Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Enjoying this Magical, Memorable Orioles Ride of 2012


What a story the 2012 Orioles have been.

All the elements are there:
Surprise  - really? we’re good this year?
Excitement - Best winning percentage in one-run games in the history of Major League Baseball.
Suspense - is this really happening? Can it continue?
Hope  - This feels good!; and, hopefully
Joyous Resolution  - no comment

Those who have followed the team at any level know the major plot points: Storied franchise known for winning and doing things the right way - The Oriole Way - falls on hard times to the tune of 14 straight losing seasons. Not just losing seasons mind you, but dreadful, interminable and seemingly pointless exercises in futility.

A revolving door of managers and general managers attempt unsuccessfully to right the ship. A generation of fans loses interest. Caring about the Orioles becomes, for the most part, uncool. Baltimore becomes, fully, a football town, immersed unapologetically in its Ravens, whose swagger and comparative success are completely foreign to the new Oriole Way. 

The 2012 Orioles season begins with modest expectations. Sure, the confident manager, Buck Showalter, has had success in the past - particularly in his second full year with a club. But no one is expecting much out of these Birds.  Their leadoff hitter and arguably best player, Brian Roberts, remains out indefinitely with concussion symptoms. The starting rotation appears thrown together haphazardly – someone’s No. 3 guy here, an unknown Asian import there. And the team’s top position players - Wieters, Jones, Markakis, Hardy - all seem to be a click or two below elite.

Here we go again.

But slowly, methodically, the 2012 Orioles play respectable, winning baseball. Buoyed by a  stingy bullpen of all things, they reach the All Star break five games over .500. But rather than feeling optimistic for the future, the fan base awaits inevitable collapse. We’ve seen this act before.

Undaunted by relatively sparse crowds, the team keeps on winning as the calendar flips to August. A rookie makes a spectacular debut and provides a spark. And now it’s September and the beat of a magical, memorable summer goes on. A team that has called upon not less than 12 different starting pitchers finds itself neck and neck with that most hate-able of enemies - the New York bleepin’ Yankees. And now, after all this time, there can be no question - the 2012 Baltimore Orioles are for real. 



I don’t know that there is some larger lesson to be learned here. One could argue that perseverance pays off; or that a team that has lost for so long is bound to win at some point, etc., etc.  Will we look back on this season as the one when the Baltimore Orioles turned the tide and returned to winning baseball for years to come? Or might it just be a blip; a statistical outlier in an otherwise orderly series of losing campaigns.

Who knows? Does it matter? More than anything what I am personally trying to do as a fan of this team is enjoy the moments, enjoy the ride.

There was that night back in July as I watched the game lying in bed with my son Ethan, who is 8, both our heads propped up on pillows.  After putting on PJs and brushing teeth, our summer routine often included watching Orioles baseball for a few innings together. On this night, the Orioles were down three runs late in the game. J.J. Hardy was up at bat; and I said aloud to Ethan, “we need a 3-run homer right here.” And on the next pitch, damn if J.J. didn’t launch one of his signature line drives clear out of the park. My son stared at me for an instant, mouth agape and eyes wide - “you called it dad!” - and then we high fived and hugged and rolled around on the bed together, celebrating one of those magical surprises that can only be delivered by a clutch three-run homer on a warm summer night.

Those moments, these opportunities, are what’s kept me into it all these years. For reasons having to do with obligation or inevitability, I’ve passed on the love of the game to Ethan and his younger brother Alec, who is 5.

We talk standings and statistics. We look together at averages and discuss the difference between a major leaguer and minor leaguer. We go to the games as a family and scream “Charge!” and buy ice cream.

And who am I kidding? I’m not just happy for them. I’ve invested a lot of time following some seriously bad teams. I have a few friends with whom I text nearly every single game talking about the minutia not just of wins and losses, but of individual plays and at bats all season long. Here, right now, is the payoff for caring. Something Oriole fans thought might never happen again is happening right now. I think it’s worth caring about. I hope my kids can think back on this 2012 Orioles team like I think about the ’79 Os, who went all the way to the World Series when I was 9. I vividly remember that team, those games, and those feelings.

Baseball is a game of failure. Most of the time your favorite player doesn’t hit a home run, or even get on base. I won’t be the first to point out that life is a lot like baseball in that it’s often about suffering; but also striving and enduring, which makes moments of glory and success all that much sweeter. It’s why I can’t stand the entitled attitude of Yankees fans, who don’t seem to take pleasure in small victories – they seem to care only for the big ones. 

But us Oriole fans? We have spent a decade and a half in the baseball wilderness, forced to celebrate only the small victories – like the occasional win against the Yanks or Red Sox when our stadium is filled with their fans. Even during one of those recent 69-93 seasons, there were moments of glory and success, but they were fleeting moments against a backdrop of hopelessness.

Here in 2012, however, we have an entirely new and hopeful script. Each game presents an opportunity for success of a type that has everyone who cares about baseball, never mind just the Orioles, paying attention.

How about those Baltimore Orioles?” they say on ESPN and write in The New York Times. Can they keep it going?

We can only watch and hope.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Maryland at Duke, the (probably appropriate) End of a Tradition

Maryland will play at Duke this afternoon, and it will be the end of a long era, one in which the teams have faced each other, home and away, each season, since the formation of the ACC in 1953.

When Miami and Virginia Tech joined the ACC in 2004, followed by Boston College in 2005, the ACC did away with the round robin format to the basketball season and introduced an unbalanced schedule. Prior to the league's expansion, the ACC featured nine member schools, a number that now seems quaint in the era of the super conference, when every team played every other team, home and away, every season.

Then when the ACC became a 12-team league, the conference created a system whereby each team had two 'primary partners' that they'd play home and away every year, and then rotate playing once or twice per year against the other teams. I personally hated the change because it replaced what was a perfect system -- you got to play each team on your court and on their court. But that's ancient history and not worth discussing. With the mid 2000s expansion following shortly on the heels of the Terrapins rise to the national championship in 2002 - and, more importantly, some truly epic battles with Duke during the Juan Dixon era - the ACC made Maryland a primary partner to Duke and UVa.

Over the years, Maryland had some great games with Duke, but none arguably more memorable or important than the ones in the late 90s and early 2000s, with both teams in the top 10. While Duke has maintained its excellence among the nation's elite program since that time, Maryland has been much more up and down, with a few very solid seasons interspersed with some very average, forgettable ones (Travis Garrison anyone?)

There were, of course, the stinging chants of "not our rival" from the Dukies when Maryland would visit Cameron Indoor, a chant meant to indicate that Duke's one and only true rival is and was North Carolina, a program that Maryland replaced at the top of the ACC pecking order for a short time, but not anymore.

And, so, where are we now? With Gary Williams retiring last year and the hiring of Mark Turgeon, Maryland has entered an entirely new era. And, perhaps fittingly, so has the ACC. This is the last year - and today is the last game in the series - where Maryland will play Duke twice a year, every year. Starting next year, the Terps' new primary partner is not Duke or even UVa, but Pitt, a team Maryland has absolutely no history or tradition with - but a very good program that's been among the nation's elite for the past decade under coach Jamie Dixon. Pitt is slightly down this year (15-9, 4-7 in the Big East), but has been to the NCAA tournament the past 8 seasons and hasn't won less than 25 games since the '04-'05 season.

As a Maryland fan, there are two ways to look at this new primary partner. One is to feel slighted by the powers that be in the ACC. After all, the Terps have been a part of the conference since its formation, so why are we the partner to one of the newbies? Is there not one school that we've developed a rivalry with worth preserving? Sadly, or perhaps just interestingly, the answer is "not really." I don't think any Terp fan gets particularly fired up to watch Maryland play UVa (and UVa is a natural rival to Va Tech), and who else was it going to be? N.C. State? Wake Forest? Nah, better to give Maryland and its new coach a new rival, one altogether worthy of respect, and, hopefully over time, the source of a kind of hatred reserved only for teams that it feels so good to beat.

Today, of course, there is the matter of Maryland at Duke. A rebuilding Maryland program without its point guard has little chance to beat the Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor, but one never knows. Perhaps Terrell Stoglin has a career-defining 40-point explosion of a performance in his system, it wouldn't shock me. So I'll be watching. And, while I initially felt that losing the home and home with Duke every year would hurt the Maryland program and its fans, I now feel like it's the right change at the right time.

It will be a good change for the program to stop thinking so much about the Duke games, and more on building the kind of team and program that goes to the tournament every year and competes for the league title. Kinda like Pitt. No use fighting it, bring on the Blue Devils today, and bring on the new era under our new coach next year. Go Terps.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The 17 Games In, 2012 Season Preview

Hola my friends, it's been a while. I'll spare the excuses for not prolifically filing reports about the young and 'developing before our eyes' 2011-2012 edition of the Maryland men's basketball team. Heading into tonight's contest at Florida State (9 p.m. on ESPNU), Mark Turgeon's Terps are 12-4, 2-1 and a win could get people talking about Maryland as a possible bubble team. Right now they are on no one's list, largely because they haven't really beaten anyone good, got clobbered by, um, Iona, and pulled out a series of a single digit, nail-biting victories over the likes of Mount St. Mary's, Florida International, Radford, and Alabany. I am not even making up that list of schools in such a way that would indicate Maryland has played a bunch of softies, those are among the schools Maryland has played against, and they almost lost to all of them.

Ah, but before we get all hyper-critical like an angry Ravens fan calling a sports talk show to complain about Joe Flacco's completion percentage, let's give these Terps a break, huh? They lost their big man, Jordan Williams to the NBA's New Jersey Nets (where he's appeared in 6 games and scored 6 total points and appears to be the last man on the bench... ) their designated foreign 'fundamentally sound guy,' Haukur Palsson to professional ball in Europe, and several decent roster fillers to graduation or the end of their eligibility or whatever it is happens when a college basketball player completes 4 years in a row of competition at an institution of higher learning. (Hey - side note, did you know that former Terp Cliff Tucker, who made that one game-winner against Georgia Tech, walked on the football team at UTEP? It's true. I don't feel like surfing and linking to his bio, but I think he had 2 or 3 catches.)

Anyway, where were we? Full admission, I have watched about 2/3 of the Maryland games this year and don't feel quite as 'plugged in' as I did in the past when I actually covered the team and/or made Terps games appointment TV or attended most home games.

However, I do feel qualified to now provide a journalistically questionable analysis of the top 5 or 6 guys on this years Terps, plus the new coach:

Let's start at the top with that whirling dervish of a two guard, Terrell Stoglin - Put it this way, you WOULD NOT want to have to try to guard Terrell in a pick-up game. He would destroy you and 3 other guys and score basically, all the points. Only problem is that in this made-up game that will never happen, the other guys on Terrell's team might not have a ton of fun watching him do his thing while they, well, watch him do his thing. He's not exactly a big sharer of the basketball, but man can he score. Stoglin leads the ACC in scoring at 21 points per game and without him, Maryland probably loses to Cornell, Albany, Mt. St. Mary's and few others. He's Maryland's only truly legit player, who would likely start for any other team in the ACC.

OK, moving on then, we have Shawn Mosley, the 34-year-old senior small forward from Baltimore, who is the Terps' what? Glue guy? Team leader? Insert cliche about pretty good but not great senior forced to stay for four years here? Mosley works hard, seems to do everything well, nothing great. Players like Mosley are very nice to have on your team if you have 2-3 stars and he can be content to be in the background, but if he's your guy, well, you aren't that good.

James Padgett - power forward. High energy. Leads the ACC in offensive rebounding at over 4 per game, but only gets 2 on the defensive glass. I don't understand this statistic. Padgett sometimes looks like he can take over, sometimes disappears, not sure what else to say here.

Pe'Shon Howard - when he came back from a toe injury about 10 games in to the season, Maryland had a breath of fresh air - a pass first point guard. Like his name, Pe'Shon is flashy, loves the spectacular or difficult pass and can hit an open shot. He is very entertaining and I'm guessing the coaches would say he's playing his way into game shape and will only get better. I like Pe'Shon.

Alex Len - So when Pe'Shon came back from the toe injury, the Terps also gained the services of Alex Len, a 7-1 center from the Ukraine who had to sit out 10 games because, in the eyes of the NCAA, he did something he shouldn't have, like accepted a few bucks for playing basketball.

Len plays a lot like you'd hope a 7-1 center from the Ukraine would play. He's not just gigantically tall, he's athletic, blocks shots, has a good court sense, and seems to be really enjoying himself. On the down side, big Alex isn't exactly the second coming of Patrick Ewing, or even Uwe Blab for that matter. He's a bit thin and got lost in the recent Georgia Tech game, where he scored only 0 points, but got 9 rebounds. Let's hope there are lots of double-doubles in store for this guy - Terps really need him to play well to be a good team.

Off the bench, Maryland gets thin fast, with Ashton Pankey playing a serviceable power forward and another skinny tall foreign white guy, Berend Weijs at center. Also serviceable. Another role player who shows flashes of serious talent is Mychael Parker, but he also seems inconsistent.

Wait, I'm forgetting Nick Faust, the athletic 2 guard from Baltimore's City College high school who started the first 9 games before Howard came back from injury. I think Faust was a bit overwhelmed at first and was shooting like 25 percent through his first 10 games or so but is probably better suited for a role off the bench right now. From what I've seen, he moves gracefully around the court, can make the three, but forces shots and makes plenty of bad decisions. Faust has the potential to blossom into a very good player but he's not exactly an impact guy who can throw his team on his back. The only guy Maryland has in that category is Stoglin.

And last, let me just throw out a few words about the new leader of the Terps, Mark Turgeon. From what I can tell, Maryland basketball is in very good hands. Turgeon not only works hard, coaches hard, recruits hard, he is brutally honest in press conferences. He says things like, "we need to grow up as a basketball team" and has pushed Stoglin with some tough love, including sitting him out to start a couple of games and chiding him for not passing the ball more.

I'm sure it's not easy to coach a guy like Stoglin, a player who can score like few others, but might not exert maximum effort on D or share the ball as much as he should. So far, so good, for these young, improving Terps. A win tonight at Florida State would be a great stepping stone, and might just get Maryland moving toward something more than just a rebuilding season.

Go Terps.

Monday, June 06, 2011

My Other Stolen Car, Another Essay



On Thursday, May 19, 2011, I had to get up very early to go to a business event in downtown Baltimore - had to be there by about 6:45 to set up. I walked out of the house and to my car and upon getting in, noticed that the car had been rummaged through. Papers were scattered about from the glove box, loose change on the floor, compartment in the dash was opened and emptied of the broken watch and bluetooth headset that had been in there.

It's a petty crime and one that happens a little too frequently in our Mt. Washington neighborhood for my comfort level, but so it goes. I reacted as most people would in such a situation, by releasing a stream of under-my-breath expletives about as loud as I would permit myself while standing outside before 7 a.m. At the same time as I was stomping around, my very kind, neighborly neighbor Marianne was driving by on her way to work and slowed to ask what happened. At that particular moment, I thought I had just lost a few things in my car and I was trying to remember what was even in the car to be taken. I just grumbled to her about my car being broken into and losing a few things including, I thought at the time, a tripod that I needed for a video shoot that day.

But, alas, the tripod I soon found in the trunk, along with a few other items that I thought were worthy of stealing. I figured they didn't bother or couldn't figure out how to pop the trunk ... so I considered myself a bit lucky and just got into the car and drove off.

Fast forward to about 8 a.m. and my cell phone rings. I'm with the client and quickly turn it off without looking at the screen. A half hour later I check the message and it's from my wife Jennifer who says simply, "Hey, hon, uh, where's the Volvo?"

And then it hits me. I didn't even notice ... when I drove off in in the early morning in my car, my wife's car wasn't there.

We have been through this before. Back in 2007, my then 6-month old Mazda sedan was poached from in front of our house. That time, I ran into the thief while he was running errands at the Home Depot at the Reisterstown Rd. plaza. Truly. [One comical side note to that whole story, by the way, was in telling my brother Ken that I ran into my car thief with my car at the Reisterstown Rd. plaza Home Depot, the first thing he said was, incredulously, "you go to the Home Depot at the Reisterstown Rd plaza?"] Not anymore.

Anyway, back to my current source of frustration with city living ... the missing 2001 Volvo V70 wagon, the one with 140k miles, our kid hauler, filled with toys and children's books and two carseats. Now in the hands of someone likely on a joyride, who went scrounging for loose change, ipods and GPS's in the middle of the night and hit the dirtbag jackpot.

And let me just go on a rant for a moment here about crime. We all have watched tons of movies and shows where slick thieves are portrayed as cool as they rip off unsuspecting dopes. When you are the person whose stuff a criminal takes, the only feeling you have for them is rage. They took our car. With our kids' stuff in it. It's maddening.

But then, you know, you calm down. It's just a car, a thing, you tell yourself and each other. Hell, it had a lot miles on it and we were shopping for something new anyway. The kids got an unexpected day off from school and by 3 p.m. we had a loaner Jetta and new car seats. A thing comes into your life and it goes away. It's a utility, you tell yourself, don't get too worked up about it, insurance will cover it. But still. It stings.

POLICE SQUAD

Now allow me to digress from that digression for a moment about the disinterest of the Baltimore police department in this particular crime. Jennifer and I weren't expecting Bunk and McNulty to bring down the criminals with an elaborate undercover operation, but what the police did do in response was just north of nothing.

A responding officer came out that morning to file a report. We learned the last time that what usually happens in these instances is that the thief is not an arch criminal with a network of comrades in Europe selling used parts to the mob ... no, it's typically a teenager on joy ride who is going to leave the car wherever it stops when it runs out of gas. Then someone will report that a car has been abandoned on their lawn or in the middle of the street and then Baltimore's finest will impound it and give you a call.

Our car was stolen in the overnight hours of May 19th. A week and a half later, Jennifer got a call from the insurance company saying that they were having trouble processing our claim because the car was not officially reported as stolen and in the police database. Jen called the officer who filed the report to find out what was up - the officer made a few calls and found out that due to "dispatcher error," the car was never reported as stolen. So, in the time from when it was stolen, not only was no one looking for it (as if) but there wouldn't even be a reason for a police officer to call in something suspicious if they saw the car or even pulled over the driver. Unless, of course, the driver posted a sign that said "stolen car" in place of our tags.

Two days after that call, they found our car. With the gas on E and the sunroof smashed in, the cops picked it up not far from Pimlico, less than 2 miles from our house.

THE IMPOUND LOT EXPERIENCE

Ever had your car impounded? When most people have their car impounded, it's usually for one of a couple of reasons:
1.) Failure to pay tickets.
2.) It's been in a hellacious accident and just gets hauled off there.
3.) Someone stole and abandoned it.
4.) Lord only knows.

Baltimore city's impound lot is located on Pulaski Highway, which looks a lot like a place called Pulaski Highway, in an area dotted with strip clubs, auto body shops, adult book stores, and shady looking motels. It fits right in. The office is a large shed of a building, with attendants behind barred off windows, gas station style, separating faithful city employees from people who might not be super psyched that their vehicle has been placed in the parking lot of broken dreams.

To get your car out, it costs $140 for the tow, $50 for storage and a $40 administrative fee. $230 is a figure we kept hearing people being charged for getting their car out. (Wonder why we haven't seen an impound lot Groupon yet...) You may use a credit card, but that carries with it a $12 fee because they consider it a cash advance and, you know, credit cards are such an exotic form of bill payment these days. In fairness, there is a MECU ATM in the corner near the cashier cages, just to the left of the nailed down plastic chairs.

So what happens when you get there is you take a number from deli-counter style machine and they call you and you step right up to the counter. You give the worker your title and driver's license and tale of woe. Then you sit back down until your car model is called, and a guy who's seen it all takes you back, three or four at a time into a massive parking lot of broken down, discarded, and otherwise troubled vehicles.

The lot is huge, and the cars populating it are not, generally in good shape. There's a caged off area of motorcycles and mini bikes. Because you go in groups, you get to see and hear the stories of the other people as you sit scrunched next to them in a crappy Chevy with a City of Baltimore logo on the side.

Anyway, I was in there with an elderly woman who informed us that she was there to fetch the belongings from her brother's car - she said he walked away fine after passing out at the wheel and slamming into 2 parked cars. She had to unload the car, a Crown Victoria, of a bunch of his stuff. Anxious to get to my car, I got out to help and watched as she waded through his car, a few hats, a travel iron, grocery bags. She popped the trunk and found some corn that had turned a spoiled brown. Before getting back in the car, she stood there for a while with a hand on a hip, just looking at the mangled front end. There was a massive, V-shaped crater in the front grill and both airbags had been deployed and now hung limp - "mmmph, mmmph, mmmph," she said, "good thing for those airbags."

Next up came a young woman who needed to pay a visit to her Chevy Blazer. She told the driver she couldn't afford to get it out right now, but needed her shoes and a bunch of other stuff. So I watched as she unloaded more pairs of shoes than you would hope that anyone you know stores in their car into a brown paper bag.

Next up came my turn... it's kinda like an airport Super Shuttle for losers this ride I was on ... and I saw the nose of the Volvo peeking out from the row. Looked OK. Got up close and saw that the sunroof was smashed. But the body looked alright, no major dents. Got out of the impound limo and got in my car, pushing glass off the seat... turned the key and it started. Realized there were a bunch of clothes that weren't ours all over the place ... didn't drive the car out because I didn't want to drive it with all the glass and didn't know if it was OK to drive. So I had to go back to the shack and release the car to the insurance company, which later sent a tow truck and had it brought to our car repair place of choice.

I felt happy to have the car back, still mad that it was stolen but overall a decent outcome considering the circumstances. As I write this we're still waiting for the adjuster to give us a damage total but I'm assuming we'll put it back on the road after a thorough cleaning. I'm thinking we are going to ask whoever details it to detail it after they detail it.

THINGS LEFT BEHIND
When you're out at the impound lot, it's hard to take a long time with the car because you feel the eyes of the other auto sweepstakes losers waiting for you, as is the friendly driver. Finally when the Volvo was at the auto shop, I put on a pair of gloves and sorted through the stuff in it.

Jen was happy that the kids "Bop It" toy was left behind, as was Alec's Thomas the Tank engine umbrella and sunglasses and their books and some action figures. Though I feel like I want to have those things washed or just toss em. I put em in bags.

Then I looked at what the car thieves left in the car. Very weird. It was an assorted bunch of karate gear - several black belts and a robe that included the name of a karate place. As it turns out, the name of the place is for troubled youths... and, here we go, one of the blackbelts had a person's name on it.

I'm not going to write that name here because I don't know if that person stole our car, is related to the person who stole our car, or had his stuff stolen by the person who stole our car. I'll let the police put their best team on that case.

Then, the final kicker. Jen later visited the car and found the kids' Milkshake CD (kids songs) had been destroyed, and in the CD player was a homemade mix called "In the Guttah."

You can't make this stuff up.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Thanks Gary

My favorite memory of the Gary Williams era of Maryland basketball did not burn its way into my brain at Cole Field House, Comcast Center, or even Minneapolis or Atlanta, where Gary and the Terps played in back-to-back Final Fours.

No, the indelible moment took place in Anaheim in March of 2001. Gary and the Terps had just defeated top seeded Stanford in the Elite 8 and I was lucky enough to be in the stands, in the lower bowl even, having snuck down from the nose bleeds I scalped to sit in Terrapin red among a bunch of well-heeled, burgundy-clad Stanford alums.

After the final horn blew on an amazing game – Maryland won 87-73 – Gary climbed up the ladder to take his turn cutting down the net. He’d finally done it. All the years, all the battles, all the sweaty suits, and all the sideline rants were in the past. He had a look of elation and peace. The Final Four awaited. He’d done it.

For the prior two hours, his third-seeded Terps took apart top-seeded Stanford, led at the time by future NBA players Jarron and Jason Collins along with All America Casey Jacobson. Maryland's Lonny Baxter absolutely schooled the Collins twins in the second half to the tune of 24 points with an array of half hooks, drop steps and reverse layups. Juan Dixon nailed his share of trademark jumpers and the score kept stretching out, stretching out in Maryland's favor as the clock wound down.

I'm getting the chills now typing as I remember that game. It meant so much. No team before or since, in my opinion, embodied the Gary Williams era more at Maryland. They were scrappy and talented, but not overwhelming favorites. They played hard, like their coach, and took their share of criticism. Just a month or so prior to that magical night in Anaheim, the Terps fell at home to a mediocre Florida State team. The home crowd booed the team off the court.

As Maryland completed the win over Stanford (for my money, the best played game of any team in the Gary era), the Florida State loss felt like another season. But I bet Gary remembered. I bet he heard those boos somewhere in his brain as he ascended the ladder, scissor in hand. I remember watching him intently, not wanting to miss a second of it. I can’t remember feeling as happy as a fan or as satisfied for a coach as I did at that moment. He cut the remains of the net, grabbed it, and swung it over his head. “There! You see this?" he seemed to say with each twist of the rope. "You didn’t think I could do it, did you? Well here I am. What do you want to say now?”

I just want to say thank you. Thanks Gary. There will never be another coach like you. It was quite a ride.