Posts Tagged ‘Brewers’

Thank You Sparky Lyle

June 15, 2013

Friday June 14th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   I had some business cards made up a couple of years ago saying that I buy old sports cards and other collectibles. They’re blaze orange, and I used to put them on bulletin boards anywhere and everywhere I had the chance. I hadn’t done it in a very long while, but of late I started up again.

   I get calls from time to time, but so far I haven’t hit the mother lode. Everyone thinks they have a million dollar collection when mostly it’s worthless junk from the last twenty years which will never have any value because it was way overprinted. They’re disappointed when they hear they didn’t hit the lottery, but too bad. I’ve had to live with disappointment since birth. They can too.

   Today I got a call from a guy who had cards from the ‘70s he found in his basement. That’s my era, and even if they’re not worth very much I still think they’re cool. They bring back memories of childhood I want to revisit – and there aren’t many of those. I asked him to name some players from the cards he had and one of them was Sparky Lyle – ace pitcher for the New York Yankees.

   Sparky Lyle will forever hold a position of the highest esteem in my heart. He’s in my personal Hall of Fame, and all it took was a minute of his time. He signed a baseball for me during a game at Milwaukee County Stadium when I was a kid, and I never forgot it. I’ve been a fan all my life.

   It was one of the first Major League baseball games I’d ever seen live, and I went with some of the kids from my neighborhood. Their parents took a carload of us to the game, and it was a blast getting to see our beloved home town Brewers take on the hated Yankees. It was ball day, and all of us had a fresh white baseball as a souvenir. Naturally, we had to try to get some autographs.

   We couldn’t get to the Brewers’ bullpen, but the Yankees were within reach. There was a giant chain link fence in the way, but we could see them standing only a few feet away. There weren’t many of us there since the game was in progress, but one of the players told us he couldn’t sign.

   I must have looked pretty pathetic, because Sparky Lyle came over and said “Hey kid, toss that ball over the fence and I’ll sign it for you.” It took me three tries, but I finally got it over and sure enough he signed it for me. He asked my name, and wrote “Best of Luck, Sparky Lyle” under it.

   It took a couple of tries to get it back over the fence, but he did and I caught it with the care I’d use if a live baby were being thrown off a burning building. That baseball was instantly the most valuable possession I owned, and I thanked him like he’d donated his left kidney to save my life.

   I kept that ball on my dresser for years, but exposure to the sun had caused the ink to fade until the signature was barely visible after a while. I remembered that moment vividly in my head and still do, but it faded from the ball and I eventually got rid of it because I couldn’t stand seeing it.

   Signing autographs for the thousands of kids who ask for them must get to be a pain in the ass of epic proportions for ball players, but Sparky Lyle knew how much it means and did it anyway. It only took two minutes or less, but he gave me a memory I still cherish almost 40 years later.

   I looked him up, and he’s 68 now and a former manager of a minor league team in New Jersey. He was born on July 22nd – the same birthday as another hero George Clinton. Maybe the whole numerology thing has some truth to it after all. Whatever the case, it was a lesson to see what one small gesture can do. I hope I’m able to make someone feel that good with something that I do.

Thanks Sparky!

Thanks Sparky!

One kind gesture lasted 40 years. I still remember.

One kind gesture lasted 40 years. I still remember!

Opening Day Of Destruction

April 7, 2010

Monday April 5th, 2010 – Chicago, IL

I know it’s not right in most people‘s eyes, but I cheer for more than one baseball team. As a kid growing up in Milwaukee, I heard radio broadcasts of the hometown Brewers as well as both Chicago teams. At night, it opened up even further. I listened to the St. Louis Cardinals on KMOX, the Cleveland Indians on WWWE and The Detroit Tigers on WJR.

Once in a while I’d find a Cincinnati Reds game on WLW or a Minnesota Twins game on WCCO. I thought it was great and as a kid all those places sounded far away and even kind of exotic. Hearing local streets in Cincinnati I never heard of before was a real kick.

Maybe I was a geek, but who cares? It kept me out of trouble when I was 11 and I loved hearing the broadcasts because I enjoyed baseball. It was especially fun to hear the teams of the National League, because the Brewers were in the American League then. I grew to really love the Chicago Cubs, and found myself cheering for them in the National League.

I suppose if it came down to it I’m a Brewer fan, but only because that’s my home team. It’s not my fault they moved to the National League, but when they did it presented a real dilemma. I like both teams, and depending on who’s hot at whatever time I cheer for them to win it all. Two years ago both teams were in the playoffs, and so were the White Sox.

Living in Chicago, it’s not possible to cheer for both the Sox and the Cubs. It has to be one or the other, and that’s how it is. Those who cheer for both cheer for neither. I guess I don’t hate the White Sox, but I don’t really cheer for them either. I may get to a couple of games every year, but that’s about it. I just go to take in the summer baseball experience.

That being said, the weather today was spectacular and I actually thought about driving up to Milwaukee and trying to get a ticket to the game. I haven’t been to an Opening Day in years, but in my day I used to show up whenever I could. I’ve sat through sleet storms, pelting rain, nasty snow and bitter cold, all to fight thousands of drunks for a urinal spot.

When I was a kid, County Stadium was the Brewers’ park and it was a dark dingy hell hole with no character at all. Add 55,000 boozed up halfwits in 31 degree weather and it’s not anything I want to relive again. Today was different. I wanted to go sit in the sunshine and soak up some vibes. Miller Park is gorgeous and I do enjoy watching games in there.

Thankfully I didn’t go, and the Brewers lost to the Colorado Rockies 5-2. That took the wind out of my sail in a hurry. How can a home team lose on Opening Day? There’s a ton of positive energy, and a packed stadium is cheering for the victory. I felt like I got kicked in the face and had I gone in person I’d have really been upset. Am I a fair weather fan?

I guess I am. Then I turned over to see what the Cubs did and they got annihilated 16-5. I heard it was their worst opening day loss in 126 years and I’m glad I didn’t have to see it happen. It was hard enough to listen to the Brewers stink it up. I know there are 161 more chances to win, but I’m scorched right now. Forget about baseball, bring on the Packers!

Back To Milwaukee I Go

January 20, 2010

Tuesday January 19th, 2010 – Milwaukee, WI

Never say never. There was a time when I could not WAIT to escape my home town of Milwaukee, WI. It was my life’s mission. Even as a kid, I knew I didn’t want to live there very long and as soon as I could leave, I hopped on the first Greyhound bus out of town.

I’ll never forget it. I was working at a restaurant called “Rustler Steak House” across the street from the Southgate Mall on South 27th Street in 1982. The Brewers had just lost the World Series and the nasty cold of a Wisconsin December with Christmas coming wasn’t an exciting prospect for happiness so I left my job in mid shift and bought the bus ticket.

I was 19 at the time and not sure what life was about, but I did know I wanted to live it anywhere but Milwaukee. Warm weather was the first target but all I could afford to buy with the money I’d saved was a ticket to Dallas, TX. I don’t know why I picked Dallas of all places, but I did. Maybe it was because I could afford a round trip ticket, which I got.

That trip was one of the best things I ever did. It was the first of countless cross country adventures I’d have over the next almost thirty years and at the time it took a lot of guts to chuck everything and DO something exciting. I thought I’d planned for it but I did a poor job and ended up having to use that return ticket a day after I got there. I wasn’t ready yet.

Coming back to Milwaukee was pure torture. It was cold and everyone I knew made fun of me for ‘failing’ in my bid to start a new life somewhere. I hadn’t failed, I just needed to learn a few more things which I eventually did. But at the time, I was feeling pretty low.

I went back to grovel for my job back at the Rustler Steak House but they wouldn’t give it to me right away. They wanted to ‘teach me a lesson’ and I guess they did. It taught me to rely on myself, which I’ve had to do since. Then I remember getting my job back after a while and then the restaurant closed and went out of business, leaving us all dangling.

I bounced around several other horrific low paying dead end jobs from restaurants to car dealerships as a lot boy to anything else I could do to survive. My grandparents raised me but my grandfather had died and that threw the family into a full scale war by that time.

It was all I could do to support myself then, much less try for college. I was all alone in a cold ugly world, and that world was Milwaukee at the time. I found it to be an alcoholic cesspool of  lowlife dysfunctional idiots who weren’t interested in bettering themselves.

They had no ambition to rise above anything other than their boring no brainer factory jobs, their bowling teams, and their beer. LOTS of beer. Milwaukeeans sure love to suck down their suds, and with most it’s a way of life. I never drank, so I never fit in either.

Over the next few years, I kept struggling to survive but eventually discovered standup comedy as a means to get me out of town. It was a rocky start, but I stayed with it and am SO glad I did. Comedy is what gave me hope and what kept me from swallowing a bullet.

As soon as I was able to leave Milwaukee, I did. I had a horrible family life, didn’t like the whole booze soaked mindset that embraced mediocrity, had no wife and kids to hold me back and knew the entertainment scene was pathetic to the point of embarrassment so I moved to Chicago in the mid ‘80s. I don’t remember the exact year, but it was fantastic.

It’s amazing how 90 miles on a map can be 90 million light years in life. Chicago had a comedy scene and I quickly became part of it and cut my teeth as an entertainer. I learned my craft and enjoyed my life and knew the first week I was there I made the right choice.

Then as life opened up, I took some chances and started in radio and that’s when things started to get all cloudy and convoluted. I ended up back in Milwaukee at 93QFM later on but that ended in total disaster. Still, something inside yearned to be a star there. I wanted to prove to those who doubted that I was worth something after all, especially my father.

It’s a common story in show business and life in general. We all want to gain approval from family, friends, lovers or whomever else we feel we need to impress. I admit that my main focus was on ‘sticking it’ to everyone, but what a waste of time all of that is. I know it now, but I hadn’t learned that then. I wasted a lot of time and caused myself much pain.

Who needs any of that? I’ve survived until now and although I made a ton of mistakes I regret horribly, I’m still in the game and in a much better mindset. I’ve learned a lot and it shows. Supposedly we’re here on Earth to learn lessons. Well, I’ve earned my doctorate.

All that being said, I drove up to Milwaukee today to meet with Richard Halasz. He’s a comedian friend I’ve known over 25 years, and he’s now promoting some shows as well. I told Richard about my one man show about growing up in Milwaukee and he absolutely loved the concept. He’s got me booked in Saukville at the Railroad Station on March 13.

Granted, Saukville is not where I pictured this show to be, but he says the people came out and supported shows he’s done out there with Will Durst and wanted to try something else. I’m willing to give it a shot so we went out there today to look at the room. I looked it over and met one of the owners and everyone seemed like nice people so we’ll let it rip.

If you’d told the clueless angry hurt kid who got on that bus in 1982 he’d be looking to return to Milwaukee to do shows, he’d have flipped you off and walked away. Now, it’s a whole new adventure and I’m really looking forward to it. I know I can pull this off for an audience that grew up in the same place I did. The difference is, I’m able to accept it now.

Milwaukee is what it is, but it sure is unique. After seeing everywhere else in America, I have a whole different perspective now. That time in my life would have been horrible no matter where I lived. It took many years to see that, but I have. I’ve matured greatly.

I doubt if I’ll ever live in Milwaukee again, but I’m close enough to be able to pull this off. I’m going to craft a show about my hometown and share it with others who grew up where I did. I’ll turn a negative into a positive and also make a few bucks for my trouble.