Ballad to the Atlanta Braves

I’m still having a terrible case of writer’s block, so I thought I’d share another sports poem that I wrote 20 years ago for my Creative Writing class at Indiana University South Bend. The assignment was to write a 10-stanza ballad, but I misunderstood and wrote 20, including footnotes for my professor since she was not familiar with baseball terminology. I’ve just revised the poem for the umpteenth – and final – time, hopefully for the better. So, in honor of Throwback Thursday, here is the revamped version of Ballad to the Atlanta Braves, originally written on Sept. 27, 1993. The ending is obviously dated because the Philadelphia Phillies defeated the Braves in the 1993 National League Championship Series and went on to lose to the Toronto Blue Jays in the World Series. Had they won, it would have been Atlanta’s third straight year playing in the Fall Classic. But, alas, it was not to be for my beloved team.

 

There was a baseball team
That was always used to last place,
But Bobby Cox managed
To make them do an about-face.

He showcased great pitchers –
Stars Glavine, Smoltz and Avery –
The three golden aces
Who made winning so savory.

There, too, was their offense,
The Atlanta Braves’ batting show –
Gant, Pendleton, Justice –
Smacking balls in plentiful flow.

CHORUS
Yeah! The Braves are ready!
“Tomahawk Chopping” in ‘Lanta.
Eager fans gnaw their nails …
Hurry! Stock up on Mylanta!

The Braves began their rise
In ’91, from “worst to first.”
Postseason play commenced
In a fabled World Series burst!

First up came the Pirates,
Pesky and bratty as could be,
But no match for the Braves
In a squeaker – four games to three.

Then they clashed with the Twins –
Both teams sharper than a razor.
The World Series opened
In a thrilling seven-gamer.

The Braves found some magic
In “Little Lemmer’s” massive bat,
But left empty-handed.
‘Sota won it, and that was that.

Still reeling from defeat,
The team vowed to return “next year,”
To mend through Spring Training,
Make the playoff route, and not veer.

CHORUS
Yeah! The Braves are ready!
“Tomahawk Chopping” in ‘Lanta.
Eager fans gnaw their nails …
Hurry! Stock up on Mylanta!

So ’92 began
And the men restarted their quest,
Foiling clubs far and near
In the finding of baseball’s best.

Only Pittsburgh hindered
Yet another World Series berth.
The games, played back and forth,
Would decide winners of great worth.

The seventh game climaxed
With two outs in the ninth inning,
Bases loaded with Braves –
Fast-dwindling hopes of them winning.

“Frankie’s” bat met the ball,
Justice tagged to even the slate,
Followed by “weak-kneed” Bream,
Who chug-a-lugged safe to home plate.

The team of dreams triumphed.
An unbelieving crowd stared, dazed …
One more last-minute win –
Even the players were amazed.

Then, in the Fall Classic,
Atlanta opposed the Blue Jays.
Cito’s group proved too strong
And held the inflamed Braves at bay.

Again, the crew rebuilt,
But feelings were not quite the same.
So ’93 arose –
Good spirits threatening to wane.

The team added Maddux,
Cy Young winner the year before,
Then traded for “Crime Dog”
And improved, hellbent for some more.

The Braves trailed the Giants
For the best part of the season,
But at last surpassed them,
Which Atlanta saw as pleasin’.

Now “The Boys” are restless.
Will they make the Series this time?
If they beat the Phillies,
A ‘Jays rematch would suit them fine.

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Athletes take stand against stupid questions

In a news release that shocked the world today, athletes announced they no longer will interact with the media.

“Enough is enough!” Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo exclaimed in outrage to his teammates, who, as usual, weren’t listening to him. “We can’t take it anymore! They totally ruin EVERYTHING for us!”

Weary of answering stupid questions posed to them by reporters trying to make names for themselves or just too oblivious to care, they have banded together to put an end to the circus of clowns.

And they were overwhelmingly uncensored in their responses to the widespread idiocy they’ve encountered throughout their respective careers. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

“How did I feel after losing the Super Bowl to fucking Eli Manning and the New York Giants?!” roared New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in response to perhaps one of THE most ridiculous questions he’d ever been asked when his team’s bid for a perfect 2007 season fell short at 18-1 after its Super Bowl XLII defeat. “Seriously?! SERIOUSLY?! Are you fucking kidding me?! How the fuck did they THINK I felt?!”

The potty-mouthed Brady was even more livid when he reminisced about having to answer how he felt losing to the Giants a second time in Super Bowl XLVI.

“Shitty, you fucktards!” Brady recalled saying, his eyes glazing over in remembered rage all over again. “I told them to get back on the short bus until they learned how to ask intelligent questions, but we all know that’s never going to happen because they don’t have any fucking brains! Ask me about my smoking hot wife, my hair styles, where I buy my clothes, how much money I’m worth. But do NOT ask me stupid-assed questions when you already know the answer, for fuck’s sake!”

The NFL subsequently slapped Brady with a hefty fine for that tirade.

St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright and catcher Yadier Molina, who stood motionless as an infield popup plopped on the ground for a blundering single between them in Game 1 of the World Series against the Boston Red Sox this year, were gobsmacked when a reporter daringly inquired what they could have done differently to prevent the hit.

“Um, looked up and caught the ball, maybe?” they offered in unison.

Most would view that as sarcasm, but since everyone knows these two guys are genuinely nice people, their response cannot be chalked up to mean-spiritedness. They may be a bit slow on the uptake since they DID let the ball fall between them like that, but they’re still smart enough to identify an obtuse question. Both still are scratching their heads over that one.

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, on the other hand, was not so nice when moronic reporters kept badgering him about how his team was faring after a heartbreaking loss that saw the Red Sox clinch their third World Series title since 2004.

“We obviously feel like shit, but you assholes can see that for yourselves,” he snarled in vehement disgust. “Would it make for a better quote, or story, or whatever it is you do if I stabbed them all with the pencil I use for my lineup card so you could report about them writhing in pain as they bleed all over the fucking clubhouse for the whole world to see?! Or how about I go around punching them all in the gonads so you can see grown men REALLY cry?! Is that what you want?! Just tell me what to do, and I’ll do it, if that’s what it takes to shut you up!”

Major League Baseball refused to fine him for his unfiltered reaction, particularly since the sports world announced its stunning intentions so quickly afterward.

The ban is expected to be permanent because – unfortunately – evidence uncovered on a daily basis proves that intelligent questions are nonexistent in today’s technology-driven world, thus causing the extinction of real-life interaction between human beings. In other words, they’ve been rendered socially inept.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Jeff Gordon started messing with the media a while back when he began to tire of reporters inquiring why he considered himself an athlete when all he did was drive really fast and turn left. Rather than trying to explain race strategy to a bunch of half-wits, he decided it was far less painful to play the part of a simplistic goody two-shoes with a catchphrase that covered every possible topic just so they’d leave him alone.

Boogity boogity boogity was great while it lasted,” he said, thrilled not to have to use that line of defense ever again. “It galled me having to bring myself down to their vacuous IQs like that, but it kept them off my back.”

The only person exempt from this unprecedented move is Romo because he never has been deemed worthy of interrogation by anyone. Plus, nobody likes him.

“What a loser,” Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel said of Romo. “I’m going to enjoy taking his job away from him after I win my second Heisman Trophy this year and enter the NFL draft in 2014. Because, you know, everything is bigger in Texas and Johnny Football is all about making big money. Hell, I already got a signing bonus THIS year!”

Athletes also aren’t receptive to having cell phones, cameras, microphones and the odd antiquated tape recorders shoved in their faces continually. It makes them feel like deer frozen in headlights. Notebooks are preferrable, but 99.9 percent of the planet has forgotten how to write using pen and paper since the texting boom of the 2000s.

“Would it be so hard for them to sit down with me, have a cup of coffee and jot a few notes while we talk, really talk?” Detroit Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder mused. “Or perhaps they could come by my house and help me take care of my kids, fix their lunches, take them to school, that kind of stuff. I want to see what they’re writing down, mind you, and I’ll cry misquote if I don’t like what I read. But I just hate having all that technology stymieing me when all I’m trying to do after work is get home to my family so we can spend as much quality time together as possible.”

The news didn’t phase the media, in particular the television personalities. But that’s not surprising. TV is one percent brains and 99 percent vanity.

“Huh?” queried one reporter while distractedly primping in her floor-to-ceiling mirror, not really listening to her male colleague who, in turn, simply wanted to hear himself speak because he was so madly in love with the sound of his own voice.

Furthermore, athletes threatened TV entities the world over to ban irritating sportscasters indefinitely because disgruntled fans can no longer stomach the senseless drivel that spews from their mouths. They finally reached a one-year deal stating that if an intuitive replacement cannot be found, viewers will be given the option to listen to the music genre of their choice for the duration of the sporting event.

This means fans will no longer have to withstand ANY sportscaster’s continued bias for certain athletes and teams anymore, unless they CHOOSE to do so. They additionally are henceforth instructed to get a hotel room anytime they feel compelled to share their ardor in such a fashion or until those feelings pass, which probably will be never.

“It’s a win-win deal for me, baby,” added Manziel, “because I know MY fans will want to hear ALL the announcers crushing on me! After all, everyone LOVES them some Johnny Football!”

Perfection

Perfect marriages don’t exist.

Sure, you might have been to a near-perfect wedding or two, but that only lasts a day. A marriage is for life. None comes without its problems, and rarely is it ever easy. You simply have to love each other, really love each other, and make it work. The effort is always worth it, at least to my way of thinking.

Just look at the city of Boston and its beloved Red Sox.

They were made for one another, these two. No more has that been evident than the manner in which they banded together after the tragic events of April 15 – just 16 days into the baseball season – when two bombs went off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon and forever changed so many lives.

But the city stood its ground, stood strong, stood united as its citizens refused to cower in the face of terror. And the Red Sox fed off their courage, all the while realizing that there was more to life than baseball. The season was no longer just about winning, but giving something back to a city that had never given up on them, that had always believed in them, that always would love them.

And those are the traits of a good, strong, lasting union between two entities.

The same can be said of the team itself. When you bring a group of professional athletes together, egos, jealousy and, yes, occasional temper tantrums usually come with them.

That wasn’t the case with the 2013 Red Sox. They approached the season with a team-first mentality that endeared them all the more to their loyal fans.

Their unselfish approach to the game paid off as the Red Sox won their eighth World Series title Wednesday night and their third since 2004, defeating the St. Louis Cardinals 6-1 in Game 6 of the best-of-seven Fall Classic at Boston’s Fenway Park.

It was the first time in 95 years that the Red Sox clinched a World Series at home, and their fans – packed into Fenway and outside on the streets like the insane lineups you only see on Black Friday – gave such a united, heartfelt roar of appreciation because it was about so much more than just winning to them.

It was that way for me, too. I got to see something special in more ways than one. We all did. You might think me a bandwagon jumper, but we’d have to agree to disagree.

What made it so memorable for me was sharing in my husband’s joy and our son’s enthusiasm.

My husband, Stuart, is a devout Red Sox fan. I am a staunch Atlanta Braves fan. And our son, sometimes to my chagrin, roots for all of daddy’s teams regardless of the sport.

Sure, I was bummed that the Braves didn’t make it past their National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. But I didn’t sulk for days on end. That’s not my style. Instead, I immediately did what I always do: Cheer for Stuart’s team, unless his isn’t playing, either. It’s not often that our teams meet up in the postseason, thankfully, so it was a relief not to have our house divided to that end.

Sports are what first brought us together. Love keeps us together. And because of that, I will always be his biggest, loudest, mouthiest cheerleader, even if it is doing something as simple as pulling for his team. It’s the little, everyday things that make our marriage work. I know it. He knows it.

Thanks for rooting for my team!

What was even more extraordinary was watching the blossoming bond between father and son strengthen through this shared experience.

Our son wasn’t even a gleam in our eyes when Boston won the World Series in 2004 and he was too young to understand what was going on when the Red Sox did it again in 2007. But this time around, our 7-year-old cheered right alongside us, and it made my heart swell with so much love because I knew how much it meant to Stuart, that this was more special than the other two or any yet to come.

You should wake Kiefer and tell him the good news.

Try as I might, there was no waking him up. I’ll leave that to Stuart when he gets home from work in the morning. It’s more fitting that way, don’t you think? I can’t wait to hear his squeals of delight. Neither can Stuart.

And that, to me – to us – is a perfect start to a new day.

Quality

Quality.

Retail customers automatically expect it in exchange for their money, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to get it. Sometimes, the item they pay for turns out to be a piece of junk. Others, it seems, they’ve lucked upon a hidden gem.

Like the fans who got more than they bargained for in the form of Boston Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester this October.

The phrase “quality pitching” isn’t exactly the first thing that comes to mind when people talk about the Red Sox. Up until recently, I wholeheartedly admit that it was a nonexistent thought in mine.

Truth be told, I’m quite spoiled in the pitching department. I cut my teeth on a staff of aces that, in my not-so-humble opinion, had no parallel in the 1990s and early 2000s. Of course, by now you have to know I mean the Atlanta Braves’ former formidable starting rotation of John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Steve Avery and, later on, Greg Maddux, Kevin Millwood, Denny Neagle and the lesser-known Damian Moss.

And yet, with all that talent and all those years of domination on the mound, they only managed one World Series victory in five appearances (’91, ’92, ’95, ’96 and ’99). It came against the Cleveland Indians in 1995, and even then, winning the championship seemed more of a relief than anything else. A 232-day strike from 1994-95 took the joy out of it for me, especially when the entire ’94 postseason became a casualty of the baseball stoppage.

Fans were understandably pissed off and disenchanted with the game – myself included – but it wasn’t pitching that eventually made us fall in love with baseball all over again. It was, instead, an unlikely home-run chase between larger-than-life sluggers Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs during the 1998 season.

All of a sudden, EVERYONE was watching Major League Baseball. Both men surpassed the record of 61 set by the – and I have to preface this with my usual UGH – New York Yankees’ Roger Maris in 1961. Nothing personal against Maris, mind you, just his team. Anyway, McGwire surpassed Maris’ mark first and eventually edged out Sosa 70-66. Three years later, the overwhelmingly hated Barry Bonds hit 73. That record, such as it is, still stands.

We all know what happened afterward.

All three names came up in the much-publicized scandal involving steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs in the ensuing years, thus making a mockery out of us fans yet again. You know the old adage: If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is, and it left us feeling dirty, cheated, foolish for buying into something that wasn’t anything even remotely resembling what we thought we were getting. We were just like the figurative customer who shells out wads of dough for a Lamborghini only to receive a Yugo.

We were robbed.

I still cry Lemon Law for those wasted seasons we’ll never get back again. But many great feats have taken the sting out of them in the years since, which brings me back to Lester and the manner in which he’s outperformed his foes from across the hill.

Lester quietly has done what the other Red Sox starting pitchers have not in this year’s World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals: Win. I’m not knocking the starting rotation, but we all know it hasn’t exactly been stellar every single night. The same goes for a few of the guys in the bullpen. Shit happens, and that’s putting it about as nicely as I can.

Boston is up 3-2 in the Fall Classic and has Lester to thank for two of those victories heading into Game 6 on Wednesday at Fenway Park. Teammate and reliever Felix Doubront is credited with the other, thanks, in large part, to a three-run homer by Jonny Gomes that broke a 1-all tie en route to the 4-2 win in Game 4.

The left-handed Lester has provided his customers – whoops, opposition – a disservice in the postseason. And that sits just fine with his teammates and fans, who, I think it’s safe to say, are quite satisfied with his collective performance.

In his 15 1/3 innings pitched in the Fall Classic, he has scattered a mere nine hits and one earned run – a solo homer by the Cardinals’ Matt Holliday in Game 5 – for a 0.59 ERA while striking out 15. Monday night, he allowed only four hits and the one run, fanning seven in 7 2/3 innings to clinch a 3-1 win. Back in Game 1, he also went the same distance, giving up five hits while whiffing eight and walking one in the 8-1 rout of St. Louis.

He has posted a 4-1 record in his five starts during the playoffs, his only loss a tough 1-0 decision against the Detroit Tigers in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series. His overall postseason ERA is 1.56 with 29 strikeouts and 25 hits allowed in 34 2/3 innings. Not an easy feat, considering the competition.

Hopefully, John Lackey will feed off of Lester’s latest stellar Series start and help bring another title back to Beantown with some much-needed “quality time” of his own on the pitcher’s mound. Because, as we’ve learned in the past, quantity – let’s just call it my code word for using too many pitchers – doesn’t always get the job done.

Statistics don’t always tell the story

Are you f*cking kidding me?!

Those were the first words out of my mouth (sans the asterisk) as soon as I walked in the front door last night. I had gotten home from work just in time to see St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina reach second safely on a throwing error committed by Boston Red Sox third baseman Xander Bogaerts and then move to third on a wild pitch by John Lackey in the bottom of the eighth inning.

Not again, I thought, please, not again.

Of course, my dear husband the Red Sox fan sarcastically thanked me for jinxing his team. Truthfully, I was ready to turn around and go right back to work if that’s what it took for them to win Game 4 of the World Series.

Thankfully, Boston ended up winning 4-2 – the same score it was when I got home – bringing the World Series to another tie, this time at 2-all. Game 5 will be played tonight in St. Louis before the Series goes back to Boston on Wednesday.

The Red Sox bats have been craptastic for much of the postseason, but luckily for them, their opponents aren’t faring much better with the three teams they’ve faced combining for a .240 average. Statistics don’t lie, but they don’t tell the entire story, either. Boston’s current overall batting average is a paltry .223 in 14 postseason games, going from a decent .286 in the division series against the Tampa Bay Rays to plummet to .202 in the American League Championship Series with the Detroit Tigers before dropping even further to an awful .189 to the Cardinals’ .235 in the World Series.

However, stats and all that other mumbo jumbo aside, and just when you think there’s no hope in hell of them mounting a comeback of any kind, the Red Sox find a way to win. And that is the mark of a great team.

I asked my husband the other day which one was his favorite Boston team that made it to the World Series dating back to 2004.

Was it the 2004 team famous for coming back from a 3-0 deficit to the hated New York Yankees in the ALCS to win 4-3 en route to sweeping the Cardinals 4-0 in the World Series?

Or perhaps the 2007 club that was down 3-1 against the Cleveland Indians in the ALCS after losing games 2, 3 and 4 before roaring back to outscore its opponent 30-5 in the final three contests for another 4-3 win, and then quickly dispatching the Colorado Rockies 4-0 in the World Series?

Maybe this year’s group that looks more like a bunch of outlaw bikers you might find at a nearby watering hole rather than baseball players, sporting no one with real superstar status except possibly designated hitter David “Big Papi” Ortiz, now 38 and in the twilight of his career, who came back from a season-ending injury in 2012 to finish the regular season with 30 home runs, 103 runs batted in and a .309 batting average?

His answer was surprising.

I’d have guessed he’d pick the 2004 crew that reversed the “Curse of the Bambino.” The “curse” supposedly was the reason why the Red Sox suffered an 86-year drought dating back to their last championship in 1918 when, two years later, they sold the legendary Babe Ruth to the – UGH – Yankees. Up until that point, they had won five World Series titles between 1903-18. Personally, I don’t buy into any of that “curse” garbage. But, hey, that’s just me.

In any case, my husband responded to the question with no hesitation whatsoever: The 2013 gang.

Why, I inquired? Because they’re down-to-earth guys, he said, and there really are no big-name talents with even bigger egos stifling Boston management’s mission to get back to an unselfish, “clubhouse” style of play where everyone contributes when called upon this season. They have more character, more moxie, more team spirit, and they’re just plain GENUINE. There are no signs of jealousy when someone is asked to sit out from one day to the next so another can fill a needed role for the team at any given time. They accept their roles such as they are, cheer for one another and build each other up instead of tearing one another down.

Sure, their pitching has been suspect and their bats quiet of late. And yet, they always seem to whittle their way back into a game when it seems as if all hope is lost.

Twice against Detroit in the ALCS, the Red Sox hit grand slams to tie or outright win games.

You’d expect that Big Papi would be the one of those people, and you’d be right. His shot went just over the wall of the bullpen at Fenway Park with Tigers right fielder Torii Hunter valiantly but unsuccessfully diving headfirst after it to tie Game 2 at 5-all in the bottom of the eighth inning. Boston left fielder Jonny Gomes scored the winning run in the ninth on a Jarrod Saltalamacchia single after starting off the inning with an infield single himself, advancing to second on a throwing error that ended up in the Red Sox dugout during the same play and then to third on a wild pitch before clinching the 6-5 victory.

Then, in the decisive Game 6 that sent Boston to the World Series, it was Mr. Hit By Pitch himself, Shane Victorino, who was an unlikely hero that night. Victorino, who has been hit by a whopping seven pitches so far this postseason, launched a grand slam to left field in the bottom of the seventh inning to push the Red Sox past Detroit 5-2. It was one of only three hits he had for the entire ALCS.

Last night, it was Gomes who provided the heroics in the 4-2 win. Less than two hours before the first pitch, he was scribbled into the lineup when fellow outfielder Victorino was scratched because of a back ailment. A fiery dugout speech from Big Papi smack-dab in the middle of the game sparked a three-run homer by Gomes in the top of the sixth that put the Red Sox up 4-1. He had gone 0-for-9 in the Series up until that point. Prior to that, it was a sacrifice fly by teammate Stephen Drew – whose lone hit in the Fall Classic was a blundering pop-up infield single that landed between lollygagging Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright and Molina in Boston’s commanding 8-1 win in Game 1 – that tied it 1-all in the fifth.

Red Sox closer Koji Uehara later ended the game with an exclamation point by picking off pinch runner Kolten Wong at first. It wasn’t nearly as exciting a finish as Game 3, in which St. Louis’ Allen Craig was ruled safe at home despite being tagged out by Saltalamacchia due to a defensive obstruction ruling against Boston’s Will Middlebrooks at third. Craig tripped over Middlebrooks, who was on the ground with his legs flailing in a bid to see where the ball went after a throwing error, got up and limped for home, where the Cardinals were awarded the stumble-off 5-4 win.

You can talk stats until you’re blue in the face, but these Red Sox are more than a bunch of numbers you crunch together. They’re a cast of supporting – no, supportive – players who know their roles, know how important they are to their team, know just how valuable they are to each other.

It’s really too bad you can’t keep stats of intangibles like courage, determination, selflessness. They’d surely top the list. I know I’d take my chances on those qualities over numbers every time. In fact, I always have.

Heroes

Be strong.

Simple words. Meaningful. Powerful.

The human spirit is remarkable. It’s the one true thing that no one ever can take from us.

It’s where our resolve comes from when we think we can’t go one more step, when we feel like we have nothing left to give, when we simply want to give up. It picks us up, dusts us off and propels us forward and upward. It’s our will to live, our ability to love, our very fortitude.

And it’s our courage that is continually tested on a daily basis.

We see it every day in the world of sports. Athletes giving their all is what make us love them, root for them, follow them like the fans we so proudly call ourselves. We identify with them, revel in their greatness, celebrate their feats. We share in their successes and failures, laugh and cry with them, cheer and jeer them. And we love every minute of it because we wouldn’t have it any other way.

We, the fans, are just your everyday, average Joes and Jills. But when we watch our beloved athletes and teams, the world and all of its problems go away for a few hours while we lose ourselves in the excitement that is sports and imagine it is us doing something special to elicit the roar of a crowd. It only lasts a little while, this state of nirvana, but the feelings, the highs and lows, the pure rapture we experience when we watch our idols compete always remain with us.

Clutch hits, game-winning field goals, overtime shootouts and the like aside, I’ve had the honor of knowing many everyday heroes who never have been, nor ever will be in the national or international spotlights. And they prefer it that way.

I’ve seen a young soccer coach battle a rare form of brain cancer permanently attached to her nerve endings, laugh about what she called the hole in her head and continue on with her life as though she never had to stare death in the face. Never mind that she never will be in remission for obvious reasons. She enjoys each day as if it is her last, and that is the way life really should be lived. I wish everyone could see the world through her eyes.

I also found out after the fact that a good friend from high school bravely battled terminal brain cancer while having to come to terms with the knowledge that he was going to be leaving behind two sons and a wife. His family was his whole world. He raised his youngest sister like she was his daughter because no one else was around to do it. But that’s the kind of person he was: Family first. And now that same sister is raising his boys since his passing five years ago to this day, in fact, and having known him and just how much he cherished his family, I know they are with the right person. Such selfless acts of love are the very definition of heroism, at least to my way of thinking.

I’ve spoken at length to the brother of a friend about Hurricane Sandy and what it did to just one of many communities along the East Coast in 2012. There wasn’t time to wait for aid to arrive, so neighbors helped each other because, as he put it, that’s just what they do. No one but them will ever truly know the devastation they experienced, nor will anyone know the names of all the heroes who not only rescued their own, but provided food, clothing and shelter to those who lost everything. Well, that’s not entirely true. They survived, and that is a testament to the unyielding strength and will of the human spirit.

On a daily basis, we hear of heroics in war, natural disasters and tragedies so horrific, they make us question our own humanity and capacity to love because we can’t believe our fellow man would commit such unthinkable acts. And yet, it happens every day. We see it on television, read about it. In real life, we always hear more about the perpetrators than the victims and heroes. And, sadly, there’s a saying in the journalism world that is the ugliest truth of them all: If it bleeds, it leads.

More recently, on a quiet day in April, two men took it upon themselves to do harm to those running, watching and working a historic sporting event in Boston. Two bombs exploded just before the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring more than 260. A police officer from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology later was allegedly killed by the duo and another was injured during a firefight with the brothers. And who knows how many others will forever be affected by the events of that fateful day? Their lives will never, ever be the same.

What really resonated with me was not only how the people of Boston came together then, but how they continue to stick together. They celebrate and applaud the heroes and survivors, rather than dwell on the extremist acts of two men who had no regard whatsoever for the lives of others.

They’ve had a mantra since April: Boston strong. Or, if you look at the players’ jerseys from the Boston Red Sox, the patches on the sleeves simply read: B STRONG. Some people have recently complained about the commercialization of the phrase paying homage to the victims and heroes of the marathon bombings. Do I think Major League Baseball should profit from it? No. Do I believe in it, in the sincerity of the city’s athletes when they say it over and over and over again? Hell yes, I do.

I’m a longtime Atlanta Braves fan, but I have a soft spot for the Red Sox. Partly because my husband is such a huge fan. But mostly because it’s hard not to cheer for a diverse group of athletes who love their adopted city the way they do and have displayed a collectively unselfish demeanor that, frankly, is quite rare in sports these days.

I can’t help but root for this scruffy bunch of guys and their “Fear the Beard” motto signifying an unbreakable team unity that dates back to spring training earlier this year. They went from worst to first a season ago, from infighting to a togetherness that reminds me of a close-knit family, from throwing games away to finding the most thrilling ways to win at the damnedest of times. And they’ve done it all with a first-year manager who not only believes in his players, but stands up for them like a dad would his precious children.

They’ve helped to renew my love for a sport that has been maligned for years by players using steroids and human growth hormones. And for what? More money? You won’t find any prima-donna superstars on this team, but you will see the unlikeliest of heroes perform feats you just don’t see every day, leaving you shaking your head in wonder trying to fathom how they hell they just did THAT.

However the World Series plays out between the Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals, which, by the way, is 1-1 so far, the cohesiveness of the city of Boston has served as a daily reminder to me of the resilience of the human spirit. The Red Sox, in my humble opinion, sincerely embody that belief. And because of that, I can identify with them as regular human beings rather than the sports gods we tend to place on pedestals.

But then, you don’t have to be a baseball or a sports fan of any kind to figure out that life really does go on, things really do get better, hope really will always rise above despair, everything really will be all right. We just have to be strong, and believe in ourselves.

We are all heroes to someone in our everyday lives. We’re simply not aware of it because it’s just what WE do.

Blue and white

I never really noticed the trend.

Random thoughts creep in and out of my head like a revolving door, and then – POOF! – there it was, proof that, indeed, there sometimes is a method to my madness: The teams I despise above all others share the same colors.

Blue and white. There’s just something about that color combination that really sticks in my craw.

I absolutely detest the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team, New York Yankees, Dallas Cowboys, Toronto Maple Leafs (the fans more than the team itself) and Toronto Blue Jays. Always have. And to a lesser degree, the Glasgow Rangers Football Club (soccer), Duke (men’s basketball) and the Los Angeles Dodgers. But there are teams I don’t really mind, like North Carolina (any sport), the Indianapolis Colts, Orlando Magic (I don’t watch the NBA) and Kansas City Royals.

And yes, you Dallas fans, I know that one of your abomination of a team’s colors is silver. Newsflash: I don’t care.

What I find so ironic about this abhorrence for blue and white is that my beloved New York Giants also sport those colors. Maybe it’s the red and gray also in their scheme that enable me to tolerate the others. Red, white and blue make for a great combination (Go USA!). I can already hear my husband’s groans. He’s Canadian, so he gets a pass. And the gray is a mere afterthought with me.

The Wildcats top my aversion to blue and white, with the Yankees and Cowboys a close second. The Maple Leafs are just … special. And the Blue Jays we’ll get to in due time.

Having lived and worked in Kentucky for seven years, I dealt with overbearing UK fans on a daily basis and athletes, thankfully, more sparingly. Some of the fans are OK. Many others, you just want to muzzle because of their smarmy, cocky “better-than-thou” attitudes. It really puts you off. These people literally come out of the woodwork and never shut up because, you know, their basketball team is made up of gods who walk on water.

So it was with great glee that I watched unheralded Western Kentucky beat the fourth-ranked Wildcats 64-52 in Rupp Arena in 2001. I had never seen so many obnoxious UK fans stunned and subdued so quickly, and as one of the people in attendance, I reveled in it. Inwardly, of course. I had a story to write, after all, so I had to maintain my professionalism. On the inside, I was jumping up and down and screaming right alongside the Hilltoppers’ fans.

And the athletes?

Well, I had the misfortune of twice interviewing one of their 1998 national champion basketball players while they were traveling on a statewide meet-and-greet caravan that, in my opinion, extorted a ridiculous amount of money from their disgustingly adoring fans.

I won’t mention any names, but the player in question was supposed to be this big Christian type. Instead, he was a total zero with a crappy attitude and an exaggerated sense of self-entitlement. I didn’t care so much that he was pompous and snotty to me, but I wanted to smack him upside the head for the way he treated a little boy who had been waiting in line for hours to get his favorite player’s picture autographed ($20 a pop, if you must know). He blew the kid off like he was nothing. Nothing!

He blatantly ignored the boy and shooed him on because, after all, time was money. What I found so shocking was that the boy and his parents never once thought to call the player out on his high-handedness. They were too caught up being graced by his presence, I guess. It made me loathe UK even more, if that was possible.

I’ve always hated the Cowboys. America’s team, my ass! 1. Jerry Jones is a braying jackass. 2. I’m sick of hearing Troy Aikman talk about how great he thinks Tony Romo is, when, in reality, he sucks. 3. Tony Romo still sucks, Troy. 4. They’re division rivals with my Giants. 5. It’s fun watching them choke and self-destruct every year. 6. Nobody is ever going to like Tony Romo, but you, Troy, so take your bromance elsewhere. 7. I love watching them lose. 8. We’re never going to forget Jessica Simpson’s pink No. 9 Tony Romo jersey. 9. Their cheerleaders have a better chance of winning a Super Bowl. 10. Tony Romo is a living, breathing punch line. And punching bag. Ask me if I care. I dare you, Troy.

I simply cannot walk by anyone wearing Dallas crap without making a snide comment. It’s a compulsion. While riding with my best friend and our kids to our vacation destination in Niagara Falls last year, I saw a minivan that looked as if one of the Cowboys had puked all over it, there were so many Dallas logos and stars. So, unable to control myself, I apologized in advance to my friend and the kids, rolled the window down and pointed my thumb down vigorously at the other driver as I screamed, “Dallas sucks!” Not one of my proudest moments as a parent, mind you, but the temptation was too great to resist. I HAD to do it.

Most everyone I know can’t stomach the Yankees. Can I get an AMEN?!

Much of my initial hostility was directed toward George Steinbrenner – may he rest in peace – because he was so overbearing, controlling and probably fired more people in his lifetime than there are currently on welfare. OK, OK, maybe that’s pushing it a bit, but you get my drift. I worked at a newspaper in Indiana and constantly had to hear about Steinbrenner every time I went to Culver Military Academy to cover a sporting event. He graduated from the academy in 1948, in case you were wondering. So did his two sons. Big whoop.

Other major reasons to revile the Yankees are the philandering, cheating, douche-bag duo of Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriguez. Three words: Performance-enhancing drugs.

Don’t care that all federal charges were dropped against the Rocket for playing Pinocchio with Congress when it conducted its hearings stemming from the steroids scandal of 2005 after Jose Canseco’s tell-all book, Juiced, was published. It was for prosecutorial misconduct, not because he wasn’t guilty. And A-Rod, who “apologized” – what a laugher – for using banned substances early in his career and now is facing a major suspension if he loses his appeal for allegedly taking human growth hormones, is an overpaid waste of space who should have been booted out of baseball a long time ago.

Furthermore, both are narcissistic scumbags with a god complex. Go ahead. Try denying it. You’ll lose, and you know it.

Moving right along to the Maple Leafs, all I can do is shake my head and mutter a sarcastic “bless their hearts.” That phrase has more than one meaning in the South, and it isn’t always nice. This is the case for Toronto.

First, you have to understand that hockey is revered in Canada much the way football is in the South. Second, the Maple Leafs haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1967. And third, their fans wear rose-colored glasses, they’re so delusionally optimistic. I have several friends who are devout Toronto fans, and I have to shake my head when – not if – they break their hearts year after year.

They’re 3-0 right now, but you’d think they’d won the Stanley Cup three times already based on their fans’ reactions. But they always lose when it counts the most, and when they do, I hear all about it every single day until the next season starts. I’ve even given serious thought to wearing earplugs wherever I go to tune them out.

Case in point: While waiting outside to pick up my son from school, I was forced to listen as one mom spoke mostly in expletives about how Toronto really won its first-round playoff series against the Boston Bruins earlier this year and should have been the ones playing the New York Rangers in the second round. Here’s what really happened: The Maple Leafs blew a 4-1 lead over Boston in the third period of Game 7. The Bruins tied it up and won in overtime. The end.

But NOOO!

There’s another Toronto team I’ve wished every plague on since 1992: The Blow – er, Blue – Jays. They ripped my heart out and shredded it into a gazillion pieces when they beat my Atlanta Braves in the World Series 21 years ago. To add further insult to injury, pitcher Jimmy Key, who hails from my hometown of Huntsville, Ala., and graduated from one of the high schools I later attended, won two games for Toronto. Including the decisive Game 6.

I have to fight the persistent urge to destroy every piece of Toronto memorabilia I see and, living just an hour away from that city, I unfortunately come across a lot of it. But to be truthful, I don’t mind the players and fans NOW, just back then. When it mattered.

So if you’re ever out and about and you see me make a face, cringe or say something uncharacteristically mean, please overlook my behavior. It simply means someone wearing blue and white is in the vicinity.