Crap I Think of While Mowing the Lawn – #18

(other than This Lawn Looks Like Crap)


Interesting, if not always deep, thoughts often pop into my head while I’m doing battle with my lawn. And yes, I do battle with a non-gas, non-electric, old-fashioned push mower. An actual reel mower. And my mind tends to think of some semi-interesting crap while I push along.

Mower and Statesman


Welcome to Volume 18 of Crap I Think of While Mowing the Lawn.



Due to the Labor Day three-day weekend, yesterday felt more like a Saturday and didn’t produce the stimuli and inspiration needed for this column. Now, it’s a Sunday-like Monday afternoon, and it’s time to convey a thought or two.



It rained overnight and a little this morning, which canceled this early morning’s tennis action. Not at the US Open in Flushing Meadows, NY, but on the less-than-elegant (or level) public tennis courts in front of the Larchmont Swim Club of Mount Laurel, New Jersey. Nursing an injury or two, I may not have made it this morning, even if it were dry. On the semi-bright side, it’s been a good spring and summer of tennis, and I hate to see it come to an end.

A brief description of the early morning tennis gang is in order. I’ll start with two facts that may be a bit jarring. One: We play “pickup” doubles Saturday and Sunday mornings from the crack of dawn till about 9:30 or 10—which usually allows us to play anywhere between three and five sets. Two: Generally, between 8 and 14 players show, and of the regulars, I’m one of the three youngest guys.

The play is somewhat competitive, and friendly enough. Rare has been the argument over line calls, although some are more generous than others in calling his opponents’ shots. As God is my witness, I am one of the more generous line-callers; if I don’t know that the ball is out, I consider it to be “good.” I only deviate from this credo when my team is losing a close match.

My play has been pretty good this season as well, and with the best doubles players apparently migrating to other courts, my game is probably the best of all of the regulars. God, are you still witnessing? Having said this in truth (and agreeing with the other players who have unofficially crowned me with this semi-dubious designation), it certainly does not mean that there aren’t several players who have stronger aspects of their games, nor various matchups that are difficult to win. It’s a lot of fun, but starting next weekend, I’ll be teaching on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and greatly missing the tennis. I can actually sleep a little later now, but would gladly sacrifice those two hours of sleep (which are usually my fourth and fifth of the morning) for some more tennis.

I wish that there more tennis lovers within my overall circle of friends, but do thank my buddy, Neal, who told me about this gang of early morning enthusiasts several years back. When he first told me about this group, I asked him if they play at 9 or 10 am. No such luck, but with all things (especially those activities that you enjoy), you get used to it. That’s certainly been the case for me.

I’ve enjoyed tennis for many years, since a little before my high school days, when I played for our school’s team. Truth be told, tennis was my consolation prize, as I got cut from the baseball team my freshman and sophomore years. Luckily, I could play varsity tennis for three years, and made and furthered great friendships, even as I couldn’t play my true favorite sport. With organized basketball (and even golf) now positioned in the rearview mirror of life, tennis and baseball…well, men’s softball leagues, at this stage…continue to be the main sports that I play today.

Tennis started becoming popular shortly prior to my high school days, in no small part due to the renown (and controversy) of players such as Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe. Today, men’s tennis has three of the best…some would say THE three best…players to ever play the game in Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. I’ll only weigh in here to posit that I would place both Federer and Nadal in my top two or three all-time (along with Rod Laver) and Djokovic may earn that same designation before he hangs up his racquet. What’s really cool is that they are all eminently likable guys. Yes, none are American, and I wouldn’t mind if any or all were, but it doesn’t keep me from rooting for them, and appreciating their skill, competitiveness and intelligence.

So…as I was watching the US Open this afternoon, I forgot that the Phillies were playing a holiday matinee game in Atlanta until a friend posted on Facebook that pitcher Cole Hamels was pulled after just six innings (he had thrown 108 pitches) even though he was throwing a no-hitter.




As it turned out, Phils’ manager Ryne Sandberg’s decision to go to the bullpen worked out for Hamels, and for the team. Three relievers not only preserved the win, and the shutout (7-0 over the Braves) but also kept the Braves hitless. It was the first combined no-hitter in the Phillies’ mostly futile history, dating to 1883. It also made for one of the few highlights of this forgettable 2014 season.

The no-hitter took me back to my own youth, and my own attempts to turn the trick. I came close to pitching one on at least two occasions that I recall with a great measure of accuracy. Here is what I remember: I started pitching in my fourth year of organized ball, as a sixth-grader. Playing for a maroon-colored team sponsored by Ray’s Garden Mart, I toed the rubber (none of the mounds were  elevated) behind Parkway Elementary School and retired all but one batter who hit a humpback liner that was just out of reach of our third baseman, who told me that he should have made the play.

The third baseman in question, a very athletic redhead named Paul Kelly, usually played for another league on days that I pitched. When he pitched, I played third; perhaps, we had a good shortstop, although his name (Snoopy?) escapes me. It was rare to have Paul in the lineup when I pitched, and it probably was a play that he should have made. But, it went down as a hit in the book.

Six years later, in my last year of organized baseball, I recall throwing another one-hitter, but can’t picture the hit in question. It wasn’t a homer, but it could have been a double or triple. I’m not sure.

Apparently, in much more recent times, I threw another one-hitter or two in softball leagues, which is hard to do, and shouldn’t be done. Slow-pitch softball is really a hitter’s game, and it takes good fielding and a poor opposing lineup to even get close to a no-no.

Another oddity: I do recall once (on a travel little league team, when I was in seventh-grade) getting two hits against a very good pitcher that our team had a real tough time with. That isn’t so unusual, but for some other circumstances. I reached base twice in the six-inning game, and only one or two other teammates did the same. After the game, our coach berated our team for striking out so often, and he further said that we only had one hit on the day. I was bummed, as I figured that one of my two apparent hits was ruled an error. It was a bit comforting to get our only hit(s), or was it?

As it turned out, both of my hits were ruled as errors, as he mentioned the name of another player who got our only hit. Let’s just say that the team book was often scored by someone who wasn’t too enamored with having a kid with the last name Goldberg on the team. Presumably (and while I minimized all of this crap back in the day), I had several hits changed to errors that season. It happened often enough to keep me from getting one of the trophies for the five highest batting averages in the league.

Yes, God is still my witness, even if HE would marvel at some of the Crap I Think of While Mowing the Lawn, or watching tennis/baseball from my couch.


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Baseball, Bad Blood and Redemption

One of the most brutal on-field sports incidents in American history took place at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park in 1965, when future Hall of Fame Giants pitcher Juan Marichal clubbed Dodgers all-star catcher John(ny) Roseboro  over the head with his bat. Just writing that line produces a shiver or two.

I had just turned six years old at the time, and was close to starting my first 200 years or so (if not longer) as a rabid baseball fan. I didn’t see the incident live, but recall reading about it. The purported assault was mostly a curiosity to me, although it had profound effects on millions of baseball fans—to say nothing of the two players/combatants in question.

(As an incident, the only [non-hockey] one to rival it, in my mind, came 12 years later when Lakers forward Kermit Washington blindsided Rockets counterpart Rudy Tomjanovich with a roundhouse right.)

Author John Rosengren explores the Marichal-Roseboro altercation in detail with his latest book, The Fight of Their Lives (2014, Lyons Press). Rosengren, an obvious baseball and sports lover, has the ability to not only scour the box scores for meaningful, historical data (among other things, he is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research), but to search for the human interest story and lessons that transcend sports.  I greatly enjoyed his 2013 biography on Hank Greenberg and had the opportunity to interview him on that book tour. As such, I had a feeling that I would enjoy his next book. My suspicion was justified.

Yes, it is especially for the baseball and all-around sports lover, and it left me wanting just a little more. It is a terrific read, and one that may also appeal to those who aren’t baseball lifers. 

Please enjoy my interview with John Rosengren below.

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Richard Sherman’s Loud March

Famed Union Army General William Tecumseh Sherman, 14 years after the end of the Civil War, issued the ultimate cautionary words to a military academy’s graduating class: War is hell.


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