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Big Butch and Me

I would like to thank Scott Pitoniak, Jim Nantz, Rick Reilly and the late Tim Russert. Not just because of their contributions to sports writing, sportscasting, the sport of people, the sport of politics, or being proud a Buffalonian while western New York is mocked as the eyesore of snow globes. While those are all important, I'd like to thank them because they're the gentlemen who made it fashionable to write love letters to our fathers. Scott Pitoniak is the best sports columnist in western New York and has covered the Buffalo Bills for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle since 1985--when the Bills barely outdrew the Bisons. I remember when my cousin Shawn Borrello and his wife Michelle (they were just high school sweeties way back when) took me to see Frank Reich at Sidey's (now a Big Lots) after Buffalo's most-famous No. 14 stepped into the pocket for Jim Kelly during the 1989 season and won three games over the Rams, Dolphins and Jets. My cousin whispered in my ear that he would buy me a Buffalo Bills trivia book if I told Reich he was "a better quarterback than Jim Kelly." I had no problem doing this, even without the book, but at 9 years old, I knew how to play the game. I told old Reich what I thought of him that Tuesday night in Fredonia, and my cousin delivered. That book, The Official Buffalo Bills Trivia Book, was one of ten authored by Pitoniak. Little did I know that I would have that columnist as a professor at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, let alone a friend. Pitoniak's recent books are "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: Heart Pounding, Jaw Dropping and Gut Wrenching Moments in Buffalo Bills History" and his latest, "Memories of Yankee Stadium." In the Introduction, Pitoniak talks of his father taking him to his first Yankee game--Bobby Richardson Day, September 17, 1966. He also talks of his dad's premature death, and how he didn't go back to Yankee Stadium until nearly a decade later. Pitoniak dedicated the book to his father, Andrew, and summed-up the reason for writing it: "...Yankees manager Joe Torre there are ghosts in this building. I realized he wasn't just talking about the ghosts of Ruth, Gehrig and Joe D., but also the ghosts of loved ones who have moved on..." If your first trip to Yankee Stadium was with your dad, like ours was, you know exactly what they mean by that. Jim Nantz has covered the PGA, the NFL, the NBA and college hoops for CBS for over two decades. He's also the first man to do play-by-play for a Super Bowl, the Final Four, and the Masters--a 63-day journey chronicled in his new book "Always By My Side – A Father’s Grace and a Sports Journey Unlike Any Other." He talks about he and his father sharing many of Nantz's career milestones until a stroke, coupled with Alzheimer's, took those opportunities away. Jim Sr. is still alive, but Jim Jr. writes about how he can't even ask his dad if he needs his pillow adjusted, or if his feet are too cold. Jim also writes that his father's aides have the TV on CBS whenever "Jimmy" is broadcasting, hoping somehow his father will somehow hear his name and recognize it, even for a brief second. More importantly, even though his dad couldn't partake in that 63-day triumph he once knew meant so much to his son, Jim Sr. was always with his son, and still inspires him. "Always by My Side" is written much like "Big Russ and Me", penned by the late Tim Russert. Russert turned a proud, unknown dad into a household nickname. And sadly, the one man who gave western New York a genuine voice while transplanted politicians lip-sync scripts, has passed well before his time. Rick Reilly left Sports Illustrated in November to join ESPN. An 11-time winner of the Sportswriter of the Year Award, Reilly made the back page of SI the first page readers turned to when they opened their mailboxes. Two weeks ago, Reilly introduced himself to ESPN.com readers (as if he needed to) by writing about his father who passed away while the columnist served the six-month no-compete clause of his SI contract. Reilly and his father both loved golf. But his father seemed to love the game more than his own family, even missing out on his kids' milestones for golf outings. If that wasn't bad enough, Jack Reilly also treated every hole like the nineteenth. The piece discusses the fears Rick had as the youngest child living with an alcoholic father, as well as how golf brought them together and the peace they made after the elder Reilly had quit drinking, and how its never too late to make things right. This Father's Day is the first I'll have to spend without my dad. Last Christmas, I talked about all the things I wished we could have chatted about since his death, June 25, 2007. However, this time, I want to just thank my dad. Thank you for not being like Rick Reilly's dad. Thank you for always being there. Thank you for tearing your rotator cuff throwing me fly balls in the backyard because there was nothing I hated more than hearing my friends tell me "you (stink)." Thank you for being a dad for kids who didn't have one, or had one, but might as well not have. Thank you for coaching each kid as if he was your own, unlike so many coaches who keep jobs simply because they're teachers, or wish to fulfill some bipolar, Bob Knight-like complex. Thank you for all the great advice you not only gave me, but everyone who came to you for counsel, and called you "Godfather." Thank you for hanging-on long after you could have given-up. Thank you for siding with teachers, principals, police officers and authority figures any time any of your kids did something wrong. (Unless mom got a ticket, of course. No officer ever gave her a ticket without hearing from "Butch.") Thank you for giving me your name. Thank you for spanking us. Thank you for loving us. Thank you for sweating out 33 years at Al Tech for us. Thank you for sharing your love of Jesus, your family, the Yankees, baseball, and the Bills with us. Thank you for never embarrassing us, even when you thought you did. Thank you for being you. Thank you for buying me my first glove, as well as my second, and my third. Thank you for teaching us a small lesson every time we saw something out of the ordinary. Shame on you for taking all the credit any time we accomplished something. Mom had a lot to do with it, too. Thank you for trying to pay for our entire college graduation party, even though my friends' parents protested. Thank you for telling me to marry someone like my mother. Thank you for reassuring me that we still haven't had our last conversation, nor will we ever have a last chit-chat. Thank you for allowing me to smoke cigars with uncle Tony, even though you said it looked "totally out of character." I've cut back to two per year. Thank you for being the family leader. Thank you for shaving your mustache once in a while. Thank you for all the stories, even though I learned last Christmas you inserted yourself as the main character in many of them, when it was really uncle Richard. Thank you for teaching me professional athletes are not gods, and that autographs really are useless most of the time. Thank you for telling every hot girl you met you had a son that would be perfect for her, and that it wasn't Joel or Ryan. Thank you for telling us to tell mom how pretty she looked before we went to church. Thank you for not choking us when we were born. Thank you for being you. Babe Ruth's daughter, Julia Ruth Stevens, once said she wished every kid could have the Babe as a father, but I respectfully disagree, albeit with a smile, because I know how she feels. And I hope someday I can make "Butch" as well-known as Tim Russert made Big Russ. And I pray I can be half the dad our dads were. I also learned a valuable lesson from this. Not every kid has a dad, or even a dad like I did. So most importantly, thank you for being the dad I wish every kid could have. And thank you to my friends, Scott, Jim, Rick, and Little Russ, for making it cool to pay tribute to my old man one more time.



 
06/14/2008 1:18PM
Big Butch and Me
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06/16/2008 6:57AM
Jennae
Well said, Dan.
06/18/2008 10:12AM
Steve H
This guy gets it... Being a dad myself, it is the best job I ever had... it is not easy, but the rewards are endless. See you some day Butchie
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