April 25, 2006

Leaving on a Jet Plane, When Will You Be Back Again?

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On October 19, 2005, legendary Atlanta Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone inked a three-year contract with the Baltimore Orioles. The 57-year-old made a decision that puzzled not only me, but the entire baseball world – he left an organization where he literally built a pitching dynasty from the ground up, only to go to a franchise that was better known for serving up batting practice to offensive juggernauts like the Red Sox and Yankees. He left coaching a team that produced nine 20-game winners in a 15 1/2 year span to coach a team that had an ace named Rodrigo Lopez (who?), the pitcher who led the Birds in wins last year (13). Better yet, Mazzone left a team that finished first or second in the National League in ERA for 12 of the last 14 years, only to go to a team that finished 2005 with a 4.56 ERA on its way to its eighth consecutive losing season.

If he was going to go to a new team, why not go to the Yankees? Mazzone grew up idolizing Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford, and with the money Steinbrenner would have shelled out for his services, it would have made sense to see Mazzone in pinstripes. It took only three days for Mazzone to end talks with New York.

So the question at hand is … what makes a man leave an empire that he built with his bare hands, only to go to a franchise with a highly criticized front office that saw its best days over 20 years ago?

The answer to the question didn’t make sense to me until about a week ago (bear with me) – College is like pushing your way to the front of a really packed concert. You put your head down, and without knowing where you are going, push your way to the front with the satisfying feeling that you’re moving forward. For some reason, a week ago, I looked up to see where I was.

I realized that in a month all my friends who are seniors will graduate. Even though I’ll probably keep in contact by phone or whatever communication is the new fad, one thing for sure is that next year won’t be the same. Times come at you fast. Even though I’ll be coming back for another year, there will be a lot of people I won’t be able to bother for no reason. It’s a crappy feeling.

It turns out Leo Mazzone left Atlanta to reunite with his long-time friend, Baltimore manager Sam Perlozzo. The two grew up together in Cumberland, Md., and grew to be best friends. Mazzone eventually became the best man Perlozzo’s wedding. Despite working in the Atlanta Braves organization since 1979, the heralded Mazzone left everything he had ever known to be back in the company of a friend.

With that in mind and since this is my last column of the year, I am taking this opportunity to abuse my power and do something that I’m not supposed to do – give shout outs to some seniors who deserve to see their name in ink, despite the fact that it’s in my column, under my name, which I’m sure nobody really reads anyway. With everyone packing up and going their separate ways after the year is over, odds are small that we will ever reunite. But since there is a small chance, I guess we will just leave it at that.

Beef, Per and Tsao – You guys don’t know it but you all saved me. I came from a place where dinner conversation consisted of talking about how smart Bob Stoops is and how Earl Weaver was the best manager of all-time, all to go to a place where dinner conversations consist of talking about vacuums and Middle Eastern political and racial agendas (I don’t know what those are but I just got a headache typing that). Sports conversations with you guys made no sense, went absolutely nowhere, and yet, were completely necessary. Beef, we’ve always seen eye-to-eye on the Hermione deal. Per, you are Jimmy Fallon from Fever Pitch, and Brian, I hope one day you meet and propose to David Wright. Work on your golf game while you’re away.

Rubes, JP and Mo – It wasn’t long but it still feels like it was way too short. We’ll have to recruit a new enforcer for IM hockey now JP (nobody knows your real name). Rubes, Dr. Frescas still isn’t nearly as fun as Dr. Pepper and Mo, we will one day tackle the Astrocrag. Mike O’Malley said it best, “Back to you Mo.”

Taryn – You cared nothing about sports, and that’s what made it fun. As long as the uniforms looked good, that was all that mattered. Mornings at 10:10 will never be the same. I don’t think we ever learned any Spanish.

Angela, Sandwich, Chmura, Miriam and the entire Bryant Fun House – Times were great. Sorry if I left the house all wrecked and in shambles. I’ll knock next time I come over … oh wait.

Kim – I know you’re plugging your show, so I’ll help you out. Go see “Shadows Heat,” 7 p.m., April 29th at Ithaca High School. You’re crazy if you don’t go.

Eric, Ali P, Korn, and the rest of the Sunnies moving on – You deserve everything and made everything worth it while you were here. I know I never got any questions right in trivia but it was still fun to sit there and eat all the food. Ali, how can leave now that Maggie and I have become friends.

Everyone else from class and athletes I have become friends with and talked to over the years, thousands of salutes and best wishes are sent your way.

I hope one day that I’ll be lucky enough to be like Leo Mazzone. But if I’m not, hopefully this does it better than I will ever be able to say in person. Working together again in the future is a dream; keeping in touch is a guarantee.

Tim Kuhls is an Assistant Sports Editor. That’s Kuhls, Baby has appeared every other Tuesday this semester.

Archived article by Tim Kuhls