Be True to Your School

This has been on the wall of Wilder Stadium since the 1970s. I believe it was painted by my teammate, Kim Carper. (Monte Dutton)
This has been on the wall of Wilder Stadium since the 1980s. It was the work of Joe Lynch and Kenn Mann.. (Monte Dutton)

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Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, October 30, 2014, 6:52 a.m.

This amazes me because it’s so sentimental and hokey in comparison with the way the world is now.

When I played football at Clinton High School, an undistinguished member of distinguished teams, every time we came from a road game, and we didn’t lose any of those in my two years on the varsity, when the bus pulled through the gates, everyone on the team sang the alma mater.

Honest.

Here's to our old Clinton High School. (Monte Dutton)
Here’s to our old Clinton High School. (Monte Dutton)

Here’s to our old Clinton High School / Hail, hail, hail / Here’s to our old Clinton High School / Hail, hail, hail / High school days and childhood days and light of life soon fail / But our love for Clinton High School / Will never fail.

Now, it was popular to ad-lib “It’s hell, hell, hell,” but it was still amazingly sentimental. As best I know, it was a tradition that perpetuated itself spontaneously. No one told us to do it. Of course, no one told us to chant and sing all the way home from Inman or York or Greer, either. That wouldn’t have happened if we’d ever lost, but I think the alma mater would have been sung regardless.

We were proud of our school. For the most part, we still are. That’s why Clinton High School is celebrating a thousand football games, dating back to 1920, on Friday night. It’s actually a thousand and one. The thousandth game was in Chester last week.

Old Number Fifty will be there.
Old Number Fifty will be there.

My school has won eight state championships, the first in 1939 and the most recent five years ago. My brother played on one (1978) and I was on another (1975). Four were in the seventies and two in the eighties.

The team has fallen into a rough patch, but Clinton High will be back. When I look across the Wilder Stadium stands, I’ll see men whose grandsons are playing for the team, and moms who were cheerleaders before I blinked and awakened thirty years later.

My daddy was number thirty-three. My brother was ten. I was fifty. Brack played in the Shrine Bowl. The best that was ever said about my athletic ability was that I was smart.

Now I’m fifty-six. I cling to the belief that I’m smarter.

The stadium, which dates back to 1960, is named after Robert Perry Wilder, who served the Clinton school district for half a century and coached the first state championship team. The field is named after William Keith Richardson, who won six state championships. (Monte Dutton)
The stadium, which dates back to 1960, is named after Robert Perry Wilder, who served the Clinton school district for half a century and coached the first state championship team. The field is named after William Keith Richardson, who won six state championships. (Monte Dutton)

It’s Halloween, but Halloween doesn’t scare a Red Devil. Out on the lawn of the old high school, they’re holding a community trick-or-treat, Trunk or Treat, actually, before the game.

At the end of the halftime ceremonies, the band is going to play the alma mater. That’s because our love for Clinton High School “will nevvverrr failll.”

I drew heavily on my high school and childhood days in my novel, The Intangibles, which is set in the 1960s in a town, Fairmont, that bears some similarity to this one. Here’s how you can buy it, as well as my other books: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1414631316&sr=1-1

 

Memories of World Series Past

You may have noticed I like photos of Fenway Park. (Monte Dutton)
You may have noticed I like photos of Fenway Park. (Monte Dutton)

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Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, October 29, 2014, 8:40 p.m.

I’m watching Game Seven of the World Series. The San Francisco Giants just took a two-to-nothing lead.

The first World Series I remember was 1964. I was six. I’ve despised the New York Yankees ever since, beginning with their firing of Yogi Berra after losing to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games. I was too young to understand much other than the simple fact that a manager could get fired for making it to the seventh game of the World Series and losing. No one had ever heard of George Steinbrenner then.

In ’65, the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Minnesota Twins in seven. In ’66, the Baltimore Orioles shocked the Dodgers in four straight, and then came the year in which my father’s liking of the Red Sox caught fire in me. That’s the first Series I remember in sufficient detail that I could tell you the lineups of both teams. One of my early opinions of baseball was that Lou Brock wasn’t fair.

The Kansas City Royals just scored.

As luck would have it, I was sketching this while Tim Lincecum was throwing his second no-hitter earlier this year.
As luck would have it, I was sketching this while Tim Lincecum was throwing his second no-hitter earlier this year.

Other World Series memories: I was very happy that the Detroit Tigers defeated the Cardinals in 1968. It took me years to get over that seven-game loss by the Red Sox to the Cardinals. In 1969, I held it against the New York Mets that they beat the Atlanta Braves in the playoffs (it was the first year they had them), and, even though the Amazin’ Mets were a feel-good story, they didn’t make me feel good. When you’re a kid, it’s different. You think adults hold grudges? Kids really take it personally.

One of the more influential people in baseball history was the guy who had all the signs at Shea Stadium in the 1970s, most notably the 1973 World Series. Now it appears as if no one goes to the park without a sign. In baseball, it was the Sign Guy. In football, the guy with the rainbow Afro and the “John 3:16” sign. They’re the reason they apparently stop you at the gate nowadays if you’re wearing a shirt or your face is unpainted.

The game is tied.

In 1975, when the Red Sox again lost in seven, this time to the Cincinnati Reds, I snuck into the room at Clinton High School where the script for the daily announcements waited for our student body president. One of the duties of office was making announcements on “the intercom” twice a day. I knew he never looked at the list before he started announcing. Right after the Beta Club meeting being postponed from lunch period to after school, he said, “All students are reminded to watch Game Seven of the World Series tonight. It should be a hell of a game. … Do what?” You could hear people laughing up and down the halls. Boston lost that night, anyway.

The Red Sox haven't always left me smiling.
The Red Sox haven’t always left me smiling.

My chief memory of the Royals winning the Series in 1985 was Cardinals pitcher Joaquin Andujar coming completely unglued in Game Seven, which, I think, Kansas City won, eleven to nothing.

Then, of course, 1986, the unkindest of all the Red Sox cuts. Oh, Billy Buck. Oh, Bigfoot Bob Stanley. Oh, the tenth inning from hell in Game Six.

Now it seems as if the longer ago the Series were, the better I remember them, but the years 2004, 2007, and 2013 are notable exceptions. Hmm. What do those three years have in common?

Thanks for reading my blogs. I think you might like some of the short stories at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com. I’ve written two about baseball. Here’s the more recent: https://wellpilgrim.wordpress.com/2014/09/30/dont-ask-dont-tell/ You can find my books at: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1414631316&sr=1-1

Winning Is Still Why They Race

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. holds off his teammate, Jeff Gordon, at Martinsville Speedway. (Garry Eller/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. holds off his teammate, Jeff Gordon, at Martinsville Speedway. (Garry Eller/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, October 27, 2014, 12:15 p.m.

Nothing is wrong with NASCAR that Martinsville Speedway can’t fix. Add in a Dale Earnhardt Jr. victory, and it makes a fan want to go buy a keg of beer and figure out how to make homemade beef jerky.

Well, that’s what Junior said afterwards, or something like that.

One of the wiser remarks a football coach ever said to me was, “It’s the hardest thing in the world to be friends with those you compete against.” This Chase format has made it hard to keep up with just exactly who has a grudge against whom. You think there’s tension on the track? Check out the motorcoach lot. It’s becoming an old neighborhood, full of so many chips on so many shoulders that the principals have forgotten how the chips got there. Come Texas next week, it’s going to be forty-three coaches and forty-three private cookouts.

No fraternizing with the enemy. Who’s the enemy? Everybody.

As Earnhardt’s crew chief, Steve Letarte, said, “It was a great day, a hard-fought day. Beating and banging all through the field. I think we saw more catastrophic-style crashes. You see a lot of sliding around out there, but (Sunday) we saw more serious crashes than we’ve ever seen. That is what the sport has created. It’s stressful. It’s high pressure. It’s what we want. It was exciting to come out on top.”

Fourth victory of the season, but Earnhardt Jr.'s first at NASCAR's shortest track. (Garry Eller/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Fourth victory of the season, but Earnhardt Jr.’s first at NASCAR’s shortest track. (Garry Eller/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

Jeff Gordon needed it more, if only because he still has a shot at the championship, but Earnhardt wanted it more. He’d never won at Martinsville before. Isn’t it encouraging when “want” wins over “need”? Isn’t that what everyone wants to see? Damn the Chase. Full steam ahead.

“We prepare for this race like most people prepare for the Brickyard,” Letarte said. “There’s a reason all our cars run well here. … It’s not just by chance.”

One reason, of course, is that it’s near the site of the plane crash, the one that took ten lives, ten years ago, among them Rick Hendrick’s brother and son.

For Earnhardt’s title hopes, it was a week too late, and, as he said, “I don’t believe in fairy tales. It’s only destiny in hindsight, you know. This wasn’t our year. It’s only magical after the fact, when you see it happen.

“It feels good not to sit there and watch everybody else just finish the year off. I’m glad we were able to get a win, remind ourselves that, if we keep working hard, keep trying, maybe (one day) we’ll win this championship like we want to. We’re definitely a good enough team. We got to get them breaks, got to keep working, got to stay positive. You can’t get beat down.”

Teamwork, thank goodness, only goes so far. (John Clark photo)
Teamwork, thank goodness, only goes so far. (John Clark photo)

If Earnhardt had moved over and let Gordon win, it would have been great for the team and terrible for the sport. It’s good that expediency didn’t rule the day.

When Earnhardt declared, “Winning races is the priority. I don’t know that I’d be that damned happy about winning a championship had we not won any races,” it made me smile in my living room. Yeah. Attaboy.

He’s won four races. He’s not going to win the championship. This format is part maze and part lottery. Whoever wins it is going to have to be skillful and lucky. Justice has been sacrificed on the altar of excitement. The flip side, naturally, is that it is exciting.

Jeff Gordon is sitting as pretty as a man can with an edge that is fleeting and prospects that are not guaranteed. That checkered flag could have put him in a parade down Easy Street for the next two weeks.

“I would have liked to have had that win,” he said, “but you don’t want to do that because somebody moves over for you.”

Three races remain. The next one will have even more Machiavellian potential than this one. The prince’s spirit is going to be tiptoeing around Hendrick Motorsports all week, muttering something about how there’s a bunch of damned dreamers calling the shots at the joint.

If Gordon could have caught Earnhardt, he said, “I would have moved him, for sure. There’s no doubt in my mind. Everybody who is out there racing has to weigh risk versus reward. For me, to win this race [was] worth taking a lot of risk, even if you upset your teammate.”

He couldn’t catch him. Earnhardt, in spite of all the king’s horses and all the king’s men, didn’t slow down. Gordon might win the championship. It is no longer within Earnhardt’s grasp.

Gordon had everything to gain, and Earnhardt had nothing to lose.

Isn’t that just the way we want our races to be?

Thanks for still caring about what I have to write about NASCAR, and check out my other blog, www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, which is mainly fiction. If you’d like to peruse the books I’ve written over the years, most notably the two novels, click here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1414428839&sr=1-1

Games with Lots of Names

Autumn in Woodruff at W.L. Varner Stadium. (Monte Dutton)
Autumn in Woodruff at W.L. Varner Stadium. (Monte Dutton)

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Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, October 26, 2014, 9:53 a.m.

Here in Clinton, we’ve got lots of big names. Our high school football team is having a rough year, though it has won two straight games.

I don’t mean to make light of names. They come and go, and fall in and out of fashion. Few are the Clarences and Elmers and Rufuses and Drusillas and Myrtles anymore. Our Red Devils may not have great players, but they’ve got great names.

This year’s team includes Tashymen Boyd, Zikail Livingston, Shakeam Dowdy, Drequan Dendy, KoKo Richey, Tyrek Martin, Rakevis Brown, Hezekiah Simpson, Xarrius Choice, Makail McGowan, Anfernee Gary, Dawud Jackson, and Tyreke Watts.

I’ve seen other teams play, and there are some great names – I’m particularly enamored of Woodruff’s Demajiay Rooks and Greenwood’s I.Q. Edmonds – but I’d put the diversity of the Red Devils’ roster against any I’ve seen.

It’s good for spelling.

The sun may be setting on Woodruff, but the football team is 9-0. (Monte Dutton)
The sun may be setting on Woodruff, but the football team is 9-0. (Monte Dutton)

 

On Friday night, duty and the promise of a few bucks took me to nearby Woodruff for the second time in three weeks. The Wolverines are undefeated, and W.L. Varner Stadium is a much more pleasant place to visit as a sportswriter than as a visiting team. Woodruff won one game, 71-16, and the other, 49-9. In both cases, the clock ran continuously during the second half. The Wolverines combined to score ninety-nine points in the first halves of the two.

This time, a sophomore receiver named Keith Pearson caught four touchdown passes, from Keevon Gist, in the first half.

The press box at Woodruff reminded me of the old days covering North Wilkesboro Speedway, where kindly old ladies brought in fried chicken, casseroles, green beans and the like. It was like dinner on the grounds at church. The first time I went to Woodruff, they had hot dogs better than any at Martinsville. On Friday night, there were two crockpots full of chicken stew and an ample supply of saltines.

As they’re fond of asking around here, man, what you talking about?

 

Stately Paladin Stadium. (Monte Dutton)
Stately Paladin Stadium. (Monte Dutton)

It was Homecoming at home, which is to say that Presbyterian College observed it against Monmouth, that Big South Conference school from the New Jersey shore. It was also Homecoming at Furman University, where I went to school, and I went there because I’d agreed to describe the game professionally for a daily publication.

Just as Clinton had been winning while I was in Woodruff, the Blue Hose, who are having quite the resurgence, defeated Monmouth, 18-12. Presbyterian is now five and three, and the losses were to Northern Illinois, North Carolina State, and a top-flight team from their native Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), Coastal Carolina.

Meanwhile, the Paladins were succumbing, 45-0, to Samford with yours truly in the house. Ah, it’s the risk one takes by being a mercenary with a laptop.

I was really excited to cover the Furman game because it was the first time I’ve had a chance to write about something that occurred in the daytime. Nighttime deadlines mean it’s the art of the possible. It’s a matter of describing the contest as best one can within the time allotted. It requires lots of writing as the game goes along. It’s mainly “busy work.”

In the daytime, there’s time to do the job right.

It would have been “righter” had Furman done it’s job right, but, it was a beautiful day, and I saw lots of old friends, and it was before the game and they hadn’t had a chance to get pissed off yet.

One never knows for sure what’s going to happen in a football game.

Unless one is in Woodruff …

A high school football team is at the center of my novel, The Intangibles, which is set in the tumultuous sixties. You can find most all my books, fiction and non, here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1414339739&sr=1-1

The Iceman Goeth

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Terry Labonte (NASCAR Photo)
Terry Labonte (NASCAR Photo)

Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, October 23, 2014, 9:50 a.m.

When I started writing about NASCAR, young drivers spoke the same way about Terry Labonte they later did about Mark Martin, though Labonte was fond of saying that he wasn’t old enough to be deemed a wizened veteran.

Labonte had gone four seasons without a victory, 1990-93, but when Rick Hendrick hired him, he was “only” thirty-seven. Restored to top-flight equipment, Labonte won three races in both 1994 and ’95, and his second Winston Cup championship in 1996.

He was the driver’s driver, the one who best understood the give and take of the high banks. He drove unto others the way they drove unto him. Terry Labonte would give another fellow room, but he’d better not take advantage of the courtesy. Labonte’s memory was strong, too.

Now, after all of these years, Labonte, who won championships twelve years apart, has decided it’s time to say when. He’s only run a few races here and there in the past few years. Last week, at Talladega Superspeedway, he decided this time would be the last time.

Labonte finished thirty-third. Started thirty-second. He always was consistent.

Terry Labonte (Monte Dutton sketch).
Terry Labonte (Monte Dutton sketch).

 

Even eleven years removed from his final and twenty-second victory, Labonte had a hard time giving it up. Fans watch the front, but drivers actually get something out of starting thirty-second and finishing thirty-third. It’s infectious, that racing.

“You know,” Labonte said beforehand, “it’s only about the third time I’ve said this is going to be my last race, but this is really going to be the last one.

“Another time I said it was my last race would have been in Texas about eight years ago, and then, last year, I told them this was going to be my last race, and then Frank (Stoddard) and I got to talking, so we decided to run one more year.”

Written by me, as usual.
Written by me, as usual.

Back in the mid-nineties, Terry Labonte greatly amused me. He has these piercing blue eyes that express more than his words. I’m not sure why the eyes that pierce are always blue. Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson are others. I’ve got brown eyes. They never pierce anything.

Neither he nor his brother, 2000 Winston Cup champion Bobby, is an easy interview. Bobby rambles, and it has to be for show. I used to say that the average Bobby Labonte answer to any question is, Here’s what I think, or, perhaps, the opposite.

Terry’s comedic style is subtle and more advanced than his younger brother. He rolls those piercing eyes, opens his palms and spreads his hands, and lets the poor interviewer know, in a nice way, just how insipid his question was. Once Terry won a pole at Rockingham and conducted what I considered a masterpiece of a press conference, which, from his mindset, likely had the goal of being quoted as little as possible. Labonte was so nice, though, his voice so soft and pleasant.

Somehow the topic of NASCAR’s then-fledgling Truck Series came up, and someone asked Terry to compare and contrast the trucks with cars. He rolled the eyes, spread the hands, ended up with the eyes piercing the ceiling, and said, “Uhhhhhhh, I don’t know.”

That was it. The questioner waited for more. Fruitlessly.

Next was a reciter, who pointed out Labonte had won one pole in the previous four seasons, two in the past seven, but this was his fourth of 1996. Why was that?”

Friendly look. Kind set to the eyes. Forthright. “I haven’t been around this sport but a brief time,” he said, “but it’s been my experience that it helps a lot when you’re in good equipment.”

I had a hard time keeping a straight face and was surprised that others in the room didn’t seem to appreciate the great humorist in our midst.

He got mad at me one time. I don’t remember the circumstances. He didn’t say anything. He just got unusually, even by his standards, terse when I was among those asking questions of him. Those eyes and expressions he relied upon so strongly either betrayed him, or more likely, performed the function of letting me know I’d written or said something that pissed him off. I’m satisfied that, if I’d touched his shoulder, it would have been cold.

I just waited. I didn’t want to discuss the matter, whatever it was, with a frenzy in progress. I passed him in the garage, felt the lasers from his eyes boring into mine, and stopped. He was a bit defensive, yes, but we talked it through, and I think, in a span of just a few moments, we knew where each other stood.

Hell, I liked him even when he didn’t like me. He may still not like me. It doesn’t matter.

This isn’t timely. It was a blog I wanted to write, but I needed to think about it a while. I hope you’ll read my www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com blog from time to time. What I really hope is that you’ll buy my books. Most all of them are here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144

 

Man in a Hurry

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Brad Keselowski is a student of history who wants to make it. (Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Brad Keselowski is a student of history who wants to make it. (Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, October 20, 2014, 11:22 a.m.

After Brad Keselowski won the Geico 500 at Talladega, NASCAR’s Kerry Tharp asked the 2012 Sprint Cup champion about his race, which is normal for a moderator, and Keselowski strangely said that he had been watching Roger Penske, his owner, and Paul Wolfe, his crew chief, discuss the race while feeling his face.

Not feeding his face. Feeling his face. Keselowski, ever inquisitive, said, “They say, when you have a lot of adrenaline, your facial hair grows faster and fingernails grow faster. I have a shadow, and my nails need to be trimmed.”

Eureka! The key to victory!

Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s championship will have to wait until at least next year. (Getty Images for NASCAR)
Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s championship will have to wait until at least next year. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Then Tharp said one word, “Wolfman,” and Keselowski’s answer took approximately five hundred words, none of which had anything to do with wolfmen.

That’s Brad. I wasn’t there, of course. I was just reading the transcript this morning. Some weeks I don’t even read the transcripts. Some weeks Keselowski doesn’t win.

The gist of it was: We had great cars at the restrictor-plate tracks. Nothing went our way in the first three. To actually quote him, “In the back of my mind, those three races, that we had so much speed at, and no results to show for it, made me feel like we were due.”

Jeff Gordon won his first championship in 1995. He's still in the hunt 19 years later. (HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon won his first championship in 1995. He’s still in the hunt 19 years later. (HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevy Racing)

Let’s put this victory in perspective with all its layers. Keselowski had to win to continue his quest for the championship. Had he finished second, he would have been like Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch, and Kasey Kahne, which was to say kaput. Finished. Out of it. Back among the rabble. Out of sight, out of mind. Keselowski would hate being there. Keselowski loves the spotlight. For thirty-five drivers, next week at Martinsville is a race and also a bummer.

When Keselowski was racing for this victory, he got some needed help from his teammate, Joey Logano, but when he was actually guarding his lead on the last lap, the driver most in position to help or hinder him was the driver who slammed into him – not with his speeding car but his speeding body — and clamped his arm around Keselowski’s equine head after the race the previous weekend ended at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Matt Kenseth was, incredibly, there for Keselowski.  He's still there in the Chase, too. (John Clark photo)
Matt Kenseth was, incredibly, there for Keselowski. He’s still there in the Chase, too. (John Clark photo)

What did Keselowski think about having Matt Kenseth in his rear-view mirror? Humor.

“To me, it was funny how this racing world works out,” he said. “I don’t know why it’s that way. I don’t know why it seems, every week, there’s either a fight in the garage, or a mishap or something like that happens, those two cars and people end up together, whether it was our cars were parked together in the garage area or on the race track for the win in the closing laps at Talladega. I don’t know why that happens.

“I got a chuckle out of that, personally. I didn’t feel uncomfortable the least bit.”

In other words, it wasn’t just a matter of staying in the Chase and going from Contender to Eliminator or some other ZZ Top album.

Apparently, while thousands of fans were saying, “Uh, oh, oh, oh, watch out, this is going to be fun” … so, too, was Keselowski.

NASCAR fans tend to eat their young. It’s hard to upset the apple cart as Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, and others did without taking a few hits. Every young driver who maximizes his success minimizes that of a revered veteran.

Sour grapes linger in the palate.

A champion, which, by the way, Keselowski already is, can’t get rattled. He wants to get along and be respected, but the main goal is to win. Again. And again. In baseball, Leo Durocher once said nice guys finish last. It’s a little different in racing. Oft times they finish second.

Said Penske of Keselowski, “I’ve told him a lot, it’s over, it’s over, let’s move on. Look, I like him. He’s a great driver. We have a long-term relationship with him. If he wants to get a little upset sometimes, that’s okay with me. We’ll let NASCAR figure out if he’s over the line or not. I guess it (Keselowski’s after-school extracurriculars) cost us fifty grand. I’ll take fifty grand and the win this week. Wouldn’t you?”

“I don’t think this is the first time we’ve seen Brad step up to the plate. Seems like everyone is against him. Seems like that fires him up more. I’ve got his back a hundred percent,” Wolfe said. “I didn’t see anything that he did out of line last weekend. I told him that. He does a great job and races hard. That’s why we like him driving our car.

“He sets his mind to something, he’s going to make it happen.”

It’s onto the final four races, the three that turn eight drivers into four and then the one race, in Homestead, Florida, for the championship. Any one of them can win it, mainly because the format is skewed toward happenstance as much as performance. The fastest are favored, but so are the fortunate, and all eight must remember that it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature, Father Time, Uncle Goodyear or Aunt Engine Block.

Keselowski is one of twenty-nine men to win Cup championships. About half that many have won more than one. Keselowski is thirty years old, still very much the young man in a hurry.

Thanks for reading me, and following me, and “friending” me, and “RTing” me, and “favoriting” me. I hope you’ll also read my other, different blog at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, and that you’ll buy my books, which can be located here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144.

There’s a Soul When You’re There

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I miss interactions with Jeff Gordon: tactful, but honest and helpful. (HHP/Christa L. Thomas for Chevy Racing)
I miss interactions with Jeff Gordon: tactful, but honest and helpful. (HHP/Christa L. Thomas for Chevy Racing)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, October 19, 2014, 9:30 a.m.

It’s a long way to Tallahassee and Talladega, though not with my trusty traveling machine, the fancy-looking, high-definition, satellite-connected television that has been gradually broadening my horizon since the day I was born. My cup runneth over.

I should shoot a new photo, with me in the recliner, wearing a  t-shirt and sweat pants, hair longer and unkempt. Not a selfie, though.
I should shoot a new photo, with me in the recliner, wearing a
t-shirt and sweat pants, hair longer and unkempt. Not a selfie, though.

It gives me enough rope to hang myself. It allows me to flip back and forth between ballgames – last night, for instance, in various stages of completion, Notre Dame-Florida State, Kentucky-LSU, Missouri-Florida, Utah State-Colorado State, Southern Cal-Arizona State, Washington-Oregon, Nevada-BYU, and several I cannot now recall – without paying close attention to any of them. I try to focus on one. Mainly, I just punch at the remote during commercials, but, then, if something exciting happens or seems as if it might be about to happen, I dawdle, and, next I know, half the quarter has passed on the other game.

It’s not as good as being there, or, to be more precise, as edifying. It is, however, a great deal less hassle.

I didn’t enjoy anything else this weekend as much as the high school football game I covered Friday night. Then again, I can see the glow of those stadium lights from my house. The local college was off in the Low Country (Presbyterian beat Charleston Southern, 7-3), and the alma mater was in Columbia, attritionally warring away a 42-10 decision to the Gamecocks.

This is about my speed these days. (Monte Dutton)
This is about my speed these days. (Monte Dutton)

No way I was going to fight that traffic, fork over twenty dollars to park, and watch the Furman Paladins get hammered to one extent or another. It didn’t seem so bad from the television screen. I never found myself saying, “I came all the way down here … for this?”

This is how I’ve evolved. I think it’s important to go out and see things live. I understand them better. Television offers few unique glimpses. I like talking to people face to face. For the entirety of my journalism career, I hated writing stories from phone interviews. I wanted to see expressions and reactions. I wanted to try to peer into people’s souls. That’s hard on long distance, maybe impossible, but, more and more, that’s the way people have to work in the big time.

Things are just fine at the high school and small college levels. Nobody knocks you down with unwelcome assistance as to how you should think and write. They’re generally tickled you want to think and write about them.

On the other hand, knowledge of my former sports beat has diminished, as is inevitable when one isn’t there. I still get media releases, transcripts, etc., all those black and white things. I don’t chat with a fabricator or a shock specialist in the space between the transporters. One of the reasons I’m not particularly upset that I’m not there anymore is that the frontiers were already being fenced in before I left. The cattlemen of NASCAR treat the sheepherders as if they are in another class, which is only because they are.

The story at Clinton High School on Friday night was more compelling than anything I’ve witnessed on TV lately. A winless team rose up against a team that had only won twice and pulled it out in the final seconds. No one stopped the presses over that, but the plates are burned in my memory.

For one brief, shining moment, it was … Camelot.

Talladega? I don’t know why they decided to qualify like that. Hell, I don’t even know how they qualified like that. I don’t understand the rule or the rationale. All I know is … well … it seemed ridiculous.

The hardest part is coming up with something to write. People seem to care about my opinions. I’m just not inclined to cultivate as many of them.

Confessions notwithstanding, I appreciate your indulgence of this blog and the other at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com. I hope you’ll like them enough to make a small investment in my novels, The Intangibles and The Audacity of Dope. You can find them, as well as my non-fiction books about NASCAR and music, here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144.

Yesterday’s Wine

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It seemed like old times at Wilder Stadium. (Monte Dutton)
It seemed like old times at Wilder Stadium. (Monte Dutton)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, October 18, 2014, 9:02 a.m.

Here’s a lesson I learned from the Great Game of Football.

If one fails to execute his block, do not turn around, with one’s hands on one’s hips, to watch the man one was supposed to have blocked clobber the quarterback. One could not look more shameful were he staring into the cage of a starved bunny rabbit he was supposed to have kept fed.

Dive at him! Hit somebody! By all means, be on the ground. Do not draw undue attention to one’s failures.

With good reason, I often poke fun at myself and my less-than-spectacular career as an athlete, but the Clinton Red Devils of thirty-nine autumns ago were greater than the sum of my parts. Thirteen wins, one loss, state champions of Class AAA, fourteen to six over Myrtle Beach in the finals, on the road, back before titles were decided in large, mostly vacant college stadiums and teams wore white at home.

Some times you lose seven straight. Sometimes, though, you win. (Monte Dutton)
Some times you lose seven straight. Sometimes, though, you win. (Monte Dutton)

This town still remembers, though it’s never seemed so long ago. This year the Red Devils are one and seven, and after all these years, it still seems like my team. It’s not a big city, where a father who played for Westside had a father who played for Eastside, and he’s at a game watching his son play for Northside while he wonders if the younger one will play for Southside.

The Clinton Red Devils don’t just play for a school. They play for a town, and as a friend told me after one of the games, “When that team ain’t no count, this whole town goes into a funk.”

Clinton High School won its eighth state championship five years ago. It now seems as distant as mine, the third, or my brother’s, the fifth. A year ago, the lads lost their first six games, this year the first seven.

Yet, even in this decade of our discontent, miracles can happen.

It’s not like Vince Lombardi was on the opposition sideline. Union County was two and five when they hit the Wilder Stadium field, but so gaudy was the huge seven in the Clinton loss column that every prognosticator I spied rated the Yellow Jackets as somewhere in the neighborhood of a two-touchdown favorite. They were markedly larger in the lines, fleeter on the perimeter and sturdier in the backfield. The first time it assumed possession of the ball, Union County marched down the field but fumbled deep in Clinton territory. Then the Red Devils punted, and the Yellow Jackets fumbled it. Halftime arrived to home hosannas, the Red Devils leading fourteen to nothing.

That was the home side until 1975. (Monte Dutton)
That was the home side until 1975. (Monte Dutton)

The optimism was guarded. Second halves haven’t been kind to the lads this year. They’d been ahead before. At halftime.

Union County onsides-kicked successfully to open the second half and then proceeded to shred the Red Devil defense via the run, unusual for the Yellow Jackets. Fourteen to seven. Then fourteen to thirteen by the grace of a missed extra point. Early in the fourth quarter, the Yellow Jackets took the lead, nineteen to fourteen. The visiting side cheered. The home side sighed.

It’s a strange sound, a thousand or so, sighing at once. Ayyyyyyyyyy. Ooooooooooh. Ahhhhhhhhh. With just the edge of a shriek, like an off-key voice in a choir that carries over everyone else’s.

Somehow, though, against all odds, Clinton had one more chance. Alternating an I-formation with a wishbone, sophomore Charlie Craven, who looks exactly like a Charlie Craven, under center, down the field they moved, the adjective “inexorable” in play for the first time all year. Craven hit the tight end, Daniel Moore, for thirty-two yards. Shakeam Dowdy, who spent most of the second half looking wounded, rose to the occasion.

Boom, boom, boom. It had been pop, pop, pop, and thud, thud, thud.

There they were, the sad-sack Red Devils, circa Year of Our Lord two thousand and fourteen, five yards away from the goal and also Paradise, Shangri-La, and Nirvana. On third down, Clinton devised a perfect play. Craven pitched the ball to Dee Jennings and crept away unnoticed to an area of the end zone left unpatrolled by the Union swarm. The Red Devils devised the play but didn’t run it. Jennings didn’t throw it. He tried to run it in. He got tripped at the line.

Fourth down. Twenty-one seconds blazing on the scoreboard. The moment of destiny seemed to have passed.

No. Not for the quintessential Charlie Craven. He stepped back and calmly hit that tight end, Moore, again. Dowdy had a two-point conversion in the tank. Twenty-two to nineteen. Seventeen clicks.

Incredibly, Union County had one more sting, but a long pass play died at the twenty or thereabouts, and the Yellow Jackets were out of timeouts, and when the receiver fell and the chain crew caught up, and the ref wound the clock, it showed not two seconds, but two tenths of one second, and a team consisting of the entire Justice League of America couldn’t have gotten that game-tying kick off.

As Willie Nelson sang, “Miracles appear in the strangest of places. Fancy meeting you here.”

This non-fiction is a bit embellished. If you’d like to see full-blown fiction, check out www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com from time to time, and if you still like high school football, even after reading my accounts, you might well enjoy my novel, The Intangibles, about which you can learn more here: http://www.amazon.com/The-Intangibles-Monte-Dutton/dp/0988829088.

The Giants and I Go Way Back

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Little joy at Fenway this year. (Monte Dutton)
Little joy at Fenway this year. (Monte Dutton)

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, October 17, 2014, 9:51 a.m.

In the first major league baseball game I ever saw, when I was eight years old and the Braves moved to Atlanta, Willie Mays of the San Francisco Giants hit a home run, which is why, for most of my life, the Giants have been my favorite team in the National League. I’ve never favored them over the Boston Red Sox, even though I never saw the Sox play in person until 1983, when I was out of college. I’m a legacy. My father rooted for the Red Sox. He spent parts of the summers of 1950 and 1951 visiting relatives in Boston. Uncle Cas was in the Army, stationed at Fort Devens.

Had Jimmy Dutton become a fan of the Boston Braves, it would have been so much more convenient, because they would have moved to Atlanta, after a little over a decade in Milwaukee, in 1966. But he didn’t. He idolized Ted Williams, and later I came along to idolize Carl Yastrzemski.

As Willie Nelson wrote, "Sad songs and waltzes aren't selling this year."
As Willie Nelson wrote, “Sad songs and waltzes aren’t selling this year.”

For most of those years, the exception being the time between when I saw Barry Bonds hit a grounder to second base and never leave the batter’s box and the end of Bonds’ career, my favorite National League team was the Giants, and that is the case now. Writing about NASCAR gave me a chance to see the Giants play at both Candlestick Park, their frigid former home, and the more temperate AT&T Park, which, like everything else in the San Francisco Bay Area except Alcatraz Island, is absolutely beautiful.

By the way, even though I wasn’t a fan of Bonds, he did hit one of the three tape-measure home runs I’ve seen in person. It was at the middle Yankee Stadium on a Pocono race weekend.

The other two were by Joe Charbonneau of the Cleveland Indians, also at Yankee Stadium in 1980, and Willie McCovey, who hit one into Atlanta Stadium’s upper deck at a Sunday doubleheader in 1969.

The Giants won the World Series in 2010 and 2012. The Red Sox won it in 2013. I’m on quite a roll because the Giants are there again.

I also like the Kansas City Royals, by the way. NASCAR also took me to Kansas City, and I remember once when, late in the season, I watched a horrendous game between the Royals and the Detroit Tigers in which both teams had lost a hundred games, and I thought it possible that the two teams would finish with double figures in runs, hits, and errors.

Apparently, that was in 2002, the most recent season the Royals and Tigers both lost in double figures.

I’m rooting for the Giants, but, if the Royals win, it won’t bother me too much. That’s the difference between a Series involving my favorite team, the Red Sox, and one involving the one I like the most in the National League.

It is my studied opinion that Giants manager Bruce Bochy is baseball’s best skipper. Years ago, when I covered and scored minor league baseball, I knew Royals manager Ned Yost a little and liked him. I say I knew him a little because, twenty-five years ago, I think he knew my name. Here’s my one anecdote about Yost.

The late Jim Beauchamp, one of my favorite sports personalities, managed the Greenville Braves. Hank Aaron was the Atlanta organization’s Director of Player Development. Due to an injury, the G-Braves needed a catcher. This was Beauchamp’s account of a telephone conversation with Aaron.

Aaron: “Hey, Beauch (Beech), I found you a catcher!”

Beauchamp: “Oh, yeah, who’d you sign?”

Aaron: “Signed Eddie Yost.”

Beauchamp: “Little old, ain’t he, Hank?”

Eddie Yost last played for the Los Angeles Angels in 1962. Ned Yost was the Greenville Braves’ new player-coach. Aaron misspoke in the same manner that people older than me here in Clinton often refer to me as Jimmy.

I’ve written a couple baseball-themed short stories at my other blog site, www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com. My latest is set on a car lot. I appreciate your consideration of my novels, The Intangibles and The Audacity of Dope, both available in softcover and Kindle editions at http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Monte%20Dutton&sprefix=Monte%2Cstripbooks.

 

 

Out There from In Here

Texas Motor Speedway. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
Texas Motor Speedway. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

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Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, October 15, 2014, 9:08 a.m.

On Tuesday, I wrote a chapter of fiction and had my teeth cleaned. Neither was painful.

I got home in time to watch the San Francisco Giants edge the Saint Louis Cardinals, five to four, then I used a Wendy’s coupon and returned home for the Kansas City Royals’ two-to-one victory over the Baltimore Orioles. The Giants won on an error by a pitcher, and the Royals’ two runs scored on a ground-out and a sacrifice fly.

Sometimes it’s enough.

Sometimes I wonder if I'll ever go back to Fenway again.
Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever go back to Fenway again.

During the game in Kansas City, the weather here at my house was frightful. Thus was my satellite-television service. The game was a bit like listening to a record skip.

Sometimes it’s enough.

I’ve got my book and my guitar, and the Boston Red Sox aren’t playing anymore, so I half-watch, “signal losses” be damned.

NASCAR officials announced punishments to Brad Keselowski and Tony Stewart, and pardons for Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth, for Saturday night’s best-of-three falls extravaganza near Charlotte. My general view is that Keselowski got off light and Stewart heavy, but it’s no excuse to waste more than a paragraph.

Okay, two paragraphs. I was amused at the notion that Kenseth wasn’t punished because the video revealed “no closed fists.” The message is that the bitch slap is in.

Undoubtedly, the term will offend someone. I’m going to put myself on probation.

The Heisman Trophy is annually awarded to the best college football player who hasn’t been sufficiently scandalized. Yet. Perhaps someone can come up with the Amoral Heisman. How about the Theismann Trophy? After all, Joe never won it. Every day, I take a precautionary saw palmetto tablet. Theismann takes a dose a hundred times as strong, so he’s obviously healthy.

Super Beta Prostate. The Theismann Trophy Presented by Super Beta Prostate, awarded annually to the Best College Football Player Even Under Indictment.

Just remember the words of Edmund Kean: “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.”

Consider my novels, The Intangibles and The Audacity of Dope, which, in marked contrast to this blog, include some episodes of clarity. If you frequent my other blog, at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, you’ll probably encounter a few stray short stories.