I just got off the phone with my parents. Unfortunately, even though they only live five minutes away, we don’t see them as much as we used to thanks to the pandemic. They are both in their early 70s and healthy, and we want to keep it that way, so they are limiting their contact. We will see them on Thanksgiving but just for a bit outside. I told them that while COVID -19 has been a major disappointment and an inconvenience for us (not spending time with them included), we are blessed that our jobs and health have not been impacted. I know people who have lost jobs, careers and dealt with severe symptoms. While I don’t know anyone personally who has died or had a family member die, more than 2,400 Arkansans have perished since March, and that is just sad.
Personally, we have been able to find a silver lining in all of this. Not surprisingly, sports have been a bright spot for me, once play restarted. Here’s some of the sports-related things I am thankful for.
My son Luke, 9, is a baseball fanatic. He spent the entire spring working out with me in anticipation of his travel ball season being restarted. When we were given the go-ahead in June, his team wasn’t intact.
Thankfully, our organization scrambled to get another coach to fill in and a few more players to round out the roster. Luke had a great season primarily playing third base and batting cleanup. He also played in the local league, so, in all, he played in around 20 games this summer which gave our entire family something to look forward to. My dad also found a way to socially distance in the outfield and saw Luke pummel a ball to deep center field on his first-ever at-bat in kid-pitch. Kudos to the centerfielder who made a nice snag.
JD, 11, spent the spring waiting on soccer to resume. He practiced with his travel team in the summer and began playing games in September. By the end of the season, they were playing very well. He plays goalkeeper like Jack Lambert played linebacker which is surprising, to say the least, to some of his frightened opponents. I love watching his tenacity and hustle as he protects the goal. He has begun a winter league that typically plays inside but has now moved outdoors. He is also working out with a trainer getting ready for middle school football.
The sports have kept my boys active and engaged and taking the sting away from some of the other disappointments they’ve had to endure.
The new Arkansas football coach is a breath of fresh air. He’s rejuvenated the Hogs program and given fans something to be excited about and look forward to in the future as he has also proven to be a great recruiter.
Think about this: Pittman had to begin his career as a head coach with one of the worst returning rosters in college football, facing the toughest schedule in college football history. All he has done is improve the team in major areas and taken players Chad Morris gave up on and give them a new lease on life. Pittman also had to endure a case of COVID-19 and deal with the Missouri game, scheduled for this weekend, which has been postponed to a later date. I hope Arkansas can play that game and Alabama and play in a bowl game. No matter what happens, it has already been a fun year for Razorbacks fans who love Pittman’s dry sense of humor and enthusiasm.
High School Football
Every Friday night in the fall, you can hear my great friend Rex Nelson and me discussing the night’s high school football headlines and scores. There was a time last summer when Rex and I weren’t sure there’d be a prep season.
Thankfully, with guidance from the Arkansas Activities Association, coaches and administrators statewide took precautions to ensure a season unfolded. That made Rex and I very happy for those young men who work so very hard year-round to prepare to play.
Selfishly, we were also happy because it is two hours we get to spend together doing something we enjoy. I must point out, that we really weren’t “together.” He made the short trip to the west Little Rock studios while I broadcast from the upstairs family room at our home in Saline County. Even though I didn’t get to see Rex and producer Jay Jones, it gave me a sense of normalcy to have a Friday night routine intact. It was also very comforting to know hundreds of kids got to play and hear their names on the radio on Friday nights.
The Arkansas men’s basketball coach is a Twitter phenom. He entertains and inspires with goofy, energetic and enlightening posts. It’s both a marketing tool for recruits and fans. He is already loved by the Hogs faithful. While the Hogs will lose Isaiah Joe and Mason Jones early to the NBA, Musselman’s team has plenty of promise with veteran Desi Sills and an array of grad transfers that will be aided by an infusion of high school talent. COVID could impact basketball, but hopefully even with delays the season will be played, and Musselman and this team should provide a ton of excitement and entertainment. I’m going to save my NCAA Tournament predication for this team until my New Year’s column, but spoiler alert – I’m predicting an historic run.
I already wrote in this space how cathartic the MLB season was for our household. Even though the Cardinals and Cubs were duds in the playoffs, the season was therapeutic. I purchased the DirecTV Extra Innings package, and we watched a game almost every night. If he didn’t have a game, Luke could be found in our bed cuddled up with my wife, Sheena, watching their beloved Cardinals. Here’s to hoping we play 162 games and ballparks next year and if we get lucky maybe the Olsons attend a game together.
The NBA Bubble
Admittedly, I haven’t been the same kind of NBA fan I was growing up in the 80s and 90s. But how could I be. The game isn’t near as good. I still love my Los Angeles Lakers and follow most of the playoff games, but you won’t normally find me watching many regular-season games aside from some prime time Lakers games.
However, I was so starved for sports this spring, I watched a great deal of the games in “the bubble” at Disney World and Orlando and paid particular attention to the playoffs. The NBA did an awesome job creating the concept and ensuring the season could finish. I was also very happy LeBron and the Lakers pulled out a record-setting 17th straight NBA Championship. My enthusiasm for the Association spilled into the offseason and I watched almost all of the draft earlier this month. I think my interest has officially been revived much to the pleasure of JD and Luke, who enjoy watching games. I think that is a good thing.
The Arkansas Great Outdoors
I already chronicled are awesome trout fishing trip in September. We also kayaked multiple times, hiked at different state parks and swam in lakes on several occasions. None of these activities would have happened as frequently if it hadn’t been for the pandemic. The pause on our hectic schedule allowed us to slow down and enjoy one of the most beautiful states in the country. I am very thankful we go that opportunity to bond as a family while having fun enjoying those activities. I know we will continue to enjoy these long after the pandemic is over.