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Columns

MY LOUSY WORLD: Step right up folks!

It just wouldn't be fair to miss the fair again with all its fare. It's almost a sin to miss out on the nostalgic delights the Park County Fair offers. It's a smorgasbord of sensory pleasures — the sights, sounds and smells. Who isn't taken back to a simpler time by the teasing smell of cotton candy, chili dogs and goat dung wafting from the 4-H pens?

Fairs, carnivals and Las Vegas are our brief flights from monotonous reality. Only on certain pre-destined occasions can one indulge to gross excess with none of the normal repercussions.

God in his mercy decreed Thanksgiving, New Year's Day, Labor Day and county fairs shall be exempt from caloric concerns. “And God said, ‘Let there be Corn Dogs.' And He saw that it was good.” (Genesis 50:27).

County fairs are also quite safe, but the fair's dysfunctional nephew, the carnival … now that's a greased pig of a different color.

Remember the movie “The Jerk,” where a naïve Navin Johnson suddenly realizes in his early 20s he's not black and his sharecropper family had adopted him? He hitchhikes to the city and lands a job as a carnival weight guesser. After a rough start, he nearly perfects his sales pitch, “Step right up folks; let the weight guesser guess your weight. Fool the guesser and win some crap.”

But the dark carnival underbelly snarls when Patty, the psycho, motorcycle stuntwoman, leads Navin back to her trailer and unconventionally guesses his weight. His innocence was lost that day; that trailer was a rockin' and his child-like squeal of, “Wow, this is just like a carnival ride!” reverberated throughout the grounds.

That classic movie, called by some “The greatest story ever told,” is one for another day. But I know from personal experience the shady side of carnivals. I went to my first one during my first summer in Cody at 16. My brother Jess and wife Marti were between homes, so lived in a big house on Alger Avenue with church friends, Larry and Lucille Moerike.

The Moerikes often took troubled youth into their home, and a wild young teen named Dave also resided there that summer. Dave and I had little in common, except we were both young and were made to go to church with the Moerikes. One Sunday afternoon, Dave invited me to walk to the carnival with him.

After quaffing a couple snow cones, we found ourselves sitting in a caged cubicle to be spun by hard-boiled carnies before rotating skyward like a ferris wheel. Noticing our brake was non-functional, Dave says to the operator with an air of arrogance, “Hey man, don't spin our cage; it's broke!” “Oh, you no want spin cage, huh? O-o-ookay…” this heavily-tattooed Spanish fellow said sarcastically as he spun the cage so long and hard, he probably has rotator cuff problems to this day.

During our third, torturous go-around — while dangling upside down at the top of the arc — Dave prepared me for battle. “You ready to fight when we get out of here?”

Fight? Me? Heck, I was just a sweet Pennsylvania boy that wanted to play baseball, drink A&W Root Beer, and maybe sneak a Playboy into Moerikes' house occasionally. I had never drank, smoked, or even had my weight guessed. I was a wiry rassler, but the closest thing to a real punch fight I'd been in was a slap-fight with my older sister, which I lost. And now I'm gonna stagger off this ride, probably vomit violently, and throw hands with hairy, sweaty older men, the likes of which I'd previously only seen in prison movies?

“Fight? Ummm; yeah … I guess …” I meekly replied to my new, hardened friend fresh from reform school. As predicted, I nearly fell on my face on the ramp, and finally steadied long enough to notice Dave and this spinner thug were nose-to-nose. I staggered towards them and two other irritable carnie goons stopped me. One jerked off his glasses, stared only inches from my eyes, and asked, “Is this the **!!* giving you all the !!**?” (a few more expletives I wasn't familiar with.)

Thankfully, the wrath was directed back at Dave, who was now threatening to round up “some of our buddies” to meet in City Park for a rumble. The carnies must have been on break, 'cause they enthusiastically agreed. Next thing I knew, I'm lagging behind a group of about 10 big Cody boys Dave had probably met “at camp,” walking towards about a dozen Hispanic fellows. It was West Side Story, but there was to be no dancing.

I was never so happy for a police presence in my life when they intervened and sent everyone packing. As I told Dave later, “Them cats was lucky. I was on the wrestling team in junior high.”

So this week, I'm fairly sure I'll make it to the fair. It's so much safer than the amusement parks of yesteryear. Heck, I might even get wild and have me some funnel cake.

While watching the British Open on television last weekend, The Sports Guy's mind got to wandering. After all, it had to be the most boring major sports championship since the Giants-Ravens puntathon in Super Bowl 35.

ESPN.com columnist Gene Wojciechowski, a name I'm admittedly throwing in here because I know it will give my proofreader fits, compared Sunday's final round of the Open to staring in the mirror for four and a half hours and watching your eyebrow hair grow. My eyebrows are evidently more exciting than Wojciechowski's, because at 11 a.m. last Sunday, that would have sounded like a welcome proposition.

If, as former NFL head coach Herm Edwards is fond of saying, you play the game to win, then Sunday's final round of the British Open should have consisted solely of Louis Oosthuizen (there's another bone for the ol' proofreader). Everyone else was simply going through the motions of conservatively playing to not lose a tournament they weren't winning.

The 2010 edition of the British Open stirred up as much excitement about golf as vanilla stirs up interest in an ice cream buffet. Apparently the ‘major' in this leg of golf's major titles was a modifier describing the boredom one received by tuning in.

In the midst of the nondescript play by golf's supposed best and brightest, yours truly caught himself marveling at just one thing. The Old Course at St. Andrews deserves a place alongside blood transfusions, Nikola Tesla and the advent of the forward pass as things truly ahead of their time.

Think about it, faithful reader. We're talking about a golf course layout established in the mid-1800s that, with relatively few changes, remains relevant in a sport where oversized, aerodynamic, depleted uranium driver heads, graphite shafts, square grooves and balls engineered to spin on command have virtually re-written the sport over the past 15 years.

By contrast, consider that Augusta National, usually heralded as the gold-standard against which all other American courses should be compared, was constructed nearly a full century after the Old Course. It has been forced over the past decade to make numerous layout changes to avoid being overwhelmed by technology.

Then there are courses like Denver's famed Cherry Hills, site of the 1960 U.S. Open where Arnold Palmer rallied from seven strokes back on the final day to claim victory. Cherry Hills was removed from the U.S. Open rotation decades after its 1923 construction because the advance of technology had rendered the course too short for major golf. Despite two concerted efforts to lengthen the layout, it is still considered too short to serve as the host for a modern men's major (although the 2012 U.S. Amateur will be contested there).

Lest this be construed as a lament that they just don't build ‘em like they used to, let me be very clear. They wouldn't build them like this at all today.

The Old Course features seven so-called “common” greens, meaning that two tee boxes are playing to different hole placements on the same green. For example, the green for hole 3 also has the flag that folks playing hole 15 are aiming for.

The tee shot on hole 17 at the Old Course features a blind carry over the corner of a hotel. That's the sort of thing typically reserved for a round of Combat Golf on the Playstation.

Try proposing either of those features today and see how quickly the lawyers step in and object for fear of the ensuing lawsuits.

The Old Course has one other unique feature not seen in the modern era — it was designed to be played backwards. Three days out of each year, golfers can do something that I imagine would be very frowned upon at the Powell Golf Club by stepping onto the first teebox and aiming toward the hole 17 green, playing their entire round in reverse.

In retrospect, that's probably the only way Sunday's final round could have held any intrigue. At least I have a new-found appreciation for my eyebrows.

SPORTS GUY: Where did the summer go?

Once upon a time, The Sports Guy used to bemoan mid-summer. The period from mid-June until early August looked every bit as lonely as a late-night drive between, say, Lander and Rawlins.

So it is difficult to believe, as I sit here typing this column, that it will only be one month until I'll be attending pre-season practices, hurriedly typing up team previews and fall schedules and preparing to usher in another year of 20,000 miles on my car scurrying here and there to various sporting events.

In other words, I'd better get busy learning all the new offensive plays in the latest version of EA Sports College Football game, because my free time in August appears destined to be a tad smaller in size.

Actually, the local sports scene is already starting its buildup to the opening of fall practices. The Powell Pioneers just clinched another Northwest Conference title. Starting next week, fans will be able to take the short drive west to Cody to cheer the team on to a hopeful North Division tournament title and a spot in the state tournament field.

Little League and Babe Ruth teams will also be entering state tournament play in the not-so-distant future. Will any of those tournaments result in an extension of baseball into the month of August? Only time will tell.

Even if August doesn't contain any baseball on the agenda, it won't be much after the calendar rolls over that fans will start to get a taste for Northwest College athletics. If you want to get an early look at what your defending Region IX North champion Northwest College Trapper volleyball team looks like, circle Saturday, Aug. 7, on your calendar. The team will face off against a compilation of Northwest College alumni in an exhibition match.

One week later, Northwest College's inaugural soccer teams will trot onto a field in Billings for a pre-season scrimmage against Rocky Mountain College to officially usher in the sport's start on the NWC campus.

That same week, high school sports action —not practice, action —will get started with the Powell High School golf tournament. From that point on, we'll be on a multi-month thrill ride of non-stop sporting action for another school year.

So if you fancy yourself a sports fanatic, faithful reader (and obviously you do if you're reading this space), take the time to relax and enjoy the little bit of spare time that you have remaining. The calendar might read mid-July, but the summer swoon is almost over. In one month, we'll be hopping all over the place with another school year's worth of sports action.

"What I've got they used to call the blues; nothing is really wrong, feeling like I don't belong … Walking around, some kind of lonely clown … Rainy days and Monday always get me down.”

That '70s hit was sung by brother/sister duo, “The Carpenters.” What I've personally been feeling lately though, is not what they call the blues, and something really is wrong.

My computer dictionary describes depression as “…a persistent feeling of unhappiness and hopelessness,” listing symptoms like, “…dejection, poor concentration, lack of energy, inability to sleep, and sometimes suicidal tendencies.”

It's not like these feelings are total strangers; they've visited me every five years or so since I was 19. Like the Carpenter's second verse, “What I feel has come and gone before; no need to talk it out; we know what it's all about. Walking around, nothing to do but frown, rainy days and Mondays …”

My depression has nothing to do with the weather, but today's thunderstorms clapped an undeniable analogy.

When I took my dogs for a Sunday walk to the nearby canal, the sun was shining. But within half-hour, we were stumbling back up that muddy hill being pelted by chilling rain and threatened by thunder and lightning.

That's how the segue from wellness to depression seems. So warm and pleasant, it's difficult to imagine rain ever falling again. But suddenly there's instability in the air, dark clouds hovering low, howling winds, pouring rain and thunder rumbling dire warnings. The daily forecast is always, “Unseasonably cold, wet and dark,” with emergency storm warnings, “Seek refuge immediately and don't venture outside.”

The '70s song lyrics circling my mind lately is Terry Jacks' Seasons in the Sun: “Goodbye to you my trusted friend. We've known each other since we were 9 or 10. Together we climbed hills or trees, learned of love and ABCs, skinned our hearts and skinned our knees. Goodbye my friend it's hard to die, when all the birds are singing in the sky. Now that spring is in the air, pretty girls are everywhere, when you see them I'll be there … We had joy we had fun, we had seasons in the sun, but the hills that we climbed, were just seasons out of time…”

One of my most trusted boyhood friends is Lester Stephenson. Of all our Pennsylvania Conemaugh Township High '72 graduates, Les is undoubtedly the most financially successful. After owning restaurants and hotels all over the country, several years ago he moved back home and bought a local business. When I was visiting my dying Mom in April, we got together. I e-mailed Les last week, telling him that my “thoughts in knots” that began that week still remain without remedy.

Part of Les' thoughtful, empathetic reply was, “Yeah Doug, I think we all go thru some things you're experiencing.

Maybe it's our age or circumstances, old memories, missing lost loved ones, etc. I know your OCD probably intensifies it, but I believe this is kind of a crucial time in our lives. We're not young, we're not old, we've achieved some things, haven't achieved others, miss the guidance and steadiness of those we've lost. I don't know — I think it's a screwed up age to be!

“One of the reasons I moved back from Atlanta was because I was starting to feel lost. I was struggling with my faith, the way I felt about myself, priorities, etc. I needed to get back to something familiar…”

Once in the late '90s, I felt my regular Cody crew had disrespected me the previous day at the gym. Next day I arrived announcing, “You have killed the clown. The clown is dead!” I was half-jokingly threatening to not be the group jester any longer since my feelings had been hurt. It didn't last long though; a clown must perform.

These last few months, I've felt like the class clown inside me has literally been murdered and replaced by an insecure bully — a confused and frightened introvert.

My favorite song in 1971 ended with, “Now looking back over the years, and whatever else that appears; I remember I cried when my father died, never wishing to hide the tears. And at 65 years old, my mother God rest her soul — couldn't understand why the only man, she had ever loved had been taken, leaving her to start with a heart so badly broken…” “… And when she passed away, I cried and cried all dayyyy. Alone again… naturally.”

I cried the day Mom died this spring, just like I'm sure she cried all day when my sister Wanda died in '05 and sister Brenda died last year. Maybe too much death is what triggered this mystifying presence back into my life; who knows?

But until the clown inside me can be resurrected, I have warm memories of Mom, Dad, Wanda and Brenda — and great old song lyrics to walk me through this raging storm inside my head.

Athletic recruiting is a dog-eat-dog world of the first order. Coaches and colleges are constantly looking for a foothold — any foothold —that might help tighten their grip on a prospective recruit.

In the early 1980s, the University of Nebraska was ahead of its time with a strength and conditioning room unparalleled in size and scope. Recruits got a dreamy, glazed look staring at it and signed on the dotted line, no questions asked. Rivals lined up en masse to tour it during the off-season. Over the next 15 years, copycat facilities appeared on virtually every Division I campus in America.

Unbeknownst to many — myself included, until recently — Northwest College has its own recruiting hook.

No, I'm not talking about Johnson Fitness Center, although that's certainly a strong selling point for prospective student-athletes. Northwest College's hook is something far subtler.

Gatorade. More specifically, Gatorade on tap.

The Sports Guy recently had a chance to visit with some of NWC's newest wrestling recruits last week during the college's annual wrestling camp. As I typically do, I asked each what attracted them to the Trappers' program.

I'm accustomed to hearing responses regarding community atmosphere, team success and quality coaching. I am not used to hearing Gatorade.

Nevertheless, there it was, straight from the lips of three of the Trappers' newest commitments. Gatorade.

Thanks to Pepsi, Trapper athletic teams are able to enjoy the benefits of having Gatorade. In their locker rooms.

On tap.

“It does make a difference,” noted Trapper wrestling coach Jim Zeigler, noting Gatorade has always been available on tap in the college's training room. “These guys like it. It's something that we have that other schools don't.”

Now, it should be noted that all three recruits also voiced their like of the close-knit nature of the Trappers' wrestling team and Coach Zeigler. Nevertheless, the fact that all three, in the space of a short conversation, also brought up Gatorade — well, that's just something you don't hear every day.

We'll have to wait and see how the new faces fare on the mat for Northwest College. For now, though, it's pretty clear what's putting the ‘G' in these aspiring national champions.

***

With another Cody Stampede successfully in the books, The Sports Guy finds Wyoming's culture growing on him. In fact, should I ever contemplate a career change, I think I've found my second calling.

No, I'm not going to be one of those brave souls clinging to the back of a bull for the eight-second ride of my life.

For starters, I think I can safely say that both the ride and my life would last less than eight seconds if I ever made that decision.

We can ditto that for events that entail me being seated on the back of a bucking horse and/or voluntarily jumping off a horse to grab a steer by the horns. For that matter, I shudder to think of the number of ways something could go horridly amiss if I ever attempted to throw a lasso.

In short, faithful reader, rest assured that you will never, ever see my name moving up the PRCA leaderboards.

But I think there might be an opening for me in the world of stock contracting. More specifically, I want to be the person in charge of coming up with names for the bulls and broncs used in PRCA competition. Sitting around a room thinking up monikers like “Steak Your Claim,” “T-Bone's Revenge” and “Too Rare” — that's the sort of thing that speaks to my creative side.

AN OPEN BOOK: Cock of the walk

When our chickens came home in mid-May, the light Brahma — a large breed with feathery feet — was my favorite of the flock.

Thankfully, chickens aren't too sensitive, so the fact that I have a favorite doesn't seem to upset the others.

I named said favorite Gertrude, and I put my all into making her my pet. Disappointingly, she would have none of it. In fact, Gertie proved to be the least friendly of the bunch. And, boy, was she bossy to her other compadres. It was pretty entertaining to watch her herd the others with her top-of-the-pecking-order assuredness.

Then, some disturbing things started to happen. Gertrude got bigger — bigger than the other hens — and she got more aggressive. Soon, her comb began getting larger and redder.

When, last weekend, we heard strange noises emanating from Chicken Land, our fears were confirmed. Gertrude should have been named Gabe, or Gaylord, even Giles. Since it's hard to change boats in the middle of a stream and all that, we're having a hard time calling her — er, him — anything but Gertrude. A co-worker suggested calling him “Gertrude the Dude,” which has a nice ring to it ... For now he's known as “The Chicken Formerly Known as Gertrude.” (Yes, a blatant rip-off from “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince,” but, hey, it works!)
Over the last couple of days, what began as a croaky, feeble attempt at crowing has become a pronounced — and very noisy — “COCK-A-DOODLE-DOO.”

Now, remember, we live in the middle of town — and while Cody has very lenient animal ordinances, the noise ordinance specifically addresses nuisances like, say, crowing roosters.

Keep in mind as well that, right across our backyard fence, lives Big Al Simpson. I don't want to have to do any explaining to Al about why he was awakened at 5:30 a.m. to the sound of a crowing rooster.

So, the Chicken Formerly Known as Gertrude is looking for a new place to roost.

(My dad's suggestion of chicken and noodles was met with disdain, mind you. As was a co-worker's over-zealous reaction to fried chicken.)

We've asked our neighbors to bear with us for a few days, but, until we find him a good home, we'll cringe (and bury our heads under the pillows) whenever we hear his mad crowing in the backyard.

Postscript: the Chicken Formerly Known as Gertrude — now with the distinguished name of Gerard — is comfortably at home at Leigh Dvarishkis' country spread, having been swapped for a sweet little red hen we're calling Henny Penny.

I consider myself pretty much a face-to-face communicator. I don't really love talking on the phone — though I hate that my little sister refuses to answer hers (Hallie, I hope you're reading this.) Texting will do in a pinch, but it doesn't take the place of real communication ... You know the spiel.

But, I'll come right out and say it: I love Facebook. And I do mean love — with a capital L.

It may just be that my birthday was last month. Unless you hate birthdays, it's pretty hard not to like Facebook on your “special day.”

Before Facebook, my best and oldest friend in the entire world didn't remember my birthday unless I was lucky.

Suffice it to say, I'm not the luckiest person as a rule. But this year: The birthday wishes kept flooding in! Even from Princess Stephanie, the aforementioned friend most likely to forget. It was better than a flaming chocolate cake — and calorie-free to boot.

Birthdays aside, thanks to Facebook, I'm now in touch with people I never thought I'd hear from again (and, frankly, with some I didn't care to). Formerly close friends — and friends not so close — who had disappeared from my life now share pictures, funny thoughts and, of course, many, many crude remarks.

On any given day, I know my cyber-friends' political leanings, religious or non-religious views, musical passions, curse word preferences — even, weirdly, if some of them are wearing underwear. It's a strange world out there ...
But perhaps my favorite thing about America's favorite “social networking site” is a Facebook love story.

For the sake of privacy (that's a big thing on FB), I'll call the two people Jack and Jill. Jack and Jill are both longtime friends of mine. Jill graduated from Cody High School with me — Jack, the year before.

While I remain friends with each of them to this day, our separate friendships blossomed at different times in life.

Jill and I met in fifth grade. She was at my 10th birthday party when we put balloons in our tops and paraded around the neighborhood in hysterics. We were two of the “smart girls” in junior high and high school and thus had our share of classes together. We spent some time together in college, but Jill was much more serious about school than I was at the time.

Jack, on the other hand, came into my life when I started venturing into ... let's just call it the more wild side of things. He was smart, funny, an amazing writer and musician, and we became good friends and party buddies.

So now, years later, I'm friends with both of them on Facebook. Pretty soon, I notice they've also friended (yes, that is a word) each other. Over the course of several months, their comments to each other become more and more frequent.

Jack, the consummate bad boy, started making an occasional soft, kind remark (not too often, mind you, and they were usually directed right at Jill). Jill, on the other hand, started dropping the “F-bomb” regularly. You see where this is going ...

At one point, I thought to my matchmaker self, “Maybe I should suggest that they get together...” But I convinced myself to mind my own business — not an easy task. But their back-and-forth continued — complete with little winking, smiley faces. ; )

And I couldn't resist: I sent the message to Jill. “Hey, it seems like you and Jack have a lot in common. You talk a lot about the same stuff. Maybe I'm crazy, but I think you should get together.”

Suffice it to say, they were miles ahead of me. Six months, numerous cross-country flights, and some “let's introduce our kids to each other” visits later, they're madly in love.

Two people whose paths likely would never have crossed again, who have suffered through personal crises and failed marriages, have found each other. All because of Facebook — what's not to like about that?

(And, yes, my little sis is my Facebook friend, too. Sometimes, she even responds to my posts.)

SPORTS GUY: And so it begins

Last summer, I dared to tred into history's footsteps and quote from a 1965 gubernatorial proclamation, reclaiming the title of Wyoming's baseball capital for Powell. With the calendar transitioning to the month of July, the time has come for Powell's various teams to defend that lofty status.

It was only fitting, then, that on the eve of calendars turning from June to baseball's title month, the Powell Pioneers delivered a warning shot across the bow of the rest of the state. The premature fireworks display came in the form of a 32-run explosion on Tuesday night.

There isn't a team in the state that wouldn't gladly accept 32 runs as its output in a doubleheader. For a single game, that sort of total is practically unheard of in video game circles, much less on an actual grass-and-dirt stadium surface.

It was, as best I can tell, the greatest offensive output by a Wyoming baseball team this summer. Gillette shelled Rapid City for 28 runs in what appears to have been the previous 2010 summer high.

Admittedly, those 32 runs on Tuesday night mean very little aside from giving the Pioneers the inside track now for a No. 1 seed when district tournament play opens on July 22. Powell won't be able to carry any of that scoring surplus forward as post-season action opens. Scoreboards will still begin each game reading 0-0.

Still, there is a significance to the number.

The 2010 edition of the Pioneers has, in some ways, been a victim of its own prior success. I'm probably as much to blame as anyone for being blinded by it.

A stellar 26-11 summer has been lost in the relative familiarity of been there, done that. One year ago, that's a record we would have been celebrating. This year, it looks almost pedestrian, despite the fact that it has been achieved with as many as two regulars out of the lineup for two weeks of the summer.

The Pioneers' 12-game win streak in June was nice. But, again, it probably didn't turn heads around the community the way it should have because last year's team chained together 13 W's.

Of course, we forget that 13-game streak was believed at the time to be the longest on record for the club.

Two hitters clobbering the ball at an over .500 clip? We've seen that. A team drilling the ball in play at a .400 clip?

Impressive as it may be, that's a sequel as well.

So as we sit here at T-minus three weeks away from the start of Legion baseball's post-season, it was indeed refreshing to see the Pioneers step out of their own shadow with a statement so thunderous, so outrageously inconceivable, that it simply cannot be ignored. There's no guarantee that a title will come home to Powell in July, but the message has now been sent — the road to the title will, most likely, run through Powell.

There's still much work to be done. Pitching needs to be sharpened. Double-digit strikeout performances by the batting order need to be exorcized once and for all from the scorebook. Defensive play in the field can always be fine-tuned.

But the call to arms has now been issued. Not only the Pioneers, but the Babe Ruth and Little League squads should hear its call and respond with alacrity.

The calendar has officially turned to baseball's title month. Let the excitement and anticipation begin to build.

There should be a gradual buzz building in the days ahead as state tournaments move nearer. March may have its madness, but July holds fields full of dreams.

Here in Wyoming's baseball capital, that's just the way we like it.

Every now and then, you run into someone who jogs your memory back to a simpler time. I encountered one of those old friends recently, (let's call him “Mark Skates,” since that is his real name).

We saw one another at (let's say “church,” although that is not where it was), and since he was my American Legion baseball coach in 1973 and a softball coach/teammate years later, we commonly talk sports.

After Mark pointed out how ridiculous my hair looked, I realized he regularly reads my column. But then he asked an intriguing question. “So how come you write about the old baseball days, but never about the softball years?”

I pondered, then said, “Ya know, Coach, you're not the first one who's asked me that. And as God is my designated hitter, you shall see a softball column soon.”

Today, I keep that vow to Mark, and to Sen. Hank Coe, who had asked me that same question several years ago at a local spot that also wasn't church.

Throughout my 20s and early 30s, Cody Men's Softball League was a bastion of male revelry. It was the best of times; it was the worst of times ... actually, there wasn't anything “worst” about it; I was young, quick, had long, thick hair, and I could run the bases without carrying an inhaler.

My first year after Legion baseball was dedicated to a team with my two brothers and our elder statesman/coach/pitcher, Irv Gerber, called the “Men's Christians.” Opposing us with mocking, maddening glee, in that league of about a dozen teams, was a team officially called “Chief Service.” But my brother Jess and I both recall they derisively referred to themselves as “The Heathens.”

Oh, Mark Skates and his merry men weren't a bunch of atheists or anything; I'm sure most of them were church-going young men who took communion and went to confession. But their confessions were probably a lot more fun to listen to than ours.

Since I was no altar boy myself at 20, I secretly hung around after the games to drink beer with the Heathens in the shadows. It was dubious, I guess, but I never saw it as a betrayal of Judas' proportions or anything.

So here's Skates, Jerry Skar, little George Francis, John Wiley and an entire family of “Ballingers” going against us Christians. Oh, and did I mention Bill “Blackie” Blake, often wearing some kind of fake, obscene nose, passing around a bottle of tequila between innings? How was our sincere, pre-game prayer gonna compete with THAT?

We had our big orange cooler of ice water and paper cups, versus their beer and tequila. Heck, occasionally they'd even carry their beers along while running the bases. That really got our goat, not to mention our oxen.

We chattered desperate clichés like, “Hey batter; hey batter … swing, batter!” They guffawed things like, “Hey, Francis popped up; guess who's buying the beer next game?” They they'd convulse in laughter, as we'd roll our eyes and try to turn the other cheek.

Oh, but how we Christians came to hate those Heathens. Our legendary games always ended 8-7, or 5-4, or 12-11 … always in their favor. As Skates reminded me the other night, “I remember one game, you guys were up 5-0 in the bottom of the ninth … we came back and beat you 6-5.” I said to Mark, “You're a dear to remember!”

We played a season or two at those old, short fields, with an over-sized ball we called “Melon Ball.” Coe hit home runs with irritating regularity, Loren Grosskopf once hit five in one game, and soon the league expanded to new, longer fields on Blackburn Avenue.

By that time, the rapture had taken place for the Men's Christian team and I had taken my under-rated skills to free agency. I played a few years for “Hidden Valley Ranch” with the Poulsen brothers, Alan Richardson and big Marv Nelson among other notables. Then for the bulk of my softball career, I found myself on “Jack Sports”… which was the Heathens under a new name. Suddenly, Blackie Blake, “the legend,” seemed almost mortal.

Oh, I joined in with their jokes about always beating our Men's Christian team, and my new, heathenistic teammates laughed like drunken hyenas. A piece of my heart, though, remained with that disbanded gaggle of second-place warriors that were heckled during team prayers.

And it begs the theological question, “Did God abandon the Men's Christians during those losses?” Certainly not, but he only helps those who help themselves. He wasn't the one over-throwing first base and misjudging fly balls during all those late-inning chokes.

Quick hits and short bits while staring at my calendar in disbelief over the fact that I'll be changing it to July next week.

• Where has the time gone? It seems like just last month that I was standing huddled and shivering in wind and rain at the Wyoming State Track and Field championships.

• Oh, wait, that really was last month.

• Then again, it was just this past Sunday that The Sports Guy was attempting to fly into Billings, only to have his flight recalled to Denver due to the threat of icing.

• In hindsight, that decision probably saved him from being on the ground for Billings' first tornado in more than half a century. Funny how seeming inconveniences sometimes turn out to have deeper purpose.

• Now that the dust has settled, it appears all that conference realignment anxiety in college sports was more shadow than substance. For those needing help keeping up with the changes, here's the abbreviated version — the Mountain West trades Utah for Boise State, the PAC-10 and Big Ten gain conference championship games and the Big XII, for now, loses its title game.

• Then again, Texas and Oklahoma still face off in the Red River Rivalry each autumn, so in reality the Big XII has the same title game as the past several seasons.

• I love soccer, and I'm really trying to get into the spirit of the World Cup. It's just very hard to do since I have to watch every game with the volume muted to preserve my sanity from the buzzing of those godforsaken horns South Africans love to blow. Are we really expected to get into the game when it sounds like we're being swarmed by angry wasps?

• Besides, all this talk of growing American passion for the sport is largely window dressing. The Los Angeles Lakers win — yawn — another NBA title and cars burn while so-called fans riot in the streets. Team USA gets jobbed by an official's call and watches the would-be game-winning goal come off the board against Slovenia, and fans have to endure 10 minutes of baseball highlights before hearing about it in the sports report.

• Compare that to France, where government officials flew mid-tournament to South Africa in an attempt to spur on their national side, and you instantly recognize the sport has a long way to go in this country to enjoy the same level of passion it does globally.

• It has been 16 days, 12 games and three states since they last appeared in Powell, but the Pioneers will finally resume baseball play on their home field this weekend. It's a great chance for area fans to reacquaint themselves with the local American Legion baseball roster as the team hosts the Heavy Metal Classic this Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

• Hard as it may be to believe, the Pioneers feature two players currently batting over .500 this summer. Grant Geiser and Scotty Jameson are putting the ball in play at clips that most slow-pitch softball players would be happy with.

• Three others — Tyler England, Auston Carter and Colter Bostick —head into the weekend with batting averages at or above the .400 mark. Could it be possible that this year's Pioneer squad is swinging the sticks better than last year's edition?

• Here's a tip of the ol' ball cap to Powell's Kaleb Asay for his recent national collegiate title in saddle bronc riding. Enjoy the feeling that comes from being the best there is at what you do, and good luck working your way up the PRCA money list in pursuit of a larger title the rest of the year.

• While on the subject of being the best there is, how many Powell High School and Powell Middle School athletes reading this column are regular visitors to the weight room this summer? Your competitors are. Championships are won in the off-season.

Page 58 of 60

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