A Father’s Day Tale of Fathers, and Sons, and Sports Fandom

This article 1st appeared in The Prices Do DC

Sports loyalties, like so many of our character traits, are often a combination like environment and heredity. You know, like nature and nurture. Or, to be more accurate, geography and family.

Where you were born has a lot to do with who you root for. For example, if you were born in Ohio, there is a good chance you will be a Cleveland Indians fan, no matter how you feel about the treatment of America’s Indians. That’s unless your Dad or another favorite relative has always been a die-hard Baltimore Orioles fan. Then there’s a good chance you might take the O’s over the Indians. Of course, in cities with 2 teams like New York (Yanks/Mets) or Chicago (Cubs/White Sox) the fandom choice is more murky.

I was born in Philadelphia. For 59-and-one-half-years I lived in South Jersey, except for 4 years when I went to college at Villanova University, located just a few train stops from downtown Philly. And, for all of those years – no surprise here – I was a Phillies fan. My father was from Texas and had been raised in Washington state, neither of which at the time had a baseball team. So, when he arrived in South Jersey after World War II, he became a Phillies fan, too.

I have a whole host of memories of watching games on our black-and-white TV with my Dad, or listening by to the radio, or, most importantly of all, sitting with him in the bleachers at the Old Connie Mack Stadium where the game really came alive. 

I’ll share just 2. My favorite non-Phil (and my Dad’s, too) was St. Louis Cardinal Hall of Famer Stan Musial. I remember my Dad fighting his way through a crowd to get me Musial’s autograph. He got his hat knocked off, received a cut on his bald head, but emerged with my prize. 

Then there was Father’s Day, Sunday, June 21, 1964. Every Sunday, my Dad would take my Mother and me out somewhere in South Jersey for a family late lunch. It was tradition. But on that particular Sunday, our dining tradition bumped up against an even stronger tradition, one that involved a bat and ball, not a knife and a fork. As always, we were listening to the ballgame on the way to the restaurant when it became apparent that this particular game could be a piece of baseball history. Jim Bunning, the Phils pitcher, was hurling that rarity of rarities, a perfect game. My Dad turned the car around and rushed us home so we could see the last few innings. It was a good move. For, on this day, Bunning, who later became a Congressman and U.S. Senator from Kentucky, was perfect. He pitched a game with no runs, no hits, no walks, no errors.

I tell all of this as background for last night. Last year, after we retired, my wife and I left South Jersey and moved to Crystal City, Virginia, a community that is even closer to Washington, D. C. and its hometown baseball team the Washington Nationals than Villanova was to Philly. And, for the 1st time this season, we were going to see the Nats, who were playing the Phils. The fate of the 2 teams had completely reversed this year. The Nats, proverbial also-rans, were in 1st place. There was an excitement about their young team and its season. The Phils, an Eastern Division power for years, were in last place, 14 games behind the Nationals.
In fact, just hours before the game, the Phils had made it clear that they had abandoned their chances for this year by trading 2 of their starting outfielders, one to the Dodgers and one to the Giants, for younger prospects. I joked on Facebook that I hoped I would recognize the team by game time.

Now, I figured I had learned my sports lesson in loyalty from the musical West Side Story, “When You’re a Jet You’re a Jet All the Way …” But I wondered as we approached the field for the game’s 7 p.m. start – would my love of my new city D.C. have any impact on my long-standing feelings for my Phils?

Well, the Phils made quick work of my doubts. Even though the Nationals were using their best pitcher, the Phils jumped to a 2-0 lead in the 2nd inning by way of a home run from a young fill-in 3rd baseman. The Phils continued to expand that lead throughout the rest of the game. The final score was 8-0 and, in the parlance of old-time sports writers, it wasn’t really that close. The Phils’ pitcher Cliff Lee, who had won only 1 game prior to last night, looked like the all-star he had been. There was even a 2-run inside the park home run off the bat of long-time Phils shortstop Jimmy Rollins.

I left the game as I had entered it – still a Phils fan. Of course, that’s easy when your team is winning. The Phils have 2 more games with the Nats. Maybe, just to be sure on that fan thing, you should check back on Friday. 

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
I can’t wait to see how fandom turns out for my 2 grandchildren, Audrey, who is 4-and-a-half, and Owen, who is 3. Their mother, an avid sports fan, is a Massachusetts girl and that means all things Boston. For her, it is Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics, Bruins. Like me, their father is Philly with a capital PH. That’s Phillies, Eagles (or Iggles if you are a true aficionado of the team and its legendary Boo-Birds fans), 76ers, and Flyers. When it comes to college and basketball, the family rift is even worse. Shannon is die-hard Duke. If you could bleed blue, she would. Michael is a huge ABD (Anybody But Duke). So far, as a family, they have lived in Reno, Nevada and Knoxville, Tennessee, neither of which have pro teams. (Although both Audrey and Owen did wear a lot of orange during their Knoxville years) Just last month, the family moved to Atlanta for a few years. Can you say Braves, Falcons, and Hawks?

Pandemic Pushes Puzzle to the Forefront

Judy puts the pieces together

This article 1st appeared in Booming Encore

My wife’s fascination with putting puzzles together has always been somewhat puzzling to me. I simply don’t have the patience for such a time-consuming activity.

However, Judy obviously isn’t the only person currently using puzzles as a big piece of their pandemic-forced homebound entertainment.

Judging by sales, jigsaw puzzles are proving welcome relief for individuals and families all over America and sales are skyrocketing.

Brian Way, the owner of Puzzle Warehouse, the largest distributor of puzzles in the country, reports business is up 2,000% compared to this time last year.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Way told CBS News. “As you look down the aisle, we’ve got people getting orders off the shelves to ship out.

Amazon reported in April that “adult jigsaw puzzle” was the 8th most searched term on its website. In fact, at different times this spring, Amazon, as well as Target and Walmart, were sold out of all but the most expensive puzzles.

But that hasn’t deterred determined puzzle put-togetherers. Unable to purchase new puzzles, they took to exchanging puzzles with other avid enthusiasts. For example, Judy has put together a few puzzles belonging to our apartment complex neighbor Mark, who is an administrator with the National Parks Service and possesses a large collection of puzzles depicting scenes of natural beauty and wildlife.

Others have come up with novel technological ways to satisfy their puzzle itch. Hannah Boehm told NBC 7 News in San Diego that she uses the Next Door app and other social media to arrange puzzle swaps. She will leave a puzzle on her doorstep and someone will take it and leave a different puzzle in its place. Boehm says that process allows both parties to maintain recommended social distancing, adding that she always wipes down the boxes and puzzle pieces before she starts working on her new project.

The jigsaw puzzle itself has a long history. The origins of the puzzles go back to the 1760s when European mapmakers pasted maps onto wood and cut them into small pieces. John Spilsbury, an engraver and mapmaker, is credited with inventing the first jigsaw puzzle in 1767.

Initially, puzzles were considered for play and learning for children only, but puzzles for adults emerged around 1900, and by 1908 a full-blown craze was in progress in the United States much like that of today. 

Adult puzzles range from relatively easy (a few pieces) to extremely challenging (1,000 pieces or more).  While Judy tackles her puzzling task alone, our daughter-in-law Shannon, who is currently with our son Michael and our 2 grandchildren Audrey and Owen on a one-year stay in Australia, convinces her family members to join her in the fun.

Or at least that is the plan. Shannon recently got a complex Harry Potter-themed puzzle for Audrey, who is a huge Harry Potter fan. But Audrey moved on to other things, leaving Shannon to complete the complex puzzle.  She said about a third of the 1,000-piece puzzle was black/navy or dark brown making it difficult to determine which pieces went where.

But my daughter-in-law is nothing if not determined. “It’s torture, but I can’t quit now,” she said. And she didn’t. As you can see, the puzzle was no match for her. Despite the arduousness, the fact of Shannon’s determination certainly didn’t surprise her mother, Sue Sullivan. “You always did like a challenge,” Sue wrote on her daughter’s Facebook page.

Meanwhile, back here in America, Judy discovered a fix for her puzzle addiction. A local gift shop in our underground run by a Taiwanese owner has puzzles for sale. And Judy has already gotten so many there that the owner says she can look at the catalog and she’ll order special puzzles for her.

Man, if this stay-at-home lockdown continues, I guess I will just have to come out of retirement and get a job to support my wife’s puzzling puzzle habit. Can anybody out there solve the puzzle of where to find a high-pay, no-work job in a pandemic and an economic depression?