When the usual calls can't be made
Author(s): Joe Bush
Date: September 14, 2001
Section: Sports Extra
As fate would have it, this column was going to be about the place of sports - high school sports, in particular - in relation to the ebb and flow of life.
The idea was sparked by Batavia varsity football coach Mike Gaspari and his immediate reaction to a dropped touchdown pass in a tight game against a conference rival last Friday night. Just typing this seems silly; I'm watching people hanging out of World Trade Center windows, caught between a choice of horrible deaths.
Gaspari hugged the teenager, even complimented him on everything up to the attempted catch. The message was clear and absolutely appropriate, that the kid is worth more than points, and the fact that it is being written about is a shame. It is being written about because it is unusual. In a decade of sports coverage, I have seen one moment of such humanity for every five moments of ugly berating.
Life does not spare athletes and coaches, and I was going to relate the proof I had met and written about since 1991 - a wrestling coach whose wife delivered stillborn twins, kids who played on despite the recent deaths of family members, a football coach whose wife battled and succumbed to cancer. Yes, sports had been a way for all of them to cope, because familiarity is comfort and exercise is release.
I'm typing this mid-day Tuesday, from a hotel room in South Bend, Ind., where the Kane County Cougars opened the Midwest League Championship Series on Monday night. My high school duties must be done as well, and the plan was to type this and to call area football coaches to preview five of this weekend's games.
I delayed doing both because I watched news coverage of the chaos in New York City and Washington, D.C. Not watched, absorbed.
Shall I call football coaches now, ask them to recap last week's successes and failures, to detail how they will attack this week's foes? How important will it be to win? Anyone injured? Who will replace them?
No. Maybe Wednesday. Maybe I'll give it a rest until next week. They may want to talk about these things, but I don't feel like asking the questions.
New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani just said that he never thought he'd live to see what he saw Tuesday, and tears filled my eyes when I watched a woman break down saying that when she looked where the WTC Towers used to be, she saw lives.
If we remove the human instincts to sympathize and be horrified, we can say that we in the Chicago suburbs who did not have friends and/or relatives in New York or Washington or on one of the destroyed planes were affected only in the sense that tall buildings and federal buildings downtown were evacuated and perhaps some of us worked there, or that our flights were canceled.
So, most of the daily routine conceivably should continue, including coaches planning for football games and reporters inquiring about that planning. The news media is one of the industries, like the emergency infrastructure, that raises its intensity during catastrophes.
We can't remove those instincts. I cover games. My intensity is not necessary. I won't be calling coaches today.
- Joe Bush can be reached by telephone at (630) 587-8741 or by e-mail at jbush@@dailyherald.com
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Cougars' Moore splits his interests.(Sports)
Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
April 15, 2000 | Bush, JoeBorn to throw a splitter, and two very different kinds of strikes.
Kane County closer Bryan Moore has two passions, and since he's 6-foot-8, you may be surprised to learn basketball is not one of them.
The 23-year-old Westminster, Calif., native loves to pitch and he loves to bowl. His game is most similar to that of 6-10 left- handed Seattle prospect Ryan Anderson, the one nicknamed "The Little Unit."
That's his bowling-alley game, by the way. Anderson used to have pro potential on the lanes, and Moore is a great pin-killer as well, with a high game of 278.
He'd love to hit the PBA Tour someday, especially with its new high-tech ownership, but not just yet.
"That's for the back-burner," he says.
These days Moore is reveling in his mastery of a much-smaller ball with no holes.
His save in Thursday's 4-3 win over Wisconsin was his second in as many appearances, another result of his ability to fool batters with a split-finger fastball, or splitter.
The ball appears to be a fastball, but drops suddenly as it gets to the plate. It's similar to a sinker, but it's not thrown as hard.
"I've never seen anybody throw a better splitter than him," Cougars catcher Matt Frick said before the season began.
It's the pitch which ex-Cub and ex-Cardinal Bruce Sutter rode to fame, and which is not seen very often in younger players' arsenals.
Moore's different than most younger players. He's got just about every physical quality needed to throw a splitter.
"You just look at the size of his fingers, and he's a natural," Cougars pitching coach Jeff Andrews says. "He's got very, very large hands and very long fingers. If he didn't (throw it), he would be encouraged pretty soon to throw it.
"It's a nice pitch for him because his arm angle works works for it, he already has the leverage because of his height, as far as the ball going down out of his hands. Now he just has to catch the right release point."
Moore is in his glory in pro ball. His University of Houston coaches discouraged the splitter; they didn't want the middle reliever experimenting with a pitch with games on the line.
Once Florida nabbed Moore in the 13th round of last year's draft, his splitter personality was set free.
"(Marlins coaches) saw it right when I went to mini-camp and they were like 'Wow, you need to throw that more,' " he says. " 'If you've got that, throw it, now.' It's gotten to the point where it's one of my key pitches I go to."
Moore was 2-1 with 9 saves and a 1.54 ERA in 35 innings last year at short-season Class A Utica. He fanned 36 and walked five.
Moore's fastball goes about 88 mph, while his splitter travels to the plate at around 81 mph. He's developed the pitch to the point that it's no longer situational, but it wouldn't work unless his other pitches did as well.
"I've started to use it more and more regularly this year," Moore says. "In the past it was something that I only used maybe like 0-2, 1-2, a kill-pitch kind of thing.
"Now I can control it a lot better. It's like 'Let's throw it 0- 1, 1-1,' a lot of situations where I want a ground ball. It used to just be like a strikeout pitch, like a trick pitch."
Andrews says Moore can only screw up by not throwing it enough.
"It's a pitch that he has to throw," Andrews says. "To me that's his biggest upside pitch, and that's the one that's going to separate him from other pitchers.
"Hopefully what you have is something that a closer does exceedingly well, either have a pitch that's an out pitch or he has really good location, or a combination of both.
"That's kind of where (Moore) is. This year is an important year and a good year for him."
COPYRIGHT 2009 Paddock Publications
Leading the area in dealing with pain
Author(s): Joe Bush
Date: March 2, 2001
Fate is still trying to connect with a knockout blow on Mike Mercadante. It ruined one of his shoulders, thus snatching from him the sport he loved, wrestling. It first dislocated during an intramural football game two autumns ago.
"I didn't want to play real football because I didn't want to be injured," the St. Charles East senior says.
Mercadante made the varsity wrestling squad as a freshman and had a promising sophomore season. He had wrestled longer than any of his classmates.
The shoulder continued to pop out, and it did so in a dual against Glenbard North. It was his first match of the season, and his last.
A shoulder dislocation is a cruel injury. Not only does it hurt like heck - sometimes so much Mercadante says he can't speak coherently - the more it comes out, the more likely it will recur.
"It comes out in my sleep," he says.
The pain is physical, but the wound is mental. Imagine having what seems to be a dead limb.
"It feels like you have no control of it," Mercadante says. "It's a very scary feeling. You panic."
Mercadante says the shoulder disconnected about 15 times before he underwent surgery. There were torn ligaments, and the process was to have tied them up and given the shoulder mobility.
"Ninety-six percent of (the surgeries) are successful," he says.
Guess which percentile Mercadante is in? He estimates the shoulder has slipped out or been yanked out 25 times this season.
The last of his 25 bouts this season was in last Saturday's Class AA quarterfinal in Rock Island. Mercadante hadn't wrestled much since Jan. 27 at the Upstate Eight Conference meet.
Why? Well, it wasn't because of his shoulder. He suffered a concussion.
"It's been a ridiculous two years," he says.
He recovered in time to compete at the Sycamore regional the next week, and out came the shoulder in the second period of his first match. He couldn't continue.
He wasn't going out like that. If that was the case, he would have quit after getting pinned in a dual against DeKalb in early January.
It was a dual the Saints lost by 2 points, a loss for which Mercadante blames himself.
"I love the sport so much," he says. "I promised myself I wouldn't stop until the pain would override the desire. I tried to stay true to that."
The injury forced Mercadante to change his style to protect the shoulder. When he wore a skintight brace, it not only rendered the arm nearly useless, it restricted his breathing.
Still, he practiced in it between the regional and the Rockford East team sectional. He wasn't needed in both sectional duals, which the Saints won to get to the Elite Eight.
That was a goal of the seniors, a tight group led in part by Mercadante. You've heard of leading by example? Mercadante's your man.
His teammates saw not only his persistence at competing despite his injury, they watched as he encouraged and taught and scouted opponents for them.
"He'd have the main report on every next guy," senior Matt Kinney says.
So Mercadante knew well what he was getting into by pushing for one more match: Providence junior Don Reynolds, whom Mercadante could have scouted as Reynolds destroyed the 140-pound competition at the Class AA finals in Champaign.
No different than any other wrestler who faces an elite foe in the dual-team tournament, Mercadante knew his final match would be for the team.
"My job was to keep it as close as possible," he says.
He did that, losing by major decision to Reynolds, who saw the brace and showed no mercy.
"He was getting (the shoulder) cranked on pretty good," Saints coach Steve Smerz says. "He was fighting through some pain."
Not nearly enough to overcome the desire.
Mercadante is an accomplished maker of ceramics - bowls, cups, whatever can be thrown on a wheel and baked in a kiln - and will study art education at North Central College.
He'd still like to be an accomplished wrestler, and he is nearly sure that he will have another surgery so he can wrestle for the Cardinals. He wants to be a wrestling coach.
"That kid must love wrestling," Kinney says. "None of us love it as much as him."
© Copyright Daily Herald, Paddock Publications, Inc.
A moment in their memory
After painful losses, Waubonsie Valley's Rossiano gains new
Author(s): Joe Bush Daily Herald Sports Writer
Date: February 24, 1995
Section: Sports Extra (High School)
Have you hugged your kids today? Did you thank your mom or wife for the dinner she cooked, then reheated when you got home late? Do you still hold a grudge for something your brother did two months ago?
Hold them, thank her, forgive him. Now.
That is Tom Rossiano's first message. The Waubonsie Valley wrestling coach just wants everyone to have the chance at resolution he and his wife Kim had.
Normally, you don't know when you or your closest and dearest will die, but the Rossianos knew.
So last Oct. 19, after Kim delivered two tiny identical twin boys, she and Tom cradled them. One nurse took the boys' pictures, another placed their footprints on paper. Kim and Tom cradled them.
"We held them and kissed them goodbye," Rossiano says. ''We had both babies baptized, then we buried them."
* * *
Rossiano has a few more messages, actually. Before Oct. 19, he may have kept all but the competitive ones to himself.
"I'm a different person," he says.
Now, after the inner turmoil and then the peace of imminent fatherhood; after seeing twin boys on the ultrasound; after watching Kim read to them; after one of the tubes that linked Kim's life with the boys malfunctioned in the fifth month, resulting in the death of one, then the other; after watching Kim deliver their first children, Rossiano needs you to know:
Don't take life for granted. Follow every precaution during pregnancy. If you're in the same terrible situation, spend time with the babies before burying them. Don't carry around regret.
"Treat people, especially people that you love, the way they deserve to be treated, because you never know when you're gonna go," Rossiano says. "Keep things in perspective, and be thankful for what you've got. If you've got two arms, two legs, two eyes, two ears, you have so much more than a lot of other people.
"Even with this loss, we still have things to be thankful for."
They have each other. They have their families. They have their therapeutic everyday routines. They have the courage to try again.
There was nothing the Rossianos could have or should have done differently during the pregnancy. The complications which took the lives of Joseph Anthony Rossiano and Vincent Francis Rossiano in no way endanger further pregnancies.
Of course, that is no consolation to the Rossianos.
Tom and Kim learned most well-wishers mentally separate pre-natal and post-natal infant death. But what is the difference between death and death? The Rossianos saw the boys' hearts beat on the ultrasound. Kim read to them.
"People don't know how to act," Rossiano says. "You almost have to coach them, tell them what you need. The most common response is, 'That's OK, you can have other babies.' We didn't want other babies. Those were the ones we wanted."
* * *
Tom and Kim met at a party in the south Chicago suburbs about 13 years ago. He got her phone number, then didn't call for three years.
They met again at a restaurant and he wanted to know if he could call her. He still had her number, and this time he used it.
"I knew right away I was gonna marry her," Rossiano says. "I just knew."
They dated for three years, were engaged for three and will be married for seven years in July. But when Kim announced she was pregnant, Tom was anything but elated. Both their families and their friends wanted them to have children, but Kim and Tom weren't planning for them.
"For the first month I was like in denial," Rossiano says. "I wasn't sure if I wanted to be a father."
One day he broke down and confessed his fears to Kim, and all the doubts passed just like that.
"I had a new reason for being," Rossiano says. "That just becomes a reason you want to live. It made everything other than them seem unimportant."
Things changed. Rossiano, never one to give mortality much thought, was now afraid to change lanes on the tollway. He had a new reason for being.
The news of twins added to the couple's anticipation.
"That really got me excited," Rossiano says. "It was a special gift from God."
The wrestling season was fast approaching as well, but in the fall, Tom spent as much time with Kim as possible.
There was no warning in the days before Oct. 19. That morning Kim went to her doctor for a checkup, while Tom took one of his science classes to the school's planetarium. When a fellow teacher came to him with a message she had called, it was much earlier than the time they had agreed upon if everything went well.
The water bag had broken and the boys' chances of recovery were about two percent. When Tom arrived at the hospital, crying hysterically, the ultrasound couldn't find a heartbeat. It was around 10 a.m. After labor was induced, Kim delivered Joseph Anthony at 3:05 p.m., his brother at 5:40 p.m.
They weighed less than a pound apiece, and had perfectly formed fingers and toes.
"They were just two beautiful baby boys that never had a chance," Rossiano says. ''Even though Joseph Anthony was dead, (the delivery) was like the most remarkable thing I ever saw.
''When he was handed to me, I prayed to God 'Let my baby breathe and let my baby cry,' to take me and I would have had a full life. I know my wife felt the same way. I would've been happy to go at that point. Some people may think that sounds strange, but I think that any parent in the world would understand that."
In a deserted classroom, Rossiano apologizes again for the tears.
"Sometimes I can get through the story and not even cry," he says. "Sometimes I can't get the words out."
* * *
There was a little of both when the coach told the state's best public high school wrestling team for the last two seasons that he and Kim had lost the twins.
"Pretty much he gave us like an inspirational speech," says Warriors senior Ruben Saldana, who won the 152-pound state title last weekend. "'This is what happened, but I'm still going, you can make a positive out of a negative. I'm gonna be hurting and stuff, and I might not be here sometimes and you guys are gonna know why, because I'm gonna have to be with my wife.' He told us straight out. He's a good man like that. I respect him."
Oct. 19 was a Wednesday, and Rossiano was back to school the following Monday. He woke up in the 4:30 a.m. darkness for the rush-hour drive from the city, worried about Kim's first day alone and moved like ''a zombie."
At the end of the day, he got in his car and headed back to the city, for the first time alone with his thoughts.
"I have a long drive home," Rossiano says. ''I would cry all the way home."
Then he and Kim went to bed early. That began the numbing weekday schedule.
"We'd cry ourselves to sleep, and then in the morning do it again," Rossiano says.
They went to group therapy, and fed off the support of their family and friends. Fred Johnson, who preceded Rossiano as Warriors coach, wrote Rossiano a letter. Johnson and his wife had gone through the same thing in her pregnancy's eighth month. Johnson offered any kind of help.
The closest comparison either Tom or Kim could make to the tragedy was the passing of grandparents or, for Tom, the near-death of former Warrior Jim LeDuc, last year's 160-pound state champion who almost died from inexplicable complications with a routine knee surgery during his sophomore year. But those comparisons paled.
"It's the hardest thing I've ever been through in my life," Rossiano says.
The start of wrestling practice was a relief. Rossiano considered taking the year off, but didn't because this year's senior class is the first he's coached all four years.
"I wanted to finish up with those guys," he says.
Rossiano got back perhaps more than he gave. The four padded walls of wrestling practice are pain-proof. Saldana says the team never considered tiptoeing around its coach.
"When you're in the wrestling room, you don't think about that, you just go out and do what you gotta do," Saldana says. "That's the great thing about the wrestling room. I know when he was in there he didn't think about his kids. When I'm in there, all your problems just go away."
"It was the best therapy in the world for me," Rossiano says. "When I'm wrestling somebody and they're trying to rip my head off and I'm trying to beat them, you kinda block out everything else. It allowed me to give more of myself to Kim."
A flight attendant, Kim returned to work in mid-December, about the same time Tom started getting back his sense of humor and his passion for his job.
"It takes a long time to function normally," he says, and of course it will take Kim longer.
* * *
Rossiano says he made a deal with God while LeDuc lay in the hospital walking the fine line between life and death. Rossiano promised God if LeDuc recovered, he would go to church every Sunday. Through it all, he has kept that promise.
"It tests your faith and what you believe in," he says of this past four months. "It made my faith stronger because I like to think I have two angels up in heaven and I'll see them again someday."
Does it need to be written that until that day, Rossiano and his wife and their family have new priorities? A year ago this weekend, the Warriors finished second to Mt. Carmel for the second straight season. Whether or not the Warriors get another crack at the three-time defending state champion seems silly now. Ironically, Rossiano says he may have coached better than ever this season.
"If we never win another wrestling meet while I'm coaching here it doesn't make a difference to me," Rossiano says. "It'll never be a life-and-death situation for me like it might have been before. Now I've experienced the life-and-death part of it."
* * *
There's a box opened often at the Rossianos containing the baby pictures and the footprints and the hospital bracelets.
Rossiano is an accomplished musician, specializing in guitar. He used to play in a band. ''I express myself musically better than I do verbally," he says.
Tom wrote a holiday song for his sons. It's called "Is There Christmas Up In Heaven?", and listening to it sometimes helps.
There are two tombstones in a cemetery in Calumet City.
"It's something I never want to forget," Rossiano says. "I never want to forget my boys."
Have you hugged your kids today?
© Copyright Daily Herald, Paddock Publications, Inc.
Title: Ditka tries to light fire under team.(Sports)
Date: September 30, 1997 Publication: Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL) Author: Bush, JoeByline: Joe Bush Daily Herald Sports Writer
NEW ORLEANS - You say Mike Ditka looks the same, sounds the same and spits the same?
You're right. Same old (three weeks from his 58th birthday) squinty Iron Mike. Except there seems to be a little rust on one of his legendary talents: motivation.
When asked for the main difference between Ditka and Bears coach Dave Wannstedt, Saints center Jerry Fontenot, who played under both regimes in Chicago, said:
"I'd have to say Mike's ability to motivate. He's a good speaker. He can really drive a point home. It's not like Dave's not a good speaker, but Mike just has a special gift and he's able to use it."
Much was made of Ditka's long-awaited tirade at halftime of the Saints' 33-7 loss to San Francisco in Week 3, but the fact is the Saints still lost the second half, 10-7.
The next week Ditka hired a stress therapist to counsel the team on the eve of the game with Detroit. The Saints won 35-17.
Sunday, New Orleans created more anxiety with a 14-9 loss to the 1-3 Giants. After the Saints' first three possessions produced 17 yards, 0 first downs and an interception, Ditka lit into the offensive line.
The offense came up with 130 yards and 2 field goals on its next three possessions.
Ditka was amazed by his team's lack of energy at Giants Stadium, and Monday, he openly questioned his role in that blackout.
"We had no emotion going into that game," Ditka said. "We could have been going down Fifth Avenue on a shopping spree as well as playing the Giants. I'm serious.
"You cannot win without emotion. You cannot win without enthusiasm, without excitement, without getting crazy, without getting pumped up, without believing, without screaming and hollering, without believing in your teammates and encouragement.
"You can't win without that. If we think we're going to roll up a win with three-button suits on and a Wall Street Journal under our arms, we're crazy. We can't do that, we're not good enough to do that."
"It really is frustrating. I know I'm a dumb-(butt) if I can't impart that to them. I guess I've failed in that area. But I'm not going to quit trying."
Ditka almost got misty while talking about his mid-to-late 1980s Bears squads. They didn't need many pep talks.
"We had a lot of leaders," Ditka said. "I could go right down the list on offense and defense. Whether it'd be Payton or McMahon or Singletary or Fencik or Suhey. They all led in their own ways. Our linemen, they didn't talk that much. Covert was a great leader by example.
"We have a lot of good guys here that are winning their battles, too, we just don't have enough of them."
He was spoiled with the last of a bygone breed of player, and he wonders if part of his present problem is present attitudes.
Motivation takes two, and as he looked around the Saints' pregame locker room Sunday he said to himself, "Wow, maybe this is the new football. I don't know."
In other words, Ditka says, if you can't get fired up just by having an NFL job, something's wrong.
"If you give a guy an opportunity to start in this league, you hope he would understand what magnitude that is and what it would mean to them and their career," he said. "I don't understand it. This is the greatest game in the world.
"To have an opportunity to play it and not to grasp everything you do with all your energies and every bit of your might and have fun doing it and lay it all on the line every week, you've got to be crazy."
This material is published under license from the publisher through the Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan. All inquiries regarding rights should be directed to the Gale Group.
COPYRIGHT 2009 Paddock Publications
COPYRIGHT 2009 Paddock Publications
This document provided by HighBeam Research at http://www.highbeam.com