Since I was old enough to know a stitched ball from one that was pumped up, I have been a rabid fan of the Boston Red Sox and the Kentucky Wildcats. Affection for the Wildcats is easily understandable for a boy who grew up iabout 60 miles from the UK campus in Lexington. But love for the Red Sox requires an explanation, which I've included below with some thoughts about my other favorites.
Boston Red Sox
My father passed on his love of the Red Sox to me and my brother, Jerry, and we have lived and died with our team since
the 1950’s. Dad’s love of the Red Sox came from their long affiliation with the Louisville Colonels as its top minor league
team. From 1939 to 1955 many players who starred for a very competitive Red Sox team first played in Louisville. Dad
saw Johnny Pesky, Jimmy Piersall, Walt Dropo, Frank Malzone and Mel Parnell as well as another former Colonel whose
exploits would outlast them all. Shortstop Harold “Pee Wee” Reese played for Louisville in 1939, the first season of the
club’s affiliation with Boston, but was traded before he could wear a Red Sox uniform. The man who pulled the trigger,
Manager Joe Cronin, also happened to be the regular shortstop and figured he didn’t need a young prospect breathing
down his neck.
The Red Sox dropped Louisville as an affiliate in 1955, but picked them up again in my era, between 1968-72. During
those years, I saw such future Sox as Carlton Fisk, Cecil Cooper, Dwight Evans and Luis Tiant wear the Colonels’ colors.
The Red Sox were more than our favorite team, but an important factor in father-son bonding. Dad was a man of few words, but we could always get him going when we’d talk about the Sox. For his 70th birthday, Jerry and I took him to Fenway Park for a weekend series against the Orioles. He said until the end of his life it was the best trip he’d ever taken.
Love of the team notwithstanding, we all were long-suffering fans until the Sox won the World Series in 2004, breaking the Ruthian curse. Jerry and I were so gratified that Dad lived long enough to see the Sox victorious, and I really believed that after the Sox won he was ready for whatever lay ahead. He passed away peacefully in June, 2006, his last few lucid hours spent watching a Red Sox game against the hated Yankees.
It would have been nice if he had been here to see the Sox next championship, in 2007, but I truly believe he was watching.
That game was especially sweet because the MVP of the tournament was my best boyhood pal, Mike Casey, who would sign with Kentucky. With Casey and fellow UK signees Dan Issel and Mike Pratt, multiple Final Fours were predicted, but it never happened while we were in Lexington. The Wildcats came closest in the 1968 regional finals, played at UK’s Memorial Coliseum, when Ohio State upset UK on a last-second shot, 82-81.
I covered the game as sports editor of the student newspaper, the Kentucky Kernel, and I had the plane ticket for the Final Four in my pocket. Impartial journalist? I cried on my way back to the office to write the story.
My Other Teams
(New Orleans Saints)
Being a New Orleans resident, one can’t help but cheer for the recent World Champion Saints. The team was the reason I came to New Orleans in the first place, when I was hired by future Hall of Famer Jim Finks in 1986.
It’s been bittersweet at times. In our second year, 1987, we ended 20 years of Saints futility with a 12-3 record and the team’s first-ever playoff berth. Over the next seven years, the Saints ranked fourth in the NFL in victories. The problem was that the team that ranked first during that span was our NFC western division rival, San Francisco.
After Jim Finks became sick after the 1992 season, our Saints were 8-8, 7-9 and 7-9, and owner Tom Benson fired me and Coach Jim Mora. I had no hard feelings; It was part of the business, and I maintained a cordial relationship with the owner, who finally got his Super Bowl ring in Super Bowl XLIV.
Whether they can repeat or not remains to be seen, but it will produce plenty of opportunity for commentary and reflection.
(New Orleans Hornets)
Another qualification for being a New Orleans resident is affection for our franchise in the National Basketball Association. But I have a special reason to love the Hornets. My wife, Jean, has been executive assistant to owner George Shinn since the team moved to New Orleans from Charlotte in 2002. Except for a short period of time between 2004 and 2007, when Jean owned her own business and the Hornets left town after Hurricane Katrina, Jean has helped manage Shinn’s personal affairs while he deals with the job of being an NBA owner.
The Hornets made some major changes during the off-season, hiring new coach Monty Williams and new general manager Dell Demps, which should make the upcoming season interesting.
(Shelby County Rockets)
Hey, you never forget where you came from, and I still follow the teams at my old high school, mainly through my subscription to the Shelby Sentinel-News. My first paid job as a journalist was at age 13 for the pre-merger Shelby News, which paid me the royal sum of 10 cents per inch for stories that I wrote about my junior high school Simpsonville Bobcats.
During my four years of high school, 1966-70, I wrote about Rocket sports, while playing football and baseball. Much of my athletic career was eminently forgettable, although I did have one chance for a lasting memory when I came to bat in the last inning of the 1966 Kentucky State High School baseball championship. We were trailing 2 to 1 against Ashland High School with one man out and the tying run at second base. I had broken my favorite 34-inch bat earlier in the game, and in those days where players shared bats, my friend Mike Casey handed me his 35-inch wagon tongue. Tomcat pitcher Bobby Lynch served me three straight watermelons, and I swung viciously at all three. But the heavier bat proved a smidgen slow. I struck out, and we lost the game. That remains my worst moment in sports!
The Rockets have a special challenge in 2010-11 since it marks the opening of Martha Layne Collins High School. Shelby County needed a second high school to ease overcrowded conditions at SCHS, but there is no doubt it will dilute the athletic talent and reduce each school’s opportunities for state prominence.
But if either does well, we’ll talk about it.