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.

 

Scaling the Heights

I’m fascinated by heights. No, not the man-made kind such as the view from the Empire State Building or the Golden Gate Bridge. I’m talking about real heights—like those from the tops of majestic mountains. There’s nothing like looking down on the rest of the world from the summit of Pike’s Peak or the tip of the Matterhorn to get your blood pulsating. Ever since Sir Edmund Hillary scaled the heights of Everest, I’ve heard the beckoning call to climb. When UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart successfully summited Mt. Kilimanjaro, the gauntlet was thrown down for me to do something just as dramatic.

You’ve no doubt heard of the Seven Summits challenge, where an adrenaline junkie with a death wish tries to climb to the top of the tallest mountains on all seven continents? Well, for somebody approaching sixty with bad feet, I’m going to try something almost as daunting. Rather than Everest, Denali, Kilimanjaro, Aconcagua, Mont Blanc, Elbrus, Puncak Jaya, and Vinson, I’m going to try and scale 13 summits—the thirteen highest peaks in my home state of Kentucky. Rather than the lack of oxygen in the death zone of Mt. Everest at 30,000 feet, I’ll be dealing with the thistle and bramble of rhododendron on Pine Mountain at 3,000 feet. Instead of frostbite, I’m worried about snakebite. Although there’s no chance of altitude sickness, I’ll still be dodging salmonella, sunburn, and shotguns. After all, we ARE talking about the mountains of Eastern Kentucky.

This is not an expedition you want to undertake alone, so fortunately I’ve found some other brave souls who’ll be sharing in this experience with me. The core group consists of my Saturday morning running buddies. It shouldn’t surprise you that we came up with this harebrained scheme together during one of our group runs when our beer muscles were flexing and our brains were hypoxic. I thought about changing some names in this blog to protect the innocent but decided in the long run that none of these characters are really innocent.

Our expedition leader is Lee Meyer, Ag Economics Professor at UK, who in his sixties, remains an athletic freak. Lee is the only one in our group who can still go shirtless in public without shame. Politically, he’s a bit of a socialist but he had a swimming pool put in his backyard last summer so I always try to remain friendly with him.

We’re joined by Tony English, UK Physical Therapy Program Director, whose countless sidewalk consultations have undoubtedly prolonged the functioning of our geriatric joints over the past decade. Tony will serve as our medic. Although he also leans left on his political views, he’s a Texan at heart who can spin tall and entertaining tales. A bit of a renaissance man, Tony will talk your ear off–a useful addition when traipsing through bear country (or when we’re just plain bored).

Also recruited to join our escapade is Bob Stoops, chief architect of the recent upgrades at Rupp Arena. My hope is that Bob’s technical expertise will make him a modern-day mountain MacGyver, with the ability to turn shoestrings into snares and trail mix into trail magic.

Lee Edgerton, another retired UK faculty member (Do I sense a pattern here?), will also be along on this journey. Lee’s been slowed by a recent leg injury, so he’ll be playing hurt—but his penchant for common sense planning and practical advice will be critical to keeping our remaining testosterone levels in check. A gifted orator, Lee will be our spokesman should we encounter difficulties, delay, or ultimate demise.

Of course I’ll be there also to report on all the action, or to offer assistance should someone accidently break a bicuspid or muck up their molar. You just never know what might happen over the course of the next few weeks, or months, or years–or however long it takes for us to complete this treacherous adventure. Following our first climb, we might already be one and done—but I wouldn’t bet against us. Like Sir Edmond Hillary and Mitch Barnhart, we’re dauntless dudes looking to scale some perilous heights. You’re more than welcome to join us.

John Huang is a retired orthodontist turned wannabe sports journalist and travel writer. You can follow all his adventures on twitter @KYHuangs. He can be reached at www.huangswhinings.com.

 

In Sickness and In Health

I recently attended the wedding of the son of a very close friend of mine. The ceremony was beautiful and the bride and groom were dazzling. Embarrassingly, I found myself crying while sitting awkwardly alone in the pews without Kanisa–my beloved bride for the past 32 years. I thought of our own wedding day as the subsequent events of three decades of matrimony flashed through my brain like a hastily constructed time lapse YouTube video.

Kanisa and I had met through a mutual acquaintance and it was love at first sight. (Well, maybe second sight.) The courtship progressed quickly and we spent the next seven years in wedded bliss, traveling frugally around the world on a military member’s budget. After Katie was born, Kanisa became the perfect doting mother, pouring her heart and soul into raising our only daughter in the most creative and imaginative ways possible. We continued to travel extensively together as a family, making frequent trips to all sorts of exotic destinations far and wide. All the while, my business flourished and life with family and friends was grand. I didn’t quite appreciate how good I had it at the time.

Things are quite different now. Katie has grown into adulthood and is living in California running her own successful small business. When she left for college 7 years ago, Kanisa suffered an emotional breakdown from which she has yet to recover. In fact, she suffers from severe anosognosia, or lack of insight as a primary symptom of her mental illness. Because she doesn’t realize how bad off she is, she is unwilling to see a doctor for treatment, refuses any sort of anti-depressive or anti-psychotic medication, and has basically isolated herself from the rest of the world. This beautiful, vibrant, and loving person who was so passionate about traveling, gardening, and decorating is now a shell of her former self–literally and figuratively. She spends her days camped out in front of the TV or computer, frequently staring off into space or ranting aimlessly about this or that. Her friends and family rarely drop by anymore, understandably frightened by the bizarre behavior of this emaciated stranger they no longer recognize.

My heart is broken. I’m constantly burdened by multiple levels of pain and guilt. I often feel a deep personal sorrow and a sense of utter helplessness and isolation. It’s an agonizing experience to see someone you love perishing right before your eyes and not be able to do anything about it. It’s especially difficult having to bear witness to Kanisa’s own daily anguish and agitation of being trapped in her own sick mind with no escape. Most tragedies in life, including death, offer some opportunity for closure and peace. Unfortunately, the hellish cycle of chronic mental illness does not.

Pain of this intensity is debilitating. It affects my health, my relationship with others, and my faith. It deeply colors my entire outlook on life. For this is the time that Kanisa and I should be enjoying our golden retirement years together, reaping the fruits of a life well lived. Instead, I spend my days planning for a far different future than what we had ever envisioned. My periods of self-pity and grief usually hit me at odd times–like when I see a happy couple enjoying a simple meal together at a restaurant, or when I run across an especially poignant social media anniversary post, or like when I’m watching a young couple at a beautiful wedding ceremony with families intact and the world at their fingertips.

I think frequently about the sanctity of my own marriage vows repeated all those years earlier…. “for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others, be faithful only to her, for as long as we both shall live.” It’s especially difficult embracing the “in sickness and in health” part, and I know it’s only through an undying love for Kanisa and God’s loving grace for us that I even stand a chance of upholding those vows. I seem to be surviving for now–proceeding day by day, taking on the immense challenge of caring for myself while also having to provide for all of Kanisa’s essential needs. Often times I feel I’m just one small temptation away from crashing and burning. I covet all your prayers.

But what can you do? Life goes on. Through the relentless support of family and friends, and from organizations like NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness), I press on–facing my grief head on by writing and sharing personal thoughts such as these in hopes of exposing the stigma associated with these cruel and unrelenting diseases of the brain. Writing is therapy for me. Whenever I put fingers to keyboard, I feel an overwhelming and unexplainable sense of gratitude as I’m able to openly share my struggles with those who may not fully understand the devastation caused by mental illness. Through my writing, it also suddenly dawns on me that I’m not alone after all, that many others are battling their own personal trials and private demons. Despite our hardships, we all seek the assurance in our hearts that life on earth is still worth living, even as we long to grasp the healing that is sure to eventually come.

The other day, as I was struggling with something as simple as paying a bill that was held over in Kanisa’s name, I realized that our lives are intertwined now more than ever—truly united together as one flesh, in sickness and in health. Most of the time it’s a living hell, and I doubt if this is the way God intended marriages to be. But strangely, I also still get momentary glimpses of joy when I’m taking care of her basic everyday needs. It’s a definite conundrum in my mind–all part of this mystery we call life. I haven’t figured it out yet, but I’m trying to—one “crazy” step at a time.

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

 

Turks and Caicos

Goodbye Turks and Caicos, I barely knew ya! And yet, for the past four days, you welcomed me with open arms and beckoned me with your hedonistic calling. I fell in love with all my sunrise runs along your lonely stretches of palm lined beaches, snorkeling amidst your colorful coral reefs, and eating your delectable cracked conch and grilled lobster. I adored cavorting with your friendly residents and drinking your Turks Head lager while dazzled by another enchanting Caribbean sunset. Alas, I’ll always cherish doing yoga by the sea and dining beachside with my feet buried in your pristine white sand. The slightly inebriated Canadian couple who had been returning to this paradise for thirty consecutive years told me on the plane coming over, “You won’t want to leave.” They were right, but leave I must—for every Fantasy Island tryst reluctantly ends when the credits roll.

I arrived in this British Overseas Territory to meet my daughter Katie and her boyfriend Nick. Nick’s a deejay/music producer who’ll be playing a couple of sets at the Tropi Beach and Pool Parties held annually on the island. We’re staying at the brand new luxurious Shore Club Resort right on Long Beach Bay. Most of you know that I’m normally too cheap to pay for such outlandish accommodations but don’t you worry, I’ve been partially comped as part of the official performing party. I’m a two-star retiree hanging out at a five-star celebrity venue.

Contrary to what you might think, the people of Turks and Caicos want to avoid the hard partying atmosphere adopted by some of their Caribbean brethren. There are no “spring breakers” here and consequently, these types of musical events are rather scarce. It’s up to Katie and me to get these people grooving to the beat of Nick’s music. Nick knocks it out of the park. Fueled by our outlandish ministrations together with some timely liquid courage, visitors and islanders alike are soon busting out moves worthy of any Cancun nightclub. Afterwards, I’m exhausted—forsaking any post party carnality for the sanctity of the espresso coffee maker, fluffy pillows, and Andy Griffith reruns back in my luxury suite.

I’m not the only parent along for this ride. One of the other deejays happens to be traveling with his in-laws also. We get to talking and learn that we both love to write. He’s Matt Williams, writer and producer of such hit sitcoms as Roseanne, Home Improvement, and the Cosby Show. It’s a bit awkward as I never really watched or liked any of those programs. But he’s never heard of my Huangswhinings blog either so we’re on equal footing, content to lament the perils of having our daughters fall for up-and-coming musical vagabonds.

At least once a day, I’ve been offered weed on this trip. I’m told by one of the party goers that I give off the vibes of a pot smoker. Come to think of it, I do always have the munchies, and my short-term memory is frequently shot. My lack of motivation or coordination also could be dead giveaways. Or maybe it’s just the ponytail. It is somewhat amusing because it’s not exactly the aura my Sunday School class would want me to project. I guess you don’t really want me going on any mission trips in the near future.

As I venture back into the real world, one thing’s for sure about this marvelous experience. It’s not the beautiful scenery that stokes my wanderlust. If you’ve seen one beach, you’ve seen them all. You can find fine sand and blue water and swaying palms everywhere. I’ve been to the South Pacific and the Gulf of Thailand. I’m about as jaded as an emerald Buddha when it comes to natural vistas. For me, it’s the experiences along the way that you simply can’t duplicate, that keep bringing me back—those personal interactions and precious times shared with friends and strangers alike.

Whether it’s the Jamaican ex-pat bartender, content to forever serve fruit flavored libations at the swim up bar to sunburned German tourists—or the Peruvian born photographer with her Buddhist reincarnation rantings—or the playboy from France with “orgy” painted above his crotch and currently living on a sailboat, I want to discover what makes people tick, and there’s nothing like international travel that’ll quickly open your jaundiced eye. Wherever I go, I’m always fascinated by God’s creation and his wonderful sense of humor. Being reunited with Katie also makes me happy.

Goodbye Turks and Caicos. I’ll be back soon.

John Huang is a retired orthodontist turned wannabe sports journalist and travel writer. He can be reached at www.huangswhinings.com and on twitter @KYHuangs.

Big Blue Detox

I keep telling myself to cheer up. After all, nobody died, right? That’s the thing—every time my Kentucky Wildcats are eliminated from the NCAA tournament, I feel as if there really is a death in the family. A season that started out with so much hope and promise suddenly ends in a last-second ash heap of disappointment on the hardwood of FedExForum. I know that middle-aged men shouldn’t have their emotional state tied into the athletic prowess of 18-year-old basketball prodigies, but I grew up in Kentucky and that’s how we roll in our state. We all live and die with our Cats.

Only four times in my lifetime have the Wildcats gone on to win the title, so I’ve been through this funk many times before. The season unexpectedly ends and you’re faced with the reality of entering the real world again. No more weekends on the road, cheering your team to tournament wins. No more heartbreaking buzzer beaters or post-game press conferences. No more stories to write or deadlines to meet. No more survive and advance. It’s suddenly over and you’re back to your normal life–paying your bills, walking your dog, and mowing your lawn.

How great would it be if I could just keep living in a fantasy world for a little bit longer? What if after the final buzzer, I just escaped to some Caribbean island to watch sunsets and sip Coronas? What if I could sequester myself away from any sort of post-season basketball analysis–completely isolated from the perils of sports talk radio, newspaper headlines, and the twitter feed? It’d be like a Big Blue detox while supine in the sand, soaking up the sun, and swimming in the surf.

What’s keeping me from doing that? Absolutely nothing. I’m packed with airline tickets and passport in hand. My skin is pasty pale from the lack of winter sun. I’ve got a pot belly, love handles, and boobs to match. Too much bad food at media buffets over the course of a long season has turned me into my brother. I know I’ll stand out like a British tourist on the Costa del Sol, but I don’t care.  I’ll do anything to avoid watching Carolina win it all.

So where am I headed? Turks and Caicos! Their tourism website tells me it’s the home of “breathtaking hues from inviting waters, and legendary diving, snorkeling and fishing.” It’s also TripAdvisor’s latest pick for the world’s top island. I’ll be staying on Grace Bay Beach, voted as the 2016 best beach in the world. The skeptic in me can’t wait to find out what that’s all about, hehe.

But it’s not all about going to “the best” to escape “the worst.” I really picked Turks and Caicos because I’m meeting my daughter Katie and her boyfriend there. You remember Nick, the deejay, from my previous post?

https://huangswhinings.com/2016/12/16/meet-the-boyfriend

He’s playing a musical set on the beach at the five-star Shore Club resort on Saturday night, and I’ve been invited along as a VIP guest. The timing’s perfect. Just as Carolina takes the court, I’ll be busting out my moves on the dance floor, cutting a rug, getting my groove on as the ignominious memories of a Luke Maye buzzer beater fade into the glorious Caribbean sunset.

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

 

24 Hours

I’ve been focusing more recently on the practice of “mindfulness”—not as some far eastern, new age religious practice, but more as a practical method of savoring all of life’s moments as they occur in the precious present. Coincidentally, many of you have been asking me what it’s like to cover the Wildcats on the road. I thought I’d try to answer that question by combining it with my newfound mindfulness discipline through a blow by blow account of my recent trip down to Athens, Georgia. Just remember as you’re reading this that one man’s “mindfulness” account may be another man’s “boring” blog post. You be the judge.

One of the most challenging aspects of media coverage of multiple sports is coordinating all the different schedules. Kentucky was playing Georgia in Athens on Saturday evening. Knowing that I wanted to cover the UK Women vs Florida in Lexington the very next day, there was really only one option—make the 7-hour drive down to Georgia to cover the men, and then drive back immediately after the game to make it in time for the women’s tip.

The day begins with a 5:30 am wake up, followed by a brisk 45-minute run with my trusty pooch, Bingo. Since this will be a jam-packed day trip, Bingo’s sitting this one out. Don’t worry though, in his place I’m riding down with the renowned, award-winning sports columnist, Keith Taylor. Keith not only happens to be a gifted journalist, but he’s also one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. He befriended me early on, showing me the ropes amidst the potential swimming sharks and exploding minefields of media coverage.

I leave Lexington shortly after 7, pick Keith up in Richmond and we’re on our way. You get to know a lot about someone while spending twelve or more hours alone with them in a car. Immediately, I realize Keith is susceptible to road rage as he gets flipped off by a passing motorist. My mindfulness training tells him to “let it go,” but he remains upset and keeps harping something about chasing down the “bird man” and his finger.

By 9 am, after the obligatory Mickey D’s breakfast stop, we’re cruising past the familiar sights of Jellico Mountain and subsequently head on past Knoxville. Just last week, Bingo and I had made this same trip to cover the UK Women against UGA. At that time, I made the mistake of taking the less traveled route directly through the mountains. Unbeknownst to me, there was no phone/GPS service along part of that route and I ended up getting lost and Bingo ended up getting car sick. Wisely today, we decided to head east toward Asheville instead, taking the Lake Junaluska I-40 exit before stopping in Waynesville, NC for lunch shortly after noon.

I’m not sure whether it was the scenic beauty of the Smokies or being in good company or simply my mindfulness training, but our lunch at the Church Street Depot was exquisite. The blended burger of beef and brisket served on a freshly baked bun with fries and an orange Nehi was one of the best meals I’ve had in a while. The succulent beef juices oozing past my parotid glands as my molars gently caressed the luscious texture of the gluten rich bread dough was enough to send me into a state of mindful bliss. I glanced over at Keith and the look on his face told me that it was as good for him as it was for me.

As we exited the restaurant, we were met by the owner who we discovered pretty much owned all the establishments on that street. She graciously offered us a tour of her Wine Seller—a quaint and cozy wine bar decorated in the style of a 1920’s speakeasy, and stocked with an assortment of vintage wines that would make even the most snobbish sommelier cringe with envy. I couldn’t help but be a little self-conscious through the whole experience, especially with me being the only non-Caucasian in sight. Perhaps I was making history as the first Asian with a ponytail to set foot in this little hamlet tucked away in the Carolina mountains.

Shortly after 3, we’re 15 minutes outside of Athens and we decide to stop at a convenience store and change into our working game attire. As I’m standing in the parking lot outside the car putting on my coat and tie (yes, I’m overdressed as usual), a middle aged African-American woman pulls up with the cutest little girl beside her and politely asks me, “Do you speak English?” After I assure her that I do, she goes into a sob story about needing gas money to take her little baby to the hospital for a liver transplant. Knowing better, I peel off a fiver and send her on her way to buy more cigarettes or lottery tickets.

Meanwhile, Keith spends the next ten minutes locked in the convenience store bathroom transforming himself. After he walks out, he claims he shaved and changed clothes but honestly, I can’t tell any difference. I jokingly say something to that effect, but he doesn’t smile or laugh. Immediately I feel kind of bad and wished I’d kept my mouth shut.

The game experience is awesome. We park in the garage right next to Stegeman Coliseum. It’s free of charge and if there’s one thing I’ve learned about media, it’s that we like “free.” The media buffet is also “free” and today’s menu includes pork loin, glazed carrots, (overly) seasoned rice, and a salad. The dessert bar with an assortment of scrumptious brownies sends my blood sugar spiking. While dining, I also see an assortment of familiar faces—the usual and customary pool of reporters following the beloved Wildcats like a gaggle of lost geese.

I’m sitting at a meal table with the distinguished audiologist/photographer Victoria Graff, the heralded writer Fletcher Page of the Courier Journal, the celebrated Cats’ Pause columnist Alex Forkner, and the eminent reporter and great hair model of SEC Country Kyle Tucker. It’s informal times like this that I not only learn the most about UK media coverage but that I also enjoy the most about my current gig. We’re joined by a former administrator in the UGA program who regales us with Tubby Smith nice guy stories. Breathe in, breathe out—it doesn’t get any better than this.

You can read about the game itself in my official media column at

http://www.themanchesterenterprise.com/kentucky-basketball-its-a-doggone-win/.

Sitting on media row, I’ve got Nick Roush of KSR and Forkner of the Cats’ Pause on my right, Ron Hamblin and Ricky Blair of Bluegrass Sports Nation on my left. We marvel at the number of Kentucky fans that invariably invade each and every road venue as the chorus of “Go Big Blue” reverberates throughout the arena. During the game, we send tweets to each other, like school girls trying to outdo one another with the next best quote or clever rebuke. Through it all, long time Herald Leader columnist and UK Basketball beat writer Jerry Tipton remains steadfast. Say what you may, Jerry appears to me to be a true professional, one of the hardest working writers around, always arriving early and staying late to meet the never-ending demands of his deadline-driven profession.

With the UK victory in hand, we head down to the media room for the compulsory post-game press conference with coaches and players, where we scramble like cockroaches to evoke the latest and greatest quotes in preparation for our stories and write-ups. It looks like an abbreviated version tonight as the team is whisked through the formalities and out to the waiting buses within an hour of the final horn. I catch a few parting snippets from De’Aaron Fox as I’m mesmerized by his new stylish man bun, or whatever that is.

Hamblin and Blair are headed to Atlanta and graciously extend an offer for us to tag along. Without asking them what their intentions are, I politely and wisely decline. Perhaps that’ll be an entertaining blog post for another time and place, but we’ve got places to go and people to see. As we walk back to the car, Keith hands out business cards to anyone who will take them. He’s like a celebrity working the crowd, giving me an important lesson in the basics of grass roots marketing.

It’s 9:15 pm as we head out of Athens. I’ve got the driving honors as Keith works feverishly on posting his game column. I dial up Matt Jones on iheart radio and settle in for the grueling midnight drive home from Georgia. With Keith typing frantically in the passenger seat, I suddenly notice the dreaded blue lights of the law flashing behind me. I glance down at the speedometer and thankfully see that I’m “only” doing 75. Nevertheless, I pull over and the Georgia State Trooper informs me that I’m doing 78 mph in a 65-mph zone. I want to say, “Come on officer, you’ve got to be kidding me. I’m not even doing 80. Don’t you have real criminals to pursue? Is this some sort of racial profiling (see above reference to Asian with ponytail)?”

Instead, mindfulness training kicks in and I politely tell him we were covering the UK/UGA game and are headed back home to Kentucky. He takes my license and Keith’s registration and we spend an interminable amount of time sitting like convicted felons exposed naked in front of other snickering passing motorists. After 10 minutes go by, I begin to wonder what’s going on. I look over at Keith still furiously pounding away at his keyboard and wonder if Mr. Police Officer has stumbled upon Keith’s hidden serial killer background. After all, what do I really know about Keith Taylor?

After what seems like 30-minutes, Mr. Police Officer returns and apologizes for the delay, tells me to slow it down, and sends us on our way. What? Just like that? Woohoo! Better than winning the lottery! Needless to say, I’m wired and jacked the rest of the way, but adhere unwaveringly to the posted speed limits. The miles go by quickly as Keith and I debate the major social issues of the day, solve all the world’s problems, and listen intently to Coach Cal spread the manure during his most recent podcasts.  At around 4:00 am, after a 64-ounce caffeinated beverage and a bag of M&M’s, I’m still going strong as I drop Keith off and head back to Lexington. Shortly thereafter, right around 5:00, I walk in my kitchen just in time to take Bingo for another morning run. It’s been a heck of a 24 hours! Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

John Huang is a retired orthodontist turned wannabe sports journalist. He can be reached at www.huangswhinings.com and on twitter @KYHuangs.

Keith Taylor is a Columnist/Senior Sports Writer at KYForward. Please check out his work at www.kyforward.com. You can also reach him at Keith.Taylor@kyforward.com.

Richard and Kay Miller are the proud proprietors of Church Street Depot and the Wine Seller in Waynesville, NC. Please check out their fine establishments at www.ChurchStreetDepot.com and www.classicwineseller.com.