Monday, February 28, 2011

Duke's passing reawakens old feelings

I was only 7 when the Dodgers left Brooklyn after the 1956 season.

Unlike kids today who are hip to every player on their favorite ballclub, be it the Rays or otherwise, there was only one who really mattered to me.

Duke Snider.

His death Sunday at 84 brought back memories.

Fistfights with kids on my block in East New York who were Yankee fans.

Flipping cards on the sidewalk with friends.

Clipping cards to the spokes of our bicycles to make noise as we rode, not having any idea those cards would be worth a fortune today.

Don't believe I subjected the Duke, the Dodgers smooth centerfielder, to such abuse.

When the Dodgers announced they were moving to LA, it didn't affect me like it did my dad and grandfather.

Maybe I was too young to understand.

The Dodgers leaving Brooklyn?

I remember my grandfather talking about watching grown men -- cops, firefighters -- cry at Farrell's, a working class Irish bar in Park Slope, acoss the street from where he and Grandma last lived.

Grandpa cried right along with them.

Dad? He swore off baseball for good.

It wasn't until years later I came to truly appreciate the "Boys of Summer" --- Carl Furillo, Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella and ... Duke Snider --- meant to Brooklyn.

Not long I read a story about how much it was still part of him a half century later.

There was a framed photo hanging in his home in southern California and it showed the wrecking ball strike the edifice at Ebbets Field the day they started tearing down the old place.

I'm sure Duke's death stirred old feelings for old Brooklynites everywhere.

It did mine.


Friday, February 25, 2011

Spring fever in full bloom in February

Got spring fever bad, even if it’s still February.

It’s baseball season.

Thank God!

I am so ready.

The ongoing NFL labor negotiations? Zzzzzzzzzz.

A looming NBA lockout? Couldn’t care less.

NHL? Not my thing.

Let’s play ball!

I’ve been in the baseball mode for awhile.

Long before the Super Bowl.

Moments after the Philadelphia Eagles, my team, lost to the eventual NFL champion Green Bay Packers in the wildcard round on Jan. 9, all my football shirts went into storage and out came my baseball stuff.

Phillies T-shirts. Marauders T-shirts. All of it.

That includes the baseball glove I like to keep in my pickup truck to bring to games at McKechnie Field.

Still waiting to catch my first foul ball, though.

Read more in Sunday's Mannix About Manatee.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Memorable midnight run to see shuttle launch

Discovery lifts off on final journey.

There probably wasn't one person in the newsroom who didn't stop what they were doing to watch the TVs just before 5 p.m. Thursday.

Deadlines could wait.

We wanted to see the final launch of the space shuttle Discovery.

After it was safely away, several colleagues reminisced about launches they saw live over all these years.

Others rued the fact they'd never seen any in the shuttle program's 30 years of existence.

I went to see three.

One ended up being scrubbed at the last minute, putting just a little bit of a damper on a giant tailgate party we enjoyed in a vast field south of Cape Canaveral.

Another was John Glenn's return to space in 1998, which I covered for the Herald.

Then there was that mad midnight dash to Cocoa. Or was it Cocoa Beach?

It's been awhile.

This was back in the mid-1980s when I was still in Boca Raton.

Out late one night I ran into a buddy of mine, a Boca policeman and camera bug whose passion was shooting space launches.

His shift ended at midnight, he said, so would I like to join him up for a drive to catch the shuttle launch scheduled for just after dawn?

I'm in, I told him.

A few hours later we were snoozing in his car in a Holiday Inn parking lot across the Banana
River from the launch site.

When the sun came up, it was showtime.

As the shuttle slowly lifted off amidst a roiling mountain of fiery smoke, the roar gradually rolled over us as we cheered like madmen and the ground beneath us began to vibrate from the shock wave.

Talk about making your hair stand up.

It was awesome.

Then, after putting down his camera, my friend produced some champagne, OJ and glasses to toast the grand occasion.

Then we drove back to Boca Raton.

Guess who was a little late to work?

I didn't care.

'Twas a morning to remember.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Photos from just this side of heaven

Tracy Rosa had called, excitement in her voice.

Wait until you see these pictures, she said.

Boy, she was right.

The photos taken by the camera aboard the weather balloon launched Feb. 13 from G.T. Bray Park by Eli Isaac and his son Ethan for a science project were out of this world.


The digital camera, programmed to take two pictures every 20 seconds, had fascinating photos of the deep, dark blue edge of outer space.

The balloon, designed to reach 90,000 feet, must've gotten close.

The pictures were heavenly.

That the father and son, rooted on by their family and friends, were able to accomplish this is fabulous.

Most of us are happy if we can take a halfway decent photo here on Mother Earth.

To make it happen 17-miles high, way up in our stratosphere?

Big ups to Eli and Ethan.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Where's a spring training game when you need it?

How was your Presidents Day?

What a beautiful day it was.

Too nice a day to work.

It's funny how often I got reminded that others were off, enjoying the holiday.

Tried to call Southeast High School about getting the Marching Noles into Sean Murphy's annual St. Patrick's Day Parade March 13 on Holmes Beach, but couldn't get anybody.

Then I remembered school was out.

So I reached out to a couple of Manatee High students on their cell phones for a story I'm working on.

One was on her way to lunch.

The other had just gotten done touring the campus at the University of Central Florida.

A nice day for it, I said.

Later I called John Vita about something else and left a message on his cell.

He called back.

From the beach.

Where is a spring training game when you need it


Friday, February 18, 2011

Sister Nora's farewell will be bittersweet

Photo by TiffanyTompkins-Condie/
Sitting inside a cramped migrant apartment in East Bradenton fitting children with shoes for school.

Patiently teaching women English at Project Light on 14th Street West.

Giving an unlucky fellow a small check — and lecture — at Stillpoint House of Prayer a few blocks down the street.

They are but a few of the images I cherish of Sister Nora Brick.

There’s the one above, too, of the smiling 81-year-old Franciscan nun looking sharp in a mint-colored suit at a recent reception honoring her for some of her 30 years of selfless service to our community’s poor. We published that with today's coverage of Sister Nora's release from Manatee Memorial Hospital.

Manatee County’s Mother Teresa, indeed.

Yet how those pictures clash with the one I can’t get out of my mind from when I saw Sister Nora last.

It was this past Tuesday, the day after she’d been beaten, allegedly by Eliseo Ortiz, a troubled 51-year-old man who’d come to her trailer under the pretense of needing money to call his mother in Mexico for Valentine’s Day.

Sister Nora was asleep in Room 409 at Manatee Memorial Hospital when a nurse woke her and beckoned me into the room so I could express my sympathies and tell her to get well soon.

I did not recognize this holy woman.
Read more in Sunday's Mannix About Manatee.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Big Daddy to rock benefit for little boy

Looking for a good time with a good cause on Sunday?

Head downtown to Old Main Street for a special fundraiser at The Lost Kangaroo, 402 12th St. W.

It’s a benefit for Jake Kerrigan, the 2-year-old son of Amy Hendel and fiance William Kerrigan, a 41-year-old electrician who suffered a severe stroke Jan. 26, has undergone two procedures and remains in ICU at Manatee Memorial Hospital.

Laurie Fetzer and Big Daddy will rock the ‘Roo beginning at 2 p.m.

There will be a buffet, raffles, door prizes, poker and more.

Call Cece Eaton at 504-1495 for more details.

Read more in Friday's Vin's People.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Attack on Sister Nora an outrage

Sister Nora Brick was asleep Tuesday afternoon when I went to see her at Manatee Memorial Hospital.

So I went to the nurses station just outside her room and began to write her a note, wishing her a rapid recovery.

Just then a nurse entered her room and beckoned me to follow.

The 81-year-old nun turned over and looked at us through a pair of eyes that were swollen and purple.

Her forehead was scabbed up, her nose broken.

The sight broke your heart ... and filled you with outrage.

That someone would do this to the beloved nun, one who has given so much of herself to the migrant community and Manatee County's poor, was beyond comprehension.

Eliseo Ortiz, a 51-year-old homeless man, was the alleged assailant in the unprovoked attack on Valentine's Day and was still at large Tuesday afternoon.

Volunteers at Sister Nora's Stillpoint House of Prayer on 14th Street West had been concerned about her safety, but the diminutive nun just seemed to be able to go about her missions of mercy without any troubles.

Ernie Bigelow, a strapping fellow, thought so.

"I'd stay here until she was ready to leave but after awhile I saw she could handle it," he said. "I figured Jesus has got her back. Then this guy shows up."

Sister Nora said she was shocked by the attack, which also left her with a concussion.

Chances are she'll remain in the hospital until the weekend.

"I can use the rest, even if I had to go through this to get it," she said. "I can still see, thanks be to God."

Her County Kerry brogue was as strong as ever.

Her faith was as strong as ever, too.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

'Yes, We Can Dance!' an event to remember

It's been almost 24 hours since the close of the third annual "Yes, We Can Dance!" showcase, but I'm positive the 275 participants and directors, as well as the SRO audiences for Saturday's matinee and evening shows can still hear the joyous shrieks and shouts and sustained applause that rang out in the Neel Peforming Arts Center at the State College of Florida.

The brainchild of Helen Dolbec and Linda Boone, the doyennes of dance in Manatee County, was a blast.

Now retired, Dolbec was the longtime director for the Bayshore High Honeybears and Boone, her counterpart with the Manatee High Sugar 'Canes.

Yet through all those years, there was never an opportunity for all the county's dance programs to appear on the same stage.

That includes the Lakewood Ranch High Silver Stars and the programs at Braden River, Palmetto and Southeast as well as the up-and-coming middle school programs at Haile, Lee, Sugg and Braden River.

And we cannot overlook the Manatee School for the Arts, which brought not one or two, but three separate dance teams to the show and rocked the house.

With the cooperation of each team's dance director, Dolbec and Boone have established an event that really and truly has taken off.

It has become a showcase in every sense of the word, a stage for the varied and creative talents of our county's scholastic dance teams to share and show the public.

As emcee for each of the three showcases, I'm a witness to the energy and entertainment this event has generated in crowd-pleasing fashion.

Whether it was eye-catching pom routines by the Southeast Nolettes and Braden River Middle Panthers, a fun-filled swing number by the MSA's Gold Strikers, a sensitive Afro-modern style dance by Bayshore Honeybears, a rousing high kick routine by the Manatee Sugar 'Canes or roof-raising hip hop by the MSA Heat,  Saturday's was a twinbill to remember and cherish.

I'm looking forward to next year's show already.

Friday, February 11, 2011

What do you get wife for Valentine's Day?

My wife’s words surprised me.

Made me chuckle, too.

“Honey,” Sherri said the other night. “I don’t know what to get you for Valentine’s Day.”

Don’t worry about it, I told her. Just having you in my life is the only gift I really want.

Or something mushy like that.

She rolled her eyes.

Then I started thinking about what she said.

Am I being set up?


That was the educated opinion of several male colleagues who have been married much longer than yours truly.

Our first anniversary is a couple of months off.

To celebrate the milestone, we were considering a week in Maui — until we found out we’d have to take out another mortgage to pay for it.

Or hit the Lotto, finally.

Loading up on more original Hawaiian shirts will have to wait.

St. Augustine, here we come.

Anyway, what to do about Valentine’s Day?

Read more Sunday in Mannix About Manatee.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A familiar fullback returns to Bradenton

Derek Bishop is back in Bradenton. The ex-MHS Hurricane/BHS Bruin fullback-and-linebacker just graduated from Liberty University, Lynchburg,. Va., where he lettered four years at fullback for the Flames.

Oh, no! Loria Fair, a longtime bartender at Ace’s, has hit the Big 4-0! Cheers from folks Mary and Bill Gleason.

Remember Tommy Durante’s benefit concert 5 p.m. Saturday at Oneco United Methodist Church, 2112 53rd Ave. E. The LRHS grad and FSU senior will study music this summer at Russia’s Moscow State University.

Read more Friday in Vin's People.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Rays' skipper other man in Sherri's life

 My wife came home Wednesday night with a picture of her with another man.

Sherri's smile went from ear to ear.

"Does he have his hand on your shoulder?" I asked, mock seriously.

That Joe Maddon, you've got to keep an eye on him.

The Tampa Bay Rays manager was the guest speaker at a business function hosted by HomeBanc, my wife's employer, and from the sound of it, he was worth every penny.

Sherri found him to be very personable, accomodating and down to earth.

No surprise there.

Hear he knows a little about baseball, too.

Maddon also autographed a pair of Rays ballcaps for my wife.

One for her parents, Sue and Jim. The other for her sister, Chris.

The pictures were for us.


You never smile like that when you're in a picture with me, I kidded her.

"You become a big league manager and maybe I will," Sherri said.

I can't win.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Pop diva would've bombed at McKechnie Field

Erika Quartuccio has little in common with Christina Aguilera.

She's 18, a Bayshore High School senior and works at Publix.

Samantha Rankin has little in common with Christina Aguilera.

She's a 12-year-old at King Middle School.

Chris Eisenberg has little in common with Christina Aguilera.

He's a 13-year-old at Brookside Middle in Sarasota.

The three teenagers have something nice in common with each other, though, something the pop diva wishes she had last weekend.

They were able to sings our national anthem flawlessly and reverently in their unique way at McKechnie Field during Saturday's auditions for spring training games and the Florida State League.

Which is way more than can be said about Aguilera, who forgot the words at the Super Bowl and ended up shrieking her way through a national embarrassment before 100 million TV viewers.

McKechnie isn't comparable to Cowboy Stadium, of course, yet it presented its own challenges.

The empty 6,000-seat ballpark has quirky acoustics and echoes that can throw off a singer.

Steve Ramsey, 30, admired the younger singers ability to overcome those factors. He's sung the Star-Spangled Banner the past two seasons and auditioned again Saturday.
"It can be an intimidating venue," Ramsey said. "It's not like singing in the shower."

Forty sang at the auditions. One drew a momentary blank, but started over and finished strong.

That's more than can be said about Christina Aguilera.

She'd have never made the cut at McKechnie Field.

Friday, February 4, 2011

DDA strategy raises hopes, questions

It’s been awhile since Dewey Eason has hosted Southern Vittles Night at daughter Donna’s restaurant, Ezra Cafe, featuring his mother Eula’s treasured recipe for chicken and dumplings with all the fixin's.

June or July might be time for an encore.

That’s when Ezra is expected to re-open at its new location at the SunTrust building in downtown Bradenton, thanks to a $250,000 incentive package from the city’s Downtown Development Authority that was approved Thursday.

It’d be a celebration, if you will.

Good for Ezra, which has cultivated a following over the years at 5629 Manatee Ave. W., being able to do the deal with the DDA.

If such an incentive package is unprecedented, so be it.

It’s a function of the DDA to prime the pump and bring more business downtown.

They’ve got momentum there.

Two more bars are on the way.

Now another restaurant, a classy family business that should be an asset for downtown, albeit at a first-floor location that has seen its share of turnover the 13 years I’ve been here.

Begrudge them? Not me.

Neither do some of their future neighbors around the corner on Old Main Street.

Not that they don’t have questions about the deal.

A lot of questions.

Read more Sunday in Mannix About Manatee.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Mine are one lucky pair of glasses

Some folks are always misplacing their reading glasses.

Like me.

Some folks are prone to losing their reading glasses, period.

Not me.

I've been lucky. Real lucky.

When Manatee played Tampa Plant for the Class 5A state championship in Orlando in December 2009, I inadvertently left them on the chartered bus --- a bus I wasn't taking home after the game. When I was done writing, I was going to catch a ride with a colleague.

But I had to be able to read my laptop screen to write.

I thought I was up the creek, until Margi Nanney,  the school district spokeswoman, loaned me an extra pair of reading glasses. Superintendent Tim McGonegal kindly offered me his extra pair, too.


I thought my glasses were as good as gone --- until a friend, who managed to talk his way into the Citrus
Bowl pressbox, showed up with my glasses in his hand at halftime.

I was so happy I gave the guy a hug and a kiss.

Fast forward to Thursday morning's Take Stock in Children prayer breakfast at Bradenton Auditorium.

After I was done interviewing people, I kept putting the glasses down while I shook hands and talked with friends and then picked up the glasses again.

I eventually walked back to the library where I'd parked, used the bathroom, came back out and drove to work.

Without the glasses.

I drove back to the auditorium and retraced my steps. No dice.

Checked the library parking lot. No dice there, either.

I figured those glasses were history.

Giving it one more shot, I went inside the library and asked the folks at the checkout desk whether any glasses had been turned in during the last half-hour.

Yes, a woman said.

What were they in? she asked.

A brown case, I said.

Got them right here, she said, taking then out of a drawer.


I thanked her and the library staff profusely and left, a lucky guy, indeed.

My glasses, too.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Weather we left behind for Florida!

Heard a radio personality complain Wednesday about our cool weather.

Say, what?

The woman sounded serious, too.

Is it possible she hadn't been paying attention to what's being called a "once in a lifetime" snowstorm sweeping across scores of states from the far midwest and bound for the northeast?

Or seen headlines like the one in Wednesday morning's Bradenton Herald:


Between lethal cold in Colorado to blinding snow in Oklahoma, Illinois and Ohio, freezing rain and blizzard conditions, it sounds almost apocalyptic.

That Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow on this Groundhog Day, meaning spring will come early, is small comfort.

It gives you pause to see the rest of the country going through winter's version of what we might go through during hurricane season.

Reminds me of what a former colleague -- a refugee from the north like me -- liked to say about having to endure the heat and humidity of Florida summers:

"It's our penance for not having to shovel snow up north in winter."

But this?

We'll put up with a cold snap anytime.