Less Room to Wiggle

Pixabay

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, December 15, 2018, 9:31 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

Earlier today, I came across a quote from the great Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver, who once walked out to the mound to counsel an ineffective Ross Grimsley.

“If you know how to cheat, now’s the time,” Weaver is alleged to have said.

I remember Weaver, and I remember Grimsley. He was a lefthander famously slovenly in appearance. I think of him as a Cincinnati Red and a Cleveland Indian as well as an Oriole.

I’ve been thinking about how attitudes have changed. Once upon a time, it was considered the business of the umpires or referees to keep athletes from stretching the rules.

When I played high school football, I was aware that I wasn’t very good and needed every advantage I could finagle. I was painfully aware that I wasn’t exactly lightning-quick, and I tried to get every advantage I could. I had read Jerry Kramer’s books on life with Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers, and, like Kramer, when I was outfitted for pads, I tried to get the smallest shoulder pads I could, though the coaches often stood in my way. I also went on the field on Friday nights without any hip pads on, which, by the way, was madness for an offensive lineman. One night I didn’t get away with it, and the referee made me go to the sidelines for hip pads. This meant my teammates had to stand around me on the sideline while I took my uniform pants off, stepped into a set of girdle pads and pulled my pants back up. My coach didn’t care for my stunt. The next week I didn’t play. At all.

PIxabay

No one ever thought about protesting to the High School League, or the conference office, if he suspected someone from an upcoming opponent was spying on practice. If a coach thought someone was watching practice through binoculars from some fortuitously placed nearby deer stand, he’d start rehearsing some outrageous trick play he had no intention of using.

When stock car mechanics devised imaginative ways of injecting extra horsepower into an engine or finding room for a little extra fuel in the tank, many of the officials and mechanics alike thought the game of tricks was great fun.

Moonshiners and revenuers. Cops and robbers. Raiders and Chiefs.

I’m not suggesting anything goes. I’m saying the culture has changed. They don’t even allow umps to blow calls anymore. I’m also not claiming it was better when cheating was condoned or winked at. It’s just fundamentally different. It’s probably a bit hypocritical in areas. It’s unlikely the folks throwing all those stones are all without sin. Even if they are, that’s not the way it will look.

The Barrie Jarman Adventures (Gabe Whisnant photo)

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at montedutton.com. If you’ve got a few bucks a month to spare, click here.

Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which is available for sale here.

(Steven Novak cover)

 

The new novel, my eighth, is called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Lightning in a Bottle is now available in an audio version, narrated by Jay Harper.

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The Will to Win

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, December 8, 2018, 7:47 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

I love the Army-Navy Game. It doesn’t matter if both teams have losing records (which Army doesn’t this year). It’s always hardfought. It always comes down to the end. Navy won 14 in a row, and now Army has won three straight. My late Uncle Cas was a career Army man, and that’s the reason I always root for Army. I like Navy, too. It’s just the American game.

A few days ago, I was at a nearby hamburger joint, talking about football, and a fellow said nobody cared about the Army-Navy Game.

I said, “I do. I love watching that game.”

He said, “I mean, nobody cares to bet on it.”

That’s when I noticed he had a stack of cards to be used for amusement purposes only.

Duh.

Andrew Webb

It’s been a busy week. The football coach at Clinton High School is out after four years. The Red Devils went 2-8 this year. Folks around here expect to win. I hate it came to this. Andrew Webb is a fine man and a great example to the young men who played for him. He is Clinton born and Clinton bred, and was gracious and classy in accepting the news. I wrote Andrew a note expressing that I was sorry it happened, and he replied to the effect that he wanted to continue coaching and would try to catch on somewhere else. I wish him the best.

In 2009, Clinton won the most recent of its eight state championships, and the head coach, Andy B. Young, was forced into retirement. It’s been one, long, downhill spiral since, and two young coaches have been caught in the tailspin. Both Scott King and Webb are models for American youth. At the same time, when I hear people say that this all-encompassing emphasis on winning takes the fun out of sports, I think what kind of sport is it that you mean? I once played football, and nothing is more fun than winning. I’d like to believe I see both sides. Winning is worth it. Losing isn’t. God loves the ones who persevere.

I left Clinton High School believing I could do anything. I found out I couldn’t, but I still have a good attitude. If anything has tempered my mindset, it is that a man (or a woman) should learn to live with himself if he never realizes his dreams, but should never give up on them. I hope to be aspiring to greatness right up to my last breath.

If I hadn’t played on championship football teams, I don’t think my perseverance would be so great.

I hate it’s come to this – in more ways than one – but I recognize that it has.

The worst kind of journalist is one who thinks he knows more than he does. I have tried to recognize that, while I may know a good bit about football, or baseball, or NASCAR, I don’t know more than the coach who watches his players every day. I don’t know as much about engines as the men who build engines. But I try to know as much as I can and seek the perspective of those who know more than I.

I just try to go somewhere and write what I see, whether it’s a great victory or an inglorious defeat.

Knowledge never runs out. I remember when I thought it was hard to write a story about a great event. Comparatively, that’s easy. What’s hard is to write a good story about a bad event.

Last night Clinton visited Laurens in basketball. The competition is intense when our county’s two public schools get together. The Raiders are two classes higher than the Red Devils – 5 A’s to 3 – but one school doesn’t react with arrogance and the other doesn’t accept subservience. It’s always hardfought. It’s always a slog.

It took me well into the wee hours – the late David Poole used to call it “oh-dark-30” long before there was a movie with a similar name – to crop and process the photos, type up a box and write a story. Then, after only a few hours’ sleep, I rose, dressed without shaving and showering, and took a mug of coffee along to watch 84 people run up and down Main Street in Laurens for five kilometers in the 19th Reindeer Run. No one was shocked that a man named Matt Shock won. He crossed the finish line 55 seconds ahead of someone named Garrett Sponenberg. I didn’t talk to either. I was more interested in shooting cute photos of kids dressed up as reindeer … and running in the rain. A week earlier, I shot photos of a Christmas Parade in the rain. The South is getting washed away. The West is getting burnt up.

As Selma Hamrick used to say, whatever floats your boat.

 

The Barrie Jarman Adventures (Gabe Whisnant photo)

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at montedutton.com. If you’ve got a few bucks a month to spare, click here.

Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which is available for sale here.

(Steven Novak cover)

 

The new novel, my eighth, is called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Lightning in a Bottle is now available in an audio version, narrated by Jay Harper.

Up on the Hill

(Monte Dutton sketch)

Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, August 8, 2018, 11:38 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

It seems there’s always a hill. It might be a plateau above a practice field, with a town’s young men busily preparing to represent their school and town in battles for football supremacy, scattered a week apart throughout the fall. It might be a manmade hill, fashioned of concrete, or steel, in the local stadium.

It’s the place where people from town stop by to see how the lads are progressing. Not as many are there as years before. The world has more to do these days. More is on TV. There’s something called the Internet. The net catches people who might otherwise wind up elsewhere. Fewer drop by the practice field, but the word spreads as fast as ever. It’s that Internet. It’s a double-edged sword.

(Monte Dutton sketch)

Walk into a store uptown. Small towns have hangouts. The barber shop. The hardware store. They aren’t as common. Filling stations are gone. It’s hard to make Great Clips a hangout. Walmart, too. They’re still there, though.

“You watched the ball team any, Fred?”

“Ah, I dropped by there for a few minutes Thursday.”

“How they looking?”

“They ain’t there yet. I reckon they’ll be ah’ight.”

“I sure hope so.”

“Me, too, Alvin. Me, too.”

 

The Barrie Jarman Adventures (Gabe Whisnant photo)

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at montedutton.com. If you’ve got a few bucks a month to spare, click here.

Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which is available for sale here.

(Steven Novak cover)

 

The new novel, my eighth, is called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Lightning in a Bottle is now available in an audio version, narrated by Jay Harper.

The Day Was Entirely ‘Justifiable’

I wanted to draw a sketch of Justify, but I don’t seem to be able to find much time for art these days. This book cover of my sixth novel is my only “horse art.” (Design by Steven Novak)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, June 10, 2018, 10:12 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

The plan was to write a racing column, but complications arose.

Automobile racing, that is.

Several months ago, attempting to shave a few dollars from my extravagant satellite bill, I changed packages, one consequence being that I no longer have access to Fox Sports2. Or FoxSports2. Or Fox Sports 2. Or FS2. Whatever it is, officially. At the time, I noticed that the NASCAR coverage on that channel seemed to be nil.

Naturally, the upshot is that rain has delayed the past two Xfinity Series races, and they have been switched to FS2. I am aware that I could stream the race, but I don’t like watching big races on itsy-bitsy screens. I passed.

Life Gets Complicated, Lightning in a Bottle and Cowboys Come Home are available at Emma Jane’s and L&L Office Supply in uptown Clinton.

I still watched racing. Justify won the Belmont Stakes and completed the Triple Crown. I probably would have watched it, anyway. It takes less than two and a half minutes.

I love horse racing. I don’t know much about its current state. I grew up around quarter horses and Appaloosas. As a teen-ager, I watched thoroughbreds work out early on Keeneland mornings because my father was an auctioneer, and he used to pack up the whole family and take us for a “vacation” so that he could watch the yearling sales. He wasn’t there to buy horses but rather to watch auctioneers.

My brother and I took the car and drove to Cincinnati to see baseball games, but we also visited Calumet Farm and Darby Dan, stared at the Man ’o’ War statue, and watched famous horses gallop around in meadows.

I fell in love with Justify on sight. He’s such a big, muscular horse. He reminds me more of a quarter than a thoroughbred. He has what we used to call “a blaze face,” and so did the reliable and beloved family stallion, Sunglow Fisher, who (which?) matched him in color, too. The hue is popularly known as chestnut, though we called it “sorrel.” Sorrel is, according to a dictionary, “a plant or flower of the genus Oxalis,” but also “a horse of a brownish orange or light brown color,” so we didn’t make it up, and it matches both Sunglow in my memory and Justify on my TV.

Sunglow played a small role in raising me. He lived to a ripe, old age and died either while I was in college or working as sports information director at Furman, my alma mater. Sunglow was the most docile stallion I’ve ever known, though I haven’t known any in well over 30 years.

In my mind, Justify won one – or, actually, three – for Sunglow.

I confided in Sunglow. He listened to me sing. He never required catching. If I wanted him, he’d trot over amiably, knowing I’d never mistreat him. My sister was more adept at more challenging steeds. I’ve been thrown by many horses. Never by Sunglow, whom I rode more than all the rest of the horses who came through the farm combined.

In lieu of rain-shortened Michigan, I watched baseball – the Red Sox won, the Gamecocks lost, the Longhorns lost, Vanderbilt won on a ninth-inning home run – and the Indy-car race from Texas.

Today I will play close attention to the Firekeepers Casino 400 at Michigan Speedway. Afterwards, I’ll go on Facebook Live to talk about the race, answer questions, encourage guests to buy and patronize my writing, and play a few songs on my guitar.

Justify and Sunglow Fisher might come up, too, because I still feel warm and touched at the base of my memory.

 

(Steven Novak cover

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at montedutton.com. If you’ve got a few bucks a month to spare, click here.

Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which are available for sale here.

The new novel, my eighth, is called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Lightning in a Bottle is now available in an audio version, narrated by Jay Harper.

The Charm of Sports this Spring

In the Upper State, for sure. Alexander Windsor (left) signals No. 1. His No. 2 doubles partner is Kyler Simmons. (Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, May 10, 2018, 10:40 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

Spring sports are winding down. Here in town, and throughout this end of Laurens County, all we have left are some girls competing in the state track meet and boys playing for the state tennis championship.

Even football, for which the town is known, rises and falls, and, at the moment, is still trying to rise again. Tennis is always good. While the Red Devils have not won a state championship since 2000, they are in the playoffs every year and won the Upper State championship for the second straight year on Wednesday.

Connor Donley, the seventh grader at No. 4.

Hanahan, state champion the past two years, fell in the Lower State finals to Bishop England, another Charleston school, so Clinton will play the Bishops on Saturday in Cayce, which adjoins Columbia and apparentlyhas a nice tennis center.

I have enjoyed soccer and tennis in particular this spring. Clinton is heretofore not noted for soccer, but the team finished second in the region and lost a heartbreaker, 1-0, in the playoffs. The previous leading scorer missed the whole season due to a knee injury, and he will be back next year, and I expect the Red Devils will be better.

Isaac McMillan

The tennis courts have been a comfortable place to monitor the action, probably doubly relaxing due to the usual lack of drama. I saw Clinton lose a team match – a 4-3 heartbreaker to Riverside – but in every other match I witnessed, including the Upper State final, the Red Devils won every single individual contest.

Ike Waldron

The No. 1 player, Isaac MacMillan, is an unflappable senior. The No. 2 player, Ike Waldron, is a freshman whose father graduated from Clinton High with me. Chuck Waldron is a tireless force for tennis, to which he has dedicated his life. He coaches youth tennis and has something to do with why the high school team stays strong.

After the match, I asked the longtime and charming coach, Clovis Simmons, to describe the 6-0 victory over Camden in one word.

“Awesome.”

Clovis Simmons (middle) with No. 5 singles Anders Orr.

I knew it was coming.

“But don’t put that.”

“Oh, no,” I said. “Awesome is not something you would ever say.”

“No.”

The success brought with it the Voice of the Red Devils, Buddy Bridges, to begin the matches with stirring introductions of the competitors. Everyone else on the team represented Clinton High School except the No. 3 singles player, Tyler Trevino, who is specifically from Joanna because Buddy is from Joanna and knows it is a place like no other.

Joanna’s Tyler Trevino

This happens to be true. Among its spirited populace lies a disproportionate role in the success of sports teams at Clinton High School. The cotton mill lies in ruins, but the spirit lives on.

The football team is finishing spring practice next week, and the spring game is next Friday night at 6. Last year I got bowled over taking pictures on the sideline, which might make me sit in the lower rows of the Wilder Stadium grandstands so that I can take notes at the same time because what stats I get will be the ones I keep myself.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

(Steven Novak cover)

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at montedutton.com. If you’ve got a few bucks a month to spare, click here.

Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which are available for sale here.

The new novel, my eighth, is called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Lightning in a Bottle is now available in an audio version, narrated by Jay Harper.

It Could Be Worse, but It Could Be Better

Setzler Field Newberry College (Monte Dutton photo)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, April 1, 2018, 4:48 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

On Saturday morning, I left a couple small crises behind me as I drove down U.S. 76 to Newberry College, there to join my friends Brent and Sharon Sanders to watch their daughter, Hailey, play women’s lacrosse for Tusculum College against the Wolves.

This was my second women’s lacrosse game. In the visiting grandstands of Setzler Field, I felt a bit like Andy Griffith, who, early in his grand career, cut a record entitled “What It Was, Was Football.”

What It Was, Was Lacrosse.

The Pioneers won, 20-12. Hailey, a defender, scored one of the points and played, as best I could tell, a smashing game, or match, or, uh, round.

I wore the only orange shirt in my wardrobe. I hoped it would help me fit in.

From left, Brent, Hailey, Sharon, me. (Facebook)

Brent and I make good companions, particularly at football games, where we have similar amounts of sense. I didn’t take my camera. For a day, I wasn’t about that life. I didn’t take pictures. My picture was taken. I had my phone, the better to keep up with small crises from afar.

The photo of Setzler Field above this blog was one I took a while back when in the area. It hasn’t changed much since I played at it. That was in 1975. Only the turf has been changed to protect the innocent.

I like the drive to Newberry. There’s a flimsy fence stretched out in front of what used to be the post office in Kinards. I’m always tempted to stop at Wise’s B-B-Que, but instead I had a peanut butter shake from the Zesto near the stadium. I don’t have shakes often. I picked the right one.

What better way to return to normality on my return to the Pleasantville limits than to go to Dollar Tree, where I felt like I had won the lottery by finding a new carabiner clip for my phone holster. The one from the factory had broken somewhere between Clinton and Newberry.

(Steven Novak cover)

The coming week holds promise. I’ve got a lot to do but should have a lot of time. It’s Spring Break in the local high schools, so the typical crowded sports schedule is nonexistent. By the time the ballgames resume, it will be warm and pleasant, and the rest of the spring should be mainly a matter of avoiding thunderstorms.

(Steven Novak cover)

The new novel, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, has been accepted for publication, and, amazing me as it always does, is already available in paperback at Amazon. The Kindle version will be available in a few days. Also fresh on the market is the brand-new audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes) release of Lightning in a Bottle, brilliantly narrated by Jay Harper. Jay is on board to narrate the second Barrie Jarman Adventure, Life Gets Complicated, but there’s no hurry on that. Maybe the stock car racing stretch drive in the fall.

Fenway Park, 2007. (Monte Dutton photo)

Baseball is underway, and it’s so far, so good for the Boston Red Sox, whom I worship. The pitch was great, the hitting unspectacular, but the Sox managed to win three out of four in St. Petersburg, losing the season opener 6-4 when erratic fireballer Joe Kelly squandered a 4-0 lead. Boston then edged the Tampa Bay Rays 1-0, 3-2 and 2-1. Now it’s two games in Miami before the Fenway opener on Thursday, once again, against the Rays.

Kelly, by the way, managed to earn a save in the series finale, though he allowed two two-out hits before striking out Denard Span to end the game.

I just started a novel on baseball. I hope to get out to some minor-league games, in addition to the several high school games I see every week. I’ll be looking for items that will provide inspiration for the book.

It’s spring break at the high schools this week. I’m going to try to catch North Carolina A&T at Presbyterian on Wednesday. The Blue Hose, Clinton, Laurens and Laurens Academy all have losing records thus far. Three of them didn’t last year.

But … it’s still, uh, relatively early.

(Gabe Whisnant photo)

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at montedutton.com. If you’ve got a few bucks a month to spare, click here.

Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which are available for sale here.

A Cold Pastime So Far

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, March 8, 2018, 1:41 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

I’ve written about my first two baseball games of the spring. The home team won both. Both were in dramatic fashion. Both had runners cut down on the basepaths with disastrous consequences. One was a bit of a long shot, and the other was damned near a miracle.

One is here, and one is here.

Already, I’m weary of being cold. I’ve had enough of overcoats. I’m ready to put squishy playing surfaces and cold feet behind.

I’ve gotten accustomed to the scorebook I bought on the way to the Shannon Forest-Laurens Academy game. I keep forgetting to take my binoculars. My mind wanders a bit as I try to remember a major-league player who wore the numbers of every player on the field. I quibble about the occasional scoring decision and resolve to put it in the book my way. I tell stories that make everyone nearby realize how old I am.

Both local teams about which I regularly write have new coaches, Luke Tollison at Laurens Academy and Tom Fortman at Clinton. I’d never met Tollison until Tuesday’s game, but I wrote a profile of Fortman when he took the Clinton job. I enjoyed talking with them after the games.

Shannon Forest and Laurens Academy are both Crusaders. Crusaders are popular among the private schools. I saw a Crusaders-Crusaders basketball game a couple weeks ago.

Both Belton-Honea Path and Clinton wore gray uniforms on the Red Devil diamond Wednesday night. It wasn’t confusing because the visiting Bears wore dark, steel gray.

I was pleased Shannon Forest wore green. Names should have a reason. I think a Riverside ought to be next to a river, a Hillcrest at the crest of a hill, and a Palmetto at a place where it ought to be possible to grow them. Here in town, a school that was once on Bell Street burned to the ground over half a century ago, and a new school was built that wasn’t on Bell Street, but the school remained Bell Street.

What was I writing about again? Oh, yeah. Baseball.

Wil Tindall seems to play the entire infield for Laurens Academy. He was one of two players — Clinton’s Caleb Riddle was the other — who began a play by making an error and ended it with an alert defensive move.

At one time in Wednesday night’s game, Clinton (3-2) was leading, 3-0, in spite of walking 12 B-HP batters. The Red Devils held on, 3-2, in spite of 13 free passes and a like number of stranded Bear runners.

So often I finish watching a baseball game and mutter to myself, “Damdest game I’ve ever seen.”

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at montedutton.com. If you’ve got a few bucks a month to spare, click here.

Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which are available for sale here.