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‘Tis that time of year to count sports blessings

scottteaser-215x160As I gaze at the photographs, knickknacks and books that adorn my cluttered office, I’m reminded how blessed I’ve been to do something I love — write and talk about sports, and other subjects — for nearly five decades. It’s been quite the rollercoaster, and it never would have been possible without people like you who have read my stuff and passed it on to others. Your support is one of the things for which I’m most grateful. With another Thanksgiving upon us, please indulge this ink-stained wretch as he expresses his gratitude for these and other blessings the world of sports has bestowed.

I am thankful for:

  • The sounds of bats hitting balls, sneakers squeaking on hardwood courts, putts dropping into cups and skate blades carving up ice;
  • Athletes who give back the way J.J. Watt, Serena Williams, Carmelo Anthony, Mike Trout, Aaron Judge and Josh Allen consistently do;
  • The passion of Buffalo Bills fans whose loyalty knows no bounds, despite all the years of unfulfilled hope;
  • Birthday and Father’s Day games of catch with my kids, grandkids and bride;
  • Transcendent sports books, such as Roger Kahn’s classic, “Boys of Summer,” which had a profound influence on my career and life;
  • Butterflies fluttering in the stomach before a kickoff, first pitch, tipoff or opening faceoff;
  • 30,000 orange-clad Syracuse basketball crazies stuffing the Carrier Dome to the rafters in the dead of the winter;
  • 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;
  • Heart-warming stories, such as the one about the way the sports community rallied around late McQuaid Jesuit volleyball star Dane Leclair. The “Do It for Dane” campaign was another example of why sports matter;
  • Jim Kelly’s remarkable fortitude;
  • The annual Challenger Baseball World Series at Frontier Field, and how it gives kids with disabilities a chance to show off their abilities;
  • The never-fail-to-bring-a-smile-to-your-face malapropisms of late catcher/wordsmith Yogi Berra;
  • Being there to see Mickey Mantle muscle baseballs into the upper deck; Michael Jordan sink a buzzer-beating, game-winning jumper; Muhammad Ali light the Olympic cauldron; Frank Reich engineer a miraculous comeback; Syracuse upset top-ranked Nebraska in football; Michael Phelps swim to a record eighth Olympic gold medal; and Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods drain long and winding birdie putts at Oak Hill Country Club;
  • Movies such as “Field of Dreams,” “Hoosiers,” “The Pride of the Yankees,” “Bull Durham,” “Slap Shot” and “The Natural”;
  • The magnetic attraction of Lord Stanley’s Cup;
  • Warm, summer nights in the company of family and friends watching Rochester Red Wings games at Frontier Field;
  • The heroism of Don Holleder and Bob Kalsu, who gave up promising football careers and their lives while serving their country in Vietnam;
  • Friendships with Rochester sports figures Johnny Antonelli, Joe Altobelli, Roosevelt Bouie, Fred Costello, Jody Gage, Jim Johnson, Gary Larder, J-Mac, Dan Mason, Eddie Nietopski, Diann Roffe, Naomi Silver, Soccer Sam Fantauzzo, Chuck Hinkel, Don Stevens, Cathy Turner, Felicia and Iris Zimmermann, Josh Whetzel and many others;
  • The Green Monster at Fenway Park, the ivy covering Wrigley Field’s outfield walls, and the massive brick warehouse overlooking Camden Yards;
  • 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, Pearl Washington, Bob Schwartz and Bob Parker;
  • The annual Rochester Press-Radio Club Children’s Charities Dinner, which brings to town some of sports biggest names and has raised $750,000 for worthy, local causes in the past 15 years;
  • The Army-Navy football game;
  • Trips to Syracuse and Yankees games with my best friends;
  • The Baseball Hall of Fame in bucolic Cooperstown;
  • Athlete, scholar, author Tim Green, whose books and literacy programs have brought the joys of reading to tens of thousands of middle-schoolers, and whose courageous fight against ALS continues to inspire;
  • Yankees’ pinstripes, UCLA’s powder blue and gold football uniforms and the Rochester Americans’ red, white and blue crest;
  • 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;
  • The ceremonial first pitch;
  • Mentors such as Frank Bilovsky, John Pitarresi and Jim Memmott, who helped me become a better writer and helped me through some dark times;
  • Ralph Wilson, who brought the Bills to western New York, and ensured they would stay here, and whose foundation continues to positively impact lives here and in Detroit;
  • Lou Gehrig’s “Luckiest man on the face of the earth” and Jim Valvano’s “Never, ever give up” speeches;
  • Memories of my first ballgame at Yankee Stadium with my dad on September 17, 1966;
  • Displays of sportsmanship and random acts of kindness on our fields, courts and rinks of play;
  • Teachers and coaches, who, early on, saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself, and pointed me in the right direction;
  • Thoughtful and eagle-eyed editors who saved me from myself and strengthened my stories.

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

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