Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Petaluma Little Leaguers Nation vs.Red Sox Nation

I belong to two nations: Red Sox Nation and Petaluma Nation.

One of them is filled with daily drama, a dysfunctional team that’s become disgusting.

The other is a community coming together to root for a Little League team that’s putting a big league team to shame.

As much as I am embarrassed to be a lifelong member of the reeling Red Sox Nation right now, I am equally proud to be a part of the growing Petaluma Nation that is faithfully following the Petaluma National team representing California in Williamsport, Pa.

In my 17 years as a Petaluma resident, I’ve never seen or sensed anything like this. This is a sprawling Sonoma County city of 58,000 people about a 40-minute drive north of the Golden Gate Bridge. It has a big city population by some standards, but it always has maintained a small town feel. It still has parades down main street. It still has its American Graffiti downtown. It’s where Peggy Sue got married.

But this Little League team comprised of junior high schoolers from the west side of Petaluma has spread its community spirit and good will thousands of miles to the east better than any Chamber of Commerce.

Local television stations and the cable TV giant ESPN have discovered what Petalumans already knew. This is a great place to live because there are great people here. And they care.

When the Petaluma Boulevard Theaters reserved one of its theaters to broadcast Petaluma Nationals’ first game in the Little League World Series, the response was so overwhelming they had to reserve a second theater. Never mind that Petalumans were willing to pay more than a first-run movie to watch a baseball game they could watch for free, the $15 admission fee went toward paying for traveling expenses for the team and their families who have been on the road for more than two weeks.

The end result: The community raised almost twice as much money as it intended and was even able to send the beloved sports reporter from the weekly Petaluma Argus Courier newspaper to the Little League World Series to cover it.

Jonny Gomes, the Oakland A’s outfielder/slugger who lived and played Little League baseball in Petaluma, has been rightfully receiving a lot of credit for spearheading fundraising efforts to support the Petaluma team. But there are dozens, if not hundreds, of Petaluma Little League fans who have been pitching in behind the scenes to help the team in so many ways.

Heck, I was ready to go down the street in my neighborhood to mow the front lawn of Austin Paretti’s family but someone beat me to the punch. Everyone in Petaluma seems to have a connection this team. My youngest son, Brock, played on the same Little League team as Paretti and Bradley Smith, the 6-foot-2 wunderkind of the team who was the biggest player on Brock’s team when he was 11.

This is the feel good story of the year in Petaluma and I found irony in that tonight when Petaluma defeated Connecticut in an elimination game. The game was again televised live on ESPN and the broadcast’s color commentator was former Red Sox manager Terry Francona.

He, like me, knows the difference between the Red Sox Nation and the Petaluma Nation. One is having a lot more family fun than the other right now and Francona knows it. He might even love it.

Go Pe-ta-lu-ma!

Friday, August 10, 2012

My Olympics events are Hall of Fame bound

Dateline Boston, Dover-Foxcroft, Maine, Cooperstown, N.Y. and Many Points In Between – I haven’t gotten Olympics fever in great part because I have spent more time since the Opening Ceremonies in London watching television programs on an airplane than on the ground.

Hence, for lack of being able to partake in Olympic coverage, I have for the past 10 days of so invented my own Olympic events. Like …

THE BOSTON BOO-ATHON -- The Boston Marathon covers 26.2 miles. The Boston Boo-athon covers 60 feet and six inches and the inability of Red Sox Josh Beckett to find command of that distance. He’s being run out of town because of it. I was in Fenway Park the night of July 31 when Beckett was booed off the mound after being injured in the third inning. He left the game because of back spasms but the booing that ensued was a real kick in the ass. Beckett has become the lightning rod for all frustrations in the Red Sox Nation dating back to the collapse last September. I got soaked in my loge box seat and the Red Sox rallied in the rain that night to beat reigning American League MVP and Cy Young award winner Justin Verlander for their fourth win a row. They got a big break when the game was called after 5 ½ innings though the Tigers had the bases loaded and potential go-ahead run batting at the plate. That was the high point for the Red Sox. They lost their next four games, including three in a row to the lowly Twins and Beckett was booed off the mound again in his next start in a make-or-break homestand. Boo hoo.

SYNCHRONIZED LOBSTER EATING – My friend, Lee, and my sons engaged in this friendly feasting competition at Roy Moore’s Lobster Shack in Rockport, Mass. The shack is about as big and wide as a Volkswagen Beetle but it is a tourist trap for lobster lovers. You are not greeted with a menu but by these five simple words: How Many Do You Want? That’s it. We ordered four lobsters and were handed them seaweed fresh and red hot out of a boiling tub within seconds and, when we demolished them side by side on the back deck in matter of minutes, we walked in the back door and asked for more at Moore’s and were given another round of lobsters instantly. Red Sox fans only wish it was so easy to get rid of Josh Beckett as $10 lobsters. It was so good that, eight days later, we drove four hours back there just for lunch.

THE HIGH SCHOOL REUNION PENTAHLON – For a small town in the woods of Maine of about 4,000 people, it is amazing the number of Foxcroft Academy alumni-related events it can pack into one day and one weekend. My son Brock ran in the Pony Pride 5K race and finished eighth – winning a bet that ended with me shaving my beard of 24 years – and my son Drake then participated in a pick-up soccer game during the Alumni Homecoming Parade before we watched an alumni basketball game before the Class of 1972 Picnic followed by the Alumni Banquet ($15 to stuff yourself with food and memories) and a breath-taking fireworks display over Sebec Lake. Whew. The day was as grueling as a Josh Beckett start but with more crowd-pleasing results.

THE BORESTONE MOUNTAIN TRIATHLON – Walk, climb, and eat wild blueberries at the summit. This morning hike succeeded FA Alumni Days and it packed a wallop. A steep uphill trek near the Appalachian Trail along fire roads and past a ranger station to a series of stone steps that lead to the top. The reward – aside from the blueberries – is a panoramic view of 13 different bodies of water including Greenwood Pond down below. However, on this morning, the mist never lifted until we descended the mountain. We heard but never saw a helicopter. You might say we were stuck in a fog like Josh Beckett is stuck in a rut.

THE TOLL TAKER SLALOM – Four turnpikes in four states in one day. And everyone one of the toll takers, even in New York, was friendlier than any toll taker I’ve ever encountered crossing the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. Yet none of them take more money than Josh Beckett does in one start.

THE HALL OF FAME STEEPLECHASE – There is no easy way to get to Cooperstown, N.Y. It’s an obstacle course of country roads that seemingly take you around in circles. From Albany, it takes two Interstates and turns onto such backroads as Hite Road and Warnerville Cut Off Road and Routes 165 and 166 to get there. But, once you get there, it’s worth the trip. Main Street Cooperstown is like stepping onto Main Street USA, except for the countless souvenir shops that line both sides of the street. The Hall of Fame is across from the post office and two blocks up from picturesque Otsego Lake and a 9-to-9 day wasn’t enough time to read, see and absorb the history of the game. But if you are sick of Yankees-Red Sox domination, it’s not the place to go. The Hall of Fame and all the souvenir shops are inundated with Yankees/Red Sox memorabilia. Interestingly, I ran into more Oakland A’s fans than New York Mets fans the day I visited. The lack of a Mets’ presence is best explained by a T-shirt I saw in one shop: M-E-T-S. My Entire Team Sucks.

It could be worse. The Mets could have Josh Beckett.