Umpiring a Fall of American Family Baseball, It was often an Honor to Participate

Taking a foul tip in the collarbone is the worst. My equipment being a little loose almost cost me.

The shortage of certain people in many areas extended to umpiring, and when an ex-umpire mentioned at our monthly meeting about possibilities for anyone with experience, I started doing Little League games in Dilworth the next Wednesday.

I’ve done arc-pitch softball in FL and NY years ago, working with youth baseball has been super interesting because of the intense family aspect.

One recent assignment involved a second Blue, who I’d done my first game ever with. He reminded me about trying to get changed into shinpads in my car without undressing – I finally gave up, and did the game with the plastic over the pants. (Not a good look, not repeated)

I’ve put in some 14 hour days since, worked two weekends with blast furnace 96! temperatures, and taken my share of ‘meat shots,’ and umpiring is more than just a welcome cash cow. With about 20 hours game time, $40-50 per game averages $20/hr. with a much more exciting office. It’s fun, not a gripe.

Getting the mask relocated by a foul tip, my standard line is, “I don’t get up for breakfast if I don’t know I’m gonna get hit a couple times.”

Me, a couple times a day while umpiring.
Everybody has a back pack, usually with a pair of antenna-bats.

7 Innings of a Blue’s ‘tudes, Calling it as I See It

Chatting with people near the fence about the difference in early sunshine and cool Fall temperatures this past weekend, compared to the blast furnace 96 I’d done one of their teams games in early June, one Dad’s immediate response was, “Yessir, I remember you – you gave my son some great advice. Thank you,”

That advice involved him twiddling with the grip on his pitch – which all the younger pitchers with small hands do – even while he was going into his delivery. My point was, when you work to get a certain grip, that’s usually a signal – especially if other team has seen the results before – your ‘something different’ pitch is coming.

When you throw it for strikes, the question is, can they actually HIT it while knowing? If not, take your time, set yourself and grip, *then* throw the pitch was my sage counsel.

The umpire schedule organizers tried to tell me early not to chat with the crowd “because one bad call and they’ll turn on you,” but I’ve always been a yakker, so…

My attitude is I’m contributing a little something to the American lifestyle, not just judging balls-strikes-outs. Telling that pitcher, or a first base person to make sure they keep heel in contact with the bag, it seems to make a difference.

Yes, I’ve been surprised at overall support on a regular basis. That so many coaches swear they tell young charges not to question the umpires (You’re right, Hayden, that was too good a pitch not to call a strike, but…), is affirming a rule of order.

2nd Inning

Pregame, I regularly mention players asking for time out and stepping out of the batters box with coaches and dugouts. It’s often coaches trying to break a pitcher’s rhythm, and my sense of sportmanship extends to fact if he’s ready to go, you better be ready to hit. I am not going to grant time very often, and have called three balks resulting in two runs scoring from third.

While batters stepped out without permission, seeing them do so caused the pitcher to stop his motion, and if they don’t release the pitch, its a balk. Its unfair to the pitcher, and letting young minds know how I enforce it (and the high strike) is a good piece of info to put out there. Armpits to knees, yes, use that bat.

I’m willing to listen to a coach appeal a play, say, where several runners wind up after an infield fly pop-up gets dropped (they can run at their own risk). Do NOT keep going on an individual call, coach. Catcher, do NOT pose with a ball that’s over the other batters box line wanting a strike – nothing good will come from you trying to show me up like that. I’ll tell you that, once.

3rd Inning

I was only threatened one time by a spectator, and only once did I get fed up enough to have coaches confined to the dugout. That I could say, “Zip it, or see the game from further away,” and enforce it was a great tool to know was in my bag. That I restored the previous freedoms in the next (title) game was still about fairness.

Having a catcher ask why I’d called a recent pitch a ball, 10 year olds wouldn’t have the stones to ask that if they hadn’t seen coaches question every situation for three full games. I’ve told that story numerous times, and that *specifically* wasn’t happening on MY watch. Adults need some telling where the lines are too.

4th Inning

The single best thing an umpire can have is consistency, and high-low is easier for others to see than any distance off the plate. That’s why catchers are taught from earliest exposure about framing pitches, making them look closer to the strike zone. “How could that not be a strike?” is the crowd question, what I tell catchers regularly is “I saw where you caught it, and I saw where you put it.”

Doing a 9 year old tournament, where many were doing kid-pitch for the first time, my off the plate (17″) calls of two balls wider wound up taking 2:30 hours to have a victor. Calling it unhittably further outside was unfair, but walk-athons are deadly.

It was the single most brutal five games I umped all year. I had 8-9 bottles of water, a couple Gatorades, and still didn’t need to relieve myself until 9:00 at night. I told a nurse about it the next day, she said I was lucky she didn’t meet me in an ER.

5th Inning

Except for that one bitchy team (plus two other yellers), I was uniformly impressed with how dedicated coaches are to keeping kids in the game. Arriving early and having time to jaw with them is personally satisfying. That Dad and Coach sometimes have to deal with situations around a pouty son is reality. Listen to the constant barrage about hitting the next pitch, or what to do about a passed ball (“You should be here!”) at a game – coaches keep it going even in a rout.

When there was a question of not having enough time left to start another inning and get the home team last at bats, you’ve gotta love the answer: “So we get to practice our defense another half inning? Its our first game of the season, its okay if we don’t get to bat.”

That’s taking every opportunity to help kids get better. If I can help with an observation – “Your catcher is setting up on the outside third of plate, and if your pitcher misses at all, its going to be a ball” – I can be a difference maker too.

6th Inning

After taking two foul tips on the exact same spot on top of forearm one weekend, I changed how I positioned myself from hands on knees to always having the batter side arm tucked behind myself. Plastic only covers so much, then there’s meat shots. Making necessary changes to protect myself (I was also a hockey goalie in college…) was a no brainer.

There’s usually an Oooo! and “You okay Blue?” from the crowd and coaches when they hear the crack! of a chest protector or see the face mask get rearranged. Its more the blast in the bicep or maybe a hand that changes your machismo for a while.

As a physical challenge at 64, I feel good about an occasional thwack! I’m certainly not too good to think ringing the register with a $350 weekend, while talking baseball and peoples kids, is a bad thing in any way. The hard core travel teams are miles from the rec league supporters, most of whom recognize their kids might get pummeled for a season before age and experience kicks in.

7th inning

Yes, its seeing athletics as part of their young lives, getting to relate to some of that bonding and what’s happening between the ears I knew was important when I played Pop Warner football. Doing 10-under games, then 12-13s, the physical difference of two-three years is amazing.

The chunky 10 y/old who just learned a curve ball that week thought, “Maybe we should have a go, Ump.” I said, “Learned a curve ball this week and you want some of this? You must be a confident guy.” “Yep!”

The best way for an umpire to avoid 95% of any coach or crowd BS is to be right on top of the play versus calling it from across the diamond. The kid sliding into third and his coach yells he’s safe, my “Coach, he’s got the glove pinned against the base, he’s out!” means I just turn and walk away.

On a bottom line, “Don’t reward stupid” is legitimate. The slow-footed kid who tries going first to third when there’s a confusing play at the plate almost always deservedly, gets nailed at third, and if its close, he really shouldn’t have been going… Their coach will talk to them about a bad decision.

Congratulations to the Atlanta Braves for winning the World Series so convincingly. Everyone in Charlotte was rooting for them, all the young players for sure, and they epitomize the idea of sportsmanship and the bonding that makes a bunch of young people a team. See everyone again in the Spring.

“Think global, act local” still legitimate message for humanity, new year

Our group’s second pierogi dinner on January 17th is a model community event, with oompah band and family pricing that served 800 in 2019.

As dramatic a negative as assassinating a Quds general in Iraq on the second day of the new year is, I’ll try remembering the little girl whose mother didn’t complain about another homeless person snoring like a chainsaw ten feet away from her five still awake children that night.

On a cold and raining Thursday, she said they couldn’t sleep because they’d taken naps that afternoon, then offered us blessings for the new year as she and the children boarded a bus to take them back downtown on Friday at 5:30 a.m.

Will four small pairs of colorful gloves and hot chocolate (but no cereal, sorry) make a difference in a child’s life for more than one day?

Two short messages: Yes, “the thought” still counts even after Christmas gift-giving, mostly because very little action comes without thought. Our shelter had a large container of gloves, why should she need to ask when it cost me nothing to do? She can lose six gloves and still be ahead, right? She’ll probably share a pair with a younger brother, so maybe *two* kids have warmer hands, and may that Panthers knit cap I gave another brother be worn proudly.

Secondly, while being aware of the ugly reality now facing so many – from a major piece of  Australia burning, to the deadly acts and accompanying outrage that will threaten the lives of so many, especially our troops in the Middle East – continuing to do what I can for those closer at hand like that family is a legitimate human-to-human plan.

Leadership Charlotte, church groups, YOU

Wrapped around the overnight for the homeless (Room in the Inn), I attended an open house at Queens University for the Leadership Charlotte program, and then Friday evening, the first monthly meeting of the (St. Gabriel) Men’s Club. While there were somewhat fewer than the 178 people who originally signed up to attend the Leadership event, I appreciated the kind of raucous group that filled every table Friday night.

Leadership Charlotte is an operation with over 40 years of bringing together a strong, diverse group that focuses on significant programs across a spectrum of areas to keep Charlotte moving forward. For relative newcomers, its a community effort that helped replace the previous ‘system’ of a small group of enlightened citizens who moved Charlotte from a low-key city of about 200,000 on the NC-SC border to the desirable, powerhouse location nearly a million live in today.

Church Angel’s directory list 17,119 churches of various denominations in North Carolina, but Charlotte celebrates its “Buckle on the Bible Belt” reputation, well, religiously, and most if not all have outreach programs to help the community. From mega-churches to slash store-fronts in retail locales and most corners, it is not a small consideration, especially in these trying economic and political times.

Almost all will agree that the Reverend Billy Graham was a Man of God, and that is probably as good a place to begin and end a theological discussion.

Without praising or forgetting any specific denomination, “helping others” is both a byword and above average place to start showing you care, here and now.

Put yourself out there just a little America. Volunteer to read with kids at the library, bring Johnny’s warm jacket that he outgrew in one year to wherever you learn they are collecting them. Make the lunch bags that Room in the Inn gives to those homeless over-nighters in the morning – you don’t even have to see them to know you’ve done something good. Prayers aren’t really enough, even the little actions count.


Consistent content always beats old photos, denials, easily checked lies

Fourth of  July fireworks are always appreciated (though not by dogs), but the explosions that your clients will face for presenting un-truths will not be a cheerful situation.

Many, perhaps even most, readers will assume the above title is directed at the political struggle being presented daily on TV over the extortion of a democratic ally, Ukraine.  Using vivid and current examples of “content” obviously makes the case well, with the bottom line point being how long term, verifiable information at the personal and corporate level makes a significant difference to the public.

Taking a quick side trip to old photos as content, we’ve seen Prince Andrew and 16-year old environmental activist Greta Thunberg being worth at *least* the proverbial 1,000 words, whether they are “real” or not.

In Thunberg’s case, a child gold-miner’s picture from about 1898 that bears an uncanny facial resemblance to the activist, including a single long braid of hair, has spawned the notion she is a time traveler.

For the Prince, its a weak denial that, relative to convicted (and now deceased) sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein providing under-aged girls to prominent figures, a “sex slave’s” assertion that they were intimate must be false because of his “inability to sweat” as badly as she described. Nobody in the Royal Family thought it was a good idea to even discuss it, let alone do a TV interview that opens the door for the sensationalist UK tabloids.

Clarity and Consistency are Legitimate

Has anyone ever tried to debunk a National Geographic story, which has been published continuously since 1888? How often is the NY Times sued for libel?  The answer is “not often,” because it has well-known and scrupulous standards for getting the facts right.

If your organization’s reputation is as squeaky clean about the material it presents, if or when it puts forth information that raises a question of right or wrong, it will almost always get the benefit of the doubt .

Conversely, the President’s recent unscheduled visit to Walter Reed Hospital, which was called “routine” by the White House, raised a ton of questions about his health, because  eight weeks of the impeachment process – let alone E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondholm’s testimony Wednesday, about a quid pro quo of “guns for dirt” – could make the average person’s head explode.

That White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham recently claimed, “There were ‘You will fail’ notes everywhere from Obama people when Trump came into office” was a glaring lie, even it might have been seen as typical of the current administration. While its a situation she has since retracted, having even one piece of proof might have made a big difference.

To say any organization will get painted with a very broad and negative brush after there is documented proof against assertions like that is an inescapable fact. Trump’s first press secretary *never* escaped the scorn of the national press after asserting that his Inauguration crowd was “the biggest ever,” because it was demonstrably false.

Only a small percentage of Americans believe much of anything that comes out of the White House as a result of the President’s 12,000-plus documented lies or serial misinformation. The changing rationale for many administration decisions, like betraying Kurdish fighters by moving U.S. troops to allow Turkish troops to attack them, is something that will be remembered for a very, very long time.

How long would it take anyone to check the assertion by highly regarded Levine Children’s Hospital (in Charlotte), or even the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, to be blasted for saying they cure 96.5% of their patients?  They get praised for the quality of their efforts, not specifically their numbers.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Having recently been a blogger for a CBD oil manufacturer, and a user of products that have absolutely ‘fixed’ some physical problems, writing that it *cured* anything wasn’t allowed. There was plenty of documentation across many online resources and studies, but technically, helpful as it was to a range of ailments like anxiety, inflammation, and sleeping disorders, “cure” wasn’t a step we could state.

When it comes to corporate information, writing or otherwise projecting something that can be proven otherwise will never help.

Ask the tobacco industry how denying the link between smoking and cancer, or how major league baseball owners wound up paying a huge judgment regarding collusion in not bidding on free agents worked out. There are so many avenues to check information, doing anything but keeping to the facts is always going to be the best route.









C-Mac gets stuffed, Newton scatters 51 passes as Panthers drop to 0-2 with 20-14 loss

While being a “content creation person” is my bill-paying persona, there has always been a sportswriter who has to get opinions out there. The straight up question Panther fans will be asking for the next ten days is, “What is really wrong with Cam?” because he was all over the lot throwing the ball – Olsen’s grab of a pass behind him was one of several made by receivers – and while his running ability was always a major benefit, he certainly doesn’t seem willing to get hit, nor does team seem willing to ask him to run over a D-back any more.

Maybe its too personal to mention his haberdashery, but the multi-colored scarf atop his wild hairdo and granny shades at the post-game didn’t score any points either.

Cam Newton came out with the right answer for Thursday nights 20-14 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, that fingers get pointed at an offense that doesn’t score touchdowns. That he is the most visible reason for the 0-2 record, and its his job to make plays is Part 2 to that truth, and there are already boo-birds in Charlotte regarding that play making.

Newton’s stat line was 25/51 passes for 333 yards, two rushes for zero yards. He didn’t get a yard on 4th down on the Panther’s initial drive, just before a 27-minute game delay for lightening, and he was a decoy on the final play, when Panthers needed *HALF* a yard for a first down, and barely more than ONE for a winning TD.

Is it too early to be mad or discouraged?

The question of whether its too early to be mad or discouraged is almost less important than WHY they couldn’t beat the Bucs, and whether this will be a truly LONG year. 

On Monday I had concerns about being a ‘homer’ – someone who always tries to put a happy face on events – after the season-opening 30-27 loss to LA Rams, which was a light-years difference from what came through last night. Certainly there was no “C-Mac (McCaffrey) the Mighty” cranking out yardage. He had a miserable night (37 yds. rushing, two receptions for 16 yards, no TDs), including not getting close to gaining the yard needed at the end of the game.

Was it that long ago that Newton would have handled that last bit himself, stretching his 6’5, 250 pounds over the goal line? The O-line handled the Rams, getting three short TD runs, can’t they go straight ahead two weeks in a row? Yes, Newton threw downfield a number of times in that 333, although Olsen’s big night (6 catches/110 yards, including a 41-yard gain), involved lugging the ball most of the way. Curtis Samuel had a 44-yard gain, but he had to turn around and wait vs. catching the ball in stride, zero yards after the catch.

The only Panther who had a great night was kicker Joey Slye, who was 4-4 on field goals, two of them over 50-yards, one of which clonged off the right post and through, and his kickoffs weren’t returned. (Enjoy that game check, Joe, but if you lead the league in scoring, we’ll probably have had a lousy year).

Okay, Luke Kuechly had 17 tackles, including one for a safety that got Panthers within one score, and provided a short field for their final unsuccessful drive. The Bucs suffocated C-Mac all game, and DE Shaqil Barrett had three sacks of Newton, who never looked in sync.

Olsen looked a little stiff while running (a back problem left him a game time decision), and there seemed to be enough production (Samuel- five catches/91 yards; DJ Moore- nine catches/89 yards) to spend a lot of time in Tampa’s end of the field, but an offense that’s only making field goals needs 3 to beat a TD by the other team. That’s a fact Panther fans will recognize from many games against the Seahawks, when both D’s slugged it out.

The Panthers now have road games against Phoenix and the Jaguars, and while the Cardinals Heisman-winning QB (Kyler Murray, 2018) didn’t look good for most of their 27-all tie with the Lions last week, mobile QBs always seem to torture the Panthers. Winston started 11/14 in the first half and ended up 16/25 for 208 yards and a TD, and while that was considerably better than last weeks performance, unfortunately,  the Panthers can’t say the same.

One thing that’s guaranteed – Panthers won’t give Newton a seat and play Kyle Allen, certainly not after just two games, because it just doesn’t pay to bench your top QB to see if he gets super motivated. The defense can also work on actually stopping runners (Tampa had 100 yards on the ground, the Panthers 39) vs. letting them churn for a couple more after contact.


Panthers worth watching – Sports writers, experts, Monday morning QBs mostly agree

See the source image
What the Buccaneers will be expecting from Christian McCaffrey Thursday.

In what winds up the same short week for bloggers of NFL football as everyone else, and to bring balance to what happened in the Panthers 30-27 loss to the LA Rams, “Winning cures a lot of that,” is the attitude pointed towards Thursday night against Tampa Bay.

Starting with the most obvious thought: Noowwwww how are you liking those ten pounds of new, useful, and still 4.4 fast, muscles McCaffrey is sporting?  Watching replays, and what plenty of game stats seem to show, is numerous factors WILL win a bunch of ball games for the Panthers this year. Still,  his working through tackles for 23, 18 yard gains on that last nine-play, 69 yard drive? That’s Big Boy stuff.

As important as C-Mac proved to be  last year, Panther fans anticipate cheering their faces off for him after this first effort – that *was* supposed to be a pretty good Rams defense. Based on production,  that offensive line should be feeling positive – the difference between the Rams and Panthers offense (349-343) was a half-dozen yards.

19 carries, 128 yards, two TDs, plus ten catches for 81 yards for C-Mac.

Why do I get a vision of Cap’n America, with the dukes up, that “I can go like this all day” line just a statement of fact?

Two bigger questions about the season, defense and lacking Graham Gano’s crucial field goal kicking, were answered adequately. Although the Rams did dominate ball time by seven-plus minutes, holding Todd Gurley to a 14 carries, 97 yards and no TD day should be considered holding a stud runner in check. Both teams had three rushing TDs.

Rams quarterback Jared Goff was a mild 23/38 for 186 yards, one each on TD-INTs, so this was not a high-powered trampling. Yes, the difference seemed to be specific Panther let downs, but not defensive inadequacies. Shaq Thompson and Tre Boston both had 7 solo tackles, Shaq’s mobility in the 3-4 defense being the first dividend Panthers were expecting.

The Panthers Joe Slye hit two-of-three field goal attempts, including a 52-yarder, and while its only one game, yay! for Gano’s replacement. Kickers can lose at least as many games as they win, just ask last years kicker for the Bears how that works out.

Without whining, I might have been “balled out” after gorging on major college games all Labor Day weekend, so I was actually on the Catawba tubing for five hours Sunday, but what I watched on the replay, yes, Newton (25/38 for 239 yards and a pick) has to make “those throws.”

Newton only tried one throw over twenty yards, and I haven’t read or heard anything recently about a supposed new motion. Everyone says there are no physical problems, just “rusty,” which is the alternative to minimal ‘live’ playing during preseason. The interception, when he had Olsen clear and didn’t deliver, was a timing difference that should be clear now.

There were actually a lot of offensive contributions: Olsen, 4/36 yards; Samuel, 3/32; Jarius Wright, 1/14. DJ Moore had an overall  seven catch -76 yard day, but was involved in a pair of miscues – especially a first drive fumble, and a tipped pass that wound up being ruled a lateral – recovered on the Panthers ten.

Tale of two games

One doesn’t have to be a total ‘Homer’ to be positive about the Panthers first effort, and  there’s no need to overthink the loss on this short week, just be glad it’s the Bucs on Thursday. They were rawhided by San Fran 31-7, with Tampa Bay QB Jameis Winston a pedestrian 20/36, 194 yards with three interceptions – two of which were returned for touchdowns – three sacks, and an overall 8.6 QBR.

There’s an old, obvious cliché about not beating good teams – especially when you make a number of turnovers in crucial situations – and in any year not following last season, this would be the godsend for a short week. Twelve years with no playoffs for the Buccaneers is not a coincidence.

The wheels would have to come off (like in Miami, where the Dolphins were humiliated 59-10 by the Ravens) for the Panthers to be 0-2 on Friday morning. We’d all like to see Newton throw a 55-yard rainbow or a touch pass in the red zone, McCaffrey – just keep telling people its all about the O-line…

Panthers season – like ‘Murica itself – will face a challenge going 9-7 (ish) in 2019

Grilling cheeseburgers is an essence of Labor Day

As a storm of epic proportions sloooowly approaches the US coast, most of life continued in the Carolinas, something you can’t imagine saying about the devastating pictures we’ve seen from the Abacos Islands. To the ex-Canadian PM who suggested the hurricane find Mar-a-Lago and force Trump to see a Cat-5 up close for a whole day like those islands did, Nature didn’t lay that thought or any bigly global warming rhythms on him.

After flipping a quantity of very satisfying ‘bigger’ cheeseburgers for a local men’s shelter on Friday, I book-ended my weekend by enjoying one myself late Sunday, while taking in live music and a considerable amount of people-watching at the White Water Center. Yes, America, that “huge hunk of meat” was as delightful as Jimmy Buffett always painted it, and I accept it as an exclamation point to a hot and exciting summer.

I plead guilty to unknowing concern at the devastation in the Bahamas, am stunned by a lack of coordinated response, though not by Prez who defends playing “18 quick holes” during a colossal disaster. The juxtaposition of my cheeseburger to how dramatic two entire days of what 180 mph churn would do to any “Why me?” perspective a survivor would have to have, is humbling.

As a sports writer, my current concern is –

How the local Panthers will look against a Rams team that lost in the Super Bowl, and an almost unblockable Aaron Donald on defense this Sunday. That’s a home opener where Panthers should suck every bit of motivation from the crowd possible, a team that needs to show it – and its leader, Cam Newton – is markedly better than what their finishing 7-9, with a seven-game losing streak the second half of 2018, looked.

The Carolina Panthers and I both start our 25th year in Charlotte, and like many, I’m still happy to root for them. Being from upstate NY, I was never a Giants or Jets (ugh!) fan after suffering with regional double-headers in college.  My first Panther memory was a COLD game at Clemson, catching a great image of Sam Mills about to meet Steve Young on a goal line sneak.

As a blogger last year, the changes seem legitimate, as is 9-7

I’m going to agree with “new guy” on Observer staff, Matt Stephens, about Panthers showing me they actually have an offense and defense that’s markedly better than last year. Matt feels optimistic, has worries that maybe he’s just not beaten down yet. I think 50 blogs gave me a grip on things, and there’s no problem with his thinking last year is fixable.

There wasn’t a lot of pre-season viewing of Olsen, Newton, Kuechly, but what Rivera and D-Coach Eric Washington saw in speed rushers – Brian Burns (FSU) and another year with Marquis Haynes – have made the switch to 3-4 as base defense more reasonable. Shaq Thompson figures to be coming off the wing more regularly now, while playing behind Thomas Davis for years, his possibilities always seemed greater.

OLB is kind of the glory spot in 3-4 defense, and Burns looks like a beast there, Shaq *should* be. If Kuechly doesn’t have to patrol all the way to sidelines, his All-Pro nose for plays directly in front could be maximized. Yes, there will always be a concern about his concussion history. Yes, 33 sacks was a pitiful statement for the 2018 defense, and that will be regarded as an aberration by mid- season.

Welcome to Gerald McCoy, thank you for your long service, Mr. Peppers.

All interior D-line starters have been All-Pros, especially McCoy, who always gave Newton fits when he was with the Buccaneers (8 years). Kwann Short can still take up blocks, and even with Kuechly patrolling less territory with four backers, he’ll be off the leash with recognition of plays and going downhill after them. Last year, the Panthers defense was absolutely torched by, well, about everybody. If the Saints hadn’t already clinched the division, Brees could have set some personal records in final game last season, and Panthers would already have an eight-game loss skein coming in against loaded LA.

You rarely get that lucky against divisional people.

Dontari Poe didn’t play himself into the hearts of fans in 2018, with opposing running backs frequently getting the yardage they needed – plus a couple more – to keep drives alive. Frankly, “run-stuffer” means actual tackling at point of attack.

A primary question, especially regarding Newton’s fixed-again shoulder, is whether he, with a modified motion, and other key players (Olsen – back as a regular target after two fractured foot seasons; Kuechly – concussions; McCaffrey – because he gets all those touches) will all be good for 16 games. Sportswriting history shows winning big almost always includes having less bad injuries to key personnel, so “Lucky Breaks” is probably a toss-up.

Green Bay won a memorable title (vs. Steelers) while starters were dropping like flies, but over the long grind, people won’t always be available. Curtis Samuel, in his third season after a pair of injuries delayed his new role as a primary receiver, and seeing how dangerous he could be last season – especially the after catch elusiveness he and DJ Moore have shown as a runners  – is encouraging.

With a steady diet of “even a little bigger than last year, still pretty fast” McCaffrey, the Panthers shouldn’t be lacking offensively.

If Turner’s offense uses other backs this year, will they be as effective as using C-MC as a decoy?  The O-LINE seemed to gel coming into last season, and one certainly can’t put down a crew that sprung C-MC (McCaffrey) so regularly. The Panthers have always had linemen that switched all over the place, and the biggest change is who Newton gets the ball from. After eight years of Ryan Kalil, who retired (and then signed with the Jets), the Panthers replaced him at center with former Bronco Matt Paradis.

BIG QUESTION of JOE SLYE vs. (no) Gano – Why the Panther’s $4 million kicker didn’t get himself fixed after last season, who knows, but this change is going to be a factor to discuss until it isn’t. While they use the word ‘mythical’ regarding Gano’s game-winning poke against the Giants, you don’t usually give a new guy like Slye the benefit of doubt until he makes a couple clutch ones.

I fear the New Orleans Saints the most, because they’ve been jobbed out of final games the last two years, and if *I* was on Drew Brees’ team, playing with a GOAT quarterback, being on a mission to get another ring with him would be incredible. ATL – I don’t care about them except as rivals. The Bucs, who I watched for three years when living in Tampa – we called them the Suckaneers – have a new sheriff in town with Bruce Ariens. As a writer, I had easy access to players – Doug Williams was a class guy, I doubt Jameis Winston is.

Season splits with the Saints and Falcons would be fine overall going into the season, and yes, playing the NFC West this year means renewing things with the Seahawks, in Charlotte. If you have to have a standard, the ‘Hawks and Falcons are undeniably ours. Seeing what they cook up in Phoenix this year, we shall indeed see. That opener against the Rams will be rough, because outscoring them (Rams 32.9 ppg, Panthers 23.5 ppg in 2018) won’t come easily, nor does going on 14-15 play drives if Aaron Donald is drawing breath.

As for Panthers SECONDARY, outside of Donte Jackson and James Bradberry, its good to have a safety of Eric Reid’s quality, and congrats to Panthers owner David Tepper for making a business decision on the former All-Pro. Reid will benefit from a full preseason to get into mix versus being added mid-season. Safety-nickel guy Gaulden, like several second year players, is being counted on to fill necessary roles in the secondary.

Forget about any spillover from MSL talk about Tepper, even if does look like he’s moved Charlotte up in pecking order there. This Panther organization has made multiple changes in barely over a year. As of Year 25, the Panthers have a first-rate indoor practice bubble, and what figures to be a substantial Rock Hill complex vs. those wicked Spartanburg camps – both solid, necessary decisions. Charlotte has added another outstanding citizen in Mr. Tepper, not “just another Yankee.”

“A year that needs to be”

Yes, this looks like “A Year that Needs to Be” for all the reasons everybody probably understands, including Tepper and Rivera and the Big 2-5. FYI – Rivera is only a few games from becoming the winning-est coach in Carolina history (currently 71, John Fox has 73).

Yes, physically this is Newton’s team, although the expectation is he’d gladly offer whatever chunk McCaffrey demands while tearing yardage out of the league in his Year 3 development. Yes, “that nice young man” has put on even more muscles. Since the extra five last year worked so well, apparently another ten pounds.  That and a tweak or two better than 362 touches – is a fine standard to go forward from.

Trust Norv Turner’s offense – Its put people in the Hall of Fame, and CMC is nothing but a Classic Worker-Achiever. How many yards short of 1,000-1,000 was he in 2018? Remember that number, he will.

How often Newton goes long to Moore and Samuel – or Mr. Third Down, Jarius Wright – and two tight-end sets with Greg Olsen-Ian Thomas to spread the love and make defenses pay for loading up to stop McCaffrey, should keep the sticks moving like he did early last year.

With Kyle Allen and Will Grier (#3 pick, Maryland) at QB, the cupboard is sort of stocked in case Newton’s arm falls off. Neither was astonishing in pre-season, Grier threw some terrible picks.

While its doubtful Charlotte fans will consider a 9-7 season any real triumph, and where such a record leaves playoff considerations (or Rivera’s future), is a long time to think about situation for Mr. Tepper.

Calling it an improved team starting this week, sure, that’s legit – even if I’ll go with chalk and consider the Rams the team to beat. Along with their new 3-4 defense, would the Panthers sporting a 5-2 record after the game in London (Bucs), an off week, and then in San Fran vs. 49ers be okay? I’ll say yes.

If McCaffrey gets less but close to 100 yards this week against Rams, can we still be optimistic? Sure. For both football watching and the political grind, it seems like 9-7 is at least above water, and we’ll see what that brings.

We’re not expecting any hurricane’s taking a left to be here for the weekend, so stay for the whole game. Your friends who don’t have tickets should understand.

Communications – LLWS Champs, Trump at the podium, a real dog whistle

Okay, I’m going to walk that title back. Nothing here about Trump at the G-7, and sure, I could have edited that out of title. Hey, maybe somebody reads this because that word was in here, and it’s not like stock markets will go up and down radically because I lied…

After ten days of watching the Little League World Series – for the third year in a row – it would be fair and accurate to state that everything happening on the field, in the stands, and on that hillside where *everybody* was having a ball, communicated a message of joy for the playing and camaraderie between people from around the world.

Congrats communication-wise to ESPN for their “Kidcast” featuring two-16 year old announcers and 2014 LLWS sensation Mo’ne Davis – the first girl to throw a shutout in LLWS history – and two-15 year old sideline correspondents.  Booth guys were truly interesting, and drew out Mo’ne’s background and expertise as well as any regular broadcast crew. Their enthusiasm was terrific, the journalism great, including how they interviewed their regular ESPN counterparts.

Yes, only one true winner could emerge from the competition , but I’m sure a LOT of TVs were tuned in during these times of stress, for what is always a testament to skill and determination by everyone involved.

The umpires work for FREE, cancer survivors who made it to watch brothers and friends play were interviewed by soccer star Judy Foudy, and GEEZ! could the champs – those Southwest kids, hit – especially Reece Roussel, who whacked a LLWS record 17 hits, including seven doubles, tying teammate Marshall Louque for tops in the tournament.

“I don’t want to hear it.” – Southwest Coach Scott Frazier

That quote has zero to do with Trump, who was essentially shut out in France, but good, straight-up communication cuts though the fog and often brings results. While Coach Frazier’s often-used quote might seem harsh when dealing with kids, as the ESPN crew noted, there was no denying his methods were effective.

In Southwest’s 9-5 semi-final win over Hawai’i – which no-hit them in the tournament opener, forcing them to come all the way back through the losers bracket – Frazier trooped to the mound to get pitcher Connor Perrot back on track.

His first raspy-voiced comment were about Perrot’s body language (“Shoulders back, head up!”) as he moped about having walked two runs in. When Perrot tried to explain his worries (bases still loaded), Frazier cut him off with the “I don’t want to hear it” line.

“You’ve got a five run lead (at the time) – throw strikes and let this good defense help you if they hit it.” His exit line was simply, “Get this guy out,” and Perrot zipped three fastballs in to finish the inning. Communication, result. Great coaching.

How much coaching it took to have LLWS star Reece Roussel whack those 17 hits wasn’t really a matter of debate. As the guys in the ESPN booth (Kyle Peterson, David Ross, Tim Kurkjian, and Karl Ravech) said often, “This kid *always* gets the barrel of the bat on the ball.”

Ravech has done the LLWS since 2006, and while few could ever aspire to the smoothness of long time (67 years) LA Dodger announcer Vince Scully, or the down-home commentary of college football legend Keith Jackson, Ravech’s crew communicated the incredible experience these 11-12 year-olds were living in a way that anyone and everyone could enjoy for hours.

Ross did miss one *perfect* opportunity, when it was opined that the winning pitcher for Southwest – Egan Prather – might be over-excited when only one out left in the finale vs. Curacao. When the Chicago Cubs were leading by four runs in 5th inning of their own World Series win (2016), first baseman Anthony Rizzo told Ross he was so excited – the Cubbies hadn’t won a World Series since 1908 (108 years) – he couldn’t stand it.

Ross said, “Wait until the 9th inning.” The Cleveland Indians tied the game, and there was a rain delay before the Cubbies finally pulled it out. I would have pulled that story up immediately.

As for Trump, I used a real whistle for my dog

Communication of misinformation – lying if you will – produces almost the exact opposite effect of the joyfulness that the baseball did. The openness about everything happening in Williamsport, PA was soooo much clearer and fun – America at its best, if you will – nothing like the intensely partisan political scene America finds itself in.

As for dog whistling, its been repeatedly noted about the tone and “qualities” of Trump’s rhetoric are a signal to others of a similar and negative bent, a sub-textual tone that only those who are philosophically on the same wave will hear.

When my beagle managed to slip his collar and get out of the back yard Sunday, the only thing he responded to was my shrill whistle. It didn’t make him come back, but at least he stopped and looked. The difference between the two was when the dog finished romping the neighborhood for an hour, his tongue was dragging, and he kind of let himself be brought back – no texting, too tired to howl – so he could get a drink of water.

If it was that easy to get Trump back to reality… As for his getting dissed at the G-7, I don’t want to hear about it.

Congrats to absolutely everyone who raised $$$ so their kids could have this experience. It wasn’t a surprise that if you wanted the kids to go and compete, hitting the bank or selling tee shirts, but definitely many, many others pitching in for the cash, was the only way something desirable like that would happen. Remember it long and fondly.










How ‘SUITS’ Harvey Specter and Trump are Similar SOBs in the Bigger Picture

“Seriously, Often Butt-heads” was what I was going for with the acronym, but if you want to take offense, this is still ‘Merica, and you can say things others might not like without diving to (or past) the lowest possible rung of civil discourse before “Yo’ mama!”

Yes, Harvey mocked Louis Litt’s teeth before, but that’s a far cry from Trump personally savaging every person of color that criticized him, his constituency, and home.

After dropping something large on Spiderman in Avengers ‘Civil War’ flick, Cap’n America didn’t rank out Spidey because he was from Queens, just said, “Brooklyn,” with a smile about his own growing up, and jogged away.

That’s class.

The analogy between a popular television character – Harvey, not Trump, who was considered an SOB as a reality show bozo (sorry, boss) – is fairly obvious if you take a few choice pieces from the bigger picture.

downloadStarting with the primary negative, Harvey took in Mike Ross, someone who was unqualified (not a Harvard educated lawyer, even if he could out-trivia Harvey), causing a serious problem for his firm. At NO point has Trump put ANYONE worth spit in a role that fit their lousy qualifications, except Mattis and Kelley.

DeVos (Education), Pruitt, the grifter from Oklahoma, desecrating our national environment, and Perry (from Texas) were all put in charge of departments where they *hated* what they were supposed to manage. Together they lack the brains of Ross, who was an actual genius (who could read).

Current count on idjits Trump has put up that even Repubs couldn’t vote for: 39.

Harvey has gotten a slew of others involved in keeping that single fact a secret, a willful malpractice that would have precipitated serious blow back (think Paris accords) every case unqualified Mike had been involved in with the firm. Only Nikki Haley as UN Ambassador escaped the Trump administration with her reputation intact.

It took what – seven seasons – for Ross to wind up in jail, even after there was relative blood in the water about him not being a real lawyer? (Think Mueller report, day in front of cameras) Multiple innocent people got jammed up by Harvey along the way, and outsiders who got close to the truth were routinely pounded into submission with legal threats by the high-powered Specter regarding unrelated subjects.

Are you with me?

In fact, Harvey has done nothing but pound people, often to cover up malfeasance by clients and himself, usually 2-3 times an episode. Okay, that’s part of the hook or ‘charm’ of the show, miles from a President who signs papers with a fat magic marker whenever he’s ready to screw another segment of the country.

Anybody remember the Dakota Pipeline? Wasn’t that a done deal, win for environmentalists and Native Americans? Denying scientists the right to publish their findings, or world (Iran and six other nuclear program signees, plus every long term US ally), he regularly tosses someone under the proverbial bus with a stroke.

Neither has started an actual shooting war, but Harvey is only a lawyer, not someone whose whack-a-doodle temperament could accomplish that.

And yeah, they’ve deservedly been in a jillion lawsuits through their actions.

Does Harvey HATE women, or exhibit misogynistic behavior and excuse it in others?

He finally made peace with his mother about how she asked eight-year old him to not tell his father about an affair he’d seen as a child, although he’s basically used his power over a string of women into this ninth and final season. Give him credit for finally recognizing his long-time super-star assistant, Donna, was the one he should give his love and loyalty to, but at no point did he grab them by the crotch or otherwise assault them. He just walked away, knowing he’d usually been the bad person.

Finally, while Harvey has a temper, he’s been willing (literally at times) to step into the ring and duke it out with someone, not snake them by text or send someone else to clean up his mess. (Okay, that “not sending someone else” is kind of a lie, but you know, everybody does it.)  He doesn’t – usually – chortle in glee about whacking someone.

He’s also willing to change his mind when told a damn good reason to, which isn’t in Trump’s skill set whatsoever. Several people have drawn the line with him, told him “this is the last time EVER, Harvey” that they would do what he needed. Unfortunately, Trump has what used to be the Republican Party in his pocket, and they can be relied on to save his bacon whenever he needs it.

Many say its not a good idea to post political thoughts like this, but at this point, with  right at 500 LinkedIn connections, I’m not concerned about losing a great quantity of  those by not mentioning causing a useless and expensive to Americans trade war, pauperizing a wide swath of American farmers, or saying neo-Nazis are fine people.

As for Harvey Specter, he can’t hurt you either, he’s just a TV SOB.

Glenn Shorkey – Creative eDitorial Talents Enterprises 


Moon shot memories, and a successful small step for READ Charlotte

Image result for Google Photos, 1969 Moon Walk

Tying two disparate bits of history together, it’s easy to admit being immensely proud of the 50th anniversary of an AMERICAN (no hyphens or political qualifiers needed) setting foot on the moon. Nothing about our current run of nationwide negativity seems legitimate in comparison, although chanting USA! USA! – or “Equal pay!” – for the US Women’s National Team after taking its fourth World Cup is going to be heard loud and proud while they tour the country.

There’s been plenty of documentary material to watch about the overall space program, but every time  ‘Apollo 13’ comes on, the humanity of the space program clicks inside me, and I have to watch how they overcome serious, multiple problems, like gerry-rigging a CO2 scrubber or cold-starting the computers.

Chief Flight Director Gene Krantz said that the rescued mission (Apollo 13) was NASA’s finest hour, and except for the momentous nature of  EVER having put people on the surface of what was always considered unreachable, who could argue that?

We prayed for those Apollo 13 astronauts in Catholic grade school, as close to a moment of true world caring as imaginable, and through the miracle of television, I was kind of there, sharing it with a hunk of humanity.

When 13’s parachutes appeared – almost on top of the rescue carrier, deep into a radio silence that might have meant their capsule burned up on reentry – such a wow! of relief, and pretty much the only good luck they’d had all flight. Gene Krantz said that the Apollo 13 rescue mission was NASA’s finest hour, and except for the momentous nature of  EVER having put people on the surface of that orb in the night, who could argue that?

Fifty years ago, Walter Cronkite was wiping his eyes on live TV at the fact of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon, the whole world kind of celebrated, and that’s a source of national pride that cannot be erased by presidential ignorance or disdain.

Yes, USWNT was a bad-ass TEAM, but for absolute intensity of mission, the crew of professionals at the banks of computers, analyzing every aspect of mechanical and human performance, up to and beyond “One small step…” was serious as hell.

America, whether we’re still worthy of “…shed His light on thee,” we KNOW there are higher things to reach for as a nation. “Indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for ALL?” Not sure about that all the time.

READ Charlotte – A Booster shot of Positives

The second piece of history involves something recent, a gratifyingly solid email update that READ Charlotte sent out to all literacy volunteers. Without posting the entire piece here, letting volunteers in on how things are working out is a great way to keep them engaged.

That 155 third-graders literally took one small, incredibly necessary step forward with reading in this past scholastic year is the story, and we need to build on that going forward.

Research finds strong parallels between reading fluency, comprehension, and overall reading achievement (testing). If you didn’t already know this, Charlotte has the lowest rating (4.4%) of the 50 largest US cities regarding economic mobility, essentially how many children rise from the bottom of one economic quadrille to top of it as an adult.

Its not *just* DeVos’ reign of ignorance and funding terror for public education that brought these programs to the front, but students not reading to grade level by fourth grade are almost destined to fall further behind…

HELPS (Helping Early Literacy with Practice Strategies), is a reading fluency program, part of a larger initiative by READ Charlotte to bring the community focus around a set of programs to improve third grade reading proficiency rates. READ Charlotte estimates that 20-25% of CMS third graders can sound out individual words (phonics), but don’t read fast or accurately enough (fluency) to understand what they are reading.

The Task Force goal, to have 80% of Char-Meck students reading at that level is lofty – its currently only 39%, with Afro-American (22%) and Hispanic boys (18%) lagging significantly. One specific and very relevant fact from the often-quoted Chetty Study, a Harvard/UC Berkeley project, is that students not reading to grade level by fourth grade are almost destined to fall further behind as reading-writing material become more difficult.

Reading fluency is a student’s ability to read with speed, accuracy and proper expression.

The average CMS third grader who received HELPS one-on-one tutoring starting in the Fall of 2018 was a full year behind in oral reading fluency. During the 2018-2019 school year, nearly half the students who received HELPS tutoring exceeded national norms for expected growth in oral reading fluency.

Although extra work moving metric needles more positively wouldn’t be a drastic new revelation, on average, the more HELPS sessions students received the more they improved their reading fluency. Students who had 50-plus HELPS sessions gained the most, closing an average 75% of the gap to end of year benchmarks for 3rd grade reading fluency. According to the literature, that’s the equivalent of growing just over 1.5 grade levels in reading fluency in a single year.

The HELPS program, developed by Professor John Begeny of North Carolina State University, was used by community partners and individual volunteers in Charlotte to tutor those 155 CMS third graders in the 2018-2019 school year. “Only 155” isn’t the way to look at such results, only that more in Year 2,3,4,5 is better. Its attainable, no less genuine a “small step” as walking on the moon seemed from the bottom of a long-ago spaceship’s ladder.

Having considered myself a writer from the very early days, its impossible to consider becoming a content creator, blogger, or professional without the reading skills from early on, especially the vocabulary and comprehension. I’ll bring my talents to Rama Road Elementary this coming year, and if you want to be a part of this necessary program, perhaps taking one small-ish step here makes a giant leap possible soon.

Tommy Hudnall,  Volunteer & Donor Coordinator,

Office: 704-371-4922     PO Box 37363 Charlotte, NC 28237

Home team won in 9th, GREAT fireworks! Women’s World Cup – Feelin’ better USA?

BB&T Ballpark is a Triple A gem, and thousands more enjoyed 30 minutes of glorious crash-bang in Romere-Beardon park outside. 

Adding a strong, sweaty, twenty minutes of thumping a tennis ball against a blank wall Sunday evening to the above list, it would still be a sincere wish to America and its varied people about actively enjoying these last four days even more than that.

At times the relentless pounding of political negativity and Us/Them division on everything has to take a break, and a good time with friends always seems to provide such healing moments. Brother Mike saying Wednesday that he’d gotten tix for corporate luxury box treatment for a Charlotte Knights game, plus obvious post-game fireworks, raised the long weekend a couple notches.

Telling maybe ten kids that this would be the fireworks they’d compare tired, one shell-one more-pause-one, two more to string it out events for years, was 100% sincere enthusiasm.

You have to give attaboys! to WBT radio for sponsoring an outstanding, full-bore thirty minute display, one that hit every expectation morning host Ramona raised in saying it was going to be the best in the Southeast. Coming after a sell-out crowd of over 10,000 saw the home team win in their last at bats, with all the extras of being so close to refreshments and players, this celebration of the 4th was a sneaky fastball – more than you’d expect, coming at you strong.

Would it make a difference if these girls knew whose autograph they got? They aren’t Lavelle, Alex, or Carli, but an autographed ball is always good.

Yep, hope you got a bunch of that over four days. If you want to (literally) water down that attitude by being glad Trump’s parade got rained on, this is ‘Merica, you can still say things like that out loud.

Was USWNT and World Cup win a shared experience?

Admitting to having a ton of pride in how this team carried itself, so strong and confidently, was reflected in the wonderful advertising that wrapped around these warriors and the younger generation of girls they inspired. Count on seeing more daughters with purple ‘dos in the near future, and that Big – Bigger deal, with Alex Morgan giving a youngster her jersey as *just* the Big, congrats to every talent person involved in ALL of them.

Working remotely, it was a guilty pleasure to have the games – all of the World Cup was worth watching – on in background of laptop these past few weeks. That several people at the baseball game said the company had screens for games going during the work day, that makes predictions of  women’s soccer REALLY blowing up a fact.

The smart $$$ is already in on it, not still waiting for success to happen. VW giving their ad time up to let things roll regarding the team? That’s what we’re talking about!

Working on content for a CBD oil company this year, there’s an analogy in how the legal hemp industry has gone wild over that particular molecule, with expectations of becoming a $20 billion market in three years. As terrific as the US women’s ‘Golden Generation’ has been, this fourth Cup was forged over time – but with a very similar trajectory going forward.

How the equality in pay lawsuit goes, that’s news for another day. Soon, but not before Wednesday.

First, America has a big ol’ parade to show off it’s pride in what pulling together, loyalty, well-honed skills and enough Attitude to strike a pose looks like – or have a sip of tea if the moment seems right – when all the brights lights are on.