Getting lost ain’t so bad, is it?

A few years ago, when I was still a regular contributor to my newspaper when it came to covering collge football and college basketball games, one of the regular visitors to a site where I and/or the college I covered would undergo a lot of scrutiny had a tag line something like: “I never get lost, I just end up visiting places I hadn’t intended to go to.”

So it was for my wife and I on Tuesday, August 12, when we left our son’s home in Warner Robins, Georgia, for a trip a bit north of Macon where we intended to visit a plantation that was advertised and promoted in the Georgia Visitor’s Guide we picked up on our way into the state a few days earlier.

About the time we arrived at the plantation was about the time the “I never get lost” comment began filtering through my brain. You see, we were on our way to the Jarrell Plantation State Historic Site to see what life was like back during Civil War times. Only one problem: When we pulled up to the locked gate, the posted sign said “Open Thursday through Saturday.” Oh, crap.

We did see the building and on the web page we saw a picture of the building before it was reconstructed for safety reasons and for display. Ah, but all was not lost.

Since we were already in suburban Juliette, Georgia, Illy (my wife) looked for other places to visit and the words “Whistle Stop Cafe” kind of, almost jumped off the page. For those like me who are unfamiliar with the Whistle Stop Café, that was one of the sites of some scenes in the film “Fried Green Tomatoes.” Yes, I had heard of it, but I never watched it. We figured, what the heck, we had visited the “Field of Dreams” movie site in Dyersville, Iowa, and we had eaten in the restaurant in Big Bay, Michigan, where love triangle went bad and resulted in the filming of “Anatomy of a Murder” in the Lumberjack Tavern and other local spots.

So, we GPSed the address of the Whistle Stop Café and headed to “downtown” Juliette to check it out. Yes, the restaurant is still there and it still serves fried green tomatoes. Illy has had them before and wasn’t really excited about them; I don’t even like red, ripe tomatoes so there was no way I was gonna eat fried green ones.

We liked the place. Illy and I both had the pulled pork sandwiches on Kaiser rolls and I had a side of fried okra. Then we walked around the town a bit, drove down to the dam site (not the damn site) and finally left to return to Warner Robins to our son’s house. We did have the pleasure of seeing three lengthy freight trains go by while we were there, with two of them passing while we were in the café. Boy, did that place rumble. So cool.

So, while it’s not always advisable not to have a Plan B in case Plan A doesn’t pan out, there’s no reason not to go to Plan C. We’ve actually seen lots of places we had not intended to visit. Last time we were in Georgia, for example, we went to Dalonaga on our way home to see the largest waterfall(s) in the state and ended up driving through Dawsonville, home of former NASCAR superstar Bill Elliott.

So travel happy. But travel smart, too.

A tractor pull is a lot like life itself. Really.

I went to a truck and tractor pull recently, covering the event for the newspaper where I work. I’m not big on truck and tractor pulls; never have been. The evening turned into a total debacle when my wife, who joined me for the first time in three nights at the Ottawa County Fair, sent me a text: “And the point of all this is?”
Sad to say, though I’ve covered lots of events as a sports writer, including things like harness-horse racing and lawnmower racing at this very same fair, I did not have an answer.
Two nights later, however, while lying in bed, the answer popped into my head. The fact that said wife was complaining about how I did not finish the “To Do” list she had made for me, helped that answer pop into my head.
A tractor pull is a lot like life itself. There are slow tractors and fast tractors just like there are slow humans and fast humans. Human youngsters start strong much the same way tractors and trucks begin their trek. The weight is far back on the sled and the going is easy. In life, the weight is far ahead in the future and, say it with me, the going is easy.
But as we move through life, much the way the tractors move down the track, the weight gets closer and the going gets tougher. In life, the weight could be a number of things or a combination of things: College, marriage, children, unpleasant jobs, too much debt, breakups, divorce … all of those things weigh on us.
As we get older and we take on more weight. As the tractors get closer to the end of their run, the weight becomes more of a burden. We knuckle under from the weight as we get older and we slow down. And stop. The tractors get to a point where the weight is at the front of the sled and they slow down. And stop.
With us, that stoppage equates to death. We cannot go any farther. Same with the tractors. They can’t go any farther. They are stopped dead in their tracks.
But then a miracle happens. With humans, it’s called the resurrection. John 11:35 reads, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”
With the tractors and trucks, it’s a similar rebirth. The vehicle is removed from the sled, the weight is gone and the tractor is free to go. That’s addressed in Matthew 11:30. “For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
Humans and tractors progressing along their separate paths. I never realized they could be so much alike.

Player cuts a brain fart in front of 7,000-plus baseball fans

Ya know, over the course of my life, beginning with my first trip to Briggs Stadium in 1960 to watch Frank Lary and the Detroit Tigers whip on the Washington Senators, I’m sure I’ve seen over a hundred baseball games. That includes stuff I’ve covered as a newspaper sportswriter for The Holland Sentinel and, before that, The Grand Rapids Press.
I once drove, alone, from Bonita Springs, Florida, up to Tampa Bay to watch the Devil Rays and the Baltimore Orioles, when they both sucked, play each other.
I’ve been to a number of minor-league ballparks. Once, while on a trip to Texas to visit our third son at Lackland AFB, we drove past a ballpark in Tennessee that I didn’t even know was there. Of course, son No. 2 and I had to go and check it out. At the time, it was the home of the West Tenn. Diamond Jaxx, a Class A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs. Now it’s the Jackson Generals and belongs to the Seattle Mariners. Maybe I’ll have to go again.
Anyway, you get my point. Until Friday night, I thought I had seen everything … except a triple play. Let me tell you about the misadventure of West Michigan Whitecaps first baseman Dominic Ficociello.
I hope this comes off as a cute story rather than a critical comment because I and those in the area where I was sitting considered it a good WTF moment.
Here’s the scenario. The Whitecaps (Detroit Tigers) and the Peoria Chiefs (St. Louis Cardinals) are tied at 1-1 after five innings. The leadoff batter for Peoria gets on base — walk, single, it really doesn’t matter — and then is sacrificed to second for the first out.
Still with me? OK.
The next matter hits a sharp one-hopper that is fielded cleanly by West Michigan second baseman Javier Betancourt. His throw to first in plenty of time for the second out while the runner from second advances to third base.
Now, here is where you MUST pay attention. Ficociello is a good player. He bats in the No. 4 spot in the lineup and he’s hitting .307 following Friday night’s game. He’s also a good fielding first baseman. In this instance, however, he made a mistake.
Instead of stepping off the base and tossing the ball back to the pitcher for the next batter, Ficociello spun around and fired the ball back at Bentancourt, like a first baseman is supposed to do following a putout. You know, the around-the-horn thing to get the ball back to the pitcher.
Oooops. Hey, Dominic, remember that guy at third base?
The throw from Ficociello whistled past Betancourt’s head and into center field. Bentancourt spun and gave Ficociello a “HUH?” kind of look and Ficociello immediately realized what he had done. Yup, the go-ahead run trotted across the plate.
But all ended well when, in the home half of the eighth inning, Jeff Holm doubled past the Peoria right fielder, chasing home Wynton Bernard and Betancourt with the tying and go-ahead runs. And the Whitecaps held on to win, 3-2 for their seventh consecutive “W.”
All is forgiven, Dominic. You gave us a moment of pleasure and the Whitecaps gave us a night to remember.
Ya-HOOOOOO!!!!

All-Star memories from 1985

Twenty-nine years ago today, give or take a few days, I was on my way to Minneapolis to watch the 1985 Baseball All-Star Game. I was with my friend, Donnie, and how we got the tickets is almost as interesting (to me) as what happened in the Twin Cities.
A couple of months before THE GAME, I read an announcement in The Detroit Free Press that the folks in the Twins’ front office were going to free up 10,000 tickets for purchase by the general public. All one had to do was send in a postcard — one per person — with a name and address to be thrown into a random drawing. They would pluck out 5,000 post cards with each name being drawn given an opportunity to buy two tickets. So I grabbed a few post cards, ones with pictures on them from various Michigan sites, and sent them in: One with my name, one with my wife’s, one for each of my two sons (Corey wasn’t here yet), and one for my dog, Baby. Yes, my dog.
A few weeks went by when we got a letter from Minnesota that Geoffrey’s name had been drawn for the opportunity to buy two tickets. Well, given that Geoffrey was only four years old, I, of course, had to buy the tickets.
It didn’t take much coercing to get Donnie to go with me. We worked together at The Grand Rapids Press and we were partners in the Press’ golf league. Since the game was on a Tuesday night and Tuesday afternoon was our golf day, we had to play our rounds that morning before we left. If I recall, Donnie had a horrible round and he got sick eating the green apples off the trees that were located all around the golf course we played. As he had to sleep off his bellyache, I ended up driving most, if not all, of the way to the Twin Cities.
We got there in plenty of time for the game at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, as it was called them, and enjoyed the game. From our seats about 10 rows from the roof way out in center field, American League starting pitcher Jack Morris was just an inch tall. I booed because I didn’t like him (still don’t), but I was drowned out by the cheers of the Minnesota fans who loved their hometown boy. Donnie remarked at one point that second baseman Lou Whitaker’s jersey (Go, Tigers!) looked very, very white. We found out later he forgot to pack his uniform and had to buy a souvenir jersey from a vendor and have a number stitched on the back. The game was a game and the National League won, 6-1. Donnie decided to head out before the American League batted in the home half of the ninth after grabbing some bunting from the railing and stuffing it in his shirt. Bad idea. There were not a lot of people to “blend in with” as he walked toward the exit and security noticed a suspicious bulge in Donnie’s shirt. Of course, he was detained and there I was, wandering around the outside of the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis, wondering what was going on with Donnie. Oh, and he had the keys to the car. Fortunately for me, there was a lot of partying going on, so I had a few beers while I watched a bunch of fireworks. Probably an hour or so later, Donnie showed up, sans bunting, but none the worse for wear. I don’t remember if he got fined or anything, but he did have to apologize and act remorseful. As I drove TO Minneapolis/St. Paul, Donnie had to drive back home. I don’t remember what route he took, but the sun was already high in the sky once we got back to Grand Rapids. Luckily, we both worked in the Sports Department, so we got to sleep most of the day before going back to work our second shift jobs.
Yes, it was an adventure I’ll never forget. I have since lost the souvenir pennant I bought, but somewhere I still have my ticket stub from the 1985 All-Star Game.

Parents: Don’t stop teaching your children

Dear Parents of school-aged children:
I know it’s summertime when they get three months of vacation while you scramble around finding ways to keep them entertained. Please do not use television, texting with friends and social media to keep them occupied. Do that and their brains will turn to mush over the course of the summer and come fall, you’ll start blaming teachers for the bad grades your children are getting.
There are lots of opportunities out there to make every minute of every day a learning experience. Sure, some of them will cost money: Your local zoo, for example, charges admission, but when you’re there you can make the visit educational by reading the information signs to them or, depending on their age, have them read them to you. Ask questions. Have them ask you questions. Maybe you’ll learn something, too. I know for a fact you’ll learn that your kids want to learn.
Have phone-free times to sit with them. Be an example. If you read, they’ll read, even if it’s the daily newspaper. Read a book a week or a book every two weeks. Teach them, please.
We (yes, I’m an educator) have them for seven or eight hours a day for nine months. The rest of the time — in addition to the first five years — they’re yours. Make those minutes count.
Sincerely,
A Teacher.

NFL Redskins: A message from long ago

Thank you William Shakespeare for speaking through Juliet about the U.S. Patent Office’s ruling about the Washington Redskins.

“‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.”

From “Romeo and Juliet,” Act II, Scene II

Some battles are worth fighting

The query, coming as it did through a facebook.com message, was simple.

“Hey man. I’m participating in the DeVos Children’s Hospital boxing fundraiser event. Was wondering if ya wanna get in the ring with me?”

That message came from my friend Cory Olsen, former photographer for The Holland Sentinel and current writer/photographer for The Grand Rapids Press and mLive.com. The event is “Put Cancer on the Ropes,” touted by organizers as “a family friendly event taking place on June 13, 2014 at The DeltaPlex Arena in Grand Rapids.

My question is, friendly for which family? Certainly not mine, now that I’ve had time to think about it.

After I accepted Cory’s offer, I started asking him about the Power90 (or something similar) program he had been on several months ago and the healthy eating that had been part of his daily facebook.com posts for a while.

I wrote: “Are you in shape? I’m not. Will these be air-filled gloves and sumo suits?”

He replied: “Nope, I’m not. Been off my routine for a few months. It’s pretty tame, like 20-ounce gloves and headgear with nose protectors.”

So, that’s supposed to make me feel better?

Then I remembered. Gosh, Cory always was a little bit bigger than me. So I asked another question. And I got the answer I was dreading.

“I’m 6-2, 290,” Cory informed me.

Oh-oh.

And I’m like 5-11 and, at my latest doctor’s appointment, a measly 258 pounds. But I was 262 so at least the weight-loss thing is working. Kind of.

Then the trash talking began.

“Look out for the low blows,” I suggested. “With your height, I will have to go to the body. I can’t reach that high.”

“LAMBERTS GOES DOWN! LAMBERTS GOES DOWN!” he shouted in cyber talk. I suggested he wear some protection since I’m short and he’s not.

But seriously, it’s all for a wonderful cause. All proceeds will support the pediatric cancer program at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.

In one way or another, cancer has affected all of us. The daughter of a former church member had issues with cancer for years. Olsen, in his bio on the Put Cancer On the Ropes facebook page (look it up), reports that “the family developed a special connection with Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital earlier this year when Gabriella (his daughter) was diagnosed with ITP (Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura). She’s currently doing wonderfully.”

I lost a sister to cancer at age 61 in 2002.

What about you?

Why don’t you join us? And others? Sports anchor Dan Harland from Channel 13 and sports reporter Casey Jones from Channel 8 are in the card. Some lady named Schmitty from 104.5 WSNX-FM is getting in the ring, too. Maybe I’d have a better chance with her.

Also, Grand Rapids native and Detroit Red Wings center Luke Glendening will be one of the judges. (Maybe I’ll wear one of my Red Wings’ hats to bribe him.)

Cory and I have been promised celebrities in our corners to encourage us. I’m hoping to have Johnny Garcia on my side.

I don’t know what’s going to happen, but it should be fun.

Join us, please. Several ticket and/or sponsorship packages are available by visiting http://give.helendevoschildrens.org/celebrityboxing. Prices start at $15 for general admission season.

I would say “I’ll see you there,” but I’ll have to take my glasses off to fight so I might not see much of anything. Not even my 290-pound opponent.

I hope.