When I worked for The Kansas City Star, I would write an annual Thanksgiving column. The Thanksgiving column of course, is a columnist staple, along with the annual Christmas column*, the annual New Year’s column**, the annual college football column***, the annual MVP column****, the annual spring training column***** and the annual “My hometown team deserves more awards column******.
*Here’s are the presents I would give to the naughty and nice people in the world of sports! Or perhaps you would prefer a funny sports version of “The 12 Days of Christmas”?
**Now my predictions for what will happen in sports in the New Year!
***The current college football system is terrible! Expound!
****What does “valuable” really mean?
*****Rebirth! It is upon us again!
******Monthly, actually. In some places, it’s weekly.
I was always surprised by the reaction that the Thanksgiving column would get. People seemed to really like it — so much so that I’ve received dozens of requests to write it again this year. Funny thing, because it was basically just me being thankful for the great food, the great people and the great places in Kansas City … and everywhere else. I always was thankful for Arthur Bryant’s burnt ends and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and the Christmas lights at Longview Lake. I tried to offer a few pleasant little secrets I discovered living in K.C., like the chili at a sports bar called Nick and Jake’s or the way they would always have a special book recommendation at Rainy Day Books or the nice rooms in the back of the Overland Park Library where you could get work done or how you only had to go into a little in-town restaurant called Governor Stumpy’s once and Kevin and the rest would never forget your name.
After doing the column for a couple of years, people would send in recommendations for the column. And more. And more. They would stop me on the street to tell me about some cool thing in Kansas City. It was pretty great. I’m pretty sure I discovered the fabulous Diane’s Dance Studio for the girls because someone told me that I should include it in a Thanksgiving column. I’m pretty sure I learned the greatest secret shortcut ever to Arrowhead Stadium from a Thanksgiving column fan who wanted me to know.* I’m pretty sure I tried Sheridan’s Frozen Custard for the first time because a reader recommended it.
*A secret so awesome that, every year, current Star sports columnist Sam Mellinger will text me and ask for the shortcut. No chance, Sam. No chance.
I’ve thought a lot about this since we moved to Charlotte because, of course, I don’t write for a newspaper anymore. I miss that kind of writing for any number of reasons (and don’t miss it for numerous others), but the thing that seems irreplaceable is that direct relationship with the reader. People had a unique and gut connection to the paper. I can remember when I used to answer phones in the newspaper office, people would call with ANY question or thought. Why is my cable out? There’s a tree down in my front yard. What was the score of this Little League game yesterday? Who won the AL MVP in 1974? Why isn’t the television station showing the right show? Newspapers were a kind of one-stop repository for anything and everything in town. Obviously, everything has fragmented now. I’m not saying that’s good or bad … just that it’s likely that no single entity will ever have that again.
It was fun to be a part of that for a long time. People in Kansas City would just send us recommendations, completely unprovoked — hey, the best New York Style pizza in town is at Italian Gardens; hey, if you get a chance, check out the chips at the Salty Iguana; hey, when you’re talking about barbecue joints don’t forget about Jack Stack; oh, and if you get a chance, try the pasta trio at Lidia’s.*
*It’s no wonder that Kansas City always ranks so high on the America’s fattest city charts.
Charlotte is a fabulous place. But it’s different. I don’t work for the paper here. And so we’re learning Charlotte slowly and on our own. It’s fun. We have great friends here — like the inimitable Tommy Tomlinson and the great Dave Fleming — and they introduce us to some of the finer things in life. Christmas at the Speedway is so cool that the girls haven’t stopped talking about it since we did it. Amelie’s Bakery stays open 24 hours. There’s a place here called The Cowfish — half sushi, half hamburgers — that has already become my staple for when visitors come to town. And I’m looking forward to my alma mater, UNC Charlotte, getting football.
But I don’t really know the secrets of this town yet. I don’t know what the Panthers mean to people here. I don’t have a good feel for the college basketball rhythms. I don’t quite get the traffic patterns. There’s a traffic light at the end of our neighborhood … I get caught by it every single time. I mean every single time. I would say I have spent 26 percent of my total time in Charlotte waiting at that light. I know there’s a secret. But I just haven’t cracked it yet.
All of that comes in time, of course.
At the end of my Thanksgiving column in Kansas City, I would rat-tat-tat a few paragraphs of things that I’m thankful for. So, I would say something like: I’m thankful for the yellow line that marks the first down on television and never understand why announces say “It’s not official” (It SHOULD be official). I’m thankful for great sports arguments like Trout vs. Cabrera. I’m thankful for, of all things, Joe Flacco’s arm, because while Flacco might not be that good a quarterback, man oh man can he fling it. Sometimes, he will unleash a throw and it looks the ball is being yanked from his arm by a string pulled by an airline jet. It’s impressive.
Best five arms in the NFL:
1. Joe Flacco
2. Matt Stafford
3. Michael Vick
4. Aaron Rodgers
5. Byron Leftwich
No, just kidding about Leftwich. I think the fifth-best arm is Tom Brady, but you will have your Cam Newton fans and your Jay Cutler fans. Cutler’s arm is good, but I never thought it was quite up to the hype.
I’m thankful for Ron Swanson, Ron Jaworski, Ron Guidry, Ron Howard and Ron Santo finally going into the Hall of Fame. I’m thankful for Kevin Durant’s sweet jumper, Larry Fitzgerald going up for a high pass, Andrew McCutchen’s all-around awesomeness and YouTube videos of Lionel Messi’s ridiculous goals. I’m thankful for that amazing conversation about comedy between Louis CK, Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock and Ricky Gervais, and if you haven’t seen it, you need to find it pretty much right now. I’m thankful for Robert Caro’s latest on Lyndon Johnson and hope that we won’t have to wait another seven years to find out what happens in Vietnam. I’m thankful for the Tennis Channel, which I find myself watching way more than I ever would have expected.
As always, I’m thankful for Margo Ann.
And finally, big finish, I’m thankful for Sundays with Rory and Tiger contending, for molten lava cake, the mini iPad, Baseball America‘s Top Prospects issues (and Keith Law’s counters), Duane Kuiper (of course), the Lions on Thanksgiving, Jimmie Johnson explaining NASCAR to me (coming soon), Marv Albert on basketball, Al Michaels on football, Dan Shulman on college hoops, pop-ups that get lost in the sun, hockey breakaways (may we see one someday soon), pineapple, Wreck-It Ralph, Hulu Plus, an undefeated Notre Dame (and all the good and bad that comes from it), my Katie’s perfectionist’s streak, Nate Silver, Pandora, the song “Junk of the Heart (Happy)” rearview cameras in cars, Onion headlines, Longreads, the writers and editors at Sports on Earth, the Poscasts that actually record, long stretches of empty road, Joshua Radin (from just down the street), Bill James’ writing still, Justin Verlander’s fastball in the ninth inning, Chris Johnson one step ahead of a defender, Chris Paul on the break and all those people who still read this crazy blog even after all these years.
Oh, and one last thing. My older daughter, Elizabeth, was at swimming practice the other day. Her freestyle — glad you asked — is coming along, but she’s still having trouble with her right arm. The left arm, it’s perfect, out of the water, in smoothly, elbow bent precisely. The right arm, though, uh, it looks as if it doesn’t want to come out of the water at all. As I’ve written before, I do not like to say anything to her other than “You’re doing great,” but I thought I might mention something.
“You were great,” I said. “But there’s one thing …”
She looked up at me. She’s 11 now and she’s got me figured out. She said: “My ears only hear praise.”
“I’ve decided my ears will only hear praise.”
Well, that was unexpected. So I said, “OK, well you swam beautifully. But your right arm, you need to keep working on getting that out of the water.”
She smiled and took my hand and pulled me toward the car. And she said: “All I heard was, ‘You swam beautifully.”