Monday, March 23, 2009

The Cornfield Chronicles

Well, it's been awhile (again) but that's because I've been traveling all over the midwest with reckless abandon. My hockey season is over as we lost in our league championship game over in Iowa and that prevented us from qualifying for the national championship tournament in Boston. It really hurt because if our kids had won or tied one more game in the regular season, we'd be packing our bags for Beantown on Wednesday. But because we gave it away during the regular season, we had to win a round-robin playoff tournament with St Louis, Peoria, and Dubuque. Well, to quote Meatloaf “two out of three ain't bad”... We beat Peoria and St Louis but couldn't get by Dubuque. So Dubuque goes to Boston... oh yippee... I'm so tickled to death... not! A Dubuque fan was so happy and came up to me not realizing that I was with Toledo and said “Isn't this great?” I was polite, but droll and said “yeah, I think I'll go wet my pants now.”
Now the easy thing to do would be say bad things about Dubuque, Iowa because I've never liked the town or the area for a wide variety of reasons. But this time around, I came across a Dubuque fan who just warmed my heart and made me smile. This kid looked to be around 12 or 13 years old. He appeared to be a very innocent (as in naive), soft spoken and gentile. My first thought was maybe special needs but I didn't want to seem judging. But boy did he loved his Dubuque team. But he came out to the early game on the first day of the tournament to see Toledo play Peoria in the afternoon. This kid, reached out his hand and touched the glove of one of our bruiser types, Brandon. Brandon is 6 foot 3, 200 lb rugged defenseman, who loves to intimidate, and drop the gloves and scrap. Well, after our game. The kid runs into Brandon in the concession lobby and the kid was just in total awe. He looks up at Brandon and asks him his name. Brandon is not the type to converse politely for a long period of time. But for some reason, this kid has Brandon's complete attention. I think Brandon realized that he was dealing with an innocent child so he couldn't just rip a bunch of expletives to try and be funny. So he chatted with this kid for a while and ends up befriending the boy. The boy brings his game program for Brandon to autograph. Now here's where I love hockey so much more than any other sport. The people involved in the game are just so different than Basketball, Baseball, and Football. Hockey is not just a sport, but the people involved know how different it is than the other big three. We love those sports too, but for some reason, hockey has it's own distinct culture. But for a lot of the people, it's a lifestyle. It's a big part of their lives, not just a hobby. Kind of like how Soccer fans around the world that get passionate during the season. Anyway, back to Brandon. This kid asks for Brandon's autograph and Brandon says “give me a minute”. Brandon takes the kid's program into the locker room and has the entire team (including staff... meaning me), autograph this kid's program. He takes it back out but the kid had left. So Brandon gives the program to me and asks me to hold it till either one of us see this kid again. Brandon sees him later asks me for the program and gives it to the kid and you would've thought he gave him a million dollars. The kid's face lights up. So while a bunch of our players were in the stands watching the Dubuque – St Louis game, the kid comes over and starts talking to our guys who razz him a little because he's a Dubuque fan, but were overall, good to him and treated him with kid gloves. So, when they were getting up to leave, the kid walks over to Brandon, like he's his new best friend, and says, “I'll be cheering for you guys tomorrow when you play St Louis.” Brandon in true fashion chirps “okay but just don't wear that $&*#%### Dubuque jersey to our game okay?” The other players laugh. The kid says “yeah but I don't have a Cherokee shirt”. So the players talk one of our fans into doing something amazing. The fan gives up her game worn jersey, and the players autograph it, and the next day, they present it to the kid to keep and wear during Toledo's game against St Louis. The kid just lit up like you wouldn't believe. Of course the same night when Dubuque played Peoria, he went back to his Dubuque jersey... but we couldn't fault him for that. And then the capper... after the championship game when we lost to Dubuque, the players packed their gear for the final time and headed out to the bus for the long ride home. Some of the players, still in tears over losing, were hugging family and friends and taking a few pictures for posterity. After all the celebrating by the Dubuque fans inside the rink, this precious kid comes outside to the Toledo bus and is shaking hands and then starts giving big hugs to Brandon and the rest of the team. As much as the trip home sucked, I'll never forget this kid or how our team embraced a supposed “opponent”. It just made me feel so good that when those that rag on hockey players sometimes calling them cement heads because hockey can be such a violent sport sometimes, stories like the one I wrote about here happen often without anyone noticing it. But I witnessed this one and I wanted to write about it and say thanks to the players... They are what is good about our sport... and they're what is good about human beings.


Joann said...

What a beautiful story, Mik!! And I just KNOW that he'll NEVER forget you guys either, you all made an IMPACT on this kid, and who knows maybe he'll change teams!! = ) Thanks for sharing that, it was really good to hear!

madcobug said...

Sorry that your team lost that championship game. Great heatwarming story about that kid. God bless. Helen

Lynne said...

What a lovely thing for the Team to do! I am so sorry your team did not win the tangible .. the game, but they sure won a lot more that and respect. Now that you can't print on a trophy!

Dirk said...

To me, this is what sports is really all about. This is a reason why I think professional athletes' should live a life beyond reproach because children like this guy look up to them as role models - good or bad.

Sorry about your loss, but the memories made for this young man are worth more than all the victories in the world. This boy will NEVER forget it, & I have a lot of respect for your team, especially Brandon, for going above & beyond.

Absolutely beautiful story, & the way major league baseball (my favorite sport) used to be when I was growing up.


Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

Very touching entry, and the players were great. I took my wife to her first hockey game recently (Notre Dame vs. University of Nebraska - Omaha). She loved it :o)

Carolyn said...

I Love it Mik! What a great story! I know what you mean about hockey. My sport growing up was baseball, as my dad and I used to go on "dates" to see the Jays- right from the beginning of the team. I always liked hockey too though- whether it was the Leafs or the teeam my dad coached or the one my brother payed on. Hockey is different. Kids grow up on skates, in the summer it's "GAME ON!" Oh, I can just hear that in my head! School grounds had 2 rinks every winter- one for hockey. I can remember the cold air of the arenas or outside- drinking hot chocolate and watching guys like Wendal Clark going after Mario Lemux! Oh thank you Mik for letting me remember! I do so miss hockey. I miss Baseball with my dad, but hockey- I wish my boy could grow up with that. Florida is somehow not the same though ;-) God Bless and better luck next year eh!

FrankandMary said...

Reckless abandon is a favorite of mine ;-0.

Okay, so can you write a short story: Brandon & the little boy ~out of this? Seriously this is great. ~Mary

DI said...

I am from Dubuque and a Thunderbirds fan. I am pretty sure that I know who this boy is. He has been going to hockey games since he was about 3 years old. He does love the sport and I can so see him doing the autograph thing with your Toledo team. I'm sorry that, for whatever reasons, you don't like our city, we're all pretty proud of it. I will admit we do have some rowdy fans; but for the most part, the greater majority of our fans are sincere in their love of hockey. We sat near some of your Toledo boys during the TBirds games (toward the top in Section 2). They were polite and well represented your city. I also rooted for them when they played St. Louis. As it turns out, I think that they would have been a terrific representative for the CSHL.

Joann said...

Hi My Friend,
Stop by my blog when you get a minute, will you?! Thanks!