I know my friend John McDermott is a great soccer photographer because I have seen his work for over 30 years.
I also know of his fondness for Italy because of his chats, in Italian, with some of the great names in Serie A.
Recently John and Claudia moved from the western outpost of Italy -- North Beach, San Francisco, that is -- to the northeast corner of Italy where he can hear Italian and she can hear German spoken, sometimes at the same time.
John did not need to go to the Giro d'Italia this month. It came to him. He found his spots here and there -- kind of like knowing where his pal Roberto Baggio liked to poach -- and he clicked away.
This is just a sample.
Other photos can be found on his sites:
There is only one way to ponder family genealogy -- with humility, knowing that others do not know their distant past.
That lesson is brought home in Saturday’s New York Times, with its touching article on descendants of 272 slaves who were sold by Georgetown University in 1838 to keep that school solvent.
In the article, four people in Louisiana talk about the trail of slavery with the grace of survivors, through strong families as well as the influence of the very same Catholic Church that sold them in 1838.
In no small way, religion seems to have helped them, given them strength. That is the paradox. Their words, their wisdom, are a lesson to many people, including me and my wife, who can trace parts of our families back for centuries.
We often feel humility toward in-laws and friends descended from Africa, as well as our Jewish friends who listen with kindness and curiosity when my wife talks about her genealogy research. We know of the gaps and absences in many lives.
I can relate to some small degree because my father was adopted by a Hungarian family, his birth records sealed and apparently later destroyed by a fire in New York City. We only know his name when he was placed in an orphanage. I have always assumed he was part Jewish.
I can live with that mystery, knowing of my mother’s maternal side back to County Waterford in Ireland (hence my treasured Irish passport.) My mom’s Belgian-Irish cousins were heroes in Brussels during the War.) My mother’s paternal side, Spencer, goes back to Leicestershire and later to Australia and back to England again before immigrating to the U. S.
My wife has been digging into her roots in England, with help at the Mormon center in London, and lately she has been going on line into village records, as well as an ancestry web site.
Over the years she has also taken information from relatives, including her grandfather, before he passed, and to this day from aunts and uncles still going into their 90’s. (Childhood farm living, no smoking, no drinking, equals longevity.)
Her grandmother’s side comes through a branch of English Whipples who came into Rhode Island around 1632 and moved down to Ledyard, Conn., mingling with people named Rogers and Crouch and Watrous, many buried in the Quakertown cemetery.
Her grandfather’s side traces to around Rochdale, Lancashire, in the 16th Century, with names like Grundy and Clegg and Schofield and Heywood.
My wife – who spells her name Marianne – notes that many of our English ancestors had the same names – Mary Ann, Sarah, Elizabeth, Edith, George, Frederick, Arthur and John, a million Johns on my wife’s side. Sometimes she says we could be related. Aren’t we all?
We have inherited little, except names and genes and mystery, along with a sense of being part of something. My wife – who loves India deeply; has been there 13 or 14 times – was told by her grandfather that a female ancestor, Sarah Schofield, had ridden an elephant in India while her husband was posted there by the colonial army in the 19th Century. She feels kinship over two centuries.
None of this means much, except a sense of heritage. My wife’s people could make things with their hands; they were church-goers, people of peace, some of them abolitionists. She is still ripping mad that Spielberg’s movie, “Lincoln,” showed a Connecticut senator voting for slavery.
History becomes personal all over again when we read the article by Rachel L. Swarns and Sona Patel in the Times about the good people of Louisiana, who want some tangible memorial to the 272 ancestors who were sold by a college.
As we read the quotes in the Times, we feel sadness that others do not have the same reassurance of ancestors, of place, of choice, of freedom.
This is the 59th season of the Brooklyn Dodgers out west; I think I am adjusting.
I’ve been staying up late watching the Mets and Dodgers, the two teams in my life, do battle in distant Chávez Ravine. The shock now is the familiar numbers on the home white jerseys -- with strange people wearing them.
I know Seinfeld said rooting for a team is “actually rooting for the clothes when you get right down to it." So be it. I admit: I am still attached to the Dodgers’ laundry – or more specifically the numbers on them. But who are these new people?
The Dodgers have retired 10 numbers, including Jackie Robinson’s No. 42, but they fall way short of the Yankees, who have retired 22 numbers, including Robinson’s, and a duplicate No. 8 for Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey. The Yankees are always looking for more numbers to retire for another one-day jolt in attendance. Eddie Whitson Day is coming up soon.
By contrast, the Dodgers have been conservative – Gil Hodges’ No. 14 is still used and so is the No, 36 once worn by Don Newcombe, who still serves their community and anti-addiction efforts.
I am sure the shock is not confined to old people like me. Kids who became fans in the 1980s are stunned to see somebody else wearing Pedro Guerrero’s No. 28.
I’m on my third or fourth shift with the Dodgers’ laundry.
Let’s take No. 3. In my childhood, it was worn by Billy Cox, with his ratty glove, picking everything at third base -- Clete Boyer and Brooks Robinson before they were invented. Cox played only seven seasons in Brooklyn, from 1948 through 1954, but it seemed like seven decades. Kids, that’s the way it is when you are young.
Fast forward to the 60’s, when I was a young reporter and the Dodgers’ center fielder, Willie Davis, could manufacture a run with a few long strides – walk, steal, bad throw, sacrifice fly. Davis had one bad World Series game in the sun in 1965 but he was a terrific player.
I also remember Willie Davis for coming after me in the clubhouse in the tense days after the Watts disturbances in 1965, because he didn’t like my questioning.
John Roseboro, noble knight of a catcher, stepped into Davis’ path and calmed things down, or I might not be typing these words. (Roseboro’s reward was being bopped on the head by Juan Marichal that August.) Nowadays, No. 3 is assigned to Carl Crawford, sliding downhill from his early promise.
I did some research on all the Dodgers who have won No. 3: In the wartime season of 1944, No. 3 was worn by two infielders, Al Campanis and Gene Mauch, who would later become a general manager and manager in the majors. In 1977-78, No. 3 was worn by Glenn Burke, who years later revealed he was gay, and who died young.
One other Dodger No. 3: Pete Coscarart, an outfielder from 1938 through 1941, who nearly half a century later was among the old-time players virtually begging the Players Association to include them in their lush pension plan. Pete once wrote me: “George, they are waiting for us to die.” Just to annoy the association, he hung on until June 24, 2002, when he died, at 89, without the Association budging on pensions.
I could tell you about No. 10, which, from the very first season of numbers in Brooklyn, was worn almost exclusively by catchers. I have never heard of one number being dominated by one position like that. From 1932 through 1970, the catchers included Al Lopez, Bruce Edwards, Rube Walker and Jeff Torborg.
But in 1971, No. 10 went to squatty Ron Cey, a third baseman known as Penguin, who held it until 1982. No. 10 is currently worn by Justin Turner, with his red Yosemite Sam beard, who has spent recent evenings chatting with his old teammates on the Mets.
I haven’t even mentioned Sandy Koufax – but let’s end with Ry Cooder’s song about the Mexicans who used to live in Chávez Ravine: “Second base right over there/I see Grandma in her rocking chair.”) I don’t believe the ejected squatters ever had their number retired.
Thank goodness for the Mets. That’s all I can say. They serve the ultimate function of sports – keeping the mind off real life -- and more power to them.
Right now the Mets are out west, which gives me license to ignore cable news in the evening and hope Bartolo Colón will hit another home run.
I caught that one live on Saturday -- Gary Cohen’s call was great on the tube; so was Howie Rose’s call on the radio; so was the Spanish call by Juan Alicea and Max Perez Jimenez.
All I can say is, if you are going to watch a man with a big belly lumber around with a smirk on his face, better to watch Colón than that trickster from Queens.
This is not escapism, this is self-help, not having to remind oneself over and over again that at least one third of America leans toward a lout from reality TV.
Let’s go Mets. The other night I saw Asdrubal Cabrera, who has reminded us what the position of shortstop can be, race down the left-field line to catch a fly ball over his shoulder at the edge of the stands. When a little boy in the front row leaned forward to congratulate him, Cabrera patted the boy on the head. There was more grace and humanity in those two gestures than I have seen from the front-runners in the grinding decades of this current political campaign.
(As an old Appalachian hand, I am available to advise Hillary Clinton how to talk to coal miners, but I don’t think that is happening.)
I’m burned out. I’ve been watching and reading about the primaries for way too long – and have few complaints. I just read the thoughtful essay in the Times about how pollsters and experts underestimated Trump, but I just want to say these are the same number-crunchers who reassured me President Obama was going to win in 2012.
(By winning, Obama endured, to deliver that wonderful graduation speech at Howard University last Saturday, a civics lesson for all. I am going to miss that man, no matter who wins this long slog to November.)
All right, the pollsters and others missed the Trump tsunami among the minority on the right, but I cannot fault The New York Times, where I used to work. It has given us tons of stories on buffoonery of Trump. (I saw a friend of mine from Queens quoted about what a nasty little boy Trump was; quite right.)
The Times has done fine (with the great Margaret Sullivan riding herd in her final months as media critic) and MSNBC has sent platoons of reporters out into the land. Chris Matthews, the host who doesn’t listen to his guests, is often susceptible to Trump’s flattery (we’re-a-couple-of-big-timers, you-and-me, Chris) but nailed him on his abortion silliness.
MSNBC has enlightened, with Lawrence O’Donnell and Joy Reid and Rachel Maddow and our household favorite Steve Kornacki. (I’ve lost my wife to Kornacki and Bernie Sanders.)
Brian Williams has been irrelevant -- hair and teeth and suit, on his work-release program with the network. When MSNBC veers into silliness, CNN is there. And thank goodness, our cable system carries the BBC and Euro News to remind us the world is still out there. Forget our networks. They gave up decades ago.
For the reading class, the web is full of informative articles, like the one by David Cay Johnston on salon.com about Trump bankruptcy maneuvers. Now Trump is proposing to run the country that unsavory way, according to Paul Krugman.
For all the hand-wringing, I do not think I am uninformed. Fact is, I am too informed. There’s only one more Breaking News I want – not too late on the evening of Nov. 8 -- the long national nightmare is over. We will have a president who is, at bare minimum, informed.
Meantime, the Mets are out west. Colón pitches Thursday night.
* * *
(In case you missed that wonderful talk.)
Totally against basic instinct, I find myself sorry for Yankee fans these days.
These are not the Real Yankees but rather the Salary Cap Yankees, a grab-bag of players assembled with some prudence and parsimony, in familiar uniforms.
But I am not alone. My friend Mike Lindsley, talk-show host in Syracuse, emitted his own primal scream. You should read this:
(As we say in New York, my heart bleeds borscht. To continue my own take:)
It’s not just that the Yankees are off to their worst start in nearly a decade. It's that they are strangers to a baseball fan (me) who is familiar with every nuance of his own team, the Mets, but does not recognize most of these guys.
Fact is, when they are home, I don’t even recognize the great theme park of the Bronx, Yankeeland.
Warning: Yankee fans should not want my mawkish sympathy. I suffered terribly at the hands of this franchise as a young Brooklyn Dodger fan, and it is totally against my nature to care about the Yankees. Even as a young reporter, I secretly rooted for the Orioles, the Twins, the Red Sox, somebody, anybody.
But when the Yankees were bad in the late '60s, I had friends on the team -- Bill Robinson, Steve Hamilton, Ruben Amaro, some of the best people I have known, and after that, I could never feel the same way I did about my October tormentors.
Now we have been softened up by a wonderful generation of Williams and Pettitte and Posada and Rivera and Jeter, admirable players. I knew a devout Yankee fan whose Jewish mom noticed Pettitte’s facial profile and kind nature and adopted him. He was the prodigal son; he went away and returned.
Bernie sat in the corner and strummed his guitar. Posada was the straw-boss of the clubhouse. Jeter dove into the stands nose-first. Rivera made everything all right, almost all the time. Those core-five players lulled some non-Yankee fans into a neutral position.
I turned on the game Sunday night. Fortunately, there was Fenway and there was Papi and there was A-Rod, headed straight to the baseball Limbo known as Bondsville or Clemenstown, but still lofting balls toward the Green Monster. But after all his antics, many Yankee fans do not accept him as true Yankee.
There was Teixeira, one of those great mid-career Yankees, and Beltran, a great-late career Yankee, but the rest of the lot give the impression of just passing through.
Nobody to love.
Nobody to hate.
Just guys in Yankee uniforms.
I could almost work up a case of nostalgia.
In another decade or two.
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see:
George Vecsey is Hofstra University's Alumnus of the Month! Read a Q&A with George here.