 MLB Draft, with the 704th pick.

After years of meandering, hospital stays, rehab, New Age guidance, homelessness, and personal discovery, Evan Gattis was a professional baseball player. His journey to get to the pros was more complicated than many’s lives ever get. That made the transition to professional baseball shockingly easy. He rose through the ranks with the Braves quickly. The first stop was a successful summer with the Danville Braves of the Rookie level Appalachian League right after being drafted in 2010. The next year, he went to extended spring training after not making any opening day roster for a minor league team in the Braves’ system. He was later added to the Rome Braves, a Class A team, and won the league’s batting title. Gattis continued to rise, reaching Double A in 2012 and impressing in the Venezuelan Winter League, where he earned the nickname “El Oso Blanco”, Spanish for “The White Bear”.

The grind that normally swallows minor leaguers was a welcome change of lifestyle for Gattis. The man had lived four lifetimes in his late teens and early twenties and was already a grown man mentally. He was invited to Spring Training in 2013 and with regular starter Brian McCann starting the year on the disabled list, Gattis was named to the opening day roster. He made his major league debut on April 3rd, 2013, three years after returning to the diamond at any level and only after two and a half years in minor league baseball. He hit a home run in his first major league game against future Hall of Famer Roy Halladay. His contributions helped the Braves to the NL East Division Title that season.

Gattis became the primary catcher for the Braves the next season, but was traded the following offseason to the Houston Astros. Despite growing up a Rangers fan and not liking the Astros in his youth, the move back to Texas paid off. In three seasons as an Astro, Gattis has been a catcher and designated hitter for an Astros squad that reached the 2015 Playoffs as a Wild Card, won 101 games in 2017, and claim the American League West crown that season. In the American League Championship Series against the Yankees, Gattis hit a solo home run in Game 7 to break a scoreless tie in the fourth. The Yankees never scored, so Gattis effectively drove in and scored the Series winning run on his homer. Eleven days later, the Astros beat the Dodgers for their first World Series.

Ten years prior, Gattis was on the verge of committing suicide. Now, he is happily married and at the top of his profession. No athlete I’ve ever watched has the winding road of Evan Gattis. If a writer pitched Gattis’s life to a studio as a movie script, it would be laughed out of the room for being too absurd. But it’s real. Gattis has lived a crazy life and is an inspiration to anyone struggling with mental illness, personal doubt, substance abuse, or troubled family life. I hope people read his story and walk away smiling. If he can live through what he did, keep going. You can make it through your trials. Just keep going. Gattis did and made it through. You can too.

Why Houston Reigns

The Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Dodgers gave us a classic World Series. These were the two best teams all year and they played like it in the Fall Classic. All baseball fans should be grateful for the series we got. It seems like they are, if the TV ratings are anything to go by. Ultimately, the Astros edged out the Dodgers in one of the best series we’ve ever had. How did they do it? Let’s take a look. 

Who are Yu?

Yu Darvish is one of the most talented pitchers in baseball. He’s been an All-Star, a Cy Young Award runner up, and a dominating force for the Texas Rangers. When he got traded to the Dodgers this summer, it signaled that LA was locking and loading for a postseason run. He started one game each in the NLDS against the Diamondbacks and the NLCS against the Cubs and won both. He looked good as the Dodgers lost only one game en route to the Fall Classic. So. Who wore his uniform in Games 3 and 7 of the World Series? 

Darvish looked AWFUL in his two starts against the Astros. He only went 1 & 2/3 innings in each start, for a total of 3 & 1/3 innings across two games. His ERA for the series was 21.60. He gave up nine runs, eight of them earned, nine hits, two home runs, walked two men, and struck out no one. Darvish did not show up on the biggest stage of his career. I hope the man gets another chance to pitch on a playoff team so he can turn this around. Because, sadly, Darvish deserves to be at the top of the list for blame for this series going poorly for LA. 

Dave Roberts’ Over-Managing

I love Dave Roberts. The man made the biggest play in Red Sox history, stealing 2nd base on Mariano Rivera in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS. He helped to spark the greatest comeback in baseball history. He has also been a great manager since he took up the job with the Dodgers last season. He won the NL Manager of the Year award last year and led the Dodgers to the NLCS against the Cubs. After a slight retooling, the Dodgers won 104 games, the second most in franchise history and most in baseball. They won the division by 11 games over the Diamondbacks and lost only one game in the playoffs. Then the Fall Classic arrived and Roberts meddled a little too much. 

Game 2 is the worst example of this. Rich Hill started the game for LA and was dealing through four innings. He had only given up one run, three hits, struck out 7, and had only thrown 60 pitches. He had at least two more innings in his left arm. Yet for some reason, Roberts turned the game over to his bullpen from the 5th inning on. Hill responded appropriately. 

That decision to pull Hill put more stress on the bullpen to deliver against one of the best lineups in the game. And the gamble backfired. The Astros turned the game from a duel between Hill and Justin Verlander into an extra inning slugfest. That extra work Roberts put on his bullpen came back to haunt the Dodgers, as their relievers were not that sharp in Games 3 or 5 in Houston. I can’t look at that outcome and not think Roberts made a mistake with managing his staff. 

Houston Learned Clutch Play

The history of the Houston Astros is riddled with playoff disappointments. The 1980 and 1986 NLCS saw painful defeats to the Phillies and Mets respectively.

The late 90’s and early 2000’s saw the Astros reach the playoffs four out of five seasons and never make it out of the Division Series. They lost to the Braves and Padres in that those series.

2004 and 2005 were the glory years of the Stros. They played the NL Central rival St. Louis Cardinals in consecutive years for the Pennant. 2004 went a memorable seven games with the Cardinals edging out the Astros.

2005 was also an excellent series and the Astros finally broke through, winning the Pennant and reaching the World Series for the first time. They also closed out Busch Stadium in the process. Their first World Series trip went badly, as the Astros were swept by the Chicago White Sox. 

After that run, Houston fell on hard times. They did not make the playoffs for the rest of the decade. And after 2012, the Astros became the 2nd team to switch leagues, joining the American League’s West Division, to balance out the leagues at 15 teams a piece. In the AL, Houston struggled. They lost 111 games in their first year in the AL West, one of the worst records in the history of baseball. And yet, there were some positives to take. They picked up draft picks, drafted Carlos Correa and George Springer, picked up Jose Altuve, and built a title contender. They made the playoffs again in 2015 and held a 2 games to 1 lead over the Kansas City Royals and a 6-2 lead in the 8th inning of Game 4 in Minute Maid Park. They then choked the game away, giving up 7 runs over the final two innings and losing 9-6. The Stros then lost 7-2 in the final game of that series on the road. 

Going into the 2017 playoffs, the Astros had a franchise history of failure and recent slip ups. They had to stare down the best starter in the AL in Fenway in the ALDS and won in 4 games. They dueled the Yankees in a 7 game ALCS and won. And they had a legendary 7 game bout with the best team in baseball and made the defensive plays needed to win. They got the big hits, the timely pitching, and the playoff magic that has been absent from their franchise’s entire history. The Astros finally learned how to win. 

LA’s Game 7 Whimper

After all the mismanagement, Darvish disappointments, and Astros making big plays, the LA Dodgers had their fair share of offensive chances in Game 7. Clayton Kershaw pitched like his Hall of Fame self in relief, and the Dodgers had some chances to cut into the lead. Except they blew their chances. They left 10 men on base throughout the game and wasted prime offensive chances. After offensive outbursts throughout the series, Houston pitchers dodged bullets through the final game of the season and the Dodgers uncharictaristically went out quietly in the biggest game of the season. Give the Astros credit. They pitched their way into a Game 7 victory and earned the win. It was just surprising to see LA go so quietly after that series. 

All things considered, Baseball had a marvelous series. LA and Houston both had some goofs, but the teams entertained fans and I hope people become fans of this sport as a result of this series. Congratulations to the World Champion Houston Astros. Now begins the long offseason wait for pitchers and catchers to report to Spring Training. Only 103 days until February 13th! 

Game 7 Excitement

The calender now reads November. And we have even more baseball! Thank God the play has been outstanding and other people are joining me in my excitement. This is the last baseball day of the season and despite not really having a dog in the race, I am pumped for this game! 

The 2017 World Series has been among the best played in the history of the sport. It has surpassed all expectations and has given fans plenty to cheer about. It’s in part because no game has been the same. Games 1 and 6 were narrow pitching duel wins for LA with game 1 punctuating Clayton Kershaw’s hall of fame credentials and game 6 flaunting Kenley Jansen for the final six outs. Game 2 was an extra inning home run derby barely won by the Astros. Game 3 saw Houston blow up Yu Darvish and hold on for dear life late. Houston’s bullpen disintegrated in the 9th inning of Game 4. And Game 5 was a slugfest for the ages. We have been blessed with a masterful series between the two best teams in the sport. Best World Series ever? I’ll let you know after Game 7. 

As for that final game, we should be in for a classic. Last season’s Game 7 was one of the greatest games ever played. In part, the Cubs and Indians had their own demons to deal with and historical weight makes a game better. Also, the game was just plain wacky. 

Neither the Astros or Dodgers have that level of historical pain to wipe clean, but there are droughts to be addressed. Houston has never won a World Series. In fact, the Astros would only be the first championship team in America’s oil capital since Hakeem Olajuwon led the Rockets to consecutive NBA Titles in 1994 and 1995. Their only trip to the Classic before this was a forgettable sweep by the Chicago White Sox in 2005. They would be the first Texas team to win the Fall Classic and they’d wipe their history of mediocrity off the board with a win. Also, they’d prove Sports Illustrated as clairvoyant with this 2014 cover. 

The Dodgers are one of the winningest teams in baseball, with 22 National League Pennants and 6 World Series crowns. Sadly, the Dodgers went cold after Kirk Gibson hit the most famous home run in baseball’s history in the 1988 World Series. They’ve not won a pennant since, let alone a World Series. They went through the Frank McCourt saga, failed in the late 2000’s with repurposed pieces like Joe Torre and Manny Ramirez, and spent the GDP of Granada to lose to the Cubs and Cardinals in the NLCS this decade. Now, they’re one win away from validating Magic Johnson’s investment in the team. 

The drought ending is there, but not the main draw. The caliber of play is the reason to watch. These teams are the best in baseball. Both won over 100 games, both are loaded with ace pitchers, and both have dynamic lineups. Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander are future Hall of Famers who have validated those credentials this postseason. Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, and Justin Turner are all legitimate MVP candidates and have given great offensive shows. It’s nice to see the ratings for this series have been higher than recent World Series. It deserves what we’ve been giving it. I hope people become baseball fans as a result of this series. 

It is also completely possible to get a wacky end to the year that might even surpass last year’s closing act. The teams are ready to go and the sport is ready for its fine display. 

So who wins? Beats me. I’ve just been along for the ride and have gotten an outstanding Fall Classic. I will watch this game tonight at a sports bar with another baseball addicted friend with baited breath and incredible anticipation. 

2017 World Series Preview

I’ve certainly had my share of baseball this year. I’m an avid Red Sox fan and went to many games at Fenway, most notably David Ortiz’s retirement game against the Angels in June. I called games at MIT and followed the North Carolina baseball team for my friends on the team. And I hosted baseball players for a championship season in Brewster for the Whitecaps. You’d think that’d be enough baseball, right? Not for me! 

I am excited for this year’s World Series! Not because of rooting interests, like last year for the Cubs, or any loyalty I have in a team, like with the Red Sox. No, I’m excited because this is a series between the two best teams in baseball. 

Houston led the AL for most of the year until Cleveland went on their crazy run of 22 straight wins. Even with that record, I thought Houston was a better team than Cleveland. Turns out they had enough to get by the Red Sox in 4 games and the Yankees in a strong 7 game series. Carlos Correa, George Springer, Evan Gattis, and MVP Candidate Jose Altuve lead one of the best lineups you’ll ever see. Altuve is also 5’6″ and has big home run power. He is awesome to watch and is enough to power a team on his own. The pitching is also deep, with 2015 Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton, Brad Peacock, and newly acquired Justin Verlander headline the starters. Verlander may be the most important. The former Cy Young winner and MVP of the league was the easy choice for MVP of the ALCS and looks like a new man after leaving Detroit. The bullpen is anchored by Ken Giles, Chris Devenski, Luke Gregorsom, and Will Harris. It’s a good bullpen that can do the job, but the pitching strength is the rotation. If the lineup is clicking and the rotation is strong, Houston won’t need to push their pen and will win the series. If they have to depend on their bullepen, they are in trouble. The lineup is strong from top to bottom and the starters look amazing. They deserve to be in the World Series. Their opponent does too, though. 

The Los Angeles Dodgers had a summer like no other. They went on a 52-9 stretch in the middle of the summer and looked like they’d set the record for most the season. Then they lost 11 in a row and panic set in. Then the Dodgers righted the ship and have dominated the playoffs. Neither Arizona or Chicago were close to LA in their playoff series. The Diamond backs were swept and the defending champion Cubs were outed in a rather easy five game victory. Justin Turner, Yadira Puig, Cody Bellinger, and Corey Seager have been bashing baseballs all season and leaving the dominant Dodger lineup. Their starting staff is anchored by certain Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw, Alex Wood, Rich Hill, and newly acquired star Yu Darvish. Yu hasn’t looked as good for his new team as Berlander has, but the former Ranger is still a big piece. Kenley Jansen is the best reliever in these playoffs. Ross Stripling, Pedro Baez, and Josh Fields are no slouches, but this bullpen revolves around how great Kenley Janesn is. If he’s on, LA has a far superior bullpen. And I expect him to be on for the series. 

This is the most evenly matched series I’ve followed in my life. On paper at least. I know the sport has to be played to be understood, but I think we are in for a classic series this year. These are the best teams. They have awesome stories with Puig and Altuve, Verlander and Darvish, Hurricane Harvey and the Wildfires all surrounding this series. 

Who will win? I have no idea. This will be tightly contested and too close to predict. Who do I want to win? I don’t know. I like both teams and have no ill will towards either. I guess I am an American League guy, so I would like to see Houston win. But I’d be fine with either team winning. If I had to pick a team to win, I’d say it’s the Astros on account of their starting staff being hotter right now. But we have a series to sort out. Let’s go!