The ultimate friendship (Maurice Stokes and Jack Twyman), and an interview with the author who wrote their story

By Ed Odeven

TOKYO (July 30, 2015) — Some stories are timeless and unforgettable; others are easily forgotten. But the vital lessons of the friendship between Jack Twyman and Maurice Stokes ought to be told again and again for generations to come.

It’s a powerful reminder of friendship and kindness and common decency and profound courage. It’s a story that transcends racial barriers.

Pat Farabaugh captured the essence of their friendship in his 2014 book, “An Unbreakable Bond: The Brotherhood of Maurice Stokes and Jack Twyman.”

Stokes (left) and Roy Campanella (right) became friends following accidents less than two months apart in early 1958 that left both sports stars paralyzed.  Campanella was a three-time National League Most Valuable Player as a catcher with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  He and Maurice are seen here at one of the Stokes Benefit Games at Kutsher’s Resort.  In the back row, left to right, are NBA stars Oscar Robertson, Dave DeBusschere, Gus Johnson, Wes Unseld, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain (Saint Francis University Marketing and Public Relations).

Stokes (left) and Roy Campanella (right) became friends following accidents less than two months apart in early 1958 that left both sports stars paralyzed. Campanella was a three-time National League Most Valuable Player as a catcher with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He and Maurice are seen here at one of the Stokes Benefit Games at Kutsher’s Resort. In the back row, left to right, are NBA stars Oscar Robertson, Dave DeBusschere, Gus Johnson, Wes Unseld, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain (Saint Francis University Marketing and Public Relations).

Milton Kutsher (left) hosted the “Stokes Benefit Game” at his resort in the Catskills each August from 1959 to 1999.  Kutsher reached out to Twyman (center) in late 1958 and asked how he could help Maurice.  Kutsher’s son, Mark Kutsher (right), continued this tradition after his father died.  Following Stokes’ death in 1970, proceeds from the benefit game went to NBA players who needed financial help because of an unforeseen medical crisis (Saint Francis University Marketing and Public Relations).

Milton Kutsher (left) hosted the “Stokes Benefit Game” at his resort in the Catskills each August from 1959 to 1999. Kutsher reached out to Twyman (center) in late 1958 and asked how he could help Maurice. Kutsher’s son, Mark Kutsher (right), continued this tradition after his father died. Following Stokes’ death in 1970, proceeds from the benefit game went to NBA players who needed financial help because of an unforeseen medical crisis (Saint Francis University Marketing and Public Relations).

  Stokes defends against the New York Knicks’ Mel Hutchins during a game in 1958.  Jack Twyman is trailing the play (Courtesy of Jay Twyman).

Stokes defends against the New York Knicks’ Mel Hutchins during a game in 1958. Jack Twyman is trailing the play (Courtesy of Jay Twyman).

 

By all accounts, Stokes was a rising star. Entering the NBA out of Saint Francis (Pa.) College, the 6-foot-7 forward was the second overall pick in the 1955 draft. He joined the Rochester Royals and earned Rookie of the Year honors.

Twyman also joined the Royals in 1955 as a second-round draft pick out of the University of Cincinnati. He went on to play 11 seasons with the franchise, first in Rochester, then in Cincinnati. He was a six-time All-Star and a 1983 inductee into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

While Twyman had longevity in the pros, Stokes, over three seasons, just three seasons, was a three-time All-Star and led all players in the fledgling circuit in rebounds (3,492) in that span. His career totals: 16.4 points, 17.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists. He was named to the All-NBA second team three teams. And he was on the verge of being one of the all-time greats.

What cut short Stokes’ career?

He hit his head on the court and became unconscious in the final game of the 1957-58 season. Days later, after the playoffs had begun and he kept playing, Stokes got sick, suffering seizures while on an airplane flight following a postseason game against the Pistons. He went into a coma and was later diagnosed as having post-traumatic encephalopathy, a brain injury that left him permanently paralyzed.

In a June 2013 article posted on ESPN.com, Curtis Harris summarized the plight that Stokes faced and how Twyman stepped in to help his teammate. Harris wrote, “The Royals were obscenely quick to remove Maurice and his $20,000 salary from their payroll. There was no pension or medical plan for NBA players back then, which left Stokes and his family unable to endure medical bills that would approach $100,000 a year. Facing financial peril, Stokes was saved by his Royals teammate Jack Twyman. The hot-shot small forward filled a void few would, and he did so for the duration of Maurice’s life.

“Twyman became his teammate’s legal guardian and undertook all kinds of fundraising efforts to round up the money and save Maurice. … Twyman, who worked for an insurance company during offseasons, successfully sued under Ohio law to have workman’s compensation awarded to Stokes.”

Indeed. Twyman spearheaded efforts to raise funds to pay for Stokes’ medical bills and other expenses for the rest of his life.

In 1958, Twyman and Milton Kutsher put together the Maurice Stokes Memorial Basketball Game, which became an annual event.

Stokes passed away in April 1970 at age 36. He was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2004, and Twyman was there in Springfield, Massachusetts, for the induction ceremony. Here is Twyman’s induction speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-K1fg5xWc9s

Twyman died in May 2012 at age 78.

In June 2013, the NBA established the Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year Award, an appropriate way to keep their legacy current.

When the award was created, then-commissioner David Stern said, “The relationship shared by Jack and Maurice is as profound an illustration of compassionate and unconditional fellowship between two teammates that the NBA has ever seen. What better way to honor the life-long bond that developed between them by establishing an award in their honor that recognizes friendship and selflessness among teammates.”

I recently interviewed Farabaugh, an associate professor of communications and football play-by-play announcer at Saint Francis University, about his aforementioned book about Twyman and Stokes via email. I wanted to gain a broad perspective on his project and learn about the stories behind the stories, as well as his overall thoughts on this book, which is a valuable addition to sports and American history.

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First of all, what prompted you to write this book? Was it a suggestion from a university colleague? Was it a project you decided to do based on your own intellectual curiosity? Was it in the back of your mind for some time because of Stokes’ association with the university?

Pat Farabaugh (Courtesy of author)

Pat Farabaugh

I served as sports information director at Saint Francis from 1999 to 2005. Stokes was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2004 and we retired his jersey number 26 at Saint Francis in 2000. At these events, I had the opportunity to talk to Twyman and the idea for a book project on the two men began to form following these conversations with Jack. It was such a fascinating story and it had been well-documented by newspapers and magazines back in the 1960s, but now it was largely forgotten, plus no one had written a book that told the entire story. A friend of mine – Vince Negherbon – also served as a catalyst to write the book. During my time as SID at Saint Francis, I became close with Father Vince. Vince is almost as much of a legend at the school as Stokes. He graduated from Saint Francis in 1943 and stayed to pursue theological coursework, eventually becoming a priest. He was appointed the College’s librarian in 1947. This was the first of several roles he served at the school over the next half century, including Dean of Students, Academic Dean, Executive Vice President and Vice President for College Relations. In 1966, Vince became president of Saint Francis, serving in this capacity until 1972. He was also a diehard sports fan. And he loved basketball. During the 1950s, he served as the Saint Francis basketball team’s chaplain. And a driver in the team’s carpool to away games. And a de-facto assistant to head coach Skip Hughes.

Father Vince got to know Stokes well during Maurice’s four seasons in Loretto. Years later, he asked Maurice if he would allow the school to name its new athletics facility after him. In April of 1970, Vince presided over Stokes’ funeral mass. He and I became close friends during my time as SID at Saint Francis and he shared stories with me about the Stokes Era at the school. In 2008, Father Vince died at the age of 87. I thought back to all the stories he had shared with me and kicked myself for never having written anything down. This also motivated me to share the story of Stokes and Twyman.

Was St. Johann Press the first publisher you pitched this book to? Was it difficult to convince SJP to approve the project?

No. I pitched the book to a number of different academic and commercial publishers before signing a contract with St. Johann Press. I had some interest on both fronts, but no offers. I remember it was a Friday afternoon during the dead of winter and I was doing a Google search of publishers and I happened upon St. Johann Press. I had cold-called some other publishers without much success, but I called the number for this publishing house and, moments later, I was sharing information about my book with the owner, Dave Biesel.

Dave was interested – he was a sports fan and knew about the Stokes-Twyman story. He asked me to send him some more information about the book, so I sent him what I had written up to that point. Shortly after our phone conversation, I traveled to the Dominican Republic on a mission trip. When I got back, I had a message from Dave saying that he liked what he had read and wanted to publish the book. I really liked some of the ideas he had regarding the book – they were in line with what I was thinking. My instincts told me that this was a good fit. They proved to be right.

Since the book’s release last year, how has it been received? What kind of feedback have you been given?

Reviews of the book have been very positive. It has been written about in a lot of newspapers and magazines, as well as on-line sites. The Altoona Mirror, Cincinnati Enquirer, Cincinnati Herald, Johnstown Magazine, Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, Mainline Newspapers, Pittsburgh Courier, Pittsburgh Sports Report, UC Magazine (University of Cincinnati Alumni Magazine) and others have written about the book and I was very happy with these reviews. Readers have also reviewed the book on-line (Amazon, Goodreads, etc) and these have been positive, too.

I have done a number of book signings and presentations, including one at the University of Cincinnati last November. Amazingly, the first game following the book’s release for both the Saint Francis and University of Cincinnati basketball teams – Stokes and Twyman’s alma maters – was against each other. The two teams played each other to open the 2014-15 season. Prior to this game – which was at Cincinnati – I did a book signing in the Twyman Lounge at UC’s Lindner Athletic Center. Some of Jack’s family stopped by and it was really special.

People that I talk to – at presentations and in one-on-one conversations – are amazed at the selflessness of Twyman. Many of them are just floored that a young man with so many other responsibilities would step up in such a huge way for someone. And then honor that commitment for so many years. And they are equally impressed by Stokes’ approach to his life following the accident. Twyman’s selflessness and Stokes’ perseverance in the face of all his physical challenges are the two things that stick with most readers.

Is the timing of your next book (“Strike Three: The 1977 Johnstown Flood”)  specifically planned to coincide with its 30th anniversary?

That’s the plan. I have LOTS of work to do before then, but I am hoping to release the book right around the anniversary of this event.

What were the interviews with Twyman like in the summer of 2011? Were there many emotional highs and lows for you and for him? Where did you meet him? Can you describe these interview sessions? Were they real straight forward journalism-style Q&A sessions? About how many hours and sessions were there? After all of those interviews, did your impression of him change at all? Was he essentially the person you felt he was going into the book project?

These interview sessions were a lot of fun. The first time I told Jack that I wanted to write a book about his relationship with Maurice, he told me that the book should be about Stokes, and not about him. I told him it would be impossible to share the full story of Stokes without explaining to readers all that he had done for Maurice.

He was initially leery about the idea. He thought about it for a while and then told me that he would participate in the project because he wanted more people to learn about the person Stokes was. Jack constantly dismissed all those who were quick to praise his efforts on behalf of Maurice. He always said something like, “anyone else in a similar situation would have done the same thing.” Which, of course, is not true.

Our conversations – most of which were over the telephone – were pretty much storytelling sessions. Was it emotional? Yeah, at times it was. I remember when Jack was telling me the story of when Father Vince came to his home in Cincinnati to ask Maurice if Saint Francis could name its new fieldhouse after him. Jack got choked up telling that story. Vince hid in the basement of Jack’s home and they surprised Maurice after Jack picked him up at the hospital. When Vince asked Maurice if he would consent to his name being given to the new fieldhouse, Stokes started crying.

They were definitely not traditional, journalistic question-and-answer sessions. I sort of steered the interviews and gave Jack a lot of latitude to take our conversations in all sorts of different directions. In terms of hours and number of interview sessions, that’s hard to say. Some of our conversations were long, some were short, some were interrupted by things that came up for me or him, and sometimes we played phone tag.

Going into the interviews, I was already a bit in awe of the person Jack was, because of all I knew about what he had done for Stokes. After talking to him during our interviews, I had even greater respect for him. Twyman is a no-nonsense kind of guy. His work ethic and commitment to everything that he took on life is probably what I appreciated much more following our conversations. When this man set his mind to something, he did not rest until he achieved his goal. And when he gave his word, you could take it to the bank. Jack gave his word to Maurice and the Stokes family that he would look after his friend, and he never wavered from this responsibility.

How has learning about the friendship between Twyman and Stokes enriched your own life? Has it given you a greater appreciation for friendships and family bonds?

I have learned so much from these two men, but two “life lessons” stand out above the others. From Maurice, I learned that things in life can change very quickly and we can’t control a lot of this. What we can control, however, is the attitude that we decide to adopt when facing life’s challenges. Despite his paralysis and loss of independence and everything else that went along with the last 12 years of Stokes’ life, Maurice’s attitude was upbeat and positive and almost unbelievable. He didn’t wallow in self-pity and simply “wait out” the years that he was confined to Cincinnati hospitals. He lived his life to the fullest and grew as a person and worked to improve his limited mobility and speech and made an impression on the people he met. He never gave up. His perseverance is awe-inspiring.

From Twyman – and I touched on this earlier – I learned that hard work produces results and that giving to others is a blessing that we all should cherish. Jack succeeded at everything he put his mind to because he worked and worked and worked to see things through. This is a guy who was cut from his Central Catholic High School basketball team as a freshman, as a sophomore, and as a junior. He is now in the Naismith Hall of Fame. This is a guy who excelled in basketball, in business, in broadcasting, but more importantly, as a father and as a husband and as a human being. And certainly as a friend.

From your interview with the Cincinnati Herald, does this poignant statement (“Sure, it’s a basketball story, but it is so much more than that,” he said. “At its essence, it is the story of two men – one who overcame tremendous challenges and another who embodied selflessness.”) remind you of other highly visible friendships chronicled in popular culture in recent years?

I can’t think of any recent friendships that have been highlighted by the media that come close to the levels of love and sacrifice and stick-to-it-tiveness of the Stokes-Twyman story.

What does the friendship of Maurice Stokes and Jack Twyman, when the Civil Rights movement was underway, tell us about how American society can and should be?

This story certainly transcends race, but it is important to appreciate the state of race relations in the country during the period in which Stokes and Twyman’s relationship evolved. It was not until 1954 – when Stokes and Twyman were still in college – that the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the integration of the nation’s public schools in Brown vs. Board of Education. The Stokes-Twyman story was a beacon of light shining from the sports world during the tumult of the Civil Rights era. Twyman served as a role model for all Americans – in Jack, we have a man’s whose vision of the world was truly colorblind. During a decade of upheaval, one in which Americans grappled to determine what the “proper” relationship between blacks and whites should be, all Twyman saw was a friend and teammate who needed his help. And he never wavered.

How can their friendship be an important learning tool for American society at a time when rampant gun violence, police shootings of unarmed blacks and a symbol of hatred (Confederate flag) are in the public spotlight?

Racism stubbornly persists in American society. It’s like a weed that you pull out of your garden – but before it comes out altogether, it breaks off. You don’t get the roots, and that weed is out of sight for a little while, but soon it grows back because the root system is still intact.

Anyone who thinks we are living in a “postracial society” just needs to move that dirt a little to see the roots of the weed. We have seen these roots over the last year in some of the events that you mention. What we can learn from Stokes and Twyman’s friendship is that we do not need to be afraid of those who are different from us – in race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or whatever. That fear keeps us from growing and learning and understanding.

Although Kutsher’s Hotel and Country Club in the Catskills, in upstate New York, location of the annual summer fundraisers for Stokes is now closed, can you share a few memorable anecdotes about people you spoke to from the upstate New York resort area?

I interviewed Mark Kutsher, who was a child when his mother and father hosted the Stokes Benefit Game at the family’s country club each summer. My interview with Mark was really special because he was talking about all of these legendary players visiting his family’s resort. He recalled meeting the NBA’s biggest stars when he was a kid and he had a childlike enthusiasm when he was describing these experiences to me. And I understood exactly where he was coming from. When Stokes was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2004, I attended a reception before the induction ceremony and I was a 30-something kid in awe, meeting and chatting with my childhood heroes – James Worthy, Dr. J., Moses Malone, Robert Parish. Even though you are an adult, you can be taken back to your childhood. I was taken back on that Hall-of-Fame weekend and I felt like Mark took me back to his childhood years as he shared stories about the Stokes Benefit games at Kutsher’s.

What made Jerry Izenberg an ideal choice to write the foreword for your book? And how did that come about?

St. Johann Press had published Jerry’s memoirs – “Through My Eyes: A Sports Writer’s 58-Year Journey.” This book came out in 2009. Dave Biesel – the owner of St. Johann Press – knows Jerry pretty well and he suggested that we reach out to him and ask him to write the foreword for my book. I was ecstatic when he agreed to write it. He was indeed the “ideal choice” for this part of the book project. He had covered Stokes, but not only that. He had gotten to know Maurice more than a sportswriter covering a sports figure. The two had struck up a friendship and they enjoyed each other’s company. He knew Maurice well and he had seen the daily challenges and struggles Stokes faced following his accident.

Who were a few key sources for the book that may surprise some people because they may not be household names or folks who hold/held the prestigious or most visible jobs in the NBA and college hoops?

Two of my favorite interview subjects were not basketball people at all. They were with Maurice’s speech therapist at Good Samaritan Hospital, Sylvia Meek, and with his brother, Terro Stokes Jr.

Sylvia’s ability to recall experiences she had with Stokes during their speech therapy sessions was impressive. These sessions happened more than a half century ago, yet she was quick with details and specifics during our conversations. It was obvious that she had a fondness for Stokes and it was also very apparent that she respected the effort that Maurice had put into their speech therapy sessions.

Maurice’s brother, Terro, shared insights from Stokes’ years growing up in Homewood, a community just outside of Pittsburgh. You could hear in his voice just how much his brother meant to him. He also expressed to me how much Twyman meant to the Stokes family. He was at a loss for words as he tried to describe his feelings for all that Jack did for Maurice.

After all of the painstaking research that went into writing the book and what you learned along the way, do you agree with this assessment: Twyman remains one of the lesser-known greats to ever play the game?

Yes. No question about it. Twyman could score the ball, especially from the corners along the baseline. In 11 NBA seasons, he played in six All-Star games. He finished his career with 15,840 points in 823 games (19.2 per game). He finished runner-up in the league in scoring two times and led the NBA in field goal percentage (45.2 percent) in 1957-58.

Twyman ranked 20th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list when he retired. He played in 609 consecutive games before a broken hand sidelined him during the 1963-64 season. This is remarkable – think of the pounding that he took night in and night out as a professional basketball player. Twyman was tough.

His best scoring season came in 1959-60, when he averaged 31.2 points per game (2,338 points in 75 games). This was second only to Wilt Chamberlain’s 37.6 points per game that season. Talk about lofty company. Twyman and Chamberlain became the first two players in NBA history to average more than 30 points per game for a season. This is a good trivia question to spring on your friends who think they know NBA history. It was the second straight year that Twyman finished runner-up in the league in scoring – he averaged 25.8 per game (1,857 points in 72 games), second behind Bob Pettit (29.2 per game) in 1958-59.

Which players in the NBA over the past quarter century most remind you of Twyman and Stokes from what you’ve seen and heard?

Stokes’ combination of scoring, rebounding and passing abilities, combined with his unselfishness and basketball IQ, was something that the NBA had never seen before he got to Rochester in 1955. He was a power forward and ferocious rebounder who could not only finish on the fast break, but also handle the ball in transition. He was the first big man in the league with outstanding passing skills. I think his skill set was most similar to that of Magic Johnson and LeBron James. There are differences, sure, but he could do things that these two can also do. Besides Stokes, the only other player in NBA history to finish in the top three in rebounds and assists for two straight seasons was Chamberlain.

I think Twyman’s game was a lot like Paul Pierce in his prime. Like Pierce, he could score in a lot of different ways – from the outside, on the drive, getting to the line. He could also deliver key passes at important moments, although he definitely possessed a “shoot-first” mentality.

* * *

This book is available on Amazon and elsewhere: http://www.amazon.com/An-Unbreakable-Bond-Brotherhood-Maurice/dp/1937943178

Additional recommended reading: http://grantland.com/features/bryan-curtis-tragic-inspirational-story-maurice-stokes/

Eddie Oropesa’s story: Living every day like it’s his last

This feature on Arizona Diamondbacks reliever Eddie Oropesa appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun in April 2002.

Living every day like it’s his last

By Ed Odeven

PHOENIX (April 20, 2002) — Veteran pitcher Eddie Oropesa treasures every day. For him, every day is a blessing, another day to do what he loves.

“Every day when I wake up I thank God, come to the ballpark and give 100 percent,” he said.

With Oropesa’s optimistic outlook and pitching talents, he’s been a positive addition to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

A free-agent pickup by the D-backs during the off-season, Oropesa arrived at the D-backs’ spring training camp in Tucson as a non-roster invitee. A slight hamstring strain limited his availability during Cactus League action — he made six appearances. And with injuries causing veteran pitchers Armando Reynoso (neck), Todd Stottlemyre (shoulder), Matt Mantei (elbow) and Greg Swindell (shoulder) to begin the season on the disabled list, Oropesa was given an opportunity to make Arizona’s Opening Day roster.

It was not an opportunity Oropesa would waste.

“He got the ball and little by little he was breaking in,” D-backs pitcher Miguel Batista said.

“He was really excited the day they told him he made the team.”

Through Friday, Oropesa, a submarine-style lefty, has been the busiest reliever out of the D-backs’ bullpen, making 11 appearances. He’s tied with four others for the most appearances in the National League. Oropesa’s ERA sky-rocketed to 5.23 after a shaky outing Friday.

PURSUING A DREAM

Oropesa, 30, was born and raised in Cuba. He attended the University of Matanzas. On the baseball-crazed island where talent is abundant, Oropesa made the Cuban National Team.

However, he yearned for more. He wanted a better life for his family. He wanted to pursue his dream of playing in the major leagues. And he wanted freedom from dictator Fidel Castro’s communist regime.

“When I had my first opportunity, I said I wanted to defect,” Oropesa said.

While in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1993 for an exhibition game between a Cuban traveling team and a team from South Korea, Oropesa defected. He climbed over a fence at the ballpark and never looked back. Oropesa’s wife Rita was pregnant at the time with the couple’s first-born child, Edilberto, back in Cuba.

It was not an easy road to take. Oropesa toiled for eight years in the minors, starting with the St. Paul Saints of the Independent Northern League in 1993. He pitched in four games that year for the Saints, posting a 3-1 record with a 1.93 ERA.

The Los Angeles Dodgers drafted him in the 14th round of the amateur draft the following year. The well-traveled Oropesa pitched for Vero Beach in 1994, San Antonio, Vero Beach and San Bernardino in ’95, San Bernardino in ’96, Shreveport in ’97, The President Lions in Taiwan (Chinese Professional Baseball League) in ’98, Fresno, Bakersfield and Reynosa (Mexican League) in ’99 and Shreveport again in 2000.

Many ballplayers would have given up and changed professions. Oropesa did not. He kept with it, kept striving to get a shot at “The Show.”

Oropesa, a non-roster invitee to the Philadelphia Phillies camp last spring, made a good impression, pitching in 13 exhibition games without giving up an earned run.

Finally, he made his major-league debut last season with the Philadelphia Phillies and pitched on Opening Day

“I’ve gone through so much, fighting and struggling,” Oropesa was quoted as saying at the time in the Miami Herald. “There were times in the past eight years I felt my head was going to explode from all the pressure inside it. I came here to be free, to have a future, to give my son a life different from the one I had, and to see him in the crowd.”

“It’s hard to play so many years in the minor leagues, especially those first few years when my family was back in Cuba,” he said earlier this week.

Oropesa’s wife and three kids and his parents now live in the United States. He said they are grateful to enjoy the freedom and opportunities that exist in America.

Pitching in Cuba helped prepare Oropesa for the high-pressure situations of being a major leaguer. He said that no ballplayers influenced his pitching style. Instead, he credits his father, Eddie, for passing on to him his love for the game.

“I thank my father every day for taking me to the park in Centrales Espana, Cuba,” he said.

MAKING HIS MARK

Oropesa feels grateful for the opportunity to pitch for the D-backs.

“I was very happy when they called to my against to come to spring training to try out for the World Champs,” he said.

“Every day when I come into the ballpark, I’m ready to play. They gave me the opportunity, so I want to give 100 percent.

“They gave me the opportunity. I need to say thank you to the organization for giving me the opportunity.”

It’s an opportunity that doesn’t rattle him. He has proven he has the nerves and the inner strength for this profession.

“(Playing) in the major leagues is like (playing in) Cuba,” Oropesa said. It’s hard to play for your country, especially when it’s a communist country.”

It may be hard for Oropesa to remain one of the league’s best-kept secrets.

“He’s a guy who has come a long way,” Batista said. He knows how to pitch. He just needed an opportunity and so far they are giving him the opportunity.

“He’s opening people’s eyes…They can think he can do the job as well as anybody else.”

Here’s where Oropesa figures to be a top commodity:

“There are going to possibly be situations in the fifth or sixth inning of games where you have to get a tough left-hander out and then that same situation may occur in the eighth or the ninth,” D-backs manager Bob Brenly said.

Like fellow southpaw submariner Mike Myers, Oropesa has had his fair share of success against righties, too.

“I think he’s fine against righties,” Brenly said. “Him and Myers are fine against right-handers. They both have such an unorthodox delivery that hitters, right-handed or left-handed, aren’t used to seeing. They both have tremendous movement on their pitches.”

Movement is a word that perfectly sums up Oropesa’s adult life. After all, he’s pitched for 14 teams in three countries on two continents in the past nine years. It’s been a journey well worth it.

Scam flashback

A Japan Times exclusive investigative report from September 2014.

Anatomy of a scam: Aomori targeted by fake agents

Latest basketball column

Here is Tuesday’s web-exclusive column that analyzes the upcoming launch of the Japan Professional Basketball League for the fall of 2016:

JPBL will face many challenges from inaugural season

And a link to my Hoop Scoop column archive in The Japan Times:

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/sports/column/hoop-scoop/

Jack Mitchell: Oklahoma’s All-American QB in 1948

This article on former quarterback and football coach Jack Mitchell appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun on July 13, 2002.
(Reporter’s note: Mitchell died in 2009 at age 85 in Sun City, Arizona.)

Memories of football glory

By Ed Odeven

Old guys love to tell tales of their younger days. Jack Mitchell, a former All-American quarterback for Oklahoma, is no exception.

In a recent interview at his Munds Park home, Mitchell, 79, reminisced about his career — a career that brought him in close contact with exceptional athletes like Gale Sayers and Wilt Chamberlain.

PLAYING DAYS

Mitchell grew up in Arkansas City, Kan. and was an all-state basketball and football player and a state tennis champion.

“I played athletics all through school, from first grade and up,” he said. “The Lord was just good to me in that direction.”

Mitchell went to the University of Texas to play for coach D.X. Bible in 1943 after graduating from Arkansas City High School. He spent one semester at the university before he was called to serve in World War II. He was a platoon leader, an Army lieutenant in an infantry division, serving in Germany, France and England.

After the war, Mitchell resumed his football career. It was a time of fierce competition.

“We were all back from the Army,” Mitchell said. “In other words, when we came back in ’46, there were three classes all together in one. The competition coming back was all mature. We were all in the same boat. … The competition was much more severe in ’46, ’47, and ’48.”

Mitchell went to Oklahoma in 1946, and the Sooners won the Big Six Championship, when the conference consisted of Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Iowa and Iowa State. Mitchell earned all-conference accolades at QB in 1946 and 1947.

In 1948, he was named an All-American quarterback, leading Oklahoma to a 14-6 Sugar Bowl victory over North Carolina on New Year’s Day.

Mitchell was named the Outstanding Player Award for the 1949 Sugar Bowl.

“I didn’t play my best game,” he said, “but I’ll tell you why I got the trophy, mainly. It was a defensive game all the way.”

Perhaps his best work, however, was done in the film room during pre-bowl preparations.

After an Oklahoma defender returned an interception back deep into Carolina territory in the first quarter, Mitchell’s smarts were on display as he called running play after running play, plays that kept gaining positive yardage.

“On the film I had noticed that [North Carolina] went into its eight-man front, its goal-line stand, at the 12- or 13-yard line,” Mitchell explained.

“As long as they were going to line up that way, you were going to make two or three yards.”

Mitchell kept running QB sneaks and finally picked up a 2-yard touchdown run, the game’s first score.

“I was basically not a good passer,” he said. “I did; I had to throw some.”

Mitchell also excelled on special teams. He holds the NCAA career record for punt-return average (23.8 yards per return). The record for most punts for touchdowns is shared by three: Mitchell, Nebraska’s Johnny Rodgers and Kansas State’s David Allen.

Looking back, he’s proud of those accomplishments.

“In those three years I can’t remember if I ever made a fair catch,” he recalled. “Today, 90 percent are fair catches, and when you do catch it they are all right on top of you, because they are all rested. They are specialty teams. They are covering like hell. They are all picked for speed. So that’s why it’ll never be broken. … I don’t think the career average will be broken”

Another highlight of Mitchell’s playing day was appearing in the 1949 Chicago College All-Star Game at Soldier Field. That game pitted the defending NFL champion Philadelphia Eagles against college’s best gridiron stars.

“It was a big thrill when you ran out and they had that full house,” Mitchell said. “And they played the Oklahoma ‘Boomer Sooner’ (song). “[The announcer said], ‘Now, at quarterback will be Jack Mitchell, All-American from Oklahoma.”

Mitchell’s counterpart in the game was Tommy Thompson of the Philadelphia Eagles, who was blind in one eye.

The Eagles won the game, 38-0, and Mitchell separated his right shoulder in the game. Although he was signed by the Green Bay Packers, he never played due to his injury.

COACHING DAYS

In 1949, Mitchell started coaching at Blackwell (Okla.) High School. It was a challenge for which he felt prepared.

“By gosh, with my background, with [OU coach] Bud Wilkinson and through my college career and the little time I had with the pros and the All-Star game and all that, I was so far ahead of the old guys that were coaching high school,” Mitchell said. “It wasn’t even funny.”

Mitchell’s college coaching career lasted from 1953 until 1966, with stints at Wichita, now called Wichita State (1953-54), Arkansas (1955-57) and Kansas (1958-66). He was named the Missouri Valley Conference coach of the year in 1954 and the Big Eight coach of the year in ’60.

He coached three times against Alabama’s legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant, when Mitchell was at Arkansas and Bryant was with Texas A&M.

Asked what those experiences were like, Mitchell said, “It was just playing against another team. The guy that’s got the best players is going to win. They are all good coaches when you get in college.

“High school is a different story,” he continued. “You can out-coach a lot of them, because, heck, I played defenses that did stunts, and then I had an option play. They didn’t think you could do that in high school. And I put in the option play and taught the quarterback how to do that. Hell, we ran ’em crazy. We went to the state finals and they’d never been to the finals in the history of Blackwell.”

Mitchell guided the 1961 Kansas team to a 35-7 Bluebonnet Bowl victory over Rice.

Once dubbed “a great motivator,” Mitchell now wonders if that’s an appropriate description of his coaching style.

“You never know if it’s because you’ve got great players or if it’s because you are motivating them,” he said. “But I had to get them. We were fortunate in doing good recruiting. We worked awfully hard on recruiting players.”

Mitchell crossed paths with Chamberlain, when “Wilt the Stilt” was an exceptional all-around athlete at KU. Mitchell tried to persuade Chamberlain to join the football team for a specific purpose — short yardage situations.

“I was going to play him at quarterback, but never put him in the game unless we just needed a yard. … “He could step over them.

“In track, he could out-high jump, out-shot put everyone. He was not only 7-foot-2, but he was built like a guy 6 feet with strength and muscle who could run just as fast. He said he wanted to box. He would’ve been a helluva boxer.”

Mitchell mentioned former KU quarterback Johnny Hadl, who earned All-Pro distinction with the San Diego Chargers and Sayers, the ex-Chicago Bears great, as two of the best players he’s ever coached.

“Sayers might’ve been the finest running backs I saw, and one of the great defensive players,” said Mitchell, an avid golfer.

Of all the college football rivalries Mitchell has been associated with, he said the biggest one involves Ole Miss and Arkansas.

“By God, that’s a war,” he said.

NOWADAYS

Mitchell retired from coaching in 1966 to pursue a full-time career in business. He’s been involved with running a variety of different businesses ever since, including a bank, an insurance company and Mitchell Publications, Inc., which owns several newspapers in Kansas.

Although he’s no longer coaching, Mitchell, who also maintains residencies in Sun City and Kansas, is still passionate about football. That’s especially true during the autumn.

“I love to go the high school games,” he said, revealing he attends several games in the Phoenix area during the fall.

On Saturdays, Mitchell prefers to remain home rather than go screaming and shouting at a college football venue in the Southwest or Midwest.

“I don’t go to college games, because I want to stay home and be able to watch Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas. I get to see three or four of the games on Saturday,” he said. “If I go to a game, I don’t see anybody else.

“I’ve got two TVs going and a radio on the side. Most of my buddies do the same thing,” he continued, smiling.

For the love of the game: a baseball tale

This feature story appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun on June 9, 2003.

HARDBALL HEAVEN

By Ed Odeven

It’s the first inning of a Sunday baseball game at Flagstaff High School. The Blue Sox, a Flagstaff squad, are taking on the Sedona Rockies. Ty Van Dyke, a slender, tall left-hander is on the hill for the Blue Sox. Bob Pastor is his battery mate.

Van Dyke, who played for the Yavapai College Rough Riders in the mid-1980s with a hard-throwing Phoenician named Curt Schilling, is working the corners, firing a few fastballs here, a few curveballs there. Pastor is in his element, showing the classic form of a sharp defensive catcher.

With two outs, the Rockies have a couple runners on base. There’s a single slapped to left-center. Pastor, Sinagua High School’s assistant baseball coach, shouts instructions to his squad.

“Cut it, Ty. Cut it. Hold it. Hold it,” Pastor, the Blue Sox coach, said as the ball is thrown back into the infield. The runners keep their positions and nobody scores as the cut-off man, Van Dyke, executes the play to perfection.

Sedona’s next batter crushes Van Dyke’s offering to right-center. Jack Pastor, Bob’s son, makes a diving catch to end the inning. He’s greeted with a slew of high-fives and pats on the back as he steps toward the dugout.

The Blue Sox load the bases in the home half of the first but strand three runners. They are one of seven teams in Northern Arizona’s National Adult Baseball Association, a league that runs from April until mid-September. The other teams: the Rockies, the Thunder, the Merchants, the Pioneers, Los Rebueltos and the Mad Italians.

In this league, games are held every Sunday. Ballplayers can use wooden or aluminum bats. Bryan Butterfield, who graduated last week from Sinagua and was a Daily Sun All-City selection this spring, is the youngest player on the squad at 18 years old. Bob Pastor, 50, is the team’s oldest player. A former Yavapai player in the early 1970s, he spent time in the Montreal Expos organization long before the days of the O’Henry craze (outfielder Henry Rodriguez’s brief stint as a cult hero).

The Blue Sox have won the league’s title in eight of the last nine years. Sure, they love winning, the players say. But more than that, they are enjoying the opportunity to play ball.

“It’s fun playing with these guys because the competitiveness stays with us,” Bob Pastor said. “We might slow down a little bit, but it sure is nice to play with all the kids from Glendale. … It kind of makes you feel good.”

Keith Killeen, a 1991 Flagstaff High School grad who played college ball at Eastern New Mexico, summed up why these guys keep playing.

“It’s a good way of keeping us in shape, and it’s so fun,” said Killeen, who’s father, Joe, is Coconino High’s athletic director. “If I could do it seven days a week, I would.”

Along with Pastor, Flagstaff coach Mike DoBosh and Mingus coaches Brad Grauberger and Seth Melton give the team an interesting mix of coaching combatants who put aside their natural rivalry as players during the Blue Sox season.

“It’s nice to play with the coaches that we get to have as our enemy throughout the season in high school,” Pastor said. “We’ve got the Mingus coach (Brad Grauberger), the Flag High coach (Mike DoBosh) and all levels at Sinagua are up here. So it’s fun to get together and have a good time. The camaraderie, you just can’t beat it now.”

Melton, for one, is not ready to hang up his spikes and join the slow-pitch softball circuit.

“The biggest thing about it is, this is still baseball, whereas slow-pitch softball is not baseball really,” said Melton, who played at Glendale Community College and New Mexico Highlands. “So this is just a chance to come out and hit a baseball, catch it and throw it. Plus, you’re against a bunch of guys that you played against in high school. It’s kind of nice to get out here and do some stuff on Sundays. That’s why I really enjoy it. I love being out here.

“I think it’s just a chance for us all to still play the game we love so much. That’s how I think everybody’s mentality on this team is. Nobody takes it (too) serious. It’s all in good fun.”

In the second inning, the Rockies pull ahead 1-0. The Blue Sox rally in their half of the second. It all starts when Tim Tapia, a former Sinagua and South Mountain CC player, reaches on a leadoff single and scores on an RBI double by Miles Ormon, an ex-Midland (Texas) College player. The Blue Sox score another run to go ahead 2-1.

Van Dyke is tagged for a first-pitch home run in the third as Sedona ties it at 2.

The Blue Sox put five runs on the board in the fourth to take a 7-2 lead. Tapia, who moments before was rubbing his eye and telling his teammates of his irritating case of pink eye, ripped a two-run homer to left.

“I closed my eyes when I swung,” he said jokingly as he returned to the dugout.

Van Dyke leaves the ballgame with a five-run lead and right-hander Louis Lucero, a former Eastern New Mexico player, takes the hill in the fifth.

Lucero shows some of his old pitching tricks, firing a few heaters and then mixing in a few mind-numbing, super-slow change-ups for good measure.

With the Blue Sox leading 11-3 entering the top of the seventh, Cliff Bryson replaces Lucero, a hard-throwing right-hander. As Bryson, the team’s starting center fielder and leadoff hitter, takes his warm-up pitches, teammates in the dugout and on the field started joking around, making predictions about how man pitches he would need to retire the side.

“Fifteen pitches,” one guy shouted.

“Nah, 26,” another said.

This is a fun little “game within the game” the Blue Sox have been playing for a couple weeks now.

Bryson, grinning with delight on the mound, doesn’t seem to mind the distraction.

“It’s fun, and at the same time it’s a little pressure that they put on you,” said Bryson, who played ball at Yavapai and the University of Kansas. “It’s something a little new we did about two or three games ago where I come in and they guess the pitch count, as you guys would say.”

The Rockies made things interesting in the seventh, scoring three runs off Bryson. All the while, his teammates keep reminding him of how many pitches he’d thrown.

“With our team it’s a lot of fun and it’s good to come out here and play a sport that you love and play with some of the guys that you played high school and college ball against and with,” Bryson said. “There’s times when we take it seriously, but we seem to have fun.”

And they’ve had success, too, at the regional and national level. Last year, for instance, players from the Blue Sox and the league’s other teams formed an all-star squad and competed in a 40-and-over national tourney in Phoenix, and they finished third out of 100-plus teams.

Other players on this year’s Blue Sox team include: Matt Ormon (Midland), Kevin Cashatt (Sinagua and Yavapai) and Adam Jacobs (Sinagua).

The Blue Sox, who improved to 6-0 with wins on Sunday against Los Rebueltos (13-2) and the Rockies (11-6), take on the Thunder, a team comprised of NAU students, at 10 a.m. next Sunday at Sinagua High School.

A hopeless optimist: Paola Boivin, distinguished sports columnist

By Ed Odeven

TOKYO (July 11, 2015) — For two-plus decades, Paola Boivin has been a fixture in Phoenix-area sports, reporting  and crafting columns on Pac-10 (now Pac-12) sports and the growing pro scene, including the arrival of the Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes and the Arizona Diamondbacks.

This is what I know: She writes thought-provoking, well-organized columns. She does her homework. She asks good questions. She has a good handle on how to structure stories and how to pack them with quality anecdotes, important facts and opinions that resonate with readers. She’s a personable journalist, a good interviewer and a pro’s pro with empathy for those she writes about.

Over the years, she has written about everything and everybody, ranging from Pat Tillman’s death to Super Bowls, Olympics, NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament title games, NBA, NHL, MLB and NFL playoff contests to current players and coaches’ perspectives on the Confederate flag. Boivin has worked at The Arizona Republic since September 1995 after a six-year stint at the Los Angeles Daily News. Before that, she served as a sportswriter and then sports editor at the Camarillo (California) Daily News (1984-1988).

In an April interview with Illinois Alumni Magazine, Boivin said, “I’m drawn to the human stories—the underdog, the long shot, the forgotten person.”

I interviewed Boivin recently to learn more about her career, her influences, what motivates her on the job and other reflections on her life and work.

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What’s the best way to describe your style as a journalist and as a columnist? Of course it can differ from day to day and sport to sport, but how would you summarize your basic approach to this work and the way you do your job?

It took me forever to find my voice as a columnist. For a long time I tried to be something I wasn’t: a screamer and finger-pointer, the print version of some sports talk radio hosts. I’m not that. I would wake up the next day, read my work and cringe because it felt unauthentic.

The reality is I’m a hopeless optimist. A listener. And someone who loves a good story. I think (hope) interview subjects pick up on those traits and realize their story will receive fair treatment. It doesn’t mean I can’t be skeptical or outraged or anything of those things that are at the heart of good journalism, it just means I lead with an optimistic foot. And sleep better at night.

How has being a mother shaped the way you view sports and their role in society at large? And do you think motherhood changed your perspective on sports somewhat?

Both of my children are athletes: my daughter a runner and my son a basketball player. To have a front-row view of how athletics has impacted their lives has been a game-changer. Young girls are bombarded with air-brushed magazine covers and unrealistic expectations. How can they not grow up with body-image issues? Feeling strong and athletic is empowering. And the lessons my children learned about discipline and commitment and teamwork were better than any of the words of advice that I would spew out at home, which they probably tuned out anyway!

Motherhood has many me appreciate sports even more.

Of the biggest compliments received over the years from journalist peers and readers for something you’ve written, can you share a few details of two or three of them that really meant something to you?

Without question it’s the feedback I received following an article I wrote about a transgender golfer who dreamed of playing in the LPGA. I received emails from parents who said the story made them better understand their children who were battling identity issues, and from a man who found comfort reading the piece because his journey, that was almost halted by suicide, was about to take a similar turn. It was all because my subject, Bobbi Lancaster, a well-respected doctor in the Phoenix area, was so open about her life. I was so grateful for that.

Journalism should never be about the praise but it felt good to know the article impacted lives. I love, too, how my voicemails have changed over the years in Phoenix. They used to be “you’re an idiot woman who knows nothing about sports.” Now they’re “you’re an idiot who knows nothing about sports.” Progress!

What did receiving APSE Top 10 columnist recognition in 2011 mean to you? Did that inspire you, fire you up for the coming years, too? What do you think was your best column for 2010? And do you have an all-time No. 1 favorite?

I guess it was my Sally Field “You like me, you really like me” moment. It is hard to grow up as a female sports journalist in the era I did and swell with confidence. From the early locker room battles to peers (in my past) suggesting I was the product of equal-opportunity hiring and not talent stings, especially for a ball of insecurity like me. It absolutely did inspire me and shifted my motivation into a higher gear. Ha. I guess I’m supposed to say awards are meaningless but I would be lying.

My favorite column from 2010 was one I wrote about Steve Nash. I was in Vancouver for the Winter Olympics and took a side trip to Victoria to visit the home in which he grew up. If you hopped over the fence in his backyard, you would find a basketball hoop that belonged to an elementary school. He would shoots hundreds of free throws a day there as a kid, trying to improve his percentage each time. I couldn’t stop staring at that hoop. It was the symbol of how hard work can shape an athlete. I also had the opportunity to talk to childhood friends, family members and coaches and to visit his high school. It was the closest I ever came to truly understanding how an athlete at his high level achieved greatness.

That one (http://archive.azcentral.com/sports/suns/articles/2010/02/28/20100228suns-steve-nash-vancouver-CP.html) and the transgender one are probably my all-time favorites.

How did your time at the Camarillo Daily News and Los Angeles Daily News – 10  important years – shape your approach to journalism and give you the foundation for all the reporting, column writing, talk-show work you’ve done since? Can you think of a couple important lessons, including the biggest one, you learned early in your career?

Both jobs were amazing and I remain grateful for the people who gave me the opportunities  there. The Camarillo Daily News, which, sniff, is no longer around, was my first full-time job. I started as a sportswriter and later became sports editor of a three-person staff. I had to do everything: report, write, edit, design. I stumbled plenty of times along the way, including once, when running a story about a USC running back named Aaron Emmanuel. I used a photo of actor Emmanuel Lewis instead. Anyone who ever watched the TV show “Webster” knows these two look nothing alike. Fortunately, I caught my mistake right before the story went to print.

Having to do a little bit of everything helped prepare me for the variety of assignments that came my way in the future. I think my willingness to say yes to any assignment, to always being a team player, made me more hireable down the road.

(Side note: I pride myself in having a good eye for talent. While at Camarillo, I hired several terrific writers early in their careers including two still doing great work: Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports and Tom Krasovic of the San Diego Union-Tribune.)

The Los Angeles Daily News was incredible, too. I was in a great sports market surrounded by terrific talent at the paper. My first beat was covering UCLA football and basketball. It didn’t get much better than meeting John Wooden at his favorite breakfast spot and talking hoops.

While I was at the Daily News, I sometimes covered Dodgers game. It was at a time when women in the locker room was still a hot topic. I would walk into the clubhouse and stare at the ground. One day, the great Orel Hershiser pulled me aside and said, “Keep your head up and look like you belong here. Because you do.” I always think of that when I walk in a clubhouse now. I am forever grateful for that moment.

For you, who are a few must-read journalists in print and online? What makes their work something you return to again and again?

Karen Crouse, one of my best friends, of The New York Times is at the top of my list. I don’t think there is anyone in the country better at finding a fresh way to look at a story and the depth of her reporting is second to none. Subjects trust her. Read her story on Laveranues Coles from 2005 (http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/18/sports/football/new-trust-lets-coles-share-secret.html) if you need proof. I also find Gregg Doyel, now with the Indianapolis Star, and Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports must reads.

I am surrounded by great talent at The Arizona Republic, too. They make me better every day.

How much influence did the late Jim Murray and other L.A. media giants have on your career? Where there individuals in the Chicago area/sports media market who had a similar or bigger influence on you?

Huge. Murray wasn’t only a great writer – it doesn’t get any better for an auto racing story than “Gentlemen, start your coffins” – but he was a gentleman. You could learn a lot from watching how he conducted himself.

There was also a young hotshot at the L.A. Times when I starting out that was creating a lot of buzz among my peers. For good reason. It was Rick Reilly. He was only there a few years before Sports Illustrated grabbed him.

I think my biggest influence in the Chicago area, quite honestly, was the sports editor of my local paper, the Chicago Heights Star, the late John Meyers. I read his work religiously in high school. He gave me my first professional opportunity, writing during my summers home from college. And when I grew up, Chicago had three daily papers: the Sun-Times, Tribune and Daily News. Three! It was a sports lover’s dream. I ate it up.

Bob Moran at the East  Valley Tribune (who died of cancer at age 55 in 2008) and Steve Schoenfeld at the Republic and then CBS SportsLine (killed at age 45 by a hit-and-run driver in 2000) were among the most gifted and well-respected sports journalists who covered the Pac-10 and the NFL, respectively, who’ve ever worked in Arizona. What is their legacy, individually and/or collectively, as it’s carried on and remembered by those who worked with him and grew as journalists in that time?

Both were amazing men.

Bob Moran was a consummate pro who loved his work. Everybody respected him because he was defined by his knowledge and integrity. He was my “competitor” during my first beat in Phoenix covering Arizona State. I learned a ton from him.

From Steve Schoenfeld, we all better understood the art of reporting and the value of relationships. He knew everybody! It served him well in his job. His funeral service was so large they held it in a concert hall. That showed just how popular and respected he was.

Both left us way too soon.

Have sports become too serious, too analytical, too high school calculus-like because of the explosion in metrics over the past decade? Is this more of a good thing or bad thing? Or is it just a different era?

Like chocolate, metrics are fine in moderation. They have great value but it’s important to remember, too, metrics can’t measure heart. And heart is a big part of sports.

With a respected, successful tenure at The Arizona Republic, writing for the paper (and also along the way its website) since 1995, how much more does your voice, your ideas, carry weight when it comes to pinpointing story angles, assignments and your schedule than it did when you arrived to work there in Phoenix?

I’m blessed to have a sports editor, Mark Faller, who trusts my instincts. We will bounce ideas off one another but I can dictate much of my writing path. I think early in my career I sought more guidance in that regard than I do now.

As someone who observed the growth and history of the Arizona Diamondbacks since their inception, how important was Joe Garagiola Sr. as a behind-the-scenes guy within the organization and as a connection to the fans and the game’s rich history during his work as a TV analyst through 2013? 

I think what Joe Sr. has done for baseball in general has been spectacular. He founded two important organizations: the Baseball Assistance Team, to help the needy with connections to the game, and the National Spit Tobacco Education Program. Talk about impacting a lot of lives.

As a broadcaster, few have as many anecdotes as Joe Sr. His willingness to share them are not only entertaining but educational in terms of history of the game. And his sense of humor is a great example of what sports broadcasting should be.

Of all the athletes who hail from Arizona and who call or have called Arizona home, who are three you’d put at the top of any list?

That’s a tough one. I guess it depends on the criteria. I’ll make mine the top three who have impacted the landscape since I’ve lived here.

  1. Jerry Colangelo. I’m going to cheat a bit. He wasn’t an athlete here but he changed the sports scene in Arizona like no other. He is gave us an MLB franchise and great memories with an NBA one. He also gets an assist for helping our NHL team arrive.
  1. Kurt Warner. What he did for the Cardinals — leading a franchise that was long a laughing stock to a Super Bowl — was remarkable.
  2. Charles Barkley. His popularity with Suns fans and his national visibility today are hard to top. He still lives here and people very much think of him as one of their own.

Similarly …. same questions but for coaches?

Lute Olson. Lute Olson. And Lute Olson.

If you were granted a one-on-one interview without any restrictions ASAP with Sepp Blatter, what’s the first question you’d ask him?

How do you sleep at night?

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Follow Paola Boivin on Twitter: @PaolaBoivin

Read her journalism work here: http://www.azcentral.com/staff/10465/paola-boivin/