Sunday, April 29, 2007


Is it wisdom or just maturity that leads me to tell you I was certain about everything at 18 and am certain about nothing now?

Don't really know. I think back to some of the things I said, thought and wrote as a teenager and cringe. Guess that comes with livin' a little bit.

Once I could have told you exactly where I stood on the political spectrum. Now? Well, let's just say I don't much care for either national party and would probably lean libertarian were it not for their bizarre distrust of the FDA.

Call me crazy, but I'd prefer not to go back to the days of rotten meat.

(Remind me sometime to tell you about Teddy Roosevelt cracking into some rotten meat. I'm belly laughing just thinking about it.)

Once I listened to pretty much two kinds of music. Now I dream of a radio station that will play Miles Davis and George Jones and Frank Sinatra and "Honky Tonk Women" by the Rolling Stones back to back to back to back.

Once I knew exactly who I wanted to marry, the precise number of kids I wanted to have, the type house I wanted to own and where I wanted to work.

Have a good idea about only one of those four now.

Don't understand much of the world. Complete strangers insult each other. Hell, what am I saying? They kill each other, too.

Time was I looked back on the past as an idealistic Shangri-la. Suits and ties, fedoras at night, big cars and I Like Ike. Screw the Sixties, that was where it was at, man.

I still like Ike, but that's about it. (Although the jury's still out on that fedora.)

Used to hate modern living. Still do in a lot of ways. But I like my TiVo and the pills I pop to keep everything balanced and the fact I can watch 60 plus baseball games a week from the comfort of my couch.

Once upon a time I thought I knew all about what makes me tick. Now I don't even wear a watch.

Is it crazy to want to escape? Some nights I want to go on a Hemingwayesque adventure, full of big game, women like Brett Ashley, deep sea fishing, inebriating beverages and a bullfight to boot.

On cool spring nights I long to make it to Norris Lake. Lose myself at the cabin for a couple of days. Or simply to find time to hear Robin sing about teardrops and roller skates on Sunday nights. That gal speaks to my soul.

Still like baseball. That's hung around. So have westerns, good books, great music, and even better conversation.

Otherwise I'm adrift, lost between exits, still searching for that perfect day and, as Hemingway would say, one true sentence.

Funny, but it seems like the perfect place to be.

Eagles outslug Devils, 6-4

What a ride it's been for the Gibbs High Eagles this spring.

Jury duty and Friday deadlines have kept me away from more baseball than I'd liked the past two months. But I took off one afternoon in late March up to Carter High to watch the Eagles dismantle the Hornets. Caught them again yesterday afternoon at Halls. These guys can play some ball, y'all.

Halls got it started early, as left fielder Tyler Brock walked and scored after advancing to second on a wild pitch, to third on a Brent Perry single and scoring on a Gary Cooper sacrifice fly to center.

But the Eagles tied it up the next half inning, when left fielder Matt Sanders singled and later scored from third. Sanders knocked in two more in the third on a monstrous home run shot to center.

There was more to come in the fourth. Center fielder Elijah Bales led off the inning with a homer. Halls right fielder David White then came on in relief of starting pitcher Spenny Fielden. Third baseman Michael Rowe added another dinger a few batters later, scoring himself and starting pitcher Chris Armstrong, who reached on an error.

Halls came clawing back in the bottom of the fourth. Coop scored from third after reaching on an error. They pushed two more runs across in the sixth. Coop and Austin Noe both reached to start the inning, on a walk and single respectively.

But that was all she wrote.

Eagles pitcher Drew Housewright came on from right field to relieve winning pitcher Armstrong after five and one-third innings to earn the save.

Both teams head into district play later this week. Halls concludes the regular season at Farragut tomorrow (Monday, April 30) at 6 p.m.

Friday, April 27, 2007

The people and the places and how the weather was

Pete Hamill gets it.

Take this quote from the introduction to a collection of his essays, "Piece Work."

"Writing is so entwined with my being that I can't imagine a life without it."

One can relate.

My boss recommended Hamill's memoir, "A Drinking Life," when I came on board at the newspaper in 2000. It remains one of the finest books I have ever read. Walk don't run to and order this gem if you want to see a true wordsmith at work. There isn't a wasted word.

Early on during my jury duty term this spring I found myself with a free hour. So I walked over to Lawson McGhee Library and pulled Hamill's "Why Sinatra Matters" off the shelf. Fastest hour of my life. Hamill wrote another fine piece on The Chairman of the Board for Esquire magazine years ago that's worth looking up.

He also writes well about the Vietnam War, New York City, baseball and Mexico. You name it, Pete's been there. He may be the last of the great generalists in the newspaper business.

Funny thing, though. I've never cared for much of Pete's fiction. Tried to read his last novel, "Forever." Couldn't finish it. Maybe I'll try again sometime this summer.

Manhattanophiles will love his book "Downtown." I read it last spring while laid up with a kidney stone. Made me want to hop a plane and touch down at LaGuardia just in time to take a taxi into the Theater District for an 8 o'clock performance. Forgot all about that darn stone.

Never will forget something he wrote. Pete says that when he writes, he taps time with his foot, as if his own personal metronome helps keep rhythm. Read "A Drinking Life." You'll see.

Hamill said once that his youthful ambition was to capture in his work the qualities that Hemingway says makes for a good book -- "the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was."

I hope ol' Pete knows just how well he has succeeded.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

'You know how it is, a guy gets loaded...'

Saw a really strange movie the other night.

Had a great cast, though. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Shirley MacLaine. You'd think names like that would draw attention by itself. But I'd never heard of the flick.

Released in 1958, "Some Came Running" is the story of Dave Hirsh (Sinatra), an ex-GI and former writer, who returns to his hometown of Parkman, Ind., in 1948. Dave is estranged from his prosperous brother Frank (Arthur Kennedy), but is determined to settle down and put his life back together.

Well, that's not quite true. At the start of the film, Sinatra gets off the bus with party girl Ginnie Moorehead (MacLaine), who tells him he promised to bring her on a trip. Dave figures out that must have happened while he was drunk in Chicago, hence his great line, "You know how it is, a guy gets loaded..." He gives her money to get back to the Windy City, but Ginnie stays anyway.

No, it takes teacher Gwen French (Martha Hyer) to get Dave interested in settling down. She shows interest in his writing; he's attracted to her maturity and intelligence.

But Gwen remains non-committal, weary of Dave's reputation and lifestyle. Meanwhile, Dave meets up with wandering gambler Bama Dillert (Martin), and ultimately takes off toward Indianapolis with Dillert, Ginnie and another girl when Gwen ignores him.

"Some Came Running" is a bizarre film. It's nothing at all like the "Rat Pack has fun" movie I figured it would be when I saw the cast list. It veers between a small-town soap opera and a morality play. Director Vincente Minnelli took no pains to shape the story into a coherent narrative. Instead the plot wanders, jumps around, finally ends up at a carnival.

I'll spare you the ending just in case you see this curious little piece of celluloid on the late show one night. I can't call it a classic, but I did stay with it for two plus hours.

The best part is Sinatra. He has some great lines early on.


"You don't look like (your brother)."


A viewer on Internet Movie Database calls "Some Came Running" a masterpiece.

It's nothing close, but is worth watching. Look for it if you're up late flipping channels one night.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

So glad I'm standing here today

Never will forget this show.

Those who know me well can tell ya that I'm a big "Magnum, p.i." fan. (Some might even say I'm obsessed, but we won't get into that.)

But I do love the show. For a number of reasons, really.

On a basic level, one reason is because Thomas Magnum is the guy I'd like to be in a lot of ways. Another is the emphasis the show puts on loyalty, friendship and a sense of duty. Still another is the positive portrayal of Vietnam veterans, which up until "Magnum" wasn't always good. And, yep, it's also a fun (and at times funny) hour of escapism.

But back to my story. I never will forget a two part story that aired at the end of the 1986-87 season and the beginning of the following year. Magnum is shot, goes into a coma, wanders around unseen (sometime when nothing's happening I'll write a blog about "Magnum" and the metaphysical), "dies" and revives at the last minute.

At the end of the second part, Magnum is contemplating the recent upheaval in his life. In the background plays a lesser-known Joe Cocker song, "I'm So Glad I'm Standing Here Today."

I have that song on my iPod. And I think about life a little bit whenever it comes up on random shuffle.

You know, there's a lot of things I wish were different.

Sometimes I wish I'd gone on to graduate school, earned my master's and doctorate degrees, and taught collegiate history. Other times I wish I'd not been so shy about certain things in my younger days, especially when it comes to women.

I still think about a couple of them sometimes, in the wee small hours of the morning, when the world seems a bit cold.

I feel guilty about my semi-regular bouts of illness (mainly kidney stones and migraines) that keep me out of work for a day or so here and there. I worry that those absences cause others unneeded stress. It also makes me feel like I can't always carry through on my responsibilities.

I look at the clock, think about turning 30 next year, and wonder if I'll ever be able to navigate the ocean of feelings that lies between the sexes, and shake off the inner fear of losing those I love that's caused me to sit on the sidelines when I should have jumped head-first into the game.

Other times it's less important. I wish I'd finally write that book that's been swirling in my head for several years. I wish I'd been a better friend, son, grandson, brother and co-worker.

But along comes a day like today. The sky is so blue and the wind is just so and you wish it could go along like this forever. You come into your office in the afternoon and realize you're getting paid to do something you love.

You hear from friends, and let me tell ya, folks, I've got the best pals on the planet, and shake your head in wonder, trying to figure out what you ever did to deserve them. And you're glad that whatever illnesses you have are pretty minor compared to so many others.

OK, so the Braves blow a 3-0 lead in the 9th and lose 4-3. No worries. Halls wins 6-3 and you go home happy.

Mountain City, Tenn., native David Loggins wrote a great song 30 some years ago called "Please Come To Boston." In it, he sings, "But of all the dreams I've lost or found and all that I ain't got, I still need a name or two, somebody I can sing to."

I have so much. So many names, so many folks to sing to, so much fun to have and so many stories to tell. It all hasn't worked out quite like I thought, or once hoped.

But that's quite alright. Like Thomas Magnum and Joe Cocker and anybody who can say they have a great life, I'm so glad I'm standing here today.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Brown eyes in the third


Third inning and the Smokies are behind 2-0.

Thought I had the row to myself. It's like that on Monday night games in April. Dollar dog nights don't draw until after Memorial Day.

I'm tallying up the last inning when I see her. She's wearing shorts and a T-shirt. Long legs and pretty blond hair.

Don't think too much about it until she looks up and smiles. Guess it's the brown eyes.

Try not to stare. She reminds me of someone. Can't remember who.

Then it comes. Fifteen years disappear with the first pitch. I feel an old familiar pain, try to ignore it.

I miss the next three outs.

Instead, I'm eating lunch in the cafeteria. She walks by with her friend with the shoulder-length brown hair. I watch her go.

Gonzales flies out to left. The guy two rows up takes a swig of beer.

I'm standing in the English hall talking to Brent. She walks by with her two friends. I remember the smile on her face.

Nelson lines out to short.

I'm on the bus talking to Dewayne and Rodney. She's sitting a couple of seats back. Rodney brings up Neil Diamond. I barely hear.

Jones pops up in foul territory down the first base side. Jimenez drops the foul.

Rodney talks about seeing a show in Myrtle Beach. She comes over at one point. Makes small talk I've forgotten.

"Open your mouth. Open your mouth. Say something," I repeat to myself.

Instead, I sit there.

The crack of the bat brings me back to the park.

Jones finally hits a weak grounder to the pitcher. Throws to Jimenez. Three outs.

The woman gets up, smiles, walks to the concession stand.

It's only the fourth, but the game is over.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

(Almost) perfect night for baseball

ROME, Ga., April 21-- Well, if the Rome Braves had only cooperated, it would have been perfect.

Is there anything better than a beautiful spring night at the ballpark? Don't think so. Can't convince me otherwise.

Tonight here at State Mutual Stadium, 5,105 fans pack the place to root for the Braves. The temperature hovered around 80 degrees at the 7:03 p.m. first pitch. Hardly a cloud in the sky.

Thought I had driven a good distance to be at the park. Wayne Dryden, sitting next to me in Section 200, is from Los Angeles. He comes to Georgia ever so often to see his daughter. She shoes horses and lives in nearby Calhoun.

Wayne is a trial lawyer. He lives in Pasadena. After he pulls out his wallet and shows me her picture, Wayne tells me that he and his girlfriend traveled to China last year. They saw the Great Wall and had a great time.

His other daughter lives in Denver. Wayne makes the loop from L.A. to Colorado to Georgia and back. He says they came to the game tonight on a whim.

"This is great," he says. "A rural community at its finest."

The guy to my right lives in Cartersville. He and his wife have brought their son to the game for Scout Night.

"This is the first time I've been to a game," he says. "We should come more often, but we're usually busy with Scouts."

The Braves fall behind quickly. They never have a chance once the Columbus Catfish (ain't that a great name?) score four runs in the fifth to go ahead 6-1.

But the blue sky and the Charlie Daniels song on the PA ("The South's Gonna Do It Again!") and the conversation more than make up for the Braves' impotent offense. The final is 7-1, but I'm glad I've made the drive down from the Chattanooga tournament.

What a time it was. You should have been here. Wish I could have found a way to keep the sun up in the clouds a while longer.

This was one night you just didn't want to end.

Halls wins three at Chattanooga tourney

CHATTANOOGA-- Coach has to like this.

Last week, Halls High School coach Doug Polston said his team had reached a crossroads. It was time, he said, for his young team to grow up, play consistently, get ready for the approaching District 3-3A tournament.

The Big Red did just that this weekend in tournament play, going 3-1 and looking sharp against quality opponents.

Halls earned two solid wins Friday night, beating Marion County 9-6 and Coffey County 5-4. Both games were played at Soddy-Daisy High School.

David White earned the win in the first game, going 6 1/3 innings. Tyler Turner came on at the end to notch the save.

The Red Devils won the second game on a walk-off walk. John Michael Clarke went the distance to earn the win.

Several parents said the latter game was one of the best of the season.

Saturday's day game was a wild 12-7 victory over Rhea County at historic Engel Stadium downtown. This one had a little bit of everything, folks, including Marvin Gaye songs on the P.A., a confused scoreboard operator and a monstrous fifth inning shot by Halls first baseman Austin Noe.

Noe's triple would have been a home run anywhere else, making his shot off the center field wall that much more impressive. Engel's deep center field dimensions rival the old Polo Grounds.

Halls broke Rhea County's back in the fifth, scoring nine runs to take the lead for good. Jared Burton earned the win, going 6 1/3 innings. Garrett Gresham notched the save.

The Red Devils lost the nightcap game against Soddy-Daisy 8-6.

Polston declined to play in the championship round today. The Saturday night loss to Soddy-Daisy meant the Red Devils would have to commit to playing three games today.

Halls plays at Powell High tomorrow (Monday, April 23) at 5 p.m.

In-game blog for Halls vs. Rhea County at Engel Stadium (Halls stats only)

Top 1st
Daniel Dayton singles
Tyler Turner walks
Gary Cooper reaches on fielder's choice, Dayton out at third
Austin Noe singles
Mitch Davis grounds to second, Turner scores
Quentin Bowman walks
Spencer Fielden hits into a fielder's choice, Bowman out.

(Score 1-0)

Top 2nd
Paul McConkey singles
David White hits a sacrifice bunt
Dayton lines out to center
McConkey thrown out at second (8-4 putout)

(score tied at one)

Top 3rd
Turner singles
Cooper singles
Noe reaches on an error
Davis walks
Bowman hits RBI single
Fielden hits a sacrfice bunt
McConkey lines out to right

(score 3-1)

Top 4rth
White flies out to second
Dayton grounds out to short
Turner flies out to right

(score 3-1)

Top 5th
Cooper singles
Noe hits an RBI triple, scores Coop
Davis walks
Bowman hits an RBI single
Fielden bunts
McConkey walks, brings home a run
White hits into a fielder's choice
Dayton hits an RBI single, scores two
Turner hits into a fielder's choice
Coop hits an RBI single, scores two
Noe is hit by a pitch
Davis walks
Bowman walks
Fielden grounds out to the pitcher

(score 12-6)

Top 6th
McConkey grounds out to second
White flies out to short
Dayton singles, steals second
Turner flies out to center

(score 12-7)

Top 7th
Cooper grounds out to short
Noe walks, advances to second on wild pitch
Davis flies out to center
Bowman flies out to short

Final score: Halls 12, Rhea County 7

WP -- Jared Burton
Save -- Garrett Gresham

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Need help? Not in Cleveland!

OK, next time you catch yourself complaining about needing "help" to get something done, consider this:

The Cleveland Indians have every right in the world to be complaining right now. They haven't been able to play several games this year thanks to snow, rain, wind, locusts... you name it, it's happened to the Indians.

Still, the Tribe won a 2-1 game against the Chicago White Sox last Sunday on one hit. Yep, one hit. And it was the first hit of the game.

Here's how it happened:

Grady Sizemore hit a leadoff double to start the game. He advanced to third on a passed ball and came home on a Trot Nixon groundout. The Indians got the other run later in the game (4th inning) on three walks and a throwing error.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, via Sports Weekly, it's the first time since 1952 that a team won with one hit on a first at-bat.

Course, this ain't no big deal to the Indians. Sports Weekly also reminds us that they once beat the Boston Red Sox, even though starting pitcher Matt Young no-hit them.

Geez. That must be some strong water coming out of the Cuyahoga!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

'Out of time'

Had something really strange happen earlier tonight.

Went through one of my infamous insomnia attacks last night. Could not get to sleep. Felt like I'd been hit by a ton of bricks this morning, but I somehow made it through the day.

Passed out when I got home this afternoon. Felt like I'd been drugged. When I awoke just before 7 p.m., the room was spinning, I was completely dizzy and disoriented. It felt like somebody was standing over me, timing me with a stopwatch, and I'd just "ran out of time."

I stumbled downstairs, wasn't really sure what was going on. For a second I feared I'd had a stroke or something. Grandfather checked my blood pressure; it was perfect.

Laid back down for about an hour and did better. Still somewhat out of it, but nothing like before.

If anybody has any ideas or theories, I'd love to hear them.

Stumbled into the bonus room and spent the rest of the night with the Braves. They blow a 5-2 lead to the Cubs, but have just gone back ahead 7-6 on a Kelly Johnson single.

Hee Hee. Sweet Lou's melting down here. Ahh, this is fun.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The way we live now

What kind of a world do we live in where a deranged figure can open fire on a college campus?

Perhaps more importantly, what kind of a world do we live in when the latest singer to fall on "American Idol" gets more play than the above incident?

I'm not one of those doomsdayers who stands around predicting the end of civilization as we know it. I've always taken the Reagan approach --- that America's best days are ahead.

Sometimes I wonder.

Pay attention next time you have to drive downtown during rush hour. Yesterday I kept a count of how many people either cut me off, tried to, or did so to other drivers. I lost count at 13.

Yesterday at lunch: Some guy was in such a hurry to get up to the cafeteria line that he slammed the door in the face of a 70-something year old woman. Never turned around to say "sorry" or "kiss my ass" or anything.

But this one takes the cake. A friend works for the register of deeds office downtown. He received a phone call from someone at a title company looking for an address on Oswald Street.

"Oh," he said, "like the guy who killed John Kennedy."

"Who?" the person on the other end asked.

"John F. Kennedy, one of our presidents, was shot and killed by a man named Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas, Texas, in 1963," friend replies.

"Oh," the caller says. "I'm about half that age. I've never heard of it."

"Do you mind," friend asks, "if I ask where you went to school?"

"Anderson County High School," the caller says.

God help us all.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

What Jackie gave us

Here it is a rainy Saturday night in East Tennessee. But thanks to the marvel of modern technology, I'm hanging out in Los Angeles, at Chavez Ravine in Dodger Stadium, watching the sun set.

Well, actually I'm sitting on my couch, but Directv and the great Vin Scully place me right in the middle of the action. The Dodgers are playing the Padres tonight, so that means a look at pitching phenom Jake Peavy. I take a break from a re-run of "Magnum" to watch.

Former Brave Marcus Giles flies out to start the game. His brother Brian fares a bit better. He hits the first pitch he sees out of the park to put San Diego ahead 1-0.

Vin is wondering why Mike Cameron is bunting on the first pitch. I could listen to Vin read names out of the phone book. He's without question the last of the greats.

Don't really care much for the Dodgers. But I love Vin, so I listen in most nights when he's on the dish. The Braves and Marlins were rained out tonight anyway, hence the earlier "Magnum" re-run.

Tomorrow is the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's first game with the Dodgers. Major League Baseball screens a cool tribute to him before tonight's game. They have a full-blown Jackie Robinson Day planned for Sunday.

Now Vin's going through the Dodgers lineup. Gotta run. Peavy's getting ready to pitch.

There's no grand lesson in all this tonight. Other than this: Funny to think that more than half a century ago, baseball was light-years ahead of the rest of the country when it came to civil rights.

And were it not for No. 42, we would have never seen Willie's over-the-shoulder catch. Or Hammerin' Hank's homer. Or the Wizard's flips and flops at short.

Too bad Paige, Cool Papa and Buck O'Neill never made it to the bigs.

The fault wasn't theirs.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

'Sadie's Got Her New Dress On'

I have this bad habit.

I'll hear a song, go crazy, download or buy the album, play the song 100 times, then move on to something else.

Well, I'm doing it again with the first cut on bluegrass guru Doyle Lawson and his band Quicksilver's latest album, "More Behind the Picture than the Wall."

The song is "Sadie's Got Her New Dress On." I can't stop playing it.

Funny part is I can't figure out why. No doubt it's a catchy song, one the late, great Charlie Waller would've called "kind of a happy song."

Jamie Dailey's solid lead vocals come shining through, the song makes you feel good and, as always, Quicksilver's pickin' is some of the best in the bluegrass. Still that doesn't explain why I played the song five times in a row going to work this morning, twice at lunch and five times on the commute back.

Ah, who cares? Not everything has to make sense. Bottom line is this is a great song and a fine album.

Lawson cut his teeth playing with Waller and the Country Gentlemen in the 1970s. If you've never heard the Gents' "Live in Japan" album, run don't walk to either the CD shop or iTunes and get it. Here, I'll wait while you do so.

Got it? OK, good.

Back in his day, Lawson's tenor voice could fly in the clouds. His live version of Bob Dylan's "Walking Down the Line" is a real treat. Nowadays, he sounds more like a raspier George Jones, but nowhere does that sound any better than on this new album's title track.

Other highlights include the inspirational-tinged "The Selfishness of Man," the bittersweet ballad "Whatever Happened to Us" and any track that spotlights Terry Baucom's banjo pickin'.

If you're like me and prefer your grass to be blue, pick up this latest release from arguably the best band in the genre. And if you end up playing "Sadie's Got Her New Dress On" repeatedly, let me know what the deal is.

I still haven't figured it out.

Monday, April 09, 2007


Part of me died 29 years ago today. And even though I never knew her, I think about her nearly every day, and can't help but wonder "what if."

Go with me back to the late winter of 1978. A 24-year-old Halls woman knows something is amiss early that Monday morning. She can't quite figure it out. She'd worked that past Friday, didn't think anything was out of the ordinary.

But something was wrong.

Finally, she wakes her husband, asks him to drive her to Fort Sanders Hospital. She's only 6 and 1/2 months pregnant, but sure enough, labor sets in.

At 6:05 a.m., she and her husband are parents of a brand new baby boy. Two pounds and 13 ounces. He'll have to spend the next six weeks in an incubator. He has a heart murmur, too, but otherwise is fine.

The doctor comes back with a surprise.

"You have twins. We're going to induce the other child."

Judith Allison was born later that morning. Unlike her brother, she had a bunch of problems. Multiple blood transfusions were needed. Later, doctors will discover a hole in her heart, leaking blood from the upper chamber to the lower.

She had bright red hair, no doubt thanks to her grandfather Kenneth, and a sweet little face. She barely weighed 2 pounds.

Allison is transported to UT. One day the nurse asks her mother if she'd like to hold her. It means taking her off her respirator.

Her mother begs off, doesn't feel good about it. But the nurse says it will be OK. Allison soon begins gasping for breath, is finally put back on the respirator. Later that year, the nurse will write Allison's mother a heart-felt letter, apologizing for her error.

Her brother continued to do well. But Allison struggled. Surgery was scheduled that next Monday to repair the hole in her heart.

The operation was never performed.

Judith Allison died on April 9, 1978. The official cause of death was premature birth, complicated by the hole in her heart. She's buried in Greenwood Cemetery on Tazewell Pike, a literal stone's throw from her cousin, Josh Ellis.

Allison left her family with a hole in our hearts. I often wonder what life would have been like with her here, and whether the saying is true that a surviving twin takes on the other sibling's life.

If it is, I hope I've lived up to the task.

Sunday, April 08, 2007


Guess we aren't going to escape him.

Yesterday, in the middle of the FOX Saturday Game of the Week, announcer Joe Buck pointed to a graphic showing the top 5 home run leaders of all time. You know the names.

Hovering just short of Hank Aaron's record is San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds.

Aaron hit his 715th home run on this date, April 8, in 1974. He topped out at 755 homers before retiring following the 1975 season.

Hank's homer was a thing of beauty then; it is a reminder of something pure now.

Barring injury or divine intervention, Bonds will pass Aaron sometime later this year. He may be the new home run king, but he'll receive no cheers from this corner.

Say he hasn't been charged with anything. Say steroids weren't illegal during the period Bonds hit most of his homers. (Which isn't exactly true, by the way.)

Say what you will, but Barry Bonds cheated. Period. Dot. Paragraph.

One wonders why. He was once a great player, a pure hitter who could smack the ball into the gap, hustle out of the box and earn a double standing up.

Bonds was good. He didn't need the juice.

Aaron did it the old fashioned way. He stayed consistent through the years, passed Ruth with as much grace as he could muster, given all the terrible things that were done to him. He went on to become one of the game's greatest ambassadors.

Of those on the list, though, Ruth's 714 homers remain the most impressive. Look only to the era in which he hit, and his number of career at-bats, to see what I mean.

Michigander Tom Stanton wrote a fantastic little tome on Aaron's home run chase a few years ago called "Hank Aaron and the Home Run that Changed America." Hyperbole aside, it's a great read.

The book helps put into focus, not that we need it, exactly what will fall when Bonds hits home run No. 756. He'll get the record. He may even get some cheers from a few misguided souls, mostly Giants fans.

But he'll never, ever have my respect. That, for what little it may be worth, is reserved for those who deserve it.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Snow in April

The heavens opened up here last night sometime between 10 p.m., when I passed out on the couch, and 7 a.m. this morning.

I got up just after 7 and looked out the window. Guess what? It snowed. Four days after an 80 degree summer perfecto, it snows.

Welcome to life here in East Tennessee.

I never will forget an April like this one about 20 years ago. Baseball season started up just like it always does. We were playing outside, getting ready for the approaching summer.

Then it snowed 10 inches. School was out for several days. The world stopped, right smack dab in the middle of spring.

This being Easter weekend, somehow I think snow is appropriate. Oh, I know, I know. Spring is supposed to be an outdoor season, about egg hunts, new dresses for the ladies, spending time outside and meeting together Sunday after church for lunch with the family.

But snow brings with it an unique peace. The world is still. To paraphrase the Christmas song, all is calm and all is bright.

Too often in this ol' world we get too busy. Too busy to stay in touch with old friends. Too busy to stop and chat with the guy who comes in the door to thank you for an article. Too busy to return phone calls and e-mails. To busy to care.

No excuse for that.

So I'm thankful for the light snow this Saturday morning. If I didn't know better, I might be tempted to think somebody was trying to get our attention.

"Hey, slow down. Call your mother. Go have lunch with a friend. Sit down and chat a few minutes with the guy who walks in the door. Here's your excuse. It's cold and snowy outside."

Too bad, isn't it, that we need an excuse.

Friday, April 06, 2007

The day peach blossoms fell like snowflakes

The one room log church building rests on a small incline and looks almost like an afterthought. The church contains no pulpit, no stained glass. It was built simply as a place for Methodists to worship, its name a Hebrew word meaning "place of peace."

One hundred and forty-five springs ago, this quiet stretch of land overlooking the Tennessee River witnessed the bloodiest fighting ever seen in North America to that time. More soldiers fell on this West Tennessee land at a two-day battle during that most uncivil of wars than had been killed in all previous American wars combined.

Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's army had found Middle and West Tennessee to be easy pickings during the early months of 1862. After capturing Ft. Henry and Ft. Donelson, Grant headed south toward the railroad line at Corinth, Miss., where Confederate Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston and 40,000 men were waiting.

Johnston hoped to reverse Confederate fortunes at Shiloh and decided to take the offensive by attacking Grant's army, which was stationed near Pittsburg Landing, Tenn., on the morning of Sunday, April 6, 1862.

The original 25 x 30 foot log Methodist church for which the battle is named is no longer standing, having been destroyed in the battle. A replica has been built by the Sons of the Confederate Veterans near the current church, where the Rev. Danny Adkisson holds services each Sunday at 9 a.m.

Behind the church is a cemetery, sprinkled with graves of church members and others lost to history. One large marker sports a familiar name. Former Tennessee governor Ray Blanton, who was born here, is buried at Shiloh.

He rests underneath a marker that reads "Friend of the People."

"It should say 'friend of the prisoner,'" an onlooker said.

Just down from Shiloh Church is Fraley Field, where Major James Powell and a Union patrol of 200 men stumbled into Confederate pickets at 4:55 a.m. the first morning of the battle (April 6).

Grant did not believe Johnston would attack, thinking he would stay at Corinth. One suspects he was hoping so, given that the bulk of his troops that day were raw recruits he was quickly training, many of whom had not yet, as the soldiers of the time would say, seen the elephant.

All that became academic in Fraley Field. The Federals were taken completely by surprise.

The Confederates routed the surprised Union army at first, pushing many of them back to the Tennessee River. By noon that Sunday, the Federals finally dug in along a sunken road, taking cover behind oak trees, undergrowth and a fence line.

For the next 11 hours, Confederates advanced 11 times in what a placard at the battlefield calls "some of the most desperate and deadly fighting of the war." Johnston's army dubbed the spot The Hornets Nest because of the minie balls one said was swarming the area like hornets.

The battle stood at a stalemate until late afternoon, when Confederate Gen. Daniel Ruggles pointed 62 cannons at the Union line, the most ever in a North American battle at that time.

After more than an hour of bombardment, the Confederates flanked the Union line and captured 2,250 men from Gen. Benjamin Prentiss' division. The South, however, had just lost arguably its most important casualty.

Around 2 p.m., Johnston rode forward to encourage his advancing troops to attack the Federal line. Tennessee Gov. Isham G. Harris, a volunteer aid, saw Johnston reel in his saddle.

Advancing to his side, Harris asked Johnston if he was wounded. "Yes," he said, "and I fear seriously."

Forty-five minutes later, Johnston was dead, an artery in his right knee torn by a minie ball that could have been fired by his own men. He was the highest-ranking officer of either army to die in battle during the war. Confederate president Jefferson Davis would go to his grave believing Southern fortunes turned with Johnston's passing.

Near the tree where Johnston fell, heavy fighting had taken place throughout the day in a peach orchard, where peach blossoms disturbed by the fighting fell like snowflakes.

"Everywhere around us the storm began to rage," a Union soldier later wrote. "The very trees seemed to protest against it."

As the sun set April 6, wounded soldiers from both armies crawled to a small pond near the orchard for a drink of water and to tend to wounds. A light rain began to fall. Eyewitnesses said later the pond water stained crimson as a result of the blood, thereafter becoming known as Bloody Pond.

"All the wretched debris of battle still littered the earth as far as one could see in every direction," wrote Ambrose Bierce, then a 20-year-old soldier in the Army of the Ohio. "Men? There were men enough; all dead."

During the night, Union Gen. D.C. Buell arrived at Pittsburg Landing with reinforcements. The Union army was 55,000 strong as dawn broke April 7. Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, who replaced the fallen Johnston as commander, was unaware that Buell had arrived and ordered his troops to attack the Federal line at 6 a.m.

The advancing Confederates were at first successful, but were soon stopped by the superior Union force. A final Southern attack at Water Oaks Pond could not break the Union line.

With 15,000 of his troops dead, wounded or missing, Beauregard ordered a retreat to Corinth. The battle was over.

At the battlefield, Grant ordered a quick mass burial of Confederate and Union soldiers because of the heat. Union soldiers were dug up in 1866 and buried in the national cemetery sits on the battlefield site.

The Confederates remain. At one such site, the remains of more than 700 Confederate soldiers are stacked in layers seven deep.

Although some in the north labeled Grant a butcher after Shiloh, he left West Tennessee for Vicksburg, Miss., which would fall on July 4, 1863. President Abraham Lincoln, who liked the way Grant fought, would make him top Union commander. By 1868, he would be president of the United States.

The Confederates were not so fortunate.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007


As we bridge the gap from basketball to baseball season, I have to pause a minute and tell you about a new book. Finished it last night; it's a good one.

Those who saw him play say Pete Maravich was something else. Gangly, awkward, droopy socks, shaggy hair. Pure athleticism, unbelievable moves, maybe the best shooter ever.

Mark Kriegel trains his journalistic eye on the enigmatic, troubled Maravich in an engaging new book, "Pistol."

At its heart, Maravich's story is a father and son tale. Press Maravich was the teacher, the immigrant baptized into basketball after a missionary handed him a ball. Pete was the son, the anointed one, the talent by which Press would realize his dreams.

And that's the sad part of this uniquely American tale. Pete never had a chance to just be Pete Maravich. He was always what someone else wanted him to be --- the Pistol, the Great White Hope, Press's boy, the NBA's star attraction. Showtime, they called him.

His mere presence put LSU basketball on the map. His mere presence also built the Omni in Atlanta, put butts in the seats at the Superdome and caused TV basketball ratings to shatter records.

But then there were those haunted eyes. The injuries. The failure to win a championship. The inability to go out and get a beer without somebody picking a fight or bumming an autograph.

As Kriegel says, the Pistol was the Elvis of his time, a superstar trapped in the bright lights of his own success.

Hey, Vol fans, perk up. Ray Mears is mentioned here, too. The legendary Tennessee coach's trademark mind games had a particular way of getting under Press's skin. It started when Press coached at North Carolina State. Something about Mears calling a time out in the waning seconds of a Vol victory. Press never forgot it.

His son didn't like facing the Vols either. Writes Kriegel, "As a sophomore Pete averaged 19 points against Tennessee -- but 45.8 against everybody else."

Says Mears, "I put in a lot of time figuring out how to give (Pete) trouble."

"Pistol" is a tragic tale of unfulfilled dreams, of grabbing the brass ring and then having it become trapped in one's grasp. It's a good read, well worth the few days you spend with it. I enjoyed it even better than Florida's national championship win Monday night.

But now it's April. Time to put the basketball away and grab a ball and bat.

After work today, I ducked down to Tyson Park and caught the No. 1-ranked Tennessee softball team's 12-0 win (in five innings) over Tennessee Tech.

UT junior Tonya Callahan set a school record with her 31st career home run in the fourth. Junior Megan Rhodes pitched a beaut, a complete game one hit shutout. Rhodes (10-1) struck out 12. The Vols (40-2) don't lose much.

Yet another beautiful night here in God's country. Guess we'd better enjoy it. Gonna be downright cold this Easter weekend, they say.

So one season passeth away as another one cometh. Let's just hope this weekend is the last of the 28 degree weather.

Cause, after all, you can't play baseball when it's freezing.

Monday, April 02, 2007

What we learned today

Just in case you missed it, here's what we learned on this holiest of days.

We learned the Atlanta Braves can bang out timely hits. We learned the bullpen can record outs when it matters. We learned that baseball is the perfect game.

Oh, wait. We already knew that last one.

But the other discoveries are music to the ears here in Braves Nation. Atlanta looked sharp in a 5-3 win against the Phillies this afternoon. They won the type of game that slipped away so often last year. They didn't give up against one of the game's tougher pitchers.

Best part? They won.

Hated I missed the live broadcast. But TiVO is a wonderful thing. It was the perfect way to relax at the end of a day that began at 5:30 this morning, when the full moon still rested just above the horizon in Maryville.

There is an optimism on opening day that is infectious. Big crowds. Excitement. Sky's the limit. Even the Pirates and Devil Rays are still in the hunt.

Halls won tonight, too, 11-5 over Clinton High. It would have been a Triple Crown if the Tigers had pulled it out over the Blue Jays.

Sigh. Oh, well. At least Doc's on my fantasy team. Now it's off to finish the nightcap with the Twins and the O's.

Remind me again. What the heck do I do the rest of the year?

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The New Year cometh

Tonight at approximately 8:05 p.m., we'll begin the New Year.

Jan. 1? Please. That's for Caesar and his calendar. Tonight is when the year begins.

Well, there is some debate. Traditionalists would say that the real New Year begins tomorrow. The diehards would say it always begins in Cincinnati.

But this is baseball, and since the powers that be now start the game on Sunday night, you'll get no argument from me.

This year will be the first since 1999 that I haven't taken off to either watch the opening games on TV or go see one in person. I won't be making the three-and-one-half hour trek to the ATL on Friday to see the Braves' opener, either. Well, what can I say? Responsibility (and jury duty) will do that to you.

But that's OK. Thanks to the greatest invention in the world (aka TiVO), I won't miss one pitch.

The national game is showing back up at a perfect time. It's been a difficult few weeks. Funny how life reminds you --- sometimes cruelly --- what you can and can not place your trust in.

But that's another story for another day. This is New Year's Day!

I'll get to watch the Braves again this year. Now that the court jester that is Bob Rathbun is gone from anywhere near a Braves broadcast booth, I'll be happy to tune in to SportSouth and FSN in addition to the venerable stop at TBS.

This is the Superstation's final season with the Braves. I'm going to miss Skip and Pete with all my heart. Those guys have been my family, every year from April to October, since at least 1985. Sigh. Time marches on, I guess.

It's been a great ride, guys. You're the best.

Feeling optimistic about the Braves. Bullpen is in better shape than last year. (Course, two monkeys and a blind man would have been better relievers than that bunch.)

And the Tigers are poised to have another good year. Although I hear that the Gambler may be out until July. That may be the worst premonition since Caesar ran into that soothsayer.

I'm such a dork. Thanks to my good buddy and colleague Nick Frantz, I'm set up for another year of Fantasy Baseball on Yahoo sports. Hee Hee. I call my team the New York Knights. What can I say? I love Roy Hobbs and "The Natural." (Although it's still not as good a movie as "Field of Dreams," Dean.)

Which reminds me. A new director's cut DVD of "The Natural" will be in stores Tuesday. Director Barry Levinson promises a new opening sequence and 30 minutes of never-before-seen footage. Cool.

OK, gotta run. Time to prepare for New Year's.

Let the little kid inside you blossom forth today and tomorrow. That's what this New Year's is all about.

Oh, and if the phone doesn't ring in the next few weeks, you'll know that it's me. I'll be somewhere where green fields and blue skies converge into the greatest game ever played.

Happy New Year!