Saturday, May 21, 2011

Old Man Hockey - Another Great Season

Some days are just great days. And most times –these great days can come through no fault of my own. Outside of my family and friends – there are two things that I truly find joy in: and that’s music and sports. And so often, my “great days” involve either music or sports.

OK … so I’m a bit of a cliché. A working class kid from the outskirts of Philly finds escape it music and sports. It’s a softball I just pitched up there – so feel free to add a punch-line.

But here’s the thing. One common thread that runs deep in these two subjects – but can so often be overlooked – is that; when push comes to shove – barriers are almost meaningless with these two topics. I know there has been race, religion and a whole host of other problems with sports and music over the years. And, I’m guessing if John Feinstein or Dave Marsh were to write an in-depth book on either – there would be chapters dedicated to this.

But I’m 50. And I’ve come to a pretty good understanding about sports and music: if you’re good – run with it – and if you’re running with me - welcome to the team! Because, at my age, the guys who are still doing it (“it” being sports or music) have already left their hearts and souls on stages, fields, courts and rinks around the world. At my age, after a hockey game, a hoop game or a late night gig – a large part of the conversations will circulate around medical issues! Who’s hurt, who has had surgery and who has to go see what doctor about which problem.

And the funny thing is – it makes any group of guys sharing all this with each other as thick as thieves. The guys I run and play with nowadays are some of the greatest guys that I’ve ever known. And some of them - I hardly know at all!!! There are a few guys that I lace ‘em up with every week – and I have no idea what they do off the ice. There are musicians that I’ve played with over the years – and maybe we have gone our separate ways – but when we do see it other – it’s like no time had passed at all.

And that brings me to the way my friends reacted when the news broke that I had cancer. Holy shit! It was like someone raised the flag that cried; ‘Time to rally the troops, boys!!’ I could tell you stories that would bring tears to your eyes, smiles to your faces … or just have you scratching your head … but no story I tell could ever do any of those moments justice.

But this passed week … our Old Man Hockey season came to an end. Our local ice rink will close for a few weeks for maintenance and repairs. And we did what we always do; we had “The Old Man Hockey Banquet.”

Now, calling this gathering a “banquet” is about on par with, if I sat in a tree you could call me a “bird.” We basically met at a bar for wings & beers … and scotch. And actually, a pretty good amount of all of the above. And, to give you an idea of the mindset of our crew; each year we hand out “The Old Fart” award – to the player who best lived up to said title throughout the year.

As we sat there telling stories about great shots, great saves – and moments of silliness – it seemed that I was the odds on favorite for this years coveted award. And when Joel, the leagues resident Top Dog called the party to attention, there sure seemed to be a lot of cameras facing my direction.

And, yes, your humble writer did receive the award. And after the cheers and laughter died down, there were many hugs and comments that, with all due respect to you kind readers, I’ll keep mostly to myself.

But there was one great moment. As we looked at the trophy – and ordered another round – a comment was made that; “The trophy was going to me one way or the other this year. It was going to be to hold my ashes – but since I survived the surgery …”

And so we sat there. A group of guys basking in the joy that one of their own was still around to celebrate another season. And all I could think of was, if we all knew then what we know now; how great would it have been to have had a great writer like John Feinstein or Dave Marsh cover the ride?