Friday, October 22, 2021

Insight: No ‘sure thing’ a certainty

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

Having spent a big chunk of my career as a sportswriter, I have learned that the expression “sure thing” really doesn’t exist in competitive athletics. 

A racehorse facing 100-1 odds can pull off a stunning upset and a team on a long losing streak can suddenly put it all together and win every now and then. I’ve witnessed this time and time again and it’s woven into the fabric of sports, and to a greater extent, into life too.

Here are a few examples that prove my point:

In 1969, my favorite baseball team, the Baltimore Orioles, cruised through the 162-game regular season schedule with a record of 109-53. The Orioles then swept the Minnesota Twins, 3-0, in the American League Championship Series and were heavily favored to defeat the upstart National League champion, the New York Mets, in the World Series.

Since their inception as a major league franchise in 1962, the Mets had endured seven consecutive losing seasons before suddenly winning 100 games in the regular season in 1969 and ousting the Atlanta Braves in the National League Championship Series, 3-0.

Hosting the Mets in the first game of the 1969 World Series at the old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, the Orioles were prohibitive favorites to win the title, having defeated Sandy Koufax and the Los Angeles Dodgers three years earlier, 4-0, in 1966.

I stood on the sidelines of a high school football game with teammates listening on a transistor radio to a broadcast of the game, in which the Orioles beat the Mets, 4-1. At that point, I was convinced this was going to be a “sure thing” and the Orioles were headed to another World Series championship.

Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be. The “Miracle Mets” took the next four games, two of them by 2-1 scores, to claim the title and relegate the “sure thing” Orioles to a place in baseball lore as one of the winningest teams of all-time not to have won the year-end title.

The racehorse Smarty Jones is another prime example of a clear favorite not meeting expectations when it mattered the most.

In rattling off six consecutive wins to launch his thoroughbred racing career, Smarty Jones powered to victories in the first two legs of the 2004 Triple Crown series, winning the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. That landed the chestnut-colored horse on the covers of both Sports Illustrated and ESPN magazines.

Entering the Belmont Stakes as the favorite to win with jockey Stewart Elliott aboard, Smarty Jones took the lead midway down the backstretch of the race and then was sailing through the final turn as the leader with only the homestretch left to assure the first Triple Crown victory since Affirmed in 1978.

But jockey Edgar Prado riding 36-1 longshot Birdstone had other ideas. Prado sensed that Smarty Jones was not as relaxed as in his previous races and seemed to be tiring in the homestretch. He guided Birdstone to the outside and then took the lead from Smarty Jones with a furlong left and won the race by a one-length margin. It dashed the “sure thing” inevitability of Smarty Jones as one of the immortal horses of legendary racing lore for sure.

During the 2007 NFL season, one team stood head and shoulders above all the rest and that was the New England Patriots. Under the leadership of quarterback Tom Brady, the Patriots had rolled through the regular season unbeaten and then eliminated Jacksonville and San Diego in the American Football Conference playoffs to enter Super Bowl XLII with a record of 18-0 and 12-point favorites over the National Football Conference champions, the New York Giants.

The Giants were a wild card team that was up and down that year and trailed 14-10 taking possession of the ball with just 2:39 remaining in the game. On third down from their own 44-yard line, Giants quarterback Eli Manning escaped the grasp of three New England would-be tacklers before tossing a 32-yard pass caught with one hand by a leaping David Tyree who kept the drive alive and set up a winning touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress to hand the Giants an impossible 17-14 Super Bowl victory over the “sure thing” previously undefeated Patriots.

As in sports, life is littered with failed “sure things.” There’s that famous photograph of U.S. President Harry S. Truman holding up the mistaken “Dewey Defeats Truman” Chicago Daily Tribune newspaper on the morning following the 1948 presidential election. In business items such as Google Glass, hoverboards, or the Arch Deluxe at McDonalds are reasons to discount “sure things” when investing your hard-earned money.

Perhaps Scottish poet Robert Burns summed it up best when discussing this topic.

“There is no such uncertainty as a sure thing,” he said. 

Bill Diamond: Exploring Question 1 on this year’s ballot

By Senator Bill Diamond 

When Mainers head to the polls on Nov. 2 to vote, they’ll be faced with three ballot questions. As a former Maine Secretary of State, I know that these questions can sometimes be confusing; it can be hard to understand what a “yes” vote and a “no” vote really mean. This year, the question most people have asked me about is Question 1. At its core, Question 1 is about whether Mainers want the so-called CMP transmission corridor to move forward. I know it’s been confusing for many people, so I want to take some space to give you more information that will hopefully help you make your decision come Election Day.

First, I want to explain how this question got on the ballot. In Maine, registered voters can follow a process to place proposed laws on the ballot for their fellow citizens to vote on. The Secretary of State helps the petitioner draft language for their proposed law, and the petitioner then has 18 months to collect enough signatures from registered Maine voters to get the question on a statewide ballot.

If the petition qualifies, the Secretary of State is legally required to word the question on the ballot in the way the petitioner wanted, as long as it conforms with Maine law. Before the language is finalized, the public is given the opportunity to comment, which unfortunately most people are not aware of. Question 1 went through this process earlier this spring, and members of the public submitted 119 comments. The language was then finalized to be printed on ballots.

Much of the confusion and frustration that has been shared with me is centered on the fact that if you want the corridor you should vote “no,” and if you don’t want the corridor you should vote “yes”.

This is how Question 1 will appear on your ballot: “Do you want to ban the construction of high-impact electric transmission lines in the Upper Kennebec Region and to require the Legislature to approve all other such projects anywhere in Maine, both retroactively to 2020, and to require the Legislature, retroactively to 2014, to approve by a two-thirds vote such projects using public land?”

If you vote yes on Question 1, you’re voting to ban electric transmission lines in the upper Kennebec region, which includes banning the corridor. A vote of yes also means the Legislature will be required to approve, by two-thirds vote, any projects like it that use public land retroactively to 2014. This retroactivity piece has become a very controversial part of Question 1, as we’ve seen on the TV ads ad nauseam.

If you vote no on Question 1, you're voting to allow electric transmission lines in the upper Kennebec region and to allow the CMP corridor to move forward. It also means the Legislature will not be involved by having to approve by a two-thirds vote any similar projects using public land dating back to 2014.

Whether you support the corridor or oppose it, I hope the information I’ve provided here will help you cast your vote in the way you intend to. If you still want to learn more about the question and its consequences, there are several nonpartisan sources of information available to you. This includes the Secretary of State’s Maine Citizen’s Guide to the Referendum, which is available online at maine.gov/sos. Newscenter Maine, the League of Women Voters of Maine and the Portland Press Herald are among the other organizations trying to provide balanced and accurate information about what the question will do.

However you vote in the end, I hope you will get out and make your voice heard this year. In addition to the ballot questions, there are many local elections taking place all over the state. Maine has a record of high voter turnout, and it’s a tradition we should all continue. Don’t forget that Maine has same-day voter registration, so if you’ve recently moved or decide to vote at the last minute, you can register right at your polling place as long as you bring proof of ID and proof of address. You can find more information about Maine elections by visiting the Secretary of State’s website at maine.gov/sos. <

Andy Young: Why the Sea Dogs thrive, but the Pirates walked the plank

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle

Maine’s largest metropolis was home to two professional sports franchises in the late 1990’s, and I worked for both of them.

My fulltime employer was the Portland Sea Dogs, the city’s wildly successful Eastern League baseball franchise. I was the lead radio announcer and publicist for the team that at the time was affiliated with the 1997 World Series champion Florida Marlins.

In the winter I moonlighted for the American Hockey League’s Portland Pirates, providing “color commentary” on the broadcasts of each of the team’s 40 home games. Radio/TV color commentators have usually played the game they’re commenting on at some high level, although as anyone who’s ever seen me on skates can attest, that’s not always the case.

My job involved pre-recording three interviews: a pregame talk with the team’s always pleasant and cooperative coach, Mark Kumpel, plus two chats with interesting subjects (usually Pirates players, other team personnel, or visiting professional hockey dignitaries) that would be played between periods. I also provided 10-second bits of relevant game analysis when Dave Ahlers, the team’s outstanding play-by-play announcer, needed a quick drink of water during play stoppages.

I was paid a princely $40 per game, which I thought was terrific, since then as now I consider it a blessing to be paid any amount of money for doing something I love enough to do for free.

A month or so into the 1998 season, Dave asked me if I’d be interested in going on a road trip to Newfoundland, a place I had never visited, for back-to-back games against the St. John’s Maple Leafs. He said he could use the help, so when I responded affirmatively, he said he’d talk to management about it. He reasoned that the team was chartering a plane and I would share his hotel room, so my added presence wouldn’t negatively impact the organization’s all-important bottom line.

But before the next home game the general manager came by and dolefully explained the cost-conscious Pirates were on a tight budget and $1,600 ($40 per game for 40 home games) was all the financially strapped team could afford for a season’s worth of color commentary. However, in lieu of my customary per game stipend, he offered to pay me meal money if I’d still be willing to make the trip. Before foolishly, impulsively, and truthfully responding that I’d actually have gone for nothing, I asked how much the per diem was. He replied that I would be given $50 for each of the trip’s three days.

I graciously accepted his offer, all the while wondering how a team paying someone $150 because they professed to being too cash-strapped to pay him $80 made economic sense.

That trip was memorable for all the right reasons. I spent every waking moment I wasn’t at the arena exploring Newfoundland and Labrador’s (it’s all one province) capital city. That included a trip up to Signal Hill, where Guglielmo Marconi received the first-ever transatlantic radio message on Dec. 12, 1901.

I learned that provincial status wasn’t given to Newfoundland and Labrador until after World War II (in 1949), and that their time zone is one and a half hours ahead of ours. The Pirates’ largesse is the main reason I’m one of the few Americans who can boast of having visited all 10 Canadian provinces. 

Given the odd logic of how I was compensated for my trip to the North Atlantic, I also gained insight into why, 23 years later, the Sea Dogs continue to prosper, while when the phrase “Portland Pirates” is uttered nowadays, it’s nearly always preceded by the word “defunct.” <

Friday, October 15, 2021

Insight: TV theme songs strike a chord

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

It’s officially time to return to my soapbox for one of what my wife Nancy calls my “Old Man Rants.”

I have long admitted to being a devoted television watcher and learned to tell time by what soap operas appeared on the TV screen as my mother ironed in the afternoons in the 1950s. Through the years I’ve come to appreciate an often-overlooked aspect of television programming – television theme song music.

If I were to ask for a show of hands right now, I believe that a majority of members of my generation can sing the theme song for Gilligan’s Island and have known the words by heart since that show first appeared in the 1960s. And even those Baby Boomers who aren’t into singing can probably whistle the theme music for The Andy Griffith Show, even though original episodes for that program last aired in 1968.

Television theme music can connect us to a different day and age and remind us of our childhood or good times spent with friends and family watching our favorite shows no matter when we watched them.

Some themes made me laugh, some made me cry, some inspired me, and some drew my focus to the show’s opening credits which rolled by as it played. There have been highly annoying TV themes and rousing instrumentals that had me riding along on the range with my favorite cowboy stars of years past.

I can recall sitting in our family’s living room on a Saturday evening in 1970 and hearing the “Love Is All Around” theme of the Mary Tyler Moore Show for the first time. Or listening to Sammy Davis Jr. belt out “Eye of the Sparrow” for another episode of Baretta a few years later.

A TV theme song also became the bane of my existence during junior high school as friends and classmates would walk past my locker singing “A horse is a horse of course of course, and no one can talk to a horse of course. That is of course unless the horse is the famous Mister Ed.” I heard that one so much I couldn’t watch that show for years afterward.

Loved the theme to The Muppet Show. When I would hear the opening notes, I would get pumped up to laugh and enjoy another half-hour of comedy.  

My mother liked watching All in the Family but she would always complain about how Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton would warble out “Those Were the Days” at the opening of the show each week. For years, she would always gripe that Jean Stapleton was a terrible singer and how she couldn’t understand why they picked her to sing that theme song. And every time she complained, I always told her it was a send-up, and that it was meant to be a family sitting around the piano together singing regardless of their vocal ability, hence the show’s name All in the Family.      

And for television shows that had themes I couldn’t sing along to, I would get ready for a riveting time ahead through the instrumental versions of theme songs such as Bonanza, Perry Mason, Cagney and Lacey, Taxi or Hawaii Five-O.

In watching countless hours of television through the years, I’ve lost track of how many great theme songs there have been. A partial list of ones I truly liked included the opening music of shows such as Cheers; WKRP in Cincinnati; Happy Days; Friends; The Jeffersons; SWAT; Green Acres; The Partridge Family; The Addams Family; The Flintstones; The Monkees; Hill Steet Blues; The Rockford Files; and Rawhide.

If you visit any flea market this fall, many will have a CD booth that will inevitably offer a “TV Theme Greatest Hits Collection” that will include the theme songs to Lost in Space; LA Law; Beverly Hills 90210; Laverne and Shirley; The Love Boat; The Lone Ranger; One Day At A Time; The A-Team; The Facts of Life; and Welcome Back Kotter. 

Ok, here’s where my rant comes in. Somewhere along the way in the 21st century, television executives determined that TV theme songs are no longer needed. What’s left are 15 seconds of a series title card or a tiny snippet of music and it’s robbing the viewers in my opinion.

The theme to Ted Lasso was co-written by Marcus Mumford of “Mumford and Sons” but you only hear about 15 seconds of it for the opening of each episode. 

Don’t get me started about the theme for ABC’s Lost. That show featured a beautiful orchestral score for every episode, but the opening theme was nothing more than a hideous mechanical screech as the show’s title flashed on the television screen turning sideways.

Now in the days of Smart TVs and the creation of the “Skip Intro” button on the remote, viewers no longer feel they need to be subjected to TV theme songs, I suppose.

But despite the technology and the ability to advance beyond the credits, I still watch Tony Soprano light his cigar coming out of the Lincoln Tunnel, grab the ticket for the New Jersey Turnpike while “Woke Up This Morning” by Alabama 3 plays before each episode of “The Sopranos.”

Listening to television theme songs is a hard habit to break. <

Andy Young: Never drive a black Prius to the Cumberland Fair

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle

As I piloted my black Prius to the Cumberland Fair late last month I couldn’t help thinking of a particular old axiom.  

Reputable sources maintain the phrase “Never say never” first appeared in print in a Charles Dickens novel that was published in 1837.

I’ve never read The Pickwick Papers, but despite that gap in my literary knowledge, I think it’s obvious Dickens intended the phrase as satire. After all, who seriously says, “Never say never,” while simultaneously using the forbidden term twice in a three-word sentence?

The sentiment expressed by this familiar adage usually makes sense, but there are exceptions. It’s perfectly acceptable when stating an irreversible fact that, given the time-space continuum, cannot possibly change. For example, “Mother Teresa never attended the Super Bowl” constitutes an inarguably factual use of the phrase. It’s equally safe to declare “Mother Teresa will never witness a Super Bowl,” given both the difficulty of obtaining Super Bowl tickets and Mother Teresa’s current status (dead).

But stating those three words in a declaratively predictive manner, as in “I will never drive a black Prius,” is always inadvisable. (Phew! I almost said, “never advisable,” but remembered this essay’s nominal subject just in time.)

“Never say never” had been lying dormant deep in my mind’s attic for a significant amount of time. But it advanced to the front of the phrase queue recently when I was invited to join a friend at the Cumberland Fair. I jumped at the chance, since it wasn’t just an opportunity to spend time with someone I like; it was also the ideal excuse to remedy a significant personal shortcoming. I hadn’t ever attended the Cumberland Fair, a less-than-admirable distinction for someone who’s lived within five miles of the fairgrounds for the past two decades.

Thankfully I’d never declared, “I will never go to the Cumberland Fair.” If I had I’d have had to either eat those foolish words, or senselessly pass on a golden opportunity to enjoy myself.

I’m definitely going back to the Cumberland Fair, and I’m not going to wait another 20 years to do so, either. Despite overcast skies on the day my friend and I attended, the temperature was perfect, everyone was friendly, and there were tons of cool things to do and see all around the fairgrounds. There was also a wide variety of delicious, locally produced food available. Several of the locals urged us to go watch the pig races, but we got so busy chatting that we never got around to it. We did, however, get close enough to the barn where those contests were taking place to surmise that the squealing, four-legged competitors weren’t quite as thrilled with the event as the witnesses were.

When light rain began falling my friend and I headed across the street to the large field that serves as the fair’s makeshift parking lot. En route to our respective vehicles we were subjected to an annoying car alarm that was going off ceaselessly for the better part of our lengthy walk. My friend suggested the responsible party was someone who couldn’t find their car in the massive field and set off their alarm with the “panic button” on their key ring in order to locate it. That’s when I haughtily informed her that I had never had to do that, and that I never would.  

Twenty minutes later, soaked to the skin after fruitlessly searching for my car, I finally surrendered and hit the red button on my electronic car key. Three separate times, in fact.

Who knew so many Cumberland Fair attendees drive black Priuses? <

Friday, October 8, 2021

Insight: Making the connection

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

Scientists claim that there is a pronounced connection between the sense of smell and nostalgia, but I also suggest a link between nostalgia and the sense of sight. 

Sometimes both senses can return me to the world of yesterday and good times I’ve enjoyed in the past. 

I was recently in the baking section of a supermarket and saw a bakery worker taking a tray of freshly baked hamburger buns out of the oven. For just a second, the aroma of the hamburger buns brought me back more than 50 years to a diner that my father used to take our family when I was little.

The place was called the Quonset Inn and it was a converted World War II military surplus structure that had been moved and converted into a popular eatery and bar. My father always would enjoy hot dogs and milkshakes there, but I would always order a hamburger, fries, and a Coca Cola each time we visited, which was usually every Friday evening after he got off work.

The hamburger buns were always soft, buttered and toasted and loaded with sesame seeds and quickly became my favorite part of those meals. When we moved across town as my father took a new job in the mid-1960s, our visits to the Quonset Inn became more infrequent and eventually we moved out of state leaving their wonderful diner food behind.

It was still there when I returned home when I was serving in the U.S. Air Force in 1977 and I stopped in and had a hamburger just for old time’s sake before boarding a plane headed overseas for my next duty assignment. The burger tasted exactly like it had years before and the hamburger bun was still baked fresh on-site daily as in the past.

But soon thereafter the Quonset Inn closed their doors, and the location is now a hobby shop offering “Painting with a Twist” among various recreational classes conducted there.

Flash forward decades into the future with me standing in the bakery department of a supermarket in Maine and the whiff of freshly baked hamburger buns reaches my nostrils. It instantly reminded me sitting in the old Quonset Inn and being served a hamburger there and how it smelled upon arrival at our table.

Several days later, a different nostalgic connection prompted me to think of another restaurant I hadn’t thought of in years. (Are you sensing a trend here?)

I happened to open one of those annoying click-through Facebook pop-ups about closed restaurant chains of the 20th century. There among the 20 or so restaurants listed was a photo of another place our family frequented, the Red Barn.

Both my brother Doug and I loved going there for their chicken dinners. It came in a colorful red cardboard box fashioned into a replica of a red barn and looked like the exterior of the restaurant building itself.

As I recall, their chicken was broiled not fried and was very juicy and tasty. They also offered a variety of burgers including a “Big Barney” and a huge burger sandwich called “The Barnbuster.”

French fries at Red Barn were a meal all to themselves. They were longer and skinnier than you might have been accustomed to and always crispy on the outside but mouth-watering on the inside. If you chose to order a multiple-piece chicken dinner, you also received some of the best coleslaw you’ve ever tasted along with your meal.

(Side note: As a connoisseur of coleslaw since I was a child, the best coleslaw is light on the mayonnaise, lightly seasoned and comes finely chopped.)         

At one time there were more than 400 Red Barn restaurants in some 19 states across America, but by the late 1980s the chain closed its doors for good leaving behind a trove of childhood memories for aging baby boomers like me.

Now in 2021 sitting at a computer screen in Maine, I clicked on a photo of a Red Barn restaurant in its prime in the 1960s and was instantly taken back through time to sitting in the dining room of the one on Scottsville Road in Rochester, New York with my parents and my brother enjoying some of their chicken on a Saturday evening.

Therefore, as scientists continue to probe the connections between odor-evoked memories, psychology and emotions, my own personal experiences confirm for me a link between visual reflection and days long gone.

When I close my eyes, the passing of time doesn’t diminish my memories of growing up and eating at those restaurants, or how good their food truly tasted. To this day, my sight and smell can confirm that. <

Bill Diamond: 'Walking a Mile in Their Shoes' to honor Maine’s lost kids

By Senator Bill Diamond

Over the years, I’ve used many of my columns in the Windham Eagle to write about how important it is to invest in protecting Maine’s kids. Ever since 5-year-old Logan Marr was killed by her foster mother in 2001, I’ve made it a priority to improve Maine’s child welfare system. After all, the state had placed Logan in the home where she died, horrifically, after her foster mother duct-taped her to a highchair in the basement, which then tipped over, asphyxiating Logan. We were all left wondering: How could the state have let this happen? 

After Logan died, those in Maine’s child protection system vowed to make changes so that nothing like that would happen again. But it did happen again. It happened to 10-week-old Ethan Henderson, who was killed by his father in 2012 even though child protection caseworkers had just recently visited his family. It happened in late 2017 and early 2018, when four-year-old Kendall Chick and 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy were beaten to death by their caregivers. 

Maine child protection had placed Kendall in the home where she died, and despite 25 reports of suspected abuse in Marissa’s case, she was allowed to remain in the home. In fact, it’s happened 30 times between 2007 and mid-May 2021, and it’s happened to four Maine kids age three and younger since late May of this year alone.

In many of these cases, the state had been aware of problems for months or even years. In the 20 years since Logan was killed, a terrible cycle has emerged: A child dies, and we are all outraged; there are calls for reform, and the child protection system vows to make changes; a few things improve; and we all forget and move on until the next tragedy appears on the news. We cannot allow this to continue.

To honor these lost kids and to shine a light on the urgent need for reform in our child welfare system, I organized a walking tour called Walk a Mile in Their Shoes that took place on Tuesday, Sept. 28 and Wednesday, Sept. 29. The tour took me to Old Town, where 3-year-old Hailey Goding died in June of a fentanyl overdose. I then stopped in Bangor on my way to Brewer to honor six-week-old Jaden Harding, who died May 31, 2021 after allegedly being shaken by his father. My next stop was Stockton Springs, where Marissa Kennedy lived and where 3-year-old Maddox Williams died this June. I began day two in Augusta before walking to Chelsea, where Logan Marr lived before she died. I ended my walk in Wiscasset, home of Kendall Chick.

 Along the way, I was joined by fellow legislators, community members, prosecutors, law enforcement officers, the press and even surviving family members of these lost kids. It was an incredibly moving experience. Together, we remembered these kids and we called upon those in charge of child welfare in Maine to finally admit that the system is in need of serious fixes. Maine’s problem is systemic; it is not the result of individual failings. The vast majority of child protection caseworkers are hardworking people who do this heartbreaking work because they care deeply about children. But if they don’t have the resources, training and supervision they need to do their jobs well, they will inevitably miss critical signs of abuse and make poor decisions that leave our kids at risk.

It is my hope that the Walk will help keep this issue in the spotlight so we can finally achieve the change we need. But that change will only happen if Maine’s child protection system finally admits there is a problem, and that will only happen if we keep the pressure on. That is my request of you. Do not let this time be like all the others. Keep talking about these kids and about the need for change. And stay vigilant in your daily life, because children across the state – kids who live in our neighborhoods – are suffering, and they’re counting on us to speak up. We are all responsible for protecting our most vulnerable.

If you believe a child is in immediate danger, call 911. To report cases of suspected child abuse or neglect, call Maine’s Child Protection Intake line at 1-800-452-1999. If you have concerns about how a child protection case is being handled, contact the Maine Child Welfare Ombudsman at 207-213-4773.

As always, I’m here to talk through your questions and concerns and to help you address any challenges you may be facing. 

You can email me any time at diamondhollyd@aol.com or call my office at 207-287-1515. <