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On Sports

Taking a break from negativity to count my blessings

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Rochester Business Journal
November 20, 2015

As a sports columnist, radio talk show co-host and television correspondent, I work in a world that routinely feeds on the negative. It occasionally reminds me of rocker Don Henley’s “Dirty Laundry,” a satirical song about the news business, when the chorus chants: “Kick ’em when they’re up. Kick ’em when they’re down. Kick ’em when they’re up. Kick ’em all around.”

There certainly is no shortage of scandalous and knucklehead behavior to kick around daily. But if you aren’t careful, you can become quite jaundiced about things and question why you even bother to follow the games people play.

I find it healthy—and necessary—at times to step back, and remind myself that there is much good out there about sports. So, as another Thanksgiving approaches, I’m taking time out from the negativity. Please indulge me as I express my gratitude for the many blessings the world of sports has bestowed upon me and others.

I am thankful for:

  • The wisdom, humor and kindness of late Yankees catcher/wordsmith Yogi Berra, and the news that he is going to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor that can be given to a civilian;
  • The passion of Buffalo Bills fans who have continued to support their team during a 15-year playoff famine;
  • The sounds of bats hitting baseballs, sneakers squeaking on hardwood courts, putts dropping into cups and skate blades carving up ice;
  • Athletes who give back;
  • Warm summer nights in the company of family and friends watching a Red Wings game at Frontier Field;
  • Soccer superduperstar Abby Wambach going out on top with a World Cup title;
  • Sports Illustrated magazine and its predecessors, Sport magazine and The Sporting News;
  • Movies such as “Field of Dreams,” “Hoosiers,” “The Pride of the Yankees,” “Bull Durham,” “Raging Bull,” and “The Natural”;
  • 30,000 orange-clad Syracuse basketball crazies stuffing the Carrier Dome to the rafters in the dead of winter;
  • Jim Kelly’s remarkable courage and cancer-free diagnosis;
  • Still being limber enough to play 19th century base ball and 55-and-older softball;
  • The sky’s-the-limit potential of Buffalo Sabres rookie Jack Eichel;
  • Being there to see Mickey Mantle muscle baseballs into the upper deck, Michael Jordan sink a last-second, game-winning jumper, Frank Reich engineer a miraculous comeback, Muhammad Ali light an Olympic cauldron, Syracuse upset top-ranked Nebraska in football, Michael Phelps swim to a record eighth gold medal, and Jack Nicklaus drain a 60-foot birdie putt;
  • Youth league and high school coaches and parents who get it—that it’s not about winning at all costs, but rather about doing your best, having fun, and respecting your teammates, opponents and the game;
  • The friendships of Rochester sports figures like Johnny Antonelli, Joe Altobelli, Roosevelt Bouie, Cathy Turner, Diann Roffe, J-Mac, John Wallace, Eddie Nietopski, Jim Johnson, and Felicia and Iris Zimmermann;
  • The Green Monster at Fenway Park, the ivy covering the outfield walls at Wrigley Field and the massive brick warehouse overlooking Camden Yards;
  • Marching bands, pep bands and football fight songs;
  • The magnetic attraction of Lord Stanley’s Cup;
  • The enduring courage of late Canandaigua basketball player Courtney Wagner, who, while dying from brain cancer, taught us all how to live;
  • Butterflies fluttering in the stomach before a kickoff;
  • Classic sports books such as “The Boys of Summer,” “Friday Night Lights,” “The Babe: The Legend Comes to Life,” “Semi-Tough” and “No Cheering in the Press Box”;
  • The annual Challenger Baseball World Series and how it gives kids with disabilities a chance to show off their abilities;
  • The ceremonial first pitch;
  • Evocative, thoughtful, well-written sports stories;
  • My annual birthday game of catch with my son, daughter and wife;
  • Yankee pinstripes, Notre Dame’s gold football helmets and the Amerks red, white and blue uniform shield;
  • My annual boondoggles to the Carrier Dome or Yankees Stadium with my best friends for a game, some beers and plenty of laughs;
  • Having known sporting friends no longer with us, including Jean Giambrone, Jerry Flynn, George Beahon, Nick and Sammy Urzetta, Al Cervi, John Ricco, Carmen Basilio, Rick Woodson, Mike Fennell, Bob Schwartz, Tom Batzold and Bob Parker;
  • The Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum in bucolic Cooperstown;
  • The Army-Navy football game;
  • Ralph Wilson, who brought the Bills here, and Terry and Kim Pegula, for keeping them here;
  • Lou Gehrig’s “luckiest man on the face of the earth” and Jimmy Valvano’s “don’t ever give up” speeches;
  • Lacrosse’s deep, deep roots and how it’s inextricably woven into the fabric of Native American culture, history and spirituality;
  • The annual Rochester Press-Radio Club Children’s Charities Dinner, which brings to town some of sport’s biggest celebrities and has raised more than $1 million for worthy causes;
  • The pristine beauty of the fairways, greens and century-old trees at Oak Hill Country Club;
  • Opening day at the baseball park—it never gets old;
  • The heroism of Don Holleder and Bob Kalsu, who gave up promising football careers and their lives in Vietnam;
  • HBO and ESPN sports documentaries;
  • Legendary football coach and best-selling author Marv Levy, who at 90 continues to show us that sometimes it’s perfectly OK not to act your age;
  • The Courage Bowl, a Gary Mervis-inspired idea that, among other things, gives kids with cancer an opportunity to be a part of a college football team and cheerleading squad;
  • Teachers and coaches who, early on, saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself, and pointed me in the right direction;
  • Co-workers and friends who have believed in me and helped me grow as a storyteller and person;
  • The opportunity to do something I love—write and talk about sports—for more than four decades;
  • People like you who have read my stuff and passed it on to others. I couldn’t have done this without you. 

Scott Pitoniak is a best-selling author and nationally honored columnist. You can listen to him Monday-Friday from 3-7 on 95.7 FM, AM 950 or, and watch him on WROC-TV Sunday mornings at 10:30 on “Inside the Buffalo Blitz” or after Bills games. 

11/20/15 (c) 2015 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email

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What You're Saying 

Max Robertson at 3:35:39 PM on 11/20/2015
This is always one of my favorite's.
You have a knack for reminding us of so many
things we tend to take for granted. Sports do play
an important part in so many peoples lives. I have many
favorites on your list, but what topped the list for me was:
...  Read More >
Scott Pitoniak at 10:19:45 AM on 11/21/2015
Thank you, my friend. And one of the reasons I keep playing is because of the camaraderie of people like you. Can't wait to see you back on the ball diamond hitting the ball a country mile next spring. You'll be winning comeback player of the year in a landslide.

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