I Love My Team

Although we didn’t hear him say it directly, John Calipari apparently still loves his team. During the most recent Kentucky Basketball Media Day, the UK head man repeatedly professed his adoration for his talented squad of young superstars. Just as he did with John Wall, Anthony Davis, Willie Cauley-Stein, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Tyler Ulis, Coach Cal waxed eloquently about the merits of this year’s Wildcats—hereby officially sending fan expectations soaring into the Big Blue stratosphere.

“When you don’t have to coach effort,” Cal said. “When you don’t have to coach the enthusiasm, the passion you have to play with. When you don’t have to coach a competitive spirit…I don’t have to coach that with this team. So now you know what you’re coaching? Basketball. So now you coach basketball. And I love coaching basketball.”

Before you start making reservations for the Final Four in Minneapolis, realize that Cal’s teams haven’t always matched up to the preseason hype. The 2013 NIT team—with the unfortunate injury to Nerlins Noel—obviously fell short of True Blue expectations. Other Calipari teams–such as his most recent one featuring Kevin Knox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander—simply ended up lacking the star power needed to make a significant run. The point being that star-studded recruiting classes don’t automatically translate into national championship juggernauts right out of the gate.

Don’t worry, though—I’m not pooping on this year’s parade. This mix of mega-talented recruits and critical returning lettermen appear to be on par with Coach Cal’s best Kentucky team to date—the 2015 thirty-eight and one group that fell just a couple of games short of perfection. Why is this current team potentially as good as that one? Let me count the ways.

First of all, the return of PJ Washington is HUGE. The 6’8”, 228-lb power forward declared for the 2018 NBA draft, but decided to come back to school not only to improve his draft stock (and free throw shooting), but with the hopes of winning a national championship. After leading the team in rebounding and averaging double figures in scoring last year, PJ gives the Cats the bona fide, experienced leader they so desperately need. Together with a new and improved, rim-protecting Nick Richards, Kentucky’s inside presence suddenly moves from liability to strength.

Adding to that presence, graduate transfer Reid Travis joins the party. Talk about a fortunate get. The First Team All-Conference selection averaged 19.5 points and 8.7 rebounds last year playing for Stanford in the highly competitive Pac-12. Not only is Reid an experienced and skilled low-post player, but he’s also one of the most articulate interviews I’ve ever encountered. His pre and postgame eloquence will be worth five points alone. I’ll look forward to some verbal sparring with him in the season to come.

Shooting has always been one of Team Calipari’s bugaboos. Cal’s first Kentucky team, the 2010 squad, was arguably his best. But they couldn’t throw it in the ocean and ultimately fell victim to West Virginia in the regional finals. You might say that outside of Doron Lamb and Devin Booker (for about a month), Calipari really hasn’t had the benefit of any dead-eye shooters.

All that promises to change this year. Word has it that Jemarl Baker Jr., if he ever gets a clean bill of health, will be as accurate a knock-down shooter as anyone who has previously worn the blue and white. Tyler Herro, who’s sure to be a fan favorite, and returning sophomore guard Quade Green, have also both shown that they can consistently tickle the three-point twine. Gone are the days of opponents cheating down low, daring Wildcat bricklayers to chuck up air balls.

So far, so good you say? I haven’t even mentioned the most explosive portion of Kentucky’s arsenal. Incoming freshman Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley, EJ Montgomery, and Keldon Johnson are all multi-talented five-stars that can run, jump, pass, and shoot. Of the four, Johnson comes in with most hype, but all of them may be talented enough to enter the pantheon of John Calipari’s growing list of one and dones.

It gets even better. All those guys take pride in their defense—being able to hassle you endlessly to the point of despair. “Ashton is a pit bull, a mauler on the ball,” Calipari gushed. “You can play he and Immanuel together. Tyler’s better than I thought he was. I thought Keldon would be better than Tyler defensively, but I’m not sure of that. And our big guys can guard guards, so we can switch everything, we can scramble around, we can still press. There’s a lot of stuff we’re going to be able to do.”

One final point to get you salivating. Everyone knows how important team chemistry is. Elite and talented superstar teams with infighting and jealousies seldom taste success. Initial reports indicate that this year’s team is feasting on brotherhood. Calipari’s servant leadership lessons have already taken hold. Throw in their on-the-court jump start with the Bahamas exhibitions, and you’ve got the makings of one of the most exciting and fun-to-watch UK teams ever assembled. A legitimate run towards Championship Number Nine should be anticipated and expected.

Will it happen? It’s still a bit too early to tell. But from what I’ve seen and heard so far, they’ve got as good of a chance as anyone. With a couple of favorable breaks, Minneapolis in April seems like a distinct possibility.

“Well, if this team becomes empowered and it becomes their team, then this becomes scary,” Cal warned. Come to think of it, you might just want to make those hotel reservations after all.

Dr. John Huang is a columnist for Nolan Media Group, Bluegrass Sports Nation, and Sports View America. He’s currently working with former LEX18 Sportscaster Alan Cutler on his new book. If you enjoy his writing, you can 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

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.

 

 

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.

Cock Shuttle Blues

The word fan is short for fanatic. With that being said, most fans know there are still both acceptable and unacceptable methods of expressing your fanaticism for your particular team. It’s OK to prioritize never missing a UK basketball game for nineteen straight years ala the late “super fan” Bob Wiggins. It’s also fully justifiable to get a championship 40-0 tattoo even before your team wins the championship as did Rock Wright in 2015. What isn’t acceptable, however, are egregious acts such as an Alabama fan poisoning the oak trees on Toomer’s Corner in retaliation for perceived affronts by rival Auburn fans. Kentucky fans allegedly making death threats against referee John Higgins for disputed calls he made in the North Carolina game also cross the proverbial line of decency.

I experienced my own mini version of “fandom run amok” after UK’s big victory over USC this past weekend. As a member of the media, I opted to take advantage of a post-game stadium-to-parking lot media shuttle the University of South Carolina was providing for all working members.

I knew something was a bit amiss when the golf cart shuttle driver drove right past me with a distinctly unwelcome scowl on his face. Regretfully, I never noted his name, so from here on I’ll just refer to him as Mr. Scowly-face. I caught up with Mr. Scowly-face as he stopped to pick up a couple of other media types. I asked him if he were going to the media lot, to which he abruptly replied, “Yes, but not for you.” After a brief moment of confusion, I realized he was staring directly at the UK logo plastered on my blue UK shirt. This guy was a die-hard Gamecock fan and he was mad as heck that we had just crushed his team.

I’m not a mind reader so I can’t say with absolute certainty I knew exactly what he was thinking. Maybe he was just tired, or perhaps he was having a terrible day, or maybe he just had a very warped sense of humor, but I doubt it. Mr. Scowly-face seemed dead serious about NOT giving me a lift. I promise you I didn’t do anything to provoke him. My immediate post-game smugness had long since dissipated. I was no longer fist pumping or chest thumping. There were no “Go Big Blue” or “How ‘bout them Cats” chants coming from my mouth. I was just one exhausted dude looking for the quickest way home. My only indiscretion was foregoing my customary suit and tie and wearing my casual team colors into hostile enemy territory.

As I headed on foot toward the parking lot, Mr. Scowly-face apparently changes his mind, tells me to hop on, and blasts out of the shuttle stop like Apollo 13 on liftoff. I remember immediately feeling an impending sense of doom as to how fast we were traveling—almost as if Mr. Scowly-face was on some sort of Kamikaze mission to dispose of an enemy journalist. Right before impact, I hear a “WATCH OUT” from one of my fellow riders at which time we crash head-on into another unsuspecting golf cart.

I’m immediately jolted out of my Twitter-induced reverie by the suddenness of the impact. My left knee took a bit of a hit, but otherwise all fingers and toes are accounted for. Fortunately, no one else appears seriously hurt either as Mr. Scowly-face inspects his golf cart for any potential damage. Forgive me for being a bit melodramatic, as one of my best friend’s mom was killed when her golf cart flipped over– but I’m praising God that we managed to somehow stay upright. Miraculously, his cart remains functional and Mr. Scowly-face proceeds on to our intended destination. “Well now you’ll have something exciting to write about,” are his parting words to me. Be careful what you ask for.

King Solomon once said, “Better a patient person than a warrior, a person who controls his temper than one who takes a city.” Solomon could have been talking to Mr. Scowly-face or to all sports fans in general. When the Cats lose, I’m often ready to blow a gasket. Ironically, that’s also why sports are so great. We can be passionate. We can be intense and emotional. We can get mad and vent because at the end of the day, it’s all just fun and games for us fans. It’s only when we take a crushing defeat on the field or court and confuse it with the important events in our real lives, that we end up doing stupid and hurtful things that violate the rules of common sense and decency.

I’m not mad at Mr. Scowly-face. In fact, I feel kind of sorry for him. But bad choices come with consequences. The reality is that if one of those carts did flip over, this commentary would have taken on a completely different tone. I’ve been told that the University of South Carolina is investigating this incident. Ray Tanner, the director of athletics has been informed and the department promises that it will be appropriately addressed. In the meantime, for my next shuttle ride in enemy territory, I’m going back to my neutral-colored suit and tie.

If you enjoy my writing, please visit me again at Huangswhinings.com or follow me on Twitter @KYHuangs.

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

Check out my most recent Cincinnati Bengals coverage at http://www.bluegrasssportsnation.com/category/writers/john-huang/

In Search of Rafael Nadal

Rumor has it that there have been a couple of Rafael Nadal sightings so far this week. The lone mega-superstar remaining in the men’s portion of the Western and Southern Open tournament has supposedly been spotted on one of the practice courts. Because he received a bye directly into the second round, Rafa has yet to play an official match even though it’s already Day 4 of the tournament. I’ve yet to catch a glimpse of him either on the court or in the media center. Like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster, I’m beginning to wonder if he’s even here. It’s time to go in search of Rafael Nadal.

With 15 Grand Slam trophies and 10 French Open titles, the 31-year old Spaniard will also, at tournament’s end, assume the mantle of the #1 player in the world. If not for Roger Federer, Nadal could arguably be considered the greatest ever in the history of the game. But Roger’s not here, so everyone’s focus is on Nadal. Every fan wants an autograph, every media outlet wants an interview, and every opponent wants a piece of his flowing scalp. Throw in the local paparazzi and you can see why Nadal would seek witness protection. You won’t see him casually strolling the tournament grounds, eating nachos, or playing video games in the player’s lounge. I bet he’s holed up in some private mansion up on the banks of the Ohio, sipping a red sangria while listening to some mellow Mallorcan melodies.

Nadal’s allegedly playing Richard Gasquet on Center Court this evening, so I’ve rearranged my whole schedule to witness this apparition. As match time approaches, Rafa’s adoring fans pack the stadium in anticipation of another expected coronation. Sure enough, as the buzz of the crowd intensifies to a soaring crescendo, Rafael Nadal struts in royally—tanned and toned– as king of this particular court. He’s real, he’s here, and he’s ready for battle.

Not so fast, my friend. During warmups, the skies open up and Nadal quickly disappears back into the stadium tunnel to escape the unwelcomed rain delay. Did I really see him briefly out on the court, or was that just a figment of my overeager imagination? To me, he’s like a ghost—a Spanish speaking specter disguised in colorful Nike gear.

After the rain showers have dissipated and the court has dried, Nadal emerges a second-time ready to play. Say what you may, the guy’s a symbol of purposeful persistence. He attacks every ball as if it’s match point at Wimbledon. They’ll be no gimmes for Gasquet this evening, as Nadal pounds every forehand while chasing down every errant shot. You would think at his age, he’d want to concede a few points here and there just for the sake of energy conservation. Instead, he’s going full throttle in heat and humidity, trying to win every point and beat you into submission. You have to love that passion, drive, and determination. In two quick sets, Nadal bids adieu to the Frenchman who really never had a chance.

After the match, Nadal addresses the Center Court crowd and signs a few obligatory autographs on the way out of the stadium. He’s completely enveloped by his security team, protected like El Chapo against a vindictive cartel. Forget about a selfie with the man of the hour. They’ll be no post-match interview either. Nadal is out of here as surreptitiously as he came in, his big burly security detail running interference for him like a well-tuned offensive line. For all I know, they’re off to Jeff Ruby’s for the late-night $72 ribeye specials.

The sad part about all this sequestration is that Rafa purportedly is a really nice guy. He’s someone you wouldn’t mind playing a round of golf and downing a few beers with—or maybe having in your fantasy football league. He always appears friendly, cordial, and accommodating in public. How ironic that Rafa and Roger—two major tennis icons—also happen to be two of the most affable and congenial people in the sport.

But wait a minute! Despite the midnight hour, an announcement comes over the media center intercom that Nadal has agreed to make a few post-match comments after all. I rush down to the interview room to hopefully catch a glimpse of this champion up close. He fields the first few queries which are all about the match tonight and the upcoming US Open. That’s fine, but I want to know his thoughts much further into the future. When he furtively glances my way, I ask him if the success Federer is having at age 36 influences his thinking on how long he’ll be able to continue playing at such an elite level.

“No,” he answers definitively. “I do my way, and Roger did his way, no? Everybody is different. For me, personally, I always say the same. I’m going to keep playing until what I am doing makes me happy. I am a very lucky person that I can choose when I want to stop, so that’s the real thing.”

After an awkward pause, he seems compelled to further expound. “If I am happy doing what I am doing, and especially if I am healthy, I continue, I keep going, because I love this sport,” he continues. “I love the competition, and I still feeling the passion for what I am doing, no? When I arrive the days I lose one of these things, I gonna do nothing.” Now that’s a man after my own heart.

As the session concludes, I follow Rafa out of the player’s exit as he loads his racquet bags into a tournament SUV. I want to say something meaningful to him but nothing comes to mind. We’re just two dudes looking to head home after a long day at the office. As I walk back to my car through the dimly lit parking lot, I glance back and see Rafa personally tipping the valet. Something about that simple act just makes me want to smile.

Greatness in tennis is like pornography in general. I can’t really define it exactly, but I know it when I see it. I think I witnessed it tonight. I came to this tournament in search of Rafael Nadal. What I found was greatness personified.

John Huang is a guest columnist for Bluegrass Sports Nation. If you enjoyed this column, please check out the following links to his previous blogs in this tennis series.

#1 Tennis Anyone? https://huangswhinings.com/2017/08/13/tennis-anyone

#2 Tennis Fantasyland http://www.bluegrasssportsnation.com/tennis-fantasyland/

#3 Tennis is Served http://www.bluegrasssportsnation.com/tennis-is-served/

 

 

Tennis Anyone?

Tennis in the United States is currently on life support. The lack of American star power at the top of the men’s rankings has relegated the once popular sport to the entertainment cellar. The Yankee goodwill garnered by past champions such as John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Andre Agassi, and Pete Sampras has grudgingly given way to the European dominance of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray. Unless a Sam Querry, Jack Sock, or John Isner breaks out and wins an upcoming Major tournament, the resurrection of American tennis will unfortunately remain as hopeless as my backhand.

It hasn’t always been this way. Back in the 80’s, tennis was HUGE—not only as a spectator but as a participation sport. Believe it or not, people actually bought racquets, took lessons, joined clubs, and played on public courts. The adult tennis league at Shillito Park was rife with wannabe tennis buffs striving to capture the coveted T-shirts for winning their respective divisions. My hard-fought championship in the 4.0 singles league (inexplicably, everybody played up rather than sandbagging in those days) remains a highlight of my less than stellar foray into the world of cut throat athletic competition.

What I lack in physical talent, though, I usually overcompensate with dogged perseverance. That’s why I’m on my way to the Western and Southern Open Tennis Tournament in Cincinnati to provide you the best coverage money can buy. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve been to this event as a spectator a couple of times before—once as my teenage daughter went gaga over heartthrob Roger Federer and once when I went gaga over fellow Asian Michael Chang. But this time I’m not going as a paying customer–I’m going behind the scenes as a full-fledged media member. It’s also your lucky day, because you’re coming with me to get all the journalistic scoop.

The Lindner Family Tennis Center is not actually located in Cincinnati. It’s in Mason, Ohio, right under the shadows of the roller coasters at Kings Island Amusement Park. Driving onto the massive parking lot, you get the feeling of a big-time tennis event complete with small town hospitality. Many of the big names in tennis are here, not only because the tournament serves as a warm up to the US Open in New York, but also because of the aforementioned friendliness. Prima donnas like to be coddled and if there’s one thing I’ve gleaned over the years, it’s that tennis stars are the penultimate prima donnas.

Seven-time champion Roger Federer and 2013 winner Rafael Nadal are the two top seeds this year on the men’s side of the tournament draw. On the women’s side, defending champion Karolina Pliskova–who recently held the WTA’s No. 1 ranking–headlines an entry list that also includes three previously ranked No. 1 players: Angelique Kerber, Caroline Wozniacki, and Venus Williams. I’m bummed I won’t get to see Serena Williams play as she’s expecting her first child later this month. My contention is that she’s one of the greatest athletes of all time. Even while pregnant, she’s still good enough to dispatch ninety percent of her healthy competitors.

Media members also like to be coddled, so I’m anxious to see whether tennis hospitality also extends to the press corps. Will I be dining on shrimp cocktail between matches like Roger? Is there limousine service available to shuttle me from court to court a la Rafa? How about a masseuse during rain delays as per Venus? What are professional tennis players like off the court and away from the cameras? What really goes on at post match press conferences and within the confines of the mysterious “players only” lounge? Join me, on special assignment for Bluegrass Sports Nation, as we dive into the world of international tennis intrigue. Whether fact or fiction, jocks or jerks, etiquette or etouffee, I’ll be searching for the best experiences to hopefully, bring the sport of TENNIS back from the dead.

John Huang is a guest columnist for Bluegrass Sports Nation. If you enjoyed this column, be sure to check out the rest of the tennis series. 

#2 Tennis Fantasyland http://breathittonline.com/blog/index.php/2017/08/14/tennis-fantasyland/

#3 Tennis is Served http://breathittonline.com/blog/index.php/2017/08/16/tennis-is-served/

 

 

Coming Home

Like Lebron returning to Cleveland, I’m coming home. Home in this case is Columbia, South Carolina, my first home away from home. I’ve got some pretty fond memories of my years spent in the Palmetto state three distant decades ago—a bachelor pad overlooking a lake, a red Chevy Camaro, a stereo tape deck, and fledgling cable TV—everything a twenty-something dude earning a real paycheck could want or need living out on his own for the very first time. I eventually met my wife and got married in Columbia, in the shadows of Gamecock football and the hundred-degree heat of the basic training brigades at Ft. Jackson. But unlike Lebron, I’m not returning to the adoring cheers and accolades of my hometown fans. I’m returning in a far less celebratory and festive role. I’m coming home to bury my mother-in-law.

Thongkrue “Jenny” Contreras died peacefully on the afternoon of July 4. During her time here on earth, she was as kind and as loving a person as anyone could have hoped for (Sorry, they’ll be no mother-in-law jokes here). Born in Bangkok, Thailand, she overcame tremendous odds, somehow made it to the United States, and carved out a living for her family with minimal financial resources or English skills. She loved her son, daughter, and granddaughter with unfailing passion. I remember her being as generous as she could be, always welcoming people into her home and volunteering her fabulous Thai meals to whatever worthwhile charity that beckoned. It seemed she forever had a special place in her heart for the downtrodden and sick. Even in death, she selflessly continued to give by donating her body to scientific research.

Standing by her bedside, listening to the rhythmic hiss of the life support ventilator, I felt many of the usual emotions experienced when watching a parent die—sadness and sorrow, gratitude and gratefulness, remorse and regret—wishing that I could have spent more time in her presence, getting to know her better, and telling her I loved her like a dutiful son-in-law. As I held her hand and kissed her forehead for the final time, I also felt an unexpected surge of confusion and uncertainty, bubbling over into a sentiment of exasperation bordering on outrage. My mind races and head spins. I’m upset and embarrassed as I find myself shaking my fist at a suddenly distant and uncaring God.

For Jenny was a devout practicing Buddhist—through death, supposedly confined to an endless dark cycle of hopeless reincarnation. As immediate family members gather around to stare at her lifeless body, I silently pray for the Holy Spirit’s mighty presence to allow me to minister to her the Blood of Christ and His Eternal Kingdom before her last breath passes. As she lays there unresponsively, I’m torn inwardly, secretly wondering how such a loving and benevolent God could possibly allow her soul to so unfairly perish. For the reality is that Jenny was born into a culture where being Thai is synonymous with being Buddhist. Let’s face it—had we been born in Thailand, all of us would most likely also be burning incense and seeking enlightenment from Lord Buddha.

According to the tenets of the Christian faith, the only way to eternal life is through Jesus Christ. As I sit in Sunday School class with other believers, it’s quite easy for me to accept this reality as truth. We banter freely about predestination, free will, salvation, and damnation on an intellectual plane. We’re grateful for the saving grace of our privileged lives and are quick to acknowledge our role in spreading this privilege to others. We go on mission trips, sharing our faith and resources with those who are hungry and thirsty. Everything seems crystal clear as we nod our heads in agreement and praise God for his goodness, grace, and mercy. We feel good about ourselves. It’s only when we are forced to reconcile the tenets of our faith with the reality of the eternal lives of our unsaved friends and family members that those irritating seeds of doubt and frustration begin to creep in.

LORD, WHAT IN THE WORLD IS GOING ON HERE? Jenny identified far more with her faith than many of the Christians here in America. She led a far more virtuous earthly existence than most professed Christ followers I know. She prayed and attended temple worship far more frequently than I’ve ever spent in church pews. She definitely displayed more generosity than I could ever muster in ten lifetimes. And yet, she (and 33 million other Buddhist) are doctrinally damned to eternal hell. WHERE’S THE JUSTICE IN THAT?

I know in my head that Christians are saved by faith and not by pious works. I know in my heart that I’ve probably sinned more than Rick Pitino on a Vegas bender. I don’t really want JUSTICE. What I really want is MERCY! Honestly, I can’t profess to know who God chooses to save and who he allows to perish beyond the veil of death. I can only hope and pray that his mercy and grace extends to other “non-believers” in the same compassionate and loving manner that none of us “believers” deserve.

The usual words of comfort just don’t quite cut it in my bereavement. I want so badly to believe that Jenny’s no longer suffering, that she’s in a better place, and in the glorious presence of saints. Rather than basking in the streets of gold, however, it terrifies me that she just might be undergoing torture in a burning lake of fire. For many of you, a mother-in-law in hell is the ultimate answer to prayer. Not for me. I’d love nothing more than to be eternally reunited with mine in heaven. Jenny Contreras, one of these days, I’m coming home for good. I hope you’re there to greet me.

If you enjoy my writing, please continue to visit me at http://www.huangswhinings.com and follow me on Twitter @KYHuangs

Why I Like Tim Tebow

Why I Like Tim Tebow

I like Tim Tebow. If confession is good for the soul, then I feel better already. No star athlete has been more polarizing than the former Florida All-American quarterback, Heisman Trophy winner, and current TV broadcaster turned minor-league baseball celebrity. We’re all familiar with his life story—rescued as a nearly aborted fetus, born to missionary parents, returning as a teenager to the Philippines to serve the needy, and destined as a young adult for on-the-field stardom—his experiences and exploits are worthy of any Spielberg masterpiece. However, despite his incredibly good looks, engaging personality, and charitable works, not everyone’s a fan. Whether you love him or hate him, one thing’s for certain. People are drawn to Tim Tebow like dogs to their own vomit.

Nowhere is this more evident than on a random Thursday night in Lexington, where the Columbia Fireflies—the single A affiliate of the New York Mets for whom Tebow roams the outfield—are playing the Lexington Legends. Tonight, over 7500 fans flood into Whitaker Bank Ballpark, a testament to Tebow’s star-drawing power. Although he takes the time to patiently sign a slew of autographs for fans in the stands, on this particular evening, he can’t get it going on the field. In four plate appearances, Tebow grounds out, walks, and strikes out twice as the Fireflies dispatch the Legends 3-2.

Earlier this afternoon prior to batting practice, Tebow met with a gaggle of about 25-30 reporters hanging on his every word, all jockeying for position to ask their pointed questions in search of that perfect sound bite. Tebow was patient, respectful, thoughtful, and courteous in the short ten-minute free-for-all. You would think that having to deal with so many overzealous media members repeatedly asking the same mundane questions every single day would send any normal athlete reaching for the Xanax. But Tebow keeps his cool, poised regally over your microphone with his chiseled physique, looking you in the eye and flashing you that disarming, square-jawed smile. I like Tim Tebow.

So why does someone so perfect still have so many detractors? Critics claim that he’s a fraudulent spaghetti-armed quarterback who charmed his way into the NFL. His weak arm strength, lack of passing accuracy, and inability to read defenses has been dissected ad infinitum. As gaudy as his stats were in college, he simply never lived up to the expectations and hype in the world of play for pay. But neither did Vince Young, Tommie Frazier, Matt Leinart, Doug Flutie, and Tim Couch—all of whom had less than stellar professional careers but receive far less hate mail than Tebow. Achievement wise, one could argue that Tim Tebow is the greatest college football quarterback in the history of the game. Even as a controversial NFL passer, I thought his skills and acumen were greatly underappreciated while leading the Denver Broncos in 2012 to their first playoff victory in six years. Furthermore, as my fantasy football quarterback that year, Tebow was more than serviceable. Another reason I like Tim Tebow.

Seriously, I think the real reason for his numerous detractors has nothing to do with his football prowess, but rather his personal values. Tebow wears his faith publicly on his sleeve, just as all Christians are challenged to do. He unashamedly shares his religious beliefs openly, boldly, and confidently—and that offends many in this world of political correctness and moral relativity. “Tebowing” to acknowledge God after a big play on the field or imprinting Hebrews 12:1,2 on his eyeblack on gameday is viewed by many as shameless self-promotion. Raising money for pediatric cancer patients, building Timmy’s Playrooms in children’s hospitals and providing care for orphans is somehow dismissed as disingenuous piety. Just listen to Tebow on the Jimmy Fallon Show talking about sponsoring a prom for people with special needs and you can judge for yourself. Most in the secular world view Christians as judgmental and hypocritical. In all these areas, Tim Tebow is neither. Those who know him well, say it’s all real, genuine, and sincere. I really like Tim Tebow.

When I asked him why he thought he was so passionately loved and hated at the same time, his response was predictably diplomatic. “I’m not sure,” he chuckled. “Passionate is a good word on both sides. I’m grateful for all the support… They’ll be people holding up posters saying they’re praying for me while at the same time they’ll be people who may have had a little too much to drink and they’ll egg you on.”

Tebow really lit up when I queried him about the importance of his athletic achievements giving him the necessary platform from which to speak. “Having a platform gives you the opportunity to talk about things that really matter,” he answered with conviction. “I know regardless of what I do over there at that plate tonight, it doesn’t really matter. But if I can take the platform that football and baseball and whatever else has given me, and I can go into a hospital and make a kid smile, if I can put on proms around the world, if I can inspire people, if we can change lives in the hospital with our playrooms, or if we can give kids wishes…We’re doing something that’s worth talking about, that for reporters are worth being here—not for a silly baseball game.”

His answers are a reflection of the world we currently live in, a world where suffering abounds and persecution runs rampant. It’s a world in need of good people with servant hearts—convicted, passionate, and loving role models armed sufficiently with courage, charisma, and a world-wide platform on which to share–people exactly like Tim Tebow. It also really helps if you can throw a football or hit a baseball. In those areas, Tim Tebow still has a lot to prove—and despite his critics, he continues to persevere for the right reasons. That’s why I like Tim Tebow, and hopefully you do too.

This blog posting was originally submitted as an exclusive column for Bluegrass Sports Nation publications.

If you enjoy my writing, please continue to visit me at http://www.huangswhinings.com and follow me on Twitter @KYHuangs.

 

Reds Rejuvenated

Everyone loves a winner. The Cincinnati Reds are currently on a surprising uptick, and just like Manager Bryan Price, I want to ride this wave of improbable victories for as long as I can. That’s why I’m headed to the Queen City to watch the Reds before they plummet into the abyss of seasonal obscurity. This unexpected surge of momentum will no doubt fade into the stark reality of mediocrity, so I want to catch the Redlegs while they’re still pumping life and before the remaining games this year become totally meaningless.

You see, it wasn’t always this way. I fell in love with The Big Red Machine growing up in the 70’s. Rose, Morgan, Griffey, Bench, Perez, Foster, Concepcion, Geronimo…I had the entire lineup down. I knew all the stats and kept every single box score before anything was remotely electronic. The love affair with my beloved team was not only intense, lustful and steamy—but both of us were also committed and sacrificial. I rooted like crazy for the Reds, and in return they filled me with unsurpassed contentment and joy. I vividly remember Pete Rose hitting the game winning homerun in the face of the Met’s fans in game four of the 1973 playoffs in New York, Joe Morgan’s back to back MVP awards in ’75 and ’76, and of course, George Foster and all his towering, game-winning homeruns. Can anyone say “Yahtzee”?

When the Red’s fortunes subsequently went south, though, my obsession with Major-League Baseball did likewise. I still watched with great interest as Pete Rose broke the all-time hits record, I still occasionally tuned in to Marty and Joe broadcasts during the dog days of summer, and I still felt glimpses of pride when the Reds resurfaced to win the World Series back in 1990. But it was never the same. Something was terribly missing, especially after Sparky got fired and Pete became a Philly.

I guess you could say that our relationship wasn’t an actual breakup. I didn’t start dating the Cubs or Cardinals. There was no infidelity or cheating on my part. I think we simply drifted apart, the initial spark and exuberance of youth gradually extinguished by the passage of time. I still cheered half-heartedly for Eric Davis, Barry Larkin and Ken Griffey Jr., but by that time, the passion had soured. It wasn’t genuine, born more out of a sense of filial responsibility rather than true love.

I want to recapture that passion of yesteryear, but I know that reconciliation often takes an arduous path—especially when dealing with unknown entities. I’ve got a bit of a jump start as I’m already somewhat familiar with Billy Hamilton, Zach Cozart and Joey Votto on the current roster. However, I know I’m also going to need some help as I probably couldn’t distinguish between Eugenio Juarez or Jose Peraza if my life depended on it. I still know more about Julio Iglesias’ song lyrics than Raisel Iglesias’ ERA. You mean Bronson Arroyo is still pitching? You have to be kidding me. Are Jack Billingham and Don Gullett still available also?

I do know one thing. Relationships take time to repair, and you have to start somewhere. Great American Ballpark provides the perfect setting to reconnect for an amorous tryst—the surrounding riverfront promenade and postgame libations beckoning to this love-starved geezer. Even though I’m older, more jaded and weathered this time around, if given a chance I know I can still hang with these youthful Cincinnati hipsters. I’m not talking about a short fling with a little blue pill. I’m talking about falling in real love again—the type of love that’s patient, kind, trustworthy and everlasting. It’s exactly the kind of love I expected from The Big Red Machine the first time around. Hey Cincinnati Reds, I’m coming for you again.

This blog posting was originally submitted as an exclusive column for Bluegrass Sports Nation publications.

If you enjoy my writing, please continue to visit me at http://www.huangswhinings.com and follow me on Twitter @KYHuangs.