Wake Breaks Through

Progress, as Wake Forest confirmed with Sunday’s mind-blowing 64-43 victory over Syracuse, is rarely if ever linear.

We humans don’t generally go from awful to awesome slow and steady, step-by-step.

Instead we push against the impenetrable (or so it seems) barrier with all our might until we start to despair, until we start to feel like the mythological Sisyphus trying, always in vain, to shoulder his boulder up and over the hill.

And what happens is that, if we push hard enough, with enough sustained energy and ingenuity with our mouth held just right, all of a sudden the barrier shatters. All of a sudden we, in the words of Jim Morrison of the Doors, break on through to the other side.

Break on through, I say again, to the other side.

For my last three seasons as an everyday working sportswriter (again, a contradiction of terms) I watched Dave Clawson endeavor ever so mightily to build an offense at Wake Forest from scratch. Jim Grobe, the best coach I never covered at Wake, left Dave a solid, mid-level ACC defense but the offensive cupboard was as bare as bare could be.

Practice after practice, game after game, month after month, season after season I watched Dave assemble the parts and put them through their paces, with barely noticeable results.

First he had to build the offensive line. Then he had to find and coach up the skill athletes able to deliver the goods. But for all his efforts — and as I will attest, they were considerable – a microscope was required to see any sign of progress.

His first team scored 14.8 points a game, fewer than any major-college team other than SMU. His second team averaged 17.4 points a game, which, though better, was still worse than every ACC team other than anemic Boston College.

So it took Clawson three seasons for his offense to score 20.4 points a game, which still tied the Eagles for worst in the league. But after averaging only 13 points over the final three games, the Deacons at least threw scraps of hope to the hungry by torching ranked Temple for 34 in a resounding Military Bowl victory.

Anyone expecting the 2017 team to be an offensive juggernaut had to be disappointed by the 20 points at Appalachian State, the 19 at home against FSU and the 14 at Clemson.

But somewhere along the way – maybe it was during the 43-32 victory over Louisville, or perhaps even the 48-37 loss at Notre Dame – Clawson and his Deacons got up enough momentum to finally, at long last, push their Sisyphean boulder over the crest of the hill.

And once that boulder started rolling down the other side –

– My man, John Wolford, ravages the Orange defense for 499 yards and six touchdowns.

– Matt Colburn, the last running back standing, rumbles for 237 yards and two touchdowns.

– Three receivers, Tabari Hines, Cam Serigne and Scotty Washington, catch at least seven passes for at least 100 yards.

– The Deacons, as a team, score their most points since 66-21 drubbing of Virginia in 1975 and amass a total of 734 yards, shattering the school record to little tiny bits. The previous record was the 632 yards gained against North Carolina in a 48-31 home victory way back in 1968, the season Groves Stadium (now known as BB&T Field) opened.

And Wake accomplished all this without Cade Carney, the running back who started the season, Greg Dortch, the redshirt freshman who zipped and zapped his way to 53 receptions and 722 yards in is first eight college games, and Arkeem Byrd, another redshirt freshman who scared the dickens out of every defensive coordinator who turned on Wake’s tapes.

But what the Deacons had, by Saturday, was a tough, grizzled offensive line, a talented quarterback who had started 42 games, and a team-full of players who bought into Clawson’s mantra that the process had to be trusted

So Wake, at 6-4, is now bowl eligible with home games against N.C. State and Duke remaining. There were erroneous reports from multiple quarters that Saturday’s victory secured a bowl bid. That’s what I heard on the telecast, and even Clawson, in his post-game IMG Sports interview with Stan Cotten, said his team is now guaranteed at least three more games.

Not so.

As probable as a bowl bid for Wake is – and I, like most everybody reading this, have a hard time imagining the Deacons will be sitting home come bowl season – the fact remains that every team in the ACC other than North Carolina still has a shot at one of the nine bowl tie-ins the conference has arranged.

Of course, the Deacons could end up in a bowl with no current affiliation with the conference. And of course they are, suddenly, a most attractive team capable of putting up pinball-like numbers at the drop of a shiny gold helmet.

And for that I’m happy for Wolford and Serigne and all the seniors who had to trust the process as Clawson built the offense part by part. I’m happy for Justin Herron, Phil Haynes, Ryan Anderson, Patrick Osterhage, Jake Benzinger and Nathan Gilliam, all of whom were showered with so much abuse (much of it, I must admit, coming from yours truly) while they galvanized into the best offensive line I’ve seen play at Wake since, at least, Grobe’s first few seasons.

Most of all I’m happy for Dave Clawson, because I know how hard he had to work to get the program where it is today.

Work obviously remains. The defense is a concern, even after giving up only three points in the second half at Syracuse. If stars Jessie Bates and Duke Ejiofor are unable to answer the bell next week, the proceedings against N.C. State could get ugly.

But the Deacons are again, a really fun team to watch. That’s what Clawson promised when he arrived, and that’s what he has delivered.

The boulder has crested the hill. Look out below.

 

Open Mic

It makes you scared,

It makes you numb,

But it’s the price you pay

If you want to become

The Star of Your Dreams.

From Open Mic Night at The Rubber Soul

If there really is such thing as a mid-life crisis, I experienced one along about 15 years ago.

It was the dawn of a new century and I’d just turned 50. I’d been in the same profession doing pretty much the same thing for 30 years. Our kids, Nate and Rebecca, were old enough to get in and out of the bathtub by themselves. And, considering their mother, Tybee, is a teacher and way smarter than their dad, they rarely came to me for help with homework anyway.

So around the house, I was starting to feel, shall we say, superfluous. I needed some juice in my life. I was bored and getting more so every day.

But fear not. I didn’t go out and buy a fancy red sports car to tool around town with the ragtop down. And if you’ve seen me anytime since, you’ll know I didn’t start wearing some stupid rug on my head.

What I did, instead, was to toss Buckshot, my 1967 Gibson J-45, in the car and scoured around town to find an Open Mic scene where I could play the songs I had been writing since I first learned to play at age 15 or 16.

And sure enough, down on Burke Street near the intersection with First Street – at the top of the hill – I stumbled into a bar called the Rubber Soul, which featured a thriving Open Mic Night on Wednesdays. And I give thanks to this day that Kent Dunn, the wide-open owner of the establishment, and Neal B. Goode, who ram-rodded the Open Mic and operated the sound board, never ran me off.

I kept coming, week after week, until sadly, the Rubber Soul closed its doors sometime around 2006. The scene died, but thankfully the three patrons shot in there on that tragic Monday night all survived.

But the hook was in pretty deep by then, so I talked the owners of the Garage – two good friends and even better folks, Richard Emmett and Kim Lawson – into letting me run an Open Mic at their bar on Seventh Street downtown. We had a really good thing going there for 4 ½ years, a show on that wonderful big stage that started at 8 and ran until 12.

We kept tweaking the format until, in the later years, we offered 15-minute sets for singer-songwriters the first couple of hours leading into two 45-minute sets for bands from 10:30 to midnight.

I’ve been told by folks who might know this kind of thing that 4 ½ years is an eternity for any Open Mic scene. I do know we had us quite a time until our show finally ran its course and ended. We always had plenty of performers to fill the bill, but when the number of folks there to listen and buy adult beverages slowed to a trickle, Richard and Kim weren’t making enough to keep it going.

By then, I was pretty much done with hanging around until the last note died at midnight. So I was cool, and then some, with how it all went down.

But I was still writing songs, and I still needed a place to play them. You see, playing a new song live is, at least for me, essential to the process. I don’t even feel I’ve written a song until I’ve show-tested it, to to speak, in front of live human beings other than my bride Tybee.

I kept hunting around town for another happening Open Mic scene, but could never find one to suit my purposes. I fell into a couple of scenes where there were Open Jams, but if you’re a songwriter, nobody you’re playing with at these shows is going to know your songs.

It just didn’t work.

And perhaps you’ve heard the saying about how if you want to do something right. . .

So finally, early in 2014, I wrote out a proposal introducing myself and explaining what I had done at the Garage and what I was willing to do elsewhere, and dropped it off at every bar, club and venue in town that featured live music. And for months, I heard absolutely nothing.

Then in the late spring of 2014 I got a call from a guy named Bill Heath, who was interested in maybe getting an Open Mic going at Muddy Creek Cafe in Bethania. Right away I was interested, especially considering the Cafe is about five minutes from our hacienda.

We launched in June of 2014 and have been going great guns ever since. Befitting my age, it’s an earlier scene. We start at 6:30 and wrap the night up by 10, if not sooner.

Over all these experiences I’ve become more and more devoted to the concept of Open Mic.

On its worst nights, its time well-worth spending.

On its best nights replete with amazing music and even better communal fellowship and fun, it can be downright holy.

And at Muddy Creek Cafe we take great, great pains to ensure that our Open Mic is totally open. Being a musician myself, I recognize how harrowing getting up on stage to play for people can be – especially when you’re laying your soul bare by performing songs you, yourself, wrote.

So our motto is that You’re Among Friends at Open Mic at Muddy Creek Cafe. And we always welcome newbies with open arms.

What I’ve found is that relying on the same core of two or three dozen people will carry you only so far. Eventually life catches up and the numbers start to dwindle.

I attribute our longevity to being able to expand the circle with newbies every week. Besides, the larger the circle, the more fun for everybody. And we happily include all people of all ages, genders, races, attitudes and tastes.
Why not? Good music is good music, good people are good people and good times are good times.

Every week I leave my house before six knowing I have absolutely no idea what to expect. Every week is different but every week has been a blast.

I wake up every Thursday morning with a smile on my face, knowing there will be an Open Mic that night. And I’ll have the same smile on my face when I leave the house tonight for the show.

So if you’re a musician looking for a place to play, or if you’re just a music lover looking for a happening scene, we’d love to have you drop by. For those wanting to perform, just know that at 6:15 we draw numbers to determine when everybody plays.

The real fur begins to fly with the first chord at 6:30.

We’re having too much fun to miss. Hope to see you there.

The Big Bad NRA

Nobody in their right mind is advocating the prohibition and confiscation of guns in American.

There are, studies show, more than 300 million guns privately owned in our country. Think about it. Nobody could get rid of that many guns even if they tried.

Nor should they.

In addition to those who are willing to fight to the death to own firearms, I’d hazard to guess that there are millions of Americans who feel about the say way I do. Guns are deeply embedded in our culture and besides, if someone wants to keep one in their home for protection, or likes to hunt, or maybe just enjoys collecting firearms for a hobby, more power to them.

I repeat. Nobody in their right mind is advocating the prohibition and confiscation of guns in America.

But next time you catch a guns’ rights advocate make their case, check how quickly they raise the specter of prohibition and confiscation Watch how they go from reasonable and sensible gun control to the abolition of guns in America faster than a Lamborghini can accelerate from 0-to-60 miles an hour.

Because without that tired, overused canard, they have nothing to defend their extreme position, a position that there’s really nothing legislatively our elected officials should – or even could — do about guns to stem the epidemic of mass shootings raging in our land.

Twenty five good folks were gunned down this week while at worship in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. A month ago 58 were slaughtered and 546 wounded at a country music show in Las Vegas.

It’s hard these days to turn on the television without being bombarded by more breaking news of another mass shooting in America.

Let’s concede every sane and responsible citizen has a right to own a gun in America. For that, I have no problem. But don’t I have a right to attend church or go listen to some good music without being gunned down by some crazy with a weapon of war in his or her hands?

We elect our politicians to solve these kinds of problems. Our president certainly didn’t waste any time advocating the policy solution of tighter immigration when a deranged soul originally from Uzbekistan plowed over bikers and crashed into a school bus in New York City.

But the next time there’s a mass shooting – and I’m conditioned to expect that it won’t be long – check out the reaction from the politicians currently in power.

First they’ll maintain that it’s “too early’’ to comment, and by doing so would only “politicize” the tragedy.

Then, of course, they’ll offer their “thoughts and prayers’’ to the victims and their loved ones.

Not to say there’s anything whatsoever wrong than extending thoughts and prayers – as far as that goes.

The problem is, then they do absolutely nothing

If they were to follow up by advancing reasonable and sensible solutions to the problem – and here we’re talking about expanding background checks, closing the loopholes that allow the bad guys to get guns, keeping weapons of war such as high-powered, rapid-action assault rifles out of the hands of the general public – then all that would be well and good.

Instead, the powers that be just keep on keeping on accepting and cashing their checks from the NRA and other extreme guns’ rights organization and doing nothing to stem the epidemic.

But I have to think that at some point, either here or in the hereafter, they’re going to have to answer for their deafening silence.

And good luck with that.

Memorandums Vindicate N.C. State

Those of you who believe this post will believe anything. Who knows, you might even believe the office of the Atlantic Coast Conference is really behind which of its member schools wins or loses a particular athletic event.

It’s not paranoia, as the saying goes, when they’re really out to get you.

Long-suffering supporters of N.C. State athletics can at least take solace in knowing that the suspicions they’ve harbored now for 64 years – since the formation of the Atlantic Coast Conference – have now, at long last, been confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Previously undisclosed minutes from the meetings held in May of 1953 at the Sedgefield Inn in Greensboro were found recently in the personal effects of Skeeter Francis, the late long-time publicist for Wake Forest in the ACC. Of particular interest were those recorded on the afternoon of May 8, 1953, during a 15-minute period when Roy Clogston, the director of athletics at N.C. State, had a sudden and unfortunate reaction to his lunch, forcing him to repair in great haste to the men’s room.

According to the accounts recorded by some unnamed secretary (Francis?), the other athletic directors in the room – Eddie Cameron of Duke, Rex Enright of South Carolina, Jim Weaver of Wake Forest, Jim Tatum of Maryland, Chuck Erickson of North Carolina and Frank Howard of Clemson – took advantage of Clogston’s absence to establish and corroborate the real reason the schools were pulling away the Southern Conference to form their new league.

Initiating the discussion was Cameron, as he stood at the door and watched Clogston stumble down the hall and around a corner.

All clear, Cameron told the others. Time to get the story straight.

Weaver took the floor to remind everyone that the official explanation for forming the Atlantic Coast Conference would be that the 17-team Southern Conference had become too large and unwieldy. He planned to emphasize to the media and public how his own coach, Tom Rogers, complained constantly about never getting to play lightweights Davidson and Furman.

Howard, laughing uncontrollably, said Clemson could never find it in its heart to forgive the Southern Conference for 1950 season when the Tigers, at 9-0-1, finished second in the standings to 8-3 Washington and Lee. That was the season, Howard reminded the others, that Clemson played only four conference games, one of which ended in a 14-14 tie with rival South Carolina. Washington and Lee, meanwhile, finished 6-0 in conference play.

Tatum, endeavoring to maintain a straight face, recalled how the Southern Conference had suspended Maryland and Clemson from play in 1952, the year after the Terps and Tigers defied a bowl ban imposed by the conference to play in the Sugar and Orange Bowls, respectively. The explanation would be well received in College Park, Tatum pointed out, especially considering the Terps beat Tennessee in the 1951 Sugar Bowl to finish 10-0.

Only then did Erickson rise to remind his fellow director of athletics the true impetus for leaving the Southern Conference and forming a new league. Confidentiality was critical, Erickson noted, so that the Wolfpack should never, ever discover that the Atlantic Coast Conference was formed for one reason and one reason only.

And that, Erickson reiterated, his belly shaking in laughter, is so that the other member schools could stick it to N.C. State for as many years and in as many ways as they could get away with it.

Enright expressed doubt that the subterfuge would survive even the most cursory of scrutiny.

Cameron disagreed, expressing the opinion that the folks in South Carolina didn’t know the depths of N.C. State’s persecution complex as well as the Wolfpack’s neighbors in North Carolina.

Cameron found support from Erickson, who reminded the others how much fun it will be to torment the Wolfpack game after game, month after month, season after season.

The discussion ended when Cameron, standing at the door, warned that Clogston was coming back down the hall.

But not before Erickson bet Enright a hundred dollars that more than 60 years would pass before N.C. State ever learned the true reason the ACC was formed in May of 1953 at Greensboro’s Sedgefield Inn.

Wake’s D a Constant No More

Wake’s defense played without Jessie Bates in yesterday’s 48-37 defeat at Notre Dame.

Or a better way of starting this post is that Wake’s defense tried to play without Jessie Bates in yesterday’s 48-37 defeat at Notre Dame.

Whether it succeeded depends on whether you deem getting steamrolled for 710 yards – second most in long storied history of Notre Dame football – and 48 points is your definition of success.

And it could have been, as Coach Dave Clawson of the Deacons observed later, worse.

Much worse.

“The amount of ones that they should’ve hit that they didn’t – it could have been even uglier,’’ Clawson said. “It could have been a 900-yard day for them if they had hit all their deep shots.’’

I was impressed watching the post-game video provided by the tireless efforts of my compadre Les Johns of Demon Deacons Digest. Clawson didn’t mince words on how bad his defense got exposed And I was most impressed by his refusual to use the absence of Bates – the team’s best defensive back and, along with Duke Ejiofor, one of the Deacons’ two best defensive players – as an excuse.

“That’s football,’’ Clawson said. “Next man up.’’

Good for you Dave. You play with what you’ve got.

The Deacons also had to play most of the second half without cornerback Amari Henderson, and as Clawson noted, the Irish wasted little time going right at Henderson’s replacement, freshman Ja’Sir Taylor.

But the real takeaway from the last 10 quarters the Deacons have played is that the one constant of Clawson’s first three and a half seasons as Wake’s head coach is a constant no more.

All the while he was building an offensive from scratch, he could count on one of the ACC’s best defenses keeping the program at least competitive.

Over the last 10 quarters, encompassing the second half against Georgia Tech and games against Louisville and Notre Dame, the Deacons have been torched for 1,535 yards and 105 points.

Yes, indeed, Georgia Tech, Louisville and Notre Dames are really good teams. The Irish may well end up playing for the national championship. But Clawson saw good teams the past two seasons at Wake as well, when the Deacons were ranking No. 6 (in 2015) and No. 3 (in 2016) in the ACC in total defense.

It’s always folly to predict the future, but from the looks of things the Deacons will have to bounce back next week at Syracuse and later at home against N.C. State and Duke to finish anywhere close to that high in that category. Wake is currently ranked No. 6, giving up an average of 24.2 points a game, but Florida State, Boston College and Syracuse are giving up less than point more.

“We’ve played good defense here for 3 ½ years,’’ Clawson said “(Saturday) was not our best effort.’’

As hard as I looked, I couldn’t see a Brandon Chubb or Marquel Lee or anyone resembling them playing linebacker yesterday for the Deacons. My question going into the season about Grant Dawson and Jaboree Williams remains.

I’m willing to wait to see how bad the Deacons are missing Mike Elko, now with Notre Dame. His own troops were ravaged for 37 points and 587 yards by my man John Wolford and the rapidly improving Wake offense.

But wouldn’t you just know it, about the time Clawson gets an offense together capable of doing serious damage against the upper crust of the ACC, his defense blows a hole.

The injuries to Bates and Henderson revealed what may be the biggest problem facing Clawson and Jay Sawvel, the first-year defensive coordinator. It takes time to build a program, especially, as we’ve seen, at Wake Forest. And building good solid, competive depth can be the last wing added to the complex.

Not to pick on one player, but every time I looked up yesterday there was Bates’ replacement, redshirt freshman Luke Masterson, chasing some Irish ballcarrier down the field.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Deacons respond next week at Syracuse. But I do have a suggestion for any member of the Wake defense before they gather as a team to watch the films of their “effort’’ at Notre Dame.

Eat something that’s easy on the stomach.

“I think we’re going to watch this film,’’ Clawson said, “and just want to throw up.’’

Wake OL Play a Sight for Sore Eyes

To me, the most impressive drive of Wake Forest’s breakthrough 42-32 victory over Louisville last Saturday didn’t produce even a field goal, much less a touchdown.

But it did show more people than me something we have all been waiting years and years to see.

The Deacons were leading 35-17 when they regained possession at their own 6-yard line with 9:14 showing on the clock. They embarked then and there on a 10-play drive – with all the plays being handoffs or pitches to running back Matt Colburn — that consumed seven minutes and 15 seconds, leaving the Cardinals with only 1:59 remaining to stage a miracle comeback.

They seriously tried, scoring two touchdowns on blitzkrieg drives of five and four plays, but the comeback was dented by John Wolford’s 44-yard touchdown pass to high-school teammate Chucky Wade. Thus, only 14 seconds were showing when Louisville scored its last points – not enough time even for someone as dangerous with the football in his hands as quarterback Lamar Jackson.

So looking back, it was easy conclude that it was allowing the Deacons to chew up seven precious minutes that ultimately did Louisville in. And for those seven minutes, the Cardinals had to know what Wake Forest intended to do, and yet the Deacons kept rolling down the field with Colburn picking up seven yards on this play, 18 on that, 10 on the next.

Colburn carried all 10 plays, gaining 56 yards and picking up three first downs before being stacked for no gain on a fourth-and-one at the Louisville 38. The moment had to be seriously satisfying to Colburn, who originally committed to Cardinals’ coach Bobby Petrino before being told, in effect, that his scholarship could be better used elsewhere.

So Colburn, by finishing with a career-high 134 yards on 24 carries was one of the big stories of the game, as were redshirt freshman Greg Dortch (10 catches for 167 yards and a school-record four touchdowns), redshirt sophomore Scotty Washington (six catches for 133 yards) and of course senior quarterback John Wolford (28 completions on 34 passes for 461 yards and five touchdowns).

But those who live and die with Wake football through the years could be forgiven for thinking that the most satisfying storyline of the day was the way the Deacons, with the game still on the line, knocked holes in Louisville’s defense and ran through them.

Those who followed my coverage of Wake Forest football for the Winston-Salem Journal might have noticed that I began ever preseason camp by asking one question: Is this the year the Deacons’ offensive line finally starts blocking somebody?

And they also might remember that I concluded every season with the answer. And we all know what that answer was.

Season after season, Wake Forest was saddled with one of the weakest offensive lines in at least Power Five football, if not the entire college game. Dave Clawson was well aware of the deficiency when he accepted the position of head coach before the 2014 season, but he also recognized that no unit on the team takes as much time to build, and build right, as the offensive line.

It’s a long, arduous process that requires identifying the right players in recruiting, getting them in the weight room and building their bodies to where they can do what needs to be done, and then, and only then, molding them into a well-drilled machine with five players working as one.

Time and again, Clawson explained how there were no quick fixes in the offensive line, and time after time, I nodded my head in total agreement. I understood completely what he was doing when he bit the proverbial bullet by inserting Justin Herron and Phil Haynes in the lineup as redshirt freshmen. I even wrote a story about it, with the headline being “Twin Pillars.’’

There were baby steps along the way. Season by season, the Deacons gained more yards rushing while giving up fewer sacks.

But it wasn’t until this past Saturday that I saw Wake block an elite college team the way the Deacons blocked Louisville.

Kudos to Herron and Haynes, redshirt juniors who have started 61 games between them.

Kudos to redshirt junior center Ryan Anderson, who has started 25 even after being suspended the first five games of his redshirt freshmen season.

Kudos to redshirt junior Patrick Osterhage and redshirt sophomore Jake Benzinger for holding their own on the right side of the line.

Kudos to Nick Tabacca, the offensive line coach who assembled the parts and got them all working together.

Kudos most of all to Clawson, who saw what had to be done for the Deacons to ever be competitive in the ACC again, and set about doing it.

Wake is currently in South Bend for tomorrow’s game against fifth-ranked Notre Dame. It would be a tough assignment in the best of circumstances, but these are hardly the best of circumstances for the Deacons.

Dortch, the redshirt freshman revelation, is out for the season with an injury. Jessie Bates, an all-ACC candidate at safety, is out for the game, as is sophomore running back Cade Carney

Clawson this week wasn’t even sure if explosive running back Arkeem Byrd will be able to answer the bell. If he’s not, Clawson has two choices. He can either go with Colburn and Isaiah Robinson, a redshirt junior who has played in just two games this season, carrying 19 times for 61 yards. Or he could burn the redshirt of freshman Christian Beal, a move no coach wants to make in the ninth week of the season.

It’s hard to see the Deacons, on the road, beating a Notre Dame team playing for a spot in the college football playoffs. So I don’t expect it.

But any team with an efficient offensive line has a chance. And with last week’s game on the line, the offensive line was as efficient as any I’ve seen play for Dave Clawson.

Talk about a sight for sore eyes.

Missing a Friend

A culture war was raging full-tilt boogie when I took up the profession of sportswriter.

For that matter, when isn’t there a culture war raging full-tilt boogie?

But the one roiling us all way back then had so much to do with hair – long, beautiful hair – and beards and relaxed social mores and music and drugs and just what we thought this whole long and strange trip called life was all about.

The year was 1972, and I had long hair. I had a scraggly beard. I drove a Ford Econo Van with Cherokee-Bryson City Florists painted in the side, but only on the off-chance it happened to crank that morning. My mailing address – at least during the school year – was Chapel Hill. No doubt about it, I was a hippie.

And immediately, from my first venture into a working press room at an ACC football or basketball game, I could tell the majority of folks there were on the other side of that great cultural divide.

All these years later I remain so blown away by how everyone – and I’m talking about the old guard here, giants of the profession such as Smith Barrier of the Greensboro Daily News and Bob Quincy of the Charlotte Observer, and Dick Herbert and Joe Tiede of the Raleigh News and Observer – was so good to me back then. They may not have known who I was or what I was about, but they accepted me.

Which is why in all the years since I made such an effort to be kind and decent and accepting to any newbie entering our profession.

But there were characters back then – and I’m thinking today of one in particular – who didn’t just accept me. Instead they embraced me, put their hand on my shoulder, their arm around my neck and made sure that I knew there was a party going on and that if I wanted to be part of it, then jump the hell in.

The more the merrier. Expand the circle, and more fun for everybody.

Nobody I met in those wild days of newness and wonder was more accepting, more embracing, quicker to pull me into madcap merriment than a guy about five years my senior from East Carolina University via Angier, N.C. who, at the time, was working for the Raleigh Times.

His name was Caulton Tudor, though for most of my life I knew him simply as Toot.

As long as Toot was in the club — and rest assured, he was a ringleader — then I was in the club. He made me feel welcome. And I’ll love him forever for it.

Lest you get the idea that my new friend was just another hell-raiser bent on squeezing the last juices of a good time at the expense of his liver and other internal organs, let it be known that Caulton Tudor was a giant in our field, a great, great sportswriter. Nobody I knew knew more about ACC football and basketball. Nobody I knew knew how to write about it better.

See Toot knew the games, but most of all, he knew people. And people knew him. He let them know him. That’s why nobody in the business had more sources willing, if not anxious, to tell him what he wanted to know.

He cared deeply about being good at what he did. I like to think we all did back then. But when the last line was written and the phone call to the desk informed us we were done for the day, it was party time.

The times we had at the hospitality rooms of ACC Basketball Tournaments were legendary. National sportswriters would marvel at how close the ACC writers were, and much of that can be attributed to those wild and woolly, knock-down, drag-out, all-night sessions we had winding down together off the adrenaline high of an impossible deadline.

And right in the middle, invariably with a gin drink in one hand, a cigarette in the other and the ever-present twinkle in his eye was Caulton Tudor. You could tell just by looking at him the man was up to something – something fun, something crazy, something that hopefully included as many people as we could get aboard the train.

So many of us lost a fast friend, the kind of friend you don’t replace, when Toot passed away yesterday. So many of us are hurting.

But none of us will ever forget Caulton Tudor or all the good energy he spread around during his time among us.

Two Questions

Two heart-felt questions to anyone who supports our president:

The day after a white man from Las Vegas kills 59 and wounds 546 with guns, our president says it’s “too soon” to talk about policy solutions.

The day after a brown man originally from Uzbekistan plows a truck over a crowd in NYC, killing eight and wounding 11, our president is all over Twitter and the news railing for one policy change after another. And that’s when he’s not blaming the political opposition for a program that was passed 27 years ago by a bipartisan vote of Congress and signed into law by a Republican president.

Question No. 1: Can you not see who this man is and what he’s doing to our country?

Question No. 1: And if you can, does it even matter?

Question No. 2: Does it not even matter if you do?

The Summer Dave Martinez Spent at Ernie Shore Field

Dave Martinez, named Monday to manage the Washington Nationals, spent the summer of 1985 playing for the Winston-Salem Spirits.

A third-round draft choice out of Valencia Community College, Martinez was 20 years old. He didn’t turn 21 until September 26, by which time he was either back home in Winter Haven, Fla., or, more likely, with the Cubs’ Fall Instructional team.

Martinez passed through town during the 20 or so seasons I was the primarily baseball beat guy for the Winston-Salem Journal, when I was covering an average of 50 games a season. It dawned on me one day that 20×50=1,000, a conservative estimate of the games I watched and reported on at Ernie Shore Field.

Peering down from the tight, cramped and sweaty press box hanging over the lip of the grandstand roof – the one with the greatest view of a game I’ve, to date, ever had — I could tell Martinez was a good one. Hell, anyone could tell he was a good one.

He hit .342, winning the Carolina League batting crown by a margin greater than Usain Bolt would beat this old boy in a 100-yard dash. Keith Miller and Johnny Wilson, both with the Lynchburg Mets, tied for second in the race, with averages of .302.

And oh yeah, there was the 6-1, 185-pound rookie out of Arizona State playing center field that season for the Prince William Pirates. His name was Barry Bonds, and he hit .299 in 254 at-bats.

It has often been said that at every baseball game, if you watch closely enough, you’ll see something you’ve never seen before.

I don’t remember all that much about Martinez’ season, other than the Spirits, in their first season as an affiliate of the Chicago Cubs, won the first-half race, tanked in the second half to finish with the worst regular-season record in the CL, and then rallied under manager Cal Emery to beat Lynchburg for the league title.

One of the umpires to work the championship series was Angel Hernandez, who has been a major-league umpire since 1991. I do remember Angel and his partner, J.T. Thomas, passing my bride Tybee and I on Highway 29 on our way up to Lynchburg for the championship series.

Hernandez was driving, and he was booking. I wondered what his hurry might be until Tybee and I checked in the luxurious (not) Harvey’s Motel and found Angel and J.T. in their swim trucks at poolside.

So it’s funny what you do remember.

There was one afternoon game – so it was probably a Sunday — when this one rogue cloud rolled off Shorefair Drive, over the right-field wall. And I looked out in right and there was Martinez standing in the most localized rain shower I’ve ever seen.

The shower was so localized that the center fielder was dry, the first baseman was dry, the second baseman was dry, everybody on the field, in fact, was dry except for Martinez. I remember Dave looking around and shaking his head in amazement.

Never seen anything like it, before or since.

Martinez was one of seven players from that Class A team in make the majors. The most notable were left-hander Jamie Moyer and switch-hitting catcher Damon Berryhill, but second baseman Rich Amaral, catcher Rick Wrona, outfielder Rolando Roomes and left-hander Drew Hall were also eventually immortalized in the Baseball Encyclopedia.

The Cubs saw enough from Martinez for start him out the next spring in Class AAA Iowa. But by mid-June he was promoted to the bigs to replace an injured Bobby Dernier.

Martinez, once in Chicago, met Lisa, the girl of dreams, and embarked on a major-league career that spanned 16 seasons with nine different clubs. He didn’t have the power (91 career homers) most organizations are looking for in an outfielder but he was a professional hitter who could play all three outfield positions and first base and was clutch coming off the bench to pinch-hit.

Over 6,480 plate appearances in the majors, Martinez hit .276 with an on-base percentage of .341.

Joe Maddon, then manager at Tampa Bay, liked Martinez bat, but he liked his baseball mind even more. Martinez retired to become Maddon’s bench coach, and followed him to Chicago in 2015 when Maddon was named manager of the Cubs.

Catching Martinez in the Cubs’ dugout from time to time, I couldn’t help but wonder how these past 32 years have treated him. Apparently, it was pretty good. He and Lisa have four children, David, Jagger, Dalton and Angelica.

Jagger was good enough at soccer to play for the team at the University of Tampa.

When you watch all these young men play baseball for the local minor-league team, you can’t help but wonder how they’re lives will turn out. I’m happy to see that Dave Martinez, once he dried off from that localized rain storm in right field, turned out pretty well.