Anagrammatic wonders (Column)

By Louie St. George III
The Daily Times

Aztec’s march to regular-season perfection came to a sterling close Friday night at Hutchison Stadium, where the Tigers unleashed their point-a-minute offense in the fourth quarter to stave off Piedra Vista 38-21.

For a little perspective, we turn to the wacky world of anagrams, those ageless purveyors of truth. In doing so, one unmistakable reality surfaces:

The AHS Tigers boast a great hiss.

Regardless of whether Trev Hammargren really is a grammar hen, or whether Ben Livingston doubles as a snob given lint, the Tigers’ excellence is unequivocal. In 10 games, they scored a stunning 504 points, averaging better than 50 a contest.

Clearly, this isn’t your daddy’s brand of football. However, you could say the spread offense is your padre’s offense.

After Piedra Vista — that ruthless collection of avid pirates — closed the gap to two points Friday night at Hutch, Aztec turned to one of its many lightning-bolt playmakers, Jake Espinoza. By helping the Tigers pull away via an 80-yard touchdown reception, Espinoza was able to zap noise from a previously boisterous home crowd.

Aztec, which did an admirable job of keeping PV quarterback Brennon Shay (nab her, sonny) in check, earned its first 10-win, unblemished mark in program history. With such rousing success, it’s easy to see why standout senior running back Mike Hathcock has an unwavering ability to make chick hot (hey, I’m just reporting the anagrammatical findings).

Speaking of Mike Hathcock, it’s doubtful AHS coach Brad Hirsch will need his rugged runner to boot field goals during the state playoffs. But if he did, he’d likely say, “Hath, come kick.”

Cameron Mortensen is the regular kicker, though he hasn’t had much field goal work because of Aztec’s repeated trips to the end zone. For Mortensen, though, that’s OK. After all, men rest, no?

Naturally, regular-season brilliance wasn’t the lone goal for the Tigers when they huddled for the first time in early August. Instead, they’re chasing that elusive Blue Trophy (bro, yelp hut).

And with Artesia losing by 28 points to Goddard on Friday, perhaps Class 4A’s flagship program is destined for a dropoff. Which would make sense, considering Artesia really means “It’s a era.”

If Aztec keeps winning, a high-scoring rematch with Kirtland Central could be on the horizon. The Broncos’ area rich guy, Chay Aguirre, has feasted on opposing defenses, habitually churning out 100-yard games behind a space-clearing offensive line. Aguirre’s a picture of humility, always shoveling praise at his teammates and coaching staff.

His fellow Broncos, including Todd Farnsworth (farts doth drown), love him, in part, because Chay Aguirre gives a rare icy hug.

Congeniality didn’t help Aguirre and the Broncos avoid defeat against the Bloomfield Bobcats on Sept. 12. In all fairness, the Bobcats are one of the elite clubs in Class 3A. They’re a certifiable threat to capture a state crown, an achievement that would thrill coach Bruce Hatch, and at the same time beat church.

Even though the Farmington Scorpions aren’t headed to the postseason, they have established a reputation as ant-forming sonic pros. Quarterback Tyler Hough (RE: holy thug) and Tevin Fulkerson, one of those fluke inventors, will be back in 2009 to help the Scorps continue to grow.

Anagrams aren’t resigned simply to the gridiron. Just the opposite, in fact. Take Piedra Vista’s girls golf team, for example. The Lady Panthers are the defending state champs in Class 4A. They were nearly untouchable at the UNM South course last spring en route to a 40-stroke triumph.

Piedra Vista really was a par visited, and would have been justified in celebrating with avid parties. Depending on the nature of the festivities, Piedra Vista may have paid via rest, while consulting a avid priest.

Anagrams — gotta love ’em. They’re like little puzzles, similar to The Morse Code, which, of course, equals here come dots.

Published in The Daily Times (Farmington, NM) Nov. 9, 2008


Checkmate (Feature)

By Louie St. George III
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Wearing a ballcap and a pair of batting gloves, with tape stripped around both wrists, Kyle Henke cradles a baseball bat and slips into his familiar hitting stance.

The Piedra Vista senior just looks like a ballplayer, like a guy born to turn a flick of those well-taped wrists into doubles and home runs. But Henke is about more than baseball. He belongs to National Honor Society and Knowledge Bowl. He’s collected a grade-point average that exceeds 4.0 and is in the top five of his class. He’s a standout football player and an avid hunter.

And the man knows his chess.

Henke, a catcher on the diamond, boasts a lengthy chess resumé. In second grade, he was ranked, “like second in the state.” He traveled across the country playing chess, played on his elementary and middle school teams, and owns what he described as “30-some” trophies.

“I was a huge chess player,” said Henke.

Perhaps, then, Henke’s success behind the plate — and at the plate — stems from his ability to strategize, study and process information. Catchers are always thinking. They must know which pitchers throw which pitches, along with the strengths and weaknesses of opposing hitters.

A three-year starter for the Panthers, Henke loves baseball for its reliance on wits.

“A fan’s perspective, you throw the ball and you hit it, but there is so much to the game, so many fine details,” he said after practice Monday evening.

Henke joined PV’s varsity as a freshman. A year later, he moved into the starting lineup and hit better than .400 while helping the Panthers advance to the Class 4A state championship game against Farmington High. Last season, Henke again topped the .400 mark and was a team leader in nearly every offensive category as PV returned to the state tournament, losing to Moriarty in the quarterfinals.

“I watched him play when he was down at Pee Wee Reese and I knew then that he was going to be a ballplayer,” Panthers coach Dick Laughlin said.

Laughlin, no doubt, enjoys penciling the consistent and power-packed Henke into his lineup each game. The coach, though, mixed it up last weekend at the St. Pius Tournament, where he bumped Henke from the No. 3 spot in the order to leadoff. With an on-base percentage north of .600, the move made sense. And it paid off as Henke routinely reached base and belted a pair of home runs.

The offensive surge didn’t surprise Laughlin, who has watched his veteran backstop put in the necessary time to become a Division I prospect.

“He’s the guy that stays after practice for extra hacks in the batting cage, he’s the guy that is always trying to get better, no matter where you put him,” Laughlin said. “He’s the type that, no matter where you put him or what his role is, he strives to be the best at that role.”

Henke hopes to get his Division I shot at Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. The school, he said, has shown considerable interest, and it’s an ideal match considering Henke is interested in one day flying planes for a living.

College can wait, though. Henke and the Panthers are too busy chasing an elusive state crown. They are off to a 7-2 start and have a roster packed with varsity experience, including a deep and formidable pitching staff.

“That would mean the world to me,” Henke said of wrapping his arms around a Blue Trophy. “It’s been my goal for four years.”

State title or no state title, Laughlin doesn’t relish the thought of replacing his longtime catcher and one-time chess champ.

“We’ll take this season as it comes, and then we’ll worry about next season,” Laughlin said, laughing.


The Pits (Feature)

By Louie St. George III
The Daily Times

SHIPROCK — When fans started lining up before the clock struck noon for last Saturday night’s District 1-4A boys championship game, one thing became abundantly clear:

Chieftain Fever is thriving in Shiprock.

Signs and banners checker the town’s streets and store fronts, and basketball doesn’t just slip into conversation — it is the conversation. The Chiefs, at least for one more weekend, are the lone game in town, and their venerable home digs will serve as the community’s pulse today and Saturday.

The Chieftain Pit, where decibal levels go to die, is renowned for passionate and oversized crowds. The arena seats more than 4,000 while redefining the term “pressure cooker.” Visiting teams often emerge from the locker room starstruck, with players craning their necks at the sight of so many fans packed so close together.

“I think it gives us homecourt advantage because it’s loud and intimidating,” Lady Chiefs senior forward Shantel Begay said Thursday following practice. “People get pretty rowdy and people really get into the games.”

The state tournament tips off today across New Mexico. In Shiprock, the Lady Chiefs, Class 4A’s No. 6 seed, host No. 11 Silver. Top-seeded Kirtland Central welcomes No. 16 Belen, while Piedra Vista, No. 12, and No. 13 Aztec travel to Los Alamos (No. 5) and Moriarty (4), respectively. Navajo Prep commences the 2A tournament with a home game against McCurdy.

On the boys side, the first round starts Saturday. The 11th-seeded Chieftains host No. 6 Artesia, while No. 15 Piedra Vista goes to 4A’s second seed, St. Pius. Farmington, seeded 16th, travels to No. 1 Española Valley. In Class 3A, No. 11 Bloomfield is at sixth-seeded Socorro.

With his team preparing for its final home game, Shiprock girls coach Brady Rivers is pining for a swollen turnout tonight. The coach knows what momentum can do to a basketball team. It can jumpstart a game-changing run, force a visiting team to lose its focus, or lead to super-human performances.

Call it the “sixth man” effect.

“We’re hoping that we do have that sixth man,” Rivers said. “We’ve talked about that several times this week, telling the girls to be ready because we think they’re (fans) going to show up.”

The Chieftain Pit provides one of the premiere homecourt advantages in the state. Thursday evening, more than 24 hours before tonight’s tip-off, banners — proclaiming “Let’s go Chieftains,” “Go! Chieftains Go!” and “Go! Fight! Win!” — already were tacked to the walls. District and state championship banners hung menacingly from the ceiling.

It was, however, a far cry from what’s in store this evening, when frenzied fans again are expected to create a “white-out” — a Shiprock trend where everyone wears white — while filling up the bleachers.

Teams playing for the first time in Shiprock must certainly battle a bout of sensory overload — the noise, the bright lights, the sea of white.

“I don’t think many of the small towns that (we face) have a gym this big, and I don’t think they’ve ever seen a crowd this big, except at The Pit (in Albuquerque),” Begay said. “I think they’re going to start getting nervous about the crowd and the cheering.”

Like her teammates, Begay embraces life at The Chieftain Pit. When asked to recall the loudest home game of her career, Begay quickly offered the 2006 District 1-3A championship game against Thoreau. Then a sophomore, she made four late free throws to help secure a one-point win. But the game’s conclusion did little to quiet — or disperse — a wild crowd, and both teams had to be escorted from the arena.

Rivers, who is in his first season guiding the Lady Chiefs, coached in Phoenix before moving to Shiprock. He said the energy surrounding prep basketball in San Juan County dwarfs the region he came from.

“We didn’t get crowds even half the size of this,” Rivers said. “It’s a lot more exciting here than it was in Phoenix — a lot more exciting. There’s a lot of pressure: Everyone’s excited and expecting you to win. I even got middle school kids telling me ‘go out and win (today).’

“It’s exciting for me, exciting for the players, exciting for the fans and anybody who’s just here to watch,” he added.


Trained in treatment (Feature)

By Louie St. George III
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Gracing the wall behind Melynda Brenton’s desk at Farmington High School is a bumper sticker that reads “Support Your Local Hospital — Play Hockey!”

Certainly, the decal appears out of place when considering Brenton’s chosen profession.

The 45-year-old athletic trainer specializes in treating and rehabbing injuries. Thus, her affinity for fast-paced and puck-flying hockey seemingly contradicts her life’s work, which centers around a less-than-rosy collection of twisted ankles, fractured ligaments and tired muscles.

Still, Brenton, one of three full-time high school athletic trainers in San Juan County, wouldn’t trade her job for the world. It is, however, a double-edged sword. When Brenton is thrust into action at a Scorpion sporting event, it means a teenage athlete is injured, sometimes seriously.

“I love my job to death, but I hate it because when I have to work that means somebody is hurt and I hate that aspect of it,” Brenton said during last week’s Webb Toyota Girls Invitational.

Brenton is in her third year at Farmington High. Likewise for Piedra Vista athletic trainer Aaron Stem, whose wife Jessica Stem is the trainer at Aztec High School. Unlike Aaron, and Brenton at Farmington High, Jessica Stem teaches an athletic training class at Aztec.

Their positions are unique to San Juan County. Whereas they work full time with student-athletes, other schools in the county contract with clinics or hospitals to provide medical coverage for sporting events.

For the trio of trainers, long hours are the norm, especially when a tournament beckons or a schedule includes multiple contests on the same night. Work days begin early in the afternoon with paperwork and preparation, and continue until the final whistle or buzzer has sounded and every aching athlete has been treated.

Free time on a Saturday is essentially non-existent during the nine-month school year.

“It’s definitely something you have to enjoy doing,” Aaron Stem said during a break at last week’s Panther Wrestling Classic. “It would be easy if you didn’t enjoy what you do to get burnt out having to work every Saturday.”

Responsibilities include — and this is an admittedly rudimentary list — injury prevention, injury recognition, injury treatment and injury rehabilitation. Taping ankles, of course, is part of the routine, but the job description runs deeper. Much deeper.

From preventive care to assessing the severity of an injury, and often acting as a part-time psychologist, athletic trainers must be equipped to tackle a broad scope of dilemmas. Brenton and Aaron and Jessica Stem work hundreds of games throughout the school year and maintain regular office hours. Like a carpenter at a job site, they tote bulky tool boxes that contain a varied assortment of gadgets — tape, lights, splints, bandages, etc.

After preparing athletes to compete in a game or practice, they remain “on call,” often appearing as a typical fan until their expertise is required.

Though the dangers of athletics are understood and accepted, the drill is far from robotic as natural emotions seep into the equation.

“There’s an element of danger in any sport,” Brenton explained. “When the cheerleaders do their stunts, I’m kind of looking at them half-eyed hoping that they catch the girl that’s way up there in the sky. Or when a football player gets flushed out of the pocket, I’m hoping that he doesn’t get the snot knocked out of him. In basketball, when a kid goes up for a rebound or a layup and gets undercut, I hope he gets up.”

Lots of training for the trainers
According to the National Athletic Trainers’ Association Web site — NATA.org — athletic trainers are regulated and licensed health-care workers. They are certified by an independent national board, and must pass an exam and hold at least a bachelor’s degree. To maintain certification, athletic trainers are required to complete 80 hours of medically related, continuing education credits every three years while adhering to membership standards.

Brenton, who holds a master’s degree, and Aaron and Jessica Stem, both graduates of New Mexico State University, are licensed by the state of New Mexico.

Injuries are inevitable
Bumps and bruises are as common as free throws and field goals, but each affliction contains a different story.

Brenton underscores this reality when she tells of a young man injured during a 2005 football game at Bayfield. When the player arrived at a hospital in Durango, he didn’t recognize his parents.

“That was extremely scary for me,” Brenton said.

Last year, Brenton witnessed a neck injury that preceded a player having “numbness and tingling in both hands and both legs.” She has dealt with serious concussions, stitches and many distraught ankles.

Aaron Stem admitted one of the worst aspects of his work occurs when a hard-working athlete is forced to the sidelines. Such was the case this fall when Piedra Vista’s standout running back, Tyler Finch, had his senior season cut short with a knee injury. It wasn’t the first time Stem had to watch a talented player hobble off the field — perhaps for good — and it won’t be the last. It’s an unfortunate byproduct of athletics that Stem doesn’t care for.

“You start to really feel bad for some of these kids,” he explained. “You know what it means for some of (them) who have worked so hard.”

Which is why, when an injury occurs, the initial reaction is concern.

“All the possibilities start running through your head,” Stem said.

Brenton agreed.

“I try to stay really calm, collected, but inside I’m panicking thinking of all the bad things that could go on — this kid could be paralyzed, this kid could die, this kid could have a neck injury, this kid could have a serious concussion.”

More than a job
Brenton’s office, meticulously organized, is painted black and green — Scorpion colors — with streaks of silver mixed in. Posters prominently displaying a menacing Scorpion line the walls.

Clearly, this California transplant boasts her fair share of school pride.

“I want the kids to succeed,” Brenton said. “I think athletics is a way for the kids to move on in life and have some success where they may not have any.”

Before a basketball practice last Thursday, Brenton’s office was bustling with eager athletes. One young basketball player greeted Brenton with the words, “Are ya busy?” Less than five minutes later, the young Scorp had tape around his ankle and was ready for battle.

Often, it is during these spontaneous sessions that Brenton plays a different role.

“The kids tell me a lot of things that they don’t tell mom and dad,” she said. “So I can be the mom, I can be the counselor because the boyfriend did this or the girlfriend did that and how could they do that to me? I’m more their friend.”

With all those student-athletes coming through the (revolving) door on a daily basis, all those informal chats, it’s obvious Brenton has a rather large extended family.

For Stem at Piedra Vista, his office door is similar to his Farmington High counterpart in that it’s always open. While he doesn’t have a formal class, Stem does work with students who have taken an interest in the medical field, athletic training or not.

Now, about that tape
Perhaps the greatest display of efficiency is watching a trainer tape an ankle. There’s no wasted motion, no false steps. It’s an art form, quite honestly, like Picasso with a paint brush. Tape is cut, ripped, applied ... and repeat.

Brenton, however, adds a peculiar twist when she lumps the tape between her teeth. Bizarre, no doubt, but nonetheless efficient. In fact, when asked if she could tape an ankle without her teeth, she didn’t hesitate.

“No,” she quipped. “My dentist actually yelled at me one time because I got a tape strand stuck in there.”

When it comes to taping ankles, Brenton said about 60 seconds is par for the course. But, if she’s pressured, 30 or 40 seconds isn’t out of the question.

Aaron Stem isn’t sure how fast he can get the job done. He does know that, like riding a bike, it’s become a habit.

“It kind of just becomes second nature,” Stem said, laughing. “I could probably do it blind-folded by now.”


Making my list for SC (Column)

By Louie St. George III
The Daily Times

Dear Santa:

Holiday greetings to you, sir.

How is the missus? And the little ones? Busy, busy, busy I can imagine. Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t inquire about Rudy. Is our four-legged flyer still running around with that red nose? What a character, that Rudolph.

All pleasantries aside, SC, I got some favors to ask. Now, I know it’s been a while since I last wrote, and I do apologize, but I think we both can agree your last visit to my place didn’t end well. Let’s just say, I’ll be changing the locks on the wine cellar this year.

But back to the matter at hand. I’m sending this correspondence — via e-mail of course (have you seen the price of stamps!) — with a heavy heart. In case you haven’t noticed, the world of sports is spiraling into an ugly abyss. I don’t know what you’re capable of in this arena, but I know you’ve been dabbling in some outsourcing of late, so maybe we can strike a deal.

Anyhow, good friend, here is my 2007 Christmas list. Any questions, just text.

• An ace left-hander with a filthy changeup and a mid-90s fastball. This can be delivered to the Minnesota Twins.

• Continued good fortune for the inspiring Kevin Everett. Santa, I know with DirecTV up there at the North Pole, you’re familiar with Everett’s story. Following a vicious tackle in early September, doctors said the Buffalo Bills tight end would never walk again. Only problem is, Everett didn’t listen. He’s up on his feet, but a little Christmas magic courtesy of Saint Nick wouldn’t hurt.

• Bill Belichick could use a sense of humility. While we’re here, could you send the man a new hooded sweatshirt. That thing he wears on the sidelines looks like my dog’s toy. A camera might make a nice stocking stuffer, as well. I believe the NFL confiscated his last one.

• Books. For Barry Bonds. The Asterisk could have a lot of free time on his hands in the near future. I’m not familiar with Barry’s reading interests, but chemistry appears to be a favorite subject. I’d say throw in a hat for good measure, but I’m not sure you have the manpower to stitch together something that extravagant.

• I’m not sure how you’d swing this, but college football really needs a playoff system. My gut tells me you’d be wise to draft an eight-team bracket and deliver it to NCAA headquarters. But be careful, Santa, this one’s a sensitive subject.

• Blue Trophies. Just send those babies to the Four Corners in New Mexico. We’ll take as many as that sleigh of yours will carry.

• A Mitchell Report. I know you’re troubled by steroids in baseball. I mean, let’s be honest, you’ve never been big on chiseled bodies. You are, after all, famous for a belly that shakes like jelly. So I know you’re with me on this one. This Mitchell Report is going to name ballplayers who have been sticking needles in their posteriors, but the darn thing won’t seem to surface. Perhaps you could intervene. Be sure, however, not to deliver this item to Bud Selig. Any media outlet will do.

• A hanky for the Baltimore Ravens. No doubt, you were watching last Monday (by the way, Mrs. Claus still put together that legendary spread for Monday Night Football?). Thus, you know what I’m talking about here — lots of big babies on the Baltimore squad. On second thought, you better up the count on the hankies. Deliver ’em to Bart Scott. And hurry!

• Alex Rodriguez really needs a new wallet. Something big.

• Dale Earnhardt Jr. is in the market for a few automobile upgrades. I mean it when I say your mechanics are second to none, Santa, and Jr. needs the best. I know you’re always joking about Earnhardt being the most overrated athlete in the history of the world, but a new engine (probably one that doesn’t die every week) under the tree on Dec. 25 might change things. More horsepower ain’t a bad idea, either.

Well that’s my Christmas wish list, in a nutshell. I went light this year because it’s already late in the season and I know you’ve got appearances to make and logistics to work out.

On a personal note, I saw one of your Web casts last week. Pardon me for being blunt, SC, and I don’t mean to harp on it, but you really oughta pick up Chuck Norris’ latest workout video. You need your stamina, sir. Certainly, you’d make Rudolph’s job a heck of a lot easier if you dropped a few pounds. I know, I’m a nag at times. But I do worry. You’re not exactly a spring chicken anymore.

Anyways, I’ll sign off. Looking forward to our annual card game on the 24th. As you know, that is a highlight of mine. I’ll put the steaks on around 10. That work for you?

And this year, we’ll be switching back to milk. No cork-popping, that is.

Take care, Santa. Please send the missus my best. She really is one of a kind.



Family before football (Column)

By Louie St. George III
The Daily Times

Dustin Davis raced 94 yards for a game-tying touchdown.

Up in the stands, Dustin’s mother, Saundra Pazuchanics, collapsed.

Last Friday night at Aztec’s Fred Cook Memorial Stadium, the Aztec Tigers capped a perfect District 1-4A campaign with a dominant win over Kirtland Central.

To celebrate their 9-1 record, gaudy state ranking and sure-fire top-four seed for the state playoffs, the Tigers prayed.

They prayed because real-life events, real-life hardships trump anything that takes place on a football field.

Dustin Davis, the one who jumpstarted the scoring with a scintillating 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, wasn’t around to bow his head with his Tiger teammates. Still in uniform, Dustin was with his mother, who was fighting for her life at San Juan Regional Medical Center in Farmington.

Perched near the booster club table at Fred Cook, Saundra reacted like a proud mother while watching Dustin zoom past the Broncos. She jumped up and down. She yelled, cheered for her son and for the Tigers. Then, something went terribly wrong. In a flash, Saundra hit the ground, bumping her head on a railing and then the concrete. She had a seizure and went into cardiac arrest. On the way to the hospital, her heart stopped multiple times.

Once the severity of the situation was understood, Dustin was pulled from the field. He went from being entrenched in a pivotal district football game to the sterile surroundings of a hospital.

“I didn’t know what to think,” Dustin said Saturday morning, a week after the episode. “I was so pumped at that point in the game I guess I didn’t really realize what happened. It was crazy, to say the least.”

Saundra was transferred to Albuquerque late last week. The cause of her collapse remains unknown. “It’s still a mystery,” Dustin said.

What is known — unequivocally — is that Aztec’s win over the Broncos wasn’t the most impressive aspect of the night.

Following the game, the Tigers huddled together on their sideline with heavy hearts. They prayed for Dustin and his family. Eventually, they greeted a pack of Kirtland Central players at midfield and prayed some more.

“The championship didn’t mean a thing,” Aztec senior Garry Dixon said. “You think you’d be excited to win a championship, but it didn’t mean a thing to us. You think, ‘this is the biggest game of the year, the biggest game of our lives,’ but when I heard about that it all changed.

“It went from the biggest game ever to it didn’t really matter.”

In the locker room, the tone was similar. Sure, it was nice to end the regular season on a nine-game winning streak. The 1-4A crown was a nice little reward for hours — years, even — of preparation. But, like Dixon said, it simply didn’t matter.

Perspective snuck in.

Tigers coach Brad Hirsch reportedly talked little of the game when addressing his team.

According to Dixon, Hirsch’s message was, “There are things in life that are bigger than football. Football doesn’t mean anything when it comes to family.”

Following the normal postgame routine, the Tigers didn’t head off to a player’s house to watch movies or play video games. Instead, many of the players went to the hospital. They stayed into the wee hours of the morning. Early Saturday, they came back. A few days later, a coach from Kirtland Central visited.

Thoughts and prayers haven’t stopped.

“Aztec is more than a football community — we’re a family,” Davis said. “We take care of our family. That’s just how we roll.”

The outpouring of support from teammates indeed reflects a tight-knit bunch wise beyond their 16, 17 and 18 years.

If only their NFL brethren could grasp the family-first concept. Just last week, the Minnesota Vikings fined receiver Troy Williamson thousands of dollars for leaving the team to attend his grandmother’s funeral. This was the lady who raised him. His own blood. The man felt it prudent to pay his last respects. To say thank you. To say goodbye.

He got docked a week’s pay — though the fine ultimately was reversed Saturday by the Vikings following an onslaught of negative PR.

Too often, sports overshadow the important stuff. Athletes possess a singular focus. They’re driven by success. They speed down the Interstate of Life with blinders on. It’s what makes the good ones so good. But for a group of teenagers to take the blinders off and support their teammate, that’s bigger than any game, any league championship. That’s a life lesson.

“It makes you think about so much,” Dixon said. “A lot of us realized it could be anybody. We practice until 7 each night, watch lots of film. We don’t really have a lot of time for our family.”

When it mattered most, Dixon and the Tigers made time.

With the postseason looming, Dustin expects to be back on the field helping the Tigers take aim at a Blue Trophy.

That’s where his mom would want him to be.

“Even with what’s going on, she’d want me to go play,” Dustin concluded.

Mom knows best.


MLB must stop the scam (Column)

By Louie St. George III
The Daily Times

* This just in from Major League Baseball: Today’s World Series Game 4 has been pushed back, and will be played “sometime before Christmas.” *

At this rate, ya gotta think it’s going to snow in the Mile High City before the Series crawls/creeps/inches/wilts/stumbles to a close.


Thanks to the scheduling — see: marketing — gurus at MLB, the Colorado Rockies are playing with the collective zeal of a tree stump. After sweeping the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NLCS, the Rockies had a 112-day layoff before the Fall Classic commenced last Wednesday in Boston.

Rust is derailing a team that was rolling along on a historic trek. Colorado had won 21 of 22 games, sneaking into the postseason party at the 11th hour. The Rockies pounced on the Philadelphia Phillies in the first round of the playoffs before discarding the D-Backs.

They were brimming with confidence. They had momentum oozing from their back pockets.

And then ...

They practiced in the snow during the aforementioned 279-day break. Conversely, the Boston Red Sox were doing the unthinkable. They were playing baseball. Against real-life opponents. With umpires and everything. We know this because one of Boston’s games started before midnight and an estimated 13 people tuned in for the first pitch.

The point is, by playing baseball games, Boston had the good fortune of staying sharp. The BoSox trumped the Cleveland Indians in seven games in the ALCS and stole the momentum that was, previously, oozing from the Colorado players’ pockets.

* This just in from Major League Baseball: Game 5 will be played on the Saturday preceding Opening Day. 2009. Game time is tentatively slated for “sometime after it gets really, really dark and probably before it starts getting light out.” *

According to various, somewhat-respected online sources, roughly five babies are born into this world every second. Thus, after hours of laborious math and tedious research, we’ve concluded that many, many babies have been born since baseball’s second season started.

But it’s not about the babies. It’s about the sham that is the 2007 World Series. If I play for the Colorado Rockies (I don’t), I’m furious right now. Because of MLB’s ongoing mission to squeeze every last penny from its coffers — which led to ridiculous TV scheduling, which led to long periods of inactivity — the Rockies essentially were punished for peaking at the right time. Instead of continuing their fairy-tale run, they had to wait for the Red Sox.

Will the best team win? Tough to say. Boston certainly is an elite ballclub. And the Rockies don’t have a fork sticking out of them just yet (that would be a lot of forks). But it’s interesting to ponder what could have been had the World Series been scheduled with a trace of logic. It’s not a stretch to think that if Colorado wasn’t forced to suffer through the aforementioned 462-day vacation, it would have fared better in that god-awful, 13-1 Game 1 eyesore.

Since the Rockies played their first game against the Phillies on Oct. 3, they’ve since played nine times in 24 days. What is this, the NBA? How can a team be expected to play fundamental baseball when it takes two days off for every game played? And when it’s, like, 19 degrees outside?

It’s no wonder the Rockies have been sloppy. Going back to last fall, the Detroit Tigers were in a similar situation. A long layoff preceded the Tigers’ World Series showdown with the St. Louis Cardinals, and the Tigers played poorly enough to warrant a visit from Tom Emanski.

* This just in from Major League Baseball: Game 6, if necessary, will be played “in daily, three-inning increments as to appease more than one major TV network. The first three-inning increment starts April 19, 2011. Increments 2 and 3 are TBA.”

My advice to “Have Another Bud” Selig: Follow the lead of the NFL. Whatever the NFL does, copy it. Those guys are pretty smart. Hence the whimsical notion of playing games in the AFTERNOON, when folks are awake. And don’t drag out the season. This baby started in early April. It’s the end of October. Pitchers and catchers report for 2008 Spring Training in 20 minutes.

Get on with it.

As for the Rockies, I personally believe they were attracting scores of new fans to baseball. At the least, they were getting non-traditional fans excited about an upstart, youthful team that plays the game the right way and plays with a certifiable flare. But did some of those fans lose interest during the aforementioned 906-day sabbatical? Probably. No doubt, the wow factor wore off, if only a bit.

And did the Rockies lose their mojo? Somewhat. Which is a shame. A wonderful story was cast aside because Bud Selig, president of Procrastinators Anonymous, is gunning for a 12-month season.

* This just in from Major League Baseball: Game 7, if “absolutely necessary, will be turned into a reality show. Vote online at www.Game7hasbeenturnedintoarealityshow.com.” *