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Back-to-school mutterings          Send a link to a friend

By Jeff Mayfield

[AUG. 26, 2005]  Lots of stuff has happened this summer and lots more stuff is happening as we head "back to school." Let me say right upfront that I've missed y'all and plan to pop in from time to time just to see if you're paying attention. Hope you all survived the heat of the summer and are ready for a great fall and winter! With no further ado, let's get cracking…

Let's go, Railers! At least that's my rally cry for the gridders, volleyballers and all other athletes as seasons are either under way or upcoming in the days ahead. I am really hopeful that this is the year football gets its due!

Mount Pulaski and all other area schools should be back at it as well, and we're all anticipating a huge sports year.

Area colleges LC and LCC are also back in session, so we should be hearing from them soon as well.

Cardinals continue to win… on the field and in pre-game fights. Well. Gerald Perry might have gotten away with a sucker punch to St. Louis pitching coach Dave Duncan, BUT did Pittsburg get the decision? I think not! Five -- count 'em -- first-inning runs Wednesday night in Steel City left the Bucos reeling… and it could've been a lot worse. And did you see the bomb that Pujols corked on Jose Mesa? That thing had a higher and longer flight plan than the latest space shuttle!

You can't say enough about the St. Louis utility players. So Taguchi has not only been great for the Cards, he's been one of the best players in baseball in August. Abe Nunez has been fantastic filling in for Scott Rolen, who will have surgery and is lost for the year. Jon Mabry continues to do everything but direct traffic before games, and he may be doing that for all we know. John Rodriguez, since his call-up, has been a solid replacement for Reggie Sanders, who is supposed to be back on Sept. 1 (though color me skeptical about that return date). Einar Diaz was effective filling in for Yadier Molina on his recent IR stint.

Others have shined since the All-Star break, including pitcher Anthony Reyes, but none brighter than manager Tony LaRussa, who may vault into third place on MLB's all-time win list (just passing his own hero, Sparky Anderson) by the time this article posts. What an accomplishment that is! And I think Tony deserves it.

Now he certainly has been around a lot of great teams, but you still have to do something with them when you've got 'em. Speaking from experience, I believe I was a lot better coach when I had great talent, too… but I digress. Just look at how much more aggressive Tony has become over the last two seasons. Take this one, for example. Tony has called for 13 suicide squeeze bunts -- not in this decade… in this season!!! And St. Louis has been successful on 11 of them -- that is an amazing stat to me.

I'm also amazed when I see that the starting pitchers have won 65 or so of the 80 wins and have even more quality starts. Incredible! If the pitching staff stays healthy and the Cardinals' patchwork lineup can at least get a few timely hits to stake those pitchers to some cushions, the Redbirds could be chasing a ring again. In some ways I feel better about this year's chances because of that staff, but when we get nightly injuries I envision the season going up in smoke. It's nice to see, barring a meltdown, the Cards will win the Central Division in their final season in Busch Stadium.

Speaking of Busch Stadium… I didn't lay eyes on it until about 1970. My dad brought me up a Cards fan growing up in California. In fact, he and my mom got into it when I was in sixth grade and he announced that he was letting me stay home from school to watch Gibby pitch a day game in the 1967 World Series. Life never got better than that, nor is it possible that it could, since I can't return that favor to my own son, thanks to TV, Madison Avenue and Bud Selig! (In fact, he'll be asleep before the first pitch of all seven games… From sharp minds come ???)

Anyway we moved out here to the Midwest during the snowy winter of 1970 (it's just a bit fuzzy to me 'cause we had to live in a hotel for a month, as our moving 18-wheeler was delayed in the Rockies for several days). All winter and spring I bugged my dad about taking us to St. Louis and to a game (man, was I pest; or should that read, man, am I a pest?). He obliged, and we saw the Birds take on the Reds when Cincy was good and the Redbirds were not. I didn't care… Feasting my eyes on Busch Stadium for the first time was a sight to behold… and when one of my all-time favorite Redbirds, Ted Simmons, hit a game-winning homer, I knew it was my density!

Going to the ballpark with my dad was a treasure. I have never heard, seen or been with anyone more knowledgeable about the game than he was. I thought I studied it a lot through the years; he breathed it… he understood its ebb and flow…he was a lot like the recently deceased Hank Stram. He would tell us what was going to happen on the next pitch, and he was right the majority of the time. He truly missed his sports calling in life and was just born too soon.

He also instructed us to fall in love with the game, not with its trappings. Not because he was cheap
-- he still bought us souvenirs after we bugged him incessantly -- but because he knew we might miss the most important play of the game IF we HAD to go buy a snack or an item we didn't need at the wrong moment. To this day, I don't like to get up from my seat except when we're up big (my boy's in trouble!).

Anyway, as we Cardinal fans say goodbye to Busch (the only stadium for St. Louis I have ever known), it gives me yet another opportunity to bask in the fond memories of my childhood, especially with my dad. If you have memories about your visits to Busch Stadium that you'd like to share, send them to us at, and we'll post as many as we have room for.

Cubs went the other direction… and I have to tell you that I really don't understand why. My only explanation is that they had major injuries to key players at a critical juncture in the season and never really recovered. Now seven games back in the wild card race, they are more than a long shot. If you're the Cubs management, what do you do now? Hold a fire sale? Keep what you've got, add a pitcher and a couple of bats in the offseason, and hope this season was just an anomaly? Write us and tell us your plan… and if Jim Hendry is reading, maybe you can fix their ills from what they call "downstate" Illinois.

Sox holding on… but they have looked more vulnerable the last two to three weeks than they have all season. In fact, NO team looks dominant to me -- not even the Birds! The nice thing about Chicago is that they have some nice arms that can bail them out when they get into a funk. And if they can get some quality starts and the bullpen doesn't melt down, they might surprise a few folks in the playoffs. It's nice to see them having some nice crowds this summer.

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Ron Zook's Illini about to be unveiled… and I have absolutely NO idea what to expect. I'm only going to predict two or three victories so I can just sit back and watch the whole thing unfold. I don't think we are overly talented, but I would love to be surprised. Word on the street is that Tim Brasic will be the starting QB. We are pretty stout at RB, IF the line can open some holes for them. The defense will have to carry us and keep games within reach while the young offense learns what Zook wants. I spoke to the coach in St. Louis at the Final Four, and he was exceedingly optimistic. I like that in a coach, but you pay me to be realistic -- there's just too many good teams in the Big Ten. But, give Zook and Illinois two or three years… I smell good things down the road… Anybody got any roses???

And speaking of the Illini faithful… I'm glad to see how well local banker Bill Hull is doing. Don't know if his doctors made him do a mandatory eight-count but he sure looks good to us. Long a favorite of the LDN crew, Bill has many insights on Illini football and basketball, and frankly we would be lost without him and we're glad he's doing better!

Denver Johnson's ISU Redbirds... will also be opening up their campaign soon with a tough date at Iowa State. The 'Birds lost key players to graduation, so I have no idea what ISU will do this season. IF you don't want to spend the big bucks at UI, ISU has some great family plans available, and it's always a good time in Normal!

I told you that Tiger was lurking... Not only did he win the NEC last weekend, but when he was left for dead in the PGA the week before, he staged one of the wildest comebacks I have ever seen. As a matter of fact, I think few, if any, golfers could miss the cut by a stroke and come all the way back to be the leader in the clubhouse the final day?! Had he not shot himself in the foot on a couple of putts, he probably would've won. If you don't think he's the best, you probably haven't played or watched much golf.

Non-sports item… There's been a lot of talk lately on whether the U.S. should even be in Afghanistan or in Iraq. I've never worked in a foreign policy office nor at the Pentagon, but you tell me: IF you're a terrorist, what do you like better -- having major countries of the world ignore you, let you move freely doing what you want, when you want, where you want; OR… being hunted down like the dog or coward that you are, forced to live in caves and basically being cut off from the world in so many ways, being watched and monitored constantly, having your accounts scrutinized and dealings with your family and friends consistently covered? It seems like a NO-brainer to me.

There will always be thugs, terrorists, bullies and so on in the world because evil exists. I don't care how much intelligence you have and how good your soldiers and security personnel are. If someone wishes to do you, your family or your country harm, they will find a way to do so. While it certainly makes sense to try to win the world with peaceful strategies (meeting social, economic, educational needs and implementing faith-based strategies), does it hurt to be wise and prudent at the same time?

It seems to me that a solid offensive strategy puts the enemy on its heels and keeps it on the run. Maybe it does cost a lot in dollars and in lives (I certainly would struggle in sending my son to the field, and I hope I never have to), but what's the alternative? The 8 million Iraqis who recently voted and who are enjoying freedoms they never dreamed about should be allowed to weigh in on this subject. If the roles were reversed, I'd sure want them to come and help my family and friends taste freedom.

I'm happy to hear other opinions on this subject, but before you write, keep in mind that my dad spilled blood on Korean soil and my uncles spilled blood during World War II to give you and me the freedoms we enjoy. There were detractors in all of those wars too, and history seems to prove that those detractors were wrong. My relatives and their fellow soldiers are among the biggest heroes I have ever known because they stood in the gap for you and me. They were even more adamant about my response on this subject than I am -- and they were the ones dodging the bullets!

Area recreation or event… This weekend marks the return of the annual balloon and art festival -- and this time, out at the airport. Get out and support this event. Invite your co-workers, your families and your friends. Volunteer to help out in some way (call the chamber of commerce at 735-2385). This festival brings vital dollars into our community and is a showcase to potential companies who may be contemplating bringing jobs and tax dollars to our county. It is also a time to celebrate what's great about Lincoln and Logan County -- our people, our lifestyle and our way of life. I have yet to bring somebody in here who was disappointed with the whole experience (OK, they cried a little if the balloons didn't go up). See you out there!

There's probably lots of other stuff I should be writing about, but I'm quite rusty after a long layoff.

Just to warn you in advance… My column has gone more to a "blog" format, where I will be getting back to you on a non-regular basis, just as I can scratch out some time to touch base with you great and loyal readers. So, if ANY of you have any sports news to report or pictures to share, send them to the, and I'm sure if our editors have time and space, they'll make sure your stuff finds a place!

In conclusion... I want to say congratulations to my little buddy for making his purple belt at Little Ninjas, for passing his swimming test this summer (thanks to Katie Muck) and for starting his educational career next week (thanks to Carrie Taylor and Ren Anweiler at the Lincoln Christian Church Nursery School). Also, congrats to Mommy for completing five classes towards her master's this summer (that was a boatload, people)! Good luck to you and the entire county educational gang in 2005-06, and a special welcome to new District 27 Superintendent Kirby Rodgers (I think he's going to do great here but has a tough act to follow in Bob Kidd and Les Plotner before him)!

I also want to thank Dennis Graue, Mike Rohrer and their entire Graue Pharmacy staff for the many great years of service they gave our community through the years. I STILL don't think I understand what recently happened to them, but I know I loved the professional service they ALWAYS provided, and I will miss doing business with them on a regular basis. I can only pray that something even better lies on the horizon for all of you.

Have a great month, everybody… I'm out!

[Jeff Mayfield]

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