A Capital Experience

I will never forget watching the Washington Capitals win the Stanley Cup last night, mainly because we watched most of the game on a little laptop screen in a little ballpark in Winchester, Virginia. Somehow, that seems quite appropriate.

Martha and I had been invited to attend Men of Opequon Night at Bridgeforth Field to watch the Winchester Royals take on the Harrisonburg Turks in Valley Baseball League action. The “MoO” group, as they call themselves, an Opequon Presbyterian Church organization, had asked me to speak about Fathers, Sons, & Holy Ghosts: Baseball as a Spiritual Experience back in May, and we enjoyed talking with one another so much that they graciously extended us an invitation to their outing last night. Of course, as it turned out, the Capitals were playing the potential clinching game for the Stanley Cup. We set the DVR and hoped to get home at least in time for the 3rd period.

The baseball game was a sloppy affair however, that included multiple hit batsmen, walks, wild pitches—in fact Winchester scored two runs in an inning in which they never recorded a hit. As the game dragged on into the cooling Virginia night, the crowd diminished. To our left, however, were two Shenandoah University volleyball players, one a junior the other a senior, and both in their Capitals jerseys. Martha had cheered them upon their entrance to the stands with a “Go Caps!” The public address announcer was keeping us informed of the hockey score and there wasn’t much concern among the baseball fans when the 1st period ended in a 0-0 score. As the teams furiously traded goals in the 2nd period, however, our attention turned more and more to the hockey game and at that point we noticed that the two volleyball players had a laptop computer on which they were streaming the Stanley Cup. Realizing our interest, the girls angled the laptop so that we could see and began announcing the goals. When Washington went up 2-1 I said, “You know if the Caps keep winning we won’t be able to leave. We’ll have to stay in the stands lest we mess with the Cosmic mojo.”

“We’ll be the only ones here in the dark, if we have to,” replied the young woman in the Ovechkin jersey.

We were bonded from that point on.

In the 7th inning—or maybe the 8th—Harrisonburg put seven runs on the board to go up 16-4. We were now the only four people left in our section of bleachers.

“They have to win tonight. I can’t take any more anxiety,” said the junior whose boyfriend was coaching first base for Winchester. We agreed, but it didn’t look good until Devante Smith-Pelly tied the game 3-3 about half-way through the 3rd period. At this point, Martha was walking around, too nervous to watch on the laptop, and I was sitting in the aisle next to the girls.

Winchester added a meaningless run in the bottom of the 9th to make the final score 16-5 and ending the three-hour forty-five minute affair. With the hockey game tied, we were released from our vow of having to stay in the bleachers in order to maintain the Balance of the Hockey Universe. We weren’t yet out of the parking lot when we turned on the radio and heard Lars Eller put the Caps ahead 4-3 with about 7:30 to go.

We hurried home and into the house where we watched the final 28 seconds and the finest moment in Washington Capitals history. We didn’t watch together, of course. Martha raced upstairs to watch on the bedroom television because that’s where she had watched the entire playoffs. Had the Golden Knights scored while she was watching downstairs, she never would have forgiven herself for causing that.

I felt joy as the Caps celebrated, but I also felt the joy of our two young friends bouncing around like radio waves emanating from somewhere in Winchester. We never got as far as introducing ourselves; names weren’t necessary anyway as we knew all we needed to know about one another as the innings drifted by. And so, I’ll never remember the Caps first Stanley Cup without thinking of our two friends and how we huddled around this little screen in an empty section of bleachers on what turned out to be a glorious night indeed.

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The Inspiration for Romeo and Juliet. Which is not the Greatest Love Story Ever.

Martha and I recently attended the wedding of very good friends and upon the conclusion of the reception we were given a blue book with a carved cover by the bride who asked us to record some wise words about love or marriage or both. Perhaps, it was the cover which has a decidedly Renaissance look to it, but I immediately thought of Romeo and Juliet and how many regard this play as the greatest love story ever told. Having taught it some 25 times to less-than-intrigued freshmen, however, I am convinced that Shakespeare was trying to make a point to his teenage son, the point being, don’t be stupid.

Certainly, the play indicates that Shakespeare was dealing with teenagers at this point in his life, probably a freshman. No doubt, while Bill, Jr. was upstairs doing his homework one night, Bill Sr. and Mrs. S. had the kind of conversation that parents still have today.

“So, who’s this new girl, Julie?”

“Oh, Bill was out cruising with his buddies and he saw her and lost his mind. Again.”

“What happened to Rose? I thought he was in love with her?”

“That was last week. Have you had the talk with him yet?”

“No, but I better do that right now.”

So, Bill, Sr. trudges upstairs and braces himself for one of fatherhood’s more uncomfortable tasks.

“Hello, son. Do you need help with your composition homework?”

“No, Dad, but I could use some help with this algebra equation.”

“Oh, well, ask your mother to help you with that.”

“Gee, Dad, is that all you wanted to talk to me about?”

“Well, no. It’s time we had a talk.”

“A talk?”

“About girls.”

“Oh, I already know everything about them. Mercutio says if you tell them they’re pretty and blow in their ear, you might get all the way to second base.”

(Laughing) “That’s true, son! I remember when I was just about your age and this girl named Mona Lisa—nevermind. You just remember this: Keep thy love in thy pantaloons.”

So, Bill, Sr. goes downstairs and tells Mrs. S. all about the talk.

“That’s it? ‘Keep thy love in thy pantaloons’?”

“Well, I found myself at a loss for words.”

“That’s ironic.”

“Say, that gives me an idea! I’ll write a play showing just how dumb teenagers can be! That will convince him and all the other kids at Avon High that you can’t let your hormones run wild. Oh, it’ll be a hoot!”

Of course, Shakespeare forgot that most people don’t get satire, especially people whose brains are addled by good-looking girls in low cut dresses leaning over their balconies. So, when the kids in fact did NOT get it, and the critics proclaimed it a great love story, Bill, Sr. just kept quiet and collected the residuals. Scientific research done since that time has conclusively demonstrated that teenagers and theater critics rarely understand the thing that’s in front of them as was the case then.

Fortunately, in real life, things turned out much better for Bill, Jr. than they did for his fictional alter-ego. He made the basketball team his sophomore year and spent less time hanging around Mercutio and that young Sir Edward Haskell. He went on to Avon Community College and then Oxford, where he majored in mathematics and developed the theory that any number can be divided by zero, stating that if you have one pie and divide it no times, then you still have one pie. His theory was not accepted because his professors had a vested interest in the status quo.

Shakespeare’s play is not the greatest love story because Romeo and Juliet has nothing to do with love, at least for anyone whose cognitive processes take place above the belly button.

In any case, the greatest love story is one’s own.

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The Chipmunks vs. Chuck Berry

Most people probably think of the song, “In the Mood,” as a quintessential, maybe the quintessential song of the Swing Era, yet it was played only once by any of the five bands that I heard at the recent Big Swing Thing in York, PA. Indeed, the song was the number one selling record for 13 straight weeks in 1940 and stayed on the Billboard charts for 30 weeks, yet, according to Wikipedia, it never reached higher than #15 in sheet music sales, which was considered the most accurate measure of real popularity at the time. The Big Swing Thing orchestras dug deep into the swing music catalogue to play songs that were quite popular with dancers then and I’m sure that many folks today have never heard of most of those songs that were played.

I bring this up to illustrate that what we think are the greatest songs because they are so representative to us, doesn’t mean that the people of the time judged them the same way.

Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” is an excellent example of such a phenomenon. Rolling Stone magazine named it one of the Top 500 songs of all-time, yet at its peak, “Johnny B. Goode” only reached #8 (or #9, depending on your source) on the Billboard Hot 100. In researching what songs charted higher than what was to become one of the iconic tunes of the entire rock ‘n’ roll era, I found an interesting passage from Cecil Adams’ blog. Adams reviewed the composite chart for May of 1958 which found “Johnny B. Goode” ranked 11th for the month:

It got beaten out by the following tunes, some of which, God help me, I cannot remember, and some of which, God help me, I can’t forget: (1) “All I Have To Do Is Dream,” Everly Brothers; (2) “Witch Doctor,” David Seville; (3) “Wear My Ring Around Your Neck,” Elvis Presley; (4) “Twilight Time,” Platters; (5) “He’s Got The Whole World (In His Hands); (6) “Return To Me,” Dean Martin; (7) “Book of Love,” Monotones; (8) “Looking Back/Do I Like It,” Nat “King” Cole; (9) “Tequila,” Champs; (10) Oh Lonesome Me/I Can’t Stop Lovin’ You,” Don Gibson.

So, there you have it. At the time, “Witch Doctor,” by David Seville, a.k.a. Alvin & the Chipmunks, ranked nine spots ahead of “Johnny B. Goode” for May, 1958.

Given the way we revere him today, you would think that Chuck Berry, a man who would be placed on the Mt. Rushmore of Rock ‘n’ Roll if there was one, would have had a string of #1 hits, even if “Johnny B. Goode” was not among them. Surely, “Sweet Little Sixteen” or “Rock and Roll Music” or “Roll Over Beethoven” would have made it to #1, but they made it to #s 2, 8, and 29 respectively. The only Chuck Berry song to reach #1 was “My Ding-a-ling” in November of 1972. Not exactly a classic (even if it does still make me giggle.)

The ultimate lesson is this: The people of a certain era aren’t necessarily the best judge of things from their era. The history of “Johnny B. Goode” is just one example among songs, movies, and other works of art (or dare I say political figures?) that require time and perspective to be truly appreciated.

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Happy Feet & Joyful Hearts

This past weekend, I had the great pleasure of attending a family reunion in York, PA. Actually, the “family reunion” was the Big Swing Thing, a celebration of swing music and dancing at the Valencia Ballroom, and the only person there to whom I am genetically related is our daughter Sarah, who covered the event for ABC27 out of Harrisburg.

Sixteen people—brothers and sisters to me—from Winchester, VA (and another sister from Annapolis, MD who aligns herself with the Shenandoah wing of the family) were introduced to cousins from Pennsylvania. Our Lindy-hoppin’, show-stoppin’ cousins from Hagerstown, MD were also in attendance and put on a performance of their own during the traditional jam that occurs at most swing dances.

Lest you think I’m merely using

The faces tell the story, not the feet. This is Abby. She just met 17 new aunts and uncles at the Big Swing Thing! (Thanks to Denny Martin for the great photo.)

poetic license, I will tell you that dancers share a bond that is as strong as genetics; stronger in many cases. The interesting thing is that the dancing is the physical form which the bond takes, another name for which is joy. There is the joy of the movement, of the leading and following; there is the joy of learning that movement and creating new movement; there are the joyful sounds of the music and the laughter; there is the joy of holding one another in frame and hugging hello and embracing good-bye. There’s the joy of looking across the ballroom and seeing the same people at 10 o’clock at night who were also there at 10 o’clock in the morning and thinking, They’re hardcore just like we are!

The joy of being welcomed at 5:40—when the doors weren’t supposed to be officially opened until 6:30—and then to turn around at 5:41 and see my Annapolis sister running towards me. (Yes, we were # 1 and #1a, I am quite proud to say.)

I felt the joy acutely at this year’s Big Swing Thing, which began on Friday night, six weeks to the day after I was released from the hospital for robotic mitral valve repair. Indeed, when the surgeon asked me what was going on in my life which he needed to consider when arranging the surgery date, my immediate response was, “You may laugh at this, but this there’s this thing at the end of April that I have to get to. And I have to participate once I’m there.” Dr. Vinay Badhwar turned to one of his most able assistants and said, “Make this happen in March.”

I don’t believe that Dr. Badhwar is a dancer, but he clearly understands the effect that joy has on one’s heart. A snip here and one titanium ring later, and I was able to dance16 hours in a 28 hour stretch. (“In,” not every minute of every hour, although several of those hours were non-stop!)

I mention this, not to make this entry about me, but as a way to personalize the joy that everyone there felt. The dancers, musicians, performers and those wonderful folks who put a tremendous amount of time and effort into setting up and cleaning up all have their stories of joy. Indeed, one of my Winchester brothers has a health story similar to mine and at one point we agreed that we were very happy to be there given the events of the past year. I’m sure that there are others who found themselves looking around that beautiful ballroom experiencing the sheer joy of just being there.

So, to my family from Quakertown, Landale, and York, to Annapolis, Berryville, Winchester, and Hagerstown, here’s to the next reunion.

The midnight group shot! Still going strong (more or less) as Saturday night turned into Sunday morning.

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On Guard

I was watching an old Western recently, I think it was called, Battle at Feather Creek. Maybe it was Feather at Battle Creek . . . No, that one’s about a pillow maker in Michigan . . . No, it was Charge at Feather River. That’s it; the water feature was bigger than I thought. Anyway, this group of soldiers sneaks up on the Indian camp where two guards are posted. Do you suppose that the guards were peering out into the darkness, perhaps wondering why 15 men were crouched behind one rock? That would be a good thing for a guard to do, but these two were squatting down facing each other! I guess they were talking about a Cleveland-Atlanta World Series or something, but one of them thinks he might hear something and runs towards the danger, at which point and not surprisingly, he is knocked unconscious or traded to Boston or something. Now, if you had graduated from any accredited guard school, you would, having realized your fellow guard had met an unpleasant fate, run away from the danger toward the camp yelling for all you’re worth, “Hey! There are 15 guys crouched behind a rock out there and one of them got Larry! Everybody wake up!!” I guess he was named Larry. He looked like a Larry.

But no, this guard—I think his name was Bruce—runs toward the rock crouchers and is promptly dispatched without so much as a single word of warning to the sleeping Indians in the camp. Not a scream, not a holler, not a sigh, not a cough suggesting that someone might want to look in his direction. Nope, Larry and Bruce got themselves killed or traded or whatever without ever coming close to doing what they were put there to do.

By no means is this an Indian problem. It is a guard problem. I’ve seen American, German, Japanese, Mexican, French, British and Star Trek guards all act in the same way. I bet there’s a movie out there where two Eskimos are guarding an igloo, but are dispatched by 15 angry penguins crouched behind a snowman without so much as a “By your leave, here come the penguins!” mentioned in passing to the igloo’s inhabitants.

It’s really a writer problem. Too quickly do they run out of any intelligent plot, and so, they fill in with a stock, idiot-guard scene. There must be an entire course on this at Screenwriters College.

What we have learned here today is this: If you want your camp properly guarded, find the most cowardly person in your outfit. You want the guy most likely to run away from danger; the guy who will run screaming hysterically into camp at the drop of a hat or at least at the sight of 15 hats sticking up from behind a rock because he is most interested in being the last one killed, not the first.

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Happy Opening Day!

Ah, Opening Day! My favorite holiday of the year. There’s nothing like the first game of the season to symbolize hope.

Opening Day signals the end of winter and the beginning of spring (no matter how much more it might snow.)

On Opening Day, every team is tied for first place.

This summer, records will be broken, new heroes will emerge, and we’ll see at least one play that will elicit the delighted cry of I’ve never seen that before! from even the most veteran of baseball fans, and that wonderful journey through another season begins today.

No one can tell you how any season will turn out, especially in baseball, but I have a homemade formula for predicting team performance that is pretty accurate. Simply add up the number of “ifs” for all the teams in a division and then rank them from least to most. If you say about your team, “If we can find a closer and if that rookie has a decent year in left field, we’ll win our share,” then your team will probably have a very successful season. If you say those two things about your team, plus a dozen more “ifs,” then your team is probably destined for the basement. Some ifs are more important than others, but generally this formula works out. The most exciting summers occur when all of some team’s ifs come to pass and the team enjoys a Cinderella season.

Having said all that, I offer a few observations for a couple of loyal readers as well as observations on our two local teams:

Jerry Lane, despite third baseman Justin Turner’s broken wrist, I look for your Dodgers to win the National League West again. Even if they finish 10 games worse than last year (which I predict) that will still net them 94 wins.

Dick Snyder, your Yankees are being over-hyped. Smart fan that you are, I’m sure you’re nervous about the fact that many have anointed them American League East champs before one pitch has even been thrown. The Yankees’ “ifs” always tend to be overlooked and the East might be more bunched than anyone now imagines.

For all my Nationals fans out there, I say that this may finally be the year. The Mets will be stronger than last year, the Braves have improved, and the Phillies are much improved and this in-season competition will make the Nats a tougher, more resilient team. Because they won’t run away with the division, they will be better prepped for the playoffs.

Finally, my beloved Orioles are going to surprise people as they usuall

Opening Day makes me feel younger. I had this photo taken this morning.

y do. They’ll be better than if for no other reason, they won’t have Jeremy Hellickson, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Wade Miley in this year’s rotation. That Terrible Trio, along with Chris Tillman, combined for a 6.62 earned run average in 2018, which means that even if the Birds slotted Jerry, Dick, and me behind Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman, the starting staff would be better. Just don’t ask me to cover first—I don’t think I can run that far anymore.

Happy Opening Day, everyone!

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Taking it All to Heart

I mentioned at the end of yesterday’s post that there is a definite emotional component to having heart-surgery. I could write at length about several strong emotions that I have experienced already, but one is fully formed.

That I was the recipient of such outstanding professional care is humbling in a way that I never imagined it could be. Even more humbling is the personal care of everyone with whom I came in contact at WVU Medicine Ruby Memorial Hospital, from Dr. Badhwar and his team to Paige, Ashley, and Crystal my ICU nurses and on to Barbara, Nancy, and Makenna who continued such care on the cardiovascular ward. They encouraged me, they conversed with me, and by doing so they made sure that I was never alone even when they were absent from the room. Even at the outset, Danielle, the cardiac surgery coordinator always spoke to me, the person and never me, the patient. Dr. Badhwar took very seriously my desire to complete the surgery and get me a long ways on the road to recovery before the Big Swing Thing in York, PA at the end of April.

Even more humbling is the unconditional love that I have received and continue to receive from my family, and those many whom I consider family. It is so remarkable to me that you each gave the best that you had, whether it was humor, encouragement, perspective, a simple but kind word, or an actual deed. Much of it was expressed without words or form, but it was received as clearly as if a telegram had been placed in my hands. I have no doubt that this love prepped me for a positive outcome to the surgery and that it continues to fuel my recovery. You have been quite the surgical team yourselves, albeit while operating on a different level.

Being the recipient of such love makes me wonder what I did to deserve it, but then I realize that that question is fraught with error, not the least of which is that unconditional love cannot be earned in any case. Whatever the question may be, I think the answer, at least for me is this: I have been given an incredible gift in the form of a repaired heart, and a sacred gift in the form of such unconditional love. Such gifts one does not own—one distributes. It’s as if I am this radio station which now has a vastly upgraded signal that will allow me to focus your gifts on others who need it.

As I said yesterday, it’s been quite the interesting week, and to think—life after surgery has just started.

Half of me is about this hairless once more. The ole ticker was flawed even then, according to the doc, but since it was a young ticker, it took a while for the flaw to surface.

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