Bubba

I found out this morning that a friend I’ve had since high school died yesterday.

Martin Cattoni was almost five months past his 65th birthday.  He retired about a year and a half ago after figuring out he had enough money to cover him the rest of his life, since the men in his family died relatively young.

He was in good health, it seemed: not fat like some of his friends, and he had discovered a new passion for bicycling…in fact, he had planned a biking trip to Paris later this year.

I’m told he went for a ride yesterday, did something like 40 miles before stopping to do his Pilates, then got back on the bike and rode home.  At home he felt chest pains, so he took himself to the hospital…where they could not save him.  Don’t know any more details yet.

We met in 19740400 Martin George Mike Pat Timhomeroom the day we showed up at high school, two 14-year-olds coming in from different junior highs.  We hit it off, the way some kids do.  Over the years we became better friends as we shared more classes in school and discovered common interests.

(Martin, George, Mike, Pat, Tim)

In music.

In sports.  (Both playing and watching)

In girls.  (Same)

Martin knew lots of girls, and he wasn’t afraid of them like001-stornant-1969-dodge-charger-driving-alt-2.JPG some of the rest of us were.  He introduced me to some really great girls.  We’d become good enough friends that we double-dated to the Senior Prom in his red 1969 Dodge Charger just a couple of months after we’d agreed to be roommates at college.

The day we packed our cars to drive off to Austin and whatever fortune awaited us, my father chauffeured our mothers as they each sent their first child off to college; Martin’s father had died, at age 58, during a family vacation to Paraguay when Martincito was 16.  It seems to me now that it took only a few minutes for us to carry all of our stuff from our cars on the street up to the second floor of the dorm and drop it on the floor; our moms wanted to help us unpack and put things away, an operation that they might have stretched out for hours.  But my dad stepped in: he suggested to them that we didn’t look like we needed any help…and after final hugs and kisses the three parents headed back to Houston and the two of us went looking for trouble.  (Yes we did, and yes, we did.)

We lived together those first three semesters of college: next door to two other friends from high school (Mike and Tim), directly across the hall from the communal bathroom, up the hill from Memorial Stadium and next door to the Texas Tavern, down the street from the dorm where we took meals and the gym where we played intramurals, three blocks from Scholz Garten and not much further than that to The Drag on the other side of campus.  I thought we couldn’t have had a sweeter setup.

My parents wanted me to concentrate on school during freshman year so I didthumbnail_IMG_2215n’t get a job right away, but Martin parlayed his substantial grocery store experience into a gig at a nearby Safeway within a week of us arriving.  He brought home two large plastic glasses that he thought we’d find useful, one in orange and the other in light green.  I still have mine.

Nothing lasts forever: in the middle of sophomore year Martin decided to transfer to school back in Houston.  We kept in touch, but it wasn’t the same.  He carved a new life with new interests and new friends.  We were together for his going away party when he left Houston in 1989 to work for a gas company in the East, on what turned out to be the day I quit my dream job in radio in Houston—we were, each of us, off on truly new, and separate, paths.

I still saw him occasionally when he’d come to Houston to visit his brother and sister.  The last time was this 20130300 Cattoni Ryan Piazzapast January, for a short midday lunch with another couple of our friends.  That’s where he told us about his biking, and told the story about having figured out he’d be OK to retire early, that he wouldn’t outlive his money.  He was right.  Dammit.

(Pascal, Tom, Martin, Pat)

It was a pleasant visit, and when we left we said goodbye in the way we had for years.  Handshake, pulling into a quick hug, and waving goodbye using the names we’d been given by our dormmates more than 45 years ago.

See you later, Bubba…

Milo, you’re no Hall of Famer and I can prove it

Listening to a baseball game on the radio is a special treat, but I haven’t been able to tune in to my Houston Astros since the mid-1980s because I cannot abide the play-by-play announcer.  So I was quite pleased recently when Milo Hamilton announced he was retiring from the broadcast booth after the 2012 season.  Appreciation of one broadcaster or another is to some degree a matter of taste, I grant you; in this case, I’m finally getting the bad taste out of my mouth after more than 30 years!

In the days of my first experience with cable television in Austin, Texas in the late 1970s, when all you got was a dozen or so channels in total including the local stations, the special offerings including the independent “super stations” WTBS (originally WTCG) in Atlanta and WGN in Chicago which carried a ton of syndicated programming plus all the games of the Atlanta Braves and Chicago Cubs baseball teams.  To a fledgling broadcaster and long-time baseball fan it was pretty cool to see how stations in other cities put on their broadcasts, and since the Cubs played all their home games in the afternoon back then I saw them a lot.  In a very short time I decided that I did not care for the style of either of the Cubs play-by-play men, Harry Caray and Milo Hamilton.

By 1985 I was back in Houston, and was disgusted at the news that the Astros hired Hamilton to be the second play-by-play guy behind long-time local favorite Gene Elston.  By 1987 Elston was unceremoniously dumped and Hamilton had the top spot in the radio broadcast.  He has some ardent fans—most notably Astros management, that hasn’t fired him in all these years—but Hamilton is the subject of high derision and ridicule, and it’s not just me: check out the comments forum at Houston’s Leading Information Source, or even the Astros’ own website,  when the news broke that Hamilton was going to announce his retirement.

Among the things I’ve always loathed, right after his increasing inability over the years to stay focused on the game playing out right in front of his damn eyes, has been Hamilton’s pomposity, his exuberant affection for all things Milo and his assumption that you love all things Milo too.  This includes the unbecoming habit of reminding the listener that he’s a Hall of Fame broadcaster, referring to the fact that he won the Ford C. Frick Award from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in 1992.  Well, during the big doings over the retirement announcement I saw a story in the Houston Press that gave me pause: John Royal asserted that Hamilton is not a member of the Hall of Fame, just the winner of an award the Hall gives.  I had to find out for myself:

HOF

There you have it boys and girls, the bar-bet-settling evidence straight from Cooperstown!  Milo Hamilton, no matter which halls of fame you claim, you are not a member of baseball’s hall.  Happy trails!  Oh, frabjous rapture!

But as joyous as the news is, as wonderful the feeling of smacking down a hated asshole can be, it’s raised an issue.  My friend Mark Sterling, a product of Detroit who shares my distaste for Hamilton’s on-air style, and who is a lover of the late long-time Tigers broadcaster who also won the Frick, had this response to the notice heralding my achievement:

A fine piece of investigative work, indeed; certainly adding proper perspective to Milo’s body of work.  However, in the case of fellow “award winner” Ernie Harwell, Red and I will stand like the house by the side of the road, and watch that one [Craig’s assessment] go by…

Oh crap, what I have I done?  (Milo, what have you done?  You’ve gone and screwed it up for everybody.)

And then it hit me: this is only a problem for creeps like Hamilton who’ve overreached and taken credit for something they’re not entitled to.  We’ve all heard other Frick Award winners referred to as Hall of Famers by others, but the mikemen don’t bear the responsibility for that error.  They’re all in the Hall, in the exhibit in the Museum, and we who appreciate their work aren’t wrong to think of them as being in the Hall.  (Donna Stell, another friend who read the Hall’s response to my question, wondered if that makes Hamilton an exhibitionist; yes, I believe it does.)

So, I was relatively proud of myself for coming up with information that like-minded baseball lovers can appreciate.  I shared it among a group of friends, and made the parenthetical aside that “this may be the most worthwhile thing I have done this week;” my friend Tom Adolph, no doubt voicing the sentiment shared by many others, replied “This may be the best thing you have ever done.”  If so, I can live with that.

Don’t bet these guys on golf (you’ll hurt yourself carrying all the money home)

If you want a fresh perspective on things, and to have fun, get some old high school friends together to play golf.  Note: this works to best effect when none of you is a good golfer.

golfers

That’s us—Tim, Pascal, Tom and Pat—on the 18th tee at Wildcat Golf Club’s Lakes Course, just before it rained, during our high school reunion golf outing earlier this month.  The rain was brief but we were already wet from the inside out anyway.  We ended up eight over par, which is distressingly poor in a scramble.  And we had a great time—what would you expect when you spend the day with friends you’ve had for almost 40 years?

I have assiduously avoided high school reunions since number 10, when I went to a Houston Astros game because I’d never been in the Skyboxes at the Astrodome…and as expected, found that a seat at the top of a ten story building is less than ideal for baseball watching if you’re at all interested in the game.  But that’s not why I skipped reunions; I was just never interested.  This time, I kiddingly replied that I’m always up to play golf, and someone called me on it.  Good on them…better for me.

I’ve been friends with these guys, and a couple of others, since we were freshmen in high school, and I never needed a reunion to find out how they were doing.  We don’t all see each other regularly, but it’s the kind of friendship where you can pick up a conversation that was put on hold months and months before.  And so we spent the afternoon, scuffing around the course, amusing one another with pathetic displays of athletic ability and laughing at all the old jokes, and all the old jokers.

It made me feel great to realize that I’ve got these these guys in my life, that we’re still comfortable around each other despite the years.

The four of us went out to eat together afterward because we’re all still growing boys (just not growing vertically any more).  We watched a ball game on TV and drank beer (that was mostly me) and later told the old jokes and talked about what’s new, and learned some things about one other, even after all these years.

After I got home, it got better.  My friend Mark—the guy I play golf with regularly, the guy who joined me to scout Wildcat since none of us had played it before; the guy who gave me his copy of “Golf in the Kingdom”—had wished me “Tempo and Short Grass” in an e-mail that included this:

I sent the Soundtrack of the Day along to my old friends so they could share that part of my day, too.