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Out in Left Field: September 24, 2015

OILF-294x300Sad news Wednesday as the news of the death of long-time New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra died. While I never got to see him in his prime, I do remember the stories which my dad would tell about the stout little catcher from “The Hill”in St. Louis.

Who could imagine – two great baseball prospects – Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra and Joe Garagiola both grew up in this venerable St. Louis neighborhood. Hard to believe the Cardinals thought Garagiola was a better prospect than Berra when they started out.

I had a deep respect for Berra, but not for just his talents as a player. He also closely resembled my three Italian uncles – Robert “Nick” (Hoot), Julio and Orlando “Bucky” Viola – three brothers who served in the military during World War II, all at the same time, all three in Europe. In fact, Uncle Nick served in the “Battle of the Bulge.”

Anyway, I don’t think there was ever a better catcher in the Major Leagues. At least in my mind, the closest to Berra would have been Johnny Bench of the Cincinnati Reds of the 1970’s. But Bench never got 10 World Series titles with his team!

I remember him as the manager of my New York Mets during my high school days and the great memories of the 1973 Fall Classic against the Oakland A’s. Was my first fall away from home at SIU-C, but Yogi and the Mets were the “homesick pill” I needed, even though they didn’t win the series. . . . But they did take it to seven games.

But one of the most unusual things ever – I read Yogi’s autobiography many years ago. Wonderful story, but – all the time I was reading it, I heard Yogi’s voice, like he was reading it to me. And I can assure you, this was no book on tape!

Another weird note – same thing happened when I read Bill Clinton’s autobiography! Wow!

Anyway, to borrow one of his many “Yogi-isms,” “It ain’t over until it’s over. . . .”

You’re right, Yogi. While you may no longer be with us in the flesh and some may think, “it’s over,” you’ll always be a bright star in the memories of millions of fans.

Hope you and your beloved Carmen enjoy a cannoli at a sidewalk cafe in Heaven.

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I’m sure it’s his preferred newspaper to read when he is visiting our country, so, You Holiness, Pope Francis, welcome to the United States!

Hope you have a great time while here and we pray for the success of your mission!

From local news sources, it appears our Springfield Diocese will be well represented on the East Coast. Fr. Dan Willenborg of neighboring Nokomis Parish will be in the audience on the lawn of the Capitol, courtesy of Congressman Rodney Davis of Taylorville.

Hope to get a report from the good Father when he returns.

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Jumping all over the place with this column. . .

I’m becoming a little concerned over the numerous commercials about these fantasy football leagues and the gambling which it is perpetuating.

I know, according to the “experts,” it’s not gambling because you create a “pretend team” and you’re are not “betting” on the outcome of a particular game. Sorry – but where I come from, when you “put some money down” on a certain athlete or athletic event, you are betting on it. If you want to look at it as a group of individuals, in my mind, you are selecting several individuals – a team, so to speak – and you are wagering your picks will beat the other guy’s picks.

I don’t think you get your money back if your “group of individuals” doesn’t win. So, in all the sense of the word, you are gambling! These company’s brag about giving away millions of dollars – even billions – to winners.

Like my dad always told me, “Son, they didn’t build those big casinos in Las Vegas by giving away money.”

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Okay – that’s it for today. . . .

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See you next week!

Out in Left Field: September 17, 2015

OILF-294x300Glad I did not stay up to watch that stinker of a game in San Francisco between the 49’ers and the Vikings. What a disappointing start to the season by my Vikings. . .

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High school memories came flowing back Monday evening, though. That’s because of the drag racers who were coming through Pana to snap a photo of our Labor Day Parade mural.

The racers are on a marathon trek this week through Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin for Hot Rod Magazine’s “Drag Week, 2015.”

What brought back the memories was one of the locations they were going to visit in Union Grove, Wisconsin.

It was a staple of WLS radio advertising, the drag races at Great Lakes Dragway. . . .

“SUNDAY, SUNDAY, SUNDAY,” intoned announcers Fred Winston and John Landecker with their rapid-fire copy which promoted the races.

And, there was a famous “tag line” (at the end of the commercial) I can’t remember right now. . . .

. . . .Okay –have thought about it for a couple of minutes. Think it was, “Where the great ones run!” (with the run echoing as it faded out.

The days of “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, Don Prudhomme, to name a couple (the mind retreats, once again).

Wish I could have found out why Hot Rod picked Pana as a check-point, but after several e-mails and phone calls, have not heard back from them. Didn’t know what was going on outside, but it was sure annoying sitting in the audience at the council meeting, trying to hear what was going on – but in the end, had to admit it was kinda cool.

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Big game Friday for the football Panthers. . .

Good luck to them as well as all the other fall sports teams at PHS.

The soccer team hosts Teutopolis tonight (Thursday). T-Town got by us on their field last season so I’m sure the team would like some revenge.

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Squirming just a little bit as baseball season winds down to the final few games. . . .

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See you next week!

Out in Left Field: September 10, 2015

OILF-294x300Shouldn’t do this because I know this will be the kiss of death for them, but I gotta brag on my New York Mets who went into a three game series with the Washington Nationals in Washington and swept them.

Did not see the games on Monday and Tuesday (that’s because they weren’t on TV), but did see the telecast on ESPN last night. How great it was to see them come back, especially since the National left Stephen Strasburg in the game to hit in the seventh with a 2-1 lead. He made the third out of the inning, then gave up a solo home run to the Mets’ pinch hitter Kelly Johnson, then a single by Kirk Nieuwenhuis. Exit Strasburg. Enter Yoenis Cespedes for the Mets who hit a 2-run homer for a 4-2 Mets lead.

Bryce Harper added a home run in the top of the eighth making it 4-3, but the Mets got another run in the top of the ninth for a 5-3 final.

New York is 7 games up on the Nationals, leading the NL East.

Never would have believed it back in April and May. . . .

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A lot of Cubs fans enjoyed this week, taking 2-out-of-3 from the Cardinals in St. Louis. Should have got the sweep, but they let yesterday’s game slip away.

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Have been enjoying the tennis action at the U. S. Open in Flushing, N. Y.

Down to the semi-finals in both the mens and womens draws.

Even though I played only a few times in my life, have been a fan since I was a youngster when I would sit with my dad and watch on TV the big tournaments – French, U. S. Open, Wimbledon – that was about the extent of them back in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. He never picked up a racket, but thought, next to boxing, tennis was the most exciting sport there was. We even made trips to Lincoln Park in Springfield just to watch people play on the public courts.

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Home opener for the Pana Panthers football team Friday against Gillespie Friday night.

An important game for the Panthers as both they and the Miners are in a 3-way tie for first place in the South Central Conference with Hillsboro. All three teams are 2-0.

And, this season is the return to head coaching for a Gillespie legendary coach, Don Dobrino. After the Miners went 0-9 last season, Coach Dobrino, now in his 80’s, has returned to the sidelines.

Be sure to get there early for your seat.

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Deepest sympathy to the Koontz family on the death of our friend, Wes Koontz, beloved husband of another friend of ours, the late “Spud” Koontz. “Spud” passed away in October of last year.

Wes was always a gentleman and I had the great pleasure of sitting next to him when we both served on the Pana City Council. He never rushed to judgement and always took his time deliberating on issues before the Council.

He was a good listener and respected my opinions when we disagreed on a rare occasion.

Glad he and “Spud” are back together. . . .

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See you next week!

Out in Left Field: August 31, 2015

OILF-294x300Fair weekend and Labor Day Parade is upon us. Hard to imagine another year has passed.

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Congratulations to the Panthers on their football win and the soccer team on their wins Thursday and Saturday.

Know the volleyball team had a tough match with Rochester last week, but I’m sure they’ll get that turned around this week.

And the golfers have been doing well as the season gets underway with some early matches.

Can’t wait to see the cross country team get into action real soon.

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No-hitter last night? What a ball game, the Cubs and Dodgers.

Bet the Cubs couldn’t wait to get home today. . . .

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Time runs short. Better go.

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See you next week!

Out in Left Field: August 24, 2015

OILF-294x300High school sports all over the place. . . .

Soccer and football Orange and Blue scrimmages last week; Volleyball Orange and Blue Tuesday.

Check the schedule of high school events for times and places.

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The last Sunday of the Illinois State Fair was always a favorite for me – that meant being on the west side of the 4-H building in the parking lots playing in the state bocci ball tournament. We played on asphalt, rocks and in the parking lot medians.

Always a good time! Uncle Nick would fix a batch of his famous caggochi (if the spelling’s wrong, Deanna Green, let your cousin know!).

Even before I got down this way, we played bocci ball with people from Taylorville, Tovey, Kincaid, Bullpitt, etc – bastions of Italians! We had tournaments at Uncle Nick’s tavern on North 19th Street as well in Springfield during the summer. Always a fun time.

Never made it to the state exposition this year – again. But, I was able to watch something going on at the fairgrounds Sunday – the Allen Crowe Memorial 100 car race was televised by the CBS Cable Sports network.

Was actually flipping through channels when I noticed the background, thinking, “That place looks familiar.” Sure enough, it was the Springfield mile race track.

Was a nice day for a car race. I will always remember a rainy Saturday afternoon being at the fair for the car race, and the track crew trying to dry things out by any measure they could – including one of the drivers!

This road grader comes around the number four turn of the course and I had to do a double take. At the controls in his driver’s suit was none other than A. J. Foyt!

That was back in the days when ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” televised the races from the fairgrounds. Nice memories.

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Nice memories for Cubs fans as well – when was the last time they were 20 games over .500 at this point (or any point, for that matter) this late in the season?!

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See you next week!

Out in Left Field: August 17, 2015

OILF-294x300Well, the two-week space ride of the Mets is over. They got burned with the heat of re-entry this weekend, being swept at home (I can’t bring myself up to saying “Citi Field”) by the Pirates.

Still have a 4-game lead over the Nationals who have lost 6 straight, but it just goes to show they have a long way to catch up with the NL East with the Cardinals, Cubs and Pirates all playing at  a higher level.

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Been a warm one as our high school sports teams get to practice. All of the Pana High School fall sports – football, volleyball, boys and girls golf and soccer are in high gear.

Boys golf starts their season on Tuesday and girls golf gets underway on Thursday. Orange and Blue scrimmages for the boys soccer and football teams are Thursday and Friday, respectively.

Soccer has its first game Monday at Litchfield and the first football game is Friday, Aug. 28, at Staunton.

Volleyball has its Orange and Blue Scrimmage at 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 25 and open the season with a match at Rochester on Thursday, Aug. 27.

Here we go again. . . . !

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Need to get out of here early. . . .

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See you next week!

Out in Left Field: August 3, 2015

OILF-294x300Been in a bit of a daze today after watching my New York Mets perform over the past five days or so. . . .

Two weeks ago, I gave up on the Mets and this year’s baseball season. But today, they are in a virtual tie for first place in the National League East as they swept a weekend series in New York with the Washington Nationals.

And what a few days it has been – starting with the rumors of trading Wilmer Flores and watching tears flow (sorry, Tom Hanks – there IS crying in baseball), as he was thinking this would be the last game he would play for the Mets on Wednesday and the heart-breaking loss to San Diego on Thursday after the weather delay. Couldn’t be much lower. . . .

But then, Friday and the Nationals come to town. And it’s Flores’ home run in the 12th giving the Mets the win. And Saturday and Sunday, wins over the Nats. Last night, three home runs in one inning (and I was watching), the first time its happened since 2007!

Okay – let’s not get too carried away. We’re only 5 games over .500 – 55-50 – as are the Nationals – 54-49. Not like the Cubs, who are 10 games over .500 or the Cardinals who are 29 games over .500, at all.

But after suffering for years and years while my team sinks slowly in the East (division, that is) in July and August, it is just refreshing to see this happening.

How badly I feel for Cardinals fans – your team wins and wins and wins and you probably never feel the euphoria when your team goes through a stage such as the Cubs and Mets are going through. You guys probably won’t suffer any anxiety like we fans of these teams who have not been in this position this late in the season for such a long time.

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Hey, don’t forget the big basketball game Saturday at the Pana Junior High School between our state teams alumni and a team of alumni players.

Should be a good time.

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See you next week!

Out in Left Field: July 20, 2015

OILF-294x300Took them long enough. . . .

Really? 18 innings!?

My Mets did manage to get one win in St. Louis over the weekend, but it does not look good for my ball club the rest of this week. After losing 2 out of 3 in St. Louis, the Mets have 3 in D. C. with the Nationals, then host the Dodgers. Both those opponents – as well as the Cardinals – lead their respective divisions.

If the Mets are going to go to the post-season (which I highly doubt) they will have to get the bats going the rest of the week and play like they deserve to be in the play-offs.

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Will watch golf on TV – especially the major tourneys like this weekend’s British Open. . . .

So sorry – pip-pip – The Open Championship. . . .

Anyway, what a Saturday over in Scotland. Wind blowing the golf ball off the greens – I was wondering how some of those guys were able to stand up.

While waiting for play to resume Saturday, I was really struck by the criticism by ESPN’s Mike Tirico and Paul Azinger about playing the third round on Sunday and the final round on Monday. They wanted to put the final two rounds – 36 holes – on Sunday. Maybe they had a hot date back in the states early this week.

After watching a good deal of the tournament Sunday morning, I thought the decision was a good one. Excellent golf on the Old Course at St. Andrews!

Hope to see even better today. . . .

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Happy “Moon Day,” everyone!

Today marks the 46th anniversary of the late Nieil Armstrong and “Buzz” Aldrin’s 1969 landing and walk on the moon!

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Gotta be brief today. Lots of other stuff going on. . . .

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See you next week!

Out in Left Field: July 6, 2015

OILF-294x300So, who was talking about brooms last week? Anyone know?

Oh yeah – that would have been me. . . .

Don’t know how I fit these size 13’s in my mouth, but over the years, I’ve done it quite frequently.

Think I told Cubs fan John White last Monday after the Cardinals had swept the Cubs over last weekend, “You watch, they’ll (Cubs) go into New York and sweep them (my Mets).”

Truer words never spoken. . . .

Everyone still in a tizzy about the American womans soccer team which claimed the FIFA World Cup yesterday in Vancouver.

Great, great effort by the USA and they deserved to win the tournament.

Was happy to see. . . .

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The William’s sisters got together on Centre Court at Wimbledon today and Serena got the best of Venice in two sets.

If you missed it – like I did – you may have missed out on history. This could have been the final time the Williams sisters play each other in a major tennis tournament.

We certainly hope not, but with the draws and the ages of these players, I feel like we’re seeing the last of them getting this opportunity.

Again, hope we are wrong about this.

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With all of this going on, you might have missed Tiger Woods made the cut this past weekend on the PGA tour.

Think he even finished under par.

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See you next week!

Out in Left Field: June 29, 2015

OILF-294x300Noticed a lot of brooms out around Pana today.

. . . .Any of you Cubs fans out there know why?

Just thought I’d ask.

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Don’t know if any of you Cards and Cubs fans noticed what happened with my New York Mets yesterday. You Cubs fans should take note as we start a series Tuesday in New York.

Making his major league debut, Mets pitcher Steven Matz put up some pretty big offensive numbers as well as doing a fine job on the hill yesterday. After surrendering a first pitch home run, the rookie from Long Island, N. Y., cracked a two-run double in his first big league plate appearance Sunday, en route to a three-hit, four-RBI day in the Mets’ 7-2 win over the Reds.

Matz became the first player – pitcher or otherwise – in franchise history to drive home four runs in his debut, and the first Mets pitcher to do it in any game since Dwight Gooden in 1990. He was the first pitcher to have three hits in his debut since Jason Jennings did it for the Rockies in 2001.

He is the first pitcher on record (since 1914) to have three hits and four RBIs in his first Major League game, and the 11th player overall. He’s also the only pitcher with four-plus RBIs in his debut, regardless of hits.

Can’t wait to see what he does his second game. . . .

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See you next week!