Monday, March 30, 2009

Worcester Sharks Win Big While Losing Game

So I wake up this morning after a late night watching the Worcester Sharks, Minor League hockey game, and I jump on the lap top. I'm still stoked from last night's game.

I pour myself a bowl of Cap'n Crunch with Crunch Berries in honor of some of the bone crunching hits I saw at the game. I throw Warren Zevon, "Hit Somebody" into the CD player and I begin to recreate the excitement and the over all awesome event my family had just experienced.

Before I begin waxing poetic about the top notch brand of hockey we saw, I want to share a personal experience that was the precursor to writing this story.

Aside from my passion for writing sports, I'm a Customer Service Wizard. Much of my successful career outside of this Fantasy World we call Sports has been spent satisfying customers.

The phrase "The Customer Is Always Right, Even When They Are Wrong" has earned me more than my fair share of Franklins, while at the same time turning many a case of heartburn into volumes of success stories.

Well this story begin about a week ago when I bought 10 tickets to two upcoming games at the DCU Center involving the Worcester Sharks. We had been a few weeks before and the Sharks office placed a follow up call to see how we enjoyed our first game (GOLD STAR No. 1).

We had enjoyed it immensely. We sat at center ice right behind the bench, so close I was concerned that the kids and I would be showered with ice as each player whisked by.

We had enjoyed making new friends with season ticket holders and had even enjoyed chatting with the very friendly usher who calls Section 123 his home.

Upon receiving the follow up call, I bought the 10 tickets. Five for last night and five for their season ending regular season bout with the Providence Bruins.

I told Kate and our son, Dakota, about the tickets and I thought Dakota was going to kiss me for the first time (I'm the step Dad and kisses and hugs are just becoming common place). He asked if he could bring two buddies and we agreed.

Long story short...My credit card was double charged and I went BONKERS! I called my ticket sales dude and was ready to do a Cam Neely through the telephone.

But wait...I was greeted with a calm, cool and collected voice who told me, "Mr. Civin. You are our customer and we will find out what occurred. I highly doubt it was on our end but we will certainly find out ASAP and call you back."

I hung up. Almost disappointed. I wanted to fight. I had dropped the gloves, thrown down my stick, took out my two front teeth and I was ready to dance. I even shoved a fist in the whimp's face and he skated away. Smiling.

Within minutes I received the following email from the CFO of the Sharks. SAY WHAT??? Not an email from the bottom feeder but an email from the Top of the Food Chain?

It said,"Thank you for the patience that you have shown throughout this process. ("The process took all of an hour, I thought"........) I can say with full confidence that the Worcester Sharks have only been paid one payment of $130.00. Unfortunately your bank, citing privacy regulations, will not speak with me regarding your account....With all of that being said, you are a Sharks ticket holder and are very important to us. Obviously I cannot refund money that we did not receive but should you not get this straightened out with your bank, I, in good faith, will credit your Sharks account the full $130.00 so you can use that towards the purchase of tickets either this year or next. "

"Please keep me posted on your results, we appreciate your business and we all are VERY concerned that this happened."

"Holy Bobby Orr Slap Shot", I thought. A hat trick. An Over Time Goal on a shoot out. The Holy Grail of Customer Experiences. Where do I sign up? I'm sold!

To make a long story, even a bit longer, it was indeed a bank error, which was quickly rectified by conventional means and we all lived happily ever after. I have since purchased playoff tickets and am on my hands and knees groveling to my wife to let me buy season tickets for next year.

The moral of the story is one I learned early on in Customer Service..."If you treat someone poorly, they are likely to tell ten of their friends. If you treat someone nicely, they may tell one."

Me, being the over achiever that I profess to be, am compelled to stand atop the roof tops and tell the world...BUY YOUR PLAYOFF TICKETS NOW...

(My Dad, the traveling salesman taught me...."He who has a thing to sell and goes and whispers in a well, is not so apt to get the dollars as he who climbs a tree and hollers.")

And that brings us to the Main Event..The reason why I sat down to tell this tale to begin with.

We got to the DCU Center in Worcester ready for action. I had been singing the praises of the fine quality of hockey we'd seen at our last game when I brought our daughter and two of her friends. We had seen a fight filled contest, with hard checking and lots of scoring.

The game exhibited a much higher brand of hockey than I had anticipated. My daughters left ready to blacken their teeth they were so pumped up after the game. I sense they went expecting to see the Ice Capades, but instead so "Disney on Ice with Checking."

The Sharks are the American Hockey League affiliate of the San Jose Sharks of the NHL. The Mother Team on the left coast is currently sitting atop of the NHL with 109 points and are one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup.

San Jose frequently dips into the Worcester roster to pluck top players to supplement their major league roster and I was concerned that the level of hockey would suffer due to the farm team arrangement. Was I wrong.

Though the San Jose team has shared such Worcester stars as Tom Cavanagh, Ryan Vesce, Rile Armstrong, Jamie McGinn, Thomas Greiss, Lukas Kaspar, Mike Moore, Derek Joslin, fan favorite, Brad Staubitz and former NHL tough guy Claude Lemeiux, the level of hockey was far superior to the few college games that I had attended.

Was it the Bruins? No. But for about 1/10th the price it was money well spent.

From the second we strolled into the DCU Center we were entertained. It happened to be "Be a Leader" Night so we were greeted by mascots from all the local teams. "FINZ", the Sharks Mascot, had invited his friends from the Worcester Tornadoes, The Holy Cross Crusaders, The Boston Breakers Female Soccer Team and several of the other AHL teams. Dakota, and his two buds grinned toothless hockey grins from ear to ear.

Once inside the friendly confines the boys could choose from Slap Shot Shooting, to Face Painting, to getting autographs from Worcester Tornado and Boston Breakers stars, both of whom are ready to kick off their seasons.

I had told the family that our seats were up in the Nose Bleed section. "All we can afford guys with the economy the way it is." The boys were disappointed, but tried to be appreciative. "Half the fun is just being here, Todd." I looked at Kate and she at me. We smirked.

After loading the kids up on dogs, pizza, cotton candy and an icee, Kate and I treated ourselves to a glass of Pinot and a beer and a delicious plate of Penne pasta in a wine sauce, as well as, a Roast Beef Panini with chips and a pickle. We sat near the beautiful oak bar while a Jazz Orchestra entertained us with a selection of hot jazz tunes. No, no one spiked my Kool Aid...I'm serious.

The kids, Kate and I were amply nourished and headed for our seats in "The Nose Bleed Section." Not so fast. For the whopping price of $13.50 (slightly discounted from the regular price of about $17.00, since we bought 10 tickets for two games), we had seats in the third row behind the teams benches. I sat in section 123, row HH, seat 11. The center ice line would have dissected me in half had it been allowed to continue off the ice.

Upon looking at my program, I pointed out that Saturday night was Family Night where the Sharks offer 4 tickets, 4 hotdogs and 4 sodas for $61.00 or less than the price of a medium priced seat for the Bruins.

The kids eyes were the size of a Zdeno Chara slap shot, as the usher brought us to our seats. Tim, our ticket sales person, had arranged to have us sit right next to Bruce and Diane Paine, who have been Sharks ticket holders since the franchise moved to Worcester (actually since the days the DCU was home to the Worcester Ice Cats).

"Where else can we go every Friday or Saturday night and get this type of entertainment," said the affable Paine. "And it's a great place to bring the whole family", added Diane. "It's a real family night out for cheap money."

From the dropping of the opening puck, the hockey was intense. I boasted to the boys that they will see NHL type hockey and they were not disappointed. The checking was bone crunching, the skating fast and the battles were hard fought.

With the "Woosification" of sports of late with steroids and rule changes it was exciting to see clean, young, natural hard bodies going to battle with each other.

Though I love the fighting aspect of any game, I explained to the boys as well as the kids around us, that the fighting is not because the players dislike each other or are even really mad. The fighting is part of the battle. The test of strength. The quest for territory and domination of your opponent. I think even Kate appreciated the sport more once she knew that "ooooh, they are trying to kill each other" didn't really mean that.

In between periods we were entertained by music, mascots and the tossing of t-shirts into the crowd by the on ice Shark's Ice Team. A special treat for the kids was the tossing of stuffed animals onto the ice when the Sharks scored their first goal.

Though they were to be shut out 1-0 on this night there were two nullified scores so the kids prematurely tossed "FINZ" and other stuffed animals onto the ice in celebration.

As I mentioned, "Our New Favorite" team lost that game, but did they really? The Civin clan, clan, plus two friends had enjoyed a wonderful night with the Sharks. For less than the price of dinner at the 99 we had seen a great brand of hockey and had a wonderful entertainment experience.

The boys fell asleep in the car on the way home. I had the recap going on the radio and Katie looked over at me and smiled. "You know, in this economy we may not be able to do all the things we normally do, but I appreciate you for taking us all out."

I took out my front teeth and smiled. I knew I had scored, despite the fact that the Sharks were shut out. I kinda think the Sharks and their organization scored a big victory, too.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Tommy John: So Committed To the Game They Named a Surgery After Him

In my brief time as a writer of sports, I've made it my practice to write about my beloved Red Sox. They are the team that makes my heart palpitate. "Born and Bred Red Sox Red" is the unofficial mantra I've coined for myself.

There is no shortage of Todd speak on these pages, waxing poetic about The Boys From the Back Bay. But, anyone who has gotten to know me has learned that more than the Sox, I love any guy who plays the game hard. The Lunch Box Athletic Club. The blue collar dudes and dud-ettes of any sport, who roll up their sleeves, get dirty, play hard and scrum to the death.

I like guys who play hurt. The scrappers. The players who strap on their chin straps, despite the fact that they just spit their teeth onto the floor of the bench. I love the guys who can take a high hard one under the chin and slap the next pitch back through the box.

If I were to create a Top Ten list of these bad asses, I'd have to include a fair-haired guy from Terre Haute, Indiana. A guy who nearly had his dream snatched from his very grip after 13 years playing the game he loved. A guy who opted to be the Guinea Pig for a revolutionary surgery that would save the careers of hundreds of his baseball brothers over the next thirty years.

That man is of course the man after whom Tommy John surgery was named, Tommy John.

John entered the Major Leagues as a 20-year-old for the Cleveland Indians on Sept. 6, 1963. He struggled throughout his first two seasons going 2-11 for the Tribe before finding himself after a trade to the Chicago White Sox.

Over the next seven seasons, John became a left-handed control artist for the Chicago White Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers going 122-95. In 1968, while pitching for the White Sox, he was named to the American League All-Star squad.

During his 1974 season, John permanently damaged the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching arm and nearly saw his career come to a screeching halt after slightly more than a decade in the Show.

John proved to young players and non-players alike that when adversity steers you in the eyes, you steer right back at it. Instead of hanging his head and hanging up the resin bag he met with Dr. Frank Jobe, who made John a guinea pig by replacing the ligament in the elbow of his pitching arm with a tendon from the right forearm.

John had the surgery on Sept. 25, 1974. He spent the entire 1975 season recovering from but shocked the baseball world when he returned to the Dodgers rotation in 1976.

When asked about his post surgery career, John said:

"The mental part was the hardest. The competitiveness in any athlete makes them want to be out there helping the team. After I'd do my workouts, and my therapy and everything, I'd go into the stands and watch the game. But at the All-Star break in 1975, I'd regained my fastball, and that was some light at the end of the tunnel. That was the biggest thing."

There were two memorable quotes regarding the surgery, coincidentally both involving Dodger great Sandy Koufax. The modest John quipped, "When they operated, I told them to put in a Koufax fastball. They did—but it was Mrs. Koufax's."

Hitting legend Pete Rose saw it differently however when he said, "I know they had to graft a new arm on John, but did they have to give him Sandy Koufax?"

In the season following John's ground breaking surgery, he went 10-10 and pitched over 200 innings. Following the 1976 season, John was awarded the Hutch Award for displaying honor, courage and dedication to baseball both on and off the field.

After the 1981 season, John was awarded the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award, which is given to the player who best exemplifies the character of Lou Gehrig. He was elected to the All-Star team in 1978, 1979 and 1980.

His career record In the years following the surgery, was 162-125 in 15 seasons with the Dodgers, Angels, A's and Yankees. He finished second in the Cy Young Award balloting in 1977 and 1979 seasons, and went 4-1 with a 2.08 ERA in seven League Championship Series starts and 2-1 with a 2.67 ERA in six World Series appearances for his career.

Despite his physical challenges, one of John’s greatest achievements is that he competed in the major leagues for 26 seasons.

"I'd just hope that people will look and see that I'm the 'fifth-winningest' left-hander of all-time," said John who finished his Major League career with just under 300 wins.

"I'd never have been able to win 288 games without the surgery. We're going to be linked forever."

Monday, March 23, 2009

Curt Schilling: A Tribute to a Retiring Great

I frequently speak to my family at dinner about always trying to do the right thing.

We talk about always trying to live up to the standards we set for ourselves. We try—though we don't always succeed—to be kind, courteous and thoughtful.

I'm proud of my family.

We don't park in handicapped spaces. We still hold open doors for people. We think of our fellow man.

We usually try to be politically correct in a land where political correctness is usually not politically correct.

Today, Curt Schilling announced his retirement after 23 years as a major league pitcher, most recently with "our" Boston Red Sox.

I've never had the pleasure of meeting Curt or had my dream come true of breaking bread with the Schillings.

But I will bet my left arm, that the conversations that occur around the Schilling table are very similar to the ones I just shared with you.

I speak to my family about "repetitive habits." Once you know a person's repetitive habits, you can predict the future.

Curt Schilling's repetitive habit is always doing what's right. So it came as no surprise to me that he announced his retirement from baseball on his blog, 38 Pitches.

You know Schilling. He was the one that stitched his leg together to pitch for his team in the 2004 playoffs.

His ankle looked like it had been gnawed on by my dog, Fenway. It was gnarled and torn pieces of flesh that were held together by staples.

The surgery had to be attempted on human cadavors before being tried on Schilling to see if it would work.

Critics claim the sock was actually covered in ketchup in an attempt to motviate teammates with his heroics.

Heroes don't cheat to motivate—they simply play injured.

His bloody sock sits in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. His World Series ring rests on his right hand. Second finger over.

Probably next to the other two he won.

Of course, that World Series victory came after an 86-year Boston drought, and on the heals of the now famous New York Yankee choke of 2004.

When he signed with the Red Sox in 2003—after a Thanksgiving Day meal with Red Sox officials—Schilling adored himself to the Bahston accent and Bahston fans in this famous Dunkin' Donuts ad.

Upon Schilling's arrival in Boston, he took shots at the "Evil Empire" and all but predicted the end of the vaunted Curse of the Bambino and the stranglehold that the Yankees had on the Boston nine.

During his five-year tenure with the Sox, Schilling ripped Boston nemesis Manny Ramirez on several occasions for not giving his all, saying his "level of disrespect to teammates and people was unfathomable."

He later shared his disgust with radio station WEEI's Glenn Ordway and former Sox players Brian Daubach and Lou Merloni after Manny had dissed him and his teammates upon his arrival in Los Angeles last year.

"The guy got to dress in a locker away from the team for seven years," Schilling said. "And then [when] he's on this crusade to get out of here, all of a sudden he's in the locker room every day, voicing his displeasure without even having to play the game that night."

Schilling also mixed it up with Fox News 25 Sports anchor Butch Stearns back in 2004, after Stearns claimed that Schilling had "issues" with former Sox hurler, Pedro Martinez.

Schilling called Stearns from his car while Stearns was a guest on station WEEI in September, 2004. The conversation went as follows:

Glenn Ordway (host of WEEI): Next we have Curt in the car up next here on the Big Show.

Schilling: How you doin' guys? Hey listen, I'm not going to be long but I'm gonna say one thing. I don't know who it was that just said something regarding Pedro and I.

Butch: That was Butch Stearns...That was me, Curt.

Curt: Don't be stupid enough to think you can make something out of nothing. That's how dumb, idiotic rumors get started by those who don't know the game. I have (well we're glad you called...) I have nothing but the utmost respect for Pedro. I think he's probably one of the best pitchers I've ever pitched with. He's a great guy. We get along awesome. Because you don't see us playing grab-ass on the field doesn't mean a thing. Don't say something stupid and something ignorant like that.

Butch: Alright Curt, I understand, and I'll apologize for that, but can I ask you a question?

Curt: No. Here's my problem. If I don't call up, you don't apologize for it, you don't retract it, and somebody calls and you make it a bigger deal than it is.

Butch: I'm not trying to make it...

Curt: It's a stupid, idiotic comment to make. It's irresponsible. And you know what? It's ignorant, because you don't know. Obviously, you just made it up.

Butch: I didn't make anything up.

Curt: Sure you did. Sure you did. I've hugged Pedro on the field this year, after we've won a game. That's a stupid thing to say...Isn't there some other controversy you can go to? Because you had some valid points, but don't make up stupid stuff.

Butch: Alright, fair enough Curt. Can I ask you a question? What do you care to offer us about your relationship with Pedro? That's all.

Curt: love him. Pedro's an awesome guy. And he's arguably one of the best pitchers I've ever pitched with. He's a fantastic human being.

Butch: Do you feel like you guys have pushed each other in a good way, for the good of the team?

Curt: I don't know if we push each other, I've learned a ton from watching the guy pitch this year. A ton.

Butch: Same or different than relationship with Randy as players?

Curt: No, it's different because RJ and I lived right down the street from each other. We both have four kids. Our wives are very close. So there's a lot of different...It was different. As teammates and as friends, Pedro has my utmost respect and he's a guy I'd kill for, absolutely."

Steve Burton: Hey Curt, in all fairness to Butch, I'm the one who brought up the subject and what I said was 'how do you think...Pedro's used to being the ace of the staff. Here you come in...

Curt: No, no you didn't preface it with that, you just said “how do you think Pedro feels when Schilling pitches well?”

Steve: Right, and I think that's a fair question. I think...

Curt: Wait, wait, wait. Why is that a fair question? Because in that situation you'd be jealous? Given a similar situation, you'd have problems with it?

Steve: I think some people would, yes. I think that's a very fair question.

Curt: You're assuming Pedro is “some people.” Pedro is not “some people.” Pedro's one of the five best people on the planet at what he does. People like that tick differently than people like you. You have to. The top five in the world at anything, they do and they're going to be so vastly different people than you are, or that most normal people are. Yeah, they're human. They have emotions, but you know what? You get here doing things differently than most people do. I gotta go guys, I just wanted to make sure that people understood that that's not a top subject.

In an era where we beg for players to be passionate about their sports, protective of their teammates, and passionate about what they believe to be right, this is another example of Schilling donning his Superman cape and standing up for what he believes to be just.

He is the proverbial poster child for doing what simply feels right.

Schilling also appeared before the House Judiciary committee with Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Raphael Palmiero, and Mark McGuire, speaking vehemently against the use of HGH and steroids in the game that he loves so deeply.

I don't think more needs to be said on this topic.

Schilling and his wife, Shonda, contribute endless hours and boundless energy to Curt's Pitch for ALS in an attempt to stamp out the disease that took the life of Yankee great Lou Gehrig.

Shonda is also founder of SHADE, The Curt and Shonda Schilling Melanoma Foundation of America. Shonda had a very public battle with malignant melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer.

She launched The SHADE Foundation in 2002 to promote sun-safety awareness.

Does it get any more right than that?

Politically, Schilling is a staunch Republican and though he and I couldn't be more opposite on that, he stands up for what he believes is right, as opposed to sticking his head in the sand like so many fellow role models do.

On a personal note, when I was laid off in November after a lifetime as a warehouse and logistics manager, I sent e-mails to all the friends in my AOL address book.

Schilling does not know me from Adam, but within hours, I got a personal e-mail from him telling me that he can't guarantee anything but he would forward my resume to the HR manager of his company,

His HR person, Aurelia Laff, sent me several e-mails wishing me well in my period of unemployment (they obviously didn't have anything for me).

I also watch the way the Schillings use their Facebook pages. There is nothing fake or choreographed. Their pages are open, sincere and genuine (don't try to friend him..he has reached the Facebook limit of friends and is advocating a change in Facebook's policy).

So when Schilling announced his retirement today instead of pulling a late season entry into the pennant race (a la Clemens), it came as no surprise to me.

Rather than disgrace the game he loves by pitching in a diminished role, rather than spend yet another season away from his wife and children, Gehrig and Gabby, Curt has decided to hang up the glove, the cleats, and the bloody sock.

And as opposed to pulling Brett Favre-like antics of “retire today and sign tomorrow,” I believe that Curt is sincere in his announcement.

Been there, done that. Time to hang 'em up.

Somehow, I expect him to jump in the saddle of his white horse and travel into the sunset.

So Curt...One last time...This one's for you!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Writer Takes The Road Less Traveled

In the mid 1990's, I started a feel-good magazine called Country Essence. I was fed up with the rapes and robberies and murders we are all subjected to on a daily basis fueled not only by the media's need to gain viewership but also by our own sadistic need to know.

We drive by car accidents and rubber-neck in hopes of seeing a mutilated body. We watch the show Cops in hopes of seeing someone who is more messed up than anyone we've ever seen. We are glued to the CBS Nightly News in hopes of feeling just a little worse about our lot in life than we already do. In short, we become part of the problem and not part of the solution.

As a writer, I have a choice.

I can choose to write a juicy story about Manny being Manny, or A-Rod shooting himself up, or Plaxico shooting himself down. My goal, I guess, is not to truly fix the broken world but to score reads and comments.

As you all know, we write strictly for the love of writing or perhaps to be discovered. We write to climb up the rankings and to hopefully see our story or, better than that, our own picture perched atop the unofficial writer's rankings.

Been there. Done that.

It's cool, but it's not why I choose to write.

Like Country Essence, Bleacher Report can be our own personal platform for (yes, that word you're all sick of) CHANGE.

I've now written 35 stories. I've written a half dozen or so that make me feel good and 29 that make me part of the problem. My victories were stories written about my son, my love of the sport of baseball, my loss of my job, my family, and the mentoring I received from a friend who has since passed on.

I've written about the personal achievement of the Italian National Baseball Team and the friendships that the teammates have forged. They made me feel good and I sense the readers have left feeling the same.

So, effective now, I have made a choice. I've made a choice to dare to be different. I can march to the beat of a different drum instead of cruising down the path of negativity. Walk the high road instead of crawling along the road of slander, drivel, and libel.

This idea actually entered my thoughts after I wrote A-Rod Isn't My Hero, My Son is My Hero. My fear was that I'd become predictable. I'd become a cream puff writer. People would start to say, "Oh, more of the same." If I am truly as strong a writer as I profess to be, I'll bet I can remain interesting.

It's so funny how we are so concerned about being repetitively good, instead of caring that we are repetitively bad. Messed up, huh?

A man was walking along a beach. The tide was high. He saw another man, ankle deep in starfish. As each wave would come in, more and more starfish would be beached on the shore.

One by one, the man would reach down into the cold surf and pick up a starfish. A starfish that was doomed to die. He'd throw them into the surf, only to see the majority of them float back onto shore. Occasionally, he would witness one make it over the top of the next approaching wave.

The first man said to the second, "What are you doing? Can't you see that your effort doesn't make a difference?"

The second man bent down and picked up another starfish. He threw it into the ocean. He looked at the other man and said, "Made a difference to that one, didn't it?"

I've chosen to be that man.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

When Team Italia Ruled the World

The World Baseball Classic seems to be trudging into the championship rounds with a mixed level of enthusiasm. This week, teams from Puerto Rico, USA, Mexico, Cuba, Japan, Korea, Venezuela, and the Netherlands stagger to the finish line playing before thousands of fans disguised as empty seats.

Stories about the classic are all too abundant as writers speak of the event's unpopularity, while MLB officials try to spin the event as a rousing success in bringing a global sport to the globe.

As I watch the games, I admit, that I have not watched a single inning thinking about the event from a National perspective. I couldn’t care less. But I do continue to think about what it must mean to the players themselves. Not the MLB players, but the Dutch and the Italian, and even the Korean and Cuban players. Players who rarely get to play on the World Stage.

As a little leaguer, I never viewed myself as playing for Spencer, MA or for Williamsport, PA. I thought of my glove, my teammates, my turn at bat, my bubble gum, my mom and dad watching me from the stands.

Watching the Classic, has truly stirred up my own inner emotions. I think of Tommy Gregory and Jimmy Grady, the slick double play combination of my Little League team. I think of the sport itself, not of the event.

The flowing of my emotions caused me to pick up the phone and call my friend, Ken Germano. Ken is the principal owner of Wellness Fitness Consultants and past president of the American Council on Exercise. A finer human being you will never meet.

But there’s a side of Ken that not many know. Ken was an integral part of first European Champion Italian Baseball Team in the mid 1970’s. He played with heroes of Italian baseball like Hall-of-Fame catcher, Giorgio Castelli. He forged life long friendships with Ed Orrizzi and Mike Romano when he played in Rimini, Italy in 2004.

Most importantly he played for the country of his ancestors and the country that he still thinks of lovingly as home.

I called Ken, needing to pick his brain. I needed to feel the love of the sport and the love of his country. It exploded through the phone wires. Ken’s zest for life, his passion for the sport and his love for Italy poured through the wires.

“This recent WBC has really stirred up memories, Todd. It kind of validated what we did over there 35 years ago."

"We were the building blocks and keystones for generations to follow in the game“ said Germano who tried out for the Chicago Cubs in the late 1970’s.

“I was really pleased and proud to find everything so well archived on the FIB site as it had not been previously there over the last 10 years."

“If you go to, you will arrive at “Il Federazioni del Baseball’ e Softball Italia“. Click on “La Storia Della Nazionale. It lists all Italian International Players including my teammates and me from the first European Championship team."

I could feel Ken’s enthusiasm as he talked of his historic team from the towns and villages of Italia.

“It tells the entire story of Italian baseball in Italian. Somehow reading the history of baseball itself in the language of my heritage makes it feel so warm. It makes the sport come to life."

“We were the first to defeat the Netherlands. I remember it as if it were yesterday, and yet it was almost 35 years ago. I can name each on of my teammates, my brothers and can visualize what they looked like when we walked into the Olympic Stadium in 1976 to play as an exhibition sport in Montreal. We looked slick in our Italian suits and hats. The crowd cheered for us, louder than anything I’ve ever heard."

Germano went on to tell me the history of the sport in Italy.

“Italian baseball started by an American Irish Soldier named Horace McGarrity on the beaches of Anzio where I had the honor of playing in 1975 for the champion Nettuno baseball club. That is where the American War Cemetery is located for WWII heroes and where I also had the privilege and honor of meeting with General Mark Clark when he was still alive."

I asked my “amico” about the television coverage of the event and how he felt about the future of the WBC and Global Baseball.

“The TV coverage has been great, but there is so much that ESPN and MLB network are missing on the little teams, e.g. Italy and Netherlands.”

"Its been interesting listening to Bruce Sutter announce the World Baseball Classic games while watching Italy versus Venezuela. He was speaking of fellow countryman, Mike Piazza, and the Italian Baseball Federation. How the global reach of the game is now getting there and the need for resources and money."

"I feel that the insertion of US Major League Baseball players into International play is needed to make the sport and the event flourish. Wouldn't it be superb for MLB like Major League Soccer to loan players, good minor leaguers, high A, AA+ to these leagues during their season to help them build and promote a global game?"

"These players would also get to see the world and learn a new language. Talk about an experience." "But. MLB doesn't seem to be thinking like this and if they are, they are not saying. It's not rocket science, it just needs resources and the right audience to get done. MLB should hire us to do this, we have the credentials!"

"As baseball Italia and ESPN's Bruce Sutters coverage of the team, Ken added, "It's been thriving there for decades. In Holland, for example, they can recruit many players from the Netherlands, Antilles, Sidney Ponson, Andruw Jones to name two."

"I can remember playing this tournament in Barcelona and the baseball was as good as it gets. Our ace Mike Romano, a Dennis Eckersley look alike, threw harder than Eck. We just didn't get the same looks when we got to the States."

Ken explained that the Italian team also worked for the Italian Olympic Federation /Baseball Federation and put on clinics and worked with kids all over Italy.

"The only American contingency having anything to remotely do with MLB to come over to Italy was Joe Garagiola with NBC when he had the show "The Baseball World of Joe Garagiola" aired before the game of the week with Tony Kubek, Bob Costas, and Jim Palmer. Of course Joe was Italian and grew up with Yogi on "The Hill" in St. Louis, but this was right in his wheel house to televise back to the States. He spent two days with us in Nettuno, Italy and our folks go to see us back home doing what we loved."

I asked Ken, who used to work out with Arnold Schwatzneger, what he thought of the escalating baseball salaries of 2009.

"I always dreamed of earning six figures playing baseball and I finally did."

He laughed and said, "Yup, I earned L600,000 per month, which was equal to $300 US in the early '70's. Six figures, at last. Playing ball, hmm?."

"Back in those years soccer was down and we were gaining momentum and playing in front of up to 10,000 in the right cities. We beat Olanda, the Netherlands, for the first time and European supremacy in baseball."

"I think MLB can do whatever they want, wherever they want if they are willing to invest the dollars to market and grow the game globally. The interesting thing though is before global coverage and the Internet, global baseball was going on and we were playing against the US, Japan, Korea, Canada, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Spain, France, and England even had teams, as well as, West Germany."

"It was unreal for me to play on the same field with future Hall of Famer, Paul Molitor. We played against other US major leaguers, like Ron Hassey and Denny Walling who played for great Oakland and Houston teams in their day."

"What MLB has finally done with this tournament is shine a light on what has been here for many years. What the IBF, the International Baseball Federation in Indianapolis drove for all these years with a US National Team coached by great college coaches like Itchy Jones from Southern Illinois."

As our hour long conversation came to a close, my buddy climbed on his exercise soap box and had one more pitch for International Baseball and why the WBC may be more important than we are giving it credit for.

"It would be great to see MLB players get behind overall conditioning and fitness programs for kids. To help the nation combat inactivity and obesity. Kids in the coming decades will not outlive their parents if the data and statistics are correct. The incidence of juvenile type II diabetes on the rise and how can over 300,000 kids have arthritis already."

"Through these generic programs they could become specific in regards to their sport of choice. Programs have to effect the most versus the least at the school level where all kids have to be each day for 75 percent of each year."

I hung up the phone and sat back on the couch. I thought of Ken and his Italian buddies jumping up and down in the middle of a baseball diamond after "conquering Europe" for the first time.

And somehow, the WBC felt a little more important to me.