When Retired Worlds Collide

I’ve been a retired orthodontist now for nearly three years. During that time, I’ve moved from creating beautiful smiles in people’s mouths to—hopefully—creating even more smiles with my passion for writing. My two worlds are not mutually exclusive, so it’s not surprising that occasionally someone I know occupies a spot in both sectors.

Everyone in central Kentucky knows Alan Cutler. Most of you know that, like me, Alan recently retired from the working world. Although outwardly we appear different as night and day, there’s one big part of our lives that we do share in common—our connection to Kentucky and the sporting events which have defined our beloved state. It’s only natural, then, that we join forces to tell our story. When our retired worlds collide, it certainly has the makings for a darn good book.

My first memory of Alan Cutler was seeing him on a local Lexington newscast. Even then, he appeared larger than life to me. His cartoonish Groucho Marx mustache and his brash reporting style screamed stardom from the very beginning. I knew right then that Alan was a master of his craft—a talented sports personality with an uncanny gift for relating to people. Plus, he seemed to be a fantastic storyteller, a vital coup de grace for the making of a book people would flock to read.

Many years later, I had my first personal encounter with Alan when I put braces on his son. For a year and half, I got to see the personal side of the guy that I had previously only known as that dude inside my TV screen. Looking past the theatrics of his outward celebrity mask, I saw instead a caring, compassionate, and concerned parent that only wanted what was best for his son. It was at that point that I knew his life story would definitely make for an interesting read.

“You should write a book,” I casually mentioned to Alan during my first year on the UK media beat. “And I’ll be glad to help you put it together.” He brushed me off immediately with his usual bravado and machismo. In his direct and emphatic style, he implied that no one would be interested. Plus, in my own insecure world, I thought that he felt my opinions had no credibility. I believed that, in Alan’s mind, I was a rich retired orthodontist, conducting bad interviews and writing impertinent columns.

Over the next year, I persisted in badgering Alan to start putting his thoughts together for the book. Imagine my surprise, then, when he finally agreed to do it. Don’t get me wrong, he still had his doubts about the number of interested readers, but I’m glad I finally convinced him that he owed it to the people of Kentucky, to all of BBN, and to all his adoring fans and faithful followers to chronicle his over forty years of dedicated sports coverage.

As devoted retirees, Alan and I want not only to put something together that we’ll both be proud of—but also something that will resonate with YOU, the reader. Sure, we’ll include well-known stories such as his infamous chasing down of Billy Gillispie, but we also want to share some never-before-told tales that’ll leave you surprised, stunned, and perhaps even shocked. I guarantee you’ll bust a gut laughing at many of them. You may even shed a tear or two. But through it all, you’ll finally get that much awaited glimpse of the wacky world according to Alan.

I’ve learned over the years that projects like this take a ton of time and effort. Sometimes they pan out and sometimes they fizzle. In order to have any chance of success, I want to hear from all of you. Over the next several months, I need you to tell me your best Alan Cutler stories. They don’t necessarily have to be funny, or important, or memorable, or even clean for that matter. They just have to be genuine and real. They have to be Alan. Just don’t be surprised if you suddenly see them in print.

John Huang is a columnist for Nolan Media Group. You can reach him by email at KYHuangs@aol.com or on Twitter @KYHuangs. If you enjoy his writing, you can read more at http://www.huangswhinings.com.

 

 

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Healthy Nation, Under God

As the old saying goes, “When you have your health, you have everything. When you do not have your health, nothing else matters at all.” In my mind, there are still some virtues in life—such as honor, nobility, and courage—more significant than a healthy heart or vital lungs, but good health is pretty darn important on everyone’s grand scale.

I thus find it hard to believe that in the United States of America—the greatest civilized nation on the face of the earth—a debate still rages about whether or not its citizens deserve basic healthcare. If we believe in supporting public education, roads and infrastructure—then why not something as important as our own health? At its core, the question is this: Is receiving medical treatment a fundamental American right, or is it still only a privilege for those lucky enough to have insurance to pay for it?

When I was in dental school back in the early eighties, just the mention of universal health care sparked outrage among my colleagues. We questioned the wisdom of government regulation in something so specialized. Selfishly, we didn’t appreciate Uncle Sam capping our earning potential, but we also knew how inherently difficult it would be to implement the dreaded single payer system. We used the same arguments that you’re hearing today—quality of care will plummet, wait times will become interminable, individual choices will all but disappear, doctors will become disgruntled, costs will skyrocket, and our economy will collapse!

Fast forward four decades and the dispute rages on. Understandably, my thoughts on the matter are bit different now than before. Through personal circumstances and shared experiences, I’ve witnessed the devastating effects of preexisting conditions on one’s ability to obtain affordable coverage. I’ve felt first-hand the frustration of having to pay exorbitant out-of-pocket costs due to the routine exclusion of vital mental health benefits. Year after year—as a small business owner—I’ve footed the bill for employee health plans while watching helplessly as benefits decline and premiums soar.

Meanwhile, out-of-touch politicians personally protect themselves and their families with their fancy, gold-plated health plans while slashing the coverage of those who need it the most. Where’s the compassion, care, and concern? Where’s the kind-heartedness and gentleness? Where’s the HUMANITY? How can anybody in their right mind campaign against basic human decency and dignity? When those on Capitol Hill vote to dismantle their own individual health plans, then I’ll listen to what they say. Until then, I want exactly what they’re having.

I’m thoroughly convinced now that basic healthcare should be a right of every single American. The Affordable Care Act in its current form has many flaws, but we must adhere to the premise that all Americans, regardless of health and preexisting conditions are entitled to a basic, life-enhancing level of medical care in this country. Settling for anything less flies in the face of our Judeo-Christian roots.

In order to keep any healthcare system financially sustainable, compromises are required, and expectations will need to be tempered. If we want the system to work, we may need to wait a bit longer for non-urgent services. So what if we have to occasionally swallow a generic pill. Those who desire upgrades can pay for them accordingly. In the meantime, fraud and abuse will need to be curbed, tort reform enacted, and individual accountability ramped up. More educational programs will need to be instituted. We simply can’t let the neglect of a vital issue like basic healthcare lead to the deception, division, and destruction of our great nation. After all, every other developed country on this planet has found a way to provide for their own. If the United States of America can put a man on the moon, surely we’ll be able to find a way to take care of people closer to home.

In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus says “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me.” As a democracy tasked with putting the right people in office, we’d be wise to take heed. Our nation’s health is hanging in the balance.

John Huang is a retired orthodontist. He currently serves as a sports columnist for Nolan Media Group. If you enjoy his writing, you can read more at www.huangswhinings.com or follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

Coach Bobblehead

The term “make or break” is far too often used to describe a season poised on the slippery slope of either astounding success or demoralizing failure. Once again this year, a tortured Kentucky football fan base is perched precariously on such a slope—with emotions running high and patience running low. Whether he likes it or not, head coach Mark Stoops finds himself in that proverbial make or break year entering his sixth season at the Wildcat helm. A 26-36 (12-28 SEC) won-loss record and back-to-back bowl appearances is nothing to scoff at, but neither is it something that will put talk of buyouts and hot seats to permanent rest. This is the year to poop or get off the pot, fish or cut bait, win big or strike out.

Stoops’ most lasting off-the-field legacy may just have been his ceremonial pitch at the Lexington Legends game this past summer. The 51-year-old Youngstown, Ohio native threw a perfect strike from the top of the mound. Not coincidentally, that evening was also Coach Mark Stoops Bobblehead night. As one of the many fans gifted with a plastic replica of his nodding oversized noggin, I thought it appropriate to ask Coach Bobblehead the following questions that all True Blue inquiring minds want to know.

Q: The first question deals obviously with the starting quarterback mystery. With Stephen Johnson graduated and Drew Barker giving up football, Kentucky is left with four potential starting quarterbacks who have never thrown a pass in a real live game. In this age of automatic redshirts and well-planned transitions, how does that even happen? Redshirt sophomores Gunnar Hoak and Touchdown Terry Wilson are apparently neck in neck for the starting honors against Central Michigan on September 1. Redshirt freshmen Danny Clark and Walker Wood remain a couple of steps behind. Whoever emerges the victor will have to rely on a veteran offensive line with at least one returning player at every position to offset their own youth and inexperience. OK Coach, with that in mind, who’s going to start at QB this year?

Coach Bobblehead: (just nods)

Q: For somebody who built his reputation on coaching players in the secondary, Kentucky’s secondary under Stoops’ tutelage has been abysmal. Last season, the Wildcats finished 13th in the league in pass defense despite returning nearly every starter. The supposedly all-star caliber talent the likes of Chris Westry, Derrick Baity, Mike Edwards, Darius West, and Lonnie Johnson gave up a whopping 3,271 yards—tied for the second most yards given up by a Kentucky defense dating back to the end of World War II. The good news this year is that Kentucky’s defensive line should be much better, thus taking some of the pressure off of the aforementioned secondary. Despite the supposed improvement in the defense across the board, the coach is still responsible for covering the Florida receivers, right?

Coach Bobblehead: (just nods)

Q: Kentucky’s conference schedule may once again be their undoing. As is usual and customary every year, the so-called experts pick Stoops’ troops to finish near the bottom of the pack. As if road games at Florida, at Texas A&M, at Missouri, and at Tennessee weren’t challenging enough, the Wildcats also face a murderer’s row of returning all-star caliber opposing quarterbacks. Missouri’s Drew Lock, Vanderbilt’s Kyle Shurmur, South Carolina’s Jake Bentley, Georgia’s Jake Fromm, and Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald all are back after finishing in the top 10 in passing in the league last year. Hey Coach, if you couldn’t stop them last year, how in the world do you expect to contain them this year?

Coach Bobblehead: (just nods)

Q: Back in the summer, Coach Stoops described the drug related arrest of former safety Marcus Walker as something that really hurt the program. That’s probably an understatement given the fact that police found more than $95,000 in cash and 52 grams of cocaine inside Walker’s apartment near campus. Although swiftly dismissed from the team, it simply was not a good look for everyone involved. The incident with sophomore offensive tackle E.J. Price and his bizarre tweets this past spring also wasn’t a good look for the program. There’s been so much speculation about what happened during the few hours that Price was apparently off and then mysteriously back on the team that I thought Coach Stoops might want to enlighten us.

Coach Bobblehead: (just nods)

Well, there you have it—an interview chocked full of as much information as if the real live Mark Stoops were here answering the questions. As you can see—just like the real Coach Stoops—Coach Bobblehead has remained fairly mum about many aspects of his team and how he expects the season to play out. Perhaps he’s feeling the pressure of the upcoming “make or break” year. It’s more likely that he’s biting his tongue right before unleashing his sixth-year juggernaut on an unsuspecting football world.

Despite inexperience at quarterback, an underperforming defensive secondary, a murderous schedule, and some off the field turmoil, Kentucky counters with potentially their best running back, their best tight end, and one of their most talented receivers to date in their inglorious history. Benny Snell, C.J. Conrad, and Lynn Bowden together with a drastically improved defensive line could easily flip the script on this team from “break” to “make.”

Do I think it’ll happen? It’s still a bit too early to tell. A lot will depend on quarterback play. Once Kentucky returns home from Gainesville after their tilt with the Florida Gators, things will begin to crystallize. That’s only the second game of the season, but I think we’ll know something by then. Any final thoughts, Coach?

Coach Bobblehead: (nods and winks)

John Huang is a columnist for Nolan Media Group. If you enjoy his writing, you can read more at www.huangswhinings.com or follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

Check out his most recent UK Sports coverage at http://www.themanchesterenterprise.com/category/uk-live-breathe-blue/

Check out his most recent Cincinnati Bengals and other professional sports coverage at http://www.bluegrasssportsnation.com/category/writers/john-huang

 

 

Big Blue World

(LEXINGTON, Ky.) – Although basketball is already big in China, Kentucky Basketball has yet to make a splash in the land of Genghis Khan and Chairman Mao. Beginning this upcoming season, however, that’s all about to change. Chinese fans from Beijing to Binzhou, from Shanghai to Shanxi, from Tiananmen Square to the Terracotta Army will now be able to tune in to Mandarin based broadcasts of UK Basketball games distributed through the JMI Sports Network.

How big is this news? It’s huge—let me tell you why. Chinese people have always loved basketball. Unfortunately, we’ve just never been any good at it. Most of us are short, slow, and we can’t create our own shot to save our life. Other than Yao Ming, name me one other Chinese player who made it to the NBA. Wang Zhizhi and Mengke Bateer were outright busts. Yi Jianlian and Sun Yue never panned out. Jeremy Lin was a flash in the pan, and many don’t even classify him as a real Chinese. Just by sheer numbers alone, a country of 1.4 billion people should have produced more than this small handful of professional prospects.

Despite our shortcomings, Chinese people are no different than anyone else. We all love a winner—and who better a winner than the school currently laying claim to the greatest tradition in the history of college basketball. You heard it here first. Once these audio game broadcasts are available, hundreds of thousands of Chinese basketball fans worldwide will flock to the antics of PJ, EJ, and DJ. They’ll learn all about our 8 national championships, the house that Rupp built, and the colossal devotion of the BBN. They’ll absolutely fall in love with Coach Cal’s magical touch as they quickly succumb to the Chinese version of his blue Kool-Aid.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. UK AD Mitch Barnhart has always claimed that his athletic programs serve as the front porch for those wanting to become a part of the University of Kentucky. If that’s truly the case, imagine all those future potential enrollees in China, developing an early allegiance to the Big Blue, while listening to the Wildcats claw their way to Championship Number Nine. They’ll be quick to learn that Lexington, Kentucky is also where their NBA heroes—such as John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, and Karl Towns played their college ball. Trust me, in subsequent years they’ll be beating down the doors to admission, adding to the coffers of the ever-growing UK treasury. Sponsors should also be forming a line as we speak. You think McDonald’s and Coca Cola would be interested in adding a billion people to their marketing base?

Don’t believe me yet about the magnitude of this broadcast reach? Let me introduce you to Haotian (Austin) Zhang, the talent who’s been tabbed to handle the primary broadcasting duties during these games. Some of you may already know Austin as the prominent Asian dude donning the Kentucky Jersey in the front row of the ERUPPtion Zone. Austin recently graduated from the school of his dreams with a business degree in management. Fortunately for all of us, he’s been accepted into the UK Master of Science in Finance program and will be around for quite some time. Already one of the biggest UK basketball fans I know, he’s looking forward to the challenge of being the first Chinese Cawood Ledford.

“Coach Cal and John Wall makes me know UK,” Austin enthusiastically answers, when asked about why he chose the University of Kentucky. “Anthony Davis makes me love UK. Karl Towns make me proud of UK.”

Austin recently gained fame by directly asking John Calipari during his Coach’s show why he didn’t recruit Chinese players to UK. Knowing Coach Cal, he’ll use these broadcasts to get tabs on the next great Chinese Lebron, currently oblivious to Wildcat ways—but through the magic of the world wide web, will soon be a passionate disciple of the BBN. Kentucky recruit James Wiseman allegedly also speaks Chinese. Are you listening, James?

Watch out Chinese world, Big Blue Nation is coming for you.

John Huang is Chinese. He currently covers University of Kentucky Sports for Nolan Media Group. If you enjoy his writing, you can read more at www.huangswhinings.com or follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

IndyFabulous 500

(INDIANAPOLIS, In.) — When I was 10 years old, I got an Aurora AFX electric racing set for my birthday. I remember spending hours running my toy cars around the dual slot courses, often pretending I was behind the wheel of some jacked up Formula One racer. If it was Monday, then I was Jackie Stewart, expertly negotiating the hairpin turns of Monaco. On Wednesdays, I was Emerson Fittipaldi winning another Formula One Championship trophy. Come Friday, I was one of the Unser brothers, or maybe even A.J. Foyt on my way to a coveted checkered flag at Indy.

Fast forward fifty years and I find myself once again at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This time, however, it’s not some fantasy concocted from my years as an AFX driving legend—this time it’s for real, as an on-site correspondent for Bluegrass Sports Nation. Together with a boatload of rabid racing fans and hundreds of other sports journalists of every ilk and breed, I’m taking in all the sights and sounds of a once-in-a-lifetime bucket list experience. It’s the Indianapolis 500–exciting, smoking hot, and LOUD!

Those of you familiar with “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” know that the Indy 500 isn’t just a one-day event. In fact, the lead up to the race itself is frequently referred to as the “Month of May” because of all the painstaking preparations prior to the green flag. Pole Day, Bump Day, Carb Day, and Fast Friday all comprise a twisted conglomeration of testing, qualifying, and positioning for the 33 cars that will be eventually vying for the gigantic Borg-Warner trophy. It’s a combination of a global sporting event and a local state fair, with the pungency of burning rubber mixing pleasantly with the cooking oil aroma wafting from a perfectly crafted batch of deep fried elephant ears. Mix in the occasional dose of fetid body odor and you’ve got all the ingredients necessary for a memorable world class gathering.

The media credentialing process for this 102nd running of the Indy 500 was akin to vetting for senate confirmation. Approval required disclosing everything from your eighth-grade math scores to your current underwear size. Once approved, race officials then required you to make an in-person advance trip to their offices for the requisite photos, waivers, and officially issued race IDs. Forgive my exasperation, but a six-and-a-half hour round trip car ride to stand in a line reminiscent of the DMV just isn’t my cup of tea. Only a chance elevator encounter with David Letterman kept the day from being a total washout. The former late-night TV host turned racing team co-owner dished up his best elevator etiquette—surprisingly polite and friendly while smirking behind those gapped central incisors and that bushy white beard.

Race Day dawns early as I’m inside the gates just after 6 am. Even at this early hour, tailgating is already in full force as I make my way through a mass of RV’s, portable toilets, and revelers in various levels of undress. Photographers stationed at the famous third turn of the speedway track have been camped out in their precious slots since midnight. They’ll be no such shenanigans from this old scribe, as I make my way to my reserved seat inside the monstrous four-story, air-conditioned media center directly across from the finish line. The entire set up reminds me of Mission Control on launch day, with rows and rows of journalists huddled over their computer monitors amidst the backdrop of the picture plate glass windows overlooking the cosmos that is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The thing that immediately strikes me is the size of the complex. A two-and-a-half-mile oval is huge enough, but there’s also a modern infield road course and four holes of a neighboring golf course shoehorned into the raceway grounds. Two hundred and fifty thousand permanent grandstand seats together with room for 150,000 additional patrons in the infield makes the IMS the highest capacity sports venue in the world. Slathered in sunscreen and armed with earplugs, on the second hottest day in race history, I’m ready to take it all in.

I make my way down to the garage areas just down Gasoline Alley. It’s here that I get my first up-close glimpse of the mechanical wizardry known as Indy cars—single seat, open cockpit, open-wheeled, purpose-built beauties utilizing 2.2L V6, twin-turbocharged engines, tuned to produce a range of 550-700 horsepower, and designed to travel at speeds well over 200 mph. It’s surreal seeing them in such a dormant state, as if they’re silently and prayerfully meditating before being unleashed into battle like gladiators into the coliseum.

Speaking of gladiators, Indy car drivers all appear larger than life—regal, majestic, and dignified—as if sitting in the cockpit of these supercharged rockets automatically endows them with a sense of superhero strength, stamina, and good looks. In reality, they’re just mere mortals, susceptible to the purposefully unspoken possibilities of injury and death as they’re hurtling around the track at such ungodly speeds. Fourteen drivers have been killed in the actual race, the last being Swede Savage in 1973, who ran over a patch of oil that caused him to hit the inside wall in turn four, which shot him to the outside wall where he crashed again.

I’m fortunate to meet up with my friend Del Duduit, Zach Veach’s youth basketball coach, whose connection to the 23-year-old Verizon Indy Car driver gave us all a special rooting interest for his Andretti Autosport team. As we wander around, it’s like a Who’s Who of racing, a virtual racing legends hall of fame with the anticipation of surprising encounters lurking around every pit bay corner. I’m introduced to George Del Canto, the owner of the Kingdom Racing team. George is a true man after God’s own heart. He gave up a lucrative career in finance and now uses his platform on the racing circuit to spread the Gospel of Christ.

As the massive crowd continues to filter in together with the oppressive heat and humidity, I catch a quick glimpse of Sage Karam, a cocky-looking 23-year-old whose fastest post-qualifying speeds makes him a legitimate contender. I don’t know—maybe I dreamed it—but I thought I also saw Danica Patrick, who’s competing in her eighth and final Indy, surrounded by an impenetrable crowd of security and neck straining well-wishers. And of course, Roger Penske and his Team Penske, with their 16 Indianapolis 500 victories and the litany of big-name drivers driving for the Captain himself. Gary Bettenhausen, Mark Donohue, Bobby Unser, Rick Mears, Mario Andretti, Tom Sneva, Danny Sullivan, Danny Ongais, and Al Unser—all names from the past transporting me back to those fun times around the little toy track in our basement back home.

When Jim Cornelison belts out his version of Gomer Pyle’s “Back Home Again in Indiana,” I can barely contain my emotion and excitement. Following the ear-splitting fly by, the green flag mercifully drops and I’m revved up higher than a souped-up racing tachometer. It’s goosebumps galore as the crescendo cheers of more than 300,000 racing fans vie greedily with the incessant engine roars zooming rhythmically before my very nose.

For the record, the winner of the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500 today was 37-year-old Australian native Will Power of Team Penske–the one driver who zoomed around the track just a little bit faster than everyone else. Power started in the 3rd position and led 59 of the 200 race laps. Afterwards, he celebrated with the customary swig of winner’s circle milk–the innocence of the simple tradition belying the intricacies of his hard-earned, long-awaited, first-time victory.

“It was the last box to tick to be considered as a very successful driver,” Power said, referring to the win today. “I still have plenty of time left to win more 500s and championships and races…It’s what I needed so badly and wanted so badly and it came true. Anyone here knows how that would feel if you want something so much and it comes through to you through hard work and determination.”

As for me, it wasn’t the race results that captivated my fancy today. It’s seldom the results. For me, it’s always about the experience of the moment. In that respect, the Indianapolis 500 certainly did not disappoint. I’ll be honest–the sheer size, pageantry, and celebrity of the venue took me a little by surprise. The dizzying speed of the cars set me a bit on edge and the massiveness of the crowd became a tad bit intimidating. But that’s exactly why it’s the spectacle that it is. A bucket list item for sure—with plenty of drama, intrigue, and pomp for everyone lucky enough to attend.

John Huang is a columnist for Bluegrass Sports Nation and Nolan Media Group. If you enjoy his writing, you can read more at www.huangswhinings.com or follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

Jumping Off The Cliff

Dear Cliff Hagan Stadium,

Goodbyes are always difficult, but your final farewell seems especially sorrowful. After nearly half a century of UK Baseball thrills, chills, and spills, you’re being patronizingly jilted for a sleeker and shinier home venue right up the hill. You’re older than your more famous cousins, Rupp Arena and Commonwealth Stadium, with undoubtedly as many indelible memories—but like many other citizens of BBN, I feel like I barely knew you. Playing third fiddle to basketball and football, tucked away in campus purgatory, and forever compared to your fellow SEC brethren can saddle even the grandest and most regal of baseball complexes with their own complex of shameful inferiority.

And yet, you persevered. With your 3,000 sun-splashed seats and iconic center field Cliff, you’ve gallantly stood your ground. Hundreds of wins, thousands of hits, and multiple coaching regimes are now all part of your lasting legacy. Over the years, names such as Doug Flynn, Jeff Abbott, Collin Cowgill, and A.J. Reed have become forever etched in your prominent lore. Just the other day, I shed a tear or two listening to legendary Coach Keith Madison wax nostalgically about Jim Leopold’s spectacular center field catch, Bill Sandry’s four homerun game, and the time his team swept number one ranked LSU—all within the confines of your stadium walls. Through it all, you’ve been the home to hundreds of players who have worked their tails off practicing on your hallowed grounds on their way to prestigious academic degrees, spectacular athletic careers, and lucrative professional contracts.

I still don’t understand why the powers that be have planned for your untimely demise. In my mind, you’re still good for another fifty years. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with your playing turf, scoreboards, or your left field bleachers. OK, your elevator is a bit slow, finding a parking spot can be brutal, and the press box perpetually smells of fried food, but your mortgage is paid and your plumbing still works. That’s more than can be said of most of us of similar age.

Rumor has it that you’re being unceremoniously put out to pasture in lieu of a spanking new tennis facility. Seems like such a cruel ending for having poured out so many thrilling moments and memories. Forty-nine million dollars lavished on the girl next door while a fraction of that amount could have given you a makeover of your dreams. Such is life in keeping up with the Joneses in the collegiate sports world. I’ll never understand it. Seems like such a waste.

Hopefully in the end, you’ll provide us with one final shining moment—perhaps an unlikely victory snatched from the jaws of defeat. As a fulfilling coronation to fifty years of faithful service, I’d love to order up a walk off series winning homerun. Whatever happens, as you march off this weekend to join all the other baseball stadiums in the sky, it’s only fitting that a grateful Big Blue Nation bids you a resounding adieu.

Thank You. Goodbye Cliff. We barely knew you.

John Huang is a columnist for Nolan Media Group. If you enjoy his writing, you can read more at www.huangswhinings.com or follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

Check out his most recent UK Sports coverage at http://www.themanchesterenterprise.com/category/uk-live-breathe-blue/

Check out his most recent Cincinnati Bengals and other professional sports coverage at http://www.bluegrasssportsnation.com/category/writers/john-huang

Big Blue 4(0) Miler

Unlike Mitch Barnhart, I have no death wish. We’re both on the sunset side of our fifties, but unlike the University of Kentucky’s director of athletics, I’m not jumping out of perfectly good airplanes or scaling the heights of Mt. Kilimanjaro. I do, however, periodically participate in something many consider just as torturous—I like to run. I’ll tolerate all sorts of blisters, shin splints, and the occasional bout with plantar fasciitis just so that I can choke down that entire pepperoni pizza and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream guilt free. So when the opportunity came for me to participate in the inaugural Go Big Blue 4 Miler race, I eagerly plunked down my $30, laced up my sneakers, and showed up early on a blustery, overcast Saturday morning ready to see how fast and far my aging flat feet could still take me.

This isn’t just any ordinary, run-of-the-mill road race. Sponsored in part by Kroger, this unique run/walk event winds its way through seven different University of Kentucky south campus sporting venues. For die-hard, lifelong UK fans, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to actually be on the field of play—to retrace the footsteps of your Wildcat heroes, as you tread the same exact turf they did during all their glory years.

My race strategy is to start slow and ease back, but that’s easier said than done for this distinctive event. You see, I’m nowhere near my running prime, but I’m still prideful enough to want to show all these young whippersnappers a thing or two. I haven’t forgotten what it feels like to be sprinting so hard that your body goes anaerobic as you bust a lung and pull a hamstring. Sure, these young guns in their spandex suits can run six-minute miles now, but show up when you’re sixty and let’s see what you’ve got. Plus, they don’t know that I’ll be running for the old Blue and White–scoring touchdowns, hitting dingers, and winning gold in my wildest Big Blue fantasies.

As we gather together in the parking lot of Kroger Field for the start of the race, I’m surrounded by about 500 other bleary-eyed competitors. I glance around and see the usual assortment of muscle bound dudes in tank tops and hot chicks in running tights that invariably gather at these Saturday morning events. Supposedly Mitch is here also, together with Ryan Lemond and a few other luminaries who look as if they’ve had one donut too many. My adrenaline spikes as I prepare to kick their tails while sporting my newly customized Anthony Davis UK checkerboard jersey.

It’s a stampede out of the starting chute as everyone jockeys for position. I begin the race in a semi sprint as the massive pack circles around the perimeter of the stadium. As we cruise onto the Football Training Facility practice field, I know we’re all going way too fast, as if we’re somehow being chased by linebacker Josh Allen while Coach Stoops looks on mockingly.

It’s not a good sign as my lungs are already burning in mile number one as we head uphill under the towering silhouette of the newly rising baseball complex. The $49 million price tag of this Taj Mahal palace is enough to inspire me onward as I picture myself comfortably lodged on press row next year, snacking on gourmet nachos and popcorn while watching Coach Mingione work his magic.

The Bell Soccer Complex is next. This field is a lot bigger than I thought it would be and there’s a heck of a lot of running to do. It dawns on me why I never played soccer. In my mind, I hear Coach Carry and Coach Cedergren egging me on, but I’m already sucking wind as I mercifully exit the stadium.

Next up is John Cropp Stadium. I’m pretty familiar with this softball venue and immediately begin to get my second wind. I pass a nine-year-old track star prodigy and a John Candy lookalike as if they’re standing still. All of a sudden, I’m Bailey Vick, effortlessly chasing down a fly ball on the outfield warning track. I’m a legend in my own mind as scores of fans gather on the newly constructed outfield berm, cheering me on.

Entering Cliff Hagan Stadium, I’m more than half way home and a wave of nostalgia hits me squarely in the jaw. It’s UK Baseball’s last season here at the Cliff and I want to make sure I give it a good sendoff. I immediately pick up the pace and start gaining ground on the group in front. Giving Coach Madison a well-deserved salute, I’m suddenly transformed into Troy Squires, rounding the bases after my grand slam homerun propelled me into UK Baseball’s exclusive 100-hit club.

As I enter the track and field complex, my feet suddenly gain even more traction on the blue synthetic running surface. I’m—you guessed it—Sydney McLaughlin setting another world record as the Chariots of Fire theme reverberates in my imaginary headphones. Yep, I’m feeling it. These are the moments you live for—those fleeting seconds where running becomes effortless, and everything seems right with the world.

Heading out of mile three, I’m abruptly jolted out of my reverie by the piercing screams of the UK Women’s basketball team. They’ve gotten up early to lend their enthusiastic support. “He’s one of those media guys,” I hear one of them say as I pass by, obviously surprised that this old Chinese guy with a ponytail still has a functioning motor.

And then, just like that…I immediately hit the wall. Coming back through Cooper Drive, it’s a wind tunnel as my feet feel like they’re stuck in concrete. Four miles feels like forty and I’m praying for the racing gods to put me out of my misery. As I enter Kroger Field, I make one final push for the finish line. I channel Lynn Bowden, imagining myself returning a kickoff a hundred yards to beat Tennessee. Tom Leach’s call blares through the speakers as my 15 seconds of fame flashes across the video jumbotron. Touchdown Kentucky!

There you have it. Four miles in 31:36. Good enough for 36th place overall and 4th in my old man age group. Pass the ibuprofen, please. Donut anyone?

John Huang is a columnist for Nolan Media Group and Bluegrass Sports Nation. If you enjoy his writing, you can read more at www.huangswhinings.com or  follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

Check out his most recent UK Sports coverage at http://www.themanchesterenterprise.com/category/uk-live-breathe-blue/

Check out his most recent Cincinnati Bengals and other professional sports coverage at http://www.bluegrasssportsnation.com/category/writers/john-huang