A fluke in Frederick

A fluke in Frederick

On a recent warm Sunday, Julie and I were beginning to emerge from what I call our Food Poisoning Apocalypse. Something – probably tainted crab cakes – had knocked us out of the human race for three miserable days. We were visiting friends in Frederick, Maryland, a historic, fetching Civil War town of about 80,000 people. I was still feeling a little weak and rather butchered, but it was time to work our legs and get outdoors, so we happily walked from our rented rowhouse to Nymeo Field at Harry Grove Stadium for a day of sun and baseball. I had no idea that it would turn out to be a surprisingly fortuitous venture.

Nymeo Field is home to the Frederick Keys (named after Frederick native Francis Scott Key), an unaffiliated collegiate summer ballclub that serves as a showcase for prospects. (The Keys had been a minor league affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles until Major League Baseball began slashing farm clubs in 2020.)

Nymeo Field

Starting this year, however, the field also hosts a still-unnamed Frederick team that plays in the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball, a high-quality league partnered with MLB that operates in cities without minor league franchises of their own. For reasons as mysterious as a knuckleball, the team’s moniker will not be announced until June 23. The final contenders are: Bone Shakers, Ghost Hounds, Rail Frogs, Sawbones, and Screaming Alpacas. Most of those names scare the bejeezus out of me – can you imagine screaming alpacas dominating your nightmares? – so I’m rooting for the least petrifying (and train-related!) “Rail Frogs.”

In the meantime, the players are wearing uniforms adorned with big colorful question marks. That’s low-level baseball for you.

There are no billionaire owners and superstars in these leagues. The players are underpaid and living on buses and in cheap hotels, but they’re doing it for the love of the game and for their dream of breaking into the majors. Only 10 percent of minor leaguers will make it to “the show,” and far fewer on independent teams will get there. But they press on until, for most of them, age and reality bring disheartening news.

There was plenty of extra room in the parking lot at Nymeo Field. Inside, an enthusiastically hokey announcer was making corny jokes about foul balls running “afoul” of something. On the outfield wall, billboards advertised a local ankle and foot doctor, Pepsi-Cola, and some kind of insurance. The scoreboard accuracy was, at times, questionable. In between innings, the young staffers worked hard. They raked the uneven infield dirt. They danced atop the dugouts to gin up the crowd. At one point they slingshotted free mattress pads, for some reason, into the stands.

I’m thinking of trying out

For the spectators, seeing a game at this level means spending a few hours with your family, under a clear sky, rooting fervently for your town. All of the cliché sounds of baseball – the crack of the bat, the thwack of leather – are louder and more resonant in these stadiums. The action is personal and immediate. And it’s so affordable. The day we were there, we got to see a surprise doubleheader because the previous day’s game had been a rainout. That’s two games for the ridiculously low price of $15 – in the “expensive” seats. For a few dollars more, we could get a hot dog, a slice of pizza, or a funnel cake. And, of course, cold beer at a reeeeeeeeasonable price. I avoided the fatty foods but thought a beer would be okay. One of the local breweries – Flying Dog – had a stand at the ballpark, and the woman behind the taps offered us tastes as we chatted. It all throws back to an America before greed took over.

The crowd was thin. I’d say there were only about 17 people in the stands, but Julie claims that I have a tendency to exaggerate. So it’s more likely that there were 100 people there – in a stadium that holds 5,400. It was Mother’s Day, so maybe that kept the attendance small.

Yet somehow the loudest man on the planet ended up sitting behind us. I’ll call him Boomer. He was a large man, and his resounding cheers and wisecracks ricocheted around the nearly-empty stadium. He also jangled a piercing cowbell that rattled our ears. But he was polite. In fact, he asked us if the cowbell bothered us, and when someone is that solicitous I’ll inevitably respond that I’m not troubled in the least. At one point he offered us a piece of his pretzel, which was bigger than his head. We demurred.

The cowbell and the yelling continued throughout the game and somehow became a welcome part of the atmosphere. Boomer seemed to know his team well.

Meanwhile, as the game moved on, we took casual note of a relaxed-looking man at the end of our row who was congenially talking baseball with another fan. Julie began to suspect that the guy in our row had been an actual ballplayer. Possibly even a major leaguer.

I was skeptical. Why would a big-league player be watching an independent-league game at a ballpark in Frederick with a mere smattering of spectators?

But she insisted. She wondered if he could be Shawon Dunston, a shortstop who’d played for the San Francisco Giants and a handful of other teams in his career.

Shawon Dunston

Okay, hold on now. Shawon Dunston is one of my all-time favorite Giants.

He’d been an All-Star – twice. He’d won the Giants’ Willie Mac award in 1996 for being the most inspirational on the team, with his big heart and smile. He played for 18 seasons, amassed almost 1,600 hits, and earned three World Series rings as a coach.

But much more importantly, his picture – which I cut out of the San Francisco Chronicle in August of 1998 and is now discolored with age – has been taped to the wall next to my desk for 25 years.

The reason this particular photo captured my heart is that, at the time, Shawon’s 5-year-old son Shawon Jr. – a Giants batboy – had been repeatedly asking after games, “Daddy, why don’t you hit home runs?” His father had always patiently replied that his career was winding down and he just wasn’t that kind of hitter. “Okay, Daddy, but why don’t you hit home runs?” Then on August 27, 1998, Shawon Dunston came into a game as a pinch hitter and swatted a three-run homer. His son, overcome with love and pride, couldn’t contain himself and ran out to the field to hug his father. That’s the photo on my wall.

My wall clipping

Back at Nymeo Field, I was now starting to feel the thrill of possibility that Shawon Dunston could be sitting a few feet from me.

Don Mossi signed postcard

It’s rare that I’ve been really close to a professional ballplayer. My cousin Dennis Corti played at the AAA level for the New York Yankees back in the early sixties; he hit .294 with 12 homers in his last year (1964), but he was an outfielder and there was no way he was going to go very far with Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris on the big-league roster. In 1966, our parents took us to Pacific Grove for a short vacation and at the hotel we ended up meeting Don Mossi, a Bay Area lefty who’d pitched for a number of MLB teams and had recently retired. Giants third baseman Matt Williams signed a ball for me in 1999 when I was volunteering to collect signatures for the soon-to-be new ballpark. And I got a photo with former Giants coach Bruce Bochy a few years ago when I met him at a charity event. But no words were spoken between us and he was not very friendly, to be honest.

Julie spent the last 15 minutes of the Frederick team’s exciting nailbiter of a game taking surreptitious photos of the mystery man at the end of our row – enlarging them, studying them, even analyzing his ring. She became convinced that it was Shawon. I wasn’t as sure, but I developed an ingenious and foolproof plan to ferret out his identity.

I would use my feminine wiles with Boomer and enlist his help without his ever realizing it.

It was clear that no one in our group would have the nerve to approach the stranger in our row and ask him who he was. But Boomer was obviously not shy. This big dude would help us – I just knew it.

When the game ended and Boomer was getting up to leave, I had to act immediately.

“Do you see that man sitting at the end of our row?” I asked him. “Do you think it could be Shawon Dunston?”

He looked over that way, interested.

“Do you mean the guy who played for the Cubs?”

“Yes,” I said (inwardly perturbed), “but more importantly, for the San Francisco Giants.”

“Well, I’ll go ask him.”


Boomer strolled over to the mystery man and I could hear him saying, “Those ladies over there were wondering if it was you.”

Holy cats, it was Shawon Dunston!

“It’s him, ladies!” Boomer bellowed over his shoulder as he left.

Wow. The guy who’s been on my wall for a quarter of a century was now sitting near me in a virtually empty stadium in Frederick, Maryland.

I had to act. Throwing restraint to the afternoon breeze, Julie and I walked over, and I told him that we were from San Francisco and that he was one of my most-loved Giants and I wanted to thank him for everything.

Shawon Dunston, Jr.

This man, as I might have expected, was so gracious and kind. He explained to us that his son – the little 5-year-old in my photo – was playing outfield for the opposing team, the Lancaster Barnstormers, but he’d hurt his hamstring in the first inning of the first game (which we had missed). He joked that he didn’t like his son’s long hair but that it had come “from his mother’s side.” I asked whether he was still advising the Giants, as he’d been a couple of years ago, but he said that he’d left in 2020 and was “a nobody” now. We told him that he most certainly was not a nobody.

I’m typically not a celebrity groupie or a “fangirl” type, but for the first time in my life I asked a stranger for a picture. He seemed thrilled to oblige.

By the way, I would like to add that the man is in incredible shape. I felt like I was putting my arm around a stone monument.

As we were walking out of the stadium afterwards, Boomer zipped out of the parking lot in his truck and honked. We waved wildly and yelled our thanks.

These days I often have to remind myself that serendipitous moments are possible even on the most ordinary of days. So although I may not be feeling 100 percent, or I may be wanting to just slouch lazily on the couch eating Funyuns, it’s better to simply get up and leave the house.

There’s always a chance for happenstance.


Quick note: my piece in The San Franciscan is finally online!


Due to popular demand, I am including, at the end of each blog post, the latest random diary entries that I’ve been posting on Facebook for “Throwback Thursday.” These are all taken absolutely verbatim from the lengthy diaries I kept between 1970 and 1987.

December 28, 1974 [age 19]:

“I picked up Jeanne [my friend who was visiting from the East Coast] at 12:30 at the airport in San Francisco and we left for our L.A. and Mexico vacation today. [We were in my old, tiny 1971 Toyota Corolla.] The trip was routine, save for a little rain, until we got to the Ridge Route [the 8,000-foot highway grade going from Kern County down into the L.A. basin]. Then it began to snow, and we had the brilliant idea of turning off to play in the snow. The exit, however, turned into a snowy mess, and we barely could move. Rather than get back on the Highway 5 on-ramp, Jeanne, who was driving, took the wrong road and we drove along parallel to the freeway but 100 yards away for half a mile, sliding in the snow. When we finally realized what was happening, we were isolated, alone, afraid, and unable to turn around. So we had to BACK down the road the half a mile, stalling every now and then. It was a nightmare. Back on the freeway we crawled along, and we learned that the CHP had closed the road down right after we’d gone through. But finally, driving in through flooded streets, we made it to Grammy’s house at 9:30. I’ll just never forget praying and shaking with fear on the Grapevine while we passed all those broken-down car corpses covered with snow.”

December 29, 1974 [age 19]:

“Yesterday we headed towards Mexico, settling down for two nights in the Motel 6 right on the border. Today we spent time first in Encinada [sic], walking around and buying liquor, then drove back up north, stopping for a walk on a beach. We parked in Tijuana so we could go into a bar (my first!) and drink margaritas. I had two (the second one was free, on the bartender) and then we drove off towards the border back into CA. Luckily we just looked innocent enough, I guess, to get past the customs inspectors, because the car in front of us had to pull over and open their trunk but we just had to answer a couple of questions. Thank goodness, because we were smuggling in 5 bottles of tequila and mezcal in the trunk.”

December 31, 1974 [age 19]:

“Of all of 1974 today had to be the most exhausting day. All morning and afternoon long we walked the entire length of the San Diego Zoo. Then at 5:00 [my friend Jeanne and] I drove to Anaheim, and the wind was blowing so violently that the Toyota swerved all over the road. We got to Disneyland and sat out in the parking lot drinking the mezcal from Mexico [it had a worm in it and tasted terrible!] until we ran into the Disneyland gates at 8:30 p.m. and had a great drunken time inside all night long going on the Matterhorn and the Haunted House and I loved the Pirates of the Caribbean that looked all purple and flowing through my hazy eyes.”

January 3, 1974 [age 19] [Ed.’s note: get out the violins again]:

“O you new year with your frightening implications. Why this black fear of life? [My friend] Jeanne and I are traveling on different roads. She likes meditation and I am skeptical, so she accuses me of not wanting to try new things. The past is falling away. Oh, it is terrible. I am alone. I want to be a writer and it’s such a useless dream. I have no direction. My personality twists within but never reaches the surface. How could I have been so naïve as to think that my friendship with Jeanne would never end? She is in love with Steve and ready to begin her happy new life with him in South Carolina. It’s really agonizing for me, and I’ve been bitter and cold. I should understand that she simply cannot continue dragging her life in the California mud. She has to settle down with her man. I’ve got to say goodbye for her sake. Her happiness is much more important than my sense of loss. So I’m here shedding tears for something lost and gone.”

January 4, 1974 [age 19]:

“[My friend] Jeanne and I drove home up the coast today, a gorgeous drive along 101 in our t-shirts, while we listened to The Band on my cassettes. It was warm and clear and we stopped to drive on Pismo Beach. I got to telling her about our Stations of the Cross ritual at St. Victor’s with all the incense that would make me so nauseated and I made it so funny that she laughed uproariously. After that we talked a fair amount, much more so than we had all week, about her love life with Steve and then about mine. Of course, I don’t have one. I tried to hint that my enigmatic relationship with Ted is more than platonic but of course it isn’t.”

January 5, 1975 [age 19]:

“The open road stretches before me now. I dropped [my friend] Jeanne off at the airport and she said that she would write and not break all of her California ties. I drove home alone not in utter sadness but in a dreamlike trance, watching the highway, knowing that this was the real culmination of my dependent existence, and that from now on a new life must begin: I must start making plans for the future, go back to school, leave home eventually, meet new people, tear myself away from the old. My new age has not dawned yet, but a red glow appears on the horizon. It won’t be long.”

January 11, 1975 [age 19]:

“I think I committed a felony today, which is pretty dumb since I’m majoring in law enforcement. Jeanne wanted me to buy her a lid of dope and mail it to her back East. I really didn’t want to do this at all; buying and carting dope around is a dirty and risky business. So I prayed that I would make it through safely. I called G– and he told me I could buy a lid from him for $15. I drove out to his house, gulping and shaking all the way, and bought the contraband. It was a small rectangle of stuff wrapped in thin Saran Wrap, about 5” by 2” or so. I had never seen a lid before. I put it in my spare tire compartment and drove home with EXTREME caution. Later, when the parents were gone, it turned out that disguising and wrapping was a problem. G– had given me the idea of taking a leg off a doll, so I went out and bought a $2 doll, but I discovered that the opening wasn’t quite big enough when, to my horror, it began spilling out on [my brother] Marc’s bed. Then I looked around my room for a suitable container and my eyes fell upon a can of tennis balls, so I emptied it, wrapped the dope in foil and put it in, stuck a tennis ball on top, shut the can, lay it in some straw inside a box, put a note in, unsigned, sprayed Lysol all inside, sealed the box, wrapped it up with a pound of package sealing tape, addressed it, wrote ‘Happy Birthday!’ on it, put 70 cents’ worth of stamps on it, and mailed it myself from the postal substation at work. I think it’s foolproof.”

January 16, 1974 [age 19]:

“One day this week after [my teacher’s aide job at a local high] school, Nancy Schwalen, a teacher, was talking to me about our future trip to San Francisco and about nightlife there and drinking and she suddenly asked, “Well, how old ARE you?” and I said nineteen and she said, “It’s funny, but I have a sister who’s your age and a freshman in college and you seem so much . . . .” and I KNEW she was going to say “younger.” All my life I’ve had this feeling that I’m socially very inept, very young. It’s a terrible insecurity. If only I were to be myself rather than talk embarrassedly to hide something. So I’ll work on it, on being as natural and as open as I can. But I still worry so desperately, about not keeping pace with my comrades, about being a little child forevermore. “ . . . . Older,” she said.

When October goes

When October goes

I have a brilliant idea about how to make the game of baseball much more enticing for spectators: each team must allow a fan to play one inning.

I’ve laid out this scheme to more than one baseball aficionado, and surprisingly it has not been taken seriously.

Here’s my proposal:

Before every game, any attendee who wants to voluntarily participate in “Bocciardi Baseball” is issued a numbered ticket indicating whether that person is a fan of the home or visiting team.

Shortly before the game starts, one lucky fan of each team would be selected in a drawing. And that person would get to play an inning of the game! Offense and defense. He or she would have to bat and play in the field. No designated hitters allowed.

There would be, of course, no limitation on eligibility. Participants could be of any age (18 and over), gender, or ability.

I’ve often wondered how a coach would manage the team in this scenario. What position would the fan play? I think it would have to be an infield position; that way, the other three infielders could help cover the entire territory.

Yes, it brings up a lot of logistical difficulties. Each team would need to have all sizes of uniforms and shoes at the ready, for one thing. But just think about what a scream it would be to watch. Consider the revenue!

Obviously in my fantasy I would be picked to play an inning with the Giants. If they put me at first base I could potentially be very effective, considering that that was my position growing up. In the 8th grade our coach – Sister Barbara Anne – called me “Stretch.”

(Disclosure: that nickname may no longer apply.)


October is ending, glorious October. In San Francisco there is no changing of the leaves. But as the days shorten, the summer fog typically begins to wane. The sun finally reveals itself, although lower in the sky, and the air snaps like an apple. Most years, there are occasional washes of rain. Not enough to keep us indoors for long, but enough to feel like a quick autumn cleanse.

My brother Marc and I, 1968

This is also the best time of year for sports fans. The baseball season heads towards the World Series, and football season is just gearing up. Meaningful games are taking place on chilly fields, with a lot on the line. There’s always someone to root for, always a sense of anticipation.

I grew up near the foothills of San Jose, surrounded by nut-brown orchards. As kids, the neighborhood boys and I adhered to the professional sports seasons religiously, playing whiffle ball in the spring and summer, flag football in the winter, and basketball on rainy October driveways in the fall. My best sport, I would say, was street flag football. On knee-grinding asphalt. We lived on a very steep hill, so teams facing uphill were at a decided disadvantage, but no one cared. I could catch anything and no one could catch me. Whatever the sport, we played until darkness closed in and our parents dragged us inside, against rigorous protestations. We were endless stores of energy.

Every night before bed I would fantasize about playing professional football. My favorite player was Jimmy Taylor, a powerful Green Bay Packers fullback. His number was 31, and because of him I wore that number throughout my life.


My mother, Beverly Steger, was an outstanding athlete in the late 1940s at Glendale High School in southern California. It surprises me how well-supported girls’ athletics were at her school. She played just about every conceivable sport, was frequently featured in the Glendale News-Press, and in the summer of 1950 was recruited after graduation for a regional semi-pro softball team.

Mom on the right, in her high school letter sweater, 1950

Mom never played slow-pitch softball – always fast-pitch – and she was a feared hurler. Only once during her high school years did her stoic, often belittling father come out to watch her play. On that particular day the coach decided to move her from the mound to shortstop – a position that she had never played and a move that, Mom thought, squashed the possibility of her finally impressing her father. The first hit was a line drive between her and third base. She dived for the ball and made a miraculous back-handed catch, body parallel to the ground. “White shorts on, legs exposed, everything skinned up,” she told me. “But,” she added proudly, “I showed him, didn’t I?” 

Luckily, my own parents were truly interested in everything their children did. In high school I played basketball, softball, tennis, and badminton, and Mom and Dad came often to watch me play (well, Dad didn’t have much of an excuse not to – he was already on campus because he was the principal!). But I was just an above-average athlete, not an outstanding one, and my nerves hamstrung me.

Investments in girls’ sports then were at their lowest point. I remember playing basketball outside on terrible cement courts. (When I first started, girls had to play a ridiculous six-person, half-court, zone-only game, with just two dribbles allowed.) And coaching was often sub-par. In softball, for example, I insisted on using my own bat, which was a massive wooden club that I could barely swing. I just liked the feel of it. But no one ever told me that I’d never be able to get any bat-speed on that thing.

Of course, my best sport – flag football – didn’t exist for girls in my time. I had one opportunity to play in high school on “Powder Puff Football” day and as I recall it was a travesty, a comedy of ineptitude.

A few days after I graduated in June 1972, along came Title IX, which provided that girls’ and women’s sports funding in federally funded schools should be equal to that offered for boys and men. (A revolutionary concept!) The Women’s Sports Foundation says that in the ensuing 35 years, female participation increased 904 percent in high school sports and 456 percent in college sports as a result of the legislation.

I just read an AP piece about how girls’ flag football is “soaring in popularity” at high schools around the country. In fact, the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section has voted to approve it as an official sport for girls.

I wish I’d been able to take advantage of Title IX. I wish I could have played flag football or, better yet, joined a Little League baseball team. What if I’d had better coaching, a lighter bat, and a modicum of confidence? What if I truly had been taught the fundamentals? Maybe I could have played at least at the college level, who knows. 


I don’t know how professional ballplayers survive the grief when they retire from their game. Their final moments on the field mark the end of their youth and the loss of the incredible camaraderie of playing a team sport. In my twenties and thirties I managed softball and basketball teams in San Francisco, learning what teamwork meant, discovering the cheapest pizza-and-beer joints in the City, figuring out how to close down the after-game bars and still drag myself into work a few hours later, and – most importantly – making intense lifelong friendships.

But I hung up my cleats at about age 40, realizing that although I could still run well on the basepaths, it was beginning to take me waaaay too long to get my legs moving out of the batter’s box. It was time.

I miss it so much.


Sometimes Julie and I spend the end of our day bragging about our athletic exploits. And by the time we’re done, the tales of our sports heroism have become bloated with exaggeration. Did you know, for example, that when playing intramural football Julie once did a full pirouette in the air while going up for a fingertip catch in the endzone? But did you also know that while playing street football I once went out for a pass, leaped, snagged the ball with one hand, and came down in a cactus? Completion!


The World Series will end this week (and what a thriller it’s been so far), but before the baseball playoffs started this month I made a mental list of the postseason teams and my feelings about them:

Teams I love:

Cleveland Guardians

  • Their new name may be terrible, but they play old-school baseball.
  • They haven’t won a World Series since 1948.
  • The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is in Cleveland.

St. Louis Cardinals

  • It’s a storied franchise.
  • Three great players are retiring this year (Pujols, Wainwright, and Molina).

NY Mets

  • I love New York but hate the Yankees, so the Mets get my support.
  • Darin Ruf, one of my ex-Giant boyfriends, plays for them after a heartbreaking trade this year.
  • Their manager Buck Showalter used to manage the Orioles, who play in Baltimore, an area where many of my friends live, and I really like the name “Buck.”

Toronto Blue Jays

  • Bob Brenly, one of my all-time favorite Giants, played for the Blue Jays after he was released by the Giants.
  • Also, there is nothing to hate about Canadians.

San Diego Padres

  • Haven’t ever won a World Series.
  • Players don’t have gross scraggly beards.
  • The great Tony Gwynn (RIP) played with them for TWENTY years and often took less money than he could have gotten elsewhere because he wanted to stay with the Padres.
  • But a deduction for Manny Machado. Ick.

Teams I’m torn about:

Houston Astros

  • Caught cheating when they won a World Series in 2017 (but it was the Dodgers they beat that year so I’m torn . . .).
  • I really, really, really want future Hall-of-Famer and Renaissance man Dusty Baker, who managed the Giants for 10 years, to win a World Series as a manager.

Philadelphia Phillies

  • The underdog Phillies beat the abhorrent Atlanta Braves in the 1993 postseason (see below), so there is a very large and special place in my heart for the Phillies.
  • But a deduction for Bryce Harper. Ick.

Seattle Mariners

  • They’re the only MLB team to have never been in a World Series.
  • But I loathe the Seattle football team (Seahawks) – and their gum-snapping, USC-cheater coach – with the heat of a thousand suns, which has poisoned me against any professional team from Seattle.

Tampa Bay Rays

  • They’ve never won a World Series.
  • But in game 6 of the 2020 World Series, the Rays’ manager foolishly removed pitcher Blake Snell, who’d allowed only two hits, which led to a *&^%$#@ Dodgers win. Unforgiveable.

Teams I loathe:

Atlanta Braves

  • I got an ulcer during the 1993 baseball season, when the Braves beat out the Giants (104 wins to 103) in the last great pennant race before wild cards were instituted.
  • Also, their “tomahawk chop” is a loathsome nightmare.

NY Yankees

  • I’m sick of them and their endless piles of money.

Los Angeles Dodgers

  • Odious. No need for an explanation.


I started young

As I’ve written before, someone once asked me to explain why I love watching sports and I found it hard to come up with an answer. For me, much of it revolves around passion and adrenaline and hope, and the older I get, the harder I fight not to lose those things. As a profoundly emotional person I don’t think I ever will, but I make sure I keep stoking the fire.

One of those passions is a fierce sense of place. I know it sounds ridiculous to believe that your local team somehow represents you and everything you live for, but that’s how I feel. When I was growing up, San Jose didn’t have a professional sports team; my allegiances lay with the Giants and the 49ers because San Francisco was the closest big city. After having lived in the City for more than 40 years now, my ties have only grown stronger.

But it’s also a form of love. Sports allow us to care fiercely about something outside ourselves — a person, a school, a town. 

As a child I was famous in my family for insisting that we delay dinner and keep the television on after any team won a postseason game because I wanted to see what I called “the happy locker room scene.” Champagne dumped on heads in sheer reverie. (Pre-goggles, when men were men!) That’s really what I lived for. Sports allow us to be fervently happy for others. 

Julie and her dad, 1978

Julie once told me that she’d seen her father cry just a few times in her life. Once was when he thought a tornado was bearing down on his family. (It missed them, thank God.) All of the other times were because of sports teams (especially the UK Wildcats).

As for my own father, well, on a memorable October afternoon in 1988, I saw him literally crawl across the floor in anxiety as 49ers quarterback Steve Young ran out of gas and tripped and stumbled across the goal line after a miraculous 49-yard game-winning run against the Vikings.

Sports fanaticism is something we can share when we watch a game together and root passionately for our team. We can scream, scare the dog, throw popcorn in the air, high-five each other, and spill our beer together, collectively, with one heart. 

As the great sportswriter Roger Angell once said, “It is foolish and childish, on the face of it, to affiliate ourselves with anything so insignificantly and patently contrived and commercially exploitative as a professional sports team. What is left out of this calculation, it seems to me, is the business of caring – caring deeply and passionately, really caring – which is a capacity or an emotion that has almost gone out of our lives.” 


A couple of weeks ago I tried on an old glove that I hadn’t worn in a couple of decades. I must have broken it in really, really well because it was still soft and, unlike me, hadn’t cracked one bit. Three of us played catch in a local park and it felt sooooo good. I can still catch the ball like a champ, but now that I’ve had rotator cuff surgery, let’s just say that I don’t think I’d do too well as a fan-player in my made-up baseball game. I probably can’t throw 30 feet, let alone 90.

While we were tossing the ball around, some twenty-somethings walked by, looked at us gray-hairs, and smiled.


Is the passion we have for sports all about playing or all about watching? Well, it’s both. It’s about the way our lives evolve – starting with the little child watching games on TV with family and falling asleep dreaming of scoring a winning touchdown. Then the glory years of playing sports ourselves, perhaps too long, until dusk falls and the toll on our bodies forces us to stop. And finally, in the autumn of our years, we become mostly spectators again, relishing our memories, lying about our exploits, rooting heartily against the teams we disdain and lustily for the teams we love.

For me, the passion and the adrenaline make me feel alive. They keep me, somehow, young.

And how can we make it last?

Play catch no matter our age, before winter really sets in.

Watch football with people we love on chilly Sunday afternoons.

And hold close the memories of those childhood basketball games on slippery neighborhood driveways in a warm October rain.

Oh, for the fun of them, when I was one of them.

And when October goes
The snow begins to fly
Above the smoky roofs
I watch the planes go by
The children running home beneath
A twilight sky
Oh, for the fun of them
When I was one of them
“When October Goes,” by Johnny Mercer and Barry Manilow

With my nephew Alec, 1996


Due to popular demand, I am including, at the end of each blog post, the latest random diary entries that I’ve been posting on Facebook for “Throwback Thursday.” These are all taken absolutely verbatim from the lengthy diaries I kept between 1970 and 1987.

September 6, 1974 [age 18]:

“And so today another chapter in my life begins. I was hired for the teacher aide’s job. (I think Mr. Salazar’s daughter didn’t actually want the job.) It will be $365/month gross instead of the $500 Dad told me. I had to go down to the Police Department to get fingerprinted, then drove to the bookstore to buy ‘Ulysses’ and two Jack Kerouac books. Tonight, all is quiet. Everyone is tired from their first couple days at school. I’m lying around and thinking about my writing, which is ca-ca.”

The Ballad of Jimmy Garoppolo

The Ballad of Jimmy Garoppolo
(photo credit: San Jose Mercury News)

Come gather, ye sports fans around the bay,
In honor of somebody special today.
If you’re one of the Faithful, then surely you know
That I’m talkin’ ’bout Jimmy Garoppolo.

It’s been 40 long years since Mr. Montana
Was our quarterback dropped from the heavens like manna.
For all of these decades my hero’s been Joe,
But right now it is Jimmy Garoppolo.

He’s one of four brothers from north Illinois –
A charming and handsome Italian boy.
Supremely athletic from head down to toe,
He favors his Papa Garoppolo.

The Patriots took him in 2014,
But Brady had already been on the scene.
So he sat on the bench and collected his dough
While the world lay awaiting Garropolo.

After three idle years he was suddenly traded
To the Niners – a team whose fortunes had faded.
But when Jimmy came in, we won 6 in a row
And our savior emerged as Garropolo.

Of all the league’s players he’s clearly the hottest,
Yet despite his perfection he’s humble and modest.
Those eyes and that smile, you have to agree:
There’s no one more handsome than our Jimmy G.

And oh, what a sportsman, oh, what a baller,
So cool on the field, and under the collar.
His completion percentage thwarted each foe,
So we pinned all our hopes on Garropolo.

In 2018, though, he tore up his knee,
Still, that didn’t stop our tough Jimmy G.
A year spent on rehab, and taking things slow,
Re-focused our Jimmy Garropolo.

He came roaring back, went 13 and 3,
Brought joy to The Faithful, brought rapture to me.
After clinching the West, to the playoffs we’d go,
Trusting our leader Garoppolo.

In the playoffs we conquered Cousins and Rodgers –
Two storied teams we made look like old codgers.
We stuck with the ground game. Few passes we’d throw,
But that never bothered Garoppolo.

He has no big ego, he plays a team game,
His goal is not credit, nor glory, nor fame.
Calmly preferring to always lie low
Is the style of our Jimmy Garropolo.

In my youth I always loved Brodie and Tittle,
But now we’ve got Bosa and Mostert and Kittle
To round out the team, to create the tableau
Anchored by Jimmy Garropolo.

After 25 years we were back in Miami.
My heart, it was racing, my hands, they were clammy.
A Super Bowl ring was at stake now, and so
I prayed for my boyfriend Garoppolo.

The Chiefs were a worthy, ethical team –
Their edge rusher speedy, their QB supreme.
But their much-deserved victory won’t dim the glow
Of our season with Jimmy Garoppolo.

The way to beguile Paula Bocciardi
Is for SF to hoist the Trophy Lombardi.
And sometime quite soon, Goodell will bestow
The trophy on Jimmy Garoppolo.

In the meantime I’ll hoist up a hearty beer
To a team that gave us a helluva year,
To a season whose highlights partly will owe
To the efforts of Jimmy Garropolo.

And for now I’ll just think of his beautiful skin,
His beard and his dimples, his darling cleft chin,
For I challenge you now to find someone you know
Who’s more gorgeous than Jimmy Garoppolo.

So when I’m on my deathbed, before I’m at rest,
I hope I’ll be granted one last request:
It’s not cabernet, it’s not escargot,
It’s to gaze at my Jimmy Garoppolo.


2020_02-02_Paula_Super Bowl-2
With my signed Joe Montana football (thank you, Leon Emmons!) and my decades-old Niner troll



Due to popular demand, I am including, at the end of each blog post, the latest random diary entries that I’ve been posting on Facebook for “Throwback Thursday.” These are all taken absolutely verbatim from the lengthy diaries I kept between 1970 and 1987.

5/28/72 [age 16]:

“I have decided to minor in English, because lately I have found myself developing a passionate affection for writing. It’s frustrating, because I try constantly and I can’t write well. I want to learn how to. Maybe Law Enforcement isn’t the thing for me; I hate to face my own doubts, though. I wrote a poem this weekend but it is really bad. I mean REALLY bad. If only I were smart and talented like [my brother] Marc and [my sister] Janine. If only I had some kind of talent other than being a semi-good athlete.”

6/14/72 [Graduation Day, age 16]:

“Well, I graduated to the flowing strains of ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ today and what can I say except that my heart aches for school (I’m bored already). I’ve had my last class, last tennis, last everything. Oh, God, I just can’t write how sad I am. At graduation Mr. Healy and Carl Blanchette gave me kisses and then we ate at Ming’s, which was the most delicious. Jeanne’s family was there too, and we were so embarrassed! Afterwards we stopped over at the Blanchettes’ house where I got another kiss from Carl. We just played pingpong. I got home at 1:00 and cried. Jeanne gave me a book today. It was very good.”

6/16/72 [Two days after graduation, age 16]:

“Help! I’m going crazy, insane, out of my mind!! I’m bored stiff, I miss everyone! God! I am wracked with despondency. I wish I could go back in time. We’re at Clear Lake now and Mom said, ‘We’re going down to Buck’s pier to fish. Want to come?’ and when I said no she said, ‘Life is going to pass you by’ and I, sprawled on my bed in desperation, cried, ‘It already has!’ ”

6/13/72 [age 16]:

“Oh, gosh bless it. I woke up this morning with a wonderful cold and a swell sore throat to go along with it. I am absolutely, positively miserable. Now I can’t go swimming at Clear Lake, and swimming is all I have up there.  Mr. Snyder said he’d teach me how to waterski. That’s shot.  Crud crud crud! My cold keeps me using up Kleenex after Kleenex.  (I must have used a million.) My bad throat is descending to my chest, and when I sneeze, wow! the pain. Nuts.  The worst, most depressing thing for me is sitting inside doing nothing, letting my hair and body increase in dirtyness [sic], not taking advantage of every possible moment before college, as I have been trying to do. O God, why must I get colds at the most inopportune moments?”

6/27/72 [age 16]:

“I am contenting myself with working feverishly in crossword puzzle books. We went bowling tonight. I didn’t want to go, but I figured the family would scorn me if I didn’t. The four adults and [my sister] Janine bowled. I kept score. It was my first time keeping score and I found it very enjoyable. Everyone considered me to be odd.”

7/6/72 [age 16]:

“Boy am I scared about [college] registration tomorrow! I’ll be on my own, looking for advisors and such. Help!! I am doing some deep thinking about death and what comes next. From Jonathan Livingston Seagull and my own scant intellect I have come to the rather shaky conclusion that next comes a higher, more advanced level of consciousness, and ‘heaven’ is the perfection of the highest level.  That’s simple, but Catholicism brings up millions of other ideas, e.g. hell, purgatory, limbo, seeing God, etc. I’ll discuss these as I master them.”

7/10/72 [age 16]:

“Mom and Dad want me to get a job, so tonight I went down to Baskin & Robbins, which is opening soon on Landess and Morill. Mary, Denise and I applied for a job. However, [the manager] stressed that it would entail my working weekends. Now – Clear Lake problem. Mom & Dad say ‘absolutely not’ to staying home alone on weekends; therefore I’ll have to call him tomorrow and decline. But it seems to me that if I am ‘responsible’ enough to work for myself I’m ‘responsible’ enough to stay home. I am mad that I was both forced INTO and OUT OF the job. I AM old enough to stay home alone, but there is no use arguing. I shall seethe inwardly and let them know about my contempt.”

7/14/72 [age 16]:

“The Law Enforcement people at [San Jose] State said I cannot have English as a Minor – oh, no! – unless I get Departmental Approval. But they BETTER give me their approval. I want English! Got to write! (Not for a living, I’m not good enough. Just for my own satisfaction. And I want to learn how to do it well.) Apparently they want me to take Psychology or Sociology or something. Ugh! How boring!”

7/15/72 [age 16]:

“I’ve begun to realize that Clear Lake can be all right if I make the most of it. We and the Chamberlains had a neat hamburger dinner at Buck and Virgie’s and it really was fun. Also, [my brother] Marc and I broke one of their trophies playing pool. More about college – You know, I’m actually looking forward to it now. Not the required P.E. swimming, but the PEOPLE. Those Law Enforcement guys were so wonderful, and I was talking to a neat guy in line Saturday and I met some nice girls. I love people – I declare love for everyone! Yeah!”

7/17/72 [age 16]:

“It is so very odd that I have no vices whatsoever. (I take that back, slightly; there WAS a stage, many years ago, when I read every obscene book I could get my hands on, but that is past.) At the present moment, I do not smoke, I do not drink, do not swear, do not take drugs, do not gamble, do not indulge in sex, and do not watch dirty films. In fact, I observe all the Commandments. My parents do five of the seven above. But I am 100% pure!”



Please! No results!

Please! No results!

February 21, 1992, was going to be a problem for me. The Olympic Winter Games in Albertville, France, were in full swing, and I was finding myself riveted by the competition in women’s figure skating. Americans Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding were rivals then (this was two years before one of Harding’s goons would whack Kerrigan on the knee in a failed attempt to end her career). Nancy was the more elegant, graceful skater, in the old tradition, and Tonya was stronger and more athletic, able to land a triple axel. Nancy’s mother, sitting in the stands, was legally blind and the cameras kept cutting to her face, full of love and anticipation, an inch away from a monitor to better see her daughter. So I felt an emotional attachment to the Kerrigans. But Kristi Yamaguchi was also in the mix, as was a sturdy Japanese woman named Midori Ito who, like Harding, could pull off the triple axel.

Anyway, my problem was that I wanted to be able to put in my full workday without hearing anything about the Olympics and then rush home to watch the results of the skating final on television. Because of the time difference between the U.S. and France, the actual event was held in the middle of our day, but the networks, of course, ran their programming in prime time. Remember that in 1992 people did not own cellphones, so there was no chance I’d accidentally see any kind of sports news alert. But in the workplace there was bound to be a colleague who would listen to the results on the radio and then spill the beans. The restroom alone was a veritable hotbed of skating gossip.

1991_AOC_Lisa Crystal, Paula
Lisa and Paula, 1991

I was an editor at the time, and I shared a huge cubicle with my fellow editor Lisa. Lisa and I had asked that the wall separating our adjoining cubicles be taken down so that we could cohabit a much larger area. The person in charge of office space, Carmen, told me that it was the most refreshing request she’d ever had. “Most people ask me to put up as many barriers as possible between them and their co-workers,” she said. “I’ve never had a request like this!” But Lisa and I were great friends. When we petitioned for the cubicle modification we claimed that we needed to be able to discuss the finer points of grammar on a regular basis (“Hey, did you know that the subjunctive is not a tense but a mood?”), but in reality we just wanted to gab freely all the livelong day.

Lisa was as obsessed with the skating competition as I was, and we were fixated on ways in which we could keep our colleagues from spilling the beans. It wasn’t too difficult if I happened to cross paths with someone talking about it in the restroom: I would simply shriek “NO OLYMPICS!” and blaze out the door. But dozens of people visited our “editing zone” every day, whether to drop off a manuscript, throw us a grammar question, or just shoot the breeze.

We sweated and fussed about this issue so much that the people in our typesetting department finally came to us with a solution in hand. They had printed out – and strung together so as to resemble crime scene tape – yellow pieces of paper imprinted with the words “Please! No skating results beyond this point.” And they strung the yellow “tape” across the entrance to our cubicle.

Crime scene tape

The caution tape became a conversation piece and, of course, drew even more gawkers to our space. But it did the trick. No one dared speak a word about the Olympics. And we didn’t care that we had to limbo under it to leave our cubicle.

Having made it through the day without hearing any results, my last task was merely to get home and ensure that no one called me. I figured I would unplug the phone, turn off the answering machine, and just read a book until the CBS coverage started. It was do-able! So I took off on my beloved red Honda C70 scooter and set out for home. The weather was foggy and in the 50s that day, and it was a cool, grey ride heading west down Geary, through Golden Gate Park, and up 19th Avenue toward my house on 21st Avenue. I remember sitting at the last stoplight on 19th, two blocks from home, dreaming of the sports meal I would soon be eating, when I absently glanced to my right and saw the evening’s San Francisco Examiner, in a newsrack right by the curb, with its bold headline blaring straight at me:


Oh, bloody hell!


I hadn’t cared about figure skating for very long. Truth be told, I’d never considered figure skating to be a sport, especially on the women’s side. Until women started adding triple jumps into the mix, I thought figure skating was more like dancing on ice. Contributing to my disdain was the fact that until 1990 the skating competition included an event called the “compulsories,” in which participants were forced to skate various patterns in the ice that generally all looked like figure eights. It was slow, tedious, and – to my mind – ridiculous.

I remember that one day at softball practice my teammate Elena M. and I were standing around on the field, waiting for someone to hit grounders to us. The “what constitutes a sport?” topic came up, and Elena and I riffed on it so long that at some point we fell on the grass choking with laughter. I was, however, mostly serious. I declared that there had to be some element of danger in a sport. The act of figure skating seemed like it barely qualified, although we both acknowledged that flying around on the ice and then falling on your bones could possibly result in injury. But then I brought up the compulsories. I spouted that there was absolutely no risk involved and thus it was not a sport in any way. Elena and I decided that a perilous element would need to be added and that if we were in charge we would modify the competition: sharp spikes would be placed all around the ice so if someone were to waver and trip while doing the compulsories, he or she would be instantly impaled. This solution satisfied us both.


The potential for injury has not been my only criterion, over the years, for defining a sport. I feel that there needs to be strenuous movement and exertion involved. My friend Julie Riffle agrees and adds that if you can drink and/or smoke while playing something at the competitive level, it is not a sport. Long ago I ruled out golf as a sport (and decreed it to be a game instead) because generally one does not break a sweat while playing – unless it’s nervous perspiration triggered by the knowledge that your bungled chip shot just cost you a $3 million prize.

Two-man luge

So consider the luge – one of the mainstays of the Winter Olympics. I must admit that up until this writing I’d assumed that the worst that could happen during a luge event was a bruised tailbone. However, my research today revealed that two lugers have actually died in practice runs leading up to the Olympics. Okay, so there is an element of danger involved. Still, the gist of the sport is that you lie down on a sled and go careening down a slope. On many occasions I have suggested to Julie R. that she become a luger because, as I still insist, anyone can do it. She’s in good shape, she’s smart, and she’s not a scaredy-cat, so in my view she has the DNA to be a champion luger. And except for the few seconds at the beginning of the run, when the luger flaps his or her hands four times on the ice to get going, the event requires no physical exertion whatsoever. I maintain, therefore, that luging is a skill, not a sport.

Even more absurd is the four-man bobsled. It’s almost the same idea as the luge, but it’s slower, and in this event two members of the team do nothing except push the bobsled for a few feet and then jump into it, put their heads down, and pray! I COULD DO THAT!

Four-man bobsled

If we deemed any skill – however difficult – to be a sport, then knitting, parallel parking, and pulling out splinters would be considered sports. Case closed. Mic drop.


Coincidentally, the other day I was digging through my online “memorabilia” when I found this letter that Julie R. and I had penned to the San Francisco Chronicle editors. Neither she nor I remembers the letter now, but I will publish it here in its entirety:

August 2, 1996

Sporting Green Editor:

 We were greatly amused to see the story in Friday’s Chronicle about the poor guy who accidentally had explosives lodge in his nose and who underwent delicate underwater surgery to have them removed.

But it occurred to us that this story ties in with our current disgust over the many non-sports in the Olympic Games: among others, synchronized swimming, skeet shooting, and the laughable rhythmic gymnastics. Since we believe that a “sport” should at least involve sweating and/or risk-taking, we think that rhythmic gymnasts should be required to compete with explosives up their nose.


                                                                        Paula Bocciardi                                                                         Julie Riffle

The letter was not selected for publication. Quelle surprise!


Of course, even if we were to agree about what constitutes a sport, there is still the matter of whether a particular event belongs in the Olympics. Basketball and baseball are sports, in my view, but I don’t think they should be Olympic events. In general I’m not keen about any team sports in the Olympics, except for relay events, which depend on each runner or swimmer to maximize his or her time. With baseball and basketball, one team member could do absolutely nothing and still come home with a medal. When teams merely play against each other, the win or loss is dependent as much upon the other team as it is upon one’s own, so a medal doesn’t necessarily reflect an individual’s ability at all.

And then there are the events I find just plain ludicrous, like rhythmic gymnastics, curling, ping-pong, and anything involving horses, in which case the horses should get the medals, not the riders.

For a long time I was such a purist about the Olympics that I thought only individual sports involving the body exclusively – without any accoutrement, tool, or accessory – should be allowed. I figured the Olympics should be about pure athletic ability (running, jumping, swimming, throwing), and I didn’t think any event should be dependent upon the manufacturer of a ski, a sled, or a skate. But I came to realize that if you eliminated accoutrements from the Winter Games, you would be left with no events at all. After all, it’s not as if you can run or swim on ice. “That’s fine,” I thought, “then we should do away with the Winter Olympics altogether, because there was no such thing when the Olympics were invented.” Well, true, but the original, oh-so-sacred Olympics that took place in Greece hundreds of years B.C. involved naked men running, jumping, and throwing (aha! I knew it!) but also wrestling (the contestants were covered in oil) and chariot racing. Oops. I have to concede that a chariot is an accoutrement.

And I suppose it might be fun if all the contestants today had to be naked – especially the greased-up wrestlers – but then again, if that were the case the sumo wrestling competition might not entice many spectators.


As the years have gone by, and I’m finding myself less and less opinionated, I’ve softened my beliefs about sports and about the Olympics. Life is so much more enjoyable when one is open-minded, and I can now enjoy events like short-track speedskating and the gloriously exciting snowboard cross.

snowboard cross
Snowboard cross

But do you know what I most anticipate watching? It happens only once every four years, people!

The biathlon.

Oh, yes!

I am pleased to point out that the biathlon does fit the Paula Bocciardi definition of “sport” – at least in part. Although it includes a skill (shooting a gun), it also includes a sport (skiing). And although it does involve an accoutrement (a gun), it also involves sweating.

A biathlete

The essence of the biathlon (there are many permutations) is that the athletes are required to perform grueling cross-country ski sprints intermixed with swooshing to a dead stop, grabbing seven-pound rifles off their backs, somehow tamping down their racing hearts, and shooting at precision targets 160 feet away, from both prone and standing positions. And the killer is that if they don’t hit five targets, they are penalized by having extra time added to their total or having to ski a penalty loop for each target they miss! I mean, it’s both physical and mental torture! Nirvana to watch!


This week marks the time of year when my sports-related depression starts to hit. The football season just ended (in a glorious fashion, I might add), and baseball players haven’t yet set foot on the grass. I call the next couple of months the “sports drought.” But every four years the pain is nullified by the Winter Games, and to my delight the Opening Ceremonies for the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea will take place this Friday, February 9.

I can give myself permission to sit on the couch and eat sports meals (hot dogs, popcorn, and beer) for more than two weeks straight. I will shed my usual buckets of tears for each poignant story about the athletes’ heartbreaks and triumphs. And I will enjoy every single event and every single individual accomplishment – whether in victory or in defeat – as I remind myself that these athletes from all over the world have dedicated their lives to being the best that they can be, and they have all conjured up heroic levels of hard work, persistence, and mental toughness that I could never imagine in myself.



Due to popular demand, I am including, at the end of each blog post, the latest random diary entries that I’ve been posting on Facebook for “Throwback Thursday.” These are all taken absolutely verbatim from the lengthy diaries I kept between 1971 and 1987.


“Mr. Healy was very sad today because of our class’s remarks about how boring it all was. Why does he listen to them? Anyway, he asked us to put down our goals. Mine were 1) To uphold justice 2) To become coordinated 3) To be sensible and not be so absent-minded, and 4) To not be alone.”


“I’ve been pretty dumb this past week. All week long I worried about the Faculty-GAA tennis tournament. I figured that since Mr. B is so good, I’d make every single one of our mistakes. Well, Mary Pasek and Jeanne came down to watch and I was really scared because I thought I’d show them how lousy I was. But they must have given me [divine] guidance because I hardly flubbed at all. We then went out to the Circle Star [Theater] to see Glen Campbell. Wow, what a thrill! It was neat when I saw him run down the aisle right by us. Seeing such a god in person is too much. I’ll never forget it!”


“Boy, so far I have a “B” in English. On our last test, EVERY SINGLE person around me cheated. [The teacher] gave it orally, and they all just discussed. If I heard them say the right answer, but I hadn’t known the answer before, I didn’t put it down. THAT is will power. So as it was, I got an 80 and they got 90. I’m beginning to wonder — should I cheat, too?”


“Last night [our family] went to a movie ‘Billy Jack,’ rated R. But we had called up and they had told us it was rated GP. So we decided to try it. It wasn’t too bad, no nudity or anything, but it sort of condoned unwed pregnancy for [my 10-year-old sister] Jan. So we came out and Dad said he’d call ‘Action Line’ and all. [My brother] Marc and I were figuring how embarrassing it would be.”


“Dad suggested tonight that I drive to Payless part-way. I never expected to go that far and I was nervous, but really nervous with Dad making sarcastic comments. I almost hit the Penitencia bridge. Perhaps I had better wait until Driver’s Training. Mom just sat there and died a thousand deaths.”


“Another boring day. I even offered to scrub off the popcorn popper and Mom refused. And that’s hard work! We were going to go to Confession, but then we decided to go to a movie instead.”

And here’s to you, Joe Montana

And here’s to you, Joe Montana

One late afternoon, back in the 1980s, my friend and colleague Ellen and I were interviewing a prospective employee. The two of us worked for a political think tank and book publisher called the Institute for Contemporary Studies. Both of us were drinking beer. It was a wild time to be working in San Francisco. Workdays were short on hours and long on cocktails.

For some reason, even though I was a copy editor, I had been handed the human resources responsibilities when the real HR person had left, even though I had no experience in that field whatsoever.

So we were interviewing John, a cheerful, curly-haired young man with a linebacker’s sturdiness. The position was low-level and I believe it had something to do with the mail room. The sole reason we had chosen John’s résumé from among the others is that it contained the following item:

Winner of Chili Cook-Off, 1983

This skill set was, to us, extremely appealing.

Then he sealed the deal by saying something that I have not forgotten, all these years later.

“Joe Montana is God.”

He was hired.


For those of you who aren’t sports fans, the two teams in the Super Bowl yesterday were the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots. The Falcons have been a professional football team since 1966 and have been to only two Super Bowls, both of which they lost. The New England Patriots started out in 1960 as the Boston Patriots but changed their name when they moved about 20 miles outside of Boston in 1971. They’ve been to nine Super Bowls. Seven of those appearances have come during the era of coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady. They’ve won five.

It’s really quite astonishing. Belichick and Brady have won more Super Bowls than any other coach and any other quarterback.

I hate them both.


I’m not normally a fan of any team from Atlanta. It all goes back to 1993. The San Francisco Giants and the Atlanta Braves were locked in the last true pennant race of all time – before the “wild card” scenario was instituted. The Giants were phenomenal and won 103 games, but the Braves won 104. The Giants needed to win their last game to force a tie-breaker, but they were massacred by the &^%$#@ Dodgers. During that entire season, my stomach ground itself to bits, night after night, and to make me seethe even more I had to endure the Atlanta fans’ odious “tomahawk chop” and war chant whenever the two teams met. I got an ulcer that season. No lie.

So I’ve continued my loathing for all teams Atlanta.

But this year I was all in for them. Anything to put Brady and Belichick in their respective places.


Bill Bellicose, as I like to call him, has to be the world’s surliest man. His hostile unwillingness to ever utter more than a two-word mumble at press conferences – even after he has won a Super Bowl – makes me sick. The least he can do, before he runs home with his $7.5 million annual salary, is offer his fans a smile and some insight. Instead, he wears a perpetual frown and a perpetual gross sweatshirt, glares at everyone in the room, and acts as if it would be far too much of an imposition for him to answer a simple question.

Here’s a tiny compilation of Bellicose’s upbeat cooperation at press conferences:


I’d say he was generally a sore loser, but truth be told, it’s hard to tell because all of his press conferences are exercises in moroseness, whether he wins or loses. I do know that in 2008, when his Patriots were upset in the Super Bowl by Eli Manning and the New York Giants, the classless Bellicose actually left the field before the last play of the game. I imagine it might have killed him to shake the hand of winning coach Tom Coughlin, or to congratulate him.

“They made some plays. We made some plays,” he said magnanimously after the game.


During his reign, Bellicose has presided over both “Spygate” and “Deflategate.” His role in the 2007 Spygate mess (in which the Patriots were caught videotaping an opposing team’s signals from the sideline) personally cost him half a million dollars, the largest fine ever exacted on an NFL coach (and the maximum allowable amount).

For his role in Deflategate, quarterback Tom Brady may have taken some flimflam tips from his coach. In 2015 he was accused of using purposely underinflated footballs to his advantage during the AFC championship game. The Patriots would have won the game anyway, but the point is that Brady cheated, then contorted himself into a pretzel trying to deny the hefty accumulation of (admittedly circumstantial) evidence, then destroyed his own cell phone immediately before he met with NFL investigators! (In the end, he was given a four-game suspension to take effect the next season.)

I don’t know Brady personally, but word around the NFL is that he is a whining crybaby. Players say he looks at the referee nearly every time he gets hit, hoping for a penalty flag.

One of my favorite gems about him: he left his girlfriend when she was three months’ pregnant to take up with his now-wife Gisele Bündchen. I just love his family values. Oh, and Gisele herself is a paragon of sportsmanship as well. After her husband’s team lost in the 2012 Super Bowl, she said, blaming Brady’s receivers, “My husband cannot f—ing throw the ball and catch the ball at the same time.” So lovely.


There’s no doubt that Tom Brady is one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to have played the game, and he is now the winningest Super Bowl quarterback as well. Someday soon he will be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

I wrote much of this blog post just before yesterday’s game. I wrote from the perspective that, regardless of who won the Super Bowl, Joe Montana would still be the greatest quarterback of all time. But this morning, as I savor the memory of cocktails, “Betty’s Shrimp Dip Divine,” wings, bruschetta, nachos, sliders, and Derby pie, I have to concede that Brady now shares the podium with Joe.

In my heart, though, Joe stands alone. He might have four Super Bowl rings to Brady’s five, but Joe is the guy I’d want to be helming my all-time fantasy team. He never lost a Super Bowl and in his four championship games he threw for 11 touchdowns with no interceptions. NO interceptions. Brady can’t say that.

But greatness is not necessarily measured by stats. Joe was a consummate leader who could see the entire field, coolly call a game, complete a miraculous pass, and carry out a comeback with steely calm. He was smart and never sloppy. He also played, let’s remember, during an era when football players – especially quarterbacks – were not protected the way they are now. If Brady had to take the hits today that Joe took during his career, he’d be full-out bawling on the turf.


Someone once asked me to explain why anyone would be a sports fan. I tried to tell her that in my view it’s all about hope and loyalty. For a variety of reasons, a fan develops an emotional tie to a team or a player, and from then on, season after season, the allegiance perseveres. And hope endures – for the next game, the next season.

On December 7, 1980, I was driving up Highway 280 back to San Francisco from my parents’ house in San Jose. It was Joe’s second year with the 49ers, along with his genius (and 100 percent classy) coach Bill Walsh, and although the team still ended up with a losing season, the Niners had improved over their 2-14 record from the year before. That day, Joe presided over the greatest comeback in NFL regular-season history by erasing a 28-point deficit and beating the New Orleans Saints 38–35. I was listening to sportstalk radio and a young-sounding guy called in, his words cascading over themselves with excitement about the promise of his team and of Joe Montana. It was only the Niners’ sixth (and last) win of a 16-game season, but that young guy’s world was bursting with hope. That’s what sports are all about.

In Joe’s case, he gave us hope during each and every game. There was no deficit that could not be overcome. Joe could see the unseeable, throw the unthrowable, find the unfindable, score the unscoreable.

I remember watching the most famous 49ers play of all time, when Joe completed the touchdown pass to Dwight Clark that won the 1982 NFC championship game against the Dallas Cowboys and opposing quarterback Scramblin’ Roger Staubach. The sporting world refers to that play as “The Catch,” which honors its matchlessness. The entire game had seesawed back and forth, and for me it was four quarters of fierce pain and intense hope. My father, who watched the game with me, kept darting out into the backyard and slamming the screen door behind him. “Dad, why in the world aren’t you staying in here to watch?” I yelled to him. I’d never seen him behave this way before. “I just can’t stand the stress,” he said.

After that game, the Cowboys were no longer a dynasty. And the 49ers went on to win the Super Bowl and to dominate football throughout the 1980s. My friends and I would gather every Sunday, throughout the fall and winter, to watch those games. We stopped talking whenever Joe had the ball, wondering what kind of miracle he would pull off next.

There is no doubt that yesterday’s comeback performance by Brady and his receivers is historic. Before that, though, most sports fans would have pointed to the final drive of the 1989 Super Bowl, culminating in Montana’s touchdown pass to John Taylor, as the most riveting performance ever in a football playoff game. The Niners were on their own 8 yardline, trailing the Cincinnati Bengals 16–13, with only about three minutes left to play. Before starting his legendary 92-yard drive down the field, Joe calmly looked toward the stands and breezily said to his tense teammates in the huddle, “Hey, isn’t that [comedian] John Candy up there?”

Joe threw that winning touchdown to Taylor with only 34 seconds left in the game.

He would have 31 fourth-quarter comebacks in his NFL career.

With Joe, there was never “not enough time.”


A couple of decades later, I have lost some of my love for watching football. Too many sketchy characters seem to be part of the game now. We’re seeing multiple arrests for domestic violence and other criminal behavior, and the NFL has done far too little for far too long. Aaron Hernandez, a New England Patriot (no comment!) now serving a life sentence for murder, already had been involved in violent behavior when he joined the team. There had been a bar incident in which he refused to pay his bill and then punched an employee and ruptured his eardrum, but city officials looked the other way, reportedly because of his athletic talents. He also may have been involved in a double shooting later that year, but no charges were ever filed. Eventually, he learned that he couldn’t get away with out-and-out murder.

Maybe my disappointment with football also has to do with the 49ers and the mess that owner Jed York has made, what with the move out of San Francisco down to Santa Clara and into a poorly designed stadium that caters to the wealthiest ticketholders, and York’s decision to show the door to coach Jim Harbaugh, who might be grating but who led the 49ers to a Super Bowl. And then there’s quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who, I hope, will be moving on to another team any minute now. Good riddance. Joe Montana is the only player to have thrown two touchdown passes of 95 yards or more. Kaepernick is lucky to ever connect with a long bomb. And he can’t see the whole field, in my opinion. He just doesn’t have all the tools. And he surely isn’t a leader.


My friend Kelly once played basketball with Joe Montana. That’s right. He was a terrific basketball player, and she was at her gym one day when he came in and both of them ended up in the same pickup game. She said he was just as cool on the court as he was on the field, and just as inclusive. He didn’t seem to notice that he was a celebrity and everyone else was just a regular person at the gym. He didn’t treat Kelly, a woman, any differently from the respectful way he treated the guys. In fact, he set a tone. That’s what good leaders do.

Joe Montana and his wife of more than 30 years have four children. He spends much of his time now devoted to charities – the bulk of them for kids. “Typically, we don’t do things in public for charity because we feel like if you’re doing it for charity, you shouldn’t get anything back for it,” he once said. And that’s how people of character feel.

Maybe that’s what I miss – character. You never heard about Joe, or Jerry Rice, or Roger Craig getting into any kind of trouble whatsoever, or being anything but dedicated athletes. There weren’t any cheating scandals, and their wives didn’t make statements disparaging the team. It was another era, I guess. People didn’t spike the ball, do the chicken dance, kiss their own biceps, and congratulate themselves every time they made one good play. It wasn’t all about self-promotion. It was about the team.

But enough about that. The world has changed. I don’t want to get stuck in the past. Congratulations to you, Tom Brady.

But my heart will forever be with Joe.



Begone, Marlins Man!

Begone, Marlins Man!

The World Series begins on Tuesday, and I for one cannot wait. For those of you who don’t follow sports very closely, it will involve two of the most storied teams in baseball: the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians. The Indians last won a World Series in 1948. But Chicago’s drought beats that dubious record by decades: the Cubs have not been to the Series in 71 years and have not won it since 1908. That’s a 108-year deprivation.

For me, though, this historic Series will be slightly marred by one thing. One guy, actually. His name is “Marlins Man.” And I loathe him.

I first became aware of Marlins Man last year, when he showed up at the All-Star game in July. He was constantly on camera because he sat right behind home plate, and he was wearing an orange Miami Marlins sweatshirt and an orange visor.

Then he became a fixture during the playoffs and World Series, always sitting behind home plate, always wearing the ubiquitous Marlins outfit. (Mind you, the Marlins were not in the postseason at all.) Of course, all of the other fans were wearing the colors of the two teams involved. But not Marlins Man. He really stood out. He was a blazing beacon in orange.

It amazed and intrigued me that one guy could somehow score a ticket – right behind home plate – to every playoff and World Series game. (Well, not every playoff game, obviously, because sometimes multiple games occur simultaneously and he had to choose one.) How can that even happen? It’s not that these tickets are easy to come by. And the chances of getting a coveted seat in a particular section on camera must be very, very slim.

So I did some research on the guy.

His name is Laurence Leavy, he’s 60 years old, and he owns a big law firm in Miami. And it’s not just baseball games he attends. He’s also inhabited choice seats at the Kentucky Derby, the Super Bowl, the NBA finals, etc.

So how does Mr. Leavy score the tickets? Generally he gets them off of StubHub – a site on which season-ticket holders sell their unused tickets. He apparently has no problem getting them because, as he boasts, “people will sell them for good money.” He says the price he’s able to offer is equivalent to an entire year’s worth of seats. So we’re obviously talking YUUUUGE bucks.

I use StubHub myself. That’s where I buy my tickets to all of the Giants weekday afternoon games. I set myself a price limit of $20-$40, and I sit in the highest-level seats, in sections 312–314 because they’re near the escalator and Tony’s Slicehouse Pizza, which also happens to sell Sierra Nevada beer. Nirvana.

Marlins Man, obviously, is in a far different league. He’s unbelievably wealthy. During the 2003 World Series, he apparently bought an entire section of seats and brought 104 people to sit with him. There was nothing wrong with that, of course; the Marlins were actually in the Series that year, and I am not one to unilaterally demonize the rich. He did a generous thing, and wealth in the hands of good people can do immense good.

Why, then, does Marlins Man bother me so much? I’ve asked myself that question many times.

That stupid visor

First of all, I hate that he wears the same outfit to every game he attends. The same orange Marlins sweatshirt, no matter the weather, the event, or the location. And I hate that he wears a visor, for cryin’ out loud. Why not wear a baseball cap, as everyone else does? Visors are for accountants, bookies, blackjack dealers, high-society Napa ladies, and golfers (not that there’s anything wrong with any of those people!). To make matters worse, he often wears the visor sideways, which really gripes my keister. It just looks ridiculous.

I hate, too, that he hardly ever watches the game. He’s either blathering to the fans around him or obsessed with his cell phone. Since he has no particular allegiance to either team involved, he doesn’t feel a burning need to focus on the game. In the ninth inning of Saturday night’s Cubs victory, for example, while the Chicago fans were at once nervous and weeping with joy, he was turned with his back to the camera, taking selfies. What a jerk.

I’m not the only one who takes issue with this guy. During last year’s World Series between the Kansas City Royals and the New York Mets, the Royals were royally miffed that he was there. They tried to bribe him with World Series paraphernalia if he would just jettison the *&^%$#@ orange sweatshirt. And they even offered to move him to a private suite. But he refused. After all, he’d paid $8,000 for his ticket. And he certainly was well within his rights to wear what he wanted and sit where he wanted. But still, it was almost a deliberate attempt to flaunt his power and show up the Royals fans. What a putz.

He also got into a beef with some Indians fans once, so this upcoming World Series should be interesting. After the incident (which is too unclear to recount), he actually engaged in a Twitter storm with Indians fans and somehow ended up tweeting something about the “Japs.” Lovely. What a bully.

It bothers me, too, that he feels he has to have seats directly behind home plate. In my view, those seats should go to diehard loyal fans. Instead, Marlins Man admits that he wants those seats so that he will be on camera for the entire game. If he fit in with the crowd, and didn’t make such an effort to call attention to himself, no one would notice him.  But what a shameless publicity hog.

Of course, Marlin Man’s ability to get those seats also means that someone is willing to give them up. This is what really puzzles me. If I had a World Series ticket, and the Giants were playing, and I could be sitting a few feet behind Buster Posey, would I sell my ticket to this obnoxious dude from Florida? That hypothetical recently prompted a conversation between Julie and me. I asked her to imagine that she had such a ticket and that Marlins Man offered her money to give it up. How much dough would it take? I declared that for me, it would take half a million dollars. Julie said that she would sell out give up the ticket for $10,000. (I was aghast.)

He’s on the phone, as usual.

Mostly, though, what bothers me about Marlins Man is that this one wealthy guy can have continuing access to the most coveted seats at the most significant sporting events in the country. There are people throughout this nation who would give their eye teeth to go to one of those games, but they can’t afford even the least expensive of regular-season games, which are now – like everything else – beyond the means of so many. The concept he represents is what most of us know to be true – that wealth equals power, and part of that power is the ability to have anything one wants and to wield control, however subtly, over the less wealthy in the process.

I’m sorry, dear readers, to have put this guy’s visage in your heads, because if you tune in to the World Series, he is going to haunt you. I guarantee that he will be at every World Series game starting Tuesday, sitting in his usual spot, and you will not be able to avoid his garish presence. I’ve been thinking about sticking a Post-It note on my TV screen over his vile head.

But keep in mind that you will be witnessing history. I cannot wait to watch these two great teams play for the greatest title in the greatest American sport. My heart lies with the Cubs, because of family and friends and that 108-year dry spell. But I will not be dismayed by a Cleveland victory if that happens. These are two honorable teams, each of them deserving.

And if your eyes should fall on Marlins Man, just avert them. This rich, orange, entitled, self-besotted, intimidating cretin of a media hog may lurk around for a little while longer. But come early November, when the contest is over, we will be rid of him. And what a relief that will be.


By the way, I would love to hear from my readers as to how much money they would be willing to take for a coveted ticket. Don’t limit this to the World Series. Imagine it’s a ticket to something you revere. It could be the Super Bowl, or the NBA finals, or Wimbledon. It could be front-row seats to see Streisand or Springsteen. Or a chance to ride with the Blue Angels. Just let me know how much lucre it would take for you to sell your soul!