Thursday, October 20, 2016

Books: Luckiest Man - The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig

Baseball great Lou Gehrig ( public domain)
I recently finished listening to Jonathan Eig's Luckiest Man - The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig on Audible* while, fittingly, driving back and forth from New York. The front end of the title refers to the tragic irony of the famous quote from Gehrig as being "the luckiest man on the face of the earth" as he was dying from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) at the age of 36. ALS, now commonly referred to as 'Lou Gehrig's Disease,' is a debilitating ailment that fuels the death of neurons that control its victim's voluntary muscles.

Gehrig was stricken with the disease while in the golden years of his career as a stalwart in the Yankees' lineup. During his playing days, he methodically compiled a 2,130 consecutive game streak that ended in 1939, two years prior to his death, and would stand as a record for 56 years. His longevity was surpassed by his spectacular talent - the numbers that Gehrig put up in the prime of his career remain among the best in baseball history. In 1931, to use one example of many, he batted in 181 runs. It came in the midst of a run of 13 straight years of more than 100 RBIs. During his shortened career he also belted 493 home runs in an era when the ball was still widely considered 'dead,' outfield fences outdistanced their modern counterparts, and steroids had not yet been invented.

Both his longevity and talent were eclipsed by his character - one that often stands in such contrast to modern mores as to seem fictional. Despite traveling on the road on extended barnstorming tours with the famously flamboyant Babe Ruth, Gehrig to all appearances flew as straight an arrow through his career as any player of consequence in the 20th century. He used the money from his first significant contract to purchase his own home, and promptly moved his parents in. He was so humble when interviewed that until very late in his career interviewing Gehrig was often deemed not worth the effort - especially with the ever-quotable Ruth just feet away. Sadly, it was the jarring onset of ALS that compelled many to first see the Yankee slugger as the treasure that he was.

Eig takes a studied look at Gehrig away from the field and does an outstanding job sifting through the developmental moments of his early life that later shaped his career and his final, valiant struggle with ALS. - TF

*note: the audio version has the notable benefit of the narrative talent of the late Ed Herrmann augmenting the text.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Southland Conference: Nicholls' Promising Freshman QB

Nicholls' Chase Fourcade (Photo / Nicholls Athletics for ASN)

Last week I caught up with Nicholls State's promising young quarterback, Chase Fourcade, for the American Sports Network. Fourcade is a Louisiana native and his father and uncle both spent time with the New Orleans States in the late 1980s.

The true freshman began his career against the SEC's Georgia and helped the Colonels (of the FCS) nearly upset the Bulldogs in Athens. This past weekend he also helped Nicholls defeat Southland rival, Stephen F. Austin, in overtime.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Books: Running For My Life By Lopez Lomong

Lopez Lomong's Running For My Life (photo - T. Nelson)

I recently reread Lopez Lomong's harrowing yet inspiring autobiography, Running For My Life. Lomong escaped the killing fields of South Sudan during the Second Sudanese Civil War only to spend the remainder of his childhood in the squalor of a refugee camp in Kenya. He was first kidnapped and taken from his family at the age of six while celebrating an outdoor church service. He was taken by the Sudan People's Liberation Army and warehoused in a prison along with other captured boys ('The Lost Boys of Sudan') who lived and - all too frequently died - due to the brutal conditions of their camp.

Life in the refugee camp was an improvement over prison, but it was still unfathomable in its unsanitary conditions and its famine-level provisions. While there he managed to briefly break free of the camp to the home of a nearby farmer, where Lomong and several of his fellow refugees were able to watch Michael Johnson's exploits at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. It was there that Lomong made the decision to one day become an Olympian and follow the steps of the record-breaking American sprinter.

Without giving too much of the compelling story away, he eventually was resettled in the US through an opportunity provided by Catholic Charities. From there, his relentless work ethic coupled with unflagging modesty and determination led him to a stellar high school career in Tully, New York. He ultimately arrived on the campus of Northern Arizona University and qualified for the US Olympic team. He represented the nation at the 2008 Beijing Games in the 1500m and represented his adopted nation's athletes when he was named the flag-bearer for the US contingent at the opening ceremonies. - TF

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Southland Conference: Long Night, Bright Future for HBU

Houston Baptist's Tony Dawson (Photo / HBU Athletics)

The HBU Huskies football team certainly had a long night on Thursday to open the 2016 season when they fell to Southland foe Central Arkansas (1-0), 56-13.

The score aptly tells the story of the complete victory by the Bears. Hidden beneath it is some good news for the Huskies. They're in just their fourth year of competition at any level, and NCAA Division I is not an easy place to start a sport from scratch, particularly football. This offseason they added quarterback coach Charlie Reeve, who arrives from UTSA, another Texas start-up program that is getting increasingly competitive within Conference-USA.

They currently have two quarterbacks vying for the regular starting spot, senior Tony Dawson and junior Max Staver. Late in the opening loss, Staver showed good touch on a 31-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver David Racine.

Dawson in game action against UCA (Photo / Russ Reneau, HBU) 
Neither QB is an underclassman, but a silver lining to shorter collegiate careers in front of them is that their younger backups can advance at a more studied pace than is typically afforded a new program at any level. Recall another Houston team, the Texans, who had rookie David Carr under center in their first year of 2002. Carr was sacked an NFL record 76 times, and the team didn't make its first playoff appearance until nine years later in 2011. By all indicators, the Huskies are making a more rapid ascent.

I had the opportunity to speak with Coach Reeve, Dawson, and Staver before their opener on the American Sports Network. - TF