One Boston

Boston Red Sox v Cleveland Indians

By KOLBY PAXTON

I found out about the bombing at the Boston Marathon the way I find out about everything anymore: Twitter. Killing time, scrolling up my timeline, clicking links that I deemed to be potentially funny, interesting or thought-provoking; just another average, run of the mill, unproductive Monday afternoon.

The news wasn’t really delivered as such. It was a question from the friend of a friend: “Uh, did the Boston Marathon just get bombed?”

It didn’t even push me back in my seat, to be honest. I figured it was meant as a joke, a satirical attempt at garnering a few retweets. Something happened with the course or with a few of the runners, something insignificant. He saw it. I didn’t. He made a funny. I didn’t get it.

I was unspeakably incorrect in my assumption.

They say the bombs were remarkably crude, nothing more than shrapnel – nails, pellets and metal – packed tightly inside of pressure cookers, hidden within duffel bags. As for a motive? Who the hell knows. The act, itself, is remarkably similar to the bombing at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, one supposedly fueled by trigger man with an anti-gay, pro-life agenda.

How, exactly, murdering two people and injuring an additional hundred is in any way indicative of an individual overly concerned with the value of life is unclear. But, that’s kind of the point, here.

My initial reaction, upon finally accepting that these images I was seeing were real, was one of utter disgust in humanity as a whole. Where are we as human beings when you cannot even allow your children to watch you run a race without jeopardizing their lives? How sick are we that we can’t even celebrate Patriots’ Day in Boston without fear and mayhem ruling the day?

How screwed up are we? We.

Then I watched the video again. And again. And suddenly, something stood out to me, something other than the explosion and the terror. A sea of yellow jackets – Boston police and event staffers – ran toward the explosions. Without regard for their own safety, brave men and women immediately raced to the aid of the fallen, knowing not what was waiting to greet them. Who runs into the smoke of an explosion?

We do.

Hours later, reports began to surface of race participants crossing the finish line and continuing on to Mass General to donate blood. Who has the presence of mind, on the tail end of a 26 mile run, to sprint 1.4 miles beyond the carnage to give their blood to replace that which soaks the streets?

We do.

Similarly, doctors and nurses running in the marathon, people like Dr. Natalie Stavas, a pediatric resident at Boston Children’s Hospital, rushed to Copley Square to care for the victims. Who has the wherewithal, the energy, and the desire to think of anyone other than themselves four hours after beginning a marathon seven towns over?

We do.

The motive of the bomber, no matter how elementary or fantastical, hateful or misguided, will never be relevant. The bomber, his or herself, will never be more than a tragic outlier, imbalanced chemicals, crossed wires; anything but a sampling of Western civilization – let alone the country that we, as Americans, call home. We are not defined by terrorists, foreign or domestic, nor are we defined by their actions. It is in how we respond to being attacked, to being unfairly flooded with tragedy and adversity – how we always respond – that truly exemplifies who we are.

As was the case in Oklahoma City, Atlanta and New York, this was not an attack on a group of individuals, a city, or an activity. It was an attack on the psyche of those of us who call the home of the brave our own – not necessarily in the mind of the assailants, but always in the minds of the rest of us. Boston responded just the way that any American city would have, and it will recover – likely with a little extra gusto and authenticity, because it’s freakin’ Boston. The rest of the country will support its fallen comrades because it’s the freakin’ United States of America.

It’s easy to forget about the “United” part these days, what with such social and political division being displayed on our televisions. Yet, it is the very moments when our faith in humanity is tried, that it is ultimately restored. We are not so different from one another. We are not void of compassion for our neighbors, nor abundant valor in times of great need.

I cannot articulate the overwhelming sorrow that I feel for those affected by the blast, for the mothers and fathers, sons and daughters whose lives will never be the same. I’m not even sure those words exist.

Instead, all we’re left with is faith and prayer; prayer for their comfort, and prayer that the good, “Boston strong” as we are, always outnumber evil.

Baseball’s birthday

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By KOLBY PAXTON

Sunday night, at approximately 7 p.m. local time, Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt fired an impressive fastball into the mitt of Astros outfielder J.D. Martinez, and the 2013 Major League Baseball season was born.

It was an interesting dynamic, the Watt first pitch. The 6-5, 295-pound “Swatt” is the biggest star in town, both literally and figuratively. He is the wrecking ball off the edge for one of the premier teams of the most popular league in the country. Many in Minute Maid Park would have failed to name even one Astro without first glancing at a program, yet seemingly everyone was very much in tune to the identity of the mountainous man in the bright orange jersey.

Until Justin Maxwell plated two runs with a fourth inning triple, the biggest moment of our national past time’s biggest night was a 73 MPH fast ball, wide of the strike zone. In essence, the scenario served as a microcosm of the current state of American sports: Football swallows everything whole, at all times, always.

The season is long, removing the sensation of significance from months upon months of 5-2 final scores. And our collective attention span is short, further reducing the likelihood of constant engagement at any point prior to September. Still, the game will forever have its place. No sport is quite so romantic as baseball.

Baseball is John and Ray Kinsella having a toss beside a cornfield in Iowa. Baseball is four days in October when the Bambino’s curse was finally lifted from Boston. Baseball is spellbinding and magical. More so than any place else, those awe-inspiring diamonds are the birthplace of our childhood heroes.

For me, those heroes were Frank Thomas and Greg Maddux, David Justice and Pudge Rodriguez, Ryne Sandberg and, of course, Ken Griffey Jr.

I named my dog for the latter, wore No. 24 every chance I got, mimicked his cocksure batting stance, and attempted to master the art of the outfield as he had. I wore his cleats and his gloves and his wristbands. I flipped my hat backwards, painted on the eye black, and tried to remember to strut – or at least jog – out of the batter’s box when I knew the ballpark wouldn’t hold my tee shot. Junior was my guy, my all-time favorite professional ballplayer, and it’s not close.

Having said that, the distance between he and my favorite amateur athlete is no closer. Far surpassing “The Kid” was a diminutive second baseman, who also wore No. 24, for the Fort Cobb-Broxton Mustangs from 1996-’99: One Jenny Ridenour.

I didn’t have an older sibling, but I didn’t need one. I had Jenny, an older cousin in title, but a sister in practice. As far back as I can remember, I have revered her, imitating the appearance of her jumpshot – though, rarely the result, mind you – her work ethic, and her outward disdain for losing. She taught me how to compete, made me want to be a ballplayer, and supported me when I attempted to provide the encore to her multi-sport exploits.

Only recently was I fortunate enough to experience a baseball/softball game – the Dominicans 3-1 win over the U.S. in the World Baseball Classic – that surpassed the thrill that I associated with watching Fort Cobb win the Sterling (Okla.) Softball Tournament 15 years ago.

It’s fitting, then, that Jenny turned 32 years old just a few hours after Watt threw out the first pitch of the season, and on the same day as the rest of the league begins play. Millions of children all over the globe will surely hold players like Bryce Harper and Mike Trout to the same youthful esteem with which I once regarded Griffey. But, if they’re lucky, they already have a sibling that far surpasses Harper, Trout, and the like.

Our athletic careers are over, save for competitive running (another sport that she led me to) and pick-up basketball, but Jenny’s influence on me as it relates to sports is far from finished. You see, she has a daughter, McKenna Rian, who will soon be a cheerleader or a tennis player, a point guard or a second baseman, and I will again look to her for guidance and inspiration in hopes that I will one day equal her aptitude as the parent of an athlete.

Happy Birthday, Jen.

My dad just keeps getting smarter

No person on earth has been right as many different times as he has. It’s annoying.

What’s even more annoying is the fact that I swear he used to always be wrong. Somehow, the older I get, the smarter he gets, and he’s cooking with gas.

I’m not exactly sure when it happened. I just know that the quality of his advice has improved steadily over the years. Even his dumb ideas from a few years back have become good ideas retrospectively. It’s uncanny.

Of course, I’m speaking of dear ‘ole dad.

When I was 11 years old, my parents bought me my first expensive baseball glove – a 12.5-inch Rawlings Trap-Eze, Ken Griffey Jr. Edition. It was incredible.

It also weighed approximately 43 pounds.

Previous to this acquisition, I always elected to wear my dad’s old mitt – a tired, weathered hunk of leather that was much lighter than my own – when I pitched. I didn’t have a great reason for it. I just felt more balanced and more secure that way.

But from the moment that I pulled the wrapping paper away from that superlative Greek statue of a glove, insignificant details like balance and security went out the window.

“Don’t wear it in a game until it’s broken in,” dad said. “You need to get comfortable with it.”

Did I listen? Of course not.

Two weeks later, my team was leading by one run heading into the final inning. I slipped on the Trap-Eze – which boasted the flexibility of a flower pot at the time – and took the mound.

To this day, I’m really not sure if the weight of the glove was truly an issue, or if I just didn’t have it on that particular day. Whatever the case, a few moments later I was bouncing a pitch off of the dirt and past the catcher, racing a base runner to home plate, and watching helplessly as my teammates return fire skipped off of my shiny new mitt. The run scored, we lost, and it was all the fault of that stupid glove. I expressed my disdain – and deflected the blame – with a Rob Gronkowski-sized spike of said piece of equipment.

Suffice it to say that my father was slightly less than thrilled with my behavior. But, rather than simply chastising my actions and doling out static punishment, he used the moment to teach a lesson.

Prior preparation prevents poor performance.

Years later, when I turned 16, my dad conducted a thorough, exhausting search for the perfect first vehicle.

I wanted something cool. He wanted something reliable. I wanted something fast. He wanted something safe.

What I got was an ’89 Jeep Comanche.

I didn’t like the pinstripe along the side of it. He removed it. I thought it sat too low to the ground. He installed a lift kit. I thought the tires were too small. He bought brand new wheels and tires for it.

Finally, I copped out by claiming to be overwhelmed by the vehicle’s manual transmission, and he relented and bought me something else.

Nearly a decade later, he still owns the Comanche, and I would love to have it.

Only now, in a poetically just twist of irony, he won’t even sell it to me.

Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

By February of my senior year of high school, it was evident that I would have the opportunity to play football in college. I visited several smaller schools and junior colleges, but when the University of Oklahoma called, I was sold.

“If you’re going to do this, you need to get your diet right,” dad told me. “You need to put in the work, so that when you get there in July, you don’t look like a walk-on.”

Anything worth doing is worth doing right.

I was feeling pretty good about myself at this point, though. OU wouldn’t be talking to me if I didn’t belong, right? Right. I scoffed at the notion of changing my diet, only choking down a protein drink when forced.

That’ll put some hair on your chest.

I mostly ignored the weight room, too. Instead opting to sleep in, lie by the pool, and hang out with my friends.

When I got to Norman, I was floored. I was good enough on raw ability to keep from getting cut, but that was about it. I was outclassed and unprepared and, if injected with truth serum (and reminded of my name) I’m sure that coach Brent Venables would tell you that I was the least talented linebacker on the team. Within a year, I was temporarily out of football.

You reap what you sew.

Fortunately, as time passes, I seem to be committing fewer of these egregious errors in judgment, which is nice. I must begrudgingly admit, however, that the credit for my improved decision-making is not something that I necessarily deserve (though, if voluntarily lauded for it, I’d be obligated to exercise my Fifth Amendment, because it’s better to let people think you’re a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.)

No, the truth is, as I grow in age and maturity, I use these nuggets that my dad has instilled in me – dadisms, if you will – as navigational beacons. I only wish that it hadn’t taken him so long to get smart. Who knows where I might be?

Of course, if your aunt had… well, you get the idea.

Happy Fathers Day to every dad that has worked, without reward, to shape the minds and morals of their sons and daughters – especially my dad, Steve Paxton.

I love you, dad.

Fire, mud and beer – and the battle against childhood cancer

If Brett Favre were younger and shorter, and a defensive back, and considerably less wealthy, and owned a closet devoid of Wranglers, well then, he’d be me.

The first time I hung up the spikes, I was 19 years old. My team was fresh off of a 55-19 thrashing at the hands of Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, and a scary good Southern Cal squad, in the BCS National Championship.

In total, I watched about 20 minutes of the game — from an airport in Denver. I felt bad for my friends and family that were suffering through such a one-sided debacle, but I felt nothing for myself. There was no pit in my stomach, no regret — nothing. I was numb to it.

After twice being named a captain as a standout defensive back at Springdale (Ark.) High School, I was ill-prepared to spend my freshman season playing scout team for a coach that couldn’t have picked me out of a lineup. Film sessions did not pertain to me. Practice meant nothing. As long as I made it through individual drills — at a position I had zero familiarity with — without drawing the ire of Brent Venables, my mission was accomplished.

Arkansas played Texas two weeks before we did, and we studied the tape of that game for three consecutive days leading up to our annual tilt at the Cotton Bowl. One of my most vivid memories as an Oklahoma football player is sitting in a dark film room, staring at Razorback Stadium, wishing I was there. The next week, I reached out to former Razorbacks wide receiver Robert Farrell, who assured me that I would be welcome to transfer, and my mind was made up. From that point on, each meeting, meal, practice and game, served as a personal countdown.

When the academic term ended, the college football postseason mattered not. I withdrew from the university and forfeited the chance to join my teammates in Miami, Fla. for the Orange Bowl.

Tuition at OU is not cheap for an out-of-state kid with no scholarship. My parents fell into the precarious middle-class gap, making too much to qualify for significant government aid, but not enough to comfortably pay a $9,000 tuition bill. The registrar at most universities allows for payment plans, and Oklahoma is no different. However, as I learned, tuition is expected to be paid in full upon complete withdrawal from the school.

Without an official transcript from OU, I could not enroll at the University of Arkansas. When I finally did enroll a few months later, I had been a regular civilian for a full semester. Whether it was an affinity for freedom, or fear-based apprehension, I couldn’t say, but I elected not to join the football team.

Instead, I spent that fall mastering the art of the pre-game party, the tailgate party, and the post-game party. I rarely went into the games, though. It hurt to watch.

Eventually, I couldn’t take it anymore. I needed the game. I needed to burn in a weight room. I needed to sweat on a field. I needed the camaraderie of 11 guys battling together for a singular cause. I tried playing co-ed softball. I tried playing rec-league basketball. I still worked out as if I were preparing for football season, but I wasn’t, and none of it was the same.

So when Favre retired, and then un-retired, and then sort of retired, and then didn’t retire, I was not among those members of the peanut gallery lobbing insults and slights in his general direction. I understood. The money couldn’t buy the adrenaline rush. The fame couldn’t replace the kinship of going to battle with a few dozen of your closest friends. The legacy wasn’t enough to suppress the voice in his head insisting that he could still make plays and win games.

When my high school head coach, Gus Malzahn, was hired as the offensive coordinator at the University of Tulsa, I reached out to him, asking for an opportunity to resume my playing career. Never one to be accused of possessing many teddy bear-ish tendencies, Coach genuinely empathized with my disposition on this one. A few months later, I was back — as a member of the Tulsa Golden Hurricane.

It was short-lived, however, as Gene Chizik called on the services of my ol’ ball coach at the end of the season, and Malzahn obliged — joining the coaching staff at Auburn University. His departure left me in limbo, without a coach to go to bat for me. There was a chance that I could earn a scholarship even without his influence, but at a little more than $12,000 per semester, it was a considerable gamble.

That led to my second retirement which, much like Favre’s unceremonious departure from the New York Jets, was less about the game, and more about the situation. Favre found a satisfactory suitor in Brad Childress and the Minnesota Vikings. I did the same in Craig Hubbard and Southern Nazarene University.

The admittedly strained similarities end there, however, as Father Time eventually retired Favre to the ranch. I, on the other hand, was rendered team-less by virtue of an expiring NCAA clock.

In the years since, I have returned to looking elsewhere for any form of competition that I can find.

My cousin runs in half-marathons, which seems like something that I’d like to add to my résumé. But, quite frankly, I don’t have a playlist long enough to endure well over two hours of jogging. I love playing softball but, last I checked, Tahlequah doesn’t offer much of a co-ed league. I fish for the sake of fishing, but I have never honestly enjoyed it much. I love being on the water, but there is nothing about staring at a submerged string, with aspirations of tricking a fish, that does much to get my juices flowing. I like golf — and I despise golf. For days, I look forward to playing, only to duff my opening tee shot just beyond the red tees, and spend the next several hours tossing clubs and losing balls. In general, my pursuit of a satisfactory physical endeavor has been mostly fruitless.

But then I ran across the Warrior Dash.

Fire pits? A rubber jungle? The Great Warrior Wall? All capped off by adorning a Viking helmet, while enjoying an ice cold victory brew? I had to do it and, as it happens, the event stops in Morris on June 2.

I called my cousin, and then somehow managed to con my poor, unsuspecting girlfriend into participating, as well. Once I had my team of three in place, I excitedly navigated toward the registration form. I made it to the second page before I was prompted with an unexpected question: “Would you like to sign up as a St. Jude Warrior?”

Why wouldn’t I?

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital works to advance cures and means of prevention for pediatric diseases — namely cancer. With the assistance of St. Jude’s, survival rates for cancer like acute lymphoblastic leukemia — the most common form of childhood cancer — have increased by as much as 90 percent since the hospital opened in 1962. On average, 7,800 active patients visit the first and only pediatric cancer center to be designated as a Comprehensive Cancer Center by the National Cancer Institute.

And no family ever pays St. Jude for anything. Daily operating costs are primarily covered by public contributions.

Only I didn’t really know that.

It wasn’t until I was required to check a box in response to a question that directly pertained to the hospital and its cause, that I  actually took the time to pay attention to facts and figures like those. At irony’s peak, I was led to a worthwhile battle of epic proportions by fire, mud and beer.

Like the hospital’s late founder Danny Thomas, I have always believed that no child should die in the dawn of life. I just never realized that I could do anything about it. I can — and so can you.

Eighty-one cents of every dollar received supports the research and treatment at St. Jude. For the next two weeks, we will be accepting donations of any size at the Daily Press. Checks should be made out to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Locally mailed donations should be sent no later than May 29. Please address envelopes to: Tahlequah Daily Press c/o Kolby Paxton, P.O. Box 888, Tahlequah, OK 74465.

With your help, when I arrive in Morris in search of my next meaningful rush of adrenaline, the race will be trumped by our donation to a cause far greater than I could have imagined. We will all be winners.

Here’s to mom

By Kolby Paxton

Sometimes you just can’t catch the words before they slip through your teeth.

Tulsa Memorial shortstop Mike Smith knows the feeling.

During Memorial’s regional matchup with Tahlequah, Chargers manager Sandy Furrell elected to pinch-hit for Smith, the lead off man, in the eighth inning.

As he was summoned away from the on deck circle, and back toward the dugout, Smith’s mother responded just as you might expect.

“Wait, what?” she queried to no one in particular.

“Mom,” snapped Smith. “Hush up.”

I can tell you from experience, it took about 11 seconds for the young guy to strongly regret that reaction.

From tee ball through college, we are taught never to question our coaches. But when mom does it? It’s best to let that one slide.

Mom takes us to practice at 6 a.m. She drives us 30 miles from home to play for the nearest AAU team. She celebrates our success, hugs us after our failures, and bandages our wounds. There is no code of silence among mothers. They take it personal when their sons and daughters are subbed out of a game — and they’re allowed to. They have as much time and emotion invested in our athletic careers as anyone.

By all accounts, my mother was very talented, and equally competitive, as a high school basketball player in Fort Cobb. To hear my dad tell it, her unforgiving elbows would’ve made Ron Artest blush. According to my grandma, she spent so much time diving for loose balls that she literally wore holes in her kneepads.

Let me say that again. She wore holes in her kneepads.

Many moons later, when her 8-year old child took the field as the starting shortstop of the Springdale Marlins, she approached each practice, each game, and each at bat with a similar vigor.

Two years later, I was pitching in the 10-year old city championship, but my dad was stuck at work and couldn’t make it until game time. It was mom who put on the glove and played catch with me in the backyard. We lost 14-12, so apparently our game of catch didn’t exactly do the trick. But, my mom came out of the bullpen for my dad and helped get my arm loose.

When my younger sibling was quarterbacking Springdale (Ark.) High School in 2006, my mother and I were so overwrought with nervous emotion that we could not sit next to each other. You could see her frantically smashing her passenger breaks in a futile effort to assist in the elusion of would-be tacklers, and then physically absorb every blow that her son took when his and her efforts failed. You might also see her attempt to garner an injury report via sign language with unsuspecting teammates. Thumbs up, mom.

The point is, mom is there.

She’s there to work multiple jobs so that her son can walk-on at the out-of-state school. She’s there when your jaw is in pieces and you look like Peter Griffin, and she’s there when your heart is in pieces and you feel like the punch line of an Adele song. She’s there to drive you to a junior college in the middle of Nowhere, Kansas, and to cheer for you when your greatest achievement as a collegiate athlete takes place on a high school field in Oklahoma City. When you finally throw in the towel and hang up the spikes, she’s there to support you then, too.

At least mine was.

I drove my mom crazy during my adolescence. In fact, I probably drove her crazy well beyond that. During high school, our relationship was often punctuated by slammed doors (mine), hollow threats (also mine) and clenched-teeth ultimatums (hers). Incredibly, she never got rid of me. Quite the contrary, actually, she has always treated me quite favorably in spite of my numerous lapses in judgment over the years.

Along with my dad, she is my most loyal friend, quick to call me on potential character flaws and missteps, and even quicker to go all “Great, Huge Bear” on anyone that threatens her “Little, Small, Wee Bear.”

It warrants mentioning that I was an eyelash away from losing all of this.

During the fall semester of 1994, my mother had a brain aneurysm in our home in Springdale, Ark. Then, just to tempt fate a little more, she laid in bed with “the flu” for days before my dad and my grandparents held an intervention of sorts and forced her to go to the hospital.

She wouldn’t have made it through the night.

Miraculously, she beat odds that would make the Bobcats chances of winning next season’s NBA Championship look stellar. And it was awfully kind of her to stick around, because without her, I would not be the person that I am today.

I am thankful for her presence in my life every day, but especially on Mother’s Day, as the impact of a mother’s influence on her children is amplified. Little in life scares me much, but the thought of growing up without my mom takes me back to those fateful autumn days with a retrospective gratitude and understanding that I simply lacked the capacity for as an 8-year old.

I needed my mom to take me to baseball practice. I needed her to get my arm loose for the city championship. I needed her support from the stands during football games, and I needed her to bandage my wounds — both literally and figuratively. I needed my mom for all of that.

And I still need her today.

Happy Mother’s Day to every mother out there — young or old — and especially to my mother, Kellie Paxton.

I love you, mom.