Seven Years. Already? Honestly?

I cannot wrap my brain around the fact that my Mom left us seven years ago tomorrow.  Seven years. Jesus. That’s a long time.

Let me clarify what I mean. When Mom left us, she died. She didn’t skip town.

IMG_4665But when she was alive she loved the number seven and quite frankly that is probably why I’m sitting here writing something. Playing on seven. She loved it. Probably more than anyone I’ve ever known anyone to love a number.

So, one day, I asked her. “Why seven? ”

She always said it was because she had seven kids.

“Oh.  OK.  Makes sense.”  Then I realize a small detail.  She didn’t have seven children.  She had nine children! Nine, people.  Nine.

Well, you know, lovey … “ she would say.

No. No, I don’t know. How does a mother get that wrong?

I mean, she had nine different human type creatures make their way through her vagina or via a cesarean section.

How do you lose count of the number of humans evacuating from your vajayjay? Can you lose count of the number of humans evacuating said vajayjay? I wonder how pissed she’d be with me if she were alive and read this, and my use of the word vajayjay in the context I have … particularly it being hers.  She’s probably kick me in the wonkydoodle.

But, nevertheless, seven was her number. Roulette. Daily Doubles. Kids. Any form of gambling that may have been combined with the number seven, and Mom was on it.

Now, at the risk of being a complete butthead I will concede – and I say this in her defense – there were two of her nine children that she lost as babies. That may have accounted for the whole seven instead of nine business. If that’s why, then fine. I get it. I’m not sure I like it though.  I mean. She’s completely discounting 22% of her children.  She is.  But if she lost two, then she lost two. It is what it is. That said I do feel I should clarify here, too, so there’s no confusion. When I say she lost two babies they didn’t vanish or get mislaid. They, too, died.  Granted, she may not be able to know the difference between seven and nine but for heaven’s sake, she wasn’t irresponsible. Give her some credit, will ya?

And besides.  I’M THE NINTH KID!

Furthermore, don’t try and convince me that I, as the ninth child, wasn’t anything but an oops.  After Greg and John were born as premature kiddos her doctor told her NO MORE KIDS!

Well, the calendar changes by four years, add a bottle of Dubonet and a little sweet talking from Ray and voila … Bob’s your uncle, here comes number nine.

But, seven kids or nine, it didn’t matter because she loved us all and we laughed together, a ton.

That’s what I am thinking about most this year as the anniversary of her death approaches. The movies we watched and laughed at together.

Blazing Saddles had the woman in stitches. Me too.

Jim: Why Rhett! How many times have I told you to wash up after a weekly cross-burning? See, it’s coming off.
Bart: And now, for my next impression… Jesse Owens!

Every joke in Airplane had her number. Mine too.

Rumack: I won’t deceive you, Mr. Striker. We’re running out of time.
Ted Striker: Surely there must be something you can do.
Rumack: I’m doing everything I can… and stop calling me Shirley!

Thirty minutes into Airplane I would see her wiping tears from her eyes, she’s laughing so hard.

Lest I forget our adoration for the incompetence of Lt. Frank Drebin in Naked Gun, too:

Mayor: Drebin, I don’t want any more trouble like you had last year on the southside. Understand? That’s my policy.
Frank: Yes. Well, when I see 5 weirdos dressed in togas stabbing a guy in the middle of the park in full view of 100 people, I shoot the bastards. That’s my policy.
Mayor: That was a Shakespeare in the Park production of Julius Caesar, you moron! You killed 5 actors! Good ones!

We loved that line.  I shoot the bastards.  That’s my policy.

That was her humor. That was/is my humor. I miss that about her the most. Sitting at the kitchen table with her and dad, just talking, just laughing. Quoting movies.  Making some sort of joke we may hesitate to make outside the confines of our home. We all have those. But when she laughed and joked she did it as well as anyone I have ever known. Never crass or blue. Just silliness and great timing.

That leads me to the one movie that I always associate with her.  Support Your Local SheriffThat was our movie. James Garner, Harry Morgan, Walter Brennan, Joan Hackett, Jack Elam and others. It is the story of a gunslinger (Garner) who comes riding through some fictional town in the old west with the idea of doing a little prospecting before he makes his way to Australia. However, with the prices of room and board as outrageous as they are in this town he needed work and took that work as sheriff.

It was the first movie I can remember which I studied the lines and the jokes. Made Mom laugh every time, without fail. Every time I made her laugh, I loved life a little more. So I made it a point to remember many of the lines.

Pa Danby: Now I’m gonna take a little trip tomorrow and I want you two to behave yourselves while I’m gone. I don’t want nobody to make no martyr out of this here sheriff.
Tom Danby: What’s a martyr?
Pa Danby: Oh, I’m sorry. They didn’t use words like that in the third grade, did they?
Tom Danby: Well, how would I know? I didn’t get that far.

Then there was …

Joe Danby: You expect me to sit here in this lousy cell on that…
[notices the red paint drippings on the floor]
Joe Danby: What is that red stuff all over the floor there?
Jason McCullough: Oh, uh…
[waves his boot over the paint]
Jason McCullough: …that’s the poor fella that crossed the line earlier today.

She LOVED that scene. Loved it.

But the one I’d fire at her, the one whose punchline she would finish before I’d get a chance was this:

Mayor Ollie Perkins: I wanted you to meet my daughter, Sheriff. She’s a good cook, a mighty fine looking girl. Takes after her dear, departed mother.
Jason McCullough: Mother died, huh?
Mayor Ollie Perkins: Nope, she just departed.

It is in that spirit I make the “she lost two – er, uh, died not misplaced” jokes.  I’m certain she would have laughed.  She would have shook her head with a genuine degree of disgust, but she’d laugh.  It’s the laugh I always wanted.

Sigh. Where does the time go? How has it been seven years? It feels like yesterday.  It feels like a lifetime ago.  I guess it really does feel like seven years.  That’s a good piece of time.

I do find some consolation in this though. If there is a Heaven – and I believe there is – she could very well be laughing right now while drinking her Doubonet, perhaps in the company of Leslie Nielsen, Gene Wilder or James Garner.  If she is, I do hope she is laughing.

I love you ole girl. I miss you more than I’ll ever be able to say. I am so glad I had 43 years with you and I love and miss our times laughing together. It is my prayer you have been, and will continue to forever, rest in peace.  Better yet, I hope you are laughing joyfully through the rest of eternity.  You deserve to.

Welcome to The Bigs


Yesterday I received a Google Alert that AAA Rochester Red Wing pitcher Zack Littell will make a spot start for the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday in one of their two doubleheader games.

This news is of little consequence for many. For some others, like those who don’t follow Minnesota – or Zack’s career for that matter – the news is background noise.

For the residents of Mebane, NC however, this may be as big a day as they’ve had in a generation. Their hometown boy – who five years ago signed with the Mariners organization right out of high school – makes his major league debut. Small town kid on baseball’s biggest stage.

Pretty darn cool ain’t it?

But why, in Heaven’s name does a Yankee fan from Jersey care enough to write about a kid he’s never met, from a town he’s never visited let alone heard of, about making a start for the Minnesota Twins?

Because outside of NC, I think I may be one of this kid’s biggest fans.

Last year I saw him pitch several times for Trenton (Yankees AA affiliate). In one, I got to see him strike out 10 in a game, and in each effort carry himself as a seasoned professional.

So when the Yanks traded him for Jamie Garcia last summer I was disappointed. I would have LOVED seeing this kid in pinstripes. But, it wasn’t meant to be. That week I wrote a blog about his trade and the next day I get a tweet from … HIS MOM!

From that day on Allie Littell and I have been baseball buddies. Baseball family, might even be closer to the truth. She ought to be a sibling of mine. One who loves the game and gets it like I do . Texting and tweeting about baseball and both of us rooting feverishly for Zack’s success. She, clearly, having a far greater vested interest.

One thing I find kind of funny is, in the year we have known each other, texted and tweeted and Instagramed about baseball, Allie and I haven’t ever even spoken. But she knows all about me, and the most wonderful person to enter my life, Stacy. She knows about our dog Rocco and my affinity for team mascots.

I know about her 3 (four in real life) kids, her raising them as a single Mom and her dreams of one day owning an RV to travel the country so she can “baseball” at fields from coast to coast to see her favorite MLB team … that being whomever her son is employed by.

She knows there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for Stace and there is no one I love more. I know there’s nothing she wouldn’t do for those kids of hers and there is no one she could possibly love more (Tim McGraw not withstanding).

And even though we have never spoken let alone met, when she tells me the latest about her kids accomplishments I swear I sometimes feel the same way I do when I hear good news about one of my own sister’s kids.


So when I got the Google alert that Zack got the call, I felt an unparalleled rush of excitement. He is going to The Show. Holy Mackerel. This kid I watched pitch, became an immediate fan of, and followed through his AA and AAA journey will stand on the mound in Target Field.

If me, an outsider who is just a fan is so pleased with the news, I can only imagine how those who do know him, and are an actual part of his true family, must feel. The pride. The joy. The sense of accomplishment after so much sacrifice.

Yes. Its a spot start and he will go back to AAA. But there is only one way to be sent down to AAA … you have to have been called to play in the big leagues first.

So tomorrow, Tuesday, June 5th 2018 Zachary Littell will step over the baselines, onto the infield grass and up the 10″ bump that is the pitcher’s mound. He’ll toe the rubber, and take a deep breath. His Mom and girlfriend will likely be squeezing each others hand tighter than what you or I would consider comfortable. Neither will notice any pain over the anxiety and excitement. Littell will fire his first pitch as a Minnesota Twin. His mom, his girl, his siblings and everyone from Mebane who could make it to Minnesota will be in attendance. I will be tuning in on my AtBat app.

This is going to be a cool moment.

I will say it again. I never even met the kid, but I still feel so proud of, and happy for, him.

And for Allie.

And Kait. And Jake. And Autumn …. And Mebane, NC.

Have fun out there Zack. You’ve earned it bud and, uh, the rose goes in the front, Big Guy.

The Day After …

I’m supposed to be a good person and be grateful for what I have.  Ordinarily I am.  But right now I am not and a part of me is not happy with myself as a result of it. 

You see, the Yankees had no business making it to the playoffs this year. We were rebuilding. We wanted these kids to learn, to grow, to become our team for the next generation.  But we got so much more than we thought we would. We got so much more than we expected. It may have also been more than we deserved. 

Nevertheless, we made it as a Wild Card Playoff team.  

We won that one game playoff. 

We entered the ALDS best of five and I prayed for at least four games so I can get at least one Yankee win and an extra game.

Well we got five and an amazing comeback performance moving us to the ALCS.  It was incredible. I was walking on air, like so many Yankee fans. 

We get to Houston, drop two, head to NYC and play like champions.  We take three, and our mouths start to water. 

The World Series is in our sights.  We are one game away. Just one. But, alas, it was not to be.  Houston was the better team and won.

Today I feel the same way I feel the day after the season ends every year…with a modicum of depression…but that’s baseball, isn’t it? 

Even if we win it all, it would have to end and this feeling will still hit me. 

So, with 158 days and a few hours until the March 29, 2018 Opening Day festival of all 30 teams playing in 15 games – the first time every team opens on the same day since 1968 – I received a text that have gave me this to help get me through….

….and for this I AM grateful. 

One Fan’s Case for Littell as USAToday Sports Minor League Player of the Year

I have happily come to learn that a favorite Minor League baseball player of mine is a nominee for the USA Today Minor Leaguer of the Year. Zack Littell, a pitcher for the Minnesota Twins AA affiliate Chattanooga Lookouts joins Ronald Acuna (OF, Atlanta Braves), Rafael Devers (3B, Red Sox), Jack Flaherty (SP, Cardinals) and Rhys Hoskins (1B/OF, Phillies) in the list of contenders.

usatodaymilbAny one of these guys could win it and every one of them are likely deserving; but since I’ve seen Littell pitch multiple times for one of my favorite teams, I want to make a case on his behalf.

Littell, who started the year with the NY Yankees in Tampa, pitched himself to a 9-1 record. He earned himself a promotion to the AA affiliate Trenton Thunder. This is where I first heard of the guy and wow, did he make an impression.

Posting a 5-0 record with the Thunder including two separate outings when he fired 10k’s each, this kid made me even more excited about the Yankees future than I already was. When you consider we have prospects like Gleyber Torres, Clint Frazier, and Chance Adams, we Yankee fans have a lot to look forward to. Littell made it even better.

Then, we traded him in the Jamie Garcia deal. He moves from Trenton, NJ to Chattanooga, TN and begins his tenure in the Twins system. I kept watching each start (or listening online), and in six starts earned 5 wins, no losses and one no decision.

Let’s do the math.

The dude is 19-1. That’s crazy. 19-1? 19-1!


Zack Littell with Minnesota Twins AA affiliate Chattanooga Lookouts

I am no a scout. I’m not a pro. I have never been either and maybe I listen to too much NY Sports Talk radio. But 19-1 doesn’t just happen. That isn’t luck or doctoring a ball with a Blarney Stone. That takes something much more.

Yes, he has had some solid run support. The Thunder and Lookouts can hit and they are leading their respective divisions and they’ve scored some runs for him when he needed them. there is no denying it, but it has to be more than that.

It’s intellect.

You’d agree with me would you not, that the role of pitcher is more than fastballs, curves and off-speed stuff? it requires patience, cunning, a little risk taking and good judgement. These are important items in this thinking man’s game, right?

Littell has a good dose of that necessary brainpower and seems to be getting wiser with each start.

When I watch him pitch I don’t see him as the overpowering, I’m gonna shave your stubble with a 4-seam fastball intimidation approach type of pitcher. He thinks things through.

Does he think too much?

No idea. I’m not in his head.

Does he get rattled and if yes, is he too hard on himself when he does?

Still no idea. Still not in his head.

He probably does. I mean, we all do. But what I saw in person, and what I have watched on my computer screen, is the deliberate and thoughtful pitching approach of a ballplayer who knows his future is dependent on far more than a strong arm and a filthy curveball.

That’s what you don’t see or immediately assume in a 19-1 record.


Zack Littell with the Trenton Thunder earlier this year

He makes mistakes of course. Ask the guys he’s plunked, there’s been like 14 of them (ha ha, sorry, just kidding) … but in his defense no one’s perfect. Besides, none of his mistakes have been overwhelming. None of them have been very costly. That doesn’t just happen either. That’s repeatedly using sound judgement in pitch selection and execution.

It is also being willing to make the mistakes he needs to, while simultaneously working to establish a balance of technique, strength and discernment. Clearly he has the raw talent to do well in baseball. His numbers support that beyond the W/L. He has an average of 8.2k’s per 9 innings pitched and 2.3bb/9 innings and a Strikeout to Walk ration of 3.63 to 1. He hasn’t lost since April 21. He is a pitcher who will outsmart hitters. Selfishly, those are my favorite pitchers in baseball.

So, my argument on behalf of Littell is this: to have wisdom at such a young age of 21, is good fortune. Maybe even a gift.   But to process it, use it knowingly and execute effectively as a result of it … well … that may be a bit of wisdom beyond his years.

Baseball is and will always be a thinking man’s game and I feel this should be taken into consideration when the panel votes for their USA Today MiLB Player of the Year.

Again, all five guys have a shot; all five guys can make a solid argument.

But when I look at his 19-1 record, it is clear he has learned from past starts,  is present and in the moment at game-time and he is carefully and methodically constructing a future as a big league ballplayer using more than his arm.

Sparkee – Baseball’s Hidden Therapeutic Gem?

Earlier this week I wrote about going to Minor League Baseball games and how it provides an affordable and enjoyable form of therapy for me.  Then I started to wonder, when going to therapy, do you need a therapist?

Now, before you say “Duh!” hear me out.

The blog post discussed how watching the game of baseball, live and in person, is therapy in and of itself.  Nine in the field, one at the plate and three umps…are these already my therapists?

Then I thought, don’t we need someone to guide us along? Someone brilliant?  Someone empathetic?

Enter, Sparkee.

For 20 years Sparkee has been one of the most recognizable faces of the Somerset Patriots.  Many would consider him the hardest working mascot of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball.

But a therapist?

I don’t know.  That may be asking a lot.

So I decided to go online to find out what makes a good therapist.

Here is what I learned.  Listening skills, empathy, social skills and communication are key.  There is no doubt Sparkee is a great listener.  He is empathetic and understanding.  He has awe-inspiring social skills and when he communicates, he does so quietly but effectively.

I thought this was too easy.  So I chose to dig deeper.  Here is what I learned and I’ll let you be the judge.

Me and Sparkee

Putting his exceptional listening skills to work, Sparkee pays close attention to my concerns.


To be an effective therapist one must …

… possess a sophisticated set of interpersonal skills.

Well, this is easy.  That is the core of who he is.  You see, friends, with Sparkee, he says it all with his eyes.  One tilt of his head and one long look he can turn any mood we’re in into a good one.  Granted, the sheer size of his 18-inch eyes play an influential part, but that’s part of his charm.

… help you to feel you can trust them.

Trust is important.  I believe an infinite amount of patience and genuine kindness are important components to trust-building techniques   There is more to it of course but it’s a start.  I would contend that anyone who has watched Sparkee at work knows he is one patient pup.  He will interact with an endless stream of kids making sure he doesn’t miss a fist bump, a High-5, a paw shake, a family picture and so much more.

… be committed to developing a consistent and acceptable treatment plan.

How does 70 home games sound?  Even if it rains, we get another chance on another day.  Plus don’t forget playoff games! Now THAT is commitment!


He is so good.  Just look at those eyes of his.  Engaged. Alert.  Focused.


… involves themselves in outside training and education.

“Crack!  It is high…it is far…it issssssssssss …. GONE!” a la John Sterling.

My boy knocks this one deep and over the TD Bank scoreboard!

Over the past 20 years Sparkee has traveled Central New Jersey making hundreds of appearances, meeting thousands of people, visiting schools, participating in fundraisers, educating kids on the detriments of bullying and so much more. That is some impressive stuff.

… be sensitive toward your cultural background.

Sparkee is a dog.  We are human.

That qualifies as differing cultural backgrounds, yes?

So does that mean he understands us humans?

You watched the video I posted above by now, right?  If not scroll up and watch.  I’ll wait.

OK.  Good.  What is Sparkee doing?

He is standing on top of the dugout and motioning for us to clap.

So what do we do?

We clap.

He claps faster.

We clap faster.

He claps louder.

We clap louder.

     (are you noticing a pattern here?)

Then, he uses his paws to pull his jersey forward, motioning to the name across his chest.  It reads Patriots.

What do we do?

Like a bunch of lemmings with hyena vocal chords we yell “PATRIOOOOOOOTS!!!!!!”

Then we do it again.

And again.

Meanwhile he has not uttered a single word.

Wow.  Just, wow.

He has us eating out of the palm of his paw.

Pavlov’s dog?  Pppptttthhhh, please.  Pavlov Schmavolv!

This isn’t a case of Pavlov’s Dog,  We’re “Sparkee’s Humans.”

He has trained US!

So, yeah.  Yeah, I think he can handle different cultures.

Sparkee Prescription-II

Fortunately for all of us, his heart is twice the size of Somerset County and he only uses his powers for good, not evil.  Or, more to the point, he – along with his best friends Slider and General Admission –  creates an environment of hope, inspiration and joy at every game.

So now, I leave it to you.  Would you hire Sparkee as your therapist?

I would.

Actually, I did.

After all, he has already written me a prescription for more live baseball.

If that is how he plans on treating what ails me, I hope I never get better.

*                             **                             **                             *

Below, a brief clip of our session together.