Staying Green – ex-Patriots Champion Jarvis Green

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Jarvis Green chef

Staying Green – ex-Patriots Champion Jarvis Green

Jarvis Green chef

I interviewed two-time Super Bowl champion and ex-Patriots defensive end Jarvis Green for the Winter 2021 issue of BostonMan. You can read the magazine edition here, or click here to read it on BostonMan’s website. Enjoy.

 

Javis Green BostonMan

Former Patriots defensive end and 2x Super Bowl Champion Jarvis Green, with his canned shrimp pate. (photo courtesy of Jarvis Green)

Staying Green

After eight seasons with the Patriots and two Super Bowl rings, defensive end Jarvis Green is growing a business selling his superb canned shrimp pate in the New England region he loves. In the age of Covid-19, he’s managed to do pretty well meeting the needs for PPE too. BostonMan caught up with Green to talk about his football career, his successes in business, and being a part of the Patriots family.

Jarvis Green didn’t exactly part ways with Bill Belichick and the Patriots on the best of terms.

The two-time Super Bowl champion defensive end, who’d finished the 2009 season with 36 tackles and a sack, was offered a four-year extension from the Patriots. He turned it down.

The move is on his small list of regrets.

“I should have took it,” he reflects. “My sports agent, he got into it with Belichick. It was more or less, you know, you should fire your agent. I can’t get into details, but a lot of s*** happened between Belichick and Denver.”

You might not think it was the worst move on his part at the time. He was, after all, offered more money to go to Denver than many of us will make in our lifetimes. Denver isn’t an awful place to live in or to be a pro athlete. And he knew Broncos coach Josh McDaniels, the Pats’ former (and now current) offensive coordinator.

But Green, who is prone to using colorful language in an entertaining way, describes his short stint in Denver as a “s***show”.

It started out promising. After having stem cell work done on his deteriorating knee, he was having the training camp of his life.

“When I went in the off season, I was number one. When we used to practice these one-on-ones, I was the one who’d get the best guy on the Denver team. I get him lined up, I kill him! I remember calling Pepper Johnson, saying this is my best off season ever. I’m killing these guys. They can’t even keep up with me.

“I go in to training camp, I’m the sixth string D-line man. I’m like, what the hell just happened? But they knew. They saw my knee kind of tripping in film. They saw that I had something going on with my knee.”

Still, he was rightly displeased at a demotion without warning or explanation. “I got released the day before cut day. When I left, I didn’t say bye to anyone.”

After similar fruitless visits with the Browns and Texans…Green describes his three weeks in Texas as a vacation…he “limped out of the office” in Houston and retired.

 

Jarvis Green Ben Roethlisberger

Green lays a hit on Big Ben.
(photo courtesy of the New England Patriots)

Jarvis Green frequently gets asked who the leaders were in the locker room of those great Patriots teams. His answer makes clear what made Belichick’s Pats one of the great dynasties in professional sports: everyone.

“Everybody was leaders, man. I’ve been to Denver, I’ve been to Houston, everybody’s waiting for one guy to show up. In New England, we had everybody pushing, trying to get in front to say, who’s going to say this, or who’s going to do this, who’s going to make the play first.

“I remember when Junior Seau came in. It was so funny because he was a guy that wanted to be on top of the soap box and give out his three, four minutes, you know? I remember I could see the guys, we just kind of grin and give him his throne.

“That’s the type of tradition we had.”

 

Oceans 97 shrimp

Green can cook up some shrimp.
(photo courtesy of Jarvis Green)

Oceans 97’s Amazon entry for hickory smoked shrimp pate describes it as being keto-friendly, made with only natural ingredients, and a versatile product that can be eaten straight out of the can, or on vegetables or crackers.

There’s no mention of the dedication of Oceans 97’s founder, or a picture of his New England-famous face. You have to visit the website for that.

Being on a two-time championship squad may have pushed him to set a higher standard for himself. Maybe that’s how he stayed on that squad. But Jarvis Green is dedicated like that, and he proved it again in life after football.

He decided to go into the shrimping business as a favor to a friend. After buying a boat that he christened “Jenny”, he sang with the choir in church every weekend until a hurricane wiped out every boat but his.

Okay, that last paragraph is bunk, except for the bit about going into the shrimp business for a friend. Green is well aware of the parallels to Forrest Gump. Don’t call him Bubba. Like Forrest, Green knew nothing about the shrimp business.

Given his status as a Super Bowl champion, he could have simply lent his face, name, and uniform number to Oceans 97, the company he started.

But knowing that having his visage on a website wouldn’t improve the product’s taste, he dove deep and learned the business. The hard way. Green is a proud native of South Louisiana who knows the importance of quality food and its role in good times. He wanted his shrimp product to be the best it could be, because “people are going to create s*** all the time. It’s hard to sell s***.”

The two time champion multi-millionaire endured a six month internship in the world of shrimping. He even took on a broom and a mop in the factory. (Imagine handing a 6-foot-3, 285-pound defensive lineman a broom. Someone there has some brass ones.)

“We had a factory of like 90 people. I remember, I’m the tallest person looking across the factory. We’ve got about 50 people, peeling shrimp, eight hours, ten hours at a time. I was on that line, peeling and de-veining shrimp with my hand, and understanding that it’s a certain process, the way you procure the shrimp, you peel it, you rinse it, you freeze it, you package it. And it makes a difference, you know?

“That’s the biggest thing about having the right quality shrimp. It’s the supply chain.”

Oceans 97’s supply chain, Green confidently asserts, is “super tight”. He had landed multiple deals with local markets, and had several larger deals in place when a blasted virus changed the world. Green’s story is one of the lesser told stories about the impact of Covid…the devastating damage to businesses from lockdowns.

“I had got just approved with our Hong Kong market. Hong Kong Island, with a company called Food Wise and another 2,000-plus distributors of stores. I had that and I had another, and I’m working on some other more independent retailers in the South.

“I had that kind of set up and Covid hit. Can’t do demos anymore, Hong Kong canceled, corrections canceled, a few of the independent guys canceled because it’s a new product, right? They said we’re going to buy what we typically buy, buying a new product’s going to be kind of hard. You can’t do demos.”

Many established entrepreneurs could probably tell you a similar story. Not very many could say how they turned it all into a net gain.

 

Jarvis Green PPE

Helping you to stay safe.
(photo courtesy of Jarvis Green)

After a few of his ongoing deals fell through, including with a corrections facility in Louisiana where Green lives, he found himself in the “what now” state that so many entrepreneurs faced in 2020. That’s when the corrections facility he was working with asked him if he could supply hand sanitizer.

“Covid hit, locked down New Orleans, limit this, limit that, limit limit limit. I remember I wasn’t looking for this, but then my corrections guy was like, ‘Hey Jarvis, could you help me get some sanitizer, figure out how to get some sanitizer for the inmates?’

“I have no idea. I don’t know the first thing about sanitizer. I started doing research, calling some people. A friend of mine had another friend, he knew someone who had some spirits company in the mountain, west, whatever area. I helped my guy with some stuff in the corrections.

“I started looking into some stuff, and I won a bid with the state of Louisiana for sanitizer. I won some masks bids with Louisiana, and then I won a huge proposal deal with the Tennessee National Guard.

“I won the bids, made a ton of money. I made more money in those two months than I made with my shrimp business in the last five years. You can put that on paper. It’s just been crazy and I’m still doing that now.”

They may be wholly unrelated businesses, but Green credits his education in the shrimping business “big time” for his success in the world of PPE distribution.

“The biggest thing is about being patient and to find the deals, because every deal’s not for you. I’ve lost some great friends, because everybody’s playing octopus and has got ten different deals that they thought were real and weren’t real at all.

“I got my counsel involved, and I separated from all the different deals. I stopped dealing with all of these agents and buyers. We started working with the factories in China directly. The biggest thing right now is price gouging. The things we’re selling, we’re not price gouging, and we’re selling a competitive product through great sources.

“This is what I tell people. When I got into the shrimp business, it taught me how to understand international trade, international business. Dealing with different companies, dealing with banks, understanding LCs and different jargon, just to get business done abroad.”

 

patriots defensive end

Just as tough in a red shirt.
(photo courtesy of the New England Patriots)

Throughout his football career, Jarvis Green dealt with severely debilitating back pain. Even to this day, he says, he is strongly encouraged to have back surgery.

“My spine doctor, they call me twice a year. In 2014, they wanted to rush and give me surgery. They wanted to give me fusion, L3, L5 fusion, six points, all this bulls***.

“I didn’t want to do it, because my Dad had 17 back surgeries. He shakes like a leaf. He’s a veteran, he has a wheelchair. He has all kinds of s***, he broke his back with a job back in ‘79.

“My dad always said, I don’t care what you have to do. Don’t ever let anybody touch your back. Deal with the pain, it’s going to be much better than going through surgery because you’ll never be the same person again.”

Green deals with the pain, through highs and lows on the football field, in business, and in his personal life. Today, of all his considerable accomplishments, he is proudest that he’s still the same guy.

He unexpectedly learned that the local football team, with whom he went to the top of the mountain twice, felt the same way about him.

After some years of hard feelings, Green is currently an ambassador with the Patriots again, making appearances and occasionally going on trips with the club.

Mending the broken fences following his contentious departure, it turned out, wasn’t as difficult as he thought.

“It took three years for that to happen,” he says. “The Patriots were playing the Saints. Home game for the Patriots, right? I went to the game, I had the throwback jersey on, #97. I’m just a fan, I bought my ticket. I just went to the game, enjoyed myself and went home.

“So I’m thinking this just the way it is when you retire, they don’t give a s*** about anybody. That was my mentality, right?

“I’m in the stands, and they caught my picture on the Jumbotron when I was eating popcorn. Before that, I heard people behind me saying, why’s this guy got a Jarvis Green jersey on? They didn’t know who I was. After that, people come to me asking for autographs.

“I got a call from Pepper Johnson, or a text. He said, ‘Hey, what are you doing? You at the stadium?’ And then somebody said, hey, they want you to come down into the operations the next day.

“This is three years apart from the beef, you know, the Belichick situation, me and my sports agent, going to Denver, getting cut, all this s***. And I’m like nervous as hell. Won two Super Bowls with this team, now nervous as hell. I remember walking in and right when I walked in, I think I saw Tom first.

“I was there for like two and a half hours, just going through, saying hey to everybody. I remember talking to Josh in the cafeteria, just me and him at the table. Just saying, it’s business, things happen, back was against the wall, do what he had to do and pretty much a shake and a hug.

“It was very emotional, seeing all those guys. You know, eight years is a long time in the football world to be under one team, one organization. I appreciate Coach Belichick, to let me come in there.

“That’s kind of how everything got back. You know, they say, hey, you’re okay.”

In the interview for BostonMan, Green speaks slowest and pauses the most when speaking of his former coach’s words to him that day.

“Now this was the biggest part. After I was leaving, I’m walking out, drowning some of my tears. Belichick walks out, he says, ‘Hey Jarvis, remember, you’re always gonna be family here. You were a part of all of this.’

“He said, ‘Never be a stranger. You’re family.’”

 

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patriots green defensive end

A part of Super Bowl history.
(photo courtesy of the New England Patriots)

Jarvis Green on The Helmet Catch Play

You probably remember the Pats’ undefeated season of 2007. You may remember Jarvis Green on that invincible squad. You might have to read his Wikipedia entry, though, to know that he was one of several Patriots who had Eli Manning in his grasp on the “Helmet Catch” play in Super Bowl XLII. Green nearly tore off Manning’s jersey, but the Giant QB got away and fired a Hail Mary pass to David Tyree. You know the rest.

It was hardly the ground ball dribbling through Buckner’s legs, or the 7-20 September collapse of 2011. The New England sports fan faithful have dealt with far worse as season ending falters go. Even Manning called it “the luckiest play in NFL history”, joking that it went exactly how they scripted it in practices.

Green doesn’t think about it much these days. But it did cost him sleep for a couple of weeks. Because leading up to that play, he’d played a hell of a game.

“It could have probably changed my life. I’m like, it was like third and seven, I should have been the guy saying ‘I’m going to Disney World!’ You know, because I remember that game, I had a sack and maybe seven tackles or five tackles. That would have ended the game, that would have been icing on the cake.

“I think for the guys who really played, it’s not something that we really talked about at the time, it’s more friends because the family don’t bring it up. It’s more the friends, you know, everybody wants to get a one-up on you.

“So it’s always comedy time, you know, for everyone except me.”

 

Oceans 97 Canned shrimp pate

Oceans 97, with first class shrimp pate.
(image courtesy of Jarvis Green)

Canned Shrimp Pate – From A Man Who Knows Shrimp

BostonMan is hoping that Jarvis Green can make it to a future Legacy Club gathering, because his Oceans 97 shrimp pate will be a great addition to the already excellent finger foods usually available at our events.

But for now, you can find it in 150 specialty retailers, strategic restaurant partners and on Amazon.

Green’s canned shrimp pate is available in five varieties: Hickory Smoked, Creamy Lemon, Shrimp Rillettes, New Orleans BBQ, and Jalapeno Chili. On the Oceans 97 website, there’s a brief description of each flavor…for Creamy Lemon, it explains the presence of vinegar:

“It is the Gem that interacts with shrimp protein, water and milk. It also alters the texture and consistency making the Creamy Lemon Paté unique from the other flavors. Vinegar is a tenderizer.”

Spoken like a football great who knows his food. And he does. Green also offers several recipes on the website that make the best use of the shrimp pate, including a corn bread recipe that includes a can of the New Orleans BBQ edition. Just the pictures of the corn bread may make you start planning your next dinner gathering.

The website is www.ocean97.com.

 

chef2u app

Making food on date night better.
(image courtesy of Jarvis Green)

Bringing The Chefs To You

Food delivery has become enormously popular. Restaurant chains have focused on apps to help customers continue to enjoy their eats, through pickup or delivery.

There’s just one problem, as Jarvis Green points out.

“Everybody knows the menu of Burger King, McDonald’s, Chipotle, Domino’s Pizza. That gets old.”

Great point. It might be nice to be able to find chefs in the area, and enjoy a decent meal for a change.

Green and his partner, Eddie Rhodman Jr. of Rhodman Enterprises, are part of a team producing a new app that does just that. With Chef2U, you can find a local chef to make an amazing meal for you, delivered to your home.

“If you’re tired of eating Big Macs and Little Caesars, you could go in and see the chefs in your area. It’s like an eight to ten mile radius. Then if you want like Mediterranean food, that’s going to pop up, but it will be the chef’s face. It won’t be the name of the local restaurant, but his face.”

It also offers chefs a much-needed chance to supplement their incomes.

“The app has food trucks, bartenders, baristas, chefs, catering, meal prep, and instant meals. It’s very detailed. There’s so many opportunities to get private chefs back into and create diversity in this industry.”

Green expects Chef2U to outlast the pandemic.

“This is built to stay, because again, we will not be competing with traditional fast food chains. We’re going to be giving all those chefs, entrepreneurs, restaurateurs, a chance to make money on the side.”

Rhodman adds that Chef2U gives aspiring chefs “the opportunity to create their own brand, their own customer base, because they haven’t been given the opportunity. It will give them the freedom to expand their brand and have the unique luxury to deliver their personal chef experience directly to a customer’s home.”

Jarvis Green and Eddie Rhodman expect Chef2U to be available in April. If you have favorite Beantown chefs, make a note to get the app. It’ll make for a great date night or family night.

 

Terry Kath 1946-1978: The Heart of Chicago

It’s not that the Internet is completely devoid of the definitive Terry Kath tribute. There is an excellent documentary about Terry put together by his daughter, Michelle Kath Sinclair. There is also this terrific Premier Guitar piece from Corbin Reiff.

But as a deeply devoted fan of Chicago…the edition featuring Kath…I decided to post my own thoughts.

There’s one thing that always sticks in the forefront of my mind when I think about Terry Kath. And that’s that an eight-piece band of all-star musicians and songwriters, who had established groundbreaking rock greatness like few acts in history, became a very un-unique and un-special act after their guitar player’s departure from this world. There may never have been a musical group that was so impacted by the loss of one member.

I’ll get to that.

 

How Terry Kath Died

If you’re reading this tribute, you probably already know the story of Terry Kath’s untimely death at age 31. He was cleaning his guns and one of them went off.

I have read numerous accounts that tell basically the same story. On January 23, 1978, Kath was visiting with roadie friend Don Johnson, who expressed concern that he was playing with guns in the tired state that he was in after several days of drugs and partying. Terry showed his friend an empty clip, to assure him that it wasn’t loaded, and then put the clip back in the gun. But the gun still had a bullet in the chamber, and as Terry was waving the gun near his head, it fired and killed him instantly.

The story is senseless and heart-wrenching, especially considering that he had a 20-month old daughter at the time. I won’t dare venture into what he may have been thinking in the last moments of his life. All I know is that his bandmates said that he was depressed about certain things, like the direction the band was headed, but they are adamant that he wasn’t suicidal.

The thing I find curious about it is how a gun enthusiast like Kath wasn’t aware that even with an empty clip, a gun can still be lethal. I’ve talked with gun enthusiasts on firing ranges, and they are taught frequently to treat every gun as if it were loaded. Certainly, waving a gun around carelessly, loaded or not, would get you expelled permanently from most shooting ranges.

There is a long list of performers whose drug and alcohol excesses led to their untimely demise…Keith Moon, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, John Bonham, and Whitney Houston are just a few. John Lennon’s death at 40 wasn’t from substance excesses, but he very well could have perished from them…as could David Crosby, Eric Clapton and dozens of others.

Terry Kath’s death, while not directly drug-related, is part of a sad statistic of self-destructive behavior that seems to be a character trait with so many gifted artists. He wasn’t a stupid guy, but waving a gun around when you’ve been awake doing cocaine for a couple of days isn’t very smart.

The life of a star performer is not an easy one. One need only look at the bizarre behavior of larger than life megastars…Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson are perfect examples…to see the destruction of sanity in a human that the fame fishbowl can wreak.

Popular artists become surrounded by people who want to keep the gravy train and the party going. There is always pressure to equal or surpass your output, from both fans and record company executives. To remain the performer…and the person…that sold so many records and tickets. It’s an impossible standard to ask of anyone, let alone someone whose mental health may already be fragile to begin with. Many artists become famous by communicating a human hurt we can all relate to. In other words, they’re human.

The pressure of fame and wealth, and the energy needed to perform capably throughout a lengthy tour (and Chicago had a much more rigorous touring schedule than most acts), is enormous. It’s not hard to see why drugs and alcohol become attractive to performers, especially to younger ones whose bodies can initially take the abuse. Ultimately, the dependence on substances often becomes their undoing, even if they survive physically. Chicago was no exception. Like the Beatles, they weren’t anywhere near the squeaky clean act people thought they were.

Whatever Terry’s motivation for living so dangerously and paying the ultimate price, an outstanding guitar player, singer and songwriter was suddenly gone, and the impact on his bandmates was devastating.

I’m of the opinion that Chicago should have, at the very least, taken a long hiatus after Kath’s passing. There were multiple strong talents in the band, and losing any of them would have left a massive hole, but it was Kath who kept Chicago doing what they did best…play rock music with horns.

For whatever reason, they decided to keep going, and in every subsequent Chicago effort to this day, you can hear the glaring absence of Terry Kath.

 

A Band That Was Never the Same

Negativity alert: Please do not misunderstand what I am saying throughout this post. I am NOT, by ANY stretch, intending any disrespect to the other members of Chicago. They are all outstanding musicians and I am a huge fan of the whole band. I am simply saying they changed enormously after Kath’s death, and not in a good way in my opinion. Carry on…

The direction Chicago was taking even while Kath was alive wasn’t noticeably alarming. As a fan, you didn’t really mind sappy ballads like “Baby What A Big Surprise” and “Take Me Back To Chicago”, as long as great blues rockers like “Mississippi Delta City Blues” and “Takin’ It On Uptown” were there to balance the records out. In fact, it gave Chicago albums a nicely rounded feel, full of varying moods.

But once the albums no longer contained Terry compositions, the trendy disco stuff that was starting to appear on their records…songs that sounded like “Vote For Me” or “You Get It Up”…just became annoying.

Literally in the opening seconds of Chicago’s first post-Kath record, Hot Streets, the listener instantly recognizes that this is not the Chicago they knew and loved. As “Alive Again” begins, and as Chicago starts to sound like a Bee Gees knock-off, I imagine a hardcore fan shaking his head and saying, “They should have quit.”

To me, it brings to mind the movie Back To The Future Part II, where the viewer learns very early that the incomparably beautiful Claudia Wells is no longer playing Jennifer Parker. It’s an instant and brutal disappointment. And neither the movie nor the Hot Streets album, in fact the entire movie series and Chicago’s subsequent catalog, ever recover from that initial blow.

Does that sound like exaggeration? Excepting maybe “No Tell Lover”, which possibly could have made it onto Chicago XI, nothing on Hot Streets sounds like vintage Chicago…gone is the rough and heavy rock sound that dominated their earlier albums, replaced with the typical polished production of the latest pop records. There are no rockers or blues numbers on the album, and Donnie Dacus sounds absolutely nothing like Terry Kath. It is, ultimately, a depressing album to listen to, knowing that this band once produced “A Hit By Varese”, “Brand New Love Affair”, and “Sing A Mean Tune Kid”.

And if you thought the situation for hardcore fans of the band was dire then, wait until you heard the next two albums.

Chicago 13 doubled down on one of rock’s greatest and most original bands attempting to cash in on the disco movement. Making matters worse, they failed to produce any hits doing it. The album made it to #21 on Billboard…great for almost any other act, but a subpar showing for this one. Chicago 13 finally put an end to sales based on name recognition, causing the equally weak Chicago XIV to top out at a dismal #71.

It was easy to think at this point that Chicago had died with Terry Kath. It’s also arguable that he might have left the band rather than continue in the disco/ballad-oriented direction where they were already headed at the end of his life.

In fairness to the band, they were unquestionably still shell-shocked. (That might be a poor choice of words, but it’s probably the best to describe it.) Terry Kath wasn’t just a superb guitar player, singer and songwriter that would have been irreplaceable in any group. He was a close friend who had lived the fishbowl existence with all of them for years. To have him suddenly gone clearly left a gigantic hole in the band’s heart…or maybe they felt he truly was the heart of the band. Decades later, members of the band still get emotional talking about losing Terry.

Again, I am no mind reader. I could be utterly off the mark saying this. But there may have been a subconscious…or even conscious…effort on the band’s part to avoid sounding anything like the band he was in, or even to strive to be that groundbreakingly great again; that to do so would be to tarnish Kath’s legacy.

I probably shouldn’t go there. But if that were the case, they succeeded. Nothing screams Terry Kath’s greatness like listening to Chicago without him.

I will say this about Chicago’s descent into making ballad-oriented hits: it did, eventually, help them get back on their feet popularity-wise and grow an audience again. I guess any Chicago is better than no Chicago, especially if you were too young to see them live in the Kath era, as I was.

Through the Chicago 16Chicago 19 albums, the Chicago machine cranked out quite a few hits and sold a lot of records. Maybe it helped expose a whole new generation to the band that is Chicago…and maybe a few became longtime fans of the band and their entire history, including the period featuring the brilliant guitar player who departed from us far too soon.

 

Was Terry Kath A Criminally Underrated Guitar Player? Yes, But…

It has become a well-known story that before the band was popular, Jimi Hendrix approached the Chicago Transit Authority’s saxophone player Walter Parazeider after a show. According to Parazeider, Jimi gave him an immortal quote: “Your guitar player is better than me.”

In his excellent tribute to Kath, Corbin Reiff shares the story, and he declares Kath to be “one of the most criminally underrated guitarists to have ever set finger to fretboard.”

Yes, Terry Kath was undoubtedly underrated, criminally so if you choose to take such a stand. But it isn’t hard to see why as a Chicago fan.

Chicago featured a sound that few rock bands had, and certainly none who had perfected it to that degree: a dominating and powerful horn section. The band basically had no weaknesses, but the horns defined Chicago like the piano defined Elton John.

Add Peter Cetera’s vocals, Robert Lamm’s compositional skills, and Danny Seraphine’s fast and furious pounding on the drums, and it’s easy for a guitar player who was content to add his parts from the back of the sound board to avoid being noticed for his phenomenal skills.

One large reason Kath was so underrated was that you simply didn’t hear him very often. The horns dominated most of the songs from the Kath era, giving the impression that Kath was a less important member of the band…until he took the lead and played a solo. In several of Chicago’s best known songs, such as “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day” and “Colour My World”, you would hardly even know there was a guitar player in the band.

Quite a few outstanding rock musicians have been overshadowed by their bandmates…Alex Lifeson of Rush is a great example…especially if they’re willing to let their technique and prowess take a back seat to making the music as great as it can be, as Kath always seemed happy to do. No one ever complained that there was too much horn playing in Chicago songs…in fact some of their biggest fans often lament that the trademark horn punctuation is absent from its former glory in the post-Kath era.

It was when Terry stepped into the spotlight that you realized that Chicago was ultimately a rock band. Songs like “25 Or 6 To 4”, “South California Purples”, and “I Don’t Want Your Money”…three great Kath showcases…are what kept Chicago from being an adult contemporary artist, the kind of group your parents approved of. (One of my father’s all-time favorite songs was “Beginnings”, and we didn’t agree on music much.)

Kath was, as the best self-taught guitar players often are, a true original. Aside from his Hendrix-like moments, like “Oh Thank You Great Spirit”, it’s difficult to put a finger on who you think might have been an influence on his playing. He was part Jimi Hendrix, part George Benson, and part no one you ever heard before.

Want some examples? They’re coming…but first…

 

…He Was An Underrated Singer and Songwriter Too.

I remember having a long phone discussion about Chicago’s greatness with my brother Tom. Tom and my other brother Doug differ greatly on musical taste, and I’m somewhere in the middle of the two. But the three of us all agree with Jimi Hendrix that Chicago were “mother****ers”.

I mentioned their having three very capable singers, a feat matched in pop music arguably only by the Beatles, and Tom agreed with a great quote: “When your worst singer is Bobby Lamm, you’ve got no problems.”

The wide range of vocal greatness is another often overlooked element of Chicago brilliance. As just one example, give the Chicago XI record a listen…starting with Kath’s crooning over a lost love in “Mississippi Delta City Blues”, followed up by Peter Cetera’s “Baby What A Big Surprise”. And so on through the album. The variety of songs was punctuated by the variety of vocal styles, but no matter who did the singing, it was always done well. You almost took it for granted after a while.

Lamm described Kath as “the white Ray Charles” on vocals, and that’s probably as accurate a description as any of Kath’s voice. It had a rough, smoky quality to it, and it was perfect for the rockers and soulful blues numbers in Chicago’s catalog (even if Lamm capably sang on a few of them).

Kath sang lead some of Chicago’s most well-known songs, including “Make Me Smile” and “Colour My World”, but it was the numbers he sang on that weren’t hits that kept Chicago a valid rock and blues act, especially in the band’s later albums.

When Kath departed from this world, the band unquestionably missed his vocals too. The voice that sang “Song Of The Evergreens”, “Once Or Twice”, and “Takin’ It On Uptown” is a lot of soul to replace.

 

Terry Kath Top Ten Performances

When I was trying to pick out songs for this list, I struggled choosing the best ones, so I consulted Doug via e-mail on the matter. His initial response was “that’s a tough one”.

About a minute later he e-mailed me again with one sentence: “Sing A Mean Tune Kid”.

I gave it a listen and thought, damn, he’s right. But I put it at #2. You’ll understand, I promise.

 

10) Rediscovery (Chicago VI) – On an album with upbeat, apostrophized numbers like “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day” and “What’s This World Comin’ To?”, “Rediscovery” takes the listener down into a soulful mood, and Kath’s guitar fuels the bluesy romp. Not sure why they chose to use Robert Lamm’s voice on this one rather than Kath’s, but Lamm gets it done, and it’s a cool off-the-beaten-Chicago-path track. Kath shows some seriously skilled melodic playing throughout the song, especially in the conclusion, with his unparalleled mastery of the wah-wah pedal.

9) Ain’t It Blue? (Chicago VIII) – I’ve read a lot of posts that would suggest that “Oh Thank You Great Spirit” is Terry’s masterpiece on the Chicago VIII album, but I prefer this one…not only is Terry practically playing a solo throughout the song and singing, his blues voice is perfect for the Lamm-penned lyrics…about how achieving fame brings with it a whole new set of pressures: “Sometimes I want to walk away, I felt like that just yesterday” is one of Kath’s lines in the song. Play this one next time you think being wealthy and famous is the life.

8) I Don’t Want Your Money (Chicago III) – Kath plays grunge long before grunge was cool here, and if you needed evidence that Chicago could rock with the best of them, here you go. It’s a rare Chicago tune that prioritizes guitar playing over the horns, and doesn’t suffer at all for it. Before the song you can hear Kath counting it off, and then immediately breaking into string bending, screeching chords. As Lamm bellows about preferring to stand outside to “your social standing”, Kath keeps a heavy rhythm going, with accented riffs and continuous howling on the guitar.

7) Byblos (Chicago VII) – It’s an emotional ode to falling for a woman unexpectedly, missing opportunities to be with her, and believing there will always be another chance someday…which there usually isn’t. Terry sings the lyrics soulfully, plays a beautiful riff on the acoustic guitar, and even adds some screeching electric riffs in between. It’s buried on an album with huge hits like “Wishing You Were Here” and “I’ve Been Searching So Long”, but it’s one of Chicago’s most beautiful songs.

6) Takin’ It On Uptown (Chicago XI) – While I rank “Mississippi Delta City Blues” among my favorite Chicago tracks, this one is arguably the better Terry Kath showcase on this album. It features his throaty vocals and wailing guitar riffs, and he throws in a couple of smoking guitar leads at no extra charge. Both songs counterbalance the trend of more melodic, danceable (ugh) contributions from both Lamm and Cetera on Chicago XI…making this album strong evidence how important Terry was to the band.

5) South California Purples (Chicago Transit Authority I) – There’s a lengthy guitar solo on this number that channels Chicago’s inner Blood, Sweat & Tears…it’s Terry wailing at his bluesy best, his fingers all over the fretboard making his guitar moan, screech and warble. All complimented with Lamm’s funky organ riff and of course, Chicago’s trademark blaring horns. It’s another track that might have been equally good or better with Kath on vocals, but Lamm handles the job just fine and lets Terry slam.

4) Dialogue Part II (Chicago V) – Kath starts the second half of Chicago’s classic social statement playing a simple riff. Then as the rest of the band and horns join in, Terry begins to improvise, playing a solo that features all of the tools in the toolbox, bleating and dancing throughout. As the voices sing “we can make it happen”, Terry continues on, never losing the key and never straying from the upbeat horn riff. A well-known classic among Chicago fans, made infinitely better with Terry’s continuous improvisation on the guitar.

3) Aire (Chicago VII) – I’ve read tributes that point to “Song Of The Evergreens” and “Byblos” as the top Kath statements on the Chicago VII album, which is understandable – great songs both. But check out the guitar playing in the instrumental second track. After 2:20 of his solid rhythm for the continuous horn pattern, the song takes a sonic left turn. Terry takes over with a long, soulful solo that compliments the jazzy instrumental perfectly. As if to appreciate the greatness of his guitar sound, the rest of the band seems to totally back off for the two-plus minute lead, rightly letting Terry steal the show.

2) Sing A Mean Tune Kid (Chicago III) – It’s one of Chicago’s longest tracks, clocking in at 9:18, and much of that nine minutes is irrepressible jamming with the horn section and Kath. At around 4:21, he of the insane improvisational guitar skills takes over…and jams his heart out as Lamm, Cetera and Seraphine bring a banging background. The song slowly quiets down, giving the appearance of concluding…but then Terry decides he isn’t done. He offers up another couple of minutes of string-bending guitar precision, which seems to slowly wake the rest of the band up again. In the end, the song somehow manages to seem too short.

1) 25 Or 6 To 4 (Chicago) – One of the greatest, most memorable rock guitar solos ever, which turns an already great rocker into an instant classic. Terry not only plays a lengthy, musically untouchable solo in the song, he adds little touches in the background during the song itself, especially at the end, all as only Terry Kath could do it. But it’s the guitar solo, Terry’s mastery of the wah-wah pedal, and Danny Seraphine slamming nasty fills throughout, that adds even more meat to one of the least vegetarian songs in rock history. (Check out the Steven Wilson remix – it’ll make your chest hair grow. Yes, even if you’re a girl.)

So if you want real exposure to the greatness of a criminally underrated guitar player, and if you want to see how important he was to the band, start by putting these ten in your playlist.

Then go from there with the first 11 Chicago albums. You won’t be disappointed.

 

An Untarnished Legacy

There are quite a few stories of rock acts and their reaction to a key member leaving or passing on. Led Zeppelin chose not to continue after John Bonham’s death, and probably rightly so. After Keith Moon’s passing, The Who would make a couple of passable albums with Kenny Jones on drums, but they soon became, like Chicago, a touring act based on former glory. Van Halen pressed on after their charismatic lead singer left at the peak of their popularity, and turned out just fine. Pink Floyd fans one day learned that Roger Waters wasn’t the heart of the group after all.

Much is made of Peter Gabriel’s departure from Genesis and the band’s increasing popularity, which coincided with their decreasing integrity, to listen to many fans. Phil Collins is often credited…or blamed, depending on your worldview…for Genesis’s explosion in record and ticket sales, while fans of the Gabriel era lament that the band’s true peak was The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, their last effort with Gabriel.

I mostly agree with that sentiment. But it’s my contention that while the band changed quite a bit and got overly commercial at times, they still made plenty of high quality and listenable albums with Phil as their frontman. I love Gabriel-era Genesis, but I also think Wind & Wuthering, …And Then There Were Three…, and Abacab are great records too. Genesis made plenty of terrific music without Peter Gabriel.

The same cannot be said about Chicago minus Terry Kath. That may just be my opinion, but I think it’s shared by quite a few people. They may have been headed down the least respectable path a rock band could go in before Kath’s tragic passing, but it’s doubtful that even Kath would have expected it to go as far down the hole that it did.

Chicago may have had a few hits and recovered popularity-wise with the Chicago 16 and Chicago 17 records, but to a fan that loved the first 11 Chicago albums, none of that era sounds like truly signature Chicago. It’s impossible to imagine songs like “Hard To Say I’m Sorry” or “Stay The Night” on any Chicago record with Terry Kath on it.

They may still have had plenty of songwriting and playing ability, but anything distinguishing Chicago from any other hit-producing musical act was undeniably gone after the tragic events of January 23, 1978.

That this band could still fill arenas decades later based on their first nine studio albums, when you think about it, is astonishing. Over four decades after Terry Kath’s passing, people still love the songs he played on enough to go see a few of his bandmates still play them.

It is one hell of a musical legacy.

But Terry Kath was one hell of a guitar player, songwriter and singer.

 

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I hope so. If it did, I would really appreciate your support.

When you use this link to shop on Amazon, you’ll help subsidize this great website…at no extra charge to you.

Thanks very much…come back soon!

 

crowdfunding

Crowdfunding – The Kindness of Strangers

crowdfunding

Crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe, Kickstarter and Indiegogo make a substantial profit helping ordinary Joes raise money for causes. JerseyMan asked me to cover them for the December 2016 issue; you can view the PDF of the article here.

crowdfunding the kindness of strangers

Crowdfunding – The Kindness of Strangers

Crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe, Kickstarter, and Indiegogo have helped thousands of causes…and it’s turned out to be an extremely lucrative business model.

Not very long ago, arranging a benefit involved considerable footwork.

You organized a golf tournament or pancake breakfast to raise money for the ailing and downtrodden. Or sold candy bars to pay for your kid’s Little League uniforms. Or peddled raffle tickets that people bought with internal groans, knowing they weren’t going to win the cruise.

It was difficult enough fundraising for people with genuine, maybe even life-threatening needs. Everyone wants to help the sick child. Try inviting folks to an overpriced spaghetti dinner to subsidize your drifter nephew’s musical career.

Today, if you have enough Facebook friends, you can raise money to help a blind man keep a retiring seeing eye dog, lessen the medical bills of Boston Marathon bombing victims, or finance the first new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 in almost 20 years. All without leaving your doorstep.

It’s called “crowdfunding”, and it’s booming.

 

Out of dozens of crowdfunding sites, GoFundMe is arguably the biggest household name…it was valued at around $600 million when the founders sold it in June of 2015.

Like most such outfits, GoFundMe collects a portion of each donation, usually 5%, as the fee for its services, plus a payment processing fee of about 3%. For the $7.8 million (and counting) raised for victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting alone, GoFundMe took in a cool $624,000 in fees for one campaign.

GoFundMe is not a philanthropic entity. Nor does it pretend to be. It is a profit-driven company; the majority of donations are not tax-deductible.

If users and donors have a problem with this, most of them haven’t said so. Probably because it works: the profit motive benefits the philanthropists. It’s in GoFundMe’s interest to increase donation amounts. That they do very well.

GoFundMe has an easy-to-use interface to create a page and tell one’s story, the ability to easily share it on social media, and a secure donor payment system. They offer a primer with fact-based advice, like how sharing a campaign on Facebook increases donations by 350%. If your tale is particularly touching, GoFundMe will feature it on the front page, to be viewed by thousands of altruistic-feeling types.

GoFundMe is phenomenally successful because of the stories themselves…like making a home accessible for an Annapolis woman who defeated Hodgkin’s twice, only to become paralyzed by treatments. Or finding a residence for the homeless Boston man who discovered a bag containing $42,000 and returned it to its owner. Or enabling an 89-year-old Chicago gentleman to finally retire from selling popsicles on the streets. Anytime you think the world is full of selfishness and greed, visit GoFundMe and see countless stories of tragedy, inspiration, and astounding human generosity.

However fabulously wealthy that makes the owners of GoFundMe, 8% of donations going to expenses is better than most philanthropic organizations manage. According to Charity Watch, American Red Cross uses 10% of donations for overhead, while the ACLU sets aside a full 24%…which is still good enough for an A- rating. Few well-known charities operate at less than 8%.

GoFundMe’s focus is generally helping the less fortunate, but if you are looking to finance your new invention or book project, Kickstarter is more up your alley.

 

Aspiring entrepreneurs approaching venture capitalists may make for entertaining television, but there’s a reason ABC’s hit show is called “Shark Tank”.

In the show, naïve hopefuls strut into a room of wealthy businessmen to menacing music, as if they have no inkling of the psychological carnage in store for them. Mere minutes after executing an entertaining introduction of their product, resourceful inventors flail helplessly as the Sharks pounce on their weaknesses and one by one bow out of supporting their lifelong dream.

Imagine bypassing hat in hand encounters with tycoons whose only interest is becoming wealthier, and going directly to the masses to evaluate the market instead…which would probably show you whether a product will sell better than even the owner of QVC could.

Thanks to Kickstarter, it’s now just as easy to ask 1,000 people to contribute $25 to your project as it is to ask one person to contribute $25,000. All you need to reach that niche market is a description of your ultra-cool product with a few videos, and maybe some sweet perks for larger donors. Set a goal; if you reach it, the demand is probably there. What could be more free market capitalism?

Kickstarter shows that there can be an audience for almost anything one enjoys creating, no matter how off the reservation it may seem. One current project is an album of jazz interpretations of Nintendo NES video game themes. Before you ask what kind of nostalgic screwball pines for a jazz version of Legend of Zelda music, you should know that that campaign has raised $7,725 as of this writing, and is under $1,000 away from being fully funded. Yes, someone wants that.

Enabling dreams helps Kickstarter do pretty well with their bottom line too. At any moment, a visitor can view how much money has been committed to projects and how many projects have been successfully funded in the company’s history. As this sentence was written, those numbers are $2,707,572,645 and 114,642, respectively. Not bad for a company that employs just 115 people.

While GoFundMe allows users to keep all of the donations received whether a goal is reached or not, Kickstarter requires users to reach their stated goal or collect nothing. Kickstarter stresses that this is a good thing…it attaches motivation to get to the finish line when one is facing a fruitless campaign otherwise. And as a Kickstarter rep explains, “not reaching your goal can be very useful information.”

Kickstarter also deliberately avoids the type of charitable fundraisers that appear on GoFundMe…a potential donor could be conflicted seeing a disaster relief campaign next to a film idea they like. Indiegogo, which bills itself as “the largest global crowdfunding and fundraising site online”, doesn’t seem to mind this.

 

Does GoFundMe’s keeping a twentieth of what you raised for the cancer patient trouble you? If your cause is a charitable one, Generosity by Indiegogo collects only payment processing fees and charges no other fees. Your only challenge to keep that 5% is convincing your Facebook audience that Indiegogo is as reputable as GoFundMe, which isn’t difficult.

Otherwise, Indiegogo’s focus is entrepreneurial ideas. But unlike Kickstarter, Indiegogo isn’t “all or nothing”; should a goal be reached, users collect all of it minus a 4% fee, as opposed to 5% on Kickstarter. Users can also cut their losses…should the goal not be reached, they can keep what they have raised, this time for a 9% fee. The pressure is still there, but it isn’t as great…and might not be as motivational.

That doesn’t stop people from using Indiegogo, partly because of other advantages the company offers. Indiegogo, for example, allows a campaign to continue raising money after its end date. According to John Vaskis, Indiegogo’s head of Hardware, Technology and Design Outreach, “Entrepreneurs can raise more money on Indiegogo than anywhere else, because we are the only platform that provides pre-sales and retail options even after their crowdfunding campaigns end.”

One great example of this is Solar Roadways – yes, roads made from solar panels that melt snow and are lit with LEDs. Even in the face of some scientifically-based skepticism, Solar Roadways has raised over $2.2 million, and is now an ongoing “InDemand” Indiegogo campaign.

Should that one work out nationally, it would probably be worth Indiegogo’s four percent cut.

 

Crowdfunding eliminates a great deal of fundraising stress…not just by avoiding face-to-face rejection from humans with a lifetime of practice saying no, but also eliminating the fatigue from repeating a troubling story or elevator pitch.

When Tina Ottaviano of Mantua Township learned that her son Braison was diagnosed with a brain tumor (which has since, thankfully, stabilized – Braison is doing quite well), she set up a webpage through CaringBridge.org to tell his story and raise money for treatments. CaringBridge is not a crowdfunding site per se, but they do link journals to GoFundMe pages if users desire.

“As much as I appreciated people asking me about Braison,” she says, “it was draining on me. Sometimes I just didn’t want to talk about it.”

With CaringBridge, Ottaviano could “just give people the link, which would send email notifications when I made an update. Then people would tell other people, etc. I set up an external fund account to help raise money with all the costs.

“It was very successful.”

It takes a special kind of personality trait to coax hard-earned money from people, even for an undeniably worthy cause, that many of us lack. We’re too proud to ask without offering a chance to win a ski resort vacation in return. We’re all aware how irritating telemarketers are.

Sites like GoFundMe, Kickstarter and Indiegogo almost effortlessly target the audience for raising needed dough, and they enable a campaigner to agonize over the story just once.

Their balance sheets reflect a spectacularly grateful world.

 

Did this read about crowdfunding make your day a little bit?

I hope so. If it did, I would really appreciate your support.

When you use this link to shop on Amazon, you’ll help subsidize this great website…at no extra charge to you.

Thanks very much…come back soon!

 

The “Benefit Corporation” And Crowdfunding

Remember when President George W. Bush ran as the “compassionate conservative”? The term implied that conservative = heartless. It was Dubya’s outreach to that “middle ground” voter. It might have been disingenuous or paradoxical, but the compassionate conservative did win two terms as president.

Similarly, the term “corporation” doesn’t have a great connotation these days; the words “corporate America” are usually enough to create those visions…a heartless board of directors caring only about stock prices and paying CEOs multi-million dollar bonuses after laying off hundreds of employees.

Kickstarter recently submitted the paperwork to become a “Benefit Corporation”, a seemingly paradoxical appellation that actually has some literal meaning. A Benefit Corporation is a real type of business, not just a feel-good phrase to direct attention away from the size of the profits. A Benefit Corporation must not only abide by laws of corporations, but must also follow standards based on the common good.

According to Wikipedia, a Benefit Corporation must consider the impact of its decisions not just for the stockholders but also the society and the environment. How that is determined varies by state but is usually judged by an independent third party.

As Kickstarter notes on its website: “Benefit Corporations are for-profit companies that are obligated to consider the impact of their decisions on society, not only shareholders. Radically, positive impact on society becomes part of a Benefit Corporation’s legally defined goals.”

GoFundMe and Indiegogo haven’t made the jump yet to following a stricter standard for the public good. But the move of states to create additional statutes is increasing.

 

fizzics waytap indiegogo

The Fizzics Waytap is everything that’s great about America.
(photo courtesy of Fizzics Waytap)

A Glimpse Into The Future

With all of the advances in technology in the last 20 years, imagine what life will be like 20 years from now. Indiegogo can give you at least a potential idea with some of the ongoing projects featured in their tech section:

Moka 360 – The Moka 360 is the “world’s smallest 360 camera”. It is a camera that looks to be about two inches square, and it can take a full 360 video of its surroundings at the touch of a button. It has a magnet and can be mounted onto any metal surface, and can stream live video to your tablet. Private detectives will love this one. Current amount raised: $88,668.

Fizzics Waytap – This one’s already available…John Vaskis at Indiegogo mentioned it to me: “I own one and love it”, he says. It’s a device that takes bottled or can beer and uses sound waves (!) to create “from the tap” style beer, with a nice foamy head and much denser bubbles. The company says that the foam “creates a seal for the body of the beer, locking in the carbonation so the flavor stays fresh from the first sip to the last.” Current amount raised: $1,180,444.

Acton Blink eBoard – Remember the hoverboards from Back To The Future II? That might not be very far away. The Acton Blink is an electric skateboard…it can go 22 miles per charge and has 4-wheel drive for hill climbing power. The Blink is actually designed for commuters…it’s got bright wheels to enable you to “stand out in style”. Ever go 23 MPH on a skateboard? The Acton can do it. Current amount raised: $409,031.

Travelmate Robot Suitcase – Wouldn’t you love to use the Force to move your luggage through the airport instead of dragging it? The Travelmate suitcase can cruise along and follow you wherever you go. It can move at a clip of 6.75 MPH, which is probably faster than most people can walk, and it’s smart enough to avoid tripping people in the airport. The best part? You can put another bag on top of it. Current amount raised: $8,361.

Silent Partner – You knew this one would top a million bucks raised. It’s a smartpatch that quiets snoring by creating a “quiet zone” around the snorer: it senses the snoring sound and creates a counter sound to cancel the snore sound. There is a physics name for that phenomenon – destructive interference. The company calls it “subwavelength active noise cancellation”. Current amount raised: $1,424,086.

There’s a whole plethora of cool products like this…you can check them out in the “Tech” section of Indiegogo’s website.

 

Photo credit: Forsaken Fotos on Best Running / CC BY
Photo credit: Cinetics on Best Running / CC BY
Photo credit: juhansonin on Best Running / CC BY
Photo credit: TravelBakerCounty on Best Running / CC BY-ND

Crowdfunding dollar sign photo courtesy of JerseyMan Magazine.

Fizzics Waytap photo courtesy of Fizzics Waytap.

Is PNC Park The Best Ballpark in Baseball?

Asking the question “Is PNC Park in Pittsburgh the best ballpark in baseball?” doesn’t offend too many people. At the stunningly beautiful home of the Pirates, you will often see signs around the ballpark proclaiming it to be “The Best Ballpark in America”. As far as I know, there’s no outrage about this from fans of other ballparks.

What if the Cubs put such signs around the outside of Wrigley Field? Might Red Sox fans sneer a little bit? And vice versa, if signs appeared around Fenway Park proclaiming it to be the best ballpark in the country, would that not get a reaction from Cubs fans? Just a thought.

As someone who has visited a few ballparks but not all of them, I can say that while the question of whether PNC Park is the “best ballpark in baseball” may be debatable, one wouldn’t have too much trouble making the case.

So What Makes PNC Park The Best Ballpark?

There’s a lot of obvious things to love about PNC. The view, for one.

 

best ballpark in baseball pnc view

It’s the bridge. The bridge makes it.

From almost any section in the ballpark there is the stunning vista of the downtown Point area of Pittsburgh, linked to the ballpark itself by the Roberto Clemente Bridge painted in Pirates/Steelers/Penguins gold, crossing the Allegheny River.

And the approach to the ballpark from downtown is as classic baseball as it gets—a walk across the Clemente Bridge past vendors hawking snacks and apparel, with the open air and dark blue seats in full view while crossing the Allegheny River by foot. Few ballparks if any could match that.

 

best ballpark in baseball clemente bridge

I would pay for this view, but don’t tell the city that.

Then there’s the ballpark itself—Kasota limestone on the outside; the statues of Bucs greats Clemente, Stargell, Wagner and Maz; the rotunda in left field with views of the ballpark and the city; and the intimacy of just 38,000 seats, painted dark blue in homage to Forbes Field.

And there are some not so obvious things too. There’s the matter of the price of tickets, which may not be a fair attribute to discuss given that the Bucs didn’t secure a winning season there until 2013.

 

best ballpark in baseball pnc

Not even a discussion? Wrigley? AT&T?

But poor performance on the field didn’t stop the Cubs from charging a chunk of change to get into the ballpark for many years. From the most to least expensive seats, Pirates games are competitive in price with any team in baseball.

The architects of PNC Park did a tremendous job building intimacy into the place. The ballpark was not only built with a small amount of seats, it was done without raising the upper level to nosebleed height as it is in many new ballparks. The Pirates brag that the highest seat is only 88 feet from the field, and there’s no question that you’re still on top of the action even in the upper deck. This is something that no ballpark built since has achieved, at least none of the ones that I have visited.

Don’t pay PNC Park prices for Pirates gear and souvenirs!

Order your essential Pirates items before you go at Amazon.com, pay far less than you would at the ballpark, AND get free shipping on orders over $25…click here!

Pittsburgh pulled pork pierogi stacker

Anyone want my extra pierogi?

There’s food selections of all kinds, from the venerable Pittsburgh favorite Primanti Bros. to Chickie’s and Pete’s fries to the BRGR burger joint. You may not necessarily love the idea of a pulled pork sandwich with pierogies on it, but you can’t deny the Pittsburgh-ness of that. And there’s Iron City beer…nothing makes a ballpark like a bad local beer.

I’ve been to ballparks with better food and better access. But PNC is pretty easy to get to by car, and you have the option of using a bus, train or even a boat. Heck, you could ride a bicycle there along the Riverwalk and that would be pretty cool.

But to this observer that isn’t all that important. It’s not easy to get to Wrigley Field, but I don’t care once I see the ivy and ancient scoreboard. And when in Fenway Park, a Fenway Frank tastes as good as any gourmet meal anywhere else.

bast ballpark in america pnc park pittsburgh

Get ready for whatever your favorite was to be #2.

I have yet to see AT&T Park, Safeco Field, Target Field or Coors Field, all of which have been touted as the best in America. Of the ballparks I have visited, I’m partial to Camden Yards, Wrigley Field, Fenway Park—and without doubt, PNC Park in Pittsburgh. On almost every level, PNC is as good as or better than all of them.

So if you ask the writer of Ballpark E-Guides whether PNC Park is the Best Ballpark in Baseball, my answer is: if you think so, I won’t argue with you.

 

red sox orioles camden yards

The Red Sox Fan’s Guide to Camden Yards

red sox orioles camden yards

This article was published in the Spring 2019 issue of BostonMan magazine. Click here to read it on their website, or click here to see the PDF edition from the magazine itself. Hope you enjoy it.

 

red sox orioles camden yards

It’s not that the Boston nine haven’t enjoyed considerable glory since, but the last day of the 2011 season was a tough one to swallow.

On September 28 of that year, Oriole Park at Camden Yards showcased the climax of an epic Red Sox collapse. It was a season when the Sox were expected to run away with the AL East, steamroll through the playoffs and win their third World Series in eight years. When the dust cleared in Baltimore, a 7-20 September crumbling saw the team missing October and letting go of a manager who ranks among the biggest titans in Boston sports history.

Game 162 in 2011 may have been a delight for baseball fans just about everywhere else in the country, but it was momentously awful for Boston fans, most of whom had endured enough frowning from the Baseball Gods for one lifetime.

But if the last few paragraphs were tough for you to read, maybe you can take some comfort in the Baltimore faithful having something to cheer about, in what continues to be a nightmarish era for them.

The revolutionary home of baseball in Baltimore is currently…and probably will be for at least another three to four years…the oldest in major league baseball to have never hosted a World Series. This is, for forty-something and older Orioles fans, something impossible to have conceived in the days of Palmer, Robinson, Murray, the young Ripken, and master button-pusher Earl Weaver.

The younger Orioles fan base…true loyalists who cannot fathom the concept of their team being competitive every season…has understandable antipathy for Red Sox fans that often take over their ballpark, especially in lean years. That’s to say nothing of their exasperation at having to pay more for tickets for games against the Sox and Yankees.

So pull for the Red Sox like a good traveling fan. But at least let the locals know how great their ballpark is. They don’t have much else these days.

 

Orioles pennants camden yards

Yes, I keep telling people they were really good once.

Following a 115-loss season and a full commitment to a long overdue rebuild, the Birds aren’t likely to fill up Oriole Park very often in 2019. Not even for Red Sox games.

So now is the time to take advantage and visit a beautiful ballpark where you could experience some reverse sticker shock after years of attending games at Fenway. Even to see the Sox in a venue where you’ll be surrounded by your fellow Sox loving brethren, Camden Yards is a far less expensive outing…tickets for even the best seats will probably cost about a third of equivalent seats in Boston, great parking spots can be had for a double sawbuck or less, and even the food…well, okay, the food is still priced at a ballpark level. But you’ll have money left over for it after you park.

If you’re planning a weekend game in the summer months, it’s probably best to get your pasteboards in advance…not because they’re likely to sell out, but because you’ll have more choices. There will likely be a third party markup for weekend games, and the Orioles website allows you to actually pick individual seats. But during the week, try the box office at the north end of the B&O warehouse…you should still have plenty of seats to choose from, and you’ll save a chunk of change in online fees.

 

padded seats camden yards

When your seat is half as comfortable as in the movie theater, you know you’ve made it.

Camden is one of those ballparks where fans say there aren’t any bad seats, which is true, but that doesn’t mean some aren’t better than others. If you’re splurging for those cushioned premium lower seats (and you should), the visitors’ dugout is on the third base side. As is the straight ahead view of the impressive warehouse, Oriole Park’s signature feature.

But while the lower concourse features great Baltimore-friendly eats like crab cakes, you’ll also be as far as possible from Eutaw Street. So if you go this route, show up early and get your Eutaw stroll in to see the plates commemorating home runs that landed there, including two from David Ortiz. It’s an essential in any Camden visit…along with your handshake and pit beef from Boog. Or your Rain Delay IPA at Dempsey’s, if you remember the former O’s catcher’s rain delay antics at Fenway.

If your budget is limited, upper level seats at Oriole Park work just fine. They’re closer to the field than in most ballparks, and are cheap even by baseball standards. (Bonus tip: the Orioles offer two free kids’ tickets with every adult ticket purchase.) You’ll have an outstanding panoramic view of both the field and the warehouse blending in with the Baltimore skyline, and the upper concourse features a fine view of the brick structure of downtown Baltimore in every direction, including M&T Bank Stadium (Ravens) across the street.

The Eutaw Street bleachers in center field…especially now that they’ve added a sit down bar there…are a popular spot for visiting fans too. But should you catch an Orioles home run ball, don’t throw it back. That happened in a game in 2011. I’m not saying the Baseball Gods punished the Sox for that behavior, but I’m not saying they didn’t either.

 

Hilton hotel camden yards

The Eutaw Street view of the Hilton.

With Baltimore being 400 miles from Boston, you’ll probably be spending at least one night in town. There are plenty of upscale hotels in downtown Baltimore, including the impressive Hilton across the street from the Yard. Just know that unless you’re staying at the Hilton or another hotel just a few footsteps away, you might not be comfortable walking to the ballpark, especially at night.

This is probably of no nevermind, since you have a plethora of parking options for Orioles games, from Orioles’ lots east of the ballpark to surrounding garages downtown. None of the lots and garages in Baltimore are gouging in price the way you’re used to at Fenway, but you will likely find a better deal near M&T Bank Stadium, especially if you don’t mind walking a bit. Parking east of the ballpark also makes for a much easier in and out.

If you’re not staying downtown, you also have the inexpensive and convenient Light Rail option…park for free along the route, and take the streetcar right to the entrance of the ballpark. It’s not just a good deal cheaper, it spares you the considerable headache of driving in downtown Baltimore, where red light duration can be measured in eons and could even cost you an inning of baseball. You can also take the Light Rail directly from Penn Station, should you be using Amtrak.

 

crab waffle fries camden yards

This is what makes Baltimore baseball great.

Fenway Park features lobster poutine, lobster rolls, and lobster melts. Oriole Park has crab cakes, crab kettle chips, and crab waffle fries. Not a big adjustment for Massachusetts natives.

Yes, people rave about Boog’s BBQ here and rightly so. Just know that Boog’s amazing pit beef and turkey sandwiches aren’t your only option. In the lower level concourse, you can find a baseball-sized crab cake (the Orioles tried about 50 recipes before hitting on the right one for it), kettle chips with crab meat piled on, or crab dip waffle fries that are worth grabbing a fork and sitting down to eat. And pile on some Old Bay at the condiment stands.

It’s all great for a taste of Maryland, but don’t forget about the eats and libations outside the ballpark too, especially across Washington Boulevard from the Left Field Gate. The pre-game watering hole tandem of Pickles Pub, Slider’s and the Bullpen all offer dogs, sausages, burgers, and yes, crab cake sandwiches at prices much cheaper than inside. You can wrap this stuff and bring it in, incidentally. And like inside the ballpark, there will be enough Red Sox fans at the pre-game party that have your back. (Not that O’s fans will give you any trouble.)

Speaking of libations…the establishments across the street continue to offer a brew that the Orioles amazingly do not sell inside the ballpark…National Bohemian, affectionately known as Natty Boh. How vital is the one-eyed Natty Boh logo to the Baltimore baseball experience? When this team was consistently good (yes, they really were once), it was the brand sold at Memorial Stadium…because the owner of the team happened to be the owner of National Bohemian.

You’d think the Orioles would respect that. Maybe someday. But for now get your Natty Boh on across the street and salute the…wait for it…“once proud Orioles franchise”.

 

Oriole bird mascot

The Birds’ two biggest fans.

One of the multitude of features the designers of Camden Yards got right was its location…in the heart of downtown Baltimore, just steps away from the beautiful Inner Harbor. Out of town visitors can enjoy a ballgame, a delightful pre- or post-game meal, and visit the top tourist attraction in the city in one day.

If you haven’t yet crossed a Red Sox game at Oriole Park off your bucket list, 2019 is the year to do it.

 

A Name You Should Know

camden Yards gate

It’s the warehouse. Chicks dig the warehouse.

On the website “This Great Game: The Online Book of Baseball History”, former commissioner Bud Selig is quoted as saying that Baltimore’s revolutionary ballpark “may be one of the two or three most powerful events in baseball history. It changed everything. It really did. I’m not sure people grasp the significance of it.”

Selig is probably correct. Yet it’s doubtful that it would have been the case without the prominence of the B&O Warehouse, however impressive a new ballpark otherwise might have been. The Warehouse gave Camden Yards a striking, standout visual element that was comparable to Fenway’s Green Monster. It made a great venue into a phenomenal one.

Yet the man arguably most responsible for its preservation never received any official credit.

Eric Moss was an architecture student at Syracuse University who spent a year developing a model for Baltimore’s ballpark that included the long, bulky, old brick structure…his design even featured the Warehouse as part of the playing field, suggesting that the Orioles would have to budget for window repairs.

His design was seen by one of the firms competing for the Oriole Park contract, Ayers Saint Gross. The firm actually brought Moss and his design to Baltimore. At the time, the warehouse was set to be demolished, an idea that had the backing of even the Orioles. Moss’s design showed how the building could not only be preserved, but also be an integral component of the ballpark itself.

Moss’s idea to build the ballpark around the warehouse survived…but Ayers Saint Gross lost the contract bid to HOK Sport, who ultimately designed not just Camden Yards, but dozens more sports venues in the wake of Camden’s success.

Eric Moss’s name is not on any of the official design documents. But he landed a nice career out of it. He is still today an architect at Ayers Saint Gross.

 

One Year To The Day

eddie murray statue camden yards

Damn, this guy could hit.

Every baseball fan remembers what happened at Camden Yards on September 6, 1995. Cal Ripken Jr. took the field for the 2,131st consecutive time, and single-handedly restored a country’s love for a sport that had been badly damaged by its participants’ greed. As the ballpark’s history goes, it’s not likely that anything short of an Orioles World Series victory could top the moment.

One year to the day later, longtime Orioles star Eddie Murray made September 6 extra special for Orioles fans, launching a home run into the center field seats following a rain delay that caused the early exit of several thousand fans. This wasn’t just any home run, by the way…it was number 500 of Murray’s storied career. He would finish with 504.

Murray and Ripken were arguably the two key members of the last Orioles team to reach the top of the baseball mountain. Both of them were relatively young stars in 1983, the year the Orioles took the crown against the Phillies. The two teammates and friends battled for the MVP all season, with Ripken taking the honors and Murray finishing a very strong second. (Carlton Fisk finished a distant third.) Neither would play for a World Series winner again in their careers.

Ripken credited Murray as one of the reasons he played in every single game for over 16 years. It was Murray, he said, that stressed to a young Ripken the importance of always being ready to play.

Today both players have statues and retired numbers 8 and 33 at Camden Yards, immortalizing their careers with the Birds…and the seat where Murray’s 500th home run landed is now painted orange to commemorate the occasion.

 

The Peanut Church

Peanut bags – keeping churches maintained since 1992.
(photo courtesy of the Old Otterbein United Methodist Church)

As stated in this article, you can bring food and non-alcoholic drinks into Camden Yards. This lenient policy of the Orioles has been a great boon to nearby people of faith.

The Old Otterbein United Methodist Church, located near Conway Street adjacent to the ballpark, discovered in the early days of the new ballpark that Orioles fans would be happy to pay a dollar for a bag of peanuts rather than quadruple that price inside.

They’ve been selling peanuts to fans heading to Orioles games since the ballpark opened in 1992…and they’ve used the proceeds from peanuts and water sales to restore an organ, replace the roof, fix crumbling brick walls and repair the electrical and HVAC systems.

According to the church’s website, “The best sales are always when the ‘Yanks’ and ‘Red Sox’ are in town.” So when you buy peanuts from the Old Otterbein, you’re not only saving money on everyone’s favorite ballpark snack, you’re helping a local house of worship maintain their home.

So there are some Baltimore natives that always will be happy to see you, even if you’re wearing Red Sox gear.

 

mike trout display millville high

Jerseyball – Millville’s Mike Trout and Aaron Cox

mike trout display millville high

Aaron Cox, Millville area baseball star and best friend of MLB superstar Mike Trout, was drafted by the Angels in 2015. JerseyMan sent me to interview Cox for the Spring 2015 issue, and talk a little bit about his baseball superstar buddy too, for the Spring issue. You can view the PDF of the article here.

Sadly, Aaron Cox passed away in 2018 at the age of 24. I was devastated to hear that. He was a really nice kid and a great interview. R.I.P. Aaron.

 

mike trout aaron cox millville high school

Jerseyball

Baseball’s best player is from a small town in South Jersey, and his high school buddy has just been drafted by the Angels. The two friends are still just Jersey kids.

On a baseball field, Aaron Cox has shown an uncanny ability to focus on the task at hand.

Even if that task is, say, pitching a no-hitter on his school’s Opening Day.

How focused was the Gannon University ace in shutting down opposing bats?  He didn’t even know he was firing blanks until his team swarmed him after the victory.

“My teammates ran out of the dugout like we won the World Series,” Cox says. “And I was like, this is the first game of the season, what’s going on here? ‘You just threw a no-hitter!’

“I don’t know if it would have jinxed me if I started thinking about it or not. But it worked out.”

That story must be embellished, you think. Most of us would be aware if we were pitching a no-no in a backyard wiffle ball game.

Well, the Millville High alumnus had an additional distraction. He had to help his cause on offense. Cox was one of those multi-tool players that could hit, too.

“It was a tight game. I didn’t come into the dugout and think about what I had to do next on the mound. I was just as much in the game on the offensive side, so I think that was the biggest thing that kept me from realizing it.”

He has that mentality that coaches long for in a player. “I just wanted to get the win,” he shrugs.

 

aaron cox angels

Millville star pitcher Aaron Cox, shortly after being drafted by the Angels.

Cox has a future in baseball. The young power arm has shown enough promise to be selected by the Anaheim Angels in the 19th round of this year’s draft.

It’s a fairly deep pick to assume that he’ll be on the mound at Angel Stadium anytime soon, but he’s already gone to work improving his chances. He’s ditched the hitting and expanded his pitch repertoire. According to his scouting report, his fastball touches 96, his slider has a big break, and he’s developing a change-up. If he can learn to throw all three for strikes at any time, he could turn out pretty nasty. The Inside The Halos blog mused that he could be a “quiet steal”.

A three-time All-Conference selection in high school. Ace of his high school and college staffs. The single season strikeout leader at his university—breaking his own record. A no-hitter to his credit. Now in the Angels farm system.

Not bad for a small town South Jersey kid. In fact, Cox was the best ballplayer to graduate from Millville High in, well, about three years.

 

millville high mike trout

Millville High School, home of star baseball players and jazz night.

You’ve probably heard of Millville. Especially if you’re a baseball fan. The town produced a ballplayer that now plays outfield for those Angels, a player whose nickname is “The Millville Meteor”.

You could say he’s pretty good. A .304 lifetime batting average. Led the league in RBIs in one season and in stolen bases in another. He’s been an All-Star in every season that he’s played. He’s also undefeated in winning Silver Slugger Awards. He was the American League MVP in 2014 and hasn’t yet finished lower than second in MVP voting…a guy named Cabrera had to win a Triple Crown to overtake him in 2012. At just 24 years old, he’s already clouted 139 home runs. He’s no slouch with a glove, either…YouTube has a few pages of videos of his negating pitcher mistakes with awe-inspiring catches.

You’ve heard of that WAR statistic? “Wins Above Replacement”? That all-encompassing number that no one understands but is supposed to define a player’s ultimate worth? Without a deep explanation (we have space limitations, but you probably know the depth to which statisticians go in baseball), FanGraphs states that he’s been worth more in Wins Above Replacement by age 23 than any other player in the history of the game.

Oh, and online voters on Topps’ website just named his baseball card to be #1 in the 2016 series. Collectors know. The stats are, after all, right there on the back of the cards.

So yeah, maybe he’s better than pretty good. He’s really, really good. Ludicrous good. Schizoid good. The phrase “best baseball player on Earth” is used to describe him fairly often, and it doesn’t lend itself to much argument.

 

Here’s how big a superstar Mike Trout is.

In the early weeks of spring training, there isn’t much to write about other than overly optimistic quotes from players and managers about the coming season. So blogs and websites looking for traffic need attention-grabbing headlines.

Maybe something like “Should the Angels trade Mike Trout”?

Yes, they said it. And believe it or not, there is a case to be made, however absurd the notion may seem. The Angels, you see, don’t have much of a farm system. ESPN writer Keith Law not only ranks it dead last among 30 teams, he says it’s the worst he’s ever seen. The team badly needs a future, so writers publicly ponder the sacrifices they’ll need to make. Or at least speculate a scenario that generates a must-click headline.

In response to the sudden wormhole in the baseball space-time continuum caused by the notion of a Trout deal, Grant Brisbee from SB Nation wrote a column with this headline: “The Angels Will Never, Ever, Ever, Ever, Ever Trade Mike Trout”. Yes, four “evers”. Here’s the quote from that article that best explains why: “It’s like selling a Honus Wagner card on the playground. Even if the 7-year-olds empty out their toy chests and video game collections, you’re still not going to be happy with the return.”

One can imagine going back in time to 1918 and reading a newspaper story with the headline “Should the Red Sox trade Babe Ruth?” Or even going back to 1991 and reading, “Should the Orioles trade Cal Ripken?” GMs who value their ability to avoid being hung in effigy know better.

“We like our chances” = zero traffic. “Trade Mike Trout” = web firestorm. Mission accomplished.

 

jims lunch millville

The possibility of meeting Mike Trout, and inexpensive ham and cabbage!

How does a mega-superstar from a town of 28,000 adjust to skyrocketing fame and wealth beyond recognition? By all accounts of those who know him, you wouldn’t even know the difference. The word “humble” is thrown around so reflexively that it’s almost his unofficial first name.

It’s remarkably difficult to find a Millville resident who doesn’t know Mike Trout personally. At the counter at Jim’s Lunch, the iconic 93-year-old Main Street diner, waitresses and customers all still refer to him as simply Mike, or even Mikey. As if he were a regular at the diner, which he still is, rather than the greatest baseball player in the known universe.

It’s the same at Millville High, where coaches and athletic directors talk about his senior year and the scouts regularly visiting town. The longtime baseball coach, Roy Hallenbeck, clearly has experience with journalists. He shows Trout’s locker, inspirational signs in the locker room, and the glass enclosure that displays his jersey and other gear. He has a picture of the scoreboard sign on the baseball field…now “Mike Trout Field” after Trout contributed to a renovation…stored on his phone ready to be texted. Like everyone else, Coach has nothing but praise for the local star.

It’s almost as if the townsfolk gather together to get their story straight about Millville’s most famous son for whenever reporters visit. But you know it’s real. Best case in point: the 2014 AL MVP is worth over $100 million now, and he’s still dating his high school sweetheart…who happens to be Aaron Cox’s sister.

Mike and Aaron are close, and the younger prodigy doesn’t dispute any of the hometown accolades for his mentor and friend.

“As long as I’ve known him, since he was a freshman in high school, he’s never taken anything for granted. Whenever I have a question I go to him, and we’ll sit down and talk. Whenever I need him, he’s there. In the off season he likes to be with friends and be a kid again. If you ever hung around him, he is a kid, trust me.”

 

mike trout field millville

Named for Millville’s most famous son.

Hallenbeck laughs at the humility attribute so frequently ascribed to Trout. The coach was quoted in an MLB.com article referring to Trout as a “killer”. He means it as a very flattering joke.

“To be clear about that, he really is a humble kid. He truly does appreciate everything he has. Just don’t compete against him, because it isn’t going to work out well for you…if you’re playing golf with him, or if you’re playing pickup basketball, or if you go bowling with him, he is going to beat you.

“I still have visions of him leading off of second base, just absolutely terrorizing pitchers. Not that he was doing anything demonstrative, just that he was so good, and so aggressive, and so competitive, everyone just knew he was gonna go and that they couldn’t stop him.”

Cox shares a story about the killer. “Out of the blue one day, we said, let’s go bowling. That was a month ago, and I think we went 25 times in the past month. I was better than him at first, and he didn’t like me beating him. We just kept going back, and now the guy at the bowling alley doesn’t make us pay because we come there so much. He has lanes reserved for us.

“It’s fun, because he’ll stick with something until he’s better than you at it. And I won’t let that happen!”

 

mike trout parents

Dad was a pretty good ballplayer himself.
(photo courtesy of Orange County Gentlemen’s Guide.)

The trademark humility may come from being raised in a small town…or in a state with no shortage of people who will gladly bring you back to earth. The killer mentality probably comes from a father who scratched for every hit as a ballplayer himself.

Jeff Trout’s baseball career ended where the overwhelming majority of them do…in the minor leagues, where players are either shown to be insufficiently skilled or made so by increasing bodily wear and tear. Drafted by the Twins in 1983, Jeff played four years in the minors as a second baseman, hitting .321 in his last season in Orlando before finally growing weary of waiting for a promotion from the Twins. With a torn plantar fascia and worsening knees, Trout gave up baseball to raise a family.

The elder Trout doesn’t hold a grudge. He’s admitted to his defensive inadequacies in interviews, and at 5’9”, his size was probably a handicap too. He succeeded as a hitter, to a point, through guile and scrappy dedication.

Cox testifies to how Jeff instilled a work ethic in young Mike. “His dad would make him hit every night, do push-ups, do everything, eat the right things. He may have gotten by on just talent, because he was blessed with a lot of talent. But he wouldn’t be where he is today, how good he is right now, if he didn’t have the work ethic that he has.”

Jeff also learned Mike about dwelling on failure, as he once did. He told Ben Lindbergh at Grantland that “I really, really overthought the game at times…some of the things I struggled with I tried to give to Mike and teach him that’s not the way it should be done. He can shake a bad game off.”

No one can better teach a youngster how difficult baseball is, or how to appreciate God-given talent, than a player whose dream died in AA. Thanks partly to his father, Mike Trout is baseball savvy enough to stay grounded and determined.

Because as even Babe Ruth learned, sooner or later the game will humble everyone.

 

mike trout display millville high

The display at Millville High celebrating its superstar ballplayer.

As Dave Lagamba, the athletic director at Millville High, shows this observer around the school grounds, he briefly chats with a groundskeeper about fixes needed to get Mike Trout Field ready for the coming season.

It’s a sudden reminder of what should be obvious…that Millville isn’t Mike Trout Central, or even Mike Trout Sideshow. Not even baseball’s biggest star can fix the town’s struggling economic conditions. Like in any other town, people go to work and raise their families and live their lives. As proud of the All-Star as Millville is, he and the locals still treat each other the same.

Of course he’s the same humble guy. Why wouldn’t a kid from a South Jersey small town be? All the money and fame one could ask for doesn’t change who someone’s parents are, the town they grew up in, their favorite food or who their high school influences were.

On a major league baseball field, there’s no denying that there’s something special and unique about the Millville Meteor. He plays baseball like a very small number of humans can. But back home, Mikey will likely always remain a guy who spends his spare time hunting and golfing with his buddies, challenging them to yet another round at the local lanes.

It’s not hard at all to imagine Mike Trout being enshrined in Cooperstown someday.

Or celebrating his induction with a burger at Jim’s.

 

mike trout no. 1 jersey millville

Mike Trout’s #1 jersey, now worn by the team’s MVP.

The Jersey

College and minor league teams have been known to retire the numbers of major league greats, but Millville High decided on a better way to honor their greatest player…by using his #1 jersey as a motivator. Trout was asked what they wanted to do with the jersey, and according to Roy Hallenbeck, he gave his stock answer: “Coach, whatever you think is best.”

The #1 jersey is now awarded to the player best seen as the team leader…not necessarily the best player, but the player coaches want other players to look up to…someone who works hard, hustles, and stays grounded. The first player to wear the jersey after Trout’s departure? Aaron Cox, by winning the championship final against Lenape High.

Hallenbeck tells the story. “My assistant coach, Kenny Williams, said to Aaron, you win this game and we will give you the #1. Aaron was like, don’t you think you should check with Coach? Kenny said, don’t worry about it, I’ll take care of it.”

It was no easy ride. Cox gave up a three run shot in the first but then blanked Lenape the rest of the way. “That Lenape team that we beat was just loaded,” Hallenbeck says. “They jumped on us early, and Aaron settled in the rest of the way. One of the most exciting games I’ve ever been a part of. That could have gotten away from Aaron. And it didn’t.

“We talk to our guys about leaving a legacy here, be that guy that we’re gonna refer to years after you’re gone. And we refer to that a lot. He absolutely earned the jersey that day, without a doubt.”

 

The “Millville Meteor”?

If you’re wondering how the nickname “The Millville Meteor” got attached to Mike Trout enough to be listed on his Wikipedia page, it’s probably because you’re not old enough to remember Mickey Mantle’s playing days. Don’t feel bad; most of us aren’t. This author’s father never even made the connection, and Mantle was his hero.

Mantle was and still is far more popularly known as “The Mick”, but he was also sometimes called the “Commerce Comet”, for his hometown of Commerce, Oklahoma. The nickname was probably a nod to his running speed…something fans don’t always notice right away when a player can jack a ball 500 feet. In his autobiography, Mantle quoted Ted Williams as saying “If I could run like that son of a bitch, I’d hit .400 every year.”

Like Mike Trout, Mantle set the baseball world on fire early in his career with both his crushing bat and blazing speed on the basepaths, and like Trout, Mantle was from a small town whose notoriety quickly became about a baseball star.

So the “Millville Meteor” nickname, see, is a tribute to The Commerce Comet…another speedy power-hitting outfielder who was considered among the best of his generation.

 

jims lunch burger sauce

The best burgers in Millville. Just ask Mike Trout.

Jim’s Lunch – Millville’s Other Great Institution

If you’re doing the Mike Trout Millville Tour, be sure to stop at Jim’s Lunch, the Main Street diner that has been serving locals for nearly a century. It’s still today a favorite of the Trout family, and the waitresses and customers know them well.

There’s some memorabilia, but the restaurant is thriving on the special sauce that is constantly being slathered on burgers, not the connection to the MVP. As one customer puts it, “They come here for Trout, they stay for the sauce.” It’s somewhere between chili and gravy, but not too close to either. The owners refuse to sell it in jars, lest anyone figure out the secret recipe.

Jim’s is perfect for Millville…an inexpensive, venerable, character-filled diner in the heart of an economically struggling town. Trout still frequents Jim’s in the offseason, and he’s been known to down six burgers in one sitting. (The burgers aren’t mammoth, but six still seems like a lot.) Burgers are even served on wax paper…as authentic as diner food gets.

Jim’s is no slouch in food quality, especially in a state where diners are barely distinguishable from one another. Not only is the secret sauce addicting, the home fries and Nana Rochelle’s caramel apple pie both perform well above expectations. Patrons will tell you that you can’t go wrong with anything.

Rochelle Maul, the owner, tells the story of Mike Trout’s first appearance at Jim’s…as an infant. Debbie Trout proudly showed her new son to the waitresses, calling him ‘our little Angel’. “True story,” Rochelle says with a smile, “and here he is playing for the Angels.”

When asked if she’s relieved that Debbie didn’t call Mike “our little Yankee”, Rochelle laughs and nods.

Unfortunately, you can’t stop at Jim’s on the way to Wildwood in the summer…it’s a longtime tradition that the owners take summers off. But an offseason trip is still worth it.

 

Photo credit: IDSportsPhoto on Best Running / CC BY-SA
Photo credit: IDSportsPhoto on Best Running / CC BY-SA

precision pistol bulls eye

Precision Pistol – Shooting For Greatness

precision pistol bulls eye

Precision Pistol shooters are phenomenal at focus…it’s quite a feat to be able to consistently nail an eight-inch wide target from 50 yards. JerseyMan sent me to cover the annual State Outdoor Pistol Championship for the December 2015 issue. I learned some amazing stuff. You can view the PDF of the magazine article here.

 

precision pistol nj

New Jersey’s top marksmen, shooting for nothing but excellence.

Precision Pistol Shooting For Greatness

“It’s the ultimate badass sport with pistols.”

At the end of “Rocky III”, Apollo Creed challenges Rocky to a rubber match between the two of them…to settle the score of who is the best, once and for all. As Apollo explains to Rocky, it’s only to prove it to himself…“no TV, no newspapers, just you and me.”

Because in the end, that is all that matters to a true competitor, at any level. Self-respect.

Rich Kang, a surgeon from Maryland, has had his picture added to the New Jersey Pistol website, as the Winner of the 2015 State Outdoor Pistol Championship. His name is now engraved on the Madore Trophy.

And that’s pretty much the extent of his recognition for this exceptionally difficult achievement. The top result of a Google search for “Rich Kang” is the LinkedIn profile of a California product developer with the same name.

Precision Pistol excellence isn’t something one pursues for stardom, applause or financial gain. There wasn’t much in the way of an audience or media…other than a lanky, curious writer for a popular men’s magazine…present at the championship event. Shooter Frank Greco likens it to golf: it may not be the most exciting spectator sport, but among participants, there is an unwavering admiration for the best.

“It’s the ultimate badass sport with pistols. In the shooting world, badass is snipers,” he says. “In the pistol world it’s precision shooters.”

Greco is the Regional Vice President of New Jersey Rifle & Pistol Clubs, based in Highland Lakes. A portion of this event took place at the Central Jersey Rifle & Pistol Club in Jackson. Greco didn’t participate in the competition, but he was there to explain the mystique of it, right down to the effect of donut consumption on shooters. True.

“The sugar raises the blood pressure and affects the steady hand,” Greco says, while offering a donut to this observer. “Sugar and caffeine in excess can be Kryptonite to a shooter.”

It’s that demanding?

To say the least.

 

precision pistol shooting

Could you hit it from half a football field away?

Picture how far 50 yards is. 150 feet. Half of a football field. Now fathom being able to steadily aim and fire a pistol from that distance and consistently hit a target eight inches wide.

That’s just for an eight-point shot. For a 10-pointer, that target is just three inches wide; for a bull’s eye…which is used as a tiebreaker if two shooters have the same score…it is just an inch and a half.

Can that even be done with normal human vision? Yes, and the shooters on the firing line this day are proving it. With multiple types of firearms and various types of shooting…moving targets, rapid fire, timed firing.

It’s a three-gun match, with .22, centerfire and .45 caliber pistols. With each type of pistol, a shooter takes 90 shots. Those 90 shots are broken down into four matches: Slow Fire is two strings of ten shots each over ten minutes; National Match Course is ten Slow Fire shots, followed by two strings of five shots each at 25 yards; Rapid Fire is two strings of five shots each over ten seconds; and the Timed Fire Match is four strings of five rounds each, with 20 seconds per string.

All day long, the barrage goes on. Casings litter the ground. Wisps of dust float from the dune behind the targets. The unmistakable odor of gunpowder fills the air. Wrists snap back in recoil with larger pistols. The noise is thunderous and deafening at times, but that’s the only aural distraction allowed. No talking or other sounds behind the line. During one match a ringing smartphone is immediately shut off; only in church could that be more embarrassing.

It’s grueling, this full day of shooting. Comfortable footwear is a must.

 

frank greco ed glidden

Frank Greco (left), with Ed Glidden (right), the director of the match.

Between rounds a horn sounds and a red light begins flashing. When the light is flashing, guns must be down, and must remain untouched until the flashing stops.

Ed Glidden, the director of the match, calls out instructions to the shooters, obviously with safety as the top priority. Cease fire, magazines out, make the firing line safe. Empty chamber indicators installed. Check your gun; check your neighbor’s gun. And so on, dozens of times. Glidden’s role looks boring to someone witnessing the action. But needless to say, it’s an essential one.

Part of Glidden’s occupation is training shooters in gun safety, including teaching youngsters in the club’s highly touted junior program. “Individual training,” he says, “is keeping the gun pointed in a safe direction at ALL times and treating every gun as if it were loaded. Constant awareness of the range officers and other shooters, to prevent and/or correct the slightest infraction until safety becomes a habit. Any unsafe practice will result in expulsion from the match and the range.”

The Central Jersey Rifle & Pistol Club people have a reputation for their focus on safe handling of lethal weapons. They are frequently praised for it in online reviews. It is particularly impressive to see younger people on the firing line, some barely in their teens, completely comfortable handling firearms. Partly because of Glidden’s repetitious direction, safety is second nature in this competition.

Besides, with the concentration required at tournaments like this, competitors have more than enough to occupy their minds.

 

lateif dickerson

Lateif Dickerson (left), who has forgotten more about self-defense than most of us know. (photo courtesy of Lateif Dickerson)

Watching the shooters it appears as though they are cool as ice, with the focus, the concentration, the steady hand. But as one of the better shooters on the line can tell you, it takes years to develop this composure. And even he still grimaces at the occasional subpar shot.

Lateif Dickerson is the master instructor at the New Jersey Firearms Academy. His resume of other titles is very impressive: Certified Pistol Instructor, Range Safety Officer, Combat Handgunner at the School of Defensive Firearms, the list is long. He’s been training civilians, police and military for 19 years in various weapons usage and self-defense.

Dickerson can tell you a bit about becoming adept enough for this competition. There are three stages, he says…know how, physical conditioning and mental conditioning.

Know how is mastering the fundamentals… like stance, breath control, and recoil management. Stance “should be as comfortable but as stable as possible. Think like a crane; your legs are the outriggers, your arm is the boom.” Breath control is “basically holding long enough so you aren’t moving.” Recoil management is the ability to “consistently recover to the same place when shooting.”

Then there’s the physical conditioning.

“A match can go from 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM, or longer. If you start fatiguing during a match your performance will fail. You must be able to hold the weight of your arm and gun up all day – and steady. Holding steady requires an isometric tension that needs to be developed also.”

But the mental preparation is by far the toughest part.

“The ONLY thing that should exist in your mind is that your sight is where it’s supposed to be as the trigger moves rearward…this is very hard. We all have a lot of noise and distractions, so conditioning your mind to focus is a process. That process is largely the challenge in shooting.”

Frank Greco emphatically agrees, sharing a story of his own self-defeat in the mental aspect of the game.

“When you’re in it, on the line, loading, in the zone, improving your score, it’s incredibly intense and extremely difficult mentally.

“One of my first times I experienced the ‘mental game’ was in the NY State Championship. The match director came over to me and asked me if I knew I was shooting better than most of the Experts and Masters. I said no, and got accidentally sidetracked, thinking I was going to win the match. The lost focus immediately showed; my shots were random and my scores went down.

“It’s vital to maintain a positive outlook and to speak to yourself in positive statements. It’s important to train your subconscious mind and create a positive self-image.”

He pulls out his smartphone and shows this observer a picture of a target, the high-value section of it riddled with bullet holes. Sometimes, he says, he needs to look at it during a match, to remind himself what he’s capable of.

 

madore trophy

The trophy is just a bonus.

It’s all undeniably worth the effort.

The true reward of Precision Pistol, as Greco relates from his own personal experience, is self-respect…the realization of one’s hidden abilities and the ability to meet the most difficult of challenges. Once a person can hit that one-and-a-half inch bull’s eye from half of a football field away, it’s hard to imagine how monthly bills could faze them.

“Great shooters have an almost Zen-like approach to shooting and how they approach their daily lives, jobs, etc. Since I started, my ability to focus has sharpened dramatically, and it’s positively benefited other areas of my life. The ability to focus on what matters, and disregard unimportant matters, literally frees your mind.

“The benefits are real, and to that extent, shooting has made me a better person.”

 

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precision pistol equipment

Choosing the right equipment is essential, especially with the cost outlay.

Get Started With Precision Pistol Shooting

If you’d like to try Precision Pistol Shooting, there is a website dedicated to helping you get started, with several informative pieces from top shooters. The site is called “The Encyclopedia of Bullseye Pistol”.

Among the articles is a piece by site owner John Dreyer about essential equipment. There’s a lot to know when laying out the considerable funds for pistols…like whether they are mass-produced or hand built, or the differences between high performance and convertible pistols. Not to mention other necessary equipment, like eye and ear protection, scopes and cleaning supplies. Pistol shooting is not a cheap sport, so spend wisely.

Another piece by Dreyer quotes several Zen philosophies and describes the achievements in pistol shooting in how they relate to such quotes. One example: “A man who has attained mastery of an art reveals it in his every action.” Dreyer compares this to pistol shooting in the sense that once a shooter can sustain an “empty mind”, he can see “underlying principles in everyday life and life in all things”.

Another piece from top shooter Jake Shevlin reveals the “secret” to shooting high scores. It’s the same secret one learns about how to get to Carnegie Hall…practice, practice, practice. The shooter must sacrifice…sacrifice time, money, convenience, and priorities in life to excel at just one thing. Top marksmanship requires a level of commitment unmatched by few endeavors. That, says Shevlin, is the “secret”.

The Encyclopedia of Bullseye Pistol website also features a discussion group, e-mail updates, and links and maps to shooting clubs and ranges.

 

dry firing precision pistol

Try it without ammo until your scores improve.

Multiple Champion Dave Lange on Dry-Firing

Dave Lange’s name appears a lot on the NJ Pistol website. He has won the overall state outdoor championship nine times since its inception in 2001; the only other shooter who has won it more than once is Ron Steinbrecher, who has captured the title just twice. Lange was also the NJ resident champion in 2015, though he lost the overall title to Rich Kang.

Lange is the author of a piece for Shooting Sports USA, linked to the NJ Pistol website, detailing the benefits of dry-firing…firing a weapon without ammunition. With dry-firing, a shooter can focus on weaknesses, like maintaining consistent grip. Lange states in the piece that he practices his dry-firing three times a day, 15 minutes each time.

With dry-firing, a shooter can run a mental program through his mind of executing a successful shot; Lange’s program involves picturing a red dot in the center of the bull’s eye and then picturing the bull’s eye with the bullet hole in the center.

Dry-firing can address any shooter’s specific problem, Lange says. The key is being willing to commit to it until a shooter’s scores improve. Given his success, he’s probably got a point.

 

precision pistol bulls eye

Phenomenal for most of us mortals. Nowhere near good enough to be a national Precision Pistol champ. (photo courtesy Frank Greco)

The Best in the Nation

The NJ State Outdoor Pistol Championship, according to Frank Greco, is the 3rd largest of such events in the nation; the national event, known as the “World Series of the Shooting Sports”, takes place in Camp Perry, Ohio, 40 miles east of Toledo. Events have been held there since 1907.

The overall National Pistol champion for 2015 is Keith Sanderson from Colorado Springs. He scored an incredible 2,655 points out of a possible 2,700. Second was Brian Zins with a score of 2,641. Sanderson is an Olympic gold medalist; Zins was the 2007 NJ State Champion.

To put those scores into perspective, do the math: 2,655 divided by 270 shots equals an average shot score of 9.83…so Sanderson’s average shot was almost always in that three-inch range for ten points, with maybe one or two in a hundred falling outside of it for a nine-pointer.

The difference between Sanderson’s and Zins’ score was just 14 50-yard shots out of 270 that covered a five inch range instead of three.

One wonders if Zins thought about having a donut the week before the match.

phanatic phun zone

The Power of Fun – Dave Raymond, The Original Phillie Phanatic

phanatic phun zone

The Phillie Phanatic is the greatest mascot in sports…largely because original Phanatic Dave Raymond simply put on the costume, went out and had fun. I had a chance interviewed Dave, who now creates team mascots as the owner of Raymond Entertainment Group, for the April 2015 issue of JerseyMan. You can view the PDF of the magazine article here.

 

dave raymond phillie phanatic

Dave Raymond, the original Phillie Phanatic, with his best friend. (photo courtesy of Dave Raymond)

The Power of Fun

Imagine being a business owner who is looking to improve your marketing. You want a smart, polished, exciting campaign to bring life into your adequate but unmemorable image. You want to target a younger audience that otherwise might not discover your product.

Needless to say, this problem requires professional expertise, so you call in a consultant.

A consultant who, for much of his adult life, made his living wearing a furry green costume, recklessly riding around in an ATV and thrusting his ample hips at sports officials.

Because if your company is a minor league baseball team, and the idea is to bring more kids to the ballpark, and you want to create a mascot on that basis, hiring the original Phillie Phanatic to handle the design is a no-brainer.

As the man behind arguably the most beloved mascot in sports, who today is the “Emperor of Fun” at Raymond Entertainment Group, Dave Raymond understands the marketing value of a fun diversion.

Even if he learned it by accident.

“The joke was that the Phillies got the kid that was stupid enough to say yes,” Raymond says with a laugh. “I was a student at the University of Delaware. I had my fraternity brothers telling me, ‘they’re gonna kill you, they’re gonna hang you in effigy and set you on fire, and that’s when the Phillies win! When they lose you’re really gonna get in trouble!’

“That first day, I went into Bill Giles’s office and said, ‘Mr. Giles, what do you want me to do?’ A smile came across his face and he said, ‘I want you to have fun.’ I was tearing out of his office thinking, ‘Wow, this is going to be easy,’ and he screamed, ‘G-rated fun!’

“The first night I fell over a railing by accident, and people laughed. So I was thinking, I have to fall down more. Slapstick humor was something I loved, I was a Three Stooges fan, I watched all the cartoons. It was Daffy Duck and Foghorn Leghorn and Three Stooges because that’s what they laughed about.”

 

phillies phanatic citizens bank park

The Phanatic is also always willing to set an example for fellow fans.

Dancing with the grounds crew quickly caught on, too.

“The first night I did that, I tripped one of the guys by accident, the kid tripped and fell, and people laughed. That turned into me running around the bases and at each base I would knock one of the kids over, and then we would all gather behind home plate and dance. Fans were giving us standing ovations, because they’d never seen the grounds crew animated!”

In a rabid and brutally unsentimental sports town, it also didn’t hurt that the Phanatic could so effectively taunt the opposition. Tommy Lasorda, who could often be described as a cartoon character himself, once even wrote a blog post titled “I Hate The Phillie Phanatic”.

Raymond gets along with Lasorda and has read the post. Their feud was usually friendly, but it could escalate: “One night he just snapped, and he came out and tried to beat the ever-lovin’ you-know-what out of the Phanatic.”

The two smoothed it over, but Raymond retains his proud Philadelphian perspective towards the Dodgers icon. “He’s a wonderful ambassador for baseball; the only problem with him is that he’s a Dodgers fan from Philadelphia. Worst type of traitor we could ever have,” he laughs.

“I understood the psyche of the Philadelphia fan. I was one of them! I hated the Mets, I hated the Yankees, I hated the Celtics. And the Dallas Cowboys, to this day, I see Tony Romo in a commercial about pizza and I run and turn the TV off. I knew the fans would cheer when I stepped on a Mets hat or made fun of the Dodgers. I wanted to do that, because I hated the Dodgers, and I hated the Mets!

“It was that type of thing, and you put all those together and make a cartoon character out of it.”

 

dave raymond phillie phanatic

The man and his dream.
(photo courtesy of Dave Raymond)

Today Dave Raymond brings a lifetime of experience as a world-famous character to Raymond Entertainment Group, which designs and builds mascots for sports teams and even corporations.

REG focuses on marketing the Power of Fun. It’s not an easy trick to blend two seemingly opposite concepts like fun and business, but Raymond can speak from solid experience.

“I watched my kids become Phillies fans because of the Phanatic. They wanted to go to games because they had fun. And they learned how to watch baseball and appreciate baseball. My daughters fell in love with the players because they looked cute in baseball uniforms. And now they are not letting me leave when I want to beat the traffic. From a marketing standpoint, the Phanatic’s building baseball fans.”

So in dealing with clients, Raymond emphasizes how valuable—to their bottom line—their furry representative can be. The goofy character in a bird costume is a worthwhile business investment, and for it to pay off, it needs to be done right.

“The first thing we do is make sure they understand the difference between a kid in a costume and a character brand. A character brand is a living, breathing extension of your brand, and a kid in a costume is just that.

 

phanatic phun zone

There’s even kids’ play areas dedicated to the Phillies’ enigmatic mascot.

“We research who they are in terms of the organization’s history, and who their community is in terms of the history. We help sketch out a back story that becomes the story of the character.

“They look at designs and they play Mr. Potato Head, they tell us what they like or more importantly what they don’t like, and then we go back and continue to draw until we get a design, we assign the copyright to that design, and then build multiple costumes for them. We help prime performers and train them.

“Also, what are you doing with the character brand? How are you rolling it out? How are you trying to get sponsorships? By the time we roll out the character, they should already know when they’re going to make all their money back, and when they’ll start making a profit.

“If they don’t do due diligence, frankly, I don’t want them as a customer. If they don’t want the best, they’re not gonna value the best.

“There are people saying I need a kid to get in my suit; right away I know that’s probably a client I don’t want. This is a character costume, it’s not a suit. It’s not a kid, it’s a trained performer. If you don’t want that, we’re not the ones for you. It’s a good thing not to waste time trying to make people buy from me. You’re not going to be able to service everybody.”

That’s not to say that REG doesn’t have a long list of satisfied clients; happy customers include the Cincinnati Reds, whose mascot “Gapper” is an REG creation, the Toledo Mud Hens, the Delmarva Shorebirds and the Phillies affiliate Lakewood Blue Claws, among many others. Raymond estimates that REG has created over a hundred characters, including at least ten for corporations.

“What separates us is that no one has the track record of success that we’ve had for not only designing and building, but also helping clients make money, drive revenue and brand, find performers and train them.”

 

phillie phanatic mural

Iconic enough to have his own mural at Citizens Bank Park.

It’s a seemingly natural progression for Raymond: from being an eager young intern who spent sixteen years bringing an inimitable brand of fun to a community, to now supporting a family by showing others how they can do it too.

“I’ve been to a lot of business training seminars, and they always ask what your ‘why’ is. My ‘why’ is, I want my marriage to be great, I want my kids to have good parents, and I want them to grow up and get married and have a great family. Every time I get a check for something, I’m going this is great, now I can pay my salary, and I can invest in what’s important to me, which is my kids and my relationship with my wife.

“Also, I’ve been delivering this presentation, which is the life lesson that the Phanatic has taught me, how powerful fun is to building a family and raising kids or whatever you’re doing. Using fun as a distracting tool is so powerful.

“That’s truly what I love doing more than anything else, getting in front of people and telling these stories and hopefully giving them something that helps them. I’m focused on going into Philadelphia, in the corporate community, and preaching the Power of Fun.”

If anyone knows how to appeal to sports types in the City of Brotherly Love, it’s Dave Raymond. After all, he’s lived it.

“One of the things I miss the most about not working as the Phanatic is the connection to the Philadelphia fan base. Once Phillies fans love you, they love you forever, and it’s almost impossible to do anything to get to the point where they don’t love you.

“That was the beauty of being the Phanatic.”

 

phillie phanatic gate

“I’m sorry sir, but your odor is scaring the kids.”

“This Costume Stinks!”

One service that Raymond Entertainment Group offers is costume cleaning…a surprisingly neglected aspect of mascot performance for many teams. The cleaning includes a “State of The Fur” analysis. A performer in a smelly costume is not a pleasant one, as Dave notes.

“The Phanatic opportunity for me, it truly was the best job you could ever imagine. But there were things about it that I hated. I hated that costume getting beer spilled on it, for example. I’m very anal retentive, I can’t stand things out of place, and it just drove me crazy. So I was meticulous about how I cleaned that costume.

“The first year, the people in New York that built it said they couldn’t wash it. You couldn’t even imagine what it smelled like. I finally just threw the thing in my bathtub with Woolite. I thought, I don’t care if I ruin it, it can’t smell like this anymore. When I got done cleaning it, it smelled great, and I wrote a note to the people in New York saying hey, this is how you clean it, and they were like, wow!”

Dave actually will frequently take on the cleaning tasks at REG. “This is what small business is about. I’m cleaning a lot of costumes myself. It’s just something that doesn’t require any great skill; you just spend a little time doing it. I have people that help and clean and restore the costumes. But I jump in there and do it a lot. It’s one of those healthy distractions for my mind.”

The “State of The Fur” analysis is for advice on cleaning and storage. “We try to give them feedback on what we all think they’re doing based on what is wrong with the costume. We want to have our eyes on it, because then our costumes last longer. Then people will say hey, when you get a costume from Raymond Entertainment it lasts for ten years.

“We prefer that rather than make money on rebuilding costumes, although we do that. It’s better that they know that their costume lasts three times longer than the competition.”

 

phillie phanatic mascot

You too can dance on home team dugouts!

Mascot Boot Camp

Although Raymond Entertainment Group trains performers as part of their character creation package, Dave Raymond also hosts “Mascot Boot Camp”, where performers spend a weekend learning all about the business of being a character in a costume and non-verbal communication. It’s for everyone from new mascots learning the trade to longtime performers looking to rehabilitate their skills.

“It’s a great reality experience. If you want to experience what it’s like to be a mascot, come and experience mascot boot camp,” Dave says. “We’ve never marketed it for that, but it’s a lot of fun and they learn to move and communicate non-verbally, they learn how to take care of their costume, and learn how to take care of themselves physically.

“It’s a deep dive into mascot performance, there’s a real method to it now, where once it was Bill Giles telling me to go have fun.”

There’s another important rule of mascot performance: keep it safe.

“Lighting yourself on fire and jumping off a building and crashing into the ground might be something that people will talk about from now until the end of time, but you’re gonna kill yourself. And you’re gonna ruin the costume.”

 

REG’s “Angel Investor” – Sir Charles

Every business needs capital to get off the ground, and when Dave Raymond sought an investor for his idea to design and build characters, he found what he calls an “angel investor” who is well familiar with Philadelphia sports…Charles Barkley.

“When he would come to the Phillies games,” Raymond says of Sir Charles, “he would have fun with the Phanatic and we did a couple of routines here and there, where he was smacking the Phanatic around. It was fun. Charles invited me to hang out with him and some of his friends in Birmingham when I was doing minor league baseball in Birmingham one weekend.

“I just called him up, and he said my financial guy likes it, I’ll be happy to do it. His financial guy said listen, people haven’t paid Charles back over the years. I said, well, I’m dedicated to paying him back. I haven’t paid him every cent back, but he keeps telling me don’t worry, it’s no big deal. Charles just wanted to help. In the description of an angel investor, Charles Barkley’s picture should be in whatever dictionary or manual that is talking about angel this or that.

“Nobody knows that sort of thing. Charles has done that hundreds of times, he’s just a generous guy, one of the best people on the planet. I’ll be working until I close the business down to make sure he gets every penny back.”

 

franklin 76ers mascot

Franklin has worked hard to get where he is today.
(photo courtesy of phillyfamily on Flickr)

Analyzing “Franklin”

Dave Raymond did some consulting for the 76ers in the rollout of their new mascot, a blue dog named Franklin. The humorous back story of Franklin on the 76ers website shows Franklin’s “ancestors” throughout Philadelphia history, including a missing bite out of Wilt Chamberlain’s “100” sign following Wilt’s 100-point game.

Raymond believes Franklin will be a success, despite the recent “controversy” surrounding the character—that Darnell Smith, who wears the Franklin costume, was a Knicks fan.

“One of the things he said to me was, I really need to be a Philadelphia fan, you gotta help me with who the Philadelphia fans are. He worked for MSG, and he was a mascot for the Liberty, the WNBA team. He’s done a lot of work with their performance team, the dunk team, all of that for the Knicks.

“Darnell is an awesome human being and an unbelievably gifted performer. I went to the first game that he was at just a couple of weeks ago and brought my kids, and he was kind enough to come up and interact with us. All the fans in our section were screaming for him. It was for kids by kids, which is what Tim McDermott said he wanted to do.

“What’s nice about it is that he recognized that getting in touch with the psyche of the Philadelphia fan was important. That just shows what a good performer he is. He’s an asset to the 76ers organization, I’m glad they got him.”

nicks house swarthmore pa

Being Relentless – The HEADstrong Foundation

nicks house swarthmore pa

The story of the founding of the HEADstrong Foundation is both heartbreaking and inspiring. I interviewed Cheryl Colleluori, the president of the Foundation, for Winter 2019 issue of JerseyMan. She is a remarkable, exceptional human being…a true warrior and survivor. You can read the article on JerseyMan’s website or you can view the PDF of the article here.

 

nick colleluori headstrong foundation

Nick Colleluori, the founder of the HEADstrong Foundation. (photo courtesy of Cheryl Colleluori)

Being Relentless

The HEADstrong Foundation is the brainchild of Nick Colleluori, who lost his life to cancer at the age of 21. Like Nick, the Foundation is relentless in helping patients and families affected by the disease.

Nick Colleluori sketched out the HEADstrong Foundation logo on his way to an operating room, in the midst of his battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

His mother, Cheryl, remembers it well.

“He asked me for a piece of paper and pencil. I didn’t have a paper and pencil, but I gave him a napkin and he just started doodling. I wasn’t even paying attention. My husband and I were sitting there talking, trying to remain calm, giving him that assurance that this was going to be okay.

“They’re wheeling him in, and he turns the napkin around and said, ‘here’s the logo.’ I said, what are you talking about? He said ‘the logo for the Foundation. I’m starting it.’

“I thought to myself, man, this kid is relentless!”

When the 19-year-old three sport athlete was diagnosed with the disease that ultimately would take his life, he wouldn’t spend a minute letting anyone feel sorry for him.

“He made it really easy for us,” says Cheryl, who is now president of the Foundation. “He made the whole journey just very bearable, if you can imagine that. He was so upbeat, and you would never ever see a frown on his face. I felt very privileged that I was his mom.”

Nick spent his 14-month fight…which was 11 months longer than doctors initially anticipated…noticing every resource that was lacking for cancer patients and their families. Challenges like financial help, a place to stay during treatments, and the need for understanding and support. As his mother says, at a time when he could have been selfish, he chose to help others instead.

Today the HEADstrong Foundation he founded is doing just that, in a huge way.

They connect patients with survivors to speak with and mentor them through the ordeal. They host events and provide entertainment for patients throughout the year, including an annual Thanksgiving feast at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. And patients coming to Philadelphia for treatment can stay in Nick’s House, in either of two locations in the Philly suburbs.

 

nicks house swarthmore pa

Nick’s House in Swarthmore, PA, a beautiful place to be, especially in the fall.

The idea for Nick’s House was born out of the Colleluoris visiting NIH in Bethesda, Maryland, for a clinical trial.

“We were in an 8×10 room and there were seven of us,” Cheryl remembers. “We were on sleeping bags. We were so grateful, but it was not conducive for a long term living arrangement. We met a family living out of their car, which is not unusual. We thought, let’s do something.

“Our first Nick’s House was born seven years ago, and we refinanced our house to purchase this house. It took my husband six, seven months to renovate. The second home in Swarthmore opened in February after one year of renovation.

“We’re not just children, we’re all ages. Pediatric, geriatric. We are all cancers. And the common theme is that they’re traveling a distance of 50 miles or more, and they’re coming here for an extended period of time. Nick’s House becomes their home. They can read a book, be part of the neighborhood, go for a walk, you know, they’re in a safe and secure environment.

“I just love it. I’m so proud of it. The greatest gift for me is seeing complete strangers become one family.”

That the Colleluori family has been there is their greatest asset in helping other families.

“When people come to Philadelphia for treatment, they’re leaving behind everything they know. We become their family and their support system. We are very family rooted, hands on, in the trenches with the families. We are that family. We were that family. We understand everything that they’re going through.

“I get this a lot: When will I know, when should we make the decision, if things aren’t going well? And my response is, you’re going to know. I also say, don’t go there until you have to.

“A lot of times the minute you hear the diagnosis, oh my God, my child’s going to die. Well, guess what, we have seen hundreds of children that are still here with us, that have made it, that have survived. My message to other parents is keep positive no matter how bad it gets, and don’t go there.

“That little bit of information was shared with me, because I went down that path too. You hear the word cancer and you’re just in such a tailspin. You don’t even know what to do next.

“One of the greatest compliments I’ve ever received was from a mother of a terminally ill child. She held my hand and looked into my eyes and says, you are my role model. Those are the only five words that I ever need to hear, to know that she can see me standing still. I’m still standing.”

 

cheryl colleluori headstrong foundation

Cheryl Colleluori, with her son’s uniform providing the inspiration.

Cheryl Colleluori is never afraid to be human. She has no problem choking up and occasionally pausing to gather herself, even while speaking with a writer she’s never met over the phone. But in mere seconds she is back in the game, speaking of the goals of the Foundation. “Be relentless” is its motto.

JerseyMan has profiled dozens of successful entrepreneurs. They almost always speak of the importance of getting back up again. That there is no substitute for perseverance.

If you want to see an example of someone who relentlessly gets back up, it’s Cheryl Colleluori. She is still going strong every day, meeting with patients, consoling them, supporting them every way she can. Like her son, she’s as great a teammate as you could ask for.

There are, of course, moments. The blow life dealt her was enough for her to faint dead away in her first visit to a hospital, to distribute “Comfort Kits” to cancer patients.

“I stepped out of the elevator and passed out,” she remembers. “Because all of a sudden what hits you is the smells, the sounds. You know when you’re walking into the room. I was thinking, I don’t know if I can do this.”

But she did. Because her son’s relentlessness still gives comfort and hope to thousands. Cancer may have taken his life, but even now, he won’t let it beat him.

After Nick’s passing, the family was so heartbroken that they sought a medium to possibly bring them some comfort. Cheryl says that to their surprise, the medium knew things that no one could have known, including details about Nick and his girlfriend of eight years, Jordan, exchanging wedding vows the night before he passed.

“The medium said to me, ‘your son is telling me that you are his mouthpiece.’ When I got the phone call two days later to speak, my husband said you can do this for our baby. That was the start, and the rest is history.

“He is guiding us. There’s no doubt in my mind that he is still providing the direction and my inspiration.”

When the doctors could do no more for Nick and sent him home, he took the car keys from his devastated father and let his mother drive. On the way home, he spoke with her about his final wishes, including for Cheryl to take HEADstrong as far as it could go.

“He said, Mom, look into my eyes and tell me that you can do this for me. His exact words to me were, ‘I want other people to benefit from my life.’

“How do you say no to that?”

 

headstrong foundation logo

Helping The Foundation Stay HEADstrong

The HEADstrong Foundation has been an enormous success since the passing of its founder Nick Colleluori in 2006. They have raised over $14.4 million and have assisted over 15,500 families affected by cancer. In addition to two Nick’s House locations that can simultaneously host eight families, they served Thanksgiving meals to five floors of patients in 2018, have hosted dozens of fundraising events and have delivered hundreds of their “Comfort Kits”.

But as Cheryl Colleluori will tell you, it’s not without challenges. Nick’s House requests are frequently coming in, as more families travel from hundreds of miles away for specialized treatment that is only available here. She notes that there are 280 families a month in need of housing just in Philadelphia.

Families at Nick’s House are charged nothing for their stays, which can often be 50 days or more. This is in addition to their financial grants for families struggling with costs, dinners and events, and the multiple other services HEADstrong provides to families.

“We want to have the greatest impact we can in Nick’s name,” Cheryl says. “We want to help as many people as we can, and make sure we have the right people in place that bleed like we bleed, that breathe like we breathe. We have a lot of people that we’ve helped that have lost their loved one and they now have an opportunity to set up fund in that loved one’s name, and paying it forward for the next family. And that’s been a nice opportunity of growth for us.”

Nick’s House and the HEADstrong Foundation subsists entirely through volunteers, partnerships and donations. If you’d like to contribute or volunteer, you can find out how at https://headstrong.org.

 

cheryl colleluori nicks house

Cheryl in Nick’s House, bringing hope to those who most need it.

The Comfort Kit

One of Nick’s innovative ideas for helping cancer patients was borne out of the experience of being on call for hospital visits. It’s called the “Comfort Kit”, and the HEADstrong Foundation regularly delivers them to cancer patients.

“A lot of times when someone’s admitted to the hospital,” Cheryl says, “you need to report right now because there’s a room available. Or, you’re in the emergency room and you’re admitted on the spot. You don’t have anything with you from home.”

The Comfort Kit includes a set of items that people without experience in this realm probably wouldn’t think of, as she explains:

A journal and a pen “2:00 in the morning you wake up and ‘oh my gosh, is this normal? I have a question for the doctor. Am I going to remember?’ There’s your journal, jot the question, write it down.”

A blanket – “It provides warmth and comfort and it personalizes the room.”

Tissues with aloe “Tissues in the hospital are so paper thin.”

A toothbrush and toothpaste“A soft bristle toothbrush, because toothbrushes in hospitals fall apart when you use them.”

A gift card “I don’t have any money and I need to get out of the parking lot. Or, I could really go for coffee, let me run down to the cafeteria. Oh darn it, I don’t have any money. Well, don’t worry about it, because there’s your gift card.”

Information about HEADstrong’s Peer Support – “You just never know when somebody’s losing it on the floor and they want to talk to somebody.”

Comfort Kits are hugely appreciated by patients, Cheryl notes. “It’s just a great way to enter somebody’s room and say, hi, how are ya? I’m Cheryl Colleluori with the HEADstrong Foundation. I’m thinking of you today and I hope this makes you smile. I hope that you know that there’s somebody here fighting for you that you don’t even know. A lot of times people are like, I was hoping you were going to come, I heard about this!

“I get great reward out of bringing a smile to someone’s face and my team. We go down with about 15 volunteers, and every one of those volunteers are survivors that I met as I handed out their comfort kit.”

 

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The Colleluori family, the best teammates you could ask for. (photo courtesy of Cheryl Colleluori)

The Mental Game

The HEADstrong Foundation’s Peer Support program connects survivors and family members to share their deepest and most private concerns. Generally they will find a survivor of the same age group and background to speak with a patient or family member.

“My sons are very involved,” Cheryl says. “They talk to siblings, my husband talks to dads, I talk to moms and dads, and the peer support is not over when someone passes. If the person’s gone a couple of years, it doesn’t mean the relationship with the HEADstrong Foundation is over. We’re still very highly involved with families.”

HEADstrong is relentless in helping people stay as upbeat as possible. But Cheryl absolutely understands that it’s almost impossible for patients not to get down sometimes. “There’s a lot of sadness. We cry right with people.

“We try to talk about other things. We try to get people’s minds off of the fact that their health is declining. If somebody wants to talk about it, I will, we understand. Nick was tired, we know. But if we get somebody’s mind off of it, they forget. A lot of it is a mental game.

“In two weeks, we’re going to the Sixers game, and we’re taking 26 people with cancer with us. We do the programs in the hospital, we have people in wheelchairs and oxygen, and IV poles. They’re getting blood and getting chemo and we bring them into the room and have a magic show, or we play bingo. Or we have jazz night and they’re singing and clapping. If it’s for an hour, we’ve just improved their mental state.

“We’ll do art therapy. One guy, I’ll never forget, he was so weak. We took him back to his room and the next thing we know, he’s back. The nurse has got him back at the door and I said, are you okay? He’s like, ‘I have to finish this for my daughter.’

“He finished the painting, and I took him back and he said, ‘can you place it right there for me? I’m going to take a picture, I’m going to send it to her.’ He said, ‘you’ve given me the motivation I needed to get the heck out of here and get home to my daughter.’ We still keep in touch with him today.

“It’s just those little things to help people get through the darkest days.”

Surviving Until Tuesday – Sergeant Andrew Einstein

Andrew Einstein is one of our nation’s true heroes, yet he was driven to the brink of suicide resulting from a head injury and lost sense of meaning. JerseyMan sent me to interview him as he told me what real strength was to him. You can read the article on JerseyMan’s website here, or view the PDF of the article here.

 

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Sergeant Andrew Einstein with Gunner, the Silver Labrador who was there to save his life. (photo courtesy of Andrew Einstein)

Surviving Until Tuesday

Camden County Police Officer and U.S. Marine Sergeant Andrew Einstein speaks openly about being on the brink of suicide, pulling himself out, and living a life with purpose again.

On August 5, 2011, in the Sangin Valley region of Afghanistan, Sergeant Andrew Einstein of the U.S. Marine Corps sustained a brain injury from a grenade attack.

He didn’t think it was a big deal at the time.

“Kids would throw rocks at patrols and stuff to mess with us,” Einstein says. “I remember looking down and going, it’s just a rock. I saw there was an Afghan soldier, and his eyes were just like…I looked back down and said, oh, that’s not a rock. As I went and turned to get away from it, I got a couple of steps and it went off.

“I remember grabbing my ear, my ear hurt so much. I yelled, I fell into one of the rooms. I crawled out and that same Afghan soldier, he was wearing a white shirt, he fell to where I was and his white shirt was red.

“I remember being really confused. I said, why is his white shirt red? He obviously had received some shrapnel, and I put a tourniquet on one arm and then I went to put a tourniquet on another arm. They took care of him, and I sat back and lit a cigarette.”

He wasn’t bleeding, he didn’t lose any limbs, and he had no bullet holes. Just migraines. To Einstein, it wasn’t a “real” war wound…especially happening on the same day that fellow Marine Daniel Gurr was killed.

He was, he knew, ready to get back to the fight.

A country that values freedom never has enough people like Andrew Einstein wearing military uniforms. But as it turned out, the injury was a big deal. Less than a year later, it was a contributing factor in his decision to end his life.

 

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Einstein with Gunner, keeping him in the fight. (photo courtesy of Andrew Einstein)

That, and a lost sense of meaning back home.

“Coming home feels great,” Einstein says. “Then you realize that life went on, and you’ve got to figure out how to get back into your old life. And then comes a time, at least for me, where I said, I want to go back. I need that responsibility and that purpose that I had over there.

“I know the head injury really caused a lot of issues. The biggest issue was the hearing loss and then the memory issue. I was afraid that if I got help, they would take my badge and gun and say, sorry, you can’t be a cop anymore. I’ve been a cop since I was 18. That’s all I know. And I love being a cop. Aside from being a Marine, this is my life.”

As Einstein increasingly saw it, it was a no-win. Fight your losing battles alone or give up the responsibility. As time went on, the stress of what he perceived to be a meaningless life continued to mount.

By May of 2012, he couldn’t take it anymore.

“I wrote letters to my family. I’ll never forget what I wrote to my youngest sister. I apologized. Because up until that point, she looked at me as this hero. I was her brother, a police officer, a Marine who went over and fought for our country. I said, I’m sorry for lying and making you think I was so much stronger than I actually was, and I’m not a hero. I’ll never forget writing that because those words were the hardest.

“I put the bottle of pills next to my bed. I went out and drank so much that my friends plopped me on the couch. No one knew that 15 feet into the bedroom there was a bottle of pills that I’m planning to kill myself with. I remember waking up the next day, and I was disgusted. I couldn’t even kill myself.”

The date Einstein picked to be his last was fortuitous. He wanted the new dog he had agreed to pick up the following morning to have a loving home, and not be his family’s responsibility. After failing his suicide attempt, he went to pick up the dog.

 

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Officer Andrew Einstein at the office.

It turned out that Gunner, his new Silver Labrador, didn’t need a loving home. He needed a purpose too.

“As soon as I picked the dog up, I said, ‘I can’t kill myself, because I’ve got to be there for this dog now.’ All of a sudden I had responsibility again. Even when I was still doing the things I was doing, he was there for me. He didn’t judge, he didn’t care; he loved me. He would lay right on me.”

Einstein gives Gunner credit for saving his life. But he soon caught another break when his chief at the Riverton Police Department, John Shaw, could see he wasn’t well.

“He said, I don’t want you to lose your job, and I want to help you. I said, well, if he’s reaching his neck out for me, who am I not to try and get better.

“I went to doctors, I started going to groups and talking about the issues. My dog and I went into training, so he could become a service dog for me. It was definitely two steps forward, one step back, but each step, it got brighter and brighter. It took time, but we just started getting better and life became better.

“You always say, if you could talk to your 18-year old self. If I could talk to my 2012 self, I’d say, ‘Get off the couch and go get help. You can do this.’

“I’m telling you this is strength…raising your hand and saying, ‘I am not okay. I need help.’ One of my biggest things that I speak to now is with the first responder community, when there’s bosses or administrators to understand how or what to do if they have one of their personnel go: ‘I’m not okay.’

“However bad it is in your life,” he adds, “I can’t tell you when it’s going to get better. Hopefully it’s the next day. In reality, it’s not going to be the next day, or the day after that. But if you fight to get better, I promise you at some point, it will get better.

“I tell people, if you’re going through something, not just suicidal, you’re going through a gray dark time. If there’s something in your life that you enjoy doing, whatever it is. If once a month, every second Tuesday you’re going to play basketball with your friends, and you know that in that hour you’re totally relaxed and everything is great?

“Live to that Tuesday. Because you know each second Tuesday of the month, you’re going to have that hour of peace. No matter how bad your life gets in between, live for that Tuesday. And then live again for the next Tuesday.

“If you only have that, live for that Tuesday.”

 

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Serving the community, with his own experience.

Andrew Einstein is no longer surviving until Tuesday. He is now an officer in the Camden County Police Department, where he uses war and post-war experience to break trust barriers with city residents.

“One of the first things they said was: we know about your story and we want you to tell it, because we want you to help others.

“In this city, we have people in crisis every day, and these people have lived hard lives. I have to break the barrier, the same barriers I had to break in Afghanistan, to show them, look, I know I can’t relate to your life. But let me in, open the door a little bit, let me show you that I’m here to help.

“We try to de-escalate the situation as quickly as possible, and when someone’s in that moment, I can say, hey, hold on. I’ve been there. Guess what, May 5th, 2012, I was where you were.”

“I love getting the bad guy off the street. But I also love talking to the person in crisis or the person who just wants to talk. Dealing with the people here, it’s not all about busting the bad guys. Sometimes it is about throwing the football with the kid on the block or playing basketball. It’s showing the people that you serve, that you’re a person.

“I don’t say being suicidal helps you become a better person in the long run. It’s you take what life dishes at you and you learn from it.

“What I’ve dealt with in life, I’ve been able to use to mold into a better life.”

Today, the city of Camden has Officer Einstein and Gunner to thank too.