The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Sports

August 4, 2013

Farewell to my very best friend

ENID, Okla. — It is said a boy’s best friend is his mother.

I indeed lost my best friend Wednesday when my mother Marie passed away at the age of 94.

Mother was probably born too soon. In today’s world, she could have been running a big business, but opportunities were limited for women in her day.

She could have been a heck of a coach. Forget Sparky Anderson’s “My way or the highway.’’ Mom’s philosophy was there were two ways to do something — her way or the wrong way.

She was from the “no excuses’’ school of Bob Stoops. If you disobeyed her, she would find out — I did the hard way one time.

When I was 10, one day she told me not to have anyone over. Naturally, a few of the neighborhood boys came over and we played some work-up baseball. Unfortunately, I missed a throw and the ball struck me in the nose, leaving a noticeable black eye.

Let’s say I was fined a month’s allowance. I listened to mom after that because maybe God was telling me something — disobey mom and you will pay.

The best way school officials could get me to behave was to threaten to call her. I knew the punishment from her would be more than from the school official.

“We didn’t send you to school to be the class clown,’’ Mother said.

Mom pictured herself as an expert on medicine sometimes. I once broke my collarbone fooling around in the John Marshall High School wrestling room with my fellow football manager Sandy Rothe. Mom diagnosed the injury as a muscle spasm and was calling me a baby when I screamed out when she was putting my arm up and down. She did apologize when Dr. Gale Kimball said it was broken.

Of course, I might have gotten her back when I jumped into her arms, almost breaking her nose when OU beat Nebraska my freshman year there.

But mom was first and foremost a mom.

Moms, as we know, view sports events a little differently than the average fan.

She would brag about how my sister (in pre-Title IX days) could out-jump the boys at West Nichols Hills Elementary School.

Listen to her talk to a friend about my baseball playing and I wonder if she saw the same game. The only thing wrong with my playing was I couldn’t run, throw, hit or field ... other than that, I was just fine.

But listening to her, you would have thought I was Mickey Mantle. He never makes a mistake, she told her friends.

She saw me play catcher for the Trinity Methodist softball team and was especially proud. Her father was a catcher and she was glad I was following in his footsteps. Didn’t have the heart to tell her that’s where they put the worst player in slow-pitch.

Mom could find something good about my play on the worst days. She never criticized.

The conditions for watching a YMCA game in Oklahoma City in 1960s weren’t like watching a game in Enid today. There were no stands. Just a backstop on a vacant field, and there’s a good chance you were eating the dirt from the winds.

The luxury boxes was sitting in your car. If your kid made a good play, you honked your horn. Mom wasn’t afraid to honk the horn. If  I flew out to the outfield, it was horn honking time. It didn’t matter if it was an out, it was a good hit to her.

I know she became a sports fan because her son, while a lousy athlete, was a sports fan. She felt she couldn’t survive in the household if she didn’t follow the games. She played a mean game of bridge, but her children’s activities came first.

Our backyard was a football stadium in the fall and a baseball stadium in the spring and summer. When not playing baseball, it was sometimes a golf course — and occasionally a basketball court. We even had a basketball goal in our living room at one time.

Sports were personal to her.

She didn’t favor one kid over the other in the Bedlam Series. My sister went to OSU. When mom went to the 1982 Bedlam game, she sported a spirit pin from both schools.

She was a Bagwell so her favorite player was Jeff Bagwell. Her brother once speculated Jeff was kin. I told her I didn’t think so because he was from Connecticut and we didn’t have any “Yankees’’ in our family.

But when she started to follow him, she pointed there was one member of the family who wasn’t heard from again. Jeff, she said, had the Bagwell nose and eyes .... joked around with my former colleague Mark Rountree that Bagwell was “cousin Jeff.’’

Following Bagwell, she became an Astros fan and a fan of Craig Biggio. What she noticed was his dirty batting helmet and dirty uniform. She liked his hustle.

Baseball wasn’t the same for her after Bagwell and Biggio retired. She didn’t know the players, so she couldn’t really root for the team.

Before Bagwell, her favorite was Johnny Bench. She took her girl scout troop to Camp Red Rock in Binger. She felt anyone who could come out of Binger and make something out of themselves was worth rooting for.

The maddest I ever saw her during a game was the 1972 World Series when Bench took a third strike after the opposing Oakland A’s had duped him by signaling for an intentional walk on a 3-2 count.

She never forgave Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones for firing Tom Landry. She admired Landry’s Christian beliefs, but truth be known, she rooted for him because he once gave her son an autograph.

Ricky Bryan might have been her favorite OU football player because he came from “Tater Hill.’’ He was a true country boy and she had been a true country girl.

Ditto for Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman, who she referred to as “Henryetta’’ because he came from my dad’s hometown.

Matt Price was her favorite Price brother of Enid High fame because he was the middle brother like my dad was. She could identify with that.

She followed Matt and his 1982 Enid teammates when they were in Oklahoma City for the playoffs. What made her more excited, though, was seeing OSU coach Paul Hansen asking to get his face painted in Enid’s colors in his efforts to recruit older brother Mark.

She didn’t watch OU’s Blake Griffin for his dunks, but for his mom’s reactions in the stands.

Her favorite game to watch might have been watching T-ballers practice. It reminded her when I was that age. Always laughed when she talked about that.

When mom lived in Oklahoma City, she was my chaffeur when EHS played there. I wrote the stories going home while she drove. She even bought me my own radio shack computer so I could transmit the stories easier.

While mom’s death is difficult for us, we know she is home now with dad. I couldn’t have had a better mom.

Campbell is a News & Eagle sports writer.

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