Sunday, November 23, 2008

What A Difference Four Years Make

The night of the election I saw something I thought I'd never see. I was chilling out at the Showbox in downtown Seattle when CNN flashed across the screen that they were projecting Barack Obama as the next President of the United States.
The room literally exploded. I saw one girl jump two feet in the air from a standing position. A woman I'd been talking with came back from the bar where she'd been ordering some food. ``I just made out with about 12 people, four of them girls.'' Later on I discovered that hundreds of people were partying on Capitol Hill, an area filled with young people, liberals and gays. It wasn't that a black man had been elected that surprised me so much; it was the massive celebration for a politician. Aren't politicians somewhere between ax murderers and child rapists on the food chain. Usually people celebrate like this when a team in the city wins the World Series. Yes, I know this is Seattle but as more than one person pointed out to me, Seattle sports fans don't have this passion.
As revelers continued their reveling, I couldn't help but think back to Election Night four years earlier. I'd been writing a lot for the Real Change newspaper in Seattle and received two passes from the editor to go to the Democratic Party shindig at another hotel. Stacey, one of the RC interns was voting for the first time and was really into the election. She was driving everyone in the office crazy talking about it. ``Gee, why don't you take Stacey with you to the political party.''
So off I headed, with my intern to Democratic headquarters (insert Bill Clinton joke hear). It was no joke to see Stacey (who people thought was my daughter) crying at the end of the night when George W. was re-elected.
Stacey's mood was even worse in the next couple of days. She attended Antioch College, a progressive school in Ohio. If students came from a state where John Kerry was expected to win - like Stacey who came from upstate New York - they were being encouraged by their teachers to vote in Ohio where a close race was expected. Stacey had been on the phone with friends and Antioch students were assigned to a polling place that had only a couple of old voting booths. The Ohio secretary of state WAS head of the Bush campaign. Some students waited eight hours or didn't vote at all. I was tempted to say to Stacey, ``welcome to the real world." But she felt bad enough without me being a smart-ass.
I got to thinking about Jimmy Breslin's book that week - How The Good Guys Finally Won about Richard Nixon's resignation. And how Bush's re-election showed good guys don't win anymore. It turned out that there were a lot of voter discrepencies in Ohio but Kerry didn't have the fight in him. Too bad for Stacey and her friends.
Maybe that's what people were celebrating that Tuesday night. I have a lot of cynicism about Obama - Nixon got us out of Viet Nam and into Cambodia, Obama will get us out of Iraq and into Afghanistan - but I like how he gives people hope. And as the title of the book says, for one night at least, it felt like the good guys finally won.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Baseball and Porn

Two of the three major league baseball players from Rhode Island - Tampa Bay Rays' outfielder Rocco Baldelli (bottom) and pitcher Danny Wheeler (top) - played in this year's World Series. The third - catcher Chris Iannetta - played in last year's WS for the Colorado Rockies. More importantly, he took one of my cousins to her ninth grade prom. As the comedian Steve Wright once said, ``it's a small world but I wouldn't want to paint it."

Wheeler was coming up thru the Warwick, Rhode Island Little League and Babe Ruth programs when I left that city in the early `90's. I don't think anyone expected him to be a big-leaguer when he was 14. He was one of those guys who just kept getting better.

Rocco on the other hand was one of the greatest athletes to come out of the state. Besides baseball he ran track and was offered a college volleyball scholarship almost unheard of for a player from New England.

I interviewed Rocco once along with his cousin Jonathan Smith when they were about to face off in the state high school championship series. I remember two things - 1) Rocco was quieter and Jonathan did most of the talking and 2) a couple of nights later Baldelli hit a home run off his cousin that left McCoy Stadium - the home of the Boston Red Sox's Triple A team.

Baldelli came from the northern part of the state and played high school ball at the Catholic school down in Warwick so my old paper and new paper at the time showed an interest in him. I was working for my new paper when I talked to Deb my partner from the old paper on the phone. Deb thought Rocco was a great kid but was surprised when she heard that Rocco's family ran a porn shop.

I was surprised also. Rocco's uncle, Charlie Baldelli had once been Mayor of Woonsocket, R.I. But then again Rhode Island had bishop's who went to mobsters funerals. Fortunately, I was talking to my friend Rich a few days later. Rich was working in Central Mass. at the time; the best editor I ever had and a guy who knew everything about Northern RI sports not to mention the name of every bad baseball player and rock song that came out of the `60's and `70's. He was the guy to ask about Baldelli.

After nearly passing a kidney stone from laughing so hard, Rich exclaimed, ``I love how Rhode Islanders pronounce the word p-o-r-n and p-a-w-n the same way. '' In fact, Rocco's dad ran Woonsocket's biggest pawn (not porn) shop for several years.

If you've read this far, that's the only connection I know between baseball and porn (although some would argue that both were better in the 1970's than they are today).

Rocco Baldelli battled a mitochondrial disorder to hit home runs in last month's American League Championship Series and the World Series. Rich Pedroli, a former writer and editor for the Woonsocket Call, Miford News and MetroWest News, died suddenly of a heart attack last year. He touched the hearts of many in the newspaper and sports world.