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Giving thanks to sports world for providing so many blessings

Between the bountiful-at times, excessive-helpings of turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie, and the Black Friday jousting matches among shoppers hell-bent on securing that latest can’t-live-without-it gadget, we tend to forget the true meaning of Thanksgiving. It’s supposed to be a day of giving thanks. So, with that in mind, 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 sounds of bats hitting baseballs, sneakers squeaking on hardwood courts, putts dropping into cups and skate blades carving up ice;

 Jim Kelly’s remarkable courage and cancer-free diagnosis;

Displays of sportsmanship and acts of kindness on our fields, courts and rinks;

Terry and Kim Pegula, who saved the Buffalo Bills, and the late Ralph Wilson, who brought the team here and kept it here for more than half a century;

Warm, summer nights in the company of family and friends watching Red Wings games at Frontier Field;

Butterflies fluttering in the stomach the instant before the opening kickoff;

The class of Derek Jeter;

Movies such as "Field of Dreams," "Hoosiers," "The Pride of the Yankees," "Bull Durham," "Raging Bull" and "The Natural";

Memories of my first ball game with my dad, and my first ball game with my kids;

30,000 orange-clad Syracuse basketball crazies stuffing the Carrier Dome to the rafters in the dead of winter;

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 miracle football comeback, Muhammad Ali light an Olympic cauldron and Jack Nicklaus drain a 60-foot birdie putt;

The Green Monster at Fenway Park, the ivy covering the outfield walls at Wrigley Field and the massive brick warehouse overlooking Camden Yards;

The magnetic, magical attraction of Lord Stanley’s Cup;
Sports Illustrated magazine and its predecessors, Sport magazine and The Sporting News;

Athletes who give back;

The Army-Navy football game;

My annual birthday game of catch with my son, daughter and wife;

The pristine beauty of the fairways, greens and century-old trees at Oak Hill Country Club;

Abbott and Costello’s timeless "Who’s On First?" skit;

Yankee pinstripes, Notre Dame’s gold football helmets and the Amerks’ red, white and blue uniform shield;

The Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum in bucolic Cooperstown, deemed by one prestigious travel magazine as "America’s most perfect village";

Lacrosse’s deep, deep roots and how it’s inextricably woven into the fabric of Native American culture, history and spirituality;

Classic sports books like "The Boys of Summer," "Unbroken," "Friday Night Lights," "The Babe: The Legend Comes to Life," "Semi-Tough" and "No Cheering in the Press Box";

The intimacy of Green Bay’s Lambeau Field, and the fact the community-owned Packers can succeed in the land of Lions and Giants and Bears-oh my;

Hikes through Letchworth State Park on a day when autumn’s colors are exploding;

The passion and dedication of Rochester sports leaders such as Naomi Silver, Dan Mason, Gary Larder, Soccer Sam (aka Salvatore Fantauzzo), Curt Styres, Doug Miller, Linda Hampton and Jerry Stahl;

The word pictures painted by ageless broadcaster Vin Scully;

The heroism of Don Holleder and Bob Kalsu, who sacrificed promising football careers and their lives in Vietnam;

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, respecting your teammates, opponents and the game, and having fun;

Evocative, well-written sports stories;

Opening Day at the baseball park-it never gets old;

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 annual Challenger Baseball World Series at Frontier Field and how it gives kids with disabilities the opportunity to show off their abilities;

The short, courageous life of Ernie Davis;

HBO and ESPN sports documentaries;

Marching bands, pep bands and football fight songs;

Lou Gehrig’s "luckiest man on the face of the earth" speech;

The statistical wonders that are box scores;

The annual Rochester Press-Radio Club Children’s Charities Dinner, which brings in some of the biggest names in the world of sports, and has raised well over a million dollars for worthy causes in our community;

Oldtimers’ Day at Yankee Stadium;

Having known sporting friends no longer with us, including Jean Giambrone, Jerry Flynn, George Beahon, Nick and Sammy Urzetta, Al Cervi, John Ricco, Rick Woodson, Mike Fennell, Bob Schwartz, Tom Batzold and Bob Parker;

The ceremonial first pitch;

Still being limber enough to play 19th-century "base ball" and 55-and-older softball;

Those rare, rare occasions when the words flow together magically and I’m able to write a sentence, a paragraph, a column, a feature or a book that strikes a chord with the reader;

The opportunity to continue a four-generation family tradition by taking my granddaughter to a baseball game next spring;

Teachers and coaches who, early on, saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself;

The editors, producers, directors and colleagues who have given me opportunities and helped me grow as a professional and as a person;

The few times each year when my best friends and I get together for a game, some beers and some laughs at the Carrier Dome or Yankee Stadium;

The opportunity to do something I love-write and talk about sports-for four decades; and

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, nationally honored columnist, daily radio talk show co-host and television correspondent. You can listen to him Monday-Friday from 3-7 on 95.7 FM, AM 950 or www.espnrochester.com, and watch him on WROC-TV Sunday mornings at 10:30 on "Inside the Buffalo Blitz" or after games. 

11/28/14 (c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

One comment

  1. Well done!

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