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Feasting on a cornucopia of sports blessings

scottteaser-215x160Historians tell us that Abraham Lincoln, in the midst of the Civil War in 1863, decreed that Americans celebrate a national day of Thanksgiving that November and every ensuing November. Roughly six years after Honest Abe’s proclamation, 22 members of the Young America Cricket Club played the Germantown Cricket Club in Philadelphia in what is recognized as the first ever turkey day football game. In 1934, the Detroit Lions hosted the Chicago Bears in the National Football League’s inaugural Thanksgiving Day game. And about a half-century later, American humorist Erma Bombeck typed these words: “Thanksgiving dinners take 18 hours to prepare. They are consumed in 12 minutes. Half-times take 12 minutes. This is not a coincidence.”

As far as I’m concerned, football can wait — unless, of course, I’m covering a game on Thanksgiving, in which case a reporter is required to inhale the press box turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie within those allotted 12 minutes so as not to miss coverage of the second half kickoff.

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, a chance to take a timeout from a career and a life that occasionally feels as if it is blurring by like one of those 105 mph Aroldis Chapman fastballs. It affords an opportunity to spend some quality time with loved ones, to truly give thanks. Before the tryptophan kicks in, please indulge me as I express my gratitude for the many blessings the world of sports has bestowed.

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, whose loyalty knows no bounds even after a 17-season playoff famine;
  • Warm, summer nights in the company of family and friends watching Rochester Red Wings games at Frontier Field;
  • Athletes who give back the way J.J. Watt, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Mike Trout and Serena Williams have;
  • Butterflies fluttering in the stomach before a kickoff, first pitch, opening tip-off or puck drop;
  • The never-fail-to-bring-a-smile-to-your-face malapropisms of late catcher/wordsmith Yogi Berra;
  • Evocative, well-written sports stories;
  • My annual birthday and Father’s Day games of catch with my kids, wife and grandkids;
  • 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 buzzer-beating, 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 putt;
  • Jim Kelly’s remarkable courage and cancer-free diagnoses;
  • The Green Monster at Fenway Park, the ivy covering Wrigley Field’s outfield walls and the massive brick warehouse overlooking Camden Yards;
  • The magnetic attraction of Lord Stanley’s Cup;
  • The heroism of Don Holleder and Bob Kalsu, who gave up promising football careers and their lives to save lives in Vietnam;
  • Classic sports books, such as “The Boys of Summer,” “Friday Night Lights,” “The Babe: The Legend Comes to Life,” and “No Cheering in the Press Box”;
  • Displays of sportsmanship and random acts of kindness on our fields, courts and rinks of play;
  • The pristine beauty of the fairways, greens and century-old trees at Oak Hill Country Club;
  • The annual Challenger Baseball World Series and how it gives kids with disabilities a chance to show off their abilities;
  • Friendships with Rochester sports figures Joe Altobelli, Johnny Antonelli, Roosevelt Bouie, Jodie Gage, Jim Johnson, Gary Larder, J-Mac, Ed Nietopski, Diann Roffe, Don Stevens, Cathy Turner, Felicia and Iris Zimmermann, and many others;
  • Movies such as “Field of Dreams,” “Hoosiers,” “The Pride of the Yankees,” “Bull Durham,” “Raging Bull,” and “The Natural”;
  • The Army-Navy football game;
  • 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;
  • The Baseball Hall of Fame and museum in bucolic Cooperstown;
  • Annual boondoggles to the Dome and Yankee Stadium with my best friends for games, 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, Carmen Basilio, Rick Woodson, Mike Fennell, Tom Batzold, Kent Hull, John Ricco, Bob Schwartz and Bob Parker;
  • The Amerks red, white and blue uniform shield, Yankee pinstripes, the Chargers powder blue football jerseys and Notre Dame’s gold helmets;
  • Being limber enough to still play senior softball;
  • 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 causes;
  • Marching bands, pep bands and college fight songs;
  • Lou Gehrig’s “luckiest man on the face of the earth” and Jim Valvano’s “don’t ever give up” speeches;
  • 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 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 four-and-half decades;
  • People like you who have read my stuff and passed it on to others. I couldn’t have done this without you.

Best-selling author and nationally honored journalist Scott Pitoniak is the Rochester Business Journal sports columnist. Scott will be signing copies of his new children’s book, “Let’s Go Yankees! An Unforgettable Trip to the Ballpark” at the Barnes & Noble in Greece from 11-1 p.m., Dec. 2, and the Barnes & Noble in Pittsford from 11-1 p.m. on Dec. 9.

2 comments

  1. Scott,
    As always, a pleasure to read your words. Almost as much fun as playing senior ball with you.
    All the best to you and yours throughout the Holidays and 2018. Hope to see you at McAvoy in the spring.

  2. Nice article. It’s a pleasure and honor to play senior softball with you.

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