OPENING DAY

Opening Day.  Mention those words to any sports fan, and, immediately, he knows what it means and to which sport it pertains. Not football, not basketball, not hockey.  OD means that another season of Major League Baseball is beginning.  Baseball fans look forward to OD every year.  Local newspapers step up their coverage of the local team in anticipation.  Many of them even print a daily countdown of the number of days remaining until OD.  In addition, OD occurs in the Spring, a season that symbolizes a new beginning and one which most people anticipate every year.

Most fans will acknowledge that baseball is no longer the most popular sport.  In fact, according to TV ratings, betting interest and most fan polls, football has superseded baseball. However, baseball, which has been played in the US in some form since the 1840s, is part of the social fabric of America.  Most men remember their first game of “catch” with their father or their first baseball game.  In fact, I have a more detailed recall of a World Series game I saw with my father in 1956 than I do of ballgames I saw last year.

Every fan is optimistic on OD.  Every team starts with the same 0-0 record.  None has lost a game yet.  Every team still has a chance to make the playoffs, and as we have seen in recent years, once you make the playoffs anything can happen.  For example, last year the World Champion Chicago Cubs (Wow, never thought I would ever say that!) won it all for the first time since 1908.  Think about that for a minute.  That means that no present Cubs fan, and virtually none of their fathers, were even born the last time the Cubs won before last year.

Many fans, and even some reporters, place undue emphasis on the opener forgetting or ignoring the fact that the season consists of 162 games. Over the course of a baseball season even the best teams will lose approximately 60 games. To many fans, a win OD means the season will be outstanding; a loss means the team “stinks.”

For many years, MLB had scheduled the very first game of the season in Cincinnati, usually on the first Monday in April. This was in recognition of the fact that the Reds were the first professional baseball team. The team was formed in 1869 as the Red Stockings.  Incidentally, for you trivia buffs, they went 65-0 that year, the only perfect season in baseball history.  However, several years ago MLB began scheduling Sunday night games to be televised on ESPN in prime time the night before the “official” OD.  This year there are three “pre-openers,”  the NY Yankees vs. Tampa Bay Rays, World Champion Chicago Cubs vs. the St. Louis Cardinals and the San Francisco Giants vs. the Arizona Diamondbacks.  Most teams will open on Monday, April 3.  Why multiple ODs?  TV dollars would be a good guess.

MLB has been trying to develop its international presence.  One way has been to schedule OD contests in various foreign venues.  The first one was in 1999 in Monterrey, Mexico.  For the record, the Colorado Rockies beat the San Diego Padres.  Since then, there have been eleven season openers held in international venues.  Tokyo has hosted the most, eight.  Sydney has hosted two and San Juan one.

Down through the years, OD has produced some memorable events, such as:

1. In 1907, the NY Giants, forerunner of the San Francisco Giants, forfeited the opener after rowdy fans began throwing snowballs at the players and umpires. There were not enough police on hand to restore order, so the umpires forfeited the game to the visiting Phillies.
2. In 1910 President Taft became the first President to throw out the “first ball.” In 1950 President Truman threw out the “first pitch” twice, as a righty and a lefty. In total, twelve Presidents have thrown out the “first pitch.”  Will we see President Trump follow tradition this year?  Your guess is as good as mine.  Can you imagine him doing the “wave?”
3. In 1940, Bob Feller of the Cleveland Indians, known as “Rapid Robert” because of his high velocity, threw the only OD day no-hitter in baseball history. As an aside, there were no radar guns in Feller’s day, so one day some officials attempted to “time” his fastball by having him throw a pitch against a speeding motor cycle.
4. In 1947 Jackie Robinson debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers on OD becoming the first African American to play in the major leagues since the 19th Century.
5. In 1975 Frank Robinson became the first African American to manage in the Major Leagues.
6. In 1996, John McSherry, an umpire, suffered a fatal heart attack near home plate.
7. Early in the 20th Century teams would, on occasion, open with a doubleheader. Doubleheaders used to be quite common, particularly on Sundays and holidays. Now, they are rare, and when they do occur it is usually the result of adding an extra game to make up for a rain-out.  The reason?  Money.
8. Tom Seaver started the most openers – 16. Walter Johnson pitched the most OD shutouts – nine.

9. In 1974 Henry Aaron clouted his 714th homerun tying Babe Ruth’s all-time record for career homers.

CONCLUSION

Weather is often an issue on OD.  Many games are played in northern cities where it is not unusual to have cold, damp, rainy weather in early April that is more suitable to football than baseball.  (As I write this, it is cool, damp and rainy in NY, although our reliable local meteorologists assure us the weather will be nice for Monday’s Mets home opener.)  It reminds me of one of the major criticisms of baseball, that the season is too long.   We all know the reason – tv money.  The owners like it, because it makes them rich and less dependent on attendance for revenues.  The players tolerate it, because it fuels their astronomic salaries.  As for the fans, well, they will just have to grin and bear it.

Hall of Fame pitcher, Early Wynn summed up the essence of OD thusly:  “An opener is not like any other game.  You have that anxiety to get off to a good start, for yourself and for the team.  You know that when you win the first one you can’t lose them all.”   Finally, I am reminded of that renowned philosopher Yogi Berra, who could turn a phrase with the best of them, who is reputed to have said: “A home opener is always exciting, no matter if it’s home or on the road.”

PLAY BALL!

 

PLAY BALL!

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MY HERO

Who is your hero?  Who has inspired you by exhibiting extreme courage and achievement in the face of adversity?   Is it a historical figure, like George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, or,  a religious figure, like Moses, Jesus or Muhammed, or maybe, a civil rights icon, like Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela?  Or, perhaps, it might be an ordinary person you know or know of who, while not famous, has accomplished something so truly remarkable, against such long odds that you are truly inspired.  Not all of us can point to such a person, but I can.  It is someone very close to me that I have known all his life.  It is my son, Matt.

It all began on July 5, 2015, a day I will never forget.  Like the JFK assassination and the 9/11 terrorist attacks I will never forget where I was and what I was doing when I heard the awful news.  It was a typical summer’s day in the NY area, bright and sunny.  Matt was enjoying a family day with some friends and his lovely wife and two children at a local club.  Suddenly, after swimming in the lake he became dizzy, lost vision in one eye and collapsed.  He had suffered a dissection of his carotid artery, which had triggered a massive stroke.

Luckily, there was a doctor present.  He immediately recognized what was happening and knew exactly what to do.  This doctor accompanied Matt in the ambulance and stayed with him at the local hospital to ensure the ER doctors gave him the clot-buster shot and other appropriate treatment, including emergency surgery to remove the clot within the five-six-hour window that is considered to be optimal for treating strokes.  This certainly mitigated the effects of the stroke and may even have saved his life.

My wife and I were eating dinner with friends at a local restaurant when we got the shocking telephone call that Matt had suffered a stroke.  It seemed impossible.  Matt was only 40 and in excellent physical condition.  He worked out regularly, ran and practiced jujitsu.  The caller did not know any details, not even if Matt was alive.  If you’re a parent, you know that type of telephone call is as bad as it gets.  Luckily, our friends insisted on driving us to the hospital in Westchester to which Matt was being transported (the Westchester Trauma Center).  I don’t think I was in any condition to drive.  We arrived at more or less the same time as Matt.  We were able to see him and ascertain that although he was in very serious condition, he was alive.  After the surgery he was only able to breathe with the aid of a ventilator, and his skin was the color of white porcelain.

Over the next few days the medical news was very dire.  The doctors confirmed that Matt had, indeed, suffered a massive stroke.  He was not conscious; he was paralyzed on his right side; he might need a craniotomy; he was blind in his left eye; and he had only partial vision in his right eye. He was in such bad shape that I felt elated a few days later when I squeezed his hand and felt him squeeze mine back.

The doctors told us he was facing a long, arduous recovery, one -two weeks at the hospital followed by six to nine months at a rehab facility.  In addition, they said there was a good possibility that he would never recognize us, speak, or be able to walk unassisted.  As far as returning to a normal life as a husband and father and resuming his career as a senior research analyst, that was seemingly too unrealistic to even contemplate.  (Later, Matt told us that one of the doctors had flat-out told him he would not recover sufficiently to do so.  When we asked him if that had bothered him, he said “no, I knew he was wrong.”)  I realize that doctors feel compelled to disclose all possibilities, but there is a natural tendency to focus on the most negative ones, and that was an extremely disturbing prognosis.

Over the next year.  Matt made a remarkable recovery. He was discharged from the hospital in only six days and transferred to Burke for rehab.  Not only did he have to rehabilitate himself physically, but he also had to rehab his mind and his memory.  At first, he didn’t even recall very basic elements of his life, such as the names of his wife and children and his current address.  He had to relearn how to speak.   His rate of progress was beyond anyone’s most optimistic expectations.  He attacked his rehab with a vengeance. He attended every session.  He never once told them he was in too much pain, too tired, or not in the mood, as many rehab patients do.   Many times he would cut short our visit by telling us he had to leave for a rehab session.  If they told him to do ten of something, he would do 15.  He would complete the most tedious and frustrating of tasks without complaint.  His course of rehab included robotics, which helped considerably.  Of course, it helped that he was only 40 years old and in excellent physical condition, but, nevertheless, he astounded the doctors, the therapists, and, indeed, even us with his progress.  In August 2016, after less than one month at Burke, he was discharged, although he still undergoes private rehab once a week.

CONCLUSION

Matt’s astounding recovery has included the following accomplishments:

  1. He completed his rehab at Burke and returned home to his family well ahead of schedule.
  2. The day he was discharged he accompanied his wife and son to Nassau Coliseum, which was over a one-hour drive, to see Billy Joel’s last concert there.
  3. He climbed up to the top of the Statue of Liberty.
  4. He has resumed his career as a senior research analyst at a Wall Street firm.  This is a remarkable achievement since his job is very demanding, requiring many hours of complex analysis, a high level of prolonged concentration, and high-level meetings with clients.
  5. He has completed two half marathons.  How many non-stroke victims can say that?
  6. Most importantly, has resumed his role as husband and father, and my wife and I have our son back.

During his recovery period Matt was fond of saying his full-time job was to get better.  He applied the same single-minded determination and dedication to that task as he has to everything else in his life.   He is not yet all the way back, but if you were to meet him today for the first time you would likely not realize that he had suffered a massive stroke only 20 months ago.

My wife and I know that Matt was extremely lucky that there was a doctor present who ensured he received the immediate care he needed as well as an amazing support system of friends, relatives and colleagues, and, for that, we will be eternally grateful.  However, the determination with which he attacked his rehab virtually willing himself to get better was nothing short of amazing!

We have always been very proud of Matt, but, now, he is and will always be, our hero.

TERROR IN LONDON

The UK has a significant terrorist problem.  Wednesday’s terrorist attack was not an isolated incident (a ‘one-off’ as the Brits like to say).  Nor was it an attack perpetuated by a “lone wolf,” as some originally thought.  Nor was it an attack perpetrated by foreign terrorists.  It was considerably worse.

It was a terrorist attack perpetrated by a small cadre of radical Islamic terrorists who actually live in the UK.  The actual murderer was a native-born British citizen (Kent).   One of his neighbors characterized him as a “nice guy” with a wife and young child who “enjoyed tend[ing to] his garden.  He had a long criminal record, including convictions for various violent offenses ranging from weapons possession to assault, but not for any terrorist activities.  London police authorities have stated that he had not been under investigation, and there were no indications that he was planning a terrorist attack.  It should be noted, however, that ISIS has claimed he was a “soldier” who had been directed to target countries that have been fighting jihadists.

This attack in the shadow of hallowed landmarks such as Westminster and the Parliament building while the Parliament was in session exposed the gross inadequacies of British counterterrorism policies and capabilities.  It is obvious they are in need of a major upgrade.  Moreover, I also believe it illustrates the difficulty of ferretting out such homegrown terrorists and their planned attacks beforehand.

As I write this, nine accomplices have been identified and arrested.  Their identities and backgrounds have not been revealed, and there may be more out there.  We have been told that they lived in Birmingham, a nearby city, which has long been suspected of being a hotbed of radical Islamic terrorist activities.  I suspect these accomplices will also prove to be either homegrown or individuals who entered the country after having emigrated to other EU countries.   Either way, it highlights the danger of open borders.

As I said, this was not an isolated incident.  Rather, it is the latest of a series of attacks in the last dozen years.  Since 2005 there have been six major terrorist attacks in London alone, which have resulted in dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries.

A brief summary of these attacks:

  1.  July 7, 2005 – Four British Islamic terrorists detonated a series of bombs destroying one double-decker bus and a few underground trains.  Fifty-two people were killed and hundreds injured.
  2. July 21, 2005 – Four more bombs were set, but they failed to detonate.
  3. June 29, 2007 – Two unexploded car bombs were discovered.
  4. May 22, 2013 – A British soldier was killed near the Royal Artillery Barracks.
  5. December 5, 2015 – An assailant stabbed several people at a tube station shouting “this is for Syria.”
  6. October 20, 2016 – An unattended bag was discovered on a train containing explosives , wires and an alarm clock.  Police detonated it, and there were no injuries.

This does not include various terrorist attacks in other European cities, such as Paris, Nice, Brussels and Berlin.

CONCLUSION

I believe that the root of this problem can be traced back to decades of permissive immigration policies and lax border security.  Britain, France, Germany and other Western European countries, seeking cheap labor, have long encouraged widespread emigration from Muslim countries in Africa and the Middle East.  Now, the jobs have largely dried up, leaving millions of idle and disgruntled people who are susceptible to being radicalized.

Furthermore, as we know, people can travel freely between EU countries without any documentation.  Therefore, all a terrorist has to do is find his way into, say, Turkey or Greece, which is not difficult, and from there he can easily emigrate to Britain, France or Germany.   I think that the major reason why the UK voted to withdraw from the EU last year was because of open borders and all its attendant problems, not for economic reasons as many think.  In my opinion, the US should learn from the mistakes of these countries in determining its own immigration policy.

 

FOURTEEN YEAR OLD GIRL RAPED IN SCHOOL

Last week, a 14 year old student was brutally raped in the boys’ bathroom of her school.  This crime is heinous enough, but what makes it worse is that the alleged perpetrators were two illegal aliens aged 18 and 17, and worse yet, that many news outlets ignored or underreported the story, possibly for political reasons.  The salient facts of this case should make one’s blood boil.  As reported by Fox News, CNN, and various independent news outlets they are as follows:

  1. The 18 year-old was from Guatemala.  ICE records show he entered the country illegally in August, 2016.  He was caught by a Border Patrol agent, issued an order to appear before an immigration judge and given a bus ticket to Maryland to join his father.  Classic “catch and release,” as practiced by the Obama Administration.  His court date has not yet been scheduled, some eight months later.  This is outrageous on many levels, but, sadly, it is not uncommon.  According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University there is a backlog of in excess of 500,000 such pending cases nationwide.
  2. The 17 year-old was from El Salvador is here illegally.  As I write this, how and when he snuck in is unknown, but it is not significant.  What is significant, is the crime he allegedly committed.
  3. The Montgomery County school placed both men in ninth grade classes with 14 year- olds.  School officials stated that their policy has been to place immigrants with language deficiencies with freshmen, rather than with their own age group.  I am not an educator, but I do have common sense, and I can see that this is an ill-advised policy.  Would you want your 14 year-old daughter commingled with 17 and 18 year- old men?   I know local school districts do not have the resources to vett all their students in detail, but at least separate 17 and 18 year-olds from 14 year-olds.

Outrage over the crime has come from many sources.  One parent’s comment was typical, and echoed the opinion of many  others nationwide. “I know that if this country enforced the laws that are already on the books those young men would not have been here and this rape, this horrendous rape, would not have occurred.”  When asked to comment at Tuesday’s press briefing Sean Spicer characterized the crime as “horrendous, horrible and disgusting.”  I think we can all agree with those two sentiments.

CONCLUSION

I believe there are broader aspects of this crime that need to be addressed.  For one thing, it was yet another example of the country’s utter failure to secure its borders and protect its citizens.  I am not talking solely about terrorists.  The problem is far broader.  FBI statistics clearly and conclusively demonstrate that illegals commit a significant number of drug and gang-related crimes, as well as other serious crimes, such as murder, rape, and sex-related crimes.  Our present “catch and release” policy has proven to be an utter failure.  Few illegals bother to show up for their hearings, which may be scheduled months or even years in the future.  Meanwhile, they are scattered all over the country.  We don’t know who they are, where they are, or what they are doing.  I realize that most illegals are law-abiding and contribute to society, but, that said, we are being plagued by the actions of a few.

Last, but certainly not least, I would like to address the mainstream media’s lack of coverage and/or underreporting of this crime.  According to reports by Fox News and various independent outlets, such as Newsbusters.org, neither ABC, NBC or CBS News reported the story Monday or Tuesday on tv, and CNN gave very sparse coverage.  This is despite the fact that Sean Spicer made his above comments at a well-attended White House press briefing.  All three networks did, however, find time to report on fluff pieces, such as (a) a comparison between expensive pasta and cheap pasta, (b) The Bachelor, (c) futuristic cars and (d) a flub on The Wheel of Fortune.

In my opinion, these omissions were not because the story wasn’t newsworthy.  It was politically-motivated.  The story casts the previous administration’s immigration policy in a bad light.  And, the media wonders why most Americans view them as biased and don’t trust them.

If any of you saw the story reported on one of the networks, please comment .  I would like to know.

 

CHUCK BERRY

Chuck Berry is generally recognized as one of the Founding Fathers of Rock ‘n Roll and one of the most versatile and accomplished RR artists ever.  He performed for some 70 years beginning in 1941 as a high school student.  He achieved prominence as a singer, songwriter, musician and performer.  He had many “hit” records, including “Maybelline,” “Johnny B. Goode,” which has autobiographical overtones, “Rock ‘N Roll Music,” and “Old Time Rock ‘N Roll.” But, all that said, perhaps, his greatest legacy was his influence on a plethora of successful performers, such as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, Elvis, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan.

Charles Edward Anderson Berry was born on October 18, 1926 in St. Louis, the fourth of six children.  His family was middle class.  His father was a contractor and a deacon in the local church.  His mother was a public school principal.

Berry exhibited a talent and interest in music at an early age, and in 1941 at the age of 16 he gave his first public performance at his high school.  Unfortunately, he also exhibited another predilection at an early age – crime.  At 17, he was convicted of armed robbery and  sent to the nearby Intermediate Reformatory for Young Men.   At this point, it could have all gone “South” for Berry.  He could have descended into a life of crime, and the history of RR and music, in general, would have been significantly different.  But, Berry appeared to reform himself.  He took up boxing and formed a musical quartet successful enough that authorities allowed it to perform outside the detention facility.  Upon his release in 1947 at the age of 21 he got married and worked in an auto assembly and as a janitor.

In addition, he continued to perform with local bands, such as the Johnnie Johnson Trio.  Berry got his big break in 1955 when Muddy Waters recommended he audition with Leonard Chess of Chess Records in Chicago.  As it happened, Chess thought the R & B market was waning, and he was looking for a new sound.   He loved Berry’s adaptation of a country and western song called “Ida Red,” which Berry recorded for Chess as “Maybelline.”  “Maybelline” sold in excess of one million records and climbed to #1 on Billboard Magazine’s R & B chart.  Berry was on his way.

A succession of hits followed, including “School Days,” “Rock ‘N Roll Music”, “Sweet Little Sixteen” and “Johnny B. Goode,” among others. In addition, he was a big hit on music impresario Alan Freed’s “Biggest Show of Stars” in 1957, and toured with the biggest stars of the day, such as Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and the Everly Brothers.

In addition to his music, which speaks for itself, Berry was a real “showman.”  His performances included the famous “one-legged hop” and the “duck walk.”  In his words, he would walk “stooping with full bended knees, but with my back and head vertical.”  He perfected this while performing for his family as a child, and they liked it so much he incorporated it into his act.  You might recall the actor Michael J. Fox performed these in the hit film, Back to the Future.

CONCLUSION

As I denoted above, Berry was truly a RR pioneer who was not only one of the most versatile performers ever, but also an influence on countless others who followed.  One would be hard-pressed to name any other performer who combined the talents of writing, singing, performing, and influencing others as well as he did.

Berry was the recipient of countless awards and honorariums.  Also, Rolling Stone Magazine has ranked many of his hits on its list of the “Greatest of All Time,” and he, himself, is ranked among the greatest performing artists of all time.

Perhaps, Berry’s legacy could best be summed up by the following selection of quotes from others in the business:

  1.  Elvis – “I just wish I could express my feelings the way Chuck Berry does.”
  2. Bruce Springsteen – Chuck Berry was rock’s greatest practitioner, guitarist, and the greatest pure rock ‘ n roll writer who ever lived.”
  3. Mick Jagger – “He lit up our teenage years and blew life into our dreams of being musicians and performers.”
  4. John Lennon – “If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry.’ “
  5. Robert Christgau (notable rock critic) – the “greatest of the rock and rollers.”
  6. Bob Dylan – “The ‘Shakespeare’ of rock ‘n roll.”

Chuck Berry passed away on March 18 at the age of 90.  Rest in peace Chuck.  You will be sorely missed, and your legacy will live as long as rock ‘n roll is played.