‘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.



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:



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.

Diamond Scientist or Scientist?

2013 March 7
by Don Hammack

Diamond ScientistsBack on May 29, 1906, Birmingham defeated New Orleans 3-0 in a Southern League game that took 78 minutes. That’s apparently 10 minutes shorter than the fifth inning of a May 8, 2004, game between Detroit and Texas. For such wizardry, the next day’s Times-Picayune newspaper labeled the players “Diamond Scientists.”

Figure out which of these legendary figures are Diamond Scientists or just plain ole Scientists.

Diamond Scientist or ScientistThe always trustworthy Wikipedia tells us this man was either one of the most important observational cosmologists of the 20th century or struck out five consecutive future Hall of Famers in the 1934 All-Star Game. Click the photo to reveal the answer.

Diamond Scientist or ScientistThis man was either the German theoretical physicist invented quantum theory or has more shutouts than any left-hander in history. Guess and click.

Diamond Scientist or ScientistThis man was either a Greek five-tool smart guy (mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor, astronomer) who created the foundation of hydrostatics and invented a marvelous type of screw pump or a lifetime minor league nicknamed Archie who had a strange shoe fetish. Guess/click.

Diamond Scientist or ScientistThis guy created the periodic table or bounced around the major leagues and generally was viewed as an underachiever. Guess. Click.

Diamond Scientist or ScientistThis man is either the gentleman sailed around the world on the HMS Beagle and proposed the theory of natural selection that applies to all things in nature, including baseball (unless you’re a high draft pick with a big contract), or finished with a 171-182 record in the big leagues (you play in the bigs, you’re Diamond Scientist, dangit). Click. Guess. Wait, reverse that.

Diamond Scientist or ScientistThis man won the Nobel Prize for discovering how the chromosomes affect heredity or he was one of the great second baseball of all time who virtually the entire Interwebs wanted fired from his second career, so much that a whole website existed for that sole purpose. Click and be angered!

Diamond Scientist or ScientistThis man is almost as famous for his beard and the baseball card with him wearing a python or he was a mid-18th century Englishman who did experiments on frog limb regeneration. Click and be amazed!

Ancient baseball illustration

2013 February 28
by Don Hammack

Newspapers were vastly different creatures in 1906. For one, there were lots of them. For another, they were pretty gray entities. There was no color, and there were few pictures. But here, in the Charleston, S.C., Evening Post’s April 7th edition, things got interesting.

Baseball cartoonery

Are you a "fan"?

Band names, inspired by hockey

2011 August 6
by Don Hammack

Syl Apps All-Stars
Gordie’s Chapeau Astuce
Rocket Riot Boys
The Eddie Shore
Toe-d the Blake Sprocket
Little Brawl of Hate
Grant’s Fur Coat
The Caddie Looper Mario
Two Line Brass
Cross Czech Machine
DIY Clapper

Save It or Shave It, Results

2011 May 20
by Don Hammack

Credit: Nicholas Savalas

I had my head shaved Monday. The fundraiser kinda fell apart at church, and there was nothing done at the festival Sunday. You helped me raise $250 for the church, which is great. It was below my goal of $1,000, so there will be no picture of me posted here. Instead, you’ll have to settle for Mr. Tavales.

Stalking Wilco

2011 May 12
by Don Hammack

Finally getting around to updating the blog, and getting around to posting about my 2011 Jazz Fest experience. I went just two days this year, Thursday and the second Friday. The big draw for me, of course, was Wilco.

read more…

Nationals, Game 18: Cardinals 5, Nati0nals

2011 April 22
by Don Hammack

Record: 9-9. Standing: 3rd, 3 GB. Streak: L2.


Feeling good: Uh, not much to feel good about. I think Gorzelanny getting to the fifth means the Nats are still the only team not to have a starter yanked before the fifth all season, but he needed 108 pitches to do it. Looks like Brian Broderick had a good afternoon, too.

Feeling bad: Where’s the offense? Anybody who’s not a little concerned about Jayson Werth might want to start. I’m not typically one to panic, but he’s on his way to his worse month since 2007. Just because you pay a guy $126 million doesn’t turn him into Babe Ruth, but he’s not very productive right now with the bat in his hand. .209/.293/.358, Gulp.

Feeling shame: Meh.

Nationals or Natinals: They got a 0 because there was no O. Get the Pirates.