NHL Vegas mascot suggestion

2014 August 27
by Don Hammack

The NHL is, for some reason, considering expansion to Las Vegas. The only thing crazier than that is the stadium suggestion. A shared MLS/NHL venue?

It’s never too early for a mascot suggestion, and this one feels like a no-brainer.

Las Vegas Hockey Pucks. Mascot: Don Rickles.

Rice would be nice, too

2014 August 26
by Don Hammack

Sung to the tune of the Bow Wow Wow classic:

I know a chef who’s tough but sweet
He dices so fine, he can’t be beat
He’s got the ingredients that I desire
Sets the pot on a boiling fire

I want red beans, I want red beans

Go to see him when the sun goes down
Ain’t no finer chef in town
You’re my chef, just what the diner ordered
Sausage meat, you make my mouth water

I want red beans, I want red beans

Red beans on the table, it’s time to get fed
But I like red beans when it’s capped with french bread
Some day soon it’ll be time to dine,
Then I’ll have red beans mighty fine

I want red beans, I want red beans
I want red beans, I want red beans

A boat at the Continental Divide

2014 August 15
by Don Hammack

Friday marked the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Panama Canal, which I was lucky enough to see from a unique position 20 or so years ago — atop the sail of a submarine.

There are four levels of officers on a submarine: the commanding officer, the executive officer, the department heads and the division officers. I was among the most senior of the junior officers in the last category on USS Grayling, and I was one of the officers of the deck for the daylong transit from the Atlantic to the Pacific. (Stray factoid No. 1: You go west to east in that direction.) It was quite a day, including a man overboard during a swim call. We had to loiter for quite in Lake Gatun, the reservoir in the middle that provides the water for the locks that stair-step you up and down, to and from the oceans. The captain called for a swim call, and a guy slipped as he was jumping in and smacked his head on the HY-80 steel of the hull. He was medevaced by a U.S. Special Forces small boat and then by helicopter from the Atlantic side to the Pacific. (He was fine, and returned to duty and ribbing.)

Panama Canal Map EN

I took over as OOD after that, as we had started heading south. It was perhaps the easiest surface navigation I ever helped oversee. Unsurprisingly, the Panama Canal has perfect ranges for navigation. (Stray factoid No. 2: Ranges are pairs of structures usually highlighted with wide vertical stripes, the front one shorter than the back and lined up down the middle of the channel. If the front range appears to you to be to the right of the rear one, you need to move right in the channel to be in the center.) That, combined with the excellent Canal Pilots and a submarine’s (relatively) small size, made for an easy transit. (Stray factoid No. 3: Pilots are local experts with knowledge of the channel, its currents, landmarks and tugboats who come aboard to aid the captain and the OOD.)

We made our way past Gamboa, and then toward what was then called the Gaillard Cut. (Stray factoid No. 4: It’s now the Culebra Cut, for the ridge it cuts through.) As we made our way into what had been a mountain, the canal was flanked by walls of rock about 130 high. One side had a large, bronze memorial plaque to honor the engineers and workers who excavated that stretch of canal, many of whom died in rockslides and other mishaps. It quite an experience, sitting on a submarine in the Continental Divide.

The rest of the transit involved going through the second sets of locks. (Stray factoid No. 5: The locomotives that run on the side of the locks to help pull ships through are called mules.) Large cargo ships and tankers built to transit the canal squeeze through with tiny margins alongside, so tight they have to run their engines at max power to push the water out of the lock back along their hulls. A submarine like ours, however, is like a toothpick in a bathtub by comparison. There was room for us and our Special Forces escorts.

We ended the transit at Rodman Naval Station on the Pacific side, in a driving tropical rainstorm. It was the only thing that put a damper on a successful transit that started in one ocean and ended in another, through a mountain.

SABR 44 fever … catch it

2014 August 4
tags:
by Don Hammack

I drove back today from another thoroughly excellent Society for American Baseball Research national convention. Houston’s Larry Dierker Chapter did a top-notch job hosting. The convention is three days of presentations and committee meetings, with panels that included Dierker, Jimmy Wynn, Enos Cabell, Jose Cruz, Bob Watson, Bobby Brown, Alan Ashby, Art Howe and Roger Clemens. (Clemens didn’t take any Hall of Fame or steroids questions, although Art Howe talked about how disappointed he was about his portrayal in the movie “Moneyball.)

At one point during the convention, I found myself on the same elevator as Eddie Robinson, a player I frankly wasn’t familiar with. He played in 13 major league seasons, and is part of the answer to a remarkable trivia question. He was the seventh player to hit a ball out of Comiskey Park. The first six were a group of ballplayers of some note: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmy Foxx, Hank Greenberg, Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle. I would have never guessed Robinson was 93 years old.

The last big event of the weekend was a Saturday night ballgame between the Blue Jays and Astros, perhaps the most eventful major league game I’ve ever attended. It included:

  • Jose Altuve scoring from first on an errant pickoff throw (plus another error):
  • A Chris Carter home run that we thought went all the way out of Minute Maid Park. It was the first August game played with the roof open in 10 years, and he smoke a ball to left. We were looking into the sun and never saw or heard it hit anything, but were told it had hit something before it left the stadium.
  • An inside-the-park home run by Jon Singleton, initially ruled out at home by the umpire but overturned by replay.
  • A home run robbed by Houston’s Robbie Grossman, saving Moss Point’s Tony Sipp from allowing a blast on the only pitch he threw in the game.
  • And L.J. Hoes diving into the left-field stands to make a great catch. (I chose not to buy a T-shirt for Carla with his name on the back. I don’t believe that would have been well received.)

But the most earth-shattering event came in the top of the sixth when Toronto’s Danny Valencia hit a looping line drive down the first-base line. It bounced in the stands about five or six rows in front of me, and I grabbed it on one hop. Never even got out of my seat and didn’t have to reach for it.

Precinct locations

2014 June 21
by Don Hammack

Here are the South Mississippi precinct locations for Tuesday’s runoff. This is a preliminary draft, still in editing. If you see any errors, please let me know in the comments below.

A horse of the same color

2014 June 8
by Don Hammack

Steve Coburn set off a bunch of panty-wadding when his bunched up following California Chrome’s disappointing Belmont Stakes fourth-place finish Sunday. He launched into a tirade shortly after the race, saying horses that skipped one or both of the previous races didn’t deserve to run in the third just to try to take down a potential Triple Crown winner.

This is the coward’s way out,” said Coburn.

First off, I wish more players, coaches and others around sports would be as candid, and I wish folks would allow them to be as candid. It’s a straight line from bashing Coburn for venting to Bill Belichick’s monosyllabic press conferences. To paraphrase “The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training,” a classic in bad sequel history, “Let them say! Let them say!”

Now, to the crux of the post. I’m not a horse racing historian, but his plea seemed to require us to look back at the history of the Triple Crown and see if something had changed.

I started with Secretariat, a horse I realized might have helped me pick my favorite color. I loved the blue-and-white checkered silks of Claiborne Farm, and Big Red was one of the first sporting heroes I remember seeing do things live. In 1973, he destroyed every horse in his way, winning the Triple Crown and setting records in each race that still stand today. Four other horses bothered to show up for the Belmont. Only Sham had run the other two races, and had placed each time. Sham tried to push Secretariat, but he got crushed and finished last. My Gallant and Twice a Prince ran at Louisville, but skipped the Preakness; Pvt. Smiles only ran the Belmont.

The first Triple Crown in 25 years seemed to set off a spasm of them, with Seattle Slew and Affirmed winning in 1977 and 1978. Eight horses ran in the 1977 Belmont. Half the field (Run Dusty Run, Sanhedrin and Sir Sir) ran all three races. Iron Constitution ran after having only run the Preakness, with three others (Make Amends, Mr. Red Wing and Spirit Level) running only the final race.

Affirmed and Alydar ran three spectacular races in 1978, with Affirmed winning the Triple Crown by a 1-1/2 lengths, a neck and a nose over the hard-luck Alydar, the only horse ever to finish second in all three Triple Crown races. There were only three other horses in the Belmont, and they provided every possible combination of participation. Darby Creek Road ran the Derby and the Belmont, Noon Time Spender ran the Preakness and the Derby, and Judge Advocate ran only the Belmont.

See a trend here? It holds up. In all but one of the remaining Triple Crown years (War Admiral in 1937), at least half the remaining horses in the field ran only the Belmont. (Source: The Triple Crown Project)


How does California Chrome compare? He actually faced a field where more than half ran at least one other race.

Steve Coburn’s heart was surely broken by coming so close to the Triple Crown, but this analysis makes it appear he wasn’t cheated compared to the horses that closed the deal in the Belmont. California Chrome just wasn’t good enough to be among the greats.

‘It could have gone all wrong’

2014 April 4
by Don Hammack

There’s a newsroom spring cleaning going on. Two large plastic garbage bins have been moved in and are being filled to the brim daily with all matter of clutter. Somebody was tossing this book. It was a book with the annual American Society of Newspaper Editors prize winners in it. (I don’t think they print them anymore.) Picking it up absentmindedly, the table of contents revealed something by yours truly.

This part of our paper’s prize submission for deadline news reporting was written on Monday, August 29, 2005. It wasn’t half-bad.

IT COULD HAVE ALL GONE WRONG

By DON HAMMACK
SUN HERALD

GULFPORT — It must have seemed a completely plausible plan at the time to Mike Petro and his family.

They lived at 1514 18th Avenue, just east of downtown, just off the beach, just south of the railroad tracks, right off Second Street. He and his wife Andrea, his 30-year-old son, twin 13-year-old daughters, a 6-year-old daughter, a dachshund and a cat thought they’d be able to beat Hurricane Katrina and leave town early Monday morning.

Having disregarded mandatory evacuation orders, it nearly proved a fatal mistake.

When Katrina slammed into the Central Gulf Coast in the early morning hours, ruining what we like to call our little slice of heaven, the Petros’ power went out, interrupting their last-minute packing scheme. Then they heard the water, a strange rumbling train sound.

Their house, more than 100 years old and not built on the cheap like modern ones, began to be ripped apart at the seams.

The family began to move for shelter, angling across the intersection one house north of their lot.

Petro got knocked down by a piece of his house. It plunked him down on a slab of something, he said, while his wife and kids were being herded up the street by the storm surge.

The rest of the family wound up pushed to another house on the east side of18th. Mike Petro’s slab helped him make it up and across 18th Street, and he needed help. He’d had hip replacement surgery recently and he moved with a noticeable limp.

“I was afraid for the kids,” said Petro, his voice cracking for the first time. “You can beat the hell outta me …”

As he stood on the listing porch that was two houses north of the intersection of18th Avenue and Second Street, he nearly apologized for setting up shop in a neighbor’s severely damaged house, using a piece of debris as a cane. He said he was going to leave them a note of thanks.

“I was scared to death by the end,” he said. “But they weren’t,” meaning the dachshund, which they’d managed to keep with them, and a cat that they hoped would be back after expending one-ninth of its allotment of good fortune.

His wife joined him after he was interviewed, having crossed the street. Mike Petro sat on the threshold of the borrowed house, she squatted in front of him. They grasped each other’s faces with two hands, sharing a moment they nearly robbed themselves of by poor decision making the night before.

Around him, even as the back end of Katrina’s feeder bands continued to hack at the coastline, recovery had begun. Two young Seabees who lived in the brick house just south of the railroad tracks were climbing over the piles of debris on18th.

There was a lot of debris. A mess of maroon upholstered pews and the organ from St. Peter’s By the Sea was instead by the railroad tracks. The Episcopal church moved east several years ago when the Grand Casino purchased the old church, with enough slot machine coin to build a beautiful new building, one that’s apparently been demolished.

Also among the debris was the house just north of the Petro’s and in it, apparently an 85-year-old woman and a younger man. They were in the house Sunday night, neighbors said, and Monday morning there was evidence of what had been, but only if you knew what there was when it started out.

There was a perfectly clean silver oxygen bottle, the green paint on it not so much as smudged as it lay among the pickup-sticks wreckage underneath it, but with no hose to lead back to a possible victim.

The Seabees crawled all over the place, hollering for survivors. They’d survived Katrina, with water up to their waists in the first floor of their brick rental.

Petty Officer Third Class Jesse Good said he’d been the target of an insurgent mortar attack while stationed in the Middle East with NMCB 7.

“I haven’t seen nothing like that in Iraq,” said Good, 22.

It didn’t appear there was much for them to hope for in their search.

There was an ironic sign of hope among the wreckage. Lying on a sidewalk north of where the debris field began trailing off, lay a brightly colored, hand-painted, thin wooden plaque.

It certainly had been attached to some kitchen wall some place just 24 hours earlier.

“If you’re lucky enough to live by the beach you’re lucky enough.”

It just didn’t seem too lucky Monday morning for the vast majority of South Mississippians.

Mike Petro and his clan found a sliver, but there wasn’t much else.

In the rear-view mirror

2013 November 20
by Don Hammack

USM announced today it would be playing Alabama in football next season. I suggest the Golden Eagles might consider renting out LSU players for a weekend. Hard to believe, in the midst of this streak of horrendous football, this happened 13 years ago. I remember the Bama call-in shows burning up with talk of hiring Jeff Bower away:

BY DON HAMMACK
THE SUN HERALD

USM ROLLS TIDE

BIRMINGHAM, Ala — In a span of eight seconds Saturday night, the Giant Killers awoke.

No. 25 Southern Miss (1-1) stunned a Legion Field crowd of 83,091 with a pair of touchdowns in that time and went on to post a 21-0 victory over the 15th-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide (1-2).

“I got tired of reading that (giant-killer) stuff, too,” USM coach Jeff Bower said. “It”s a big step for our program. There’s a lot of respect for this program and hopefully this will add to that.”

Quarterback Jeff Kelly, hobbled by an early injury to his leg, threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to LeRoy Handy 41 seconds into the second quarter.

The Golden Eagles, who had carried the giant-killer label long after the last time they’d actually beaten a nonconference Top 25 team, seized control of the game on the ensuing kickoff. A short kick was fielded near the left sideline by ‘Bama’s Michael James, a backup split end.

James started across the field but was caught from behind by USM’s Etric Pruitt. Pruitt clubbed at the ball as he made the tackle, knocking it loose. Joe Henley scooped the ball up at the 18-yard line and broke through Freddie Milons’ tackle at the 5, dragging him into the endzone.

Brant Hanna’s third PAT of the game gave the Bama faithful the cue to start booing.

Kelly was hurt initially on USM’s first possession when Alabama lineman Kenny King dove into his lower left leg. King got him again on Kelly’s scoring pass to Handy.

“They were going after it a little bit, I think,” Kelly said. “It’s just a little sprain.”

Kelly limped off the field dragging his leg and wound up making a visit to the locker room. He didn’t miss a snap, sprinting out of the tunnel in time to join the team during a TV timeout before its next possession.

Kelly’s mobility, the asset he’d used to great advantage in keeping Tennessee at bay two weeks prior, was vastly reduced.

“We’ve got a big play-action package,” Kelly said. “I couldn’t get out and move for that kind of stuff.”

Although he was sacked four times, the Deerpark, Ala., junior was 14-of-23 passing for 159 yards and a touchdown.

The Golden Eagles got the early jump as the Crimson Tide made an unsuccessful trip to the trick section of their playbook.

Arvin Richard started right on a sweep and pulled up.

He looked back across the field and tried to throw back to quarterback Tyler Watts, who had tried to sneak out of the backfield. Richard’s pass was a floater and Raymond Walls closed on Watts and went up for the interception.

He grabbed it at his own 46 with nothing but open field in front of him for a 7-0 USM lead with 5:24 to play in the first quarter.

The USM victory broke an eight-game on-the-field losing streak to the Tide (Alabama forfeited its 1993 win because of NCAA violations). It was also the first USM victory over a nationally ranked, nonconference opponent since a 10-9 victory over Auburn in 1991.

The Tide were shut out for the first time since a 27-0 thrashing by LSU on Nov. 8, 1997. The Golden Eagles accomplished the feat in large part by keeping Milons quiet.

Milons touched the ball on eight snaps from scrimmage, netting only 48 yards. His seven receptions were mostly on underneath routes where there was plenty of USM defensive support.

The Tide brought Andrew Zow off the bench to replace Watts in the fourth quarter. He was more effective running with the ball than throwing it, completing only 8-of-18 passes for 65 yards.

“We”ve got the pieces of the puzzle,” Alabama coach Mike DuBose said. “We lacked something here, something there. We have to put it together.”

Watts was 11-of-16 for 57 yards and Alabama finished with just 217 total yards.

USM’s wrecking crew defense featured strong play by Gulfport’s Cedric Scott and George County’s John Nix. Both defensive linemen were in the ‘Bama backfield for large portions of the night.

“We felt like we had to put the pressure on them early and keep it in them,” Scott said. “The coaches gave us a great plan and we went out and executed.”

The defense sealed the victory with 5:12 to play when Stone’s Keon Moore, a cornerback, tipped a Zow pass in the USM end zone back to linebacker Zaid Houston.

7-2: It doesn’t mean much

2013 November 11
by Don Hammack

The New Orleans Saints’ 49-17 thrashing of the Dallas Cowboys, while a delicious result for lovers of black and gold and loathers of blue stars (and that’s everybody that doesn’t love Jerrah’s team), doesn’t really change anything in the Saints season forecast. They’re pretty much what we knew they were already.

Have a chink in your armor, and Sean Payton’s Drew Brees-atron will eviscerate you. Get behind, and Rob Ryan’s Fightin’ Hair Follicles will lather, rinse and repeat you with pressure up front.

But there were troubling signs even in the rosiest of nights. Dallas ran for 80 yards on 11 carries in the first half. DeMarcus Ware played on a leg-and-a-half and still could make Charles Brown look overmatched, finishing with a sack.

San Francisco and Seattle are two of the next three opponents on the schedule. (Sandwiched around the sad-sack Falcons, who are so bad it might almost make a Saints fan sympathetic.) The Seahawks and 49ers rank fourth and second in rushing. And you can’t forget this:

St. Louis is next on the schedule, and the Rams sack a quarter on 9.4 percent of his attempts, second best in the league. Seattle is eighth. And if Saints fans aren’t a little afraid of Carolina right now, the bags may have fallen out of the attic over their eyes.

That’s why the 7-2 record doesn’t mean much, and the Dallas demolition means even less. The first nine games of the season have set up the Saints for another playoff run, but the final seven will be a slog. And if they don’t get to the top of the league, they’ll have to go play outside in Seattle. The Saints can’t afford to let that happen.

The Bump: It was twenty years ago today

2013 March 20
by Don Hammack

The date: 3/20/93
The time: 0546Z
The place: The Barents Sea
The event: A little bump between the USS Grayling and a Soviet ballistic missile submarine.


Twenty years ago today, a few of my great friends in life and I nearly became fish food off the northern coast of Russia. Those of us that were there can fill in the blanks in this heavily redacted copy of the investigation report, but then we’d have to kill you. I’m grateful for a strong boat and stronger shipmates who helped get us all back safely.

I had just gotten off watch, and I was waiting in the wardroom for my breakfast before the usual post-watch reconstruction and report writing. It was the day the real eggs ran out on board, so as the plate of fake eggs was put down in front of me there was a loud noise, the ship moved abruptly and the plate of fake eggs slid off the table. The captain cursed and ran out, followed quickly by us. All the submariners on our boat and the Soviets’ boomer made it back to port safely, with what I’m sure were investigations and lengthy shipyard time on both sides. I can vouch for meeting an admiral or two and the early morning shuttle boat rides on the Cooper River (plus an encounter with a deer with driving on the Naval Weapons Stations, or Bump 2.0).

So, I’d like to salute all my shipmates, especially our recently departed friend Christopher Bates, with a little song. I invite you to join along to a song to the tune of an obscure ditty done by The Beatles.

It was twenty years ago today,
Captain Self brought the sub to play
They’d been going in the Barents Sea,
The U.S. representatives of the bourgeoisie.
So may I introduce to you
The sub filled with all these mates,
Captain Self’s Only Bubblehead Band
We’re Captain Self’s Only Bubblehead Band,
We hope you will enjoy the show,
We’re Captain Self’s Only Bubblehead Band,
Sit back and let the course change go.
Captain Self’s only, Captain Self’s only,
Captain Self’s Only Bubblehead Band.
Not so wonderful to be there,
It was certainly no drill.
You’re such a bubbly audience,
We’d like to keep the dome with us,
We’d love to undent the dome.
I don’t really want an emergency blow,
But I thought that you might like to know,
That Chief Singer’s going to cuss real long,
And he wants you all to cuss along.
So let me introduce to you
The one and only Norm Bates!
And Captain Self’s Only Bubblehead Band.