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Joe Bastardi: Ironic Family Ties

on May 31, 2011 6:36 AM

Do you ever think back to some of the things that happened with family members that have some irony in them?

For instance, I can remember coming off the pitcher's mound in Little League in the first game my dad was coach after walking the bases loaded in the 6th inning of a tie game. My arm was killing me and I came off the mound crying to my dad. He put in the third baseman; they shellacked us; we lost 12-6.

When I got home, he calmly came into my room and said, "Only you know if you quit or not out there. But whatever you do, don't ever quit. Lose if you have to, but don't quit."

To this day, I don't know if I quit that day, but I will tell you this: No matter what has happened since then, everything in my life, including the failures, I know I did all I could have done. In that situation, there was – and still is – doubt in my mind about whether I could have thrown another pitch. But in every other thing I have done, no matter what anyone else thinks, I know what was going on inside me and that I had laid my guts out to dry.

The most interesting thing about that is that you don't console yourself, because you know you came up short. When you don't quit, what is a loss may be something that can help you win the next time.

I still think back to that day in Little League, though.

The ironic part is, after that incident the poem "Don't quit" went up in my room. Years later, my father said to me, after hanging on too long in a situation he and mom thought I should have gotten out of earlier, he wishes he never put that darn poem up in my room. It's happened a few times since 1966.

I guess one needs wisdom also, not just perseverance.

Here's another Little League story that got handed down to my daughter, Jessie. I was an 11-year-old in my first year in New Jersey from Texas, a short fat kid who could hit and went from playing two innings in right field at the start of the year to being a .500-hitting six-inning center fielder. In any case I had to face the dreaded Dave Hodson, the fire-balling 12-year-old from our arch rival. He rocked off the third base side of the mound looking like he was throwing the ball at your head. Dad was not yet my coach (we had just moved up from Texas, and of course there was some desire to prove ourselves).

In any case, Dad told me to hang in; don't back away. Well, two singles later, I came up in the sixth inning with the game on the line. To this very day, I can recall the shock that went up my arm to my head and down to my left foot, when the Hodson three-quarter sidearm, howitzer-delivered fastball nailed me on the end of my left elbow. A few years later as a junior in high school, I blamed the loss of a left-handed arm wrestling match to Heather Sevier (a great athlete from my high school) on that elbow still being hurt.

Years later, Jessie was facing a fire-balling pitcher in girls softball (she was a friend of Jessie's, lived in the neighborhood, and was fast – real fast – Dave Hodson fast). I told Jessie, no matter what, hang in on her. Later, as I was carrying my crying daughter off the field in my arms, the imprint of the softball on her knee, I had flashbacks to that day years ago.

But Jessie had hung in there.

One big difference: Jessie is tougher than me and probably will be winning the arm wrestling matches later – against some unsuspecting boys.

Then there is my brother Matt. In 1982, I was on the radio in Norfolk, Va, and always mouthing off about my bodybuilding, even though I never won a show until 1997 –I lost the first 36 shows I was in and didn't place in the top five in half of them. Of course, why would that stop me from talking about something I wasn't that good at? Well the Mid-Atlantic championships were being held down there, and the promoter of the show invited me to guest pose, figuring he would get some people in to see a bodybuilding radio weatherman. When he called me, it was Mother's Day, I had just eaten at Mom and Dad's and was 206 and fat – I would walk around with three sweat shirts so everyone thought I was big, but I was just plain old fat (though I was strong). Anyway, I had two months to get in shape. I went on an 800-calorie-a-day diet, cut to 164 and showed up to guest pose. They treated me like king. Put me on an expensive houseboat like I was a real big shot.

Anyway, I am back in the green room at the Virginia Beach Pavilion pumping up and my brother Matt comes back there, his usual enthusiastic self. He said, "Joe, you should see the size of these guys, they all look like Arnold Schwarzenegger back in the day."

I said, "Yeah, well I look like Frank Zane" – a relatively thin, though outstanding bodybuilder, three times Mr. Olympia). My point was that, OK, these guys are big, but I am cut, and when onstage by yourself, no one knows.

Matty said, "Let's see what you got." I took off my sweatshirt. His comment: "Joe get off the stage as fast as you can."

It was nasty. I was out there posing and no one was saying anything. It was like a morgue, except for Matt, who was screaming like I was Mr. Olympia. "Yeah. Bring it. Go for it." Etc. etc. etc." It's something that they could have made a "Saturday Night Live" skit about.

But I vowed I would go back, and in 1988, in what was a very tough competition, I placed. In 1992, I did not, but Jess came in and placed second (she should have won; it was one of the few times she did not). She brought the house down with her posing routine, and no one knew who she was. She hit a side aerial into a back double bicep to end her routine to "Bad to the Bone." It was great. I couldn't have cared less that I didn't place. I thought, "Look who I am marrying in two months." My brother and his wife were down there. Needless to say, we had a lot better time than during the disaster of 1982.

By the way, Jess and I have competed together five times, and she always has placed higher than me when competing in the same show. There was only one thing I could do, given that situation: ban her from competing if was in the show.

That was a joke, OK?

I'll end this with a classic from my brother-in-law, Johnny.

My in-laws know I love the Aggies. I can't help it. If you grew up on that campus and saw how loyal people were to them in the 1960s when they lost all the time, you would love them, too.

But my in-laws are interesting. They range from one sister-in-law who screams at me about how badly they stink when Texas Tech was laying 70 points on them a few years ago to a general tolerance of my Aggie fanaticism, because if they are spending Thanksgiving at our house, eating and drinking anything they want, the least they could do is humor the host.

One particularly disappointing Thanksgiving, as the hope for victory over Texas faded (to put this in perspective, as a Penn State fan also, I have two "Michigans" – Texas is the other) and I sank lower and lower in my chair in the corner, the chant of "Poor Aggies" could be heard in the background as the Texas fans started demeaning the formerly dirt-poor land-grant school that A and M is. (I am sure all the psychiatrists out there are reading this and thinking, "Wow, this guy has problems.") In any case, my brother-in-law Johnny – a Cleveland Browns fan, so he should know – comes up to me and says, "They suck the life right out of you, don't they Joe?"

Yes, they do, John. But it's no irony. I thank God for family.

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