Saturday, September 07, 2019

Planning for a Brighter Future

-Occasionally I get into one of those moods where I long for the so-called "gold old days". Watching too much news on TV will do that to a baby boomer. So here I go with another observation and a potential solution for one of today's problems. By the way, before I get too far into this, we boomers should not claim to have the answer to the world's ills. Many of the 60's generation insisted that we would bring peace and prosperity to the planet. How has that worked out? Anyway, here goes my older-guy rant.

Not all, but many, young people today seem to think they are entitled to everything without having to do anything. I don't know how that mindset develops except for the possibility that people younger than 50...heck even 60...have not HAD to perform any sort of public service. I HAD to. I was one of the last people in this country to be drafted into the armed forces after the Vietnam war. I went kicking and screaming to eight weeks of Army basic training and another eight weeks of advanced training. But it probably was sixteen weeks of the thing I needed most at age 21. I had just graduated from college and had lived at home the whole time. I was still a kid with mom doing my laundry. As a result of my military training, I was forced to grow up, learn to take care of myself, understand how lucky I was to live in the United States, exercise some self-discipline, and appreciate service to others in this world. I came home a much different person.

After basic training and AIT, I spent six years in the Army Reserve. Sure, I could have done other things with my time. But putting on a military uniform and representing this country in an official way does something to you inside...and outside. Most, not all, but most people who put on the uniform of one of the services become changed in a positive way. They become part of one of the greatest "teams" in the world. They then develop an understanding of the value of teamwork...and the necessity of it. Working with others, and relying on them...and them on you, brings real respect for the other humans we interact with regularly. This is particularly true, I think, when training to defend your country. Suddenly, your self-importance and belief that the world owes you something is gone. Additionally, if one has the urge to fire a weapon, that itch is scratched in basic training too. And you certainly then understand the damage a military-style weapon can do.

Why do we see so many bullets flying and killing innocent people these days? I would say primarily because the person holding the gun has no respect for him or herself, and certainly very little for anyone else. If there were more respect for others, and less of a sense of entitlement among younger people, I'm saying there would be much less bad news to have to suffer through.

So what's my solution? It may sound like caveman thinking to some, but I'm suggesting required military training and public service for at least six months after high school. A full year would be better.

If you think this is barbaric, well you might be part of the problem. There are still several countries in this world who believe in such service to the nation...and apparently what it does for the development of the individual...and further what it does for the growth of society. Bermuda, Burundi, Cape Verde, Colombia, France, Kuwait, Mali, Mauritania, Singapore, Sweden, Thailand and Venezuela all have some form of compulsory military service.

Because I have spent some time in Sweden, and admire their way of life, I am particularly impressed with that country's commitment to military conscription. In fact, they abandoned it in 2010, but re-instituted conscription last year and at the same time made it gender-neutral. So in Sweden a percentage of young people of a certain age are drafted into military service. Those who conscientiously object are given the chance to perform in the country's civilian reserve. Either way, there is a mandatory commitment to country for a percentage of the population. So Sweden, thought of as one of the most liberal nations on the planet, requires a year of public service or military service for a percentage of its young people. (With tongue in cheek)- How draconian!

I would suggest our country take it a large step further to require it of all young people upon reaching age 18, or graduating high school. Make it a requirement as well for people who are in the country illegally as a part of the citizenship process.

The sense of entitlement would then be different, but justified. "I am an American and am entitled to all this country has to offer. I have earned the respect of others, and I respect them as well." Perhaps then the Pledge of Allegiance would become more than a grouping of meaningless words written by some old man to our youth.

OK...there's the main plank in my platform as I run for president in 2020. Thank you! And God Bless America!

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Random Cardinals Observations

Like most sports fans in St. Louis, now that the Blues have won the Cup, my focus for the summer turns to the Cardinals. Unfortunately, the focus is on their struggles; even though they are far from out of the race in the Central. Some of the things that I'm seeing have me scratching my head.

-It seems to me that Paul Goldschmidt's swing is not right. If this is how he has always swung the bat, I can't believe he has the numbers he has from previous seasons. It looks like he is guiding the bat through the zone in hopes of making contact. And in doing so, his bat seems slow on a lot of easily hit-able fastballs. I'm talking about pitches that you would think a guy with his history would mash. High 80's or low 90's center-cut offerings that appear to say "hit me". But as his bat gets to the zone, the barrel is fishing for the ball. He's not swinging at it like he wants to smash it...just make contact. Thus he's getting beat by pitches that should turn into extra-base hits or homers. Do you see that too? The Cardinals thought they traded for a superstar...and paid him like one. So far, just a guy.

-Matt Carpenter appears to be baffled by the shift. Last season when he had the incredible hot streak with gobs of homers, he just hit the ball over the shift...or so hard that it didn't matter much. He seems to be totally befuddled in his approach right now. How long will the Cardinals have patience with a lead-off man who isn't getting on base or hitting homers like last season?

-Harrison Bader. Is his defense enough to keep him in the lineup consistently? He obviously is not hitting like a major-league outfielder at this point.

-Jack Flaherty. A world of talent, but seems to be struggling to find the right mental approach. The stuff is there, but not consistently. I hope his friendship with Gibby helps.

-Miles Mikolas. Just doesn't seem to have the command he did in 2018. And his numbers prove it.

-Dakota Hudson. Bright spot

-Adam Wainwright. Brighter spot than we expected. Good for him.

-Marcel Ozuna. The arm is apparently better for hitting...not throwing. Still chicken-winging the ball in to somebody who can throw.

-Jose Martinez. Seems to have a better feel for things in the outfield, but still occasionally gets exposed on a tough play. I liked Rick Horton's observation last night that he seems too far from the plate to do much with the outside pitch these days.

-Paul DeJong. All-star early in the season. Lately...not so much. OK defense...but so many swings and misses.

-Jordan Hicks. Did anybody think he would get through more than a few years throwing at max effort without needing a TJ? The phenom will have a tough time getting that sort of fastball back. 

-Carlos Martinez. The mystery continues. Hopefully, his new role will suit him.

-Alex Reyes. A superstar only in the advertising. MIA.

-Tommy Edman. Does his boyish appearance work against him? Seems like he is deserving of a shot at extended playing time. What could it hurt?

-Jedd Gyroko. The forgotten man. (I know he's dealing with injury rehab). 

-Andrew Miller. Boy, the Cardinals have had a lot of luck signing lefty relievers eh?  Some days serviceable. Others horrible.

-Mike Schildt. Does he have too much patience? I know it's a long season but..... 

-John Mozeliak. Not getting close to the value he's paying for. Or he invested in the wrong people. Interesting trade deadline coming up.

-Albert Pujols. His visit reminded us of the days when he showed the consistency lacking in most of the players above.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Time for A Blues HOF

Jimmy Roberts, Glenn Hall, Jacques Plante, Red Berenson, Bob and Barclay Plager. Just a few of the outstanding names from the early days of the St. Louis Blues. Not all were spectacular players, but all were terrifically noteworthy and instrumental, either as a player or in some other way, in establishing the Blues on the sports landscape in St. Louis.

If there were a St. Louis Blues Hall of Fame, undoubtedly all of these men would be in it. If there were a Blues HoF, there would be many more deserving players, coaches, executives, broadcasters and other contributors in it from subsequent eras. I mention those above simply to indicate that there would be plenty of candidates to consider, and many worthy of being enshrined, in such a hall. It appears to me the time is right to establish one.

  • The Blues have captured their first Stanley Cup. 
  • We have over a half-century of Blues history to draw from. 
  • Interest in the team is at an all-time high.
  • Blues fans are perhaps the most loyal and passionate in hockey and would surely engage.  

Considering this, I propose that the owners and management of the Blues take a cue from the baseball organization down the street and create a shrine to their already rich history. This would not only create another revenue stream, but also serve to honor those worthy of recognition and continue to build the brand of the Blue Note.

Not many of the expansion teams of the 60's can boast the type of early success and player recognition that the Blues enjoyed. The team was ultra-aggressive in luring high-end, name players to the team. Some had seen their better playing days, but the early success of the Blues speaks to the type of athlete that wore The Note back then.

Even during later decades when the team struggled, there were usually highly-talented players wearing the Blues uniform. It doesn't serve my proposal to name them all here; but if you love the Blues, you certainly know the people to whom I'm referring.

Think of what a Blues hall of fame and museum might look like. A display of some of the early days player equipment would baffle young people with it's simplicity and lack of protection. A display of the team trophies won over the years could be another. Player jerseys old and new. Awards won by individual players would be included in featured player displays. Certainly we could fill a lot of square feet with these and other historical presentations.

We can debate for months about what players would be deserving of hall of fame consideration or election. But that's part of the fun of these things. And it also keeps the fans of the team involved in it's history and current make-up.

As someone who's not getting any younger...are you?... I would really enjoy a visit to such a place. And I would pay a pretty, shiny penny to go there.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

A Heartfelt Thank You and a Time to Cherish

When I was asked to do the public-address announcing during the 1986-87 season, I had no desire to do such work. I knew I could do it. But I was intent on building a fairly young sports broadcasting career. The great Dan Kelly and Ron Jacober were my bosses at KXOK radio and suggested to, the also great, Susie Mathieu, one of the first female executives of any major sports franchise, that I should be considered.

Some know this story. But for first-timers, then PA-man Charlie Hodges had to leave the position in the middle of the season to take a job with the Anheuser-Busch division Bud Sports. The Blues needed somebody to do the PA for the rest of the season. I worked at the station that carried the games. My voice was somewhat familiar to Blues fans and, I suppose, thought to be OK for PA work. 

I accepted the position pretty much because Susie asked; and because Dan and Ron were my supervisors at the radio station I felt something of an obligation. There was very little pay associated with it. Harry Ornest was the owner. Everything was bare bones. Paper clips were counted. Harry tried to get the team in some sort of shape to sell..which, of course, he eventually did. But when I started doing the PA, I had no intention of doing it for more than the rest of the '86-'87 season. Too much time invested, too little financial reward. But if I was given a job to do, I would do it to the best of my ability.

Toward the end of the season, Susie asked to meet with me in her office after one of the games. I thought, Uh-oh here we go. What have I done wrong? Have they found my permanent replacement?

Susie said--paraphrasing--"We really like the way you're doing the PA. Would you come back next season?" Without much hesitation I said...because I had given it some thought..."Susie, thank you for the offer, but I really can't devote that much time to this for the kind of money I'm making at it." (To be honest, I thought that it was holding me back from pursuit of goals I had in broadcasting.)

Susie said, "Well, Tom, we intend to make it worth your while."

That was a defining moment. The pay increase was significant, but it wasn't something that I couldn't have turned down. But the way Susie put it to me told me that she, and the entire organization, really wanted me to be their voice in the old Arena. The significance of that, didn't hit me at first. But I immediately knew that I had become part of a major sports franchise's "family". That was a warm and satisfying feeling. Susie was the mother. The rest of us were "her kids". It honestly felt that way.

Looking back on it now, I am so thankful that these events all occurred as they did. If they hadn't, I'm not sure where I would be, or what I would be doing. But I do know that my life as the Blues PA announcer for the past 32 years has given me definition. People know the "guy who does Bluuuuuues goal" and "Make some noise tonight!" at Enterprise Center. It's pretty hard to not enjoy the seat I get for the games too. 

Most of those who were part of the Blues family then, have gone on to other things....or have passed away. There are a handful of people who were part of the group, who are still around. (I don't want to forget someone so I'm not naming names here. I hope they know who they are and how much I treasure them). And I'm sure they all are as incredibly excited about being around, and in, the Stanley Cup Final as I am after all these less-than-successful years. I think of the people of this history every day, as I continue with the people of the present. And I personally would like to thank all of the people of my time with the team who have given me the chance to be a part of it.

Soak it up the best you can Blues Nation. Who knows when we'll come this way again? It is most definitely a time to be cherished.

Friday, March 29, 2019

My God...the Food!

Whenever I've gotten a glimpse of the travel accommodations the Blues players...and I assume most all pro athletes...enjoy, I've been amazed. Flying from city to city like they do is definitely not like what most of us understand from commercial air travel...unless you spring for first-class. 

When I hit my 20-year anniversary as PA man with the Blues in 2007, I was pleased that team management conducted a pre-game, on-ice ceremony to honor my service. Among other gifts, wife Barb and I were offered the chance to join the players and coaches on a one-city trip to anywhere of our choosing. We decided to join them on a trip to Toronto in January of '08. I had never been to the Hockey Hall of Fame, or Canada, and we had some other business to conduct in Toronto, so it was a natural choice.

I'll always remember getting on the charter jet at Spirit airport in Chesterfield (they fly out of Lambert's private side now), being welcomed by Keith Tkachuk and then coach Andy Murray. Barb and I were invited to sit up front with the coaches and support personnel with the players all sitting toward the back of the plane. Before we took off, flight attendants came by to present us with a menu of what would be served on the flight and ask if we wanted something to eat. I thought...Oh, that's a nice touch. Well, that doesn't begin to describe how the team rolls on one of these trips. We found out the plane to Toronto was almost like a flying food truck.

No sooner was the plane in the air, than the attendants were bringing soft drinks, coffee or tea and
asking our menu choices. We're not talking peanuts and crackers here. They were going to bring real hot burgers, wings, pasta, etc. and all of the accompanying sides. As soon as you were finished with that, you were brought hot, chocolate-chip cookies or maybe ice cream or cake....or both. When that round of food was done, the attendants would come down the aisle again asking if we wanted anything else. It was truly amazing least for someone like me who is happy to get a diet coke and something more than dry-roast peanuts on a flight. The flight to Toronto was on the day before the game...a Monday as I recall...and when we flew back to St. Louis the next night after the game, the food bonanza played out all over again.

Obviously, the players burn a lot of calories and need to be fed, but WOW do they get fed. On a short
flight to Kansas City a few years back for a pre-season game, I got to fly along and witnessed a similar show. Except this time the flight home featured a full-blown barbecue feast set up as a buffet in the middle of the plane. I don't know how many pigs, chickens and/or cows lost their lives to feed the team on that ride, but it had to be a pretty big number. Ribs, brisket, wings, pulled pork,
and all the trimmings...and, of course, lots of dessert to follow it up. Cherry or apple crisp if I remember right. And you should see the players eat! Seconds and thirds of everything.

As to the hotel accommodations, always high-end places too. Obviously, someone with the management team spends most of their time planning and executing the travel arrangements. If you thought that paying for all of the travel of a top-level professional sports franchise was a significant part of the team budget, you would be correct.       

Monday, February 11, 2019

A Brush with The Great One

It was early on in the relationship between the Harry Ornest-owned St. Louis Blues and the team's new radio home KXOK-AM 630. The great Dan Kelly, Ron Jacober and several other St. Louis broadcasting stars had been lured in 1985 to KXOK by its new owners in an effort to "out-KMOX" KMOX. Robert Hyland, the long-time, and very powerful, GM at KMOX was not at all happy with this development. He had made a practice of his station being the one-and-only station to carry major sports on the radio in the city. AM 630 had been known in the decades before as a powerhouse top-40 format station; playing the hits for the younger generation. Those days were over. And the new owners had big plans for the significant 5,000 watt signal. As it turned out, significant but not powerful enough. But that's a story for another time.

Blues games would not be heard on KMOX for the first time in team history. Mr. Jacober hired a fairly-young broadcaster for KXOK as a producer and as-needed sports announcer and host. That now not-so-young announcer would go on to become the Blues public-address announcer in 1987 and is writing this piece. Not only would the games be heard on KXOK, but the station planned to fill its sports talk shows with large amounts of Blues news and talk. And it did.

In the station's effort to bring some "star power" to the evening sports talk show, Mr. Kelly arranged to have Wayne Gretzky as a guest one evening in early December 1985. The Great One's Edmonton Oilers were in town a day early for their game the next night at the old Arena. Gretzky, while still a very young age-24 player at the time, was considered a superstar in hockey and the Great One moniker had already been bestowed upon him by "the hockey gods". Having Gretzky join the greatest hockey announcer in the world for two hours of pucks discussion and also take calls from adoring listeners was a BIG deal at that time, and to the station's growing image.

As I recall, the call-in phone lines started lighting up a couple of hours before Gretzky's scheduled 6-8pm appearance on the station. Callers would say.."I'll hold on the line as long as I need to so I can ask a question of Wayne"...or something similar. The phones were packed with callers for the entire two-hour show. If memory serves, Dan agreed to pick up Gretzky at his downtown hotel (The Old Spanish Pavilion hotel then, now the Hilton at the Balllpark) and bring him to the Sevens Building in Clayton where the KXOK studios were located at the time. Many of the station's daytime employees hung around that late afternoon and early evening hoping to get a glimpse of #99. I was lucky enough to get an autograph from him after the show on an NHL media guide. And yes, of course, I still have it.

After the show, a number of us were standing around in the lobby of the station. Mr. Gretzky signed...a lot. Kelly told he always did...and we all basked in the glory of a big day in broadcasting for all of us. As the gathering was about to break up, Mr. Kelly, in his usual big voice blasts out..."Hey Calhoun, you're driving back to Illinois right?" Not having any idea why he's asking, I replied.."Yes always".  Little did I know that he had a task in mind..."Well I live out in West about you giving Wayne here a ride back to his hotel downtown since you're headed that way?" Well, what was I going to "Sure, Dan, I'd be happy to." 

I had no idea it was coming, and as soon as I agreed I started thinking..."How clean is the car?" "What is a guy who's used to riding in limos going to think of my crummy little Datsun 510?" I was still in the early stages of my broadcasting career and money was tight. We couldn't afford much of a car at the time. The Great One, if it bothered him, didn't show any sign of it. In fact, he couldn't have been nicer. We had a great conversation while driving from Clayton to downtown St. Louis. We talked hockey and we got to know each other a little.

In fact, he must have enjoyed my company a bit because, and here's where it gets interesting and embarrassing for me, he issued an invitation. "Hey Tom...isn't there a Playboy Club in St. Louis?" Don't ask me how I knew, but I said..."Why yes, it's down in South County if I'm not mistaken." 99 says.."Well, I'm a member and have a key. (you needed a membership key to get in) How about we go down there and have a beer?" My mind starts racing. "What? Wayne Gretzky is asking me to have a beer at the Playboy Club? What do I say? What do I do? Well, of course, any sane young man would say..."You bet. That would be great. I can't think of anything I'd rather do on a winter night." But what do I say? (Remember, this is in the days before cell phones.)

"Welllll...Wayne...thank you for the invitation...but with all this snow on the ground if I don't get home at my usual time my wife will probably get worried." That was what I said. What I was probably really thinking was...I'm in this crappy little car, Wayne Gretzky has tons of money and I don't, I'm really intimidated by this situation and feel kind of uncomfortable. 

So there ya go. Maybe the most ridiculously stupid and inexplicable thing I've ever said, thought or done in my entire adult life. Gretzky says.."OK...well just drop me off at the hotel then." Which I did...and have regretted not accepting the invitation ever since. In fact, when I finally got around to trading-in that old Datsun 510, I tried to get the dealer to take the front passenger seat out of the car so I could save it as a souvenir. That didn't work out. But I'm still hoping that one of these days I'll have a chance to take 99 out to dinner and make up for my lack of  intelligence that snowy night in December of '85.

In the meantime, I did get to introduce The Great One in his first game with the Blues, and at the Alumni Classic at Busch. Still two of my all-time favorite moments as the Blues PA guy. Thanks to our great organist Jeremy Boyer who took video without me knowing, you can view the Alumni Classic intro here.

Friday, February 01, 2019

Alternatives to Super Bowl Watching

This city being the center of the Kroenke-hate universe, I thought I might come up with a few suggestions for what to do with your Sunday, besides viewing the NFL's we-are-the-greatest celebration. Of course, I think cleaning the bathroom would be a better alternative.
  •  The eagles (not the music group) are around the river these days. And taking a drive up the river road near Alton/Grafton is always a treat. 
  • The Eagles (the music group) have some newly remastered CD's...Hell Freezes Over and 40th anniversary edition of Hotel California. (Listen to them until the game is over.) 
  • The St. Louis RV Vacation and Travel show winds up Sunday at America's Center. 
  • With favorable weather, one might consider putting a brisket on the smoker and having a beverage or two while the smoke permeates your clothes. 
  • Visit your crabby old aunt whom you haven't seen in several years. (Gotta beat watching pro athletes call attention to themselves at every opportunity.) 
  • Sharpen all the knives in the house. (Then throw them at a poster of Enos.) 
  • Write a nice letter to Kevin Demoff. Tell him what you really think about the many lies he told on behalf of Enos. 
  • Make a donation to the pay-down-the Dome fund. That should take several hours. 
  • Watch your recording of the Blues vs.Blackhawks in the Winter Classic. Or maybe even better the Alumni Classic. Enjoy with a group of friends, a bowl of chili, and a Bud Light. 
Well, that's enough to get you started. And I'm getting more angry at Kroenke as I write. So I think I'll take a blood-pressure pill and leave the rest to you.