Certainly, for many of us sports fans, once the Super Bowl is over, there’s a sports void, one that, at least for me, isn’t even filled by the NCAA’s March Madness. When it comes to college basketball, players just don’t stick around long enough for me to even learn their names before bolting for the NBA, where, for me, they become even more anonymous.
As for the NBA, p-l-e-a-s-e, until late May, when some interest begins to surface to see if LeBron and his mates can actually overcome those Golden Staters again, is there anything here to be seen? As for hockey, even my Canadian-born mother couldn’t direct my attention for very long to those frozen ponds.
I suppose golf has some appeal for me, at least as a spectator sport, despite the fact the sport rejected me some years ago as a legit participant.
Yes, I know this coming Sunday, we’ll have that NASCAR event down in Daytona. As I always do, I’ll drop in for a few look-ins, since there is some visual appeal for me with all those brightly painted and colorfully decaled rockets on four wheels. However, the sheer monotony of that whole left turn-left turn-left turn-left turn thing makes the race more annoyance than spectacle.
When it comes to Daytona, I have the same question each year, one even my NASCAR-loving pals can’t really answer, which is, if the Daytona 500 is the sport’s greatest spectacle and biggest race, why is it the first one of the season? Surely, football and baseball don’t begin with the Super Bowl and World Series, right?
So, yes, for me, despite the fact that spring training for my favorite sport has arrived, it’ll be a long wait for those glorious words, “Play ball!” in a game that really counts in the standings.
However, what helps me and, I think, other devotees of sports fill our void at this time of year is to seek comfort from the collected past pleasures of sports, both ones we remember and even those that took place before we were either old enough to pay attention or even born.
As for reading, to fill my sports void, I’ve recently finished a couple of biographies, one on former OSU basketball coach, Fred Taylor (“A Higher Court,” by Joe Weasel), who guided the Buckeyes in 1960 to the school’s only national championship, and a dual-bio on Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays (“Mickey and Willie,” by Allen Barra).
Of course, for me, another means by which I can fill my sports void is to write about it. As one who loves both history and sports, especially when they commingle, I love the process of researching and writing about players and teams from long ago.
Earlier this month, I did a two-part series on Bevo Francis, as prolific a scorer of the basketball as the college game has ever seen, who stepped into the national spotlight in the early 1950s, which prompted some memories from some readers.
I heard from Gary Gearhart, who remembers as a seventh-grader, before he became an All-State player at Dixie High School in New Lebanon and long before he would, himself, join one of college basketball’s greatest recruiting classes, one crafted by Fred Taylor, that featured the likes of Lucas and Havlicek, that special trip with his dad to Hobart Arena in Troy to see Bevo drain 50-plus from all over the court when he was playing for tiny Rio Grande College.
I also heard from Ron Huber, Shawnee High School’s former hall of fame tennis coach, who remembers his dad taking his twin brother, Tom, and him to South Gym in the mid-1950s to see Francis, who’d come to town to put on a shooting exhibition with his former coach Newt Oliver, following his time playing and Oliver’s coaching for the Boston Whirlwinds, one of the patsy teams the Harlem Globetrotters used to “entertain.” Certainly not entertained and tired of playing the fool, both Bevo and Newt quit the “Globie” circuit after a couple of seasons.
Sometimes I get a huge assist filling my mid-winter sports void from readers. One, Spencerville’s Rick Wierwille, contacted me a while back and asked if I’d like to see a large box of newspaper clippings, photos and other memorabilia about his uncle, Frank “Porky” Biscan, the Lima Pandas’ ace pitcher during their championship season of 1940. His was a baseball odyssey interrupted by military service, so common during his era.
Of course, I told Rick yes and am merrily researching and note-taking to my heart’s content for a piece I’ll write and hope to see in my hometown newspaper during baseball season. I’ll tease you. The black-and-white period photos are dripping in nostalgia, especially the one of Biscan in the dugout surrounded by his Panda mates.
And, so it goes for sports and me. These are the dark days of late February, but they are days most assuredly made brighter, with the help of others, by looking to the glow of the sporting past.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News and Our Generation’s Magazine, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at [email protected]