Friday, June 30, 2017

INSPIRATION: KATY SULLIVAN, BLADE RUNNER


Katy Sullivan's entry into this world was rough. She was born without the lower part of her
legs and the doctor who delivered her tried to say the right thing in comforting Mrs. Sullivan,
but turned his words into a natural disaster.

“The world doesn’t need another athlete. But she will find plenty of other things to enjoy and
be good at.”

Young Katy would grow up to be actress, and a pretty good one. However, when Sullivan
was 25-years-old she discovered that it's never too late to be what you might have. She was
fitted with carbon-fiber prosthetics and started to run. Sullivan didn't stop running until she
reached her goal of making the U.S. Paralympic team that competed in the 2012 Games in London.


"As an actress, I tried to play the role of an athlete," Sullivan said from her high-rise apartment
in Manhattan. "I knew I had to get up at 5 a.m., eat right, train hard, and be really dedicated. I
wasn't an athlete growing up, so I had to learn how to become one pretty quick."

Sullivan became a world-class Paralympic athlete in something quicker than a New York City minute. She became a four-time national champion and set the American record for the 100 meter event in the 2012 London Games.

"To be there in front of 80,000 people was truly incredible," she said.


Sullivan returned after the Games, but NBC Sports chose her to provide commentary for
the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio. That was after taking a break from an acting career that
saw her land roles in  Nip/Tuck, My Name Is Earl, and Last Man Standing.

"Can't is a four-letter word to me," she said. "You should never let anyone tell you 'no' or that
you can't do something. Live your dreams, not someone else's. "

As for that doctor who said, "The world doesn't need another athlete," upon her arrival to
this world.

"I would love to find him and show him the athlete I became," Sullivan said with an ear-to-ear
grin on her face.


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

THE FREEZE HEATS UP MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL


Forget about being like Mike,  I want to be The Freeze. Yeah, you know the superhero in
Atlanta who has managed to juice up major league baseball without taking a single PED.

This guy, dressed in a sleek aqua spandex suit complete with goggles that makes him look like
an Ooompa Loompa all stretched out, is the best promotion in sports since the chicken was hatched
in San Diego during the late 70's.

As he bursts from foul line-to-foul line like he's shot out of a cannon at Sun Trust Park, the
new home of the Atlanta Braves, I thought for sure Terrell Owens had finally found his true
calling and was in a place where he was truly happy. But it wasn't T.O.

This guy runs so fast and so effortlessly, I was almost certain the Braved hired a former
professional athlete to pull off a promotion that has captivated not only fans, but the players
as well. Just who the heck was this guy? Chad Ochocinco? Randy Moss? Perhaps, it was
Atlanta resident and Olympic champion Edwin Moses running some sprints to keep in shape
Or just maybe Falcons star receiver Julio Jones is just getting in some work before he has to
report to training camp.


Well, in this Facebook, Twitter, iPhone world we live in, there's no secret than can ever be
kept and the Braves were pretty forthcoming in revealing the identity of The Freeze. It's
a guy named Nigel Talton, a 26-year-old security guard and member of the Braves' grounds
crew.

According to news outlets with more credibility than CNN, which is a Bubba Watson drive
from Sun Trust Park, Talton was a sprinter, (no kidding) at Iowa Wesleyan and Shorter University. He ran a sub-10.5 second 100-meters, which is smokin'.

The Braves hired Talton to help promote frozen drinks at RaceTrac gas stations (It's a southern
thing)  He would be called The Freeze. And fans would try to Beat The Freeze--and they'd
get about a 200-foot head start.


The Freeze has lost a few times---that I know of. But this little promotion has sparked ny
interest in sports. Well, honestly, I don't care about scores and highlights anymore and baseball
on television absolutely bores me. The only thing I really care about in the sports world today
is whether or not The Freeze wins his race. I anxiously await to see highlights of The Freeze
splashed across the Internet.  I wish he raced every night instead of the 81 times when the
Braves play at home. Man, I hope he doesn't pull a hammy or show up on the police blotter
anytime soon. That would be a total bummer.

The Freeze is so awesome. I want to be him for a day...or an hour....or for just those 25 seconds
it takes him to run from foul line-to-foul line. I was a plodder, a Clydesdale, a true slow poke.
To be able to run like the Freeze would be so cool.


The Freeze has become way cooler than the original Dos Equis ever was. Stay fast, my
friend.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

BULL DURHAM AT 29: A TRUE HOLLYWOOD STORY


In the fall of 1987, the cast and crew for a low-budget baseball movie began filming at
Durham Athletic Park, an old stadium located in the heart of Tobacco Road. The DAP, as it
was known, had some of the charm of Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, with its short porch
in right field, a warehouse as a backdrop, and seats so close to the action you could almost smell the breath of the fans sitting in them. It was the perfect setting for "Bull Durham", which was made
for just $7 million dollars.

Nobody really knew what this baseball movie was about when production began. The local
paper did a story in advance of its filming and had a quote from a Hollywood producer who
read the script, but who was not affiliated with the movie in any way. He predicted that it would
not only be "the worst baseball movie ever made, but quite possibly the worst movie ever created."


Many could see where that producer was coming from, after all, most sports movies, with
the exception of "Slapshot" and "Caddyshack" had bombed at the box office.  Most directors
found it difficult to make  the action believable with actors who had no athletic ability
whatsoever. In some cases, like "Bang the Drum Slowly," the baseball scenes were
downright laughable.

When I was asked to work on the movie, I honestly didn't care whether it was going to
win an Oscar for Best Picture or go straight to Blockbuster video stores. As a Radio, TV,
and Movie Production major at UNC, I was interested in getting some experience in seeing
how a movie was made. Little did I know that it would end up as all-time classic and
become part of my life forever.

First of all, filming "Bull Durham" was like 30 days of "Animal House" and "Comedy Central" mixed together. It was a laugh a minute, and in between. there was some work on the actual production of the movie.  The cast that included Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins,
and Robert Wuhl knew how to have a great time while making the movie, and they helped
make it an unforgettable experience. There were long days, lots of drinking, plenty of sex, and
too many laugh-until-you-can't-breath jokes to count.


Coming off two wildly successful movies, "No Way Out" and "The Untouchables",
Costner was the perfect guy to play Crash Davis because he could act and play baseball.
Costner was a terrific person during the 30 days of filming in Durham. He picked up every
tab and treated everyone from the grips to Sarandon, the same way and that was with great
respect.. Costner didn't have that big Hollywood ego just yet. I heard a lot  of unflattering things about Costner after "Bull Durham", but he was great to everybody during the filming of
it.

Costner pulled off the best prank of "Bull Durham" when he made an secret arrangement
with a Durham Police officer. Tom Gagliardi, who played the Bulls second basemen, was
bragging one day how he hooked up with a woman who looked like she was 16-years old.

The following day, Costner convinced the police officer to come onto the field during filming
and arrest Gagliardi for statutory rape. The officer broke out his hand-cuffs and told the actor
he had the right to remain silent. Gagliardi freaked out and started running around shouting,
"I didn't do anything, this is a big mistake.The girl said she was 21!". The officer led Gagliardi
away in handcuffs until everyone started cracking up. I must admit it was pretty hilarious.



There were scenes that were just as funny as that incident, but ended up on the cutting room
floor. Danny Gans, who played the third baseman  for the Bulls and was later a star in Vegas
as an impressionist, did a national anthem that included Michael Jackson and a moon walk,
Kermit the Frog, Tom Jones, Frank Sinatra, and Sammy Davis, Jr., all performed to a T by
Gans. It was a showstopper and made everyone roar with laughter. Unfortunately, it didn't
make the final cut.

People always ask me how I got to be in "Bull Durham" and the home run scene with Costner.
I'd like to say I was walking down the street and the director discovered me, kind of like the
episode of the "Brady Bunch", where a Hollywood-type director wanted them to be the subject
of a series. I was in the right place and the right time. That's it, that's all.

I  played baseball at UNC and was just finishing up my course work to get my degree.
Someone called UNC and gave them my name. I showed up and did what I always did, I just
played ball.

The first scene I was in, called for me to hit a double as a right-handed hitter. Tim Robbins,
who played "Nuke LaLoosh" actually had to throw it to me because the camera was behind
him  filming the scene. He was the  worst athlete any actor could possibly be. The guy was all
over the place.  Crash Davis was right when he said Nuke couldn't hit water if he fell out of
a boat. Before the scene, Ron Shelton, who wrote and directed the movie, told me to try to
hit a line-drive between shortstop and third base. I said to myself, "If I could do that, I'd probably
be playing in the big leagues."


What made that even harder was the fact that Robbins couldn't throw the ball over the plate, or
within a mile of it. He was throwing it behind me, over my head, five feet in front of the plate,
and he hit me twice in the back. It took 17 takes to get the scene right. When I finally hit one,
I was so stunned that I didn't even move. Costner got up and yelled at me, "Run!". In the
movie, the radio man back in Durham hits a piece of wood and says, "there's a line drive to
left-center field."

I was catching when Costner had his first at-bat for the Durham Bulls, but we traded places
later in the movie. Costner was behind the plate when I got up in the 9th inning, while Nuke
was working on a shut out. During this scene, which was filmed with the cameras directly
in front of Costner and a minor-league pitcher replaced Robbins (Nuke) on the mound. I had
to a curveball even though the most ardent baseball observer couldn't tell the difference
between the fastball and curveball when it appears on screen for 1/100th of  second.

Shelton told me to hit the ball and then "give it your best Reggie Jackson in watching the
ball go out."  That meant I should act like the ball had been hit so far "it should've had a damn stewardess on it."  I must admit, I didn't have a lot of experience in that since I only
hit four home runs in my career at UNC.

After Nuke kept shaking Crash Davis (Costner) off, he stood up and said, "Charlie, here
comes the duece. When you speak of me, speak well." I just gave some cheesy smile and
got back into the box. I wished they had let me say, "thanks" or something because if I had a
line, I'd still be getting paid today.

I cranked the ball out on the fourth take and did like Shelton asked me to and gave it my
best Reggie Jackson-pose. They said cut, that's a wrap, and I was gone. I didn't hold my
breath for any of the scenes that I was in to make the final cut. I was superstitious, so I
really didn't say anything to anyone. I chalked the whole thing up to one great experience.

A month later, in December,  the Boston Red Sox organization called and offered me a
free-agent contract. Six months later, on June 13th, 1988, I just happened to be back at the
same park playing against the real-life Durham Bulls. And it just happened to be "Bull Durham Night". I was like, what were the chances of all this happening. We were scheduled to see the premiere of the movie the next day.


In the eighth-inning of our game against the Bulls, I came up to bat with the bases loaded. Two months into my minor-league career, I had yet to hit a home run. And since I had only been
hitting left-handed for two years, I had never hit a home run from that side of the plate. I hit a
ball which I thought was going to be a routine fly ball to right field. Somehow, someway, the
ball carried and cleared the fence by about a half-an-inch. It must've been divine intervention
or something because I hit the ball in the same spot as I did in the movie. It was all so surreal.

I hit two more home runs against the Bulls in that same park later that year. I often said that
I hit .420 in that park and .091 everywhere else. There was something really magical for me
when I played at Durham Athletic Park.



In the off-season that year, I received a big package from UPS. It was from Kevin Costner.
He had purchased a letterman-type jacket for everyone who worked on "Bull Durham", which
was over 200 people. On the back of the jacket read, "Bull Durham-The Greatest Show on Dirt". Production crew 1987. It was a great gesture by Costner.


I never really thought much of my home run scene in "Bull Durham" because I just hit a ball,
which didn't take any great talent or ability. I thought of the movie as a great experience and
that was about it. But 29 years later, it continues to follow me around. People call, email, or text me
every time they see my home run on the countless number of times "Bull Durham" is re-run on
various networks.

Friends introduce me to acquaintances as the "guy who hit a home run in "Bull Durham'. Or
they start with, "hey, do you remember the guy in Bull Durham...?" I honestly get embarrassed
about it. It was a long, long time ago.

But man, it was helluva an experience.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

THE NIGHT I KICKED LAVAR BALL'S ASS


In this social media driven and addicted-to-attention world we live in, LaVar Ball has managed
to rise above even the best self-promoters. With his mouth and very little else, he has succeeded
in securing millions upon millions of dollars in free publicity for his fledging sports apparel
company and the signature shoes of his son, Lonzo. I applaud him for being a semi-marketing
genius.

Ball has morphed into the pied piper with the media--no matter how outrageous, stupid, and
foolish the things that come out of his mouth are, they continue to report on, not to mention,
cater to him. He talks smack about Barkley, Jordan, and says his kid is going to be better than
Magic. If LaVar talks, the media will listen and be sure to make it front page news. If he says something close to being controversial, he will be "trending" or go "viral." Simply amazing.

The America media gave Ball a soap box and he's using it, and them, brilliantly.

Listening to him preach and talk stupid, joggled my memory and brought me back to the time I
met LaVarr Ball. In 1995, I was in Clemson, South Carolina visiting a former classmate from
the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. We decided to play some hoop at a semi-inner
city basketball court before going out on the town.


When we arrived at the court, one that had chain-linked hoops and was surrounded by fencing that
had seen better days, there was a game of 2-on-2 going on. A rather large man wearing a gray Carolina Panthers T-shirt that was completely drenched with sweat, dominated the court with
his mouth and body. He stood about 6'5" and weighed about 260 pounds or so. He was talking
trash to everyone and anyone. Nobody seemed to be listening.


I asked someone sitting in the small set of stands near courtside who the trash-talking
dude on the court was. I vividly remember him saying, "Some guy who plays on the Panthers
practice squad." I replied, "If he's a practice player on an expansion team, he can't be all that
good. And he has no business talking all that smack."

It was LaVar Ball.

In their inaugural season in the NFL, the Panthers played all their home games at Clemson
University before their new stadium in Charlotte was ready. Ball was a defensive end who
never got off the practice squad. Never played a down for the Panthers, but he could play a little basketball. A little.

Ball played one season at Washington State where he averaged a not-so-robust 2.2 points-per
game. Despite his less-than distinguished career, Ball claimed he could beat Michael Jordan and
Charles Barkley in a game of one-on-one.


Back on that hardcourt near Clemson in 1995, Ball challenged my friend, who happened
to be a darn good basketball player at UNC, starting all but two games during his 4-year career.
He was cut after being drafted by the NBA in the second round and spent nearly five years
playing in  Europe. However, he was wearing a Carolina football t-shirt and when Ball asked
him what position he played at Carolina, my friend, without hesitation, said "wide receiver."

Ball laughed and said, "Come, on. How much you got?" My friend said, "Me and my friend
will play you for $200. Pick your teammate and let's do it."

Ball thought he was about to pull off the biggest heist since the Italian Job. He picked his
teammate and my friend, the former UNC hoops star, dragged me onto the court. I was a
decent-to-good athlete, having played baseball at UNC and in the Red Sox system as a catcher.
I could fill up some space on the court and get out of the way when needed.


My friend and teammate brought his 'A' game and then some. Spin moves, crossover dribbles,
windmill dunks--he packed and used his entire arsenal. LaVar Ball knew he'd been had. The
game wasn't even close as the UNC boys walked away with the 10-2 victory.

Ball was livid. "I'm not giving you a dime. You are a ringer. Total B.S. Not cool. No dice
and no money."

The Big Baller tried to bail on paying up. He was running off the court and headed for his
car. He was talking smack on his way out, jawing back and forth with my friend. LaVar
forgot about me as I was lurking by the exit of the court. He walked right into the close-line
I learned to hang from watching "The Longest Yard."


Ball went down in a thud on the pavement. In the fetal position, Ball was crying like
a baby. There was a wad of bills sticking out of the waste band of his gym shorts, which I
helped myself to. The UNC boys split up the cash and laughed our way off the court. That's
the last I heard of LaVar Ball until he opened his mouth a few months ago.

Is this story true? Of course not. It's just a figment of my imagination, kind of like the stuff that
passes from the cranium of Big Daddy Ball through his mouth. I just wanted to see what it's
like to talk smack, say  outlandish things, and be totally delusional like Big Daddy Ball. I figured
if I talked and wrote stupid like Big Daddy Ball, I might go viral or have sports talk radio argue
over me all day. I wanted to see if Stephen A. Smith would invite me on 'First Take' just to yell
and scream about nothing in particular.

Man, that was easy.

Just stretch the truth and totally make things up and you have a compelling story that has the
media eating right out of your hand. I'm sure the media  would've believed the story, forgetting to check the facts, just as they did with the Manti Te'o extravaganza. However, I made it easy for them and tapped out early.

The media. They think its LaVar Ball's world and they are just living in it. Good for LaVar
Ball.