Our winner is …

I’m very pleased to announce the winner of my family’s fourth scholarship in honor of our parents — the Theodore and Dorothy Robinson Memorial Scholarship for volunteer service at Interboro High in suburban Philadelphia. It is given to a graduating senior active in the community — in the mold of Dorie and Dottie, for whom volunteer work was long part of their lives.

This year’s winner is Kimberly Nguyen. Kimberly is a top student at Interboro and is extremely involved in her local community. She is very deserving and will be attending Yale University in the fall. Very impressive!

Congratulations, Kimberly. We are proud and blessed to be able to provide this award each year.

The grace of “that little dog”

We were so nervous, afraid even. Our dogs, bless them, were not. That made all the difference.

My old yellow lab Ollie, and Dee’s Atticus, a handsome Aussie shepherd-collie mix, had never met until five years ago. She and I were moving toward combined lives, though – three years married this March — so bringing together our loyal paw pals as well was a necessity. One small problem. As a rule, those boys abided few other dogs. It was just their nature. It seemed their meeting, whenever it came, would not be good.

So we prepared. We picked a free Sunday afternoon, a neutral site – no “turf” to defend that way – and hired a trainer to supervise the little meet-and-greet. We parked on different sides of the lot, leashed up our dogs and, like gunslingers to the duel, slowly walked toward each other. Feigning calm and confidence, we met the trainer, still with the boys at a safe remove.

But a strange thing happened. Nothing.

Ollie and Atticus barely looked at each other, each content to just be. The trainer suggested we take a walk. And so we did, gently merging our steps to where first Dee and I were side by side, and then so were our dogs.

And that was that. Peace in the kingdom, friends then and friends always. Until Ollie wore out two years ago and left us with the one sweet, sweet boy who reunited with Ollie a week ago today.

It had been a tough year for Attie, who hit 10 years (or so) at healthy speed before a downhill out of nowhere. First came a serious bout with pancreatitis, followed by chronic bronchitis that gave him a hacking cough. Arthritis flared up, a slow-growing tumor appeared, and his lab work showed significant degrees of kidney and liver distress. Various meds were tried, then others. Energy waned, lethargy grew. Recently Attie’s paw pads began to blister so badly – liver disease can do that – that even simple walks in the backyard were out, let alone our usual twice-daily adventures.

Merciful goodbyes are still wrenching goodbyes.

Our solace is the happy place in the world Atticus came to occupy against ridiculous odds. Neglected and abused in his first home – what is wrong with people? – Atticus was salvaged by Deelyn and her kids, who refused to hear it when the vet incorrectly diagnosed terminal cancer at Attie’s first exam! Aside from an, um, often-uncomfortable instinct to protect his house and people, Atticus matured into a perfect pup, a loyal watchman, the most unflagging of friends.

It is a gnawing emptiness. We listen for the shake of Attie’s collar in the morning, my cue to get moving, let’s go, time to eat. We look for him in Dee’s dressing closet, comfy warm and nap-cozy. No one harrumphs at the nettlesome cats anymore. Attie did that job well. You can tell they don’t know what to do, either.

Time will heal, just not yet.

Atticus and Tom Robinson, protagonists of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” linked again, how great is that? Fittingly, Attie came into the room and put his head in my lap the day we let Ollie go. He just knew. “That little dog,” as Dee always called him, gave me one of the most indelible moments of my life.

It’s often said that humans don’t deserve dogs. We’re forever blessed that Atticus – eyes bright, spirit strong – gave us his grace anyway.

When we were (baseball) kings

It’s been fun for me to peruse the Norfolk newspaper – that sadly isn’t located in Norfolk anymore as you might know – this week. Burdened with next-to no live sports to report on, the section for the last little while has turned to its archives for stories to run under a “Our Greatest Hits” banner. A few pieces I did years ago, quite a few years actually, have been pulled from the cobwebs this week, timed with the June 10 major league baseball draft.

I don’t look back a great deal, but reading the stories again was a cool reminder of what a ridiculously fertile baseball breeding ground I was fortunate to write about, particularly in Chesapeake and Virginia Beach, where year-round travel ball clubs first took root — to huge effect — in Tidewater.

The stories I’ve linked to below chronicle a staggering blip in time when first-round draft picks seemed to grow on trees on the so-called Southside, and even national reporters showed up to try to figure out what the heck was going on.

  • Ryan Zimmerman, (also linked above) picked No. 4 just a few minutes after Justin Upton 15 years ago. Think about that.
  • In between them, in 2001, another first-rounder cropped up out of Chesapeake’s Hickory High. Fellow named David Wright. (No link – but man, what a great player and charming guy.)


All of the above went on to log long big-league careers – Justin Upton and Zimmerman are still going, assuming baseball gets off its road to implosion — except for Curtice, a pitcher who barely got off the ground in pro ball because of arm trouble. The paper also re-ran his “whatever happened to” story from 2013 here.

Tidewater remains a strong baseball area, but for nearly a decade, a couple of decades ago, it was as hot as any California, Florida or Texas hotbed. 

Truly amazing times. Enjoy the memories.

Fair winds, old friends

This is a difficult day in the life of local media and in the life of many former colleagues. They have met their fate, as did I five-plus years ago, in the form of a buyout from a once-great newspaper cut and slashed to not even a husk of its recognizable self.

An empty office, on an empty day . . .

I share their ache as they pass bittersweet texts and photos along a digital chain of tears on their day of departure.

For many, probably most, there is pain certainly, especially for those to whom it was suggested leaving was in their best interest. But somewhere buried there — and they slowly show their faces over time — are the best memories of working lives that paid for homes and college educations, careers that nurtured and thrilled, and of relationships formed and solidified, indelible to all forces.

It was the very best of times; in its prime, our mothership had money, abundant and staggering talent, ambition, local, state and national reputation, creativity, empathy and bottomless fortitude.

It has become the worst of times; skeletal resources, thin reserves, ceaselessly spinning exit doors, dreaded goodbyes.

It’s empty, I’m well aware, but I wish my friends fair seas — even as their brains are a clutter of emotion, trepidation, hope, fear, excitement and gratitude. It’s a hell of a combo platter. The business is in their blood. The rush of grinding today and seeing the fruit of their labor anchored in print first thing tomorrow — or ok, immediately online — remains in all of them. It is like few others they have known, and that they will ever know again.

They have served themselves and their families and their community well beyond words. Damn those who seek to sully their life’s work with rabid attacks and false narratives. Damn the tides, and derelict vision of leadership, that have created the roiling sea changes that continue unabated.

This is a difficult day. But know, my friends, that there are great things for you all ahead, because ambition, intelligence, diligence, humanity and grace are perennials. They travel well. They are in short supply.

So count your blessings. Look forward. And be well-pleased with the footprint you’ve left with your collective years, because it is true. It is real. And it is permanent.

A Stern moment in time

It was easy to start recollecting when the news came Wednesday of David Stern’s death following a recent brain hemorrhage. Commissioner of the NBA for 30 years, Stern in 1984 took over a flagging league whose playoff games were broadcast on tape delay, for goodness sake — you can hardly even comprehend that scenario — and turned it into an international obsession.

He was a clearly a great commissioner, and as I heard one commentator say Wednesday, his demeanor and governing philosophy was such that he was probably the most approachable sports commissioner ever.

He was a powerful star, but you could actually talk to him — and don’t fall over, but you could actually joke with him, all casual-like.

I discovered this in my only dealing with him, some 20 or more years ago, when then-Norfolk mayor Paul Fraim was courting an NBA expansion team. As a local sports scribe, I attended a presser where Stern — I believe in New York — was commenting on NBA expansion and other hoops issues.

I wish I had clearer recall of the time and place. What I definitely remember is cornering Stern after the official news conference for a brief chat. That is, Stern made himself available for anyone afterward to answer questions in an informal setting, which seems pretty remarkable today.

So after standing by till he was through with others, I cautiously approached and introduced myself as being from Norfolk. He replied with a smile and a quick joke referencing Norfolk’s aborted ABA experience in the ’70s, which immediately let me know he very much knew Norfolk — and that he very much knew Norfolk had no shot in the world to get an NBA team.

The larger point, though, is we continued to talk a couple more minutes, and he seemed fine with it. That gave me enough comfort and confidence that I eventually leaned in and, oddly emboldened, gently poked the lapel of his jacket with my index finger while asking a question.

What the … ?

Security should have swept in, ear-pieces blazing, wrestled me to the ground and turfed me out, a la the bruising ouster of Jimmy Stewart and Clarence from Nick’s in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Believe me, I would have less-than zero shot at poking current NBA commissioner Adam Silver in the lapel, nor would I think to even attempt it. But Stern showed no consternation over my impromptu nonchalance, made his last comment, and I was on my way.

It’s a cool memory and a true fact regarding Stern’s overall persona. No doubt he was as tough and unyielding as you can get in business, which is why the modern NBA is what it is. But yep, he was poke-the-lapel approachable, which is one other small piece to consider when mulling the historic legacy of David Stern’s life and heady times in the NBA.

Many questions

I enjoy the hell out of watching Tom Hanks as David S. Pumpkins, his SNL character from three Halloweens ago. Now, if you can tell me why I enjoy this skewed skit so much — other than being a notoriously easy audience, of course — I’d love to know.

So there’s one of my many questions.

Happy Halloween.

A Hall of Fame kind of day

Image may contain: 6 people, including Chip Ridewood, people smiling, people standing

I had the amazing good fortune last week to induct my late parents, Theodore and Dorothy — Dorie and Dottie — into the Interboro school district’s hall of fame outside of Philadelphia. 

It’s a heck of a thing, and a supremely proud moment for my family to see Mom and Dad immortalized — which is what a hall of fame does, after all — in such a way for their decades of helping to make their town, Prospect Park, a better place.

My nephew, and their first grandchild, Chip, nominated them for the honor, and the committee — which judges nominees’ resumes without names on them — elected to enshrine them this year along with a beloved former Interboro teacher and two former students who have gone on to great things.

Speaking of elections, my brother and sister chose me to speak for my parents and deliver an induction speech during a morning assembly at the high school for the senior class.

It was difficult in one way because the kids didn’t know my parents — Dad died in 2008 and Mom four years later — and you’re not sure how many wanted to even be there in the first place. Although it was an hour out of the classroom . . .

But I’m pleased to say they were an attentive and respectful audience, and that it was a blast for me to be back on a stage where I performed in the senior talent show 43 years (!) ago. That was back when we were the first class out of the “new” high school, and back when Dottie and Dorie still had 30 more good years to serve and build their community.

Anyway, I tried to bring them to life as best I could with my words. Here’s what I had to say:

“Good morning seniors! Good morning Interboro!

I’d like to thank alumni president Claire Reilly, the alumni officers and the board of directors for the work they do with the Interboro Hall of Fame. It’s important and inspirational work. Congratulations to them, and congratulations to today’s and the previous inductees.

I’m thrilled to be here accepting this incredible honor on behalf of my family and my parents, Theodore and Dorothy Robinson. Or as they were known by everybody, Dottie and Dorie.

My dad died in 2008, my mom in 2012. So let me tell you a little bit about why they are being honored today as hall of fame members of the Interboro community. 

My dad lived in Prospect Park his whole life; he was literally born in a house on what’s now Lincoln Ave. My mom moved here from Maryland as a child. They were graduates of Prospect Park High School. My dad served in the Navy in two wars and delivered mail in Prospect Park for 37 years; he knew who lived at every address in town, and they knew him. He and my mom loved the borough and each other through 60 years of marriage. 

But living in one place a long time isn’t why their grandson Chip nominated them for the hall of fame, and it’s not why the hall of fame committee selected them. It’s because they were completely INVESTED in this one place. Because they got INVOLVED in making this one place wonderful for everyone, over and over again. 

It’s because they worked to make their community special, without ever making that work seem out of the ordinary. It’s just what they did and who they were. They knew the secret, which isn’t really much of a secret: You live somewhere, you participate, you build relationships that last a lifetime. It’s a simple formula that creates lives of loyalty, friendship and love.

And people truly loved Dottie and Dorie. 

The list of my dad’s volunteer service is ridiculously long. 

  • He co-founded the Prospect Park Youth club and actually helped build the clubhouse with his neighbors. Later, he was a baseball coach and even the groundskeeper. 
  • He was commander of his American Legion post.
  • For years, he was president or parade marshal of the Fourth of July Association, planning the parade, the games and activities and the fireworks. A huge job.
  • At church, he sang in the choir, was a trustee, cut the grass, took out the trash, shoveled snow, played ping-pong with the minister — and along with my mom was the custodian. 
  • For all this, Prospect Park honored him as its Citizen of the Year in 1999. That was a joy of which he and Mom, and we, were justifiably proud. 

My mom was a 4-foot-11 ball of fire, Dorie’s unwavering support and our family’s rock. She never drove a car, so she either rode with my dad or she walked . . . all over town, rapidly, her tiny feet flying, often in trademark pink sneakers.

At Prospect Park Elementary, the kids knew her for more than 30 years as the “playground Miss,” monitoring the playground at recess after lunch. For her, going to school every day was a delight that was contagious, and at 4-11 she truly seemed among her people. 

Over her years there, she especially enjoyed meeting the children of people she first knew as children. An injury forced her to retire late in life, or else I’m sure she’d have worked into her 80s.

Very active at church as well, she cleaned the pews, shoveled the snow with Dorie and was a deacon. And when election days rolled around, she could always be found across the street at Witmer Field in the youth club clubhouse, working the polls with her neighbors.

Mom and Dad would be astounded by their new home in the Interboro hall of fame, and they’d probably be a little perplexed as well. They were of a different generation, modest and unassuming. They’d wonder, why the fuss? 

It’s because community servants like they were are too few and far between today. And it’s gratifying to know that, thanks to this hall of fame, their example of how to live a full, engaged life will be timeless. 

Seniors, I hope this is your main take away from today’s ceremony. If you give in life, you get back in precious and countless ways.

We are so very proud.”

And so we are. So we are.

Born to . . . get this old

I remember as a kid, learning I shared a birthday with Lucille Ball. Lucille Ball is one of the all-time greats. I thought that was kind of cool. 

I have other “famous” shares: Andy Warhol. NBA Hall of Famer David Robinson (no relation, haha). Former First Lady Edith Roosevelt. Is that a typo? No. Edith (not Eleanor) was the second wife of Teddy Roosevelt, but she was First Lady from 1901 to 1909.

August 6 is most famous, though, for the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945, the first use of the weapon, long before I was a gleam in anybody’s eye. (Nagasaki was nuked a few days later.) There’s little doubt that makes August 6 among the most infamous dates in world history. So, as Caddyshack’s Carl Spackler says, I’ve got that going for me.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 1920px-AtomicEffects-Hiroshima-1024x1024.jpg

However it was calculated, and the estimate changed over the years, Hiroshima’s death toll was around 170,000, split roughly among those who died immediately and those who eventually died from the radioactive exposure.

On that pleasant note, here’s some other stuff that happened on this date, both in the olden days and while I was busy aging into the debacle you see before you: 

  • The Constitutional Convention began debating the first draft of the Constitution in Philadelphia in 1787. I am born in the same city less than two centuries later. 
  • Henry Sullivan of Massachusetts in 1923 becomes the first American, and third person overall, to swim the English Channel. He completed his 27 ½ hour journey the night of the 6th in Calais, France. 
  • I guess there was something in the water because, oddly, three years later to the day, Gertrude Ederle, 20, of New York became the first woman to swim the Channel. It took her 14 hours and 34 minutes, swimming from France to England. New York City threw her a ticker-tape parade. I swim a mile in a river or lake to start a triathlon. No parades are forthcoming.
  • And then . . . ! Marcus Hooper became the youngest person, till that time, to swim the same damn Channel in 1979. He was 12. This Channel fixation with Aug. 6 is weird. 
  • A cool baseball thing here, ‘cause I love cool baseball things: Denton True “Cy” Young made his big-league debut on Aug. 6, 1890. 1890, people! Pitching for the Cleveland Spiders, Young three-hit the Chicago Cubs for the first of his 511 career victories. The Cy Young award has gone annually to the best pitchers in baseball since 1956. Young died in ’55.

  • The Beatles’ album “Help,” the group’s fifth, was released in the United Kingdom in 1965. It included “Ticket to Ride,” “Hide Your Love Away,” the title track and “Yesterday,” by any and all accounts one of the greatest pop songs of all time. I don’t know, but I’d guess that, with Paul McCartney still touring at 77, “Yesterday” has to be the most performed song in the history of recorded sound. Who’s with me? 
  • Speaking of great music, when Jon Stewart did his last “Daily Show” four years ago today, the final guest was a surprise. Stewart said a poignant thank you and farewell from his desk, then the camera shifted to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, unannounced, ready to crank up to full throttle. They played Stewart off the air with “Born to Run” as the floor in front of the band became a huge dance party for Stewart and his staff.

That was boss.

A passing, and a lasting moment in time

I hate that this will make consecutive posts, albeit two months apart, about death. But I feel moved to comment briefly on the passing of Joe Miller, a college baseball teammate of mine at Widener University a very long time ago. 

Joe, who recently died in Florida at age 64,  was the son of my Widener coach Harry Miller, a legend in amateur baseball in Delaware County outside Philadelphia. The Millers were a rich baseball family, and Joe was a good enough outfielder and hitter out of high school to go play Division I ball in North Carolina. Later, he was a draft pick of the Houston Astros and played in the minors.

But by the time I got to Widener, a small Division III program, as a freshman for the 1977 season, Joe had transferred in to play for his dad. I only got to play with him that one year, but what I saw in Joe upon meeting and watching him immediately shocked me into the reality that I’d better get to work. Because if men of his caliber – and he was a strapping specimen – were what I was going to encounter in Division III, I could get swallowed up if I didn’t knuckle down. 

Work ethic turned out to not be a problem; I wanted to play pro baseball, and I became a gym and fieldhouse batting-cage rat. Trying to become as good as Joe Miller was motivation, ultimately unfulfilled, but the effort alone helped me become a four-year starter and a 14th-round draft choice of the L.A. Dodgers after my senior season.

I’m proud of those latter achievements. But I still marvel at how good that first Widener team was, with my skinny butt at second base surrounded by Joe and a slew of upperclassmen I knew I couldn’t let down. 

I (mostly) did not . . . but the memories of that season are still flavored with  angst, as happens in sports, or hell, everywhere in life. 

We, the Pioneers, won our conference and actually entered that ’77 postseason as the top-ranked squad in Division III. Our regional tournament, for the chance to reach the D-III World Series, was held in Wooster, Ohio over the Memorial Day weekend. We practiced before piling into our vans for the long drive from Chester, Pa., and a bad-hop ground ball broke my nose toward the end of that practice. 

I got it immediately set by a local doctor – I still shudder at the ridiculous crunch of cartilage as he pressed it back into place. They stuffed my nose with cotton, and gave me a little taped-on protective guard to use while sleeping and playing.

And yep, we played well. I think we lost our second game in the double-elimination tourney, but we won our way back to where we and Marietta of Ohio, a D-III power at the time, were the lone survivors. That meant we’d have to win twice on the final day to advance.

With the looming presence of Joe Miller in center field, we took care of job one, the first victory. But when the second game was tied in extra innings as dusk approached, on a field without lights, the umpires suspended play. I remember us and our fans/parents loudly protesting that decision — we felt the momentum was ours. But we were ordered to return the next morning, Memorial Day, to decide the game.

I remember making an error somewhere in that second game that helped Marietta tie the score. That felt bad. I felt worse when, in the bottom of that first restarted inning, we gave up a home run and lost the game. I collapsed into the arms of our first baseman, also a departing senior, even before we left the field.

I write all this to say Joe Miller, who went on to make a career of mentoring troubled youth and addicts, and those first college teammates obviously had an indelible impact on me. They helped set the course of my ensuing years as a developing athlete and baseball player.

In that context, it was surreal for me to see Joe’s obituary, and sad to learn Harry and Doris, still alive and living in Florida, now have to bear the pain of outliving their son.

I honor Joe’s memory and the too few days I spent in his orbit. 

A very good boy

It made me happy to see Ollie take a walk in the backyard on his final morning.

It was sunny and warm, at least for a little bit, which was good because the chill didn’t agree with his aching back and arthritis-afflicted legs. Ollie cautiously felt his way down the carpeted ramp we’d installed for him over the back steps almost immediately upon moving in to our new home 13 months ago. And then he was into the yard as in healthier days, sniffing and peeing and snacking on wisps of grass as he liked to do.

I stood with him, talked to him softly, scratched his ears, and after a few minutes he hobbled back toward the ramp, letting me know he was ready to go in. I helped him pad back up the ramp, nudging hind-end muscles reduced lately to little form or function, and we stepped inside to share the last of our time together.

Ollie gave out, is about all I can say. I had him for 9 ½ years, my first dog in my then-51 years of life. He was at least three years older than that, though, the shelter only guesstimated his age at 3 back then. My wife kids me for reporting Ollie’s age as 12 since 2016. It doesn’t really matter, because in any event, his body was failing. He was a yellow lab, a large one, and you know the hip dysplasia and rear-end atrophy and spinal nerve issues are coming for elderly yellow labs, as they came for Ollie.

He was tough, though, God was he tough. Unbelievably so. Inspiringly so.

It hurt me a year ago to see Ollie, poking about outside with me on a windy day, lumber down our long driveway woofing at the mailman. A misstep, or perhaps just the day’s stiff breeze, knocked him over. One morning last July, after a hectic holiday weekend at the house, he awoke on the floor next to my bed a shocking mess of urine and feces. He spent the day in a trance. All hope appeared lost. I called the vet and, through halted breaths and strangled words, made the appointment. But the next morning, Ollie was up and around and aware, ready to eat. It was as if that bad day never happened.

Two months later, on a fairly warm but hardly dangerous fall day, I left him on the roofed porch with water and a fan while I was out for a couple hours. When I returned, I found Ollie stretched out in the yard, comatose, his chest heaving, tongue dangling, eyes empty. I picked him up, placed him in the van and dashed to the vet. They rushed him to the back, took his temperature – 108. 108! The vet said, “You have to make a decision.”

I said please try to save him.

They saved him.

After some hours, we all went home, with orders to let Ollie sleep, keep him comfortable. We set him up on blankets in the laundry room. Ten minutes later, I’m in my office, and there comes the familiar sound of dog nails on the wood floor . . . heading my way . . . Ollie on the move.

We tried meds and water and laser therapy to try to mute Ollie’s pain, maybe to slow his degeneration. It might have worked a little, I don’t know. All I know is Ollie slowly lost bowel control, and that this strong, once-great athlete could not get up on his own if he lay down on any uncarpeted surface. Recently, he’d stand at his food bowl or in the mud hall, and at any second – thud. He’d be down, his legs unable to support him in that moment.

Saying goodbye to Ollie, watching him drift off on his blanket by my bed, was a hard and terrible thing. In that, I know I have the boundless empathy of untold dog – pet – owners. As the kindly vet sent Ollie to the peace and rest he deserved, I played my guitar for him through my tears, a repetitive little melody that felt soothing and right. It was another bond we shared. In our old house, I’d play the piano in the living room, and without fail, wherever Ollie happened to be in the house, he’d make his way to the landing on the stairs, lie down and listen.

Oh, Ollie. My partner. My companion. My friend beyond compare. My sweet, sweet boy.

Thank you.