Oh, Just Another Miracle …

It was a sweet sunset for the 2013 Boston Red Sox.
It was a sweet sunset for the 2013 Boston Red Sox.

[cb_profit_poster Guitar1]Clinton, S.C., Thursday, October 31, 2013, 9:56 a.m.

It’s over. The ordeal has ended in triumph. It was a sound investment, this seven months of attention to a baseball team. The Boston Red Sox, who failed to win any World Series during my first 45 years on this planet, have won three in the decade since.

My late father, who bequeathed this devotion to a baseball team while a curse of some sort was still active, used to sit at football games, watch something outrageous occur, fold his arms, shake his head and say, simply, “Chaps love to play.”

The way he said it was, “Chaps luh duh play.” He thickened his accent for effect. Jimmy Dutton had a certain flair for the theatrical.

In some ways, my father’s love for the Red Sox has probably been overstated by me. It’s true that, when I was a small boy, he regaled me with tales of Ted Williams and Jimmy Piersall, the Boston outfielder who had a nervous breakdown in 1951, when my father was visiting relatives in Boston because his Uncle Cas was then stationed at Fort Devens. He is most definitely responsible for the fact that, while growing up in South Carolina, I pored over box scores and sought out Boston broadcasts on AM radio late at night.

Yes. I'm happy. I probably won't miss baseball for at least a week.
Yes. I’m happy. I probably won’t miss baseball for at least a week.

But, by the time I was addicted to baseball, Jimmy Dutton had moved on. I was a senior in high school in 1975 when the Red Sox fell to the Cincinnati Reds in seven games. I think I recall him chiding me for staying up late watching ballgames when I “ought to be getting your damn mind on the football game Friday night.”

I never lost the love. Then again, he never saw the Red Sox win a World Series. I’ve seen three, and it’s been good for my mental health. The Red Sox don’t drive me crazy anymore. Or as crazy.

I remember so distinctly the failures. Nine years old, lips poked out when Jim Lonborg, pitching on two days’ rest, tried and failed to stop the mighty Cards of 1967. In 1986, I was about as adrift as now, living at my folks’ house while this one was under construction. When the Red Sox took a 5-3 lead in the top of the 10th inning of Game 6, and then retired the first two batters in the bottom half, I was mysteriously somber. While many fans were anticipating victory, I was wondering how in hell the Red Sox were going to fritter it away.

In retrospect, it was rather easy.

By then, I was a veteran of the heartbreaks of 1967, 1972, 1975 and 1978. It was almost good when the Red Sox weren’t, because if they were safely out of contention, at least they didn’t break your heart.

In 2003, I was sitting in a motel room in Eden, N.C., watching with Jim McLaurin, when Aaron Boone hit the home run off Tim Wakefield that put the Yankees in the Series. That was Grady Little’s night from hell, and I got up without a word and just drove aimlessly for 30 minutes or so. Jimmy Mac was worried about having to oversee extrication of my remains from either the Smith or Dan rivers, both of which course nearby.

Thank goodness. That was the nadir. In the first three Red Sox World Series of my lifetime, Boston won nine games and lost 12. In the three since, the Sox have won 12 and lost two.

This team reminded me of 2004 in that, at one time or another, everyone came up big. This year it was just about everyone except the lefthanded relievers Craig Breslow and Franklin Morales, but Morales caught Stephen Drew’s home run in the bullpen, and that was just about as close to the action as I wanted him to be. Breslow and Morales were damned useful during the regular season, though.

Everyone is now safely cloaked in heroism.

Oddly enough, I’ve never regretted being a Red Sox fan. They have always been prone to great successes and failures. For every excruciating loss, there was an incredible victory, such as the stirring comeback against the Angels that preceded the World Series heartbreak of 1986. The Red Sox always won; they just didn’t win enough. I used to scoff when Chicago Cubs fans would say to me, “Hey, I don’t have any sympathy for the Red Sox. I’m a Cubs fan.”

To which I would retort, “It’s easy being a Cubs fans. They’re lovable losers. Usually they aren’t even in contention. The heartbreak is mild by comparison. The Red Sox take years off a man’s life. They make you suffer constantly.”

This year’s Soggy Bottom Boys never even sang about being men of constant sorrow.

Most seem to agree that David Ortiz’s .688 Series batting average is going to punch his ticket to the Hall of Fame. I expect “34” is going to be posted on the wall one day along with Yaz, Williams, Doerr, Pesky, Cronin, Rice and Fisk.

It’s silly for a grown man to be so deeply affected by a baseball team, but that train has left the station. This isn’t a dynasty in Boston. This team was mixing volatile chemicals, and the winning compound may be impossible to recreate.

Three world championships have rid me of chronic baseball pessimism, but all the years before leave me with the full knowledge that glory must be savored and appreciated at the time its blessings fall. Baseball, like life, has no guarantees. We’ve all got to earn our way from the cradle to the grave.

Now, if two boxes of books will just arrive at my doorstep, I will be overjoyed as well as happy.

[cb_profit_poster Storytelling]

It Ends Every Fall

[cb_profit_poster Storytelling]Clinton, S.C., Wednesday, October 30, 2013, 10:05 a.m.

Baseball is almost over. What shall I do?

Game 6 of the World Series is tonight in Boston. A Red Sox victory ends it. A Cardinals victory means one more night, but it’s going to be over either Thursday night or perhaps even the wee hours of Friday morning.

Baseball is so relaxing, though not at the moment. I'll be relaxed if the Red Sox win, or, for that matter lose. Losing will take longer.
Baseball is so relaxing, though not at the moment. I’ll be relaxed if the Red Sox win, or, for that matter lose. Losing will take longer.

The Red Sox have taken me to the limit this fall, and I’m appreciative, but all good things must come to an end, sometimes, of course, badly, but it has to end whether in triumph or ruin.

“It Happens Every Spring” was a movie title, and “It Ends Every Fall” heads up a certain blog.

Baseball brought me through this year of discontent. (Even in Steinbeck’s case, it was just a winter.) I began the season on unemployment, and it’s ending with me hoping the sales of a novel will sustain me or at least provide a little nest egg. A little sumpin’ sumpin’ to keep me going, knowumsayin’?

What sets baseball apart is that it’s relaxing. My favorite place to talk is a minor league game. The World Series isn’t relaxing, particularly, when one’s favorite team is involved. It’s my favorite time to be nervous, though. Other baseball games = relaxing. Red Sox games = nervous. Rest of time = normal. I get a balanced diet of all the major personality groups.

Go to a football game, or a stock car race, and it’s as if everyone is impersonating a lunatic. I love ballgames and races – who doesn’t love make-believe nuts? — but it can be amusing to sit in the stands, particularly for a sportswriter who has spent years and years watching away from them.

Home team leads 42-7. Visiting team gets a first down on a screen pass.

Home-team fan stands up, takes both hands and jabs down violently. “Shoot!” he screams (or something like that). “That stuff’s (or something like that) gonna kill us when we play a good football team.”

People always say “football team,” and “football player,” and “football stadium” and “the game of football” when it’s abundantly obvious that’s where they are.

I want to tap the man on the shoulder and say, “That’s just the game of football,” but he might take it the wrong way.

Let’s not and say we did.

The biggest surprises in a team of surprise are Koji Uehara and Daniel Nava.
The biggest surprises in a team of surprise are Koji Uehara and Daniel Nava.

Tonight I will carefully decide which T-shirt is most likely to positively affect the outcome. At times, I will turn to my guitar for some exploration of possible omens of success. There have been times, when Mariano Rivera arrived on the mound, that I thought Hank Williams: “Why can’t I free your doubtful mind and melt your cold, cold heart?” Hank was writing about a love/hate relationship and I was thinking half of it.

I don’t believe in luck, of course. I’m not superstitious. I do it just in case there’s something to it.

Back to the original point. What am I going to do?

I’m positive I’ve watched the Red Sox play more than 100 games this year on TV. In the past, when I covered NASCAR, I watched all the weeknight games when I was home. My whole day revolved around getting all my work done so that I could watch the Red Sox play. I even watched the games, disgusted, during what is known in the Red Sox Calendar as The Year of the Valentine. They won 69 games all year, and that was … last year. Boston would have been better off with George W. Bush managing the team.

Yes. Again. I even watched those games. I even watched Bobby V (for Valentine, or Vendetta) keeping me informed about how much smarter he was than every other manager who ever lived and how, by the process of elimination, the problem was obviously the players, whether by being injured or not really being players.

Yes, I watched that, and my head didn’t explode once. I’m tough. I’ve followed the Red Sox for a while.

Now it’s all going to end with the Red Sox having played more games than any edition that preceded it. How convenient for the year of my discontent.

What happens to me? What of these habits, so long cultivated and grounded in routine? Last night the teams were off because they had to travel from St. Louis to Boston. What did I do? I watched two – that’s two, two mints in one! – documentaries on PBS. I read about 60 pages of a novel I don’t really like that much. (It’s just over 700 pages, but damn it, I won’t give up.) Let me check. I’m at page 614. Maybe I can finish it tonight, but, no, the Red Sox are playing. There went that.

Baseball takes up seven months of the year. The other five are my cultural months. I read more. I watch more movies, quite often old ones. I’m pretty sure I’ll dive back into the manuscript of my next novel – one’s been out a while, one’s just out, and, as Loretta Lynn sang, one’s on the way – pretty soon.

Selling The Intangibles requires attention every day. Fortunately for my budding literary career, the Red Sox will move over. It is my fondest hope that they will do so in triumph, but it’s been a hell of a ride either way.

Beware. Once the World Series is over, I’ll probably start drawing again.

[cb_profit_poster Guitar1]

Trying to Reason with Book-Release Season

The Intangibles is set in 1968. I was 10, but my memories of that time are sharp.
The Intangibles is set in 1968. I was 10, but my memories of that time are sharp.

[cb_profit_poster Storytelling]Clinton, S.C., Tuesday, October 29, 2013, 9:45 a.m.

It’s still the calm before the storm. Copies of my novel, The Intangibles, are en route to my doorstep. I’ve been biding my time this morning addressing packing envelopes so that I can send autographed copies to people who ordered in advance, review copies to those who responded to my pamphlets and six to a bookstore that has signed up.

I’ll stuff the envelopes as soon as the boxes get here.

It’s just busy work. I’m doing menial tasks to keep my mind off the book, the one I’ve been waiting all my life to write, the one that determines whether or not I can make a go of this career writing books, the gateway to the next one and everything else.

I’m a tad neurotic. Some would say this is always the case.

My printer is whirring. It’s the backup I used to take on the road to NASCAR races. The better printer is in a bad mood. I can’t get it to work. At least for the time being, I’m tired of messing with it. I got the portable one out of the trunk, put new cartridges in, and so far, it’s working fine.

I got some bills to pay. I’ve got to get to the trash dump today because it’s closed on Wednesdays. Resolving a major family problem – my mother’s house was damaged in a fire over a week ago, and getting her, my sister and two nephews back into their residence has been frustrating and maddening – has taken a lot of time.

Life is hard / No matter where you go / It’s a tortured path / Tough row to hoe / When the wheels spin / Got a heavy load / Hopin’ I can get / To the paved road

10:17 a.m.

My problems are not unique. Millions struggle to make it, billions if you count the whole world. In a way, social media is a means for people to say, “Hey, I’m important. You may not know me, but you’d like me. I got problems, too. I got kids driving me crazy. I’m frustrated. I’m somebody!”

Blogs are like that, too, I reckon, only I don’t have to confine my words to small spaces that conspire to abridge my grammar.

A blog lets me fully explain myself. Of course, when I link to it on social media, many won’t click on it. They’ll respond to the slug, not the link, and I’ll sigh when they write back, “Hey, what about [so and so]?” when [so and so] is fully explained in the story.

I keep expecting people to ask if there’s a Twitter version of The Intangibles.

This is the cover of my first novel. It's about a musician who prevents a plane from being blown up. And he smokes weed. He hates being a hero, but it doesn't keep him from being one.
This is the cover of my first novel. It’s about a musician who prevents a plane from being blown up. And he smokes weed. He hates being a hero, but it doesn’t keep him from being one.

10:43 a.m.

The release of a book brings with it an inevitable sense of curiosity. That was certainly the case with The Audacity of Dope, which, of course, had a flawed hero, Riley Mansfield, who didn’t want to be one. When I wrote Audacity, I was trying to attract a publisher by writing an original story that applied mainly to the present.

The Intangibles is a fictional attempt to come to grips with my boyhood, my roots and my heritage. It’s more personal. It’s set in a time very different from this one.

I expected The Audacity of Dope to be controversial, and, remarkably, it wasn’t. Most of the readers who didn’t agree with Riley’s pot-smoking ways or his political views seemed to enjoy it because it was an entertaining story. I believe there was some stigma attached to it by bookstores that were a bit afraid of it, but I heard little other than praise from readers, as the customer reviews will attest. I think most of Audacity’s readers are enthusiastic about The Intangibles, although some obviously yearn for another novel about Riley. It won’t be the third – a first draft of Crazy by Natural Causes has already been written – but never say never.

One man recently said to me, “There’s pot smoking in The Audacity of Dope, but the book is not about pot smoking,” and he’s right.

Everyone who read The Audacity of Dope seemed to enjoy it; I just need more of them. When I wrote Audacity, there was only so much I could do because I was running around the country covering NASCAR at the time. There are activities and opportunities available that I didn’t know existed when Audacity was released. I’ll let you know about “coming attractions” as they unfold.

I also should thank my book concierge, Rowe Copeland, for making me aware such opportunities exist.

11:07 a.m.

Oh, I don’t know, it might have been six months ago when I had a conversation with Larry Franklin, the publisher of The Clinton Chronicle and a man who has been very supportive of my writing career. We were talking about The Audacity of Dope and how its reception had surprised me. I never expected most everyone who read it to like it. I thought it would be controversial.

“Well,” I told him, “the next novel is about a town that’s a lot like this one.

“Maybe this’ll tick ‘em off.”

I hope not. It’s certainly for adults, and I’m worried a little that some people drawn to its content – high school football plays a major role – might be offended by its candor.

It’s kind of funny that the same people who just polished off Fifty Shades of Grey might express shock at a much less graphic tale – actually, I know little about Fifty Shades of Grey other than it’s apparently notably sexy – that hits close to home.

I just looked up Fifty Shades. It’s listed as “an erotic romance novel.” The Intangibles definitely isn’t that.

By the way, there will be a Kindle version of The Intangibles. When? It’s not my call. It’s listed as “coming soon” on the neverlandpublishing.com site. Maybe the “perfect paperback” (that’s what’s listed under “format”) is being rolled out first on purpose. Maybe it’s just as well because, if you download for Kindle when it becomes available, you’ll get it as soon as those whose books have to be shipped. I honestly don’t know and generally consider such issues best left to the experts, of which I’m not one. The writer is no expert on sales, or, at least, this one isn’t. So … if you’d like a sale-priced version of the book, it’s available now at amazon.com. If you’d like a signed copy, you can follow instructions at “merchandise” here at montedutton.com, send me a check, and I’ll ship it. I’ve still got plenty of boxes and envelopes handy.

[cb_profit_poster Acting]

It’s High Noon, and Each Guy Gets Three Shots

Jeff Gordon takes the checkered flag at Martinsville Speedway. Behind are the lapped cars of Danica Patrick (pink) and Kurt Busch, then runner-up Matt Kenseth (yellow) and third-place Clint Bowyer. (HHP/Garry Eller photo for Chevrolet)
Jeff Gordon takes the checkered flag at Martinsville Speedway. Behind are the lapped cars of Danica Patrick (pink) and Kurt Busch, then runner-up Matt Kenseth (yellow) and third-place Clint Bowyer. (HHP/Garry Eller photo for Chevrolet)

[cb_profit_poster Travel1]Clinton, S.C., Monday, October 28, 2013, 12:01 p.m.

The Chase for the Sprint Cup isn’t mathematically down to a two-man race, but, mathematically, that’s the way to bet.

Then again, one would not bet on Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth both to place. He or she would be betting $20 for a return of $22. He’d have a tip for his next meal but not much of a nest egg. Not much of a risk, either.

Kenseth and Johnson are tied with 2,294 points apiece. Jeff Gordon, winner of Sunday’s Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway, trails by 27, and Kevin Harvick, the noted Richard Childress Racing dissident, is 28 off the pace.

In 2011, Tony Stewart won the championship with a lame-duck crew chief, Darian Grubb. Harvick’s comeback hopes are pinned to a lame-duck team, and there’s a lingering suspicion that he and the owner, to borrow a favorite refrain of Keith Jackson, “just do not like each other.” The difference is that Jackson never said it about “Alabama!” against “Alabama!”

Over these final three races, any Cinderella story will have to involve something – something up front – turning into a pumpkin. The figurative is only slightly more likely than the literal, which is to say, almost nil.

The best way to open this Chase to the beloved Gordon and the outspoken Harvick – okay, Kyle Busch, at -36 points, deserves to be in this conversation in the unlikely event of there being one – is for Kenseth and Johnson to wreck each other, preferably in the first few laps, sometime in the next three weeks. If they do it twice, cats and dogs will hold peace talks and Congress will budge. Three times? Get straight with Jesus.

A championship by someone not named Jimmie Johnson or Matt Kenseth is as likely as a World Series game being concluded by an obstruction call one night and a pickoff the next.

So there’s hope.

Take heart. It’s only a two-man race, but it’s a barn-burner. It’s a picker-upper, not to mention a pick ‘em. If it was a grounder, it’d be a worm burner. If it was a wine, it’d be one stomp-down good’un of a vintage. It’s not the irresistible force vs. an immoveable object. Both Johnson and Kenseth seem both irresistible and immoveable.

How noteworthy is the range of the Chase? In a span of seven races, the separation between Johnson/Kenseth and lucky 13th-place Kasey Kahne is almost three of them. Kahne’s deficit is 124.

Over? Other than for the Dynamic Duo? Yes, unless history was wrong, Bluto was right, and it was the Germans who bombed Pearl Harbor.

Jeff Gordon celebrates his Martinsville victory (HHP/Rusty Jarrett photo for Chevrolet)
Jeff Gordon celebrates his Martinsville victory (HHP/Rusty Jarrett photo for Chevrolet)

Gordon was just happy to be there, there being Martinsville’s victory lane. He’s a competitor. He’s not giving up. He’s won four championships, but he’s not talking to Yoda. He’s talking to Alan Gustafson.

“Until we’re mathematically out of it, we’re in it,” he said. This, of course, is grounded firmly in the athlete’s lore of taking them one at a time, waiting for some fat lady to sing, putting on one’s britches one leg at a time, just like those other guys, and the notion that “you gotta believe.”

You do. You’ve got to dare to be great. The problem is that greatness alone won’t pull it off.

“You know, all we can do, I think, is go out and perform at our best and just see what happens,” Gordon added. “The nice thing is that we’re not doing the points racing right now, we’re just going out and trying to … win races and not think about protecting anything. You know, it’s just go and give it everything we’ve got.”

You and a buddy are in a fox hole. You scramble up the bank and peer across the battleground with binoculars. Hundreds of enemy troops are advancing your way. It’s just you and your buddy.

Charge! Why? Oh, did we mention that your backs are, in addition to being in a ditch, against a wall?

Kevin Harvick ... simmering. (HHP/Christa L. Thomas photo for Chevrolet)
Kevin Harvick … simmering. (HHP/Christa L. Thomas photo for Chevrolet)

Kenseth has won a championship, but it was a decade ago. He deserves another, but that doesn’t give him an edge over Johnson, who has won five he, oh, by the way, deserved. The guy who won the championship the last time there wasn’t a Chase is matched up against the guy who has perfected the sweet smell of success in it.

That guy doesn’t stink.

Maybe you don’t want either of them to win, but you should appreciate it, this battle to the end between two extraordinary drivers. If this Chase was wide-open now, I’d be writing about a crap shoot. As a writer, I might enjoy that, but as a student of the sport, I’d prefer a shooting match, not a crap shoot.

It’s a two-man turkey shoot we’ve got here, and it’s going to end right before Thanksgiving.

Thanks for reading my blogs. If you enjoy them, I’d appreciate you considering a purchase of my new novel, The Intangibles, which is available at amazon.com right now. I expect a Kindle version to be available soon. If you’d like a signed copy, see instructions by clicking on “merchandise” above.

[cb_profit_poster Beer2]

Gordon Gets His Due

Jeff Gordon broke through at last with a victory at Martinsville Speedway.
Jeff Gordon broke through at last with a victory at Martinsville Speedway.

[cb_profit_poster sponsor1]Clinton, S.C., Sunday, October 27, 2013, 7:59 p.m.

Well, the World Series is about to start, but I’m going to try to provide a few observations in the aftermath of Sunday’s Martinsville race, just to tie you over till I can think it through and come up with something more … substantial.

Actually, I’m mainly going to write about the race’s winner, Jeff Gordon.

Besides, I’ve got all these great Gordon photos to use, and I’ve been holding some of them a while.

So this blog is mainly practical. Yeah. That’s it.

Jeff Gordonan was, and is, a pretty cool customer. (HHP/Alan Marler photo)
Jeff Gordonan was, and is, a pretty cool customer. (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)

It’s sort of amusing to me what a feel-good story this is. I remember well the times when Gordon was booed unmercifully, insulted unfairly and hated for the unforgivable crime of being the best. I could see, back in the 1990s, why fans preferred other drivers, but I could never understand what they saw in Gordon to hate.It’s a terrible commentary on nature, NASCAR and human, that great performers are often unappreciated until their heyday is over. The act of becoming less successful is apparently related to the process of becoming mortal, or at least human, and thus likeable.

Part of it is that drivers become familiar as they grow older. When they arrive on the scene, they seem programmed and manipulated, and they suffer in comparison to veterans who have already learned to be themselves. It’s natural for newcomers to be a bit jittery when they first book the penthouse.

A few years down the road, people will discover what those of us who were up close and personal already knew. Jimmie Johnson has a personality. A good one. People don’t see it because they don’t want to yet.

They all rise to acceptance and appreciation, but it happens too slowly. By the time their greatness is appreciated, they aren’t so great anymore.

I first appreciated the virtuosity of Gordon when I identified his greatest and most overlooked virtue. He seldom, if ever, makes the same mistake twice. He takes in everything, analyzes the data, draws conclusions and emerges a better man, and this isn’t just on the race track. His mind is hooked into its own GPS, constantly analyzing the route and redrawing the directions when necessary.

Back during the latter stages of Gordon Hysteria, I wrote a column expressing my view that Gordon belonged in the conversation with the greatest drivers of all time. A major-market radio personality, one of those types who never discusses NASCAR unless either something embarrassing happens or there’s a ruckus to be riled, called me up and asked me to be on his show. I said yes, as I always did when asked to discuss the sport. I still do, even though I’ve regained my amateur status.

This wasn’t just the most unpleasant interview I ever experienced. It might have been the only unpleasant one. My only weakness is that I sometimes astonish radio hosts with my willingness to speak frankly.

This guy opens up by saying, “We’ve got Monte Dutton, who is an expert on NASCAR and works for the Gastonia Gazette.”

My former employer was the Gaston Gazette, but that was all right. It happened all the time.

Without so much as saying thanks for coming on the show, he bored in, “Mr. Dutton …”

He said it “Duh-un.”

“Please. Call me Monte.”

“Monte, you say Jeff Gordon is the greatest stock car driver who ever strapped on a helmet …”

Ah, so that’s his game. He’s trying to stir up a debate and play to the Gordophobes.

“I wrote no such thing, uh, Bob.” (Not his real name, or maybe it was. I don’t remember.)


“I didn’t write that Gordon was the greatest driver. I said he deserved to be considered one of the very best.”

Surely I didn’t expect this guy to actually, oh, I don’t know, read what I wrote. He was practically speechless.

“If you’d like to know, I’ll be glad to tell you who I think was the greatest.”

“Oh, yeah, who?”

“David Pearson.”

“Who the hell is that?”

I swear this happened. At that point, I came very close to hanging up on the guy, but it’s probably what he wanted at that point.

“Well, David Pearson won 105 races, second most ever, won three champi0nships and only ran the whole schedule one other time, and he went through a dangerous era without ever getting himself seriously injured or even enough to miss a race.”

The guy said, “Oh,” broke hurriedly for a commercial, and that was that. We haven’t chatted since.

Believe it or not, I’m still on radio shows occasionally.

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Baseball Is Glorious, Even in Defeat

Even at a NASCAR track, I often wore a Red Sox cap. I wore a PC shirt ... recently. It's the only one I've got. I've got many Boston caps.
Even at a NASCAR track, I often wore a Red Sox cap. I wore a PC shirt … recently. It’s the only one I’ve got. I’ve got many Boston caps.

[cb_profit_poster Guitar1]Clinton, S.C., Sunday, October 27, 2013, 12:19 p.m.

It’s early Sunday afternoon. As usual, I didn’t go to church, but I did spend most of the morning visiting my mother, which is righteous in its own way.

My mother and one of my nephews, Jake, have been paying close attention to the World Series, in part because they are painfully aware of how much the Boston Red Sox mean to me. I think I’m taking last night’s excruciating loss a bit better because I know full well how good the St. Louis Cardinals are and I’m kind of amazed at how far the Sox have come already. I still can’t believe they beat the Tigers. Also, I’m a better fan now. In 2004, it was a matter of “my God, am I going to live my entire life without this team ever winning a World Series?” Now it isn’t quite as much the matter of life and death.

But … I was 46 years old when the Red Sox won their first World Series of my lifetime. I don’t think three would be too many.

They’re both great teams. It isn’t over. More drama lies ahead.

12:46 p.m.

I grew up on a farm, and until I started going to school, most of my playmates were black kids who lived on the farm. I think this is one of the reasons why I have always been a liberal in regard to civil rights. This perspective is reflected in my new novel, The Intangibles, which is set in 1968.

I often watched the NBC “Game of the Week” with John Miller, who lived on the farm, worked at the mill, and whose wife, Ella, helped raise me because she was our maid. My niece Ella is named after her.

Back in those days, the Braves were relatively new in Atlanta, and the great majority of black people, and notably John Miller, loved the Los Angeles Dodgers.

It was because of Jackie.

In the National League, then as now, my favorite team was the San Francisco Giants, and it was because I thought, then as now, that Willie Mays was the greatest player who ever lived. Since the Giants and Dodgers are rivals, this gave me and John Miller a lively bone of contention.

Carl Yastrzemski was my favorite player, and the Red Sox were my favorite team, but I thought Mays was the greatest player, he hit a home run in the first major league game I ever attended, and the Giants were my second favorite team overall. Also, my dad would take me to Atlanta when the Giants were in town, and the idea of me actually ever seeing the Red Sox play was roughly the same as my being recruited at age 10 to join the astronaut program.

I never saw a game in Fenway Park until 1983, and I made a pilgrimage to Boston, in my Chevy Luv pickup with a camper shell on back, during Yaz’s last year. My experience was typical. Yaz ended the first Red Sox game I ever saw by grounding into a double play in a 4-3 loss to the Tigers.

The odd thing is that I probably remember as much about the Red Sox of the late 1960s and ‘70s as I know about the current American League champions. I read box scores then. And The Sporting News. This year I probably watched more than 100 games on TV. In 1967, I know that Yastrzemski hit 44 home runs, drove in 121 and batted .326. I can’t tell you David Ortiz’s numbers this year, though I’d probably be reasonably close if I guessed.

This may be because I’m just not as sharp. It may be because I need, uh, “disk space.” It may be because TV is such a passive medium that people just don’t retain as much of what is spoon fed. It likely is a combination of the three.

1:09 p.m.

Several times, during the years I covered NASCAR, I would be talking on some radio show and shock the interviewer by allowing as how I love baseball so much. I didn’t volunteer it. It’s fairly well-known – and believe it or not, it even was before Twitter and Facebook – that I’m a Red Sox fan. Most everyone in NASCAR knows it. Everyone in town knows it. Now Twitter and Facebook know it.

Fred Lorenzen pitting in 1966. I saw him in '65.
Fred Lorenzen pitting in 1966. I saw him in ’65.

It’s never been a secret, but I never introduced the topic when I was talking on the radio about NASCAR. Sometimes I’d be asked about it – “how did you get to be such a Red Sox fan?” – and I’d mention in passing that baseball was my favorite sport.

“What? Not NASCAR?”

My standard answer became, “I love baseball way too much to want to write about it for a living.”

My secondary answer became, “I don’t want to know if half the guys on my favorite team are jerks.”

I’d rather love them for what they do on the field. An important lessons of all these years as a sportswriter is that a fan can know too much.

I do love racing. As many of you may know, my first NASCAR race was at Bristol in 1965, when I was seven years old, and Ned Jarrett won it. I went with one of my dad’s best friends, and five of us slept in a 1964 Plymouth in the parking lot the night before after we went to a small-town auction in Forest City, N.C., on Saturday night.

Same as baseball. I may recall more about that race than the one at Talladega last Sunday.

Here’s another longheld belief. I love racing. I love football. I like basketball, hockey and soccer. I’ll watch the occasional golf tournament, and I follow the major championships closely. Tennis? Every now and then.

This blog started with the revelation (pardon the pun) that I didn’t go to church today. Now don’t take this the wrong way. I am kidding, but there is a grain of truth in my mind to the notion that all the others are sports, but baseball is closer to religion.

For instance, last night’s loss to the Cardinals reminded of some Old Testament story.

This novel, The Intangibles, is something I have been building to for my entire life. The Audacity of Dope was a clever story I dreamed up. The Intangibles is an attempt to come to grips with what I’ve learned over the span of my life. It doesn’t cover the span of my life, but the made-up story is drawn from real-life lessons. I hope you’ll give it a read, but I appreciate anything of mine you read, including this.

[cb_profit_poster Storytelling]

Indirectly, I’m Conspiring Against Myself

This scene might cool me down a little.
This scene might cool me down a little.

[cb_profit_poster Speak1]Clinton, S.C., Friday, October 25, 2013, 12:06 p.m.

I’m “covered up,” a phrase that reminds me of the comedian Tim Wilson. What also reminds me of the term is what I’ve been going through this week, which is working with adjusters, contractors and people who spend most of their time talking on the phone in order to get my mother’s house repaired.

Not only am I “covered up”; it’s also “a work in progress.” It’s similar to when a football coach announces that a certain player is “day to day.”

Why, aren’t we all?

monte1I am compulsively punctual in a world that is fashionably late.

My grandmother, who died just about exactly 10 years ago, taught me my punctuality. There were phrases she considered necessary for a happy, orderly and productive life. When I was a small boy, I remember, when she showed me off to others, and they said something nice about me, she would always ask, “What must you say?”

“Thank you, ma’am.”

Another of her slogans, one that has particularly contributed to the definition of life, was, “Always save the best for last.”

If I have five duties to complete today, I will start with the one I dread the most. Lately this has entailed messing with implements and apparati that are not working properly. My backup printer (a red-shirt freshman) is whirring away right now.

My house is a mess. I need to go to the trash dump. I need a haircut. There’s a stack of bills. But, by gosh, when I clean my house, empty my trash, get my hair cut and pay my bills, I’ll do it when I plan on it, and not after. It’s scheduling where I’m a tad lax. Once the schedule is set, I’m right on it.

I think I’m reasonable about it taking time to get things done. I know the universe doesn’t revolve around me. But, if someone tells me he’s going to meet me at 11, I expect him to be there at 11.

When it gets right down to it, most people exaggerate. They fudge a little. Ask 10 people how much money they make – okay, 10 people who will tell you how much money they make – and I’d be willing to bet that at least eight of them will exaggerate. Partly, it’s because how much money they actually make is a little embarrassing, and partly, it’s because everyone wants to be a big shot. I’d say the average exaggeration is at least 15 percent.

Maybe there’s a touch of optimism. Well, he asked how much I’m making, and I told him $75,000, but, well, that was really true, or might as well be, because I’m due for my annual evaluation in two months, and everything goes right, well, they might give me a raise that will put me right up against $75,000, so there. It’s not like I was really lying.

So, ever since Tuesday morning, I’ve been told that someone would be calling me by afternoon, and I’ve waited and waited, and wound up calling the next morning a little after 9, and not getting an answer, and leaving a message, and getting the call returned in which they say they’ll call this afternoon and not hearing from them till the next morning.

Over and over.

It’s aggravating, which is rapidly becoming a favorite word.

I’m one way. The rest of the world seems to be another. It’s fairly arbitrary to demand my way or the highway, even though I’m right.

[cb_profit_poster Acting]

There’s No ’88-ing’ in Baseball

This photo of Jon Lester is from 2007, which is obvious because the Tampa Bay Rays in the background are wearing green instead of blue in their uniforms.
This photo of Jon Lester is from 2007, which is obvious because the Tampa Bay Rays in the background are wearing green instead of blue in their uniforms.

[cb_profit_poster Lottery1]Clinton, S.C., Thursday, October 24, 2013, 9:57 a.m.

Heck, I don’t know what to write today. Boston won the first game of the World Series, and I’m excited about that, but I’ve likely overexposed the Red Sox to my social-media followers, many of whom would be infinitely more excited if Dale Earnhardt Jr. played shortstop instead of Stephen Drew.

There's no baseball in Dale Earnhardt Jr. (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)
There’s no baseball in Dale Earnhardt Jr. (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)

Nothing against Junior, but I’d hate for the Red Sox to have a No. 88. Xander Bogaerts wearing “72” is bad enough. The number is great for racing, or for football, or for, I don’t know, track and field, but I can’t remember a single No. 88 in baseball, and I’m sure whoever wore it didn’t wear it long.

But … Don Drysdale wore “53.” Yasiel Puig wears “66.” Bill Voiselle wore “96” (he was from the South Carolina town of that name). Barry Zito wore (I think he just retired, didn’t he?) “75.”

Besides, Earnhardt doesn’t play shortstop and has expressed no such desire, and, at 39, it’s a little late to make the switch. It’s a moot point.

As noted, I don’t know what to write today.

10:05 a.m.

David Ortiz hit his 16th post-season home run last night, which, on the one hand, is one more than Babe Ruth, but, on the other hand, wow, does that mean almost nothing.

All 15 of Ruth’s homers were in the World Series. That’s because, when Ruth played, there were no other playoffs. The all-time record for World Series home runs is 18, by Mickey Mantle, who also never played in an ALDS or ALCS.

Manny Ramirez hit 29 post-season home runs. Four were in World Series, and only one was with the Red Sox. Granted, Mantle and Ruth hit lots of World Series home runs, in part, because they were in so many, but, as NASCAR fans say, yes, “That’s part of it.”

So many people in sports willfully withhold important details. It’s like that day at Homestead-Miami Speedway, after Kurt Busch won the first Chase, when a NASCAR release said it was the closest “in the history of the current point system.”

At the time, it was also the only race in the history of the current point system.

When Jim Brown rushed for 1,863 yards in a season (1963), that season was only 12 games. Last week, after Florida State clobbered his Tigers, 51-14, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said his team could still be the first at Clemson to win 11 games in back-to-back years. Well, that’s true, but the majority of Clemson’s history has consisted of nine- or 10-game schedules; then they started playing 11 about 40 years ago, and then it became 12, and there’s a conference championship game, which could make it 13, and a bowl game makes 14.

The comparison of money earnings, in most instances merely presented in dollars with no accounting for inflation, is so absurd that it merits no further consideration here.

No one ever accounts for rule changes. In NASCAR, it’s almost “see no evil, hear no evil.”

“Oh, everybody talks about the good old days, well, guess what? In the good old days, Ned Jarrett won the Southern 500 by 14 laps! So, uh, don’t tell me about how great the good old days were.”

Sorry, but I will. Stock car racing is highly competitive now, but it’s ridiculous to compare the basic numbers of 1965 with this year’s, in part, because race cars are much more durable now, but mostly because the current rules make it almost impossible for any car that isn’t hopeless crippled to stay off the lead lap.

I don’t think anyone would win the Southern 500 by 14 laps (that race had 23 lead changes, by the way) today, but if not for free passes of one form or another, occasionally a driver would lap the field.

That’s the reason the rules changed, of course. Once upon a time, a race was a test of skill and endurance and the top priority was to make sure the victory was just. Today, thanks to TV, vapid overexposure, a wider fan base, social media and a half-dozen other factors that don’t occur to me now, the emphasis is on excitement, and, as it turns out, excitement is an unquenchable thirst. Almost every analysis of a NASCAR race these days involves “oh, yeah, well, before the last few laps, it was boring as hell,” or, conversely, “the racing was all right, but the ending sucked.”

Watch what you ask for, NASCAR …

Hype is wonderfully useful, but some perspective is in order.

[cb_profit_poster Travel1]

Don’t Let the Bad Breaks Get You Down

I've played music at the House of Pizza before, this time with my friend Joe VanHoose (left).
I’ve played music at the House of Pizza before, this time with my friend Joe VanHoose (left).

[cb_profit_poster Guitar1]Clinton, S.C., Wednesday, October 23, 2013, 2:20 p.m.

I’m in a wonderful mood right now, and it’s a little bit surprising.

It’s been a trying week. Late Monday afternoon, a fire at my mother’s house caused quite a bit of damage. It was quickly extinguished, and for that we are thankful for the prompt response of the fire department, but my mother, sister and two nephews are in a motel until power is restored. Most of the damage is in a bathroom and the attic. The fire apparently began with a short in the bathroom fan.

I feel like a tour guide because I’ve been showing off the charred insides of a bathroom to an insurance adjuster and several others needed for the restoration of the residence. Today, since the adjuster was coming during one of those three-hour windows that draw to mind cable guys and washing-machine repairmen, I decided I’d just ride the old John Deere over and cut the grass for the final time this year.

What a glorious day. I love the fall, not just because of the color of the changing leaves but because of the color of everything else. I suppose I can’t prove it, but summer always seems bleached-out and drab. It just seems like the sun casts more color on the land in the fall. It’s not just the leaves turning red, orange, yellow and brown. The grass is greener. The sky is bluer. The air seems clearer.

I started turning laps around the yard. The man in the Allstate SUV showed up. I showed him through the house. He made his estimates while I was cutting grass. I got finished and drove the lawn tractor home. I returned in my truck to find him walking around trying to figure out where I was. He said he’d have to sit in the SUV for another hour or so, putting everything together and making arrangements, so I headed back to the house and cut my yard.

I had music in my ear – the Avett Brothers, Iris DeMent, Todd Snider, Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, etc. – and was unashamedly singing along as I zipped around trees, raised the blades to avoid stumps and ducked to avoid branches. Once I get started, I love cutting grass. I’m aware that people nearby can hear me singing at the top of my lungs from time to time, and I just don’t care.

The World Series is starting tonight, so, when I finished cutting my grass, I lowered the blades and etched a gigantic, somewhat-Boston, “B” in my front yard. It was no more stupid than singing along with an iPod at the top of my lungs.

I rejoice in this stupidity. It certainly took my mind off dealing with a family emergency.

I’m liable to play music just about anywhere.

I figured, correctly, that the insurance adjuster wouldn’t be through, so I thought about taking a book back over there, but that didn’t seem to be particularly cool and nor did it match my mood, so I grabbed a guitar. While the insurance adjuster – a very nice fellow with an apparent tolerance for eccentricity – talked to a contractor and filled out his forms, I sat on the tailgate of my Dakota and played music to my heart’s content.

I mostly played my songs – the new one, “Hell to Pay,” “Find a Balance,” “There You Are,” “Tattooed Gal” and some I’ve damn near forgotten – but also just played whatever popped into my mind. I played songs that required vocal creativity, songs like “Singin’ the Blues,” “Long Gone, Lonesome Blues,” “The Farmer’s Daughter,” “Kiss an Angel Good Morning,” “You Win Again,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” and God knows how many others (not that God would care).

It’s sort of ironic that so many songs named “blues” make me happy. I reckon I just like to wail “law-uh-awuhwaw-gawuhawuhwoh-now-hee-how-ahmlawuhonesum-bluehoo!”

I hope my mama can get back in her house in a day or two, but meanwhile, thanks to a lawn mower and a guitar, I’m just not going to let it get me down. I’ll sing the blues to keep from getting them.

Next up: the release of my second novel, The Intangibles, at the House of Pizza, 120 Musgrove Street, Clinton, at 4:30 p.m. Friday and 5:30 p.m. Saturday. Since many of you reading this don’t live in this neck of the woods, I would like to humbly point out that advance sale of The Intangibles is currently discounted at amazon.com. A Kindle edition will be available shortly.

[cb_profit_poster Guitar2]

I’m about Half Ready to Be Ready

My favorite collection of confusing signs. This is outside Richmond International Raceway. The photo was taken in 2007. The last time I was there, the signs were, too.
My favorite collection of confusing signs. This is outside Richmond International Raceway. The photo was taken in 2007. The last time I was there, the signs were, too.

[cb_profit_poster Storytelling]Clinton, S.C., Tuesday, October 22, 2013, 2:07 p.m.

Some days are just aggravating.

Here around home, that’s pronounced “aye-guh-vay-tun.”

People in sports don’t know when to quit. They don’t know when enough is enough. Sometimes, they just stay up half the night hoping, by doing the same things over and over, they’ll have some great moment of discovery. Eureka!

Remember, in “Days of Thunder,” when Cole got out of his car, all relaxed, and said, “Don’t touch a thing”?

I don’t think that actually happens much anymore.

I already get this question everywhere. I don't actually know where the photo was taken, only that it was by Melissa Thornly Ryon and it's probably around Winston-Salem.
I already get this question everywhere. I don’t actually know where the photo was taken, only that it was by Melissa Thornley Ryon and it’s probably around Winston-Salem.

Since I have a new novel, The Intangibles, coming out, I’m falling prey to that same, insidious form of insecurity. Between now and the weekend, when I have book launches scheduled for a local restaurant on Friday and Saturday, I’m obsessed with doing everything I can do.

I’m sending event invitations on Facebook. I’m stuffing envelopes. I’m looking up addresses on web sites (it’s amazing sometimes how hard it is to find “contact us”), and sending emails.

I’ve got a lot riding on this tale of 1968. Part of the reason I wrote it is that I don’t want the kids of today to feel so all alone. You think it seems like the world is crazy now? Well, yeah, me, too. But when I was an inquisitive but still relatively clueless kid, folks older than me were getting killed in Vietnam, famous people were getting assassinated, major cities were getting burned down, and buses were getting turned over in school parking lots. The president was resigning because he was a crook. Culture was changing in a big hurry.

It is now, too, but, kids, take heart. Your unease is not unprecedented. They thought we were as crazy then as we think you now. And vice-versa.

As a matter of fact, this novel is about how crazy things were then, and my next one – I’ve completed the first draft of Crazy by Natural Causes – is about how crazy things are now. Then there was my first, The Audacity of Dope (still very much available, by the way), which had quite a lot of craziness in it, too.

Either I’m crazy or I’ve got a good eye for it.

Right now I’ve got a family emergency (not health), a balky printer that won’t work for no apparent reason, a yard that needs cutting one more time before I shut the equipment down for the winter and a phone that won’t quit ringing.

And a novel that’s about to come out. As the Statler Brothers sang, “Don’t tell me I’ve nothing to do,” but the thing is, I mean it.

I’ll be reading from The Intangibles, talking about it, selling it and singing a few songs while strumming my guitar on Friday (Oct. 25) at 4:30 p.m. at House of Pizza, 120 Musgrove Street, uptown Clinton, S.C, where you can’t hardly miss it, and again at the same place on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. The former is before the Chester-Clinton game; the latter is after the Point-Presbyterian game. If you’re from a small southern town, you’re going to feel some kinship in this novel.

[cb_profit_poster Acting]