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Put Pete Rose Into The Hall of Fame……

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Rules are important.  Without rules civil society would disintegrate into anarchy. In sports, rules keep games consistent and free of unsavory elements. We need rules as lane markers on life’s highway.  But consistency, fairness and flexibility are as important as rules. Brittle and unbending rules are what cause 9-year-olds to be suspended from school for bringing a spork in their lunch or a frantic father speeding his kid to the hospital for a medical emergency to receive a speeding ticket. Case-by-case common sense is what injects rules with reason.

Rules.  It’s a topic that brings us to one of the most bizarre injustices ever:  Pete Rose’s banishment from baseball.

As many of you know, I am a passionate baseball fan. In many ways, baseball brought me out of my shell of shyness as a kid.  In junior high my social life wasn’t the best, but I could always listen to my beloved baseball, remanants of the legendary Big Red Machine: Dave Concepcion, Buddy Bell, Dave Parker, Tony Perez, and Pete Rose. They accepted me even if some of my classmates didn’t.   I could study statistics, standings, and scan the box-scores and feel part of something much larger. For an awkward 13-year-old that is powerful stuff.  And Pete Rose with his head-first slides and hustle, proved that greatness depended  just as much on grit and guts than athletic ability.  Sixteen years before September 11 became a dark day it was a celebratory one in Cincinnati when Pete Rose finally caught the ghost of Ty Cobb.  A slap single to left-center field brought Pete Rose hit number 4192, more than anyone ever in the game had ever amassed (or probably ever will) and the world watched rapt.   A year later I would sit in the stands watching Pete Rose’s final at-bat, a strike-out against San Diego’s legendary Goose Gossage.  All was okay, Pete Rose would end his career with 4,256 hits and a certain ticket to Cooperstown.  But it was not to be.

Three years later I sat outside at work listening grimly to my radio on a raw, rainy May day as Major League commissioner A. Bart Giamatti banned Pete Rose from baseball for life.   Not five miles from where I played backyard baseball, Pete Rose had spent the past few years visiting a shady web of bookies in the town of Franklin, Ohio placing bets  in smoky backroom parlors.

Right after that dark day, I sent my Dad to a crowded courthouse in Cincinnati to pick up an original copy of the “Dowd Report”, Major League Baseball’s 225-page collection of evidence against him.  I read the whole thing and I’m not an idiot. I knew from reading it that Pete bet on baseball 20 years before Pete publicly admitted it.   And Pete is no public relations genius. In many ways he is an arrogant idiot.  Everyone knows  how a public person rights a wrong in the United States.  They quickly admit their guilt, visit the tearful confessionals of Oprah and Diane Sawyer or Katie Couric, and then they rebuild their lives.  Pete never did that.  He lied ceaselessly about his gambling  before finally admitting he did it in a clumsy confession, not on Oprah but in a book, My Prison Without Bars.

Yes, Pete Rose bet on baseball and that was against the rules.  But those rules were enacted in 1919 after the infamous “Black Sox” scandal when Shoeless Joe Jackson and his gang threw the World Series.   Times and rules change.     Today, most states operate lotteries, there are church bingo parlors, riverboat gambling, and horse tracks.  Make no mistake, I am no fan of gambling.  But in 2010, St. Louis slugger Mark McGuire admitted to steroid use, which throws into doubt all of his accomplishments.  Yet, baseball welcomes him with open arms and he is currently employed as a hitting coach with the Cardinals. He has not been voted into the Hall of Fame and probably shouldn’t be, but at least he is on the ballot.  Pete Rose is forever barred from the ballot.

There’s nothing tainted about Pete Rose’s hits.  Baseball’s weighty Dowd Report never alleged he bet against the teams he played for.  Those are hits are his, pure and simple and they belong in the Hall of Fame, pure and simple.  What is being gained by keeping him out?  Yes, there are far more important issues in this world right now, but sometimes it just feels good to right a wrong. We can do it.  Let’s send a message to Major League baseball. We’re pushed around by their $5 hot dog prices and $7 sodas, we can at least enshrine the greats.  Click here to sign a petition to support Pete’s induction into the Hall of Fame.

 

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The Little Couple and tiresome TLC

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My wife occasionally watches some shows on TLC (used to be The Learning Channel, now The Looney Channel, in my opinion).  One of them is “The Little Couple.”  The show stars Bill and Jen, two “little people”, who are quite accomplished in their respective fields, Bill, in business and Jen, in neonatal medicine.  When we first started watching the show I didn’t like either of them much, I found Jen’s constant nervous laughter off-putting and Bill seemed too gruff for my taste.  But they’ve gradually grown on me and instead my ire is aimed at TLC.   TLC can never just let a family be a family.  No, I guess that would be bad for ratings. Instead, they start shuttling around people on pre-planned, pre-staged “trips” and photo-ops and building a show around them.  Does anyone really think the massive Duggar family – another TLC offering –  would constantly be on the road if not for the largess of TLC?   At first, TLC left the Little Couple alone, but now the shows increasingly feature visits to spas, trolley tours of Houston, and whatever else TLC can stage.  Even without TLC’s deep pockets, Bill and Jen seem to spend massive amounts of money, but that’s their business.  Does anyone else tire of TLC’s formulaic scripting of what is supposed to be unscripted?   And what is it about their fascination – no, obsession – with anyone under 5 feet? (think the Roloffs and other offerings)  Would TLC be airing a show called “The Average Couple” about two married 5’7 and 5’9″ people?  Bill and Jen really live fairly normal lives unhindered by height…so in that sense, yea, it’s a great message to show.  On the other hand, it borders on bizarre voyeurism if the only reason the cameras are trained on them is because of their height, or lack of.  What do you think? Any Little Couple fans here?

Absent-Minded, Anyone?

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I believe there are two types of people in this world:  people who do stupid things and people who do stupid things but don’t admit to them.  I fall in the former category.   Paragons of perfection may not wish to acknowledge it, but stuff happens. Admittedly, stuff happens to some of us more than others…but it happens to all of us.  Anyone who says otherwise is lying or boring.  Doing something stupid doesn’t mean you’re stupid it means you’re human.

One of the more bone-headed things I’ve done occurred when I was a cub reporter for The Middletown Journal. Early one summer morning the newsroom radio scanner crackled to life with word of a house fire. Turned out all the veteran reporters who would have been assigned this were working other stories. So this plum assignment fell into my lap. I was only 17-years-old and I was excited (in a journalistic type way, not that someone was losing all their worldly possessions). I sped to the scene about 5 miles from where the newspaper office was located.  As I got closer I could see billows of black belching smoke rolling skyward. Orange sherbert-colored flames arched into a crisp blue sky.  Several firetrucks were already on the scene dousing the vinyl-sided ranch house with water.

CAPTION: a copy of my old press pass from my newspaper reporting days.

I screeched my car to a halt, grabbed my news notebook and pen, and scrambled towards the scene.  I spent about 20 minutes interviewing the supervisor on duty and talking to neighbors. Then the home’s owner arrived.  He promptly started spilling the contents of his breakfast all over the front  lawn.  Some friends who had arrived first compassionately hugged him and walked him to a lawn chair where he sat and watched his life spiral into the sky on a staircase of smoke.  As an aside, that was always a very wrenching part of news coverage for me: having to witness a tragedy but not being able to really reach out as a human to comfort someone.  The reporter’s job is just to grab the facts.  At 17 I was probably taking that a little too much to heart, I would learn later that there is room for some basic compassion and consideration.  I went through my notes, conferred with the newspaper photographer on the scene and then glanced at my watch.  Deadline for the afternoon paper was about an hour away, I’d easily have time to drive back, type a story and submit it in time.

“Hey, bud, your car’s been on awhile…”  the photographer observed.

Holy-moly, he was right.  In my excitement to get there and get out, I had left my car running and “Ol’ Ned” as I had affectionately named it (a maroon-colored 1983 Oldmobile) had this nasty habit of overheating when idling.  Okay, no smoke yet, no big deal, I’ll just go turn it off.  But a chill rattled me as my hand grasped the handle and found my car was locked.  I had been so eager to get to the scene that I remembered one step (always lock my car when I get out), but neglected the basic first (turn car off and take out keys)

My choices were narrowing.   Do nothing and risk having Ol’ Ned go up in smoke (there was a fire department already on scene, at least that was something) or take more drastic action.  Seeing that deadline was now only 45 minutes away I chose the latter.

“Ahem…sir?”  I said to the fire captain.

“You, again?   Can’t you see we’ve got our hands full?” the fire captain said, motioning to the still blazing building.

“Yes, but you’ll have them even more full if we don’t do something about my car NOW,” I summoned the courage to say.  “I need you to break out one of my car windows.”

“you, what???”  the captain asked incredulously.

“just a small one in back….” I said sheepishly.

“Well, this is a first…” he paused.

So the fire captain pulled someone off the blaze they were fighting to go prevent another one.  The fireman gleefully broke my window (ha….can’t believe this bud, you’ll have some explaining to do when you get back, he guffawed)  I jumped into my car and made it to the newsroom with little time to spare and quickly pounded out my story on the newsroom’s vintage mid-80s computer keyboard. (and had a photographer not been there to witness this I probably never would have uttered a word of the incident)

That’s my stupid story confession.  Anyone have anything stupid to confess or am I alone here? (and don’t worry, I have more recent stuff…if this proves to be a cathartic confessional, we’ll do this again).

K-Mart Confession

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I have a confession:  I like Kmart.  It’s been 2 1 /2 years since our local Kmart closed its doors for good and I miss it.

It’s depressing when I pass the empty, vacant storefront now slowly rotting away into obvilion in my hometown. This photo is of a similar shuttered store in Texas. Lots of meaningless memories at Kmart, but nostalgia nonetheless.  One of Kmart’s undoings has been their choice of real-estate holdings (stores were/are often located in kind of…less prime areas..it was corporate strategy to locate stores closer to urban cores, a strategy that backfired when urban cores imploded economically in many cities) .  In my city, however, Kmart’s location was convenient.

Kmart has long been supplanted by the more popular Walmart, but no store chain should ever get too big and Kmart has acted as a clumsy counterweight  against Walmart run rampant.  Some other Kmart thoughts:

1)  For me, Kmart evokes a sentimentality.  When our family lived in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates there actually was a Kmart, although I am not convinced it was an actual company-owned store.  During the early 80s there were a lot of “knock offs” of western companies in Abu Dhabi, including a friendly neighborhood McDonald.  Not McDonald’s, but McDonald, complete with golden arches and fries but having it your way meant mystery meat and some other unpalatable  dishes.  Still, there was a comforting connection seeing the Kmart sign there and then having the stores back home.  Even if it wasn’t an actual Kmart, imitation is flattery, so it meant the store had some cachet.

2) When I was a kid, our city’s Kmart was a bustling hive of shopping activity.  Saturday mornings all the registers would have lines and you’d always run into someone you knew.  Their school supply section was second to none. Over the years, though, the aisles slowly emptied, the store became dingier, the crowds thinner, and the merchandise dumpier.

3)  I remember when Dad would pay with his credit card at Kmart the cashier actually looked up the number in a little paperback booklet of stolen credit card numbers.  No computer database, a booklet!  That was Kmart’s defense against fraud in the mid 80s. It was time-consuming for her to actually thumb through this book each time Dad would check out and its refusal to adopt computer technology early on that contributed to Kmart’s decline.

4)  God bless my Grandmother’s no-frills food tastes.  Hmmmm, breakfast at Cracker Barrel or the Kmart cafeteria?   A no-brainer for her: the $2 egg and pancake special at Kmart.  She actually liked it better often boasting that Kmart served the best breakfast in town.  Riiiighht.

5) When I was in the grocery business a few years ago, I was doing business with Super Kmart stores (which probably explains why I am no longer in the grocery business). SuperKs (not to be confused with Big K) is the retailer’s attempt to compete with Walmarts and Target stores that offer full lines of groceries.  I’ve visited Super Kmarts in Hillsboro, Ohio; Cambridge, Ohio, and Morgantown, West Virginia.  The one in Morgantown seemed busy as did the one in Cambridge, but Hillsboro’s store was as empty as church the Sunday after Easter.

6)  It was a pitch black night driving in curvy roads on the edge of the Adirondacks.  I had just given a talk at a library in Hudson Falls, New York and I think I had made a wrong turn someplace and had lost my way. But then I saw a distant, glittering light and as I got closer it was…a Kmart…the most palatial, crisp, sprawling Kmart I had ever seen with a glass atrium rising from the parking lot and crisp, clean green lettering (an inexplicable contrast to the usual blue and red lettering).  Never been to a nicer Kmart than that!

7)  If you want lessons in what not to do if you’re in retail, follow Kmart’s lead.  They’ve done virtually everything wrong, yet they still are in business (barely), which stands as testimony to what an iconic brand it is.  Kmart’s 10 Deadly Sins is a surprisingly breezy, interesting read that walks the reader through all the years of retailing mistakes this chain has made and makes one nostalgic for “what might have been” had they just done a few things differently.     I picked up the book a few years ago at my library’s annual used book sale.  So after all these negative notions, why do I like Kmart?  Nostalgia and an appreciation for the underdog.  Do you think Kmart will survive or will it go the way of Woolworth, Montgomery Ward and Hills?  Do you have any favorite Kmart memories?

RIP, Mr. Mills…

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Most of us have someone who impacted our lives in ways perhaps unknown until years later. Maybe for you that person was a teacher, a coach, or even an older relative.  For me, that person was Jim Mills.  Jim Mills is a name about as vanilla as mine (Kevin Williams…sheesh, there are a gazillion of those, including one who keeps getting arrested for DUI and people think it’s me, but that is a post for another day) and on the surface we had nothing in common.

  The Middletown Journal once did a feature story about me writing an article for a national magazine, a decent feat for a 17-year-old at the time.  Today, kids are writing whole books.  But back in 1989, such journalistic accomplishments were a bit more rare among the young.  After visiting The Journal newsroom and being interviewed by a reporter for the article about my article, I was ushered in to meet Jim Mills (always, “Mr. Mills” to me). After a little chit-chat he offered me a job as a “high school reporter”, chronicling events at our city’s high school.  I spent my senior year covering clubs, sports, students, features (it was a great way to pick up girls) and graduation. And after graduation, Mr. Mills offered me me a full-time paid internship. I happily retired from three summers of working at a local amusement park and joined The Journal.

Sometimes mentoring isn’t imposing rules and regimen but offering freedom and that’s what Mr. Mills gave me.  I knew nothing about journalism when I first stepped into the newsroom.  But he gave me a news reporter’s notebook, said “write” and set me free to search out stories.    During the summer of 1990 I covered council meetings (yawn), explored German Baptist settlements west of town, wrote obituaries, shadowed cops, worked the overnight shift, covered drownings, fires, and floods. In the span of 90 days I did it all. On the job I learned reporting skills, objectivity, and cultivated creativity.  He was 62, I was 17… He was a white-haired, chatty, old-school editor, a product of another era and he instilled those same journalistic values in me. We came from two totally different generations  but he believed in me enough to let me do my thing and for that I’ll always be grateful.

One of my favorite stories that I wrote that summer was a Sunday section feature about the tiny hamlet of West Elkton, Ohio.  I’m sure the village has changed little in the past 20 years since I first wrote about it.  It’s one of those sleepy no-traffic light towns where time seems frozen.  Ma & Pa’s General Store was the village’s focal point of activity and a group of farmers would gather every morning for coffee, Pa’s homemade biscuits and gravy, and lots of chatter.   Pa was a man named George, a colorful country character, who packed a gun behind the counter (“just in case someone tries to rob me, it’ll be their last robbery,” George said) and gave the store’s key to one of the farmers so he could open in case George was running late. I loved writing such folksy features.  The summer of 1990 at The Journal will probably go down as one of my happiest with its endless promise and fun features.

These were the waning days of the Golden Age of newspapers.  When the afternoon paper went to press the whole building shuddered as the giant, beastly metal press awoke from its nightly slumber and reporters would relax a bit, knowing deadline was done for another day.  And then we’d focus on the next batch of stories, it was exhilarating and fun and I’m grateful to Mr. Mills for giving me the opportunity to experience that.

I left The Journal in 2000 to pursue an ill-advised run for public office (absolutely a post for another time!:).  I visited the newspaper that summer for a “candidate interview” with the newspaper editorial board. I think that might have been the last time I ever saw Mr. Mills.  He retired from the newspaper business and moved to the West Coast. I always wanted to reconnect with him to tell him how much I appreciated him opening the door for me.  But I never got the chance, and Mr. Mills passed away last week.  So consider this the letter I would have sent.  Hopefully he’s reading this from a better place.  RIP and, thank you, Mr. Mills.

The Promise of Prom

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CAPTION:  Since I couldn’t find my own prom pictures, this is one I grabbed off the internet of a prom from a movie scene, just for visual effect:)

I was writing on the Amish Cook site today about one of my first visits to an Amish settlement.  I remember it well, it was to the town of Nova, Ohio and I was doing a rather thorough investigative journalism piece.   At one point during my morning full of interviews I noticed the time and told my hosts that I needed to speed things up.  They didn’t know how old I was, I think they thought I was a 22-year-old journalist fresh out of college.

“Sure, you have some more interviews to make it to?”  the woman asked, as she drove me around the community.
“Uh…I  just need to make sure I’m home in time…prom is tonight,” I said, as I scribbled notes nonchalantly in my reporter’s notebook.   Ah, the life of a 17-year-old aspiring journalist.   By the following year I had landed an internship at my local newspaper, The Middletown Journal.   It was late spring and I was excited about attending my graduation. But when the reporter assigned to the job didn’t show up, I ran to my car, pulled out my reporter’s notebook and did double duty: covered the graduation and graduated.   Ah, but back to prom….

As sure as the smell of fresh-cut grass, the bustle of garage sales, and colorful blooming daisies, there’s another spring sight you’ll see soon.  Go out for dinner on any weekend over the next month and you’ll see them: tuxedoed teenage boys and pink and poofy-dress-clad girls, out for one of their first adult events.  Each year they look younger.  Makes me feel better to place them blame on them and not on me getting older. Those are the smart kids: there’s safety in a group. I remember on my prom night, it was just my date and I at the table of a restaurant in Miamisburg, Ohio and I felt like we were in a Petri dish under a microscope.

Prom is short for  promenade,a derivative of of the French word promener (to take a walk). But in my mind prom is short for promise.  It’s the promise that everyone possesses at that age, a promise you may go on to keep or break.  Sometimes one doesn’t know for years what has become of their promise or even what it was.  That’s what the rest of your life is for: to discover your promise.

Of course there always has to be a dash of drama to anything I do. On prom night I locked my car keys in my car (me and keys, now THAT is a post for another day).  A police officer on duty that night offered to drive me home to pick up a spare key.  It was a nice gesture, a fine idea, since we only lived a few minutes away.  But you can imagination the heart-stopping horror of my parents when they see a police cruiser pull up to the front of their house.

I’m not sure what my promise was, or what it is… I’m still a work in progress.  I sometimes admire the 30-year-olds who have it all figured out, everything in order, the rest of their life a calm cruise control on freeway that eventually leads us all to the same place.  But other times I’m grateful my journey has been unconventional, never knowing what is around the next corner or over the next hill.

So what about you.  Did you go to prom in a group?  Any key-locking horror stories to share?  What does it all mean? Has prom become an overpriced charade or is there still meaning in it?

Three-Legged Cat?

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I’ve always liked cats.   My affinity for felines goes back to my childhood.  As some of you know, I spent a portion of my youth in Saudi Arabia (more posts on that someday) and befriended a “sand cat”, a relatively rare feline that had wandered into our walled compound.  I fed it every day and, in turn, it would wait for me at the bus stop each afternoon and walk home with me.  We had an understanding, it seemed. I would feed it, but it would remain a creature of the desert. Good thing.  When Iranian revolutinaries overran the the US embassy in Tehran in 1979, the company my Dad worked for evacuated us on 2 day’s notice for our safety. I  never saw my sand cat friend again.

As an adult, I just find dogs very restraining (even though we have dogs). You can’t leave your house for too terribly long without having to find someone to let them out or board them someplace.  A cat, with ample food and water, can fend for themselves alone just fine with maybe just someone dropping by to make sure they haven’t gotten into anything.
We have a houseful of indoor cats.  I know there’s a huge debate on outdoor vs. indoor, but I side with indoor (that’s a post for another time).
Anyway, our black cat Kierney (SIGH, Rachel names them, I never get to) is enjoying his last evening with four legs.Ah, nothing like preparing to do a laundry load of towels and having the cat take up residence on them.
 An aggressive tumor on his back right leg is leaving us with no other option than to get the leg removed.  Treating it otherwise would A) be cost prohibitive and B) wouldn’t guarantee the cancer wouldn’t spread elsewhere.  He’s a beautiful black cat and I feel bad for him, but the veterinarian says he’ll do fine with three legs.  Does anyone out there have any experience with “three-legged” cats?  If so, how did they do?  I’ll let you know how he fares after the surgery.
UPDATE: The vet rescheduled the surgery for about 10 days from now…

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