Thursday, August 24, 2006

Cops and Jockeys: Play Ball

Words & pictures by Thomas Dimopoulos
published in The Saratogian, 2006.

The lineup: The Jockeys. Javier Castellano (2B), Kent Desormeaux (RF), Mike Luzzi (1B),
Eibar Coa (SS), Garrett Gomez (Short CF), Rudy Rodriguez (catcher), Herberto Castillo (3B),
Channing Hill (CF), John Velazquez (P), Angel Cordero (P), Richard Migliore.

SARATOGA SPRINGS – The Saratoga Jockeys and the New York State Police went at it again Monday night, for the first time on the baseball diamond of the Eastside Recreation Field in the annual charity softball game to benefit the Catie Hoch Foundation.

Racecourse fixture Sam the Bugler began the night by performing the National Anthem and jockey Jerry Bailey threw out the ceremonial first ball.
“I told them there was no way I would attempt to play,” said Bailey, nonetheless wearing a red and white baseball jersey with his name stenciled across the back. ”I haven’t come this far along to risk getting hurt,” he laughed.

The Police squad built an early lead with a big five-run inning in the top of the second and added two more runs in the third. The jockeys responded in the bottom of the inning. The run, however, was ironically not scored by a jockey but by the lucky fan chosen at random before the match to join the jockey squad. He turned out to be New York Post reporter John Da Silva (the tall fella at extreme left of photograph above).

Ric Mitchell of station Star 101.3 FM called the play-by-play for a crowd of several hundred fans as the jockeys mounted a comeback, but it proved to be not enough. On this night, it was: Police 14, Jockeys 10.

Proceeds of the game were to benefit the Catie Hoch Foundation, established in memory of the nine-year-old girl and Yankees fan who died from a rare and aggressive form of pediatric cancer in May of 2000.
The Foundation’s main goal is to financially assist families of children with cancer and support doctors in their research for a cure.

What's in a name? If it's famous, everything

The City of Troy has its Elizabeth Taylor, and Utica, its Jane Fonda.

There is a Katie Holmes residing in South Glens Falls, a Michael Jackson in Fort Ann, and Schenectady has gone the way of Hogwarts and wizards with Harry Potter, living somewhere among its citizens.

"It's definitely more amusing to other people than it is to me," says Megan Ryan, who makes her home in Clifton Park, and is among those that happen to share the name of a famous counterpart. It can make normal, everyday life a little less normal on an everyday basis.

"It's pretty funny when I go to use my credit card or to sign for something," says Ryan, who describes herself coincidentally, as fair-skinned with blue eyes.

"At my work, I have to wear a name tag, so if there's someone new working there, they'll look over and make a comment like, 'Oh, Meg Ryan's here' It makes me laugh, even though I've never gone by the (shortened) name Meg," she explains.

"But it still happens pretty much all the time. I've gotten used to it," says Ryan, expressing a sense of humor about it all.

You can imagine the joking around can wear pretty thin for people like Keith Richards of Whitehall, Broadalbin's Dick Cheney, Howard Hughes of Albany and the Ballston Spa-based duo Will Smith and Jim Carey.

Then there is Kurt Vonnegut, who is dealing with the notoriety of his name just fine.

Actually, there are two Kurt Vonneguts in the world. One was born in Indiana in 1922, joining the U.S. Army during WW II, when he was taken as a prisoner of war. Witnessed the bombing of Dresden, Germany, his experiences would later form the work of the classic book "Slaughterhouse-Five."

The other Vonnegut was born in 1960 and graduated from Utica College with a degree in construction management. He is an estimator for a construction company and lives in Schuylerville.

"I think Kurt Vonnegut (the writer) is great," says Kurt Vonnegut of Schuylerville, reciting an impressive list of titles off the top of his head that includes "Slaughterhouse-Five," "The Sirens of Titan," and "Cat's Cradle."

"I've read all of his books. It's kind of mandatory," he says. "I would say three out of every 10 people I meet ask about the name. I'll get mailed manuscripts and commencement invitations, birthday cards that say, 'You're my wife's favorite author. Can you sign this for her?' I get people asking if I wrote 'Slaughterhouse-Five.' I tell them, 'Oh yeah. I whipped that up when I was about 5 years old," he laughs.

Perhaps offsetting the disturbance of middle of the night telephone calls from people who Vonnegut describes as "having had a few," are the occasions of showing up at a restaurant after making reservations and discovering a pretty decent table waiting for him. Since the Internet has become more accessible the past few years, he says more people have been stumbling across his name and address and seeking him out.

"A year or so ago, I came home and opened my mailbox and found a copy of 'Slaughterhouse-Five' and a handwritten note," he recalls. "It was from a couple of college guys who decided to drive from Notre Dame to Schuylerville on a whim, because they wanted to meet the author Kurt Vonnegut.

In the note, they explained they couldn't wait around any longer because they had to get back to Notre Dame for classes."

Kurt isn't the only Vonnegut the Schuylerville man is asked about.

"My father, Bernard is a pretty well-known atmospheric scientist," he says about his father, who passed away in 1997. Among his lifetime achievements, Bernard Vonnegut is credited with discovering that silver iodide could be used effectively in cloud seeding to produce snow and rain. Kurt Vonnegut of Schuylerville carries around a head full of knowledge regarding Kurt Vonnegut, the author. As it turns out, the coincidental names are no coincidence. "Kurt Vonnegut, the writer, is my uncle," says the Schuylerville man.

"My father, Bernard, was his older brother. He was the one who got him that job at GE in Schenectady, where his first novel, 'Player Piano,' is based. In fact, while my uncle was working there, he was writing short stories and found out that he could make more money writing for the Saturday Evening Post and Collier's than he could working at GE," he says.

So, a literary lion was born - and, a famous name to be shared.

"I don't know if it's a blessing or a curse," says Vonnegut about the only name he's ever known. "But 90 percent of the time people are pretty positive about it."

by Thomas Dimopoulos
The Saratogian, June 30, 2006

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Paul Newman takes a chair

"Newman boosts Camp for Kids," The Saratogian, June 16, 2006.

Words and Pictures by
Thomas Dimopoulos

SARATOGA SPRINGS - He's played a pool hall hustler, a con artist and the western outlaw Butch Cassidy, last seen riding alongside the Sundance Kid. When the popular blue-eyed actor came to town Thursday, he showed up wearing a pair of canvas tennis shoes in his appearance as Paul Newman, philanthropist.

Newman held court at The Lodge in Saratoga to launch a $15 million endowment campaign for the Double H Hole in the Woods Ranch in Lake Luzerne, which he co-founded. The camp is for children with cancer, leukemia and other critical, life-threatening illnesses.

'I got a call from Charles Wood, who said I should come see this place on the lake,' recalled Newman about the origins of the ranch that sits on 320 acres in the Adirondack Park. 'He said, 'I'll put in a million if you put in a million, and we could turn this into a Hole in the Woods Camp.'Ÿ'

The Lake Luzerne location became the second venue under the Hole in the Wall Camp umbrella, which has since grown to locations around the world.

'When we started, I had no idea it would mushroom the way it did or the profound impact these camps would have,' said the 81-year-old award-winning actor, whose impact on the silver screen includes his roles in 'Cool Hand Luke,' 'The Sting' and numerous other films dating back to the 1950s.

'Now, we have camps in the U.S., one in England, one in France, one in Milan. There are a dozen kids from Chernobyl who came to the camp in Ireland,' Newman said.

Approximately 1,000 children facing critical illnesses come to the Double H Hole in the Woods Ranch every year. They are provided a fun experience and emotional support under the care of a staff of doctors and nurses and camp counselors free of charge.

The theme of Thursday's event, 'A Day at Camp,' featured interactive stations that mimicked camper-oriented activities. A number of campers were in attendance to distribute courage bracelets, make slime and create a 'wishboat ceremony,' which the kids traditionally conduct on the last night of camp.

'I've had parents come up to me and say how much their kids look forward to coming back to the camp every year. It helps them to stay alive,' Newman said. 'The parents releasing their kids to go to the camp speaks louder than anything that I could say.'

Monday, August 21, 2006

Saratoga Race Course: Is that a Famous Face...or are you just wearing a Mod Mask?

SARATOGA SPRINGS - Just like she does every year, Sue Quintal roused a group of girlfriends from their early morning slumber and hit the road for Saratoga.

'I've been coming to this racecourse since I was a kid,' said the North Troy woman, recalling the opening days she attended at Saratoga Race Course with her father.

Now she comes with a group of friends who descend upon the track grounds just as the dawn cracks over the East. The early arrival is necessary to secure one of the most highly-coveted tables near the paddock.

A few yards away, Jim and Lorraine Fish were able to get their prime table by coming at 6:15 a.m.

'We were told to come early, because it's like a rat race to get a good spot,' said Jim Fish, who spent half of his life racing to put out fires for the Cohoes Fire Department before retiring. 'And these days, I'm not running,' he laughed.

Across Union Avenue, at the Oklahoma Training Track, the horses have been exercising around the oval since 5:30 a.m.

If Saratoga Race Course is the main stage, then the Oklahoma track is its green room. Here is where preparations are made for the six-week meet, and where the early dawning landscape of the morning fog blends with the subtle sounds of hooves and beating hearts.

As the 'official' opening nears at 10:30 a.m., all who have staked their claim on tables by marking them with distinctive tablecloths at the racecourse are asked to go back outside, where they wait 100 deep, in a line stretching out onto the avenue.

At precisely 11 a.m., the gates are opened and the crowd enters, serenaded by the sounds of Van Morrison's 'Moondance,' courtesy of a morning jam between Reggie's Red Hot Feetwarmers and the dozen horn-wielding members of a group calling itself Brass-o-mania.

At post-time, the familiar voice of Tom Durkin booms around the track once again, for the first time in 10 months. Durkin instructs the crowd what is expected of them for the annual opening day tradition.

'The time has come to start the 138th Saratoga season,' announced Durkin, 'so let's light this candle. When the horses leave the gate, I will say: 'And.' Then you will say: 'They're off at Saratoga.' '

And that's pretty much how it goes down, although quite a stir is caused a little later by celebrity hunters.

'O-my-god there's Rod Stewart,' one excited fan squealed, pointing to the reserved box seats overlooking the winner's circle.

Sure enough, there he was. Rod the Mod, they used to call him. Rod of the legendary band, The Yardbirds. Rod of Rod Stewart and The Faces. Memories of songs poured out, from 'Hot Legs' to 'Maggie May,' 'Blondes Have More Fun' to 'Mandolin Wind.' There he was, right there. The gravelly-voiced rock icon who once had an album called 'A Nod is as Good as a Wink to a Blind Horse,' and the one who used to sing that popular lyric that went: 'Every picture tells a story - Don't it?'

And the fan's squeal led to a flurry of image-capturing cell phones pointed at the rock star, who stood up and waved in acknowledgement, modeling a pair of powder-pink pants, his distinctively crooked nose and trademark rooster-cut mane that was streaked in blond.

'You know that's not really him,' said a guy with the skeptical eyes of someone who has spent a lot of years seeing many things at the racecourse.

'Looks just like him. What do you mean it's not him?' he was asked.

'That guy comes here every year. The first time I saw him, he got me, too,' he said, shaking his head knowingly.

Even the acknowledgement that this Rod the Mod was in reality some sort of an impersonating Odd Rod, didn't seem to deter the digital cell phone paparazzi.

'Yeah, I know it's not him,' said one girl, a little agitated that the question distracted her from her incessant picture-taking. Quickly, she spun around and resumed clicking away.

'What difference does it make whether it's really him or not anyway?' she asked, snapping away.

by Thomas Dimopoulos
"Race Course a Local Jewel," The Saratogian,
July 28, 2006

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Return of Marylou Whitney

By Thomas Dimopoulos
Published in The Saratogian

SARATOGA SPRINGS – Marylou Whitney has been known to make grand entrances in the past, but when the popular socialite and philanthropist made an appearance in the Winner’s Circle at the Saratoga Race Course Saturday, she was greeted with a standing ovation from the large crowd who were happy to see her appear simply as herself.

Whitney, who is a highly visible fixture on the summer scene here, was making her first public appearance since suffering a stroke Memorial Day weekend.

“She’s a wonderful lady and it’s a big thrill to see her,” offered race fan Helen Coady, who made the trip in from Plattsburgh, and who has been coming to the racecourse for the past 40 years.

“It’s very special that she is here to present the trophy,” said Bill Nader, senior vice president and chief operating officer for the New York Racing Association.
“Knowing the work she been going through with her therapy and having her here is a very special moment for Saratoga,” Nader said.

The 79th running of the Whitney Handicap was the ninth race on the day and moments after Invasor crossed the finish line to secure the victory, a car pulled up on the track with Whitney and husband John Hendrickson inside.

Wearing a bright pink hat and matching dress, Whitney stepped gingerly into the winner’s circle where a a table set with white linen showcased the silver trophy to be presented.
She turned and waved to the crowd, many of whom responded with a standing ovation.

“It’s a true milestone in her recovery knowing how hard she is working with her therapy,” said Maureen Lewi, who was with the woman many call simply “Marylou,” when she had the stroke.
“I know she missed being here, but she is so determined in her recovery, and I’m so happy to see her here,” Lewi said.

A moment later Whitney returned to the car, and rolling down its window raised her hands to her lips and blew kisses to the crowd who cheered the grand exit of the woman born on a Christmas Eve in 1925, watching her go.