Friday, June 20, 2014

Tyler, TX is Browns Territory - Interview

Billboard outside of Tyler, Texas. Posted by @mcdaniel_sm on twitter. Please credit appropriately.  
Every season since the Browns returned to Cleveland in 1999 has floated in a murky lake of bitter, angry tears and from a fan base desperate to win.

Always, always waiting for next year. 

Waiting and waiting and waiting. 

Every year we tell ourselves that next year will be different. 

Finally, our promise to ourselves is on the verge of coming true. 

There has not been a 22nd pick in the NFL draft that has been the center of more buzz and hype than Johnny Manziel. The Heisman Trophy winner is full of swagger and confidence in his money play making ability. Exactly what you want in an NFL player. 

Look around Cleveland and you will see and hear football fans of all ages in Manziel gear and talking about Johnny Football. When it was announced Manziel and Justin Gilbert were hopping a plane and coming to Cleveland after the draft, a contingent of fans showed up in Berea, hoping to catch a glimpse of the rookies. One of those fans was my dad. My dad was peeking through the fence with the other fans, trying to see the new potential face of the franchise. 

As Cleveland fans, we love our Browns. We aren't a team that has a bandwagon rolling through town.  There hasn't been a reason for fans outside of Cleveland to even take notice of the team for anything positive. The last time anyone outside of Cleveland cared about a Browns player was Brady Quinn. When I lived in Indianapolis, a few Quinn jerseys were for sale in the mall because of his Notre Dame days. That was it.

Things have changed now.

Journalists and sports talk hosts and bloggers all over the country are now wanting to talk Browns football. They are talking about Cleveland by name. 

Today, in Manziel's home town of Tyler, Texas, a billboard went up, declaring Tyler as Browns Territory, deep in the heart of Texas (clap, clap).

How did that happen?

For the past few years, the Rose Capital Little League association has held a baseball tournament that also raises money to help a sick child. Previous years, it helped a child with cancer. This year, the proceeds from a silent auction at the event went to the Make a Wish Foundation. Awesome idea. One of the silent auction items was for a billboard. That day, 8 friends went in together to win the billboard, with the idea of using it to recognize Johnny Manziel.

Tyler is a town that has followed Manziel's record-breaking athletic career through high school and Texas A&M. Remember how Northeast Ohio followed a certain person's basketball games through his career at St.V/St.M? Imagine that certain person then went to the University of Akron (and Akron was twice the size) and continued breaking records. Now multiply that level of fandom by 2 or 3. Now, friends, you are seeing Texas football and the connection Texas has to Johnny Manziel.

I spoke with Jaime McDaniel, one of 8 people that won the billboard in the silent auction because I had to find out what pieces fell into place to result in that billboard beauty on the side of the highway.

Mr. McDaniel grew up with Johnny's parents and knows Johnny personally. We talked about how the entire town (I'm going to guess most of Texas, as well) couldn't believe that the Cowboys passed up on Johnny Football (I couldn't believe it either). Jerry Jones' loss is now our gain, because Cowboys fans are ditching the center field star for a spot in the Dawg Pound.

For example, Academy Sports, a sporting goods store that is comparable to Dick's Sporting Goods, now carries Browns merchandise, specifically #2 jerseys, and not just in Tyler. Word has it, stores over 3 hours away in Houston, even have Manziel merchandise. Mr. McDaniel's son already has his Browns hat and is ready to cheer for the Browns on Sundays.


Chatting on the phone with someone that knows Johnny, I couldn't hang up and pass up my chance to ask if JFF's Gronk partying and inflatable swan champagne swilling will be a problem. Mr. McDaniel pointed out that on game day, Johnny has always shown up and given it his all. Johnny is going to be prepared and has worked out probably harder than any other rookie.

Manziel has a connection to a young cancer survivor that will make you question his public "party boy" image.

I know that Browns fans are concerned about Johnny's off the field antics.  I say wait and see. We haven't played a game yet. He just signed his contract. Understand me clearly, if he fails to perform on the field because of shenanigans off the field, we will have a problem. But it you think he is the only professional athlete that is cutting loose during his downtime, you are a naive little bunny.

If it weren't for social media and camera phones, would anyone have even know that Johnny was in Vegas? Or would we have known about the swan? If it wasn't for Johnny Football, would we have even known Gronk was in Vegas? Would we have cared?

Joe Namath is a walking blue print for the cocky player that wants to be larger than life and full of swagger. If the world was constantly tweeted and instagramed when he played the way it is now, do you think he would have ever gotten off team probation?

*This* buttercup is going to buckle up and enjoy the ride of Johnny Cleveland mania. It is a different feeling to be this excited about the season and I like it.

While wrapping up our phone call, I asked Mr. McDaniel if he would be coming to Cleveland for a game. He told me they haven't bought tickets yet, but they "would love to come to a game."

Sir, we would love to have you and your family in town. I'm sure you won't have any problem making friends.

Note: I would like to thank the McDaniel family for chatting with me on twitter and over the phone. I appreciated being able to bug them and talk football on a Friday night. They were incredibly sweet and gracious.  I have included a portion of our conversation here, edited for clarity and space. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Running In Indianapolis

Edina and Patsy running. I think it was a vodka run though. 

I've never been a big runner. 

While some see running as a way to connect with nature, the steady thump thump thump of new sneakers on the pavement, I always viewed it as a punishment. 

In school, if you screwed up, your mistake was met by a loud "RUN" from the gym teacher. I dreaded running laps in the school gym. I loved playing basketball until 8th grade. I was never going to be awarded a scholarship for my Mark Price style jump shot, but it was fun, until my 8th grade coach. His philosophy was that we were going to run until someone threw up. Every day. Keep running until someone barfed. Maybe I just didn't have the killer competitive drive in me, but I did not find vomiting on the court to be fun.

Then I got older. 

Something happens when you hit your 30s or 40s. For some reason, there is a desire to run. Run away from things, run to things. Running is a quiet, solo sport. You can be alone with your thoughts or Eminem's through your Beats. In our ever connected life, running is the one thing you can't multitask at. Well, you shouldn't. I once tried to tweet while running. Not my finest moment.

The starting line for the Monumental Mile. 
My Facebook timeline is full of middle aged folks running. Pictures of smiling faces with number tags on their shirts, hair pulled back in pony tails. More pictures of neon colored tennies, ready for that job through the woods. 

So, not to be left out, I gave it a whirl. I participated in my first Run - the Indianapolis Monumental Mile. It looked easy enough. I can walk a mile. Certainly, I can run a mile. 

About 100 yards into the run LEG CRAMPS. Look, I know I poked fun at Lefoolio and his leg cramps, but, wow, was that painful.

I was determined to finish in my run, walk, walk, run fashion. Traffic was halted as I hobbled through intersections. With each step, I contemplated just scooting over to the side of the street and tapping out. 

I'm really not a runner.

I was however, determined to beat the lady pushing a double baby carriage. I think she may have even been breast feeding at the time too. 

I crossed the finish line in a triumphant leap. 

Then, I  had a beer and a cookie. It was what all the other runners were doing. 

After some training, I want to try a 5K. There was a sense of overwhelming pride in walking around with a number safety pinned to my shirt.  It felt nice. It will feel nicer to cross it off my bucket list and move on to something new. Or not. Only time and my shins will tell. 

But more training, and a new sports bra. 

Two very important things I did not properly consider. 

Are you a runner? Tell me about your adventures in the comments. 

The finish line at Monument Circle.

Friday, May 30, 2014

2 For 1 - Josh Gordon and Johnny Manziel

Josh Gordon. (Cleveland Plain Dealer Photo Staff)
I'm struggling with how the Cleveland Browns still have Josh Gordon on the roster.  Josh Gordon is allegedly in the stage three of the NFL substance abuse policy. That particular ring of fire is banishment from the NFL for a *minimum* of one year. 

His latest drug test failure was once again for marijuana, at least his 5th failed drug test since 2010.  Over the holiday weekend, he was busted for speeding. Ok, I'm not going to judge that one, but his "friend" was busted for carrying marijuana. 

This very well could be it for him. 

Read this very carefully, I'm not being all weed judgey pants. I don't care if he blazes up watching Friday while floundering around in a kiddie pool filled with crunchy Cheetos. This isn't a debate about whether it is right or wrong for the NFL to include marijuana in their drug policy. 

These are collectively bargained policies. Just like how long players practice and whether they play with or without pads at training camp. Gordon agreed to this when he signed his $5.3 million rookie contract. 

The Browns were aware enough of his issues, but they still took a chance on him. They should have taken it to the next step and funded a "baby sitter." A mentor or advisor to keep him on track.  At least give him advice, like get a driver. Driving around Cleveland's suburbs in a camo Lamborghini is a big, fast target.    

Gordon needs to get serious about his career. Until he does, he is doomed to make the same mistakes. 

Johnny Manziel, Gronk and the Vegas peeps. 
In addition to Gordon and his issues, #22 Draft Pick, Johnny Manziel took some time off and went to Vegas. He then hooked up with Gronk and a variety of bikini wearing new friends. 

When this picture popped up on Twitter, the first thing I thought was how grateful I was that there was no Twitter when I was 21 and in Vegas. Ahem. Then the Browns fandom exploded. Fans were furious Johnny Football wasn't home studying the playbook. 

Look, at this very moment, I do not give a furry rat's rear if he is slamming tequila shots or slurping bacon vanilla bean apple pie milk shakes. Do. Not. Care. 

Manziel is bringing a frenzy to Browns football that I don't recall ever seeing. This buttercup is all buckled up for a wild ride.  Manziel is full of himself and that will make fun football or sorrow drowning Sundays. 

Once the season starts and if Johnny Football is out being the party boy with the rest of the team circling down the drain, mark my words, I will be all over him like ants on a powdered doughnut. I'm not going to press the panic button on him yet. 

I'm just going to wait and see...and like most years, I'm waiting for THIS to be the year. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

5 Questions Answered By Someone Awesome - David Jay Collins

Hello. Welcome to awesome town. 

I'm continuing my quest to find out what makes awesome people tick and to make sure that awesome people know that they are...well...awesome. 

You can read my original blog post about the idea here. So far, I have asked questions of Scott Wise - the Scotty in Scotty's Brewhouse, Rik Danburg from your Cleveland Indians and Browns Kicker, Billy Cundiff

This time, I asked my friend, David Jay Collins, 5 questions. This one was a little weird because I know David the best out of anyone that I have chatted with so far. We went to grad school together and have been friends since before the Browns were back in town. It was stange because I sent him an email that was basically, "hey, I never told you how awesome you are when we worked together every day, so I'm telling you now. Wanna answer some questions for my blog?"

I remember the first day I met David at Iowa State. I looked like a regular grad student and he looked like my boss - tie and all. Over the years, I have been inspired by him and how he looks at the world. David is the kind of person that never thinks in small terms. Here is an example...let's say you are camping and have to fish for your dinner. You would be happy with a perch, while David is hooking a harpoon up to the boat to go after Jaws. 

It was great fun to catch up with my friend and ask him why he is so awesome. 
 David Jay Collins, friend and author of Gaybash, available now.

  1. For those who don't know you, we went to grad school together at Iowa State, and we met while working with the fraternities and sororities. What are you doing now?  

I currently work as the Community Development Manager for a Chamber of Commerce in Chicago. Since graduating I’ve worked mostly in nonprofit and have enjoyed the work very much. I’ve had some varied work experiences, though. Ten years ago the nonprofit I worked for in Washington DC closed. After returning home to Chicago, I struggled to find another job in the field. So I changed course and bartended for Hilton for a few years. That was an amazing detour I’d never trade.

  1. One of the many things about you that I think is so awesome is you are the kind of person that always thinks BIG. I remember when you were irritated with the grammar atrocities from the student groups and that spurred you to put together a handout, which resulted in a book that was published on campus and used in classes. How did that happen?

I loved putting together Spiral: The Students’ Guide to Style at Iowa State, but I knew if Spiral was going to matter to others, it had to include others. After sketching out chapter ideas, I reached out to faculty, staff, and students to determine and create the content. Grammar made up the biggest chapter, but the book included study skills, university history, business etiquette, even a chapter on beer and wine. I wanted it to feel very Iowa State-specific, so I used campus buildings and local landmarks in the grammar examples. The book was spiral-bound so it would lie flat, a convenience I envisioned for students writing papers at their computers. This was 1997, after all.

My favorite chapter was called 17 Essays, in which 17 students wrote about their personal experiences on campus. It included perspectives from African-American students, Asian-American students, student athletes, an international student, gay and lesbian students, and members of fraternities and sororities. The honesty they offered! I’d love to know what they’re all doing now.

  1. What inspires you to take a little idea and turn it into a major awesome whatever? What was the one little idea that morphed into a giant undertaking that you are most proud of?

I’m most proud of the e-book I’m about to publish, Gaybash. It’s taken me years to finish it because, looking back, I was living within my comfort zone—happily talking about writing a novel instead of actually writing a novel. In just a few weeks it will be a real e-book on Kindle and iBooks and that’s wonderful, but also a little terrifying. (CC note: GayBash is available now. Check it out for Kindle and Nook. Other formats available soon).

In my fictional novel, a reserved gay man, inspired by the actions of his bold best friend, fights back against two attackers and changes his life and the attackers’ lives, forever.
The story takes place in a section of Chicago’s North Side known as Boystown for its large gay community. The main character lives in my building and I received permission to set a few scenes at Sidetrack and Roscoe’s, two very popular bars here.

The tipping point for me came when I realized that I was so warm and cozy under my excuses that the dream of writing a novel might never happen. And I’d have no one to blame but myself. That’s when comfort became uncomfortable and like my main character, I had to break free of fear and doubt and just be alive in my life. Gaybash might fail. It might succeed. But it’s all mine and I can’t wait to get it out to the world.

  1. You are from Chicago and love it as much as I love Cleveland. What is so great about it and what makes it a special place?

I love living in Chicago for its beauty, its friendly people, its culture, and even the changing seasons. I haven’t owned a car for ten years because I can walk everywhere or take the train.

I also like that Chicago is entirely manmade. The parks, the beaches, the skyline—all of it was pulled into existence by sheer force of will. The spirit of architect Daniel “Make No Little Plans” Burnham is alive and well. It’s endlessly inspiring, cosmopolitan but welcoming, all at a pace and scale that’s not overwhelming. And compared to big cities on the coasts I think you get a lot more for your money here.

  1. Last question, who do you think is awesome and why?

My parents are pretty awesome and they encouraged my creativity from a very early age. I have many childhood memories of filling up the living room with little cities made of paper buildings I made and writing stories that I shared with them and my teachers at school. They sacrificed so much to provide me with a strong start to life and I couldn’t have asked for a more loving, supportive mom and dad. Though in adulthood our relationship has changed, in many ways we’re as close now as we ever have been.

It was only fitting that I dedicated my book to them.

If you would like to connect to David on social media, you can do so on Twitter,  Instagram and YouTube, for the Channel-To-Be where he will talk about the book, answer readers' questions and post about some of the neighborhood locations. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

5 Questions Answered By Someone Awesome - Billy Cundiff

Never forget to be AWESOME. 
I love finding awesome wisdom nuggets from people around me, friends or strangers, it doesn't matter. People around you can be inspiration for you to improve the world around you or just a better way to grab toast out of the toaster. 

Last season, I learned how awesome Browns Kicker, Billy Cundiff is. 

During the season, he worked with Cleveland Clinic and donated for $200 for every field goal to  Ovarian Cancer research in conjunction with Colleen's Dream Foundation. Browns Punter, Spencer Lanning, along with other NFL Kickers joined in. 

It is safe to say that we can all agree that cancer in any form sucks. Ovarian Cancer, however, is particularly insidious. You can read more about it here, but rest assured, it is awful. There is hope however, and that hope comes in the form of research.  With early detection and improved treatment, women have a fighting chance against Ovarian Cancer. 

Billy was kind enough to answer 5 questions for me, about why he is involved with ovarian cancer research and what he would like fans to know. 

Before you read his answers, I'm going to share something with you....Billy Cundiff is one of the nicest, most polite people I have ever been in contact with.  He really is a great guy. 

If you would like to help fight ovarian cancer, cheer for Billy this year when he makes a field goal.  You can also find out more information about Colleen's Dream Foundation here

Browns Kicker, Billy Cundiff
1. Cleveland Browns fans know you as the Kicker. What else would you like fans to know about you?

Kicking is something I do, but it's not who I am.  I strive to be the best kicker in the NFL every year, but in the end my character means more to me than the stats. 
On a personal note, I take a lot pride in being a good father and husband.  I have an entrepreneurial spirit.  My hobbies include learning and traveling.  I take philanthropy seriously.  Throughout my life I have lived all over this amazing country and wouldn’t have it any other way.  I spent my formative years in small town Iowa, yet I love big city life. 

2. Last season, your Kicking For The Dream Foundation supported Colleen's Dream. How did you get involved in supporting Ovarian Cancer research?

Colleen's Dream is named after my mother-in-law, Colleen Drury. At the time of her diagnosis, we didn't know that much about ovarian cancer.   We were shocked to learn that mortality rates hadn’t changed much in 40 years.  It looked like getting late stage ovarian cancer was a death sentence.  My wife, Nicole, and I along with her sisters decided something had to be done, so we started to raise funds for research and rolling out grassroots awareness campaigns. We held a couple of parties in Colleen's back yard to raise money for the University of Arizona Cancer Center. We were all so grateful for the outpouring of support (over 500 people came to one of the parties) and it gave us the confidence to later start Colleen’s Dream.  In 2012, after the ovarian cancer metastasized to Colleen’s lungs, we decided the time was right to use my platform as an NFL kicker to legitimize our fundraising efforts and really make a difference in women’s lives.  Colleen helped us shape the vision of the foundation.  Today, we carry on her legacy and strive to make a difference for all women. 

3. I think you are so awesome because of your positive attitude and what you are trying to do to defeat Ovarian Cancer. You are working with Kickers and Punters from high school to the Pros with your Foundation. How did you get all of them involved, where did the idea come from to donate for kicks? 

We came up with the idea for Kicking For The Dream while Colleen was in hospice care.  During my time in the NFL, most teams had programs to donate to a charity after a field goal was made.  After discussing, we started wondering why high schoolers couldn't do the same thing.  I was invited to speak at a high school camp in Florida, so I presented the idea to all the participants as a test.  The response was overwhelming.  Kicking coaches from this camp started telling their kickers and punters.  Eventually, we got the NFL guys to participate.  Our goal the first year was to raise $10,000.  We crushed that and raised over $40,000.

4. You have interacted with thousands of fans through your career. What is your favorite fan story or an interaction that stuck in your mind? 

While in Dallas, we had a Make-A-Wish kid visit practice.  The kid looked perfectly happy and healthy.  However, both parent's faces told a different story.  Their youngest son had a brain tumor that was located behind his eyes which meant that doctors couldn't operate on him.  It was only a matter of time before he would just one day collapse and die.  He ran around with his older brother and played catch with a bunch of the guys on the team.  I didn't have kids at the time, but it really hit me hard.  These parents would never know when their son was going to take his last breath.  As a parent today, I still can't fathom what they were going through.  It's been over ten years and the emotions are still just as strong.

5. Last question, who do you think is awesome?

I think my wife, Nicole,  is pretty awesome.  We started dating in college and became best friends.  She has been by my side during this entire crazy ride through the NFL.  She is talented (executive director of foundation, law school graduate, mom of three) and has a great personality and sense of style.  Here is more background info on her:  I could go on and on.  Just meet her and you will agree that she is awesome.

As far as someone from Cleveland is concerned, I think Spencer Lanning is awesome. He is a great guy and teammate. He was actively involved with Kicking for the Dream last season and because of his contribution, we were able to give a big grant to the Cleveland Clinic. He and his girlfriend, Brittany, also came to Phoenix this off-season for our inaugural golf tournament and gala. Nicole and I feel very fortunate to have his support and to call him a friend.

During the season, I like to practice yoga on Monday night's at Inner Bliss Yoga Studio.  Tammy Lyons is a great teacher.  I have practiced all over the country during my time in the NFL and its tough to find someone better than her.  She is truly awesome.  Her studio has a great vibe.  She has built a great yoga community.  I met Tammy because she used to teach yoga to the Browns when I was first with the team in 2009.  Cleveland is a better place because of her.
Spencer Lanning and Billy Cundiff. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Dear National Media - I'm A Cleveland Fan

Johnny Manziel, or Johnny Football to you. 
Dear National Media,

Thank you for your interested in the Cleveland Browns 22nd draft pick,  Johnny Manziel. As fans of the Cleveland Browns, we are pretty excited to see what he, along with the rest of the team, can do this season. We are, without a doubt, looking forward to this season.

I understand that several of you are upset because you were denied media credentials for the upcoming training camp. Well, those of you that usually have credentials, year in and year out, still have them. It was just those folks that have no real interest in Cleveland, or the Browns in general, that were denied.

My suggestion to you is to reach out and make friends with the local media and fans to enrich your Johnny Football stories. I'm sure you realize this, but for my own sake, allow me to mention it. To make friends, you need to be nice to people. Say hello. Tweet to Cleveland fans telling them that  they have an exciting season in their sights this year. Mention the last time you were in town and stopped by E4th for a great dinner. Or Tremont. That will score some points.  Cleveland has some fantastic restaurants and innovative chefs.  Everyone can relate to food.

You could even talk about the new GE Chandelier in Playhouse Square. That thing is pretty awesome. It holds a Guinness Record.

My point is, by making a connection to someone in Cleveland, you will be able to craft a better story.

Several of you have lashed out on social media, with negative comments about Cleveland and one gentleman in particular, became vulgar with fans. I assure you, that is not the way to get invited to the party.  Your mom would be ashamed of your behavior. I know my mom is. While we are on that subject, I'm sure you are savvy enough to grasp that Cleveland sports fans are leery of you.

Rightfully so.

Cleveland is more than an asterisk in Lefoolio's career notes. If we are all honest with one another, the last time you cared about Cleveland, it was to get video of jerseys in flames and angry fans screaming obscenities.

Cleveland is more than the city Lefoolio left.

Cleveland is a dedicated, passionate and enthusiastic fanbase.

We love our teams, and we love our city.

On a personal note, I have gone to significantly more training camps than you, and as a dedicated fan, I want to see *my* team. You see, long after you are gone... the cameras are packed up, the stories are written and posted, I will still be here.

I will still be in the stands cheering for my team.

In the bright sunshine of training camp or the bitter cold snowy Sunday, I will be there.

I am a Cleveland fan.

Johnny Cleveland, by the fantastical  on the twitter. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

5 Questions Answered By Someone Awesome - Rik Danburg

I love talking to awesome people. 

The more you talk to them, the more you start to think about small changes you can make in your own life to be a little more awesome. 

With a little luck, you have read more about why I'm talking to awesome people (other than the fact that they are awesome) and my first post with Scott Wise of Scotty's Brewhouse

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to chat with Rik Danburg of the Cleveland Indians. 

For this little blogging experiment, most folks have sent me answers to my questions via email, but I had the pleasure of meeting with Rik in person. As a testament to his good nature, we were stopped several times during our interview by people popping by to chat with him, say hi, ask questions, and such. There was a lot of laughing during the interview as well, so I apologize in advance if I missed a word or two with him.  I did edit our conversation down a bit because I was laughing too much. 

As a side note, I now know I do not have a future as a transcriptionist.  
Rik posing with my hero, Ketchup, in Goodyear. 
Before we go into the questions, I want to make it clear that I absolutely adore Rik. I met him, not in Cleveland, but in Goodyear, Arizona at Indians Spring Training. I immediately liked him and tried to convince him and my dad to become best friends. I'm still working on that. 

If you have never met him, give it a few minutes with him and you would think you were old friends. Rik is one of the most positive, friendly people that I have ever come across. When people were complaining about a player not signing autographs at Spring Training, he pointed out which players were. If someone has something bad to say about the team, he would somehow turn that frown upside down. 

Rik greets everyone by name and remembers conversations. Fans from other teams knew him by name. He is just an all around great guy. 
A big thank you to Rik and the Indians for participating!

5 Questions with Rik Danburg

1. Cleveland Indians fans know you as the guy that gets the home run balls. What is your role with the Indians?

My title is Supervisor of Guest Services. Pretty much they can give me any type of challenge or any type of job, any day, and I will tackle it with enthusiasm and confidence and a positive outlook. Brad Moore calls my position a Recovery Specialist. When people come back to the ballpark after a bad experience, he will send me to them when we bring them back. I try to help them to rejuvenate their enthusiasm and get that loyalty, and that passion, for baseball back. 

2. When I was in Goodyear, Arizona for Indians Spring Training, it seemed like fans from all the other ball clubs knew you by name! The Indians practice facility was a great environment for all baseball fans. How did you help build that environment?

First of all, you need to set an attitude and atmosphere that is safe, positive, and one that fans want to come back to. It has to be a safe and comfortable setting. If you set the framework up ahead of time, then they are going to come back.  I did hear some negative comments about other complexes and fans would tell me that "it isn’t as friendly as it is here." A simple greeting, "hello, how are you, nice to have you back," is important. Remembering faces and remembering names is also very important. It comes easy for me because I was a teacher and I used to do the same thing with my students. Remembering for example, that a person’s favorite player is Michael Brantley and when Michael Brantley comes out, you can go to that fan and say, "Michael Brantley is now coming out of the batting cage, you might want to get yourself ready and your pen ready for an autograph."  Every person that comes through that gate when I open it in the morning is important to me.

(editor's note: I would like to add here that Rik was amazing at this. There were many times during Spring Training he would dutifully hop out of the way without thinking twice when I scrambled to chase down Masterson. Well, not just me, but other fans as well. Rik would always come back to the fence and chat with the fans without missing a beat once the players walked away)

3. You have interacted with thousands of fans over the years. What is your favorite fan story or an interaction that stuck in your mind?

Here is one for you. Ben Broussard hit a home run in the right field stands- in the Mezzanine, in the old stadium. There was a couple that got engaged that night, and they caught the ball. I met them, I got to know them, I felt good about them. At the time, there was a contest here for an engaged couple to get married on the field at Jacobs Field. I told this couple to enter it.  I said, "you are a vibrant and enthusiastic couple that are in love with each other and you caught that home run ball. You should enter this contest." They did, and they won! They got married on Jacobs Field, at home plate. We were invited to their reception in the Terrace Club, and I went with Nancy (his wife). From time to time I see them at a game. They always look me up when they come back.

(editor's note: I originally wrote that this story was from Progressive Field...It was Jacobs Field. Sorry for my confusion)

4. One reason I think you are so awesome is your attitude. You go out of your way to greet people by name, and maybe sing them a song if they are lucky. How do you maintain such a positive attitude?  I’ve never seen you grumpy. I’ve heard grumpy fans say grumpy things to you and you don’t respond back as a grump.

Growing up, I thought that there has to be a way to find the good out of anything bad. I always try to make lemonade out of lemons and look at the bright side. Taking a negative thought and turning it into a positive. Someone might say, "Oh, its gray today, it might rain." I would say, "However, we can still have a wonderful picnic under the shelter, because the people who are here are going to make the picnic, not the weather." Or someone might say, "Oh, its cold right now at Progressive Field and we have to wear three or four layers" and I would respond, "yes, but the people that are here are passionate about baseball and we need to make them feel comfortable and make sure they enjoy the game, because this may be the only game that they go to this entire year." I’ve always had an optimistic attitude. I love people. I think because I was an only child and I always wanted brothers and sisters, so the more people around me, the happier I am. I jump out of bed, and like this morning, I can not wait to get down here, to do what I do.

5. Last question, who do you think is awesome?

My wife is the one who I think is awesome, because she’s the one that I chose to marry and share my life with. She knows me better than anybody. She encouraged me to do the things that I did and travel the way that I’ve travelled. She’s the number one person that is most awesome in my life because I get to share so much with her, and having our two sons, and raising them the way we did, and she did, it has been awesome. I always wanted to be married and I wanted  to find a person to respect me and to appreciate me for my craziness and my talents and my strengths and weaknesses. She is perfect for me.

When you pick the person that you  are going to be with the rest of your life, you better think they are awesome. We will be married 42 years in October.