Friday, August 12, 2005

When Being a Dad Is a Pretty Cool Thing

(Pictured above: Leo Brady at Loras College; also, Leo with Loras Duhawks teammate Michael McHugh)

My youngest child is hardly a "child." He's 20 years old. He's about 6' 3" tall and weighs about 215-220 pounds. His name is Leo J. Brady, and this fall he'll begin his junior year at Loras College, a small Division III school in Dubuque, Iowa, on the banks of the Mississippi River. Leo majors in Communication, and from all accounts he's doing pretty well there academically. He's a hard worker, and a fine all-around human being, and when college is over he'll have a student loan to repay. So, for someone so young, he's certainly achieved a lot and accepted a ton of responsibility. And did I mention that Leo is the starting tight end on the Loras Duhawks football team? Well, he is. After a good high school career at Chicago's St. Patrick High School, and being cited in a few Chicago-area newspapers as an "honorable mention" football player, Leo moved on to Loras. It has a modest athletic program, but it's a place where Leo can learn, but also play his preferred position without worrying about why he's not three inches taller and 40 pounds heavier (like all the behemoths at Division I powerhouses).

As a huge all-around sports fan, Leo's ultimate hope is to parlay his interests and his college experience into a career as either a coach or a sports media hound. I have no doubt that eventually he will do what he wants to do. Leo is passionate, friendly, sincere, genuine in all ways, loves to laugh (Will Ferrell and Seinfeld are comedy idols), digs cool music (The Doors, for example), and even expresses a fancy for public speaking, which seems to be a pretty rare trait.

Leo's also a pretty resourceful guy. In the middle of his second semester of sophomore year, Leo used his brains and wrote letters to several NFL teams, approaching them about summer internships. Since Peyton Manning is one of Leo's sports idols, he was hoping the Indianapolis Colts would respond. Well, they did, but only to thank him for his interest, etc. But lo and behold, he eventually received an encouraging reply from the Miami Dolphins. They were looking for young people to assist in support areas of their operation, including a summer camp for kids, concessions, security, and the like, as the organization embarked on a new era under the guidance of new head coach Nick Saban.

A decent fellow named Frank Losito contacted Leo, and invited him down to Davie, Fla., a Miami suburb, to interview for such a position. In early May, at his own expense, Leo flew down to Florida. He met Mr. Losito, learned what the opportunity was all about, then flew back the same day. Three weeks later he was told that, if he wanted to come work for the Dolphins during summer training camp, the job was his. The Dolphins, however, were not offering room and board of any kind, explaining to Leo that most of the kids taking such jobs usually lived fairly nearby. The Dolphins also weren't paying much: For every four-hour shift Leo worked, he'd be paid the princely sum of $6.25/hr. More than 200 resumes had been submitted for these choice jobs, and only 11 positions were offered.

Clearly some decisions had to be made here. Leo lives in Chicago with his mother. Finances are often difficult. But this was too cool an opportunity to pass up, especially for a young man with career aspirations in the sports field. Leo's Mom helped him out with the preparations. So did his sister, Jessica, who contributed to the financial effort. But the crunch-time issues at hand involved where Leo would stay in Davie, and how he would get around without a car.

For once in recent years, I had a chance to do a really Dad-like thing. I used the power of the Web, and located a Davie-based business hotel in the Extended Stay chain. A few phone calls later, and through the additional power of a credit card, I had Leo booked in for his stay, from July 18-Aug. 12. After arriving in Florida, he found co-workers willing to give him rides back and forth between the hotel and the Dolphins camp. His hotel had a refrigerator and stove and microwave, a queen-size bed, TV with cable, and even a computer hookup. He further learned that, with his hotel reservation, he was accorded free access to the nearby Bally Health Club, where he could swim and work out with weights to stay in shape for his forthcoming football season.

Leo's first day with the Dolphins was amazing. The first human being he saw as he walked through the doors was none other than Dan Marino. He then joined the other interns for orientation, a process that included the team snipping a lock of hair for a drug test, as well as stern words about how all employees are never to talk to the press. Eventually, Leo got his assignments, which included working at Pro Player Stadium during a Dolphins fanfest, coaching kids in the team's summer camp, and also working security during team practices, a gig that afforded him the opportunity to watch a pro football training camp close-up, to exchange pleasantries with coaches and players, and to get to know other team employees like former Dolphins, Redskins and Falcons linebacker Twan Russell, who works in community relations.

On Aug. 12, Leo returns to Chicago, then has to drive out the next morning to Dubuque to begin his own football camp and to ready himself for another school year. For a kid who's had some tough family breaks--primarily his parents' separation and the resultant financial upheaval that caused--Leo continues to amaze me. He's upbeat, courageous, and he follows his heart, and, as this story exhibits, he knows how to use his head as well. Maybe best of all, his modest dream has united his parents and siblings in a worthy common cause, and has given us all something really cool to cheer for.

Now let's hope that Leo can get through the coming football season unscathed. He's had knee problems in the past that have required surgery, but in the recent era he's stayed healthy. So far, there's no reason why he shouldn't be a main cog in the Loras Duhawks' offense this year. (Loras, by the way, is also the alma mater of TV sportscaster Greg Gumbel.)

So stay healthy, Leo. Study hard. And catch a few TD passes for the old man. I love you.

Going on the Record

There's so much going on these days in sports, that it's getting tough to keep up. Here are some short takes on current developments.

1. T. O. Boooooooooorrrrrrr-ing!! Terrell Owens (above, left) is a talented, highly paid wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles. He's also an obnoxious guy. He's managed to make himself a football pariah with his recent training camp antics. Does anyone really give a shit if this guy plays this year--or any year? The energy expended in following his crap is exhausting, If it were up to me, I'd let him sit all year. I hope the Eagles take a hard-line stance against him. Really, it's so boring. As a lifelong Redskins fan, I have no sympathy for what happens at Eagles camp, but it would be great to see the Eagles tell this guy to kiss off and then go on and have a productive year and even get into the playoffs. Go away, T.O. Just go away...

2. The recent outfield collision between New York Mets Mike Cameron and Carlos Beltran was intense. We wish a speedy recovery to Cameron (pictured above, center), who suffered a broken nose and fractured cheekbones. It's been a while since we've seen baseball multimillionaires risk life and limb in such a fashion, all in pursuit of a sinking line drive. Losing Cameron is a tough break for the Mets, who still have faint wild card hopes.

3. Other baseball reflections:

The lovable Washington Nationals are fading fast, and even a wild-card slot looks remote.

The Oakland Athletics are having an amazing year. Who ARE these guys?

Ditto the Cleveland Indians, who aren't really "amazing" yet, but ARE ahead of the Yankees in the wild-card race.

The Chicago White Sox recently took 2 of 3 from the Yankees in New York. This team has pitching, enough hitting, and an amazing young defensively gifted centerfielder named Aaron Rowand. Barring a typical Chicago meltdown, this team looks to be a World Series favorite.

The Atlanta Braves are the finest baseball organization in the game. Year after year, they plug holes with shrewd yet fairly low-profile free-agent signings, but more importantly, they always seem to have farmhands waiting in the wings to join the parent club and make critical contributions. Never count this team out.

It's actually possible that the National League West division winner will have a record below .500. Presumably, at least one team--Padres or Diamondbacks, probably--will avoid this ignominy, but it still could happen. We can only hope that if it does, that the team loses quickly in the playoffs. There's nothing worse than clearcut mediocrity getting lucky in the postseason.

This is no revelation but...the Chicago Cubs really suck, in a really sad way...

Then there's the Kansas City Royals, who are 38-76, and have lost 13 in a row. Also really sad...

Not to be overlooked, though, are a bunch of other really bad baseball teams. Of Tampa Bay, Seattle, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Colorado, not a one has yet to win 50 games.

4. Former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett (pictured above, right) is dealing with nagging injuries in the Denver Broncos training camp. I'm pulling for this guy to make the team and have a nice NFL career. I'm still convinced Clarett got screwed over by OSU and the NCAA. Colleges use these kids, then don't stand behind 'em. Good luck, Maurice, and kudos to Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan for taking a chance on the guy.

5. Former Heisman-winning Oklahoma QB Jason White gave it a shot in the pros, but the dream is over. White tried out with the Kansas City Chiefs in the spring, to no avail, then he later signed on as an undrafted free agent with the Tennessee Titans. He recently left the Titans' Nashville camp, stating that his surgically reconstructed knees simply couldn't take the pounding. White apparently had the brains and the arm to play NFL football, but he recognized that his bad knees made NFL-caliber quick drop-backs impossible. He'll pursue coaching opportunities now, and we wish him all the luck with that.

6. Can someone throw a bomb into the offices of the NCAA? Once again, this dumbass, hypocritical organization is trying to get schools to drop their ethnically inspired nicknames. What I guess they're trying to do is make any school with a "politically incorrect" nickname ineligible for postseason play; that is to say, the schools won't be able to use their mascot images or nicknames in any postseason tournament or venue. So, even though Florida State University has already received the blessing of the Seminole Nation to use "Seminoles" as their nickname, FSU would have to drop the Indian iconography in order to compete in postseason tourneys. What a crock. Native American nicknames are a good thing. They help to remind us of our regional and historical heritage. They keep American Indians in the historical forefront. Guess what, NCAA? We LIKE the Native Americans. We revere their place in history. Failing our ability to roll back 300 years of history, and return the USA to ownership of the descendants of Sitting Bull, we like to think that college mascots and nicknames are actually tributes to Native American history. The NCAA officials state that they are responding to "complaints" on this matter. Well, then, do the right thing, NCAA: IGNORE the complaints! Again, what a crock. I suppose if animal activists start complaining, we'll have to dump other school icons, like Wolverines, Bulldogs, Longhorns, Gators, Bruins, Ducks, Beavers, Golden Gophers, Badgers, Tigers, Jayhawks, Wildcats, etc., etc. Or maybe sailors will start complaining about Commodores or Midshipmen. Maybe victims of hurricanes will start to complain about Miami (Fla.) being called the Hurricanes. Strangely enough, the NCAA has apparently received no complaints from drunken Irishmen who might feel that Notre Dame's Fighting Irish nickname is inappropriate. And just wait till the Hoya lobby starts making waves. Find another nickname, Georgetown! A few years back, in response to this kind of PC malarkey, Marquette University changed its nickname from Warriors to Golden Eagles. For their sake, let's hope the bird constituency doesn't start to make waves. The whole thing is ridiculous. Can't they give these NCAA employees something productive to do? Like sharpening pencils or fixing the paper jam in the copier? I don't want to hear anything more on this topic, but I'm afraid we're yet going to have to deal with it. What a waste of God's good time.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Palmeiro Implosions

You may have seen this stat, but did you know...

That only 4 guys in the history of baseball have ever had 3,000+ hits AND 500+ HRs?

They are...

1. Hank Aaron (who had 3,771 hits; I had no idea; that's a TRUCKLOAD of hits, third only to Rose and Cobb);

2. Willie Mays (who, in my opinion, may still be the greatest baseball player who ever donned a uniform);

3. Eddie Murray (longevity and the designated hitter helped him out); and

4. Rafael Palmeiro!!

So we've got this huge controversy swirling around this guy, and by any statistical accounting, he's a god. How, I wonder, could anyone so quietly go about amassing those stats? I guess playing on mediocre teams in Texas and Baltimore will do that. Imagine if Palmeiro had played on the Yankees...

Anyway, this steroid stuff is a yucky thing. How do we view this guy's career? After seeing him hit a grand slam for the Cubs early in his career, I always thought he was a huge talent. Yet another player the Cubs let get away. (Greg Maddux would follow a few years shortly thereafter.) And sure enough, Palmeiro HAS to be considered a major talent. But like many sports fans, I'm wrestling with this steroid thing.

Palmeiro returns to the Orioles on Thursday August 11, after serving his 10-day suspension for testing positive for use of the steroid stanozolol, which is commonly known by the brand name Winstrol. This steroid is a classic of its kind. It's a synthetic derivative of testosterone, and hence a muscle builder. It's the kind those greasy-looking guys on the cover of body-building magazines would use. It's got weird and potentially really harmful side effects as well, some related to liver damage, hair loss, change in sex drive, shrinking of the testes, loss of menses and clitoral enlargement (for women), and a range of other problematic effects. For a full profile of stanozolol, go here:

From this link, I've extracted the following section on the prescribed use of stanozolol, an anabolic steroid:

4.1.2 Description

The only legitimate therapeutic indications for
anabolic steroids are:

(a) replacement of male sex steroids in men who have
androgen deficiency, for example as a result of loss
of both testes

(b) the treatment of certain rare forms of aplastic
anaemia which are or may be responsive to anabolic

(ABPI Data Sheet Compendium, 1993)

(c) the drugs have been used in certain countries to
counteract catabolic states, for example after major

For more quick overviews on stanozolol, you can visit these other sites:

Now, unless the drug test that cornered Palmeiro is in error, the facts would indicate that he's a classic doper. Stanozolol has its therapeutic uses, and is a drug prescribed appropriately. Palmeiro has been using it to supplement his muscles, providing himself with harder bulk and quicker recovery time from muscular trauma, which, in his case, could be anything from a minor muscle pull to whatever effects the aging process might have on his body.

I admire Palmeiro's native ability. But I admire Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, too. And without steroids, Mays and Aaron hit more homers and had more total hits than Palmeiro ever will (unless the miracle drugs keep Palmeiro in the game five more years or so).

I don't imagine Palmeiro's the only guy on the juice. But the fact that we know he is one of them taints his achievements. I've tried to see it another way, but I simply can't. He has gotten to where he is without undergoing the normal aging process that befalls all athletes. The challenge of age is often what separates the very good from the great. Ted Williams once was asked how he managed to continue playing at a high level up to the age of 42. "Making adjustments," he responded. Williams had a huge gift as a hitter, but he was human. He must have noticed changes in his body through the course of his career. The 23-year-old Williams who hit .406 in 1941 certainly wasn't the 41-year-old who hit .254 in 1959. Williams knew he was tempting fate when he suited up once more for the 1960 season. It was probably even a little scary for him, given his pride and his legend status. But he came back to hit .316 with 29 homers his final year, proving that '59 was indeed a fluke, and then retiring with the knowledge that "adjustments" work.

Steroids are adjustments too. But they're drugs. They're artificial adjustments. If you could prove to me that Mays, Aaron, Williams, Clemente, Kaline, etc., were using 'em, then I'd say the playing field was level. But they didn't.

I don't mean to sound like a prig, but Palmeiro's stats are a troubling thing. He might have amassed them even without stanozolol, but we'll never know that, will we? When it comes to baseball, I'm on the side of historical greatness. It might be tough luck, but Palmeiro got caught. If he's ever to make the Hall of Fame, electors must factor in his misstep.

On a related note, here's something to ponder: Frank Robinson, steroid-free, amassed 2,943 hits and 586 HRs on his way to the Hall of Fame. Just think: 57 hits shy of 3,000. It must've killed the guy to see his 21-year career coming to an end in 1976—when he hit 3 HRs and batted .224 for the Cleveland Indians—and him knowing that that magic number would elude him. Robinson had a full-blown career, for sure, but beginning in 1967 he started to struggle with a few nagging injuries that cost him about 30 games a year from then on. An occasional regimen of stanozolol, and who knows...Robby'd probably be up there with the "big boys." Robinson was a great player, but he gets overlooked because he was a contemporary of Mays and Aaron. His Hall of Fame credentials are impeccable, and he represented the game at its finest. At the very least, the Palmeiro thing mocks careers like Robinson's, which might be reason enough to bar Palmeiro from the Hall.

Frank Robinson turns 70 on August 31. He's the manager of the Washington Nationals, a ragtag team that is still, at this writing, contending for the National League playoffs. Go get 'em, Frank!

Meanwhile, up the road, Baltimore manager Sam Perlozzo is welcoming Palmeiro back into his lineup. It's underwhelming news.