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A Moment Alone

Posted on June 21, 2019 at 11:34 AM Comments comments (117)
There he stood, waiting for his flight.  It was Monday morning after the 1991 NBA All-Star Game recently played in Charlotte, North Carolina.  My brother Cliff and I had been the guests of Miller Brewing Company. We first toured the Roger Penske Racing facility, where they built their Indy cars and NASCAR’s.  Rusty Wallace’s major sponsor was Miller Brewing. Then we attended the NBA Jam which included the Three-Point Shoot Out contest, the Slam Dunk contest and the Legends Game.  On Sunday, the West beat the East and Charles Barkley was chosen MVP of the NBA All-Star Game. On Monday, I flew from Charlotte to Atlanta to change planes for my trip home to Corpus Christi, Texas.  The fellow standing there was Bart Starr. I approached him with caution out of respect. I was excited. When I stuck out my hand to shake his, I noticed my hand was shaking. After introducing myself, I told him how sorry I was to hear about his son Bret who had recently passed away from a cocaine addiction.  Although I imagine it was hurtful to talk about, I could not have said anything better. Sometimes God puts words in our mouth for others. Starr perked up like a Roman candle. He thanked me for my thoughts and told me that he and his wife Cherry were finding it difficult to deal with his loss. We spent about ten minutes talking about family, the real estate business, restaurant business, and traveling.  Then his plane began boarding. We said our good-byes. It wasn’t until after he had left that I realized that neither of us had mentioned the Green Bay Packers or NFL football. We had exchanged business cards and wished each other a great flight. About three weeks later I received a color lithograph rolled up inside a container. It said it was from Bart Starr. When I opened the container I pulled out a beautiful 36X24 inch picture of Starr in uniform.  It was autographed with his name in black ink. Interestingly, something told me to turn the photo over and on the back, Starr had written, “Dear Andy, Thanks for asking.” Bart Starr was thanking me for asking about his son. It still gives me chills to look at that picture. It was the first and last time I ever met Bart Starr.

There is no doubt that life rarely offered him an easy path.  Starr was one tough son of a gun. He suffered a stroke in 2012 while giving a speech in Madison, Wisconsin.  In 2014, a heart attack followed with multiple seizures. Bart underwent stem cell treatment in 2015 and got some better in 2016.  He returned to Green Bay only a couple of times, in November of 2015 when Bret Favre’s #4 was retired and in October of 2017 for the Packers’ 50th Anniversary of the 1967 Championship season.

Bart Starr threw his last pass in life on May 26, 2019.  He was 85 and died from a stroke he had suffered earlier.  He was living in Birmingham, Alabama, with Cherry, his wife of more than sixty-five years.  He is also survived by a son, Bart Starr Jr., and three granddaughters. Their youngest son, Bret, who is mentioned above, died of cocaine overdose in 1988 at the age of 24.

Generous until the end, in 1965, Bart and Cherry started the Rawhide Boys’ Ranch in New London, Wisconsin.  This facility still helps at-risk and troubled youth in the state of Wisconsin.

Starr will always be remembered for his part in the “Ice Bowl” played at Lambeau Field against the Dallas Cowboys on the final day of 1967.  This game would crown the NFL Champion. With Green Bay trailing 17-14 in the frigid cold, Starr comes to the sidelines to speak with Lombardi.  It was third and goal at the Dallas two-foot line. Starr suggests he keep the ball and run it himself. Lombardi answers, “Then do it, and let’s get the hell out of here.”  With 16 seconds left in the game, Starr scores behind guard Jerry Kramer’s and center Ken Bowman’s block, and the Packers won 21-17. It was the stuff legends are made from.

It’s funny, Starr had always wanted to be the best but never quite felt he was one of the best.  There is one thing for sure, he was a better man than he was a quarterback, but still received unconditional love from fans and friends alike.  The game of football was better for having Bart Starr under center. He would be happy with that.
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We Were the First

Posted on July 19, 2017 at 7:57 PM Comments comments (71)
Nineteen Sixty-Three was a very memorable year in the world of sports.  Wilt Chamberlain dropped 67 points on the Lakers and then 70 the following week on Syracuse.  “Sonny” Liston knocked out Floyd Patterson in the 1 round to win the heavyweight title, and Jack Nicklaus won “The Masters.”  A young Pete Rose debuted for the Cincinnati Reds, and both Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays signed the first $100,000 a year contracts in Major League baseball history.  The great Jim Brown won the Bert Bell Award by setting the NFL single-season rushing record with 1,863 yards; the Dallas Texans became the Kansas City Chiefs; and Jim Thorpe, “Red” Grange, George Halas were elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  Bob Cousy and Stan Musial retired, and the College All-Stars beat the Green Bay Packers 20-17. 



But for the past two seasons, a college football storm had been brewing down in Austin, Texas; and it all started with Head Coach Darrell Royal.  The Longhorns’ football team had started the previous two seasons (1961 and 1962) ranked #1 in the nation, only to be turned away at the end.  The 1961 team was upset by TCU, and the 1962 team settled for a tie against Rice.  The stars seemed to be aligned in 1963, even though the Associated Press ranked the Longhorns #5 at the beginning of the year.  Today my friend, Hix Green, gave me a firsthand look at how that 1963 National Championship season unfolded.

At 75 years of age, his mind is sharp and his voice educated.  Just being around Hix makes me feel ten years old.  Smiling constantly, he owns a “We’re going to Disney World” kind of face.  Mostly retired now, he looks like he could still play.  He seems content until you mention Texas football.  His eyes open wide, and the memories come flooding back.  As of this writing, the Texas Longhorns have won four National Championships in football:  1963, 1969, 1970 and 2005.  “Yeah, but we were the first,” exclaimed Hix. 

Hix Green, III, was born on July 20, 1942, grew up in San Antonio, Texas, and attended Jefferson High School.  Although rather small, Hix made up for his size with quickness, energy, speed and talent.  The only thing that could have stopped this guy was a bad case of the flu.  Not only was he an outstanding football player, but he also ran on the track team and qualified in the 100-yard dash during the Texas Relays.  Green was not only recruited by Texas, Rice, Texas A&M, Georgia Tech, Navy, SMU, Coast Guard, Air Force Academy and Texas Tech, but he also received an appointment at Army.  When I asked him “Why Texas?” he smiled and said, “When they flew me out there, the plebes convinced me that going to school at West Point was not all that it was cracked up to be.”  Hix accepted an athletic scholarship to become a Longhorn.  “I never regretted my decision,” said Hix.

In 1960, Hix reported for his freshman year with about 70 other players.  “I looked around and the place was full of blue-chip players.  Freshmen didn’t play on the varsity squad back then.  Coach Royal red-shirted me for the 1961 season,” said Hix.  In 1962, Hix got his first taste of big-time college football and the Longhorns finished 9-1-1, but lost on January 1, 1963, in the Cotton Bowl to LSU, 13-0. 

The Longhorns would not lose another football game until October 10, 1964.  That’s right!  The Longhorns went untied and undefeated for the 1963 season.  Hix started the 1963 season off right.  On October 12, 1963, with 2:42 left in the 3 quarter, Green scored a touchdown from three yards out, in a 34-7 romp over Oklahoma State.  A blowout win over Oklahoma 28-7, in the fourth week of the season, pushed the Longhorns to the #1 ranking.  On November 9, with the Longhorns leading 7-0 late against Baylor, Hix made what would have been a game-saving interception.  Baylor’s All-American quarterback Don Trull threw to All-American wide receiver Lawrence Elkins, but Green intercepted Trull’s pass and ran it back 21 yards.  On the next play, Texas fullback Tom Stockton fumbled the ball back to Baylor.  It took a Duke Carlisle interception in the end zone to save the day.

On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas, Texas.  Kennedy had planned a trip to Austin to visit Royal, but it was not to be.  At 1:00 PM Central Standard Time, the nation stood still; JFK had passed away.  “Most of us were on our way to class,” said Hix.  “Nobody could believe what was happening.  When we got to class, the teacher called it off.  I do remember we practiced that day, but it wasn’t very spirited.”   Texas Governor, John Connally, had also been shot but survived.  Six days later, Texas played Texas A&M at Kyle Field.  Hix played an important part in the Longhorns’ win over the Aggies.  On an incredibly muddy field, the score stood 13-3 at halftime, in favor of the Aggies.  In the fourth quarter, Green recovered a fumble on the Aggies’ side of the field and Tommy Ford later scored for the Longhorns, leaving the score 13-9 in favor of the Aggies.  Later in the game, with Texas facing third down and 17 from their own 20-yard line, Green was surprised when a throwback pass was called in the huddle.  Hix made the catch of his life for 20 yards, to keep the winning drive alive.  Texas later scored and won 15-13, to keep their National Championship hopes alive.  Up next would be Heisman Trophy winner, Roger Staubach, and #2 Navy, in the Cotton Bowl. 

The first-ever Cotton Bowl to host #1 versus #2 was played on January 1, 1964, in Dallas, Texas. Texas played hard and well and stunned Navy 28-6.  The Longhorns were crowned #1 in the nation for the first time in the school’s history.    

The 1964 season started with four straight wins, until Arkansas came to town.  The Razorbacks hung on for a 14-13 win over Texas, diminishing the Longhorns’ chances for another National Championship.  On November 26, 1964, Hix recovered an Aggie fumble to help turn the tide for the Horns.   With 2:24 left in the game, Hix scored a touchdown from two yards out, making the score 19-7 in favor of Texas over arch rival Texas A&M.  Texas beat the Aggies that day, 26-7.  “After the game was over, I ran off the field with the game ball,” said Hix. “I still have it at home, sitting on my desk.”  Texas would meet #1 ranked Alabama next.

“On January 1, 1965, we played against Joe Namath and the Alabama Crimson Tide, in the first Orange Bowl to ever be played at night in primetime,” said Hix.  “We stayed at a hotel on Miami Beach, and worked out at the University of Miami.  There were even a few NFL scouts hanging around.”  Hix received the kickoff for the Longhorns as the Orange Bowl got underway.  Late in the game, the Texas defense made one of the most famous stops at the goal line, to preserve a 21-17 win for Texas.  With time running out, Namath tried a quarterback sneak and still claims he reached the end zone, but Tommy Nobis and Tom Currie turned him away.  Texas would finish the 1964 season 10-1 and ranked #5 in the nation.    

At the end of our interview I mentioned to Hix, “So, you have never lost a football game to Oklahoma, Texas A&M, or Alabama, three pretty darn good programs.”  “That’s right,” smiled Hix. “And we even beat Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson when they both played at Arkansas.” 

Hix Green was a member of the Texas Longhorn football team from 1960-1964.  He stands 5 feet 8 inches tall, weighs 170 pounds and played tailback and defensive back.  “Everybody played both ways back then,” said Hix.  Texas ran from a Wing-T formation, and used what was called a flip-flop offensive set.  They had seven running plays to the right and then flipped the formation to run the same seven plays to the left.  Hix spent a lot of time blocking for halfback, Tommy Ford, and quarterback, Duke Carlisle. Hix Green suited up for three Cotton Bowls and one Orange Bowl.  During his career, Hix rushed 110 times, gained 318 yards and scored two touchdowns.  Hix also recorded eight receptions for 80 yards.  “We only had three pass plays,” laughed Hix.  He also took his turn at running back kickoffs, returning punts and recovered several fumbles. 

For some of us, football is life.  It’s where we find our happiness.  “I don’t think my stats are important,” said Hix.  “My final stats were less than I achieved in many single high school games for San Antonio Jefferson, but when called on…I delivered.” There is no doubt that Hix made several key plays that helped the Longhorns achieve greatness.  Here’s to my friend, Hix Green.  There’s nothing like being part of the first!!
 

                                                                      Andy Purvis
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Fair Winds and Following Seas

Posted on July 19, 2017 at 7:50 PM Comments comments (322)
Look into those eyes.  Notice that smile.  Now you know why so many stop by to see him.  They come by, young and old, to say “hello,” pay their respects, to place their hand on his shoulder or shake his hand.  Most of them want to take a picture with him.  Because of his WWII military service, he has been written about as much as any Corpus Christi resident.  There are not many Pearl Harbor survivors left, and his life story is indeed incredible. 



But this is a tribute to a baseball fan.  I imagine that Marvin Alexander’s life is divided by the four things he loves most:  his God, his country, his family and baseball, and maybe not necessarily in that order.  After 94 years, I’m sure he has stood for the National Anthem more times than there are stars in the sky. A Corpus Christi Hooks’ season-ticket holder from the beginning (2005), he sits four seats away to my right.  It seems like he has always been there and, in fact, for me he pretty much has.  Seat 8, Row 16, Section 117 should have a nameplate with his name attached to it.  For years his beloved wife, Mary, joined him, until sadly she left us two years ago.  Now his sons, Marvin Jr. and Mike, bring their dad to see the Hooks play.  It seems he’s always had a baseball heart.

As I got to know Mr. Alexander more and more, I wondered where his love for the game of baseball came from.  Turns out he was a pretty darn good pitcher, while in the Navy.  After the war, Mr. Alexander was stationed at the Corpus Christi Naval Air Station.  During the late 1940’s, a baseball team was organized.  This semi-pro league was made up of several auxiliary air stations.  “We played all summer long against teams located at Cabaniss Field, Rodd Field, Cuddihy Field, Chase field, Waldron Field, and in Kingsville and Laredo,” said Marvin.

I asked him about his best pitch.  He described it as an “In” pitch.  Now remember, baseball terms were different in the 1940’s.  What he was describing was a fastball inside on the right-hand hitters.  He also owned a fine curveball.  “In 1947, you pitched all nine innings in those days” said Marvin.  “There was no such thing as relief pitchers.  If you couldn’t go nine innings you didn’t pitch.”

When I asked him who his favorite baseball players were, he surprised me.  “I followed the local guys, Burt Hooten and Bart Shirley’s careers,” he said. 

There are several funny stories that his boys have shared with me.  “In 2010, on Mom and Dad’s 70 wedding anniversary, they decided to go to the Hooks game to celebrate,” laughed Marvin Jr.  “We had so much fun.  The ballpark ushers got together and decorated Mary’s seat,” said Mr. Alexander.

 “Dad loved playing baseball; he was pitching on the day I was born,” exclaimed his younger son, Mike. “I was born at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi at the Navy hospital.”  “Yeah, and I won that day,” laughed Marvin.  “I think the score was 5-2.”  Mike would grow up with his dad’s love for baseball.  Mike pitched for Carroll High School before receiving a scholarship to pitch at Blinn College.  After two years there, Mike transferred to Sam Houston State and continued his dream. 

 Marvin and Mary Alexander married in 1940.  A friend of mine, Marty Robinson, attends all the Sunday games with me.  He once asked Mr. Alexander, “How do you stay married for more than 70 years?”  Marvin just smile and answered, “Two words --Yes Dear.”  Alexander later said, “She never raised her voice at me.” 

Oh, how I would love to see through those baby blues if for only a moment.  The players he has seen, the stories he could tell.  Hunter Pence with that funny swing and Ben Zobrist hitting line drives like he owned the place.  Mr. Alexander was one of the 9,022 fans who showed up to watch Roger Clemens strike out 11 in just six innings, on June 11, 2006.  That same season, he pulled for the team to win their first Texas League Championship.  Marvin liked watching J.D. Martinez roaming the Hooks’ outfield.  He also enjoyed watching Jason Castro shut down the running game, while cheering for a George Springer “dinger.”  He admired the quickness of Jose Altuve’s bat and the long, accurate arm of Carlos Correa.  He smiled at a Dallas Keuchel’s slider and raved about Alex Bregman’s glove play at third base.  

Andy Rooney once said, “The best classroom in the world is at the feet of an elderly person.”

So, if you find yourself at Whataburger Field and you want to meet an extraordinary gentleman, stop by and say hello to a former pitcher, Marvin Alexander.  Here’s wishing my friend fair winds and following seas.
 
                                                               Andy Purvis

                                                       www.purvisbooks.com
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Love Each Other

Posted on December 9, 2016 at 4:31 PM Comments comments (54)
I have always wanted to write this story but be as it may, it always became a bit to emotional for me.  You see, sometimes we can be too close to something.  So close that it feels wonderful and hurts all at the same time.  Oh, I tried and then all the memories rose up, my mind reeling, I would move on to something else, always intending to return.  It’s been 33 years.  Now that another season of NCAA basketball has started, I will try again to express my feelings.  I will never forget the following article that was written in the Albuquerque Journal on the morning of April 3, 1983.  “Trees will tap dance, elephants will drive at Indy and Orson Welles will skip lunch before North Carolina State finds a way to beat Houston in the NCAA College Championship Game, Monday night.”  Sometimes we wish that time would stand still.  Life unlike a snapshot is a gathering of fleeting moments in time.  That was such a happy time for me, my brother Cliff, my family and millions of N.C. State fans. 
 
I was born and raised in Raleigh, N.C. and my Mother, Edith Purvis, worked at N.C. State in the bookstore and athletic department for over 25 years.  She knew Jim Valvano well and made sure we did too.  My first love was college basketball not baseball, and my favorite athlete was N.C. State point guard, Eddie Biedenbach.  I saw Eddie years later at the 2011 Final Four tournament with my pal, Coach Ronnie Arrow.  I shook his hand and told Eddie he was my favorite player growing up and he turned to several others coaches and said, “See, I told you I could play.”  He was also the first to give me an autograph. 

I can’t count how many games my brother and I attended at William Neal Reynolds Coliseum, the home court of the N.C. State Wolfpack.  The ACC was a great basketball conference and N.C. State had some history.  In 1973, we were privileged to see Norm Sloan and the Wolfpack beat Tom McMillian and John Lucas of the Maryland Terrapins, in a nationally televised game on Super Bowl Sunday.  The Wolfpack became the first team in the ACC to go undefeated in conference play, two years in a row.  With great players like David Thompson, Monte Towe, Tom Burleson, “Mo” Rivers, Phil Spence and Tim Stoddard, N.C. State won the 1974 NCAA National Championship.  The Wolfpack took down Bill Walton and the UCLA Bruins 80-77 in the semi-finals, and then ran by Marquette 76-64 for the championship.

When N.C. State coach Jim Valvano was asked how he planned to slow down the Houston Cougars at the 1983 Final Four, he responded, “We’re going to start guarding them when they get off their bus.”   Jim Valvano was a one-man parade.   He was an over-doer, an overachiever and an over-the-top kind of guy, but he was at his best as a basketball coach.   Whatever he attempted, he was all in and in most cases successful.  It’s hard to describe Jimmy V.  He had that flash; that ability to light up a place.  His hands were small; it was like shaking hands with a nine-year old.  Jim spoke fast like an AK-47 and his voice sounded like a distant artillery barrage.  When excited, he kept coming at you like sheets of rain in a windstorm.  He looked like a guy with a lance going after a machine-gun nest.  Jim once said, “Sometimes the only difference between being a college basketball coach and General George Armstrong Custer is that the coach has to watch the game film the next day.”  Talking with Valvano gave you ammunition to go out and do whatever you set your mind on doing.  Everybody who ever met Jim had a story about him.  This one is mine.

He was the kind of guy you wouldn’t mind getting stuck with in a submarine.  Jim was always an education to talk to.  The gym just felt better with him in it.  It’s true that Valvano never shied away from a camera.  That was just not part of his DNA.  I’m pretty sure Jack the Ripper could have played for Jim Valvano.  “Don’t let anyone steal your dreams,” he once said.  I remember him with his head back, knee-slapping with laughter.  Until his bout with cancer, the only thing Jim had ever hurt was his stomach from laughing.  Jim always talked about love.  Love for the game, for his players, and his family. “Love means you can depend on me,” said Valvano.  He just might have been what basketball is all about. 

With a record of 25-10 and a coach who refused to give up, the Wolfpack prepared to play against the 31-2, Houston Cougars.  It was April 4, 1983, in “The Pit” at the University of New Mexico.  Valvano had threatened to hold the ball, but instead went right at Houston.  Valvano’s secret was to not let them dunk the ball, because that’s when they really got going.  This strategy worked at first.  At halftime, N. C. State was up 33-25 with 50 million viewers tuned in.  The world of college basketball was upside down.  Surely Houston would respond.  Derek Whittenburg, Sidney Lowe, Thurl Bailey, Ernie Myers, Terry Gannon, Cozell McQueen, and Lorenzo Charles had played most of the minutes for Valvano during the season.  It would be the same in the national championship game.  With the score 52-52 with 1:42 minutes left to play, Valvano called a timeout and instructed his team to foul freshman Alvin Franklin of the Cougars.   Who fouls in a tie game?  Whittenburg committed the foul and Franklin went to the line with a one-and-one opportunity and 44 seconds left in the game.  Franklin missed and N. C. State rebounded the basketball and called another timeout.  Houston had played man to man the entire night but switched to zone and started trapping the ball handler.  The Wolfpack was not prepared.  With 4 seconds left and Derek Whittenburg, wearing #25 and 30 feet away from the basket, put up a desperation shot.  There’s an old saying in basketball, “A shot is never too far away if it goes in.”  Whether Whittenburg actually shot the ball or attempted a pass to Lorenzo Charles standing underneath the basket, it will be debated until the end of time.   Everyone held their breath.  The only guy who moved in the building was Lorenzo Charles who grabbed the ball out of midair and dunked it as time ran out.   Madness, upset city, it’s a miracle, Cinderella was for real, team of destiny, it may never happen again, every sports page and magazine in the nation led with the impossible:  N.C. State 54-Houston 52.  Remarkably, neither Lowe, Gannon, nor Whittenburg had turned the ball over the entire game.

If you have not watched the ESPN 30-For-30 Special about this amazing run by Jim Valvano and his Wolfpack of N.C. State, please do.  Valvano taught his kids to dream.  He told them at the beginning of the season that they were going to win the national championship and had them practice cutting down the nets once a week during practice.  Valvano’s March 4, 1993 ESPY speech, “Don’t Give Up.  Don’t Ever Give Up,” will live forever.  God truly gave him words that night to give to us.  Since 1993, nearly 200 million dollars has been raised to help fight cancer through the Jimmy V. Foundation.

It has been said that death may end a life, but it does not end a relationship.  How true!  A lot of laughter left the game when Jim Valvano died.  Cancer had been getting to the foul line on him for years trying to score.  Cancer finally dunked on Jimmy V. with no time remaining, on April, 28, 1993.  It had been a little over ten years after Jim had cut down the nets in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  I’m positive he died laughing or eating or both.  My dad, Gordon Purvis died of cancer one year after Jimmy in July of 1984.  My mother and brother have also left me behind.  Valvano’s real message had always been the same as my parents, about love.  Love each other.  I miss them all, terribly.
 
                                                     Andy Purvis
                                            www.purvisbooks.com
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Hey Dad it's Me, I'll call You Back

Posted on July 6, 2016 at 4:42 PM Comments comments (67)
While in high school, Jeff Francoeur played football and baseball.  He was a terrific wide receiver and defensive back on the football team.  Jeff led Parkview High School, located in Lilburn, Georgia, to the State 5A High School Football Championships in 2000 and 2001.  He also led his high school to the State 5A Baseball Championships in 2001 and 2002.  He was recruited for both sports near and far, by many colleges.  Head football Coach, Tommy Bowden, from Clemson University was after Francoeur to play for the Tigers, and he offered Jeff a scholarship to play wide receiver.  Picture a scene where Tommy Bowden is visiting Jeff’s family on a recruiting trip when the phone rang in their home.  As the conversation transpired Tommy Bowden realized that his dad, Bobby Bowden, the head football coach at Florida State is the one who is calling Jeff.  Tommy Bowden asked Jeff if he could have the phone and Jeff complied.  Tommy then says, “Hey, Dad, it’s me, I’ll call you back.”  “It was an awkward scene,” said Jeff.  “But I also played baseball, and the Atlanta Braves lured me away from football with a two-million-dollar offer to play baseball.”
 
                                         Andy Purvis
                                 www.purvisbooks.com
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Some Things Never Change

Posted on July 5, 2016 at 12:18 PM Comments comments (56)
There is no doubt that Pete Rose had a compulsion for hitting.  In the summer of 1990, Pete Rose confessed to tax evasion and was sentenced to five months in jail and a fine.  In January of 1991, after serving his time in prison, he was picked up by his son, Pete Rose, Jr.  Pete asked his son if he knew where the closet batting cage was located.  “Yes,” said Jr. “there happens to be one close by.  When they got there, Pete asked the attendant which machine was the fastest.  The attendant said they had a machine that threw 85 mph.  Pete Rose, “the hit king,” was 51 years old when he stepped into the batter’s box.  A crowd had now gathered around to see what would happen.  On the very first pitch the machine delivered, Pete hit a screaming line drive straight back at the pitching machine.  He dropped the bat, turned to the crowd, and said, “Some things never change.”
 
                                                    Andy Purvis
                                             www.purvisbooks.com
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Thoughts on the Greatest

Posted on July 5, 2016 at 12:16 PM Comments comments (42)
How do you begin to write about an icon; one of the few people, other than the Pope, who have been known worldwide for over a half century?  The world knew his name.  He was perhaps the most recognized man on the planet Earth.  What more could be written?  What secrets lie unknown?  His entire life has been documented for history on radio, film, television, and in more books than the entire collection of the Encyclopedia Britannica.  From the jungles of the Philippines to the deserts of Africa and all across this great land, the name Ali resonates with young and old, men and women, of every color and nationality, sitting around tables and telling stories.  Smiles break out on their faces and their heads begin to move side to side in disbelief as their memory takes them back to a time when a loud, brash, insulting young boxer, not only changed his name and religion, but like the armies of Alexander the Great against the Persians at Issus, he waded knee-deep through the best collection of heavyweight boxers this world has ever seen.   Ali always seemed to be in a hurry, and he boxed like he was double-parked.  In a sport populated with more celebrities than a “Red Carpet,” Ali was always the best boxer in the room and disposed of his opponents like a box of Kleenex.
I was one of the millions who were mesmerized by Ali.  Every picture taken of a young Ali had him with his mouth open.  It was as if he had been born during a thunderstorm.  He always put on a show before, during and after each fight.  Ali had a wonderful smile, but those eyes, those eyes could see right through you.  Ali could have been undefeated in a staring contest.  He was authentic, a pioneer, muscles glistening under the ring lights; he was over-the-top, the “Louisville Lip,” the “Greatest of All Time.”  With his hands down style, dancing constantly, bouncing on his toes in the ring, Ali put the sport on the world map and helped usher in the Golden Era of Boxing.
So begins my story of Muhammad Ali, the ultimate song and dance man.  You see, I’m one of those old guys and from the age of nine, I followed his career, sometimes angry, sometimes enlightened, but always mesmerized and after all that has been said and done, I’m proud to be able to say to any man,  “Shake the hand that shook the hand of Muhammad Ali.”  That’s right.  Not only did I get to meet Ali in January of 1994, in Houston Texas, but I also had him sign a book and a pair of white Everlast boxing trunks, with black stripes down the sides.  I could not believe how big he was in person and when I saw him up close, he was even bigger.  I also shook his hand and sang “Happy Birthday” to him.  I think I surprised him.  Everyone waiting in the autograph line joined in.
His given name was Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., born on January 17, 1942, in Louisville, Kentucky, and named after a former politician.  His mother, Odessa, was a cook and house cleaner.  His father was a sign painter. Cassius grew up in a little pink house located at 3302 Grand Avenue.  He loved playing board games and eating hotdogs with his brother, Rudy, and started boxing at the age of 12, after his new red Schwinn bicycle was stolen off a downtown street.  Cassius reported the theft to Officer Joe Martin, who also ran a boxing gym.  When Cassius described what he wanted to do to the thief, Officer Martin suggested he first learn to box.  Officer Martin would train Clay for the next six years.  His amateur debut occurred in 1954.  Clay won six Kentucky Golden Glove titles and two National Golden Glove titles.  Cassius was not a very good student and excelled in only art and gym class.  He graduated 376 in a class of 391 from Louisville Central High School.  He later said he never really learned to read a book and had to memorize his speeches.  He was part of the 1960 U.S. Olympic boxing team that traveled to Rome.  I watched him fight because I loved the Olympics; it was us against the world, and he was representing America.  I was not disappointed. 
 In his later life, Ali became somewhat of a saint.  Ali was able to transcend from one of the most controversial figures in sports to one of the most beloved.  He was respected for sacrificing over three years of his boxing prime for standing firm on his anti-war principles.  His demeanor grew softer in old age and the public responded to him in a positive way.  Ali generated so much good will that the public’s perception of him changed.  Ali had many famous quotes.  My favorite goes like this:  “It isn’t the mountains ahead that wear you down.  It’s the pebble in your shoe.”
Ali, a social activist, on integration:  “God made us all different.  It’s natural to be with your own.  I want to be with my own.  I have a beautiful daughter and a beautiful wife and they both look like me.  We’re all happy and we have no troubles.  Every intelligent person wants their child to look like him.  I want to be with my own.  I love my people.”
The number of awards that Ali has received are too numerous to mention.  Here are a few of the most prestigious.  On September 7, 1960, Cassius Clay won an Olympic Gold Medal in boxing.  In 1990, Muhammad Ali was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.  Although trembling and nearly unable to speak, Ali was chosen to light the Olympic caldron at the 1996 Olympic Summer games in Atlanta, Georgia.  In 1999, Sports Illustrated named Muhammad Ali the Sportsman of the Century, and he became the first boxer to appear on a Wheaties Box.  On January 8, 2001, Ali received the Presidential Citizen Medal from President Bill Clinton.  On November 9, 2005, President George W. Bush awarded Ali the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  This is the highest award that can be achieved by a citizen in the United States.  Also in 2005, the Muhammad Ali Center, a museum dedicated to respect, hope and understanding, opened in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.  Sports Illustrated announced that Muhammad Ali would grace their cover for the 40 time, during the week of his death. 
In the ring, his agility, lightning hand speed, barrage of powerful punches and unpredictable movement allowed him to overwhelm his opponents.  He was beautifully trained and conditioned.  He circled his opponents like a well-oiled machine.  What’s important to remember is that Muhammad Ali defeated every top heavyweight contender in his era.  According to his trainer, Angelo Dundee, Ali just made it up as he went along.  “Ali worked as hard as he talked,” said Dundee.  He broke all the rules in the boxing handbook.  He pulled away when he threw a punch, and again when a punch was thrown his way.  Dundee criticized him for not slipping punches by moving his head and for keeping his hands low by his side instead of up in front of his face.  Ali dared you to swing at him. 
To become the Heavyweight Boxing Champion, you first have to win a fight.  And win, he did.  He was the 1960 Light-Heavyweight Olympic Champion and a three-time World Heavyweight Champ.  His opponents were up and down off the canvas so many times they must have thought they were riding on an elevator.  Over 21 years, his career win-loss record stands at 56-5, with 37 wins by knockout.  He had fought in a squared ring for more than two decades, but his stage was never big enough.  In the ring he became known for the “Ali shuffle.”  He will be remembered more for what he did outside the ring, what he stood for, and what he believed in.  People don’t become great because they are perfect every time out.  They become great when everything goes wrong and they still find a way to win. 
We all knew this day was close.  Ali suffered with Parkinson’s disease for 32 years.  Interestingly, it was his ability to take a punch that ultimately did him in.  He spent the last ten years of his life in Scottsdale, Arizona.  A part of all of us slipped away today.  So, now Ali embarks on life’s last mystery.  History will record the date of his death as Friday, June 3, 2016, in a Phoenix-area hospital.  He died from septic shock, brought on by natural causes.  He was but 74.  The man himself, “Ali,” reminded us, “Don’t count the days.  Make the days count.”  A better fighter may come along one day, but Ali will always be “The Champ.”
One of my favorite writers, Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press, tells a wonderful story about Ali visiting a children’s hospital.  While there, Ali speaks with a young boy who is dying of cancer.  After they had spent a few minutes together, Ali said, “I’m going to beat George Foreman and you’re going to beat cancer.  “No,” said the boy.  “I’m going to meet God, and I’m going to tell him I know you.”  I wonder what that little boy and Ali are talking about now.  
Muhammad Ali once said, “The fame, the championships, the boxing, it’s all good, but it’s more important to treat people right and to worship God, and living a good life.  It’s more important than just being a boxer and beating up people.”  Some people just come along at the right time, and some of us never die.  Their legend lives on through the ages.  Ali’s legacy will always be a part of our history.  It has been said that Ali whispered to George Foreman during their fight, “Is that all you got?”  He’s whispering the same to all of us now.
 
                                                        Andy Purvis
                                                 www.purvisbboks.com
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Mudville Nine

Posted on July 5, 2016 at 12:16 PM Comments comments (54)
June gives all baseball cranks a chance to relive the legend of Mighty Casey.  Of all the fictional characters to come out of baseball, none has ever held a place in the minds and hearts of fans, as has Casey.  The legendary poem, “Casey at the Bat” by Ernest Lawrence Thayer, celebrates its 128 anniversary this month.  This poem has appeared in nearly all baseball magazines or periodicals and every true fan has heard of the team known as the Mudville Nine.  No matter how many times you have read this poem or heard it read, you can’t help but sift through the verse to find out about Cooney and Burrows or Flynn and Blakely.  What position did Casey play?  Did he bat left or right, and what was the score?  And yes, the umpires; even in 1888, the umpire was considered more the enemy than the opponent.  Some of the questions can be answered; some not; but still we look.  Even though Casey is a fictitious character, he represents every Major League hero we’ve ever had.   If you squint your eyes just so, you can see Ruth, Mantle, Aaron, Bonds, and Stanton.  Harper, Trout, Casey and the others become one in the fact that even the very best players fail, seven out of ten times at bat.  Baseball is a lot like life, in that failing normally precedes success.  Even so, the great ones continue to step into the batter’s box and risk the strikeout to hear the cheers.  Casey seems to have created a niche for himself in the imaginary Hall of Fame, not because of what he did, but rather because of what he failed to do.
 
                                    Casey at the Bat
          It looked extremely rocky for the Mudville Nine that day;
The score stood two to four, with but an inning left to play.
So, Cooney died at second, and Burrows did the same,
A pallor wreathed the features of the patrons of the game.
 
A straggling few got up to go, leaving there the rest,
With that hope which springs eternal within the human breast.
For they thought, “If only Casey would get a whack at that,”
They’d put even money now, with Casey at the bat.
But Flynn preceded Casey, and likewise so did Blake,
And the former was a pudd’n and the latter was a fake.
So, on the stricken multitude a deathlike silence sat;
For there seemed but little chance of Casey getting to the bat.
 
But Flynn let drive a “single” to the wonderment of all.
And the much-despised Blakely “tore the cover off the ball.”
And when the dust had lifted, and they saw what had occurred,
There was Blakely safe at second and Flynn a-huggin’ third.
 
Then from the gladdened multitude went up a joyous yell.
It rumbled in the mountaintops, it rattled in the dell;
It struck upon the hillside and rebounded on the flat;
For Casey, mighty Casey was advancing to the bat.
 
There was ease in Casey’s manner as he stepped into his place;
There was pride in Casey’s bearing and a smile on Casey’s face.
And when responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat;
No stranger in the crowd could doubt, ’twas Casey at the bat.
 
Ten thousand eyes were on him, as he rubbed his hands with dirt;
Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt.
Then when the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
Defiance glanced in Casey’s eye, a sneer curled Casey’s lip.
 
And now the leather-covered sphere came hurling through the air,
And Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped.
“That ain’t my style,” said Casey; “Strike one,” the umpire said.
 
From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar,
Like the beating of the storm waves on the stern and distant shore.
“Kill him! Kill the umpire!” shouted someone in the stand;
And it’s likely they’d have killed him had not Casey raised his hand.
 
With a smile of Christian Charity, great Casey’s visage shone;
He stilled the rising tumult; he made the game go on.
He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew;
But Casey still ignored it, and the umpire said, “Strike two.”
 
“Fraud” cried the maddened thousands, and the echo answered Fraud.
But one scornful look from Casey, and the audience was awed;
They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain;
And they knew that Casey wouldn’t let the ball go by again.
 
The sneer is gone from Casey’s lips; his teeth are clenched in hate;
He pounds with cruel vengeance his bat upon the plate.
And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go;
And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey’s blow.
 
Oh, somewhere in this favored land, the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light.
And somewhere, men are laughing; and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville:  Mighty Casey has struck out.
 
                                      Ernest Lawrence Thayer   June 3, 1888
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Cowboy Joe

Posted on July 5, 2016 at 12:14 PM Comments comments (47)
Umpire Joe West is called “Cowboy Joe” because he’s the only umpire to record two country music albums in Nashville.  As a singer and songwriter, Joe West is currently the most tenured umpire in all of Major League Baseball.  West played quarterback and pitched in college.  I was his suitemate for a time, while we were in college together.  West, who wears #22, started his umpiring career in 1976.  He has worked five World Series, two All-Star Games, and many league and division series.  Joe was the crew chief during the 2005 World Series.  West worked Nolan Ryan’s fifth no-hitter and was on the field when Willie McCovey hit his 500 home run. 
You know umpires are funny guys, too. One time, West and some of his fellow umpires gave Vin Scully a gift.  It was a book entitled Everything I Know about Broadcasting by Vin Scully.  “When you open the book,” laughs Scully, “every page is completely blank.  I keep it out on display at my home in the living room for all to see.” 
 
 
                                                  Andy Purvis
                                         www.purvisbooks.com
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Bud

Posted on July 5, 2016 at 12:13 PM Comments comments (91)
Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster, Vin Scully, tells a wonderful story of how current Atlanta Braves’ pitcher, David Norris, Jr., became known as “Bud.”   Norris was about three years old when he and his family entered a restaurant for a bite to eat.  Several of the adults ordered a beer with their meal.  When the waitress ask young David what he would like to drink he said, “Bud.”  His answer broke the family members up.  From that moment on, he became known as Bud. 
 
                                                    Andy Purvis
                                           www.purvisbooks.com
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