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Thank you, Sparky Lyle

Jun 15, 2013 -- 12:32pm

Special to ESPN Wisconsin

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 motherlode. Everyone thinks they have a million-dollar collection, when mostly it’s worthless junk from the last 20 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 relief pitcher for the New York Yankees.

Sparky Lyle will forever hold a position of the high 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 hometown 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 22 – 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.

Dobie Maxwell is a professional standup comedian who has appeared on stages across the country and on "The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson." You can e-mail him here and check out his website,

Sox and the City

Jun 22, 2012 -- 8:06am

Special to ESPNWisconsin

Like millions of other little boys in America (and more than a few girls, too), I was bitten by the baseball bug at an early age. I don’t remember exactly how old I was, but it was a single digit for sure when every waking hour in the summer was spent watching, learning and playing the game.
Neighborhood kids would gather in the designated area, and play ball from early morning until sundown. Sometimes it was an actual baseball field in a park, but other times it was in the middle of the street. Wherever there was a group of kids and some room, a ball game was sure to follow.
If that wasn’t enough, when we went home we’d digest all the box scores of yesterday’s games from the newspaper and listen to today’s game on the radio. Growing up in Milwaukee, watching games on TV was a rare treat. There were only about 40 games a year televised, and that was it.
Most of my baseball input was via radio, and I was an avid consumer. Not only could I hear the hometown Brewers broadcasts with Merle Harmon and Bob Uecker, I digested a double dose of Chicago teams with Cubs and White Sox broadcasts. I would also wander across my dial to hear the Cleveland Indians on WWWE or the St. Louis Cardinals on KMOX. It was baseball heaven.
As a kid, I was too stupid to know I wasn’t supposed to select more than one team to cheer for. There are no written rules stating this, but as I grew up I found out that’s how it’s supposed to be apparently. I was partial to my Brewers, but I also wanted the White Sox and Cubs to win too.
The Cubs were easy to cheer for because they were in the National League. The Brewers never played them, so I found myself rooting for them always. The White Sox and Brewers would play each other, but that was only a few games a year. The rest of the year, I cheered for them as well.
Things got all screwed up when the Brewers switched to the National League in 1998. I wasn’t sure who to cheer for anymore, and I found myself feeling confused when the Brewers faced the Cubs. The Brewers were terrible and I was living in Chicago so I found myself loving the Cubs.
But, unlike most other Cubs fans I didn’t hate the White Sox either. I’ve been to several games at U.S. Cellular Field, and find it to be a really enjoyable place to watch a game. In many ways, I like it more than Wrigley Field – which I also find to be a pleasant experience. I’m so confused.
To make it worse, Milwaukee had to go and reshape their destiny. County Stadium was an ugly rat hole and the Brewers stunk, but Miller Park was built and new ownership came in and turned it all around. Now I’m back to being a Brewers fan first, but I don’t despise the other two teams.
This weekend, the Brewers will be playing the White Sox in interleague play. The Brewers are having a rough year, and the White Sox are tailing off a bit after a strong start. I’ll be rooting for the Brewers, but if the Sox win I won’t be upset. I know not many other fans think the way I do, but I’m not going to lie. I enjoy baseball, and I cheer for the teams especially when they’re doing well. Am I fair weather fan? In baseball, unfortunately yes. I have three teams to break my heart.

Redemption for Seattle

Jun 22, 2012 -- 7:54am


Special to ESPN Wisconsin

The grind of the NBA Playoffs comes to a close.  The villains of last season that left the Finals embarrassed by the Mavericks are back once again against the sweet new kids on the block – Oklahoma City.  The Thunder was favored in the series not only in Vegas but all over the country.  Every state, and every basketball fan who had any sense of mind or memory would not wish to see LeBron James raise a trophy and how insane – from a media perspective – would it be to discuss Kevin Durant getting a ring before James?

My name is Taylor Rausch, I was an ESPN Milwaukee Intern last fall.  I am from the one place outside of Florida where fans rooted for the Heat. I am from Seattle, Washington.  Ring a bell to anyone out there?  Let me give you a unique insight into a view of the NBA Finals that no other city felt on this planet the past week.  The view you won’t see on “SportsCenter,” Miami radio stations or even any radio station.

That joyful, energetic team in soothing blue jerseys and white lettering used to be my team.  It used to be the Seattle Supersonics.  Kevin Durant did wear that emerald green in the temperate Northwest.  Almost as a prince entering his kingdom, he came to town, energizing the masses.  As quickly as he came, him, Westbrook and those Supes’ were taken from us, in the most ruthless of ways.  

Listen, I could take the typical Seattle sports fan route and complain and give you the whole story about how we have gone through trials and tribulations.  How we are the 13th biggest market in the U.S. with such grassroots basketball which has produced the likes of Lenny Wilkens, Brandon Roy, Jamal Crawford, Nate McMillan, Spencer Haywood, Gary Payton and Jack Sikma and Shawn Kemp.

I could go on about how over 40 years of history which included the only World Championship (1979) this town has ever seen got swept under the rug with one bad (or too good) business deal, but I won’t.   

That’s a story for a different time.  The point is to say that a crisis was averted last night.  The Heat saved the lonely, rainy city basketball fans from the lowest of lows.  Imagine this scenario -- your ex-girlfriend, who you still have feelings for, leaves you, the last thing you want is her getting a new boyfriend right away.  Well, the same goes for this team, no way we wanted to see the Thunder get another championship for a different city only four years later!  It would be beyond heart breaking and it would add to the discomfort and misfortune that Seattle sports fans continuously have to live with.  

The fans, the players and businesses in Oklahoma City are all wonderful; in fact, they don’t know how good they have it.  While they filled the streets and cheered there team and team mates, far far away  Seattleites sat dormant, in basements, in bars and in secluded dens, clutching their outdated Sonics gear thinking that it should be us, it should have been us!  That’s our girl! That’s our team!  I sat and watched game one and thought it could not be and it was unbearable to even rap my brain around the possibilities. Could this be happening?   So as we sat alone tearing that label off our beer bottles, we fist pumped as Chris Bosh blew by Kendrick Perkins and we flipped our hats backward and smiled as LeBron James out-muscled James Harden.  It was a quite redemption that rung only through the isolated forests of the beautiful Pacific Northwest and that’s the way we like it.  Seattle was quivering at the possibility of that sea colored blue championship banner rising to the rafters in the flatlands but not this year, not for at least one more year.

The Thunder is young and powerful and is only going to be motivated to return because of this experience and it’s not if they get a championship it’s when.  So as it were, that same motivation fuels my city to build a new stadium and it’s not if we get a team it’s when.  But of course we will pass this sickening feeling off to some other cities fans as we take their team and continue the vicious cycle of the NBA and its reckless disregard for its fan base that I know all too well.   

Yes, we could lead a National Basketball Association Anonymous clinic for the traumatized fans left in the wake of the Goblin Commissioner Stern’s master business plans, but we will settle for the quite satisfaction that the owners of Oklahoma City won’t be sizing up their pudgy ring fingers for at least another 365 days.  As a Seattle sports fan that’s all we can ask for.  

We will be satisfied with seeing our opportunities for bringing a team back to Seattle skyrocket exponentially as we get new buyers and new investors while Durant refines his game and Westbrook grows more disciplined.  But that will all have to wait one more year.  The Heat unknowingly saved an entire city from a heartbreak it simply could not afford to have, and that city was not Miami. It was lonely little old Seattle.  So thank you Miami.  Thank you Mr. Spoelstra, Pat Riley, Bosh, Miller, Chalmers. Thank you.  

Please, step aside critics and naysayers, the Heat deserve to take the spotlight, they deserve it, they won it fair and square I’m ready to watch four thousand montages of LeBron slam dunking and Wade floating through the air effortlessly drifting toward the rim allowing for Seattle to finally rest easy.   So as Miami parties the night away, Seattle can roll over and close its eyes on the NBA in exchange for a sweet dream.   

Seattle still has given the only championship the Thunder can stand for and in any relationship that’s a pretty good feeling to have, anyone knows that.

Minimum wage

Jun 14, 2012 -- 8:03am

Special to ESPNWisconsin

A buddy of mine has a son in high school who just got his first job flipping burgers down at the local fast food greasery for minimum wage. I realize I’m out of touch with the modern world and all that goes on in it, so I had to ask the kid what minimum wage was these days. It’s $7.25, FYI.

I like the kid a lot, so I spared him the excruciating stories of how much less it was when I was his age. I have no reason to put him or anyone else through that kind of cruel torture. The subject of money did come up though, as he wants to a big league baseball player just as I did at his age.

I asked if he knew what the Major League minimum was for a rookie just called up and he had no idea. I didn’t either, so thanks to the wonderful world of Google we were able to find out that it’s only $480,000. Is that all? Who could possibly squeak by in these treacherous times on that?

While we were at it, we decided to look up the minimum salaries of all the other sports as well. In case you were the slightest bit curious, the lowest pay is the NFL at $390,000 followed by the NBA at $473,604. The NHL is the highest at $525,000. No matter what, that’s a lot of cabbage.

I love the kid and his old man to death, and I truly hope he lives his dream of playing in the big leagues. The truth is, very few ever get that chance and he’s a bow legged little white kid with no better shot than I had. In all likelihood he’ll get paid a lot more in the long run to flip hamburgers on a grill than flip double plays on a baseball diamond. That’s just how it is for almost everyone.

Every once in a very very long while there’s a LeBron James type that comes along where it’s in the cards. He was getting fought over by the NBA at the age when most kids are fighting for a chance to get that burger flipping gig for minimum wage. It must be sweet, but who can relate?

I knew I was out of the running early when it came to being a professional athlete. I did have a tryout with the Kansas City Royals as a left handed pitcher, but I didn’t get signed. I didn’t have that big 100 mile an hour heater, and it just wasn’t meant to be. That’s about the time I started to think of what would be the easiest job in pro sports. Who gets the most pay for doing the least?
A punter for a good team in the NFL comes to mind. What do they average, three or four kicks a game? Some games even less, depending on how good the offense is. And the league is making sure quarterbacks are getting better protection all the time so it’s even easier. What a gravy gig.
Third string quarterback is another money spot, again especially on a good team. Second string is good too, but there’s still a chance you might have to take some hits. Third string is pretty safe. Just hold that clipboard, or make sure the coach’s headset wires don’t get tangled. Check please!
There was about a two week period when I actually did try to be a punter. I bought an NFL ball and kicked it as many times as I could stand it, and then kicked it some more. The time I spent in having to retrieve that ball was when the sad reality hit me that this was never going to happen in my lifetime. What’s really sad is that after all these years, that $7.25 an hour gig is looking good.

The Ball Boy Boogie

Jun 07, 2012 -- 8:02am

Special to ESPNMilwaukee

I was sad to hear the news that former Milwaukee Bucks owner Jim Fitzgerald passed away on June 4th. I was a ball boy for the Bucks in my high school years, and technically he was my boss. Normally, there would be no reason for a ball boy to ever cross paths with an owner - but we did.

It was by total accident that we met. I was literally running around doing some errand of which I am no longer able to remember any details of as my senility rapidly approaches, and was on my way out of the Bucks’ locker room with the speed and determination of a Wisconsinite headed to the cream puff barn at the State Fair. All I remember is that I needed to be somewhere else. Fast.

I also recall that I was carrying something in my arms, like a bag of uniforms or fresh towels or something. Whatever it was, I was cutting mud through the corridor of the locker room at the old Milwaukee Arena and I burst through the doorway just as Mr. Fitzgerald was making his way in.

It was one of those really embarrassing situations where two people almost collide, and then go in the exact same direction several times trying to dodge the other and it looks like they’re trying to mirror the other’s movements. It’s hilarious when it happens in a movie, but not funny to a kid in high school trying to keep the coolest job a high school kid could ever get. It was frightening.

I almost knocked the big guy himself right on his ass, and that’s not the way to meet the owner of any company one works for. It was mere inches from being a head butt situation, and I am still able to see his face complete with bugged out eyes as if it was yesterday. I still smell his cologne.

As I have done most of my life, I used my wit to address the situation. That hasn’t always been successful, but at least I’m usually able to think quickly enough on my feet to be able to come up with something to say that gets a laugh. When it works, it’s a life saver. When it doesn’t, oh well.

This particular time it worked. I said “Sorry, buddy. No time for dancing right now. I’ve got to put this stuff in my trunk before my boss finds out I’m stealing it. He’ll NEVER catch me now!”

Then I put my forefinger over my mouth and said “SHHHH. This is our little secret.” I have no idea why I said that, but it was the first thing that popped into my coconut so I did. I took a major risk by saying it, but he actually laughed. Out loud! I then apologized, and finished my business.

From then on, for the rest of the year whenever we would cross paths (which wasn’t often) I’d say something in passing like “Wanna dance?” or make the “SHHH” sound. It was a stupid joke, but it was a way of him recognizing me from the other ball boys. I doubt he ever knew my name, but I could tell by his wry smile that he’d remembered our little meeting. That’s enough for me.

I never heard any bad things about him from anyone, and that’s rare for a sports owner. Those were really good times, as the Bucks were consistent winners then. It was a dream job for a high school kid, and I always appreciated how Mr. Fitzgerald had a sense of humor and didn’t fire me that day. I have remained a fan of his from afar, and hearing of his passing was very sad news.

Tags: bucks

Game or sport?

Jun 02, 2012 -- 8:50am

Special to ESPNWisconsin

Has there ever been a definitive line drawn as to what qualifies as being a genuine sport vs. just a game? I think most would agree the American “big three” balls of foot-, base- and basket- qualify as legitimate sports. In North America and much of Europe, hockey would get thrown in as well.
Worldwide, soccer would have to be considered ‘the’ sport, even though most Americans don’t care for it and wouldn’t sit through an entire game if it cured a contagious disease  – at least most of us over 30. They’ve been ramming it down our throats for decades, but we haven’t swallowed.
Still, like it or not I don’t think many would argue it’s not a sport. Like Nancy Pelosi, I may not want to date her, but I can’t argue that she qualifies as a female - at least I think so. Maybe that’s a bad example, but I think you can figure it out. I’m just looking for some facts. What’s a sport?
A buddy of mine says if there’s any game played with a ball and people can make a living at it, it qualifies as a sport. Really? I’m not so sure about that. I immediately asked him about billiards. People can make a living shooting pool, but I’ve never heard of anyone confusing it with a sport.
And the money part can be brought into anything. I’m sure there are people who make a living somewhere playing high stakes marble games.

Does that make it a sport? I suppose in a court of law marbles could qualify as balls, but I can’t foresee a National Marble League on the horizon.
Another buddy says that any organized competition involving athletes qualifies as sport. That’s a nice try, but what about NASCAR? Is driving a car considered ‘athletic competition’? If that’s the case, as a lifelong traveling road comedian I should be up for the Hall of Fame. I don’t buy it.
Boxing is a sport, even though no artificially made balls are involved. It takes a significant pair of natural ones to succeed in that field of endeavor however even though the outcome of matches can come into question at times. Is it real? It’s supposed to be, but who can say if it’s true or not? Professional wrestling has admitted it’s staged, but millions still think that’s a sport. Go figure.
What about golf? It’s a fun game for many - me included. But a legitimate sport? I’m not sold. Hitting the ball with the club is a difficult skill, but it isn’t athletic competition in my eyes. Brain surgery is a difficult skill too, and even though it might cause the doctor to sweat it’s not a sport.
Bowling? Please. Any ‘sport’ where someone can smoke and drink beer between doing it isn’t a sport. Or is it? Ask the Boston Red Sox when Terry Francona was the manager. Some of those players did exactly that and got in big trouble. Who’d yell at a bowler if they guzzled a 12 pack? Not a soul. It’s expected, and goes with the GAME that bowling is - even though it’s televised.
That’s not the criteria either. Just because something is televised – even on ESPN – doesn’t do one thing to qualify it as a sport. Poker is on TV all the time and I can’t think of anything less of an athletic event than that - with the possible exception of a Cubs game. But that’s a sport, right? I’m more confused now than when I started. One thing I’m 1000% sure of is soccer still stinks.

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