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Giving thanks for Josh, Judge, numerous other sports blessings

In stature and deed, Josh Allen and Aaron Judge have taken us to heights never experienced before. Whether it’s the Buffalo Bills quarterback donning his Superman cape and leaping linebackers, snowbanks and tall buildings in a single bound, or the New York Yankees slugger muscling baseballs so high and far they require NASA radar tracking, not even the sky’s the limit for these two.

The amazing thing, though, is that despite their lofty fame and fortune, they’ve managed to remain remarkably grounded. Allen and Judge realize they are blessed to be able to live like a king playing a child’s game, and they have never forgotten what it’s like to be a kid. Their kindness toward young fans is beyond exemplary. As Allen has said, “Kids are kind of what makes this go. I remember being that kid” waiting for an autograph or some sign of acknowledgement.

In training camp, it became commonplace to see Allen play catch with young fans. And who can ever forget that viral moment in October following the Bills dramatic victory against the Chiefs at Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium, when Allen jogged over to an unsuspecting 9-year-old in a Bills jersey, handed him a football, signed his homemade sign, and snapped selfies?

Judge has performed similar acts of kindness. He has played catch with young fans before games and between innings. And when the opposing team makes the final out of an inning, the Yankee that catches the putout tosses the ball to Judge, so he can toss it to kids in the stands. A powerful connection is made and those kids become fans for life.

Allen and Judge remind us that it doesn’t take much effort to express gratitude and share good fortune with others. So, during a time of year when I devote this space to giving thanks, I doff my cap to Allen, Judge and others who, in ways large and small, give back.

Here are some other sports-related things for which I’m thankful:

  • Milo the Bat Dog, the golden retriever who fetches bats during Rochester Red Wings games and leaves paw-prints on hearts each time he does;
  • Birthday and Father’s Day games of catch with my kids, grandkids and wife;
  • Jim Kelly’s remarkable fortitude;
  • The sounds of bats hitting balls, sneakers squeaking on hardwood courts, putts dropping into cups, and skate blades carving up ice;
  • Trips to Syracuse football and basketball games in the Dome with my paisans;
  • The annual Challenger Baseball World Series at newly named Innovative Field – and how this brainchild of kind-hearted Tony Wells gives kids with disabilities a chance to show off their abilities;
  • Zambonis and Lord Stanley’s Cup;
  • Transcendent sports books, such as Roger Kahn’s “Boys of Summer,” which had a profound influence on my life and career;
  • Being there to witness 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, Abby Wambach score the game-winning soccer goal in Athens, Greece, Michael Phelps swim to a record eighth gold medal in Beijing, and Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods drain long and winding birdie putts at Oak Hill Country Club;
  • Butterflies fluttering in the stomach before a kickoff, first pitch, tipoff or opening faceoff;
  • Interviews with spitfires like Maybelle Blair, one of the women baseball players who inspired the classic movie, “A League of Their Own;”
  • Gone but never forgotten sporting friends Joe Altobelli, Johnny Antonelli, Carmen Basilio, Tom Batzold, George Beahon, Al Cervi, Larry Costello, Mike Fennell, Jerry Flynn, Jack Garner, Kent Hull, Tom Myslinski, Bob Parker, John Ricco, Bob Schwartz, Pat Stark, Nick and Sam Urzetta, Christine Wagner-Welch, and Rick Woodson;
  • The Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in bucolic Cooperstown;
  • Mentors such as Frank Bilovsky, John Pitarresi, Vic Carucci and Jim Memmott, who each in their own way helped me become a better writer and person;
  • The loyalty and generosity of Bills Mafia, who despite the foolish table-smashing antics have displayed unwavering passion for Buffalo’s beloved football team and raised tens of millions of dollars for worthy causes;
  • Yankee pinstripes, UCLA’s powder blue and gold football uniforms, and the Rochester Americans red, white and blue crest;
  • WWE wrestler and actor John Cena, who has helped a record 650 Make-A-Wish Foundation kids realize happy dreams;
  • Timeless movies, such as “Bull Durham,” “Field of Dreams,” “42,” “Hoosiers,” “The Pride of the Yankees,” “Slap Shot,” “The Express,” and “The Natural;”
  • Memories of my first ballgame at Yankee Stadium with my dad, Andrew Pitoniak, on Sept. 17, 1966;
  • Buck O’Neil’s long overdue induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame;
  • Major-League caliber announcers Josh Whetzel of the Red Wings and Don Stevens of the Amerks;
  • The Courage Bowl, a Gary Mervis-inspired idea, that among other things, provides kids with cancer an opportunity to be a part of a college football team and cheer squad;
  • The humorous and wise malapropisms of late catcher/wordsmith Yogi Berra;
  • The heroism of Don Holleder, Bob Kalsu, Gary Scott and Tom Way – four local athletes who paid the ultimate sacrifice in Vietnam;
  • Lou Gehrig’s “luckiest man on the face of the earth” and Jim Valvano’s “never, ever give up” speeches;
  • People who have read my stuff and passed it on to others. This ink-stained wretch could not have taken this 50-year journey without you.

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

2 comments

  1. I share so many of those wonderful memories!

    Life goes by so quickly. It’s important to cherish those fine times!

  2. Thanks, my friend! It is important to take time to savor the moments. Thanks for reading. Happy Thanksgiving!

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