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Giving thanks for a cornucopia of sports blessings

Between the bountiful—at times, excessive—helpings of turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie, and the occasional Black Friday hip checks 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, during this season of overindulgence, please indulge me as I express my gratitude for the many blessings the world of sports has given me and so many 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;
  •  The passion of Buffalo Bills fans who continue to support their team despite a soon-to-be 17th consecutive season without the playoffs;
  •  The never-fail-to-bring-a-smile-to-your-face malapropisms of late catcher/wordsmith Yogi Berra;
  •  30,000 orange-clad Syracuse basketball crazies stuffing the Carrier Dome to the rafters in the dead of winter;
  •  The Chicago Cubs exorcising 108 years worth of curses to win a World Series;
  •  Jim Kelly’s remarkable courage and his string of cancer-free diagnoses;
  •  My boondoggles to the dome and Yankee Stadium with my best friends for a game, some beers and plenty of laughs;
  •  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;
  •  My friendships with Rochester sports figures Johnny Antonelli, Joe Altobelli, Roosevelt Bouie, Jody Gage, Jim Johnson, Gary Larder, J-Mac, Dan Mason, Eddie Nietopski, Diann Roffe, Naomi Silver, Don Stevens, Cathy Turner, Felicia and Iris Zimmermann, and many others;
  •  Butterflies fluttering in the stomach before a kickoff;
  •  The Presidential Medal being awarded to poetic broadcaster Vin Scully. I’d be even more thankful if the Baseball Hall of Fame were to induct him as a contributor;
  •  Evocative, thoughtful, well-written sports stories;
  •  The Green Monster at Fenway Park, the ivy covering the outfield walls at Wrigley Field and the massive brick warehouse overlooking Camden Yards;
  •  The opportunities to be 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;
  •  Athletes who give back;
  •  The Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in bucolic Cooperstown;
  •  The heroism of Don Holleder and Bob Kalsu, who gave up promising football careers and their lives while serving our country in Vietnam;
  •  The magnetic attraction of Lord Stanley’s cup;
  •  My annual birthday game of catch with my son, daughter, wife and granddaughter;
  •  Ralph Wilson, who brought the Bills to Western New York, and Terry and Kim Pegula for keeping them here;
  •  Lou Gehrig’s “luckiest man on the face of the earth” and Jim Valvano’s “never give up” speeches;
  •  The annual Rochester Press-Radio Club Children’s Charities Dinner, which brings to town some of sports biggest celebrities and has raised more than a million dollars for worthy, local causes;
  •  The ceremonial first pitch;
  •  Classic sports books such as “The Boys of Summer,” “No Cheering in the Press Box,” “Friday Night Lights,” “The Babe: The Legend Comes to Life,” and “A Season on the Brink”;
  •  Displays of sportsmanship and acts of kindness on our fields, courts and rinks of play;
  •  Warm summer nights in the company of family and friends watching a Red Wings game at Frontier Field;
  •  Yankee pinstripes, Notre Dame’s gold football helmets and the Amerks red, white and blue uniform shield;
  •  Having known sporting friends no longer with us, including Jean Giambrone, Jerry Flynn, George Beahon, Nick and Sammy Urzetta, Al Cervi, Carmen Basilio, Pearl Washington, John Ricco, Rick Woodson, Mike Fennell, Bob Schwartz, Tom Batzold and Bob Parker;
  •  Movies such as “Field of Dreams,” “Hoosiers,” “The Pride of the Yankees,” “Bull Durham,” “Raging Bull,” and “The Natural”;
  •  Still being limber enough to play senior softball and 19th century base ball;
  •  Veteran Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo putting his team rather than himself first by publicly accepting a reserve role behind rookie phenom Dak Prescott;
  •  The annual Challenger Baseball World Series and how it gives kids with disabilities a chance to show off their abilities;
  •  Lacrosse’s deep, deep roots and how it’s inextricably woven into the fabric of Native American culture, history and spirituality;
  •  Marching bands, pep bands and fight songs;
  •  The pristine beauty of the fairways, greens and century-old trees at Oak Hill Country Club;
  •  The Army-Navy football game;
  •  Legendary football coach, best-selling author and lifelong Cubs fan Marv Levy, who at 91 continues to show us that sometimes it’s perfectly OK not to act your age;
  •  Abbott & Costello’s timeless “Who’s on first?” comedy skit;
  •  Memories of my first ballgame with my dad and kids;
  •  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;
  •  Sports Illustrated and its predecessors, Sport and the Sporting News;
  •  Parents, teachers and coaches, who saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself and pointed me in the right direction;
  •  Coworkers and friends who believed in me and helped me grow as a storyteller and a 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. Couldn’t have done this without you.

Best-selling author and nationally recognized journalist Scott Pitoniak is the Rochester Business Journal sports columnist.

11/25/2016 (c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

2 comments

  1. Loved the article. You missed nothing

  2. Great list.

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