More War Stories from a Bizarre Career in Sports, Horse Racing, and Journalism

Last month, as part of “The Dark Day Files,” I wrote a few stories up from my life and career that hadn’t been chronicled anywhere. That post did pretty well, and I’ve heard that a few of those tales resonated with people in a cool way (the writer of the story chronicled in “Error-Gate” had completely forgotten about how it wound up affecting me, for instance). With that in mind, I’m doing a similar post (largely from my phone, since my computer’s keyboard is being finicky!), and I’ll throw a few stories up every once in a while for as long as people want to read them.

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THE CANOE

My father was confused as to why this story didn’t make it into the first batch of stories I told, so here we go. Every racetrack veteran has had memorable days of going to the track that have absolutely nothing to do with the horses, and some have very little to do with wagering. This is one of those times.

Before I go further, I should note that my father and I remember certain details about this ordeal a bit differently. I believe we were directly behind a hatchback that had a canoe on the top, and we were just shy of the Twin Bridges, which are between Albany and Saratoga on the Adirondack Northway. He thinks the car was in a lane alongside us near Malta, which is the last town you get to before Saratoga Springs going north.

Regardless of that, there’s no disputing what happened next. The canoe came loose of its bearings and dropped behind the car. It bounced once to where it was directly in front of us, and I remember ducking and throwing my arms up to stop myself from getting impaled.

Somehow, though, the canoe took a 90-degree bounce sideways, did not hit a single car on that bounce, and then skidded off the road and into the trees. It’s a little difficult to paint the picture of just how fortunate it was that nobody got hurt that day, but hopefully, you get some idea. My dad and I then got our respective clocks cleaned at the track that day, but we still consider ourselves winners.

– – – – –

ESCAPING DRIVING DUTIES…AT THE DOG TRACK?

As some of you know, my career did not start out in horse racing. My first job out of college was in the athletic communications office at Siena College, where I did a little bit of everything. That included providing stats for some sports, putting on events, pitching story concepts to the media, and handling most of the department’s audio-visual coverage, including a segment called Siena Saints Weekly, which you can still find on YouTube to this day. In fact, here’s a “best of” compilation I did at the end of the 2011-12 school year.

Anyway, with such a small department and so many assignments to go around, I got the brunt of a lot of stuff. I did many things, and was proud to do many things, but there was an instance where I just had to draw the line.

The 2011 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference basketball tournament was held in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Why Bridgeport? That’s a question that baffles many within the league to this very day. At any rate, on our way to this scenic locale, my two bosses, Jason Rich and Mike Demos (both of whom, I’m proud to say, are friends of mine to this day), started making noise about plans for the evening, complete with assigning me the job of hauling them around.

Silently, I began plotting a way out of it. Yes, I was the intern, but I was also NOBODY’S driver. My exit plan materialized before my eyes when I set my stuff down in the hotel room I shared with Scott Connell, a fellow Ithaca College graduate (go Bombers!) who was then an assistant medical trainer with the basketball teams. I opened up the curtains, and my reaction would have been much more subdued had I somehow stumbled upon the lost city of El Dorado.

A few blocks from the hotel…sat a long-closed greyhound racing venue that advertised live simulcasting of thoroughbred racing.

I don’t quite remember how I did it, but I snuck out without anyone noticing and with nary a clue about what tracks were running. I arrived to a pretty desolate scene, with a handful of older Korean gentlemen huddling around televisions that wouldn’t have been out of place 25 years earlier. I quickly found out that none of them spoke a word of English, and I proceeded to spend the rest of the evening handicapping Delta Downs with that group.

I could’ve been jumping from one seedy dive bar to another in Bridgeport, Connecticut, but instead chose to watch racing from a track in Louisiana with people I could not communicate with. Who says MY life isn’t worth living?

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OTHER SIENA STORIES

Many of these stories are good, but too short for their own entries.

– On a women’s basketball bus ride to Maine (EIGHT HOURS EACH WAY IN DECEMBER!!!), I overheard part of a game of “truth or dare” being played on the back of the bus. I didn’t exactly hear the question, but given that I heard an answer of, “Andrew, he’s kind of cute,” I can fill in the blanks. What bothered me was an instantaneous reaction of, “EW!!!,” by another player. Plot twist: Even though I was 10 rows ahead of the team huddled in the back, and even though they talked quietly to make sure nobody could hear them, I’ve always known who the players in question were and who said what.

– I was the media relations contact for Siena’s water polo team. In 2011, they had their senior day, complete with speeches from juniors to graduating seniors. One of the speeches, uttered in full view of the athletic director, featured the line, “You’re like Rihanna. Sticks and stones may break your bones, but chains and whips excite you.” I got blown up at for that by one of my direct bosses (even though it was never explained to me that I was supposed to take a leadership role in pulling this off), and the next year, we got a LOT stricter with the speeches (much to the dismay of the teams involved!).

– In the fall of 2011, as they did every year, my bosses gave media training seminars to student-athletes. It included showing a series of social media posts made by current or former student-athletes that showed what not to do (typical, college-kid stuff). One team’s response, one of a certain sort of outrage, was to block every member of the athletic communications office on social media. This included me, even though I had nothing to do with that!

– One of the college teams I served as a contact for threw particular fits about the pre-game music and its volume. Namely, during warmups, a number of people on the team would stop the drills, run to the side of the field the press box was on, and yell for us to turn it up. It’s no surprise that, the year they did this, said team went winless on the season.

– Best pre-game story: Before my very first field hockey game in 2010, I went down to the field to talk to the coach of Saint Louis University. A few of the players had multiple positions listed, and I wanted to make sure I got them right. The coach’s direct quote: “Don’t worry about it. It’s pretty much a free-for-all.”

– There is no worse rule in college sports than the one in softball that reads, “no error can take place when a player’s glove does not touch the ball.” If I could’ve burned a rulebook in protest every time such a ruling had to be made, I would have.

– The commissioner of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference has me blocked on Twitter. I know a few people who work closely with him, so I need to ask: What did I do? I never once actually TALKED with the guy.

– – – – –

THE QUIET MAN

Between years at Siena, I worked for The Saratoga Special, a seasonal publication run by Joe and Sean Clancy. Many people of considerable merit in horse racing have cut their teeth working for the Special, including Churchill Downs track announcer Travis Stone, NTRA communications maestro Jim Mulvihill, and ESPN reporter Quint Kessenich. Because this is my site, I’m gratuitously adding my name to this list, and if you don’t like it, well, tough.

Anyway, I worked for them for a few weeks in 2011 before the Siena athletic year started, mostly grabbing post-race sound bytes for undercard stories. For the most part, I had a blast, and many of the people I interviewed could not have been nicer. I still have an “interview” I did with Helen Groves, who owned an impressive filly named And Why Not. I asked one question, and she talked uninterrupted for several minutes. It’s an easy job when all you have to do is hit a “record” button!

However, there was a part-owner who shall remain nameless that did something that sticks in my craw six-plus years later. He had a 2-year-old win at first asking, which is every big-time owner’s dream. I went and talked to him…and he said next to nothing before brushing me off. It should be noted that I talked with dozens of people at the track that summer, and he was the only one to give me that treatment.

One of his friends, to his credit, tried to do damage control, insisting that he was, “a private guy.” I shrugged him off, believing then (as I do now) that if you’re at the track to watch your horse run, you’d better be prepared to say something to someone if that horse wins. That taught me something about how to deal with people, and even now, I’ve prided myself on treating people better than I was treated that day.

Necessary postscript: The horse that got him into the winner’s circle that day never won another race.

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