I am American. I’m not blind to what’s going on in America today and I know there are many things wrong with our country, but I’m still proud to be an American. I’ve seen enough other parts of the world to know that I’d rather live here than nearly anywhere else in the world. It’s easy for people who have never seen how the majority of the rest of the world lives to think America is horrible – but it isn’t. 

And so I am patriotic and consider myself a patriot. When we were driving on our road trip north from Carlsbad, we stopped at a place we’d been told about by a friend. It was a Vietnam memorial out in the middle of nowhere. My high school friend who hosted us in Alamogordo had served in Vietnam and had barely escaped with his life as the helicopter he was on was shot down…not once, but several times. His time in ‘Nam made a profound impact on him and he told us about this memorial in New Mexico and we wanted to go to honor not just my high school friend for his service, but all those who had served in Vietnam. 

The memorial site was created by a doctor who lost his son in Vietnam in a battle. After the war was over, he bought the land and took some of the New Mexico dirt to Vietnam to the place where his son died, and brought some of the Vietnamese earth back to New Mexico to this site. 

There is a museum there now, and inside the museum was this small bronze sculpture that encouraged us to remember those who were POW’s and MIA’s from Vietnam. I though the sculpture was profound in its simplicity, but also in reflecting the brutality of being a captive – a prisoner of war – symbolized by the barb wire that binds the hands. I was deeply moved.  

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY: in 1995, my childhood sports hero, Mickey Mantle, died of liver cancer at 63 years of age. While “The Mick” patrolled center field and batted clean-up between 1951 and 1968, the Yankees won 12 American League pennants and seven World Series championships.

Mantle was born in Spavinaw, Oklahoma, on October 20, 1931. He grew up in nearby Commerce, and played baseball and football as a youth. With the help of his father, Mutt, and grandfather, Charlie, Mantle developed into a switch-hitter. Mutt pitched to Mantle right-handed and Charlie pitched to him left-handed every day after school. With the family’s tin barn as a backstop, Mantle perfected his swing, which his father helped model so it would be identical from either side of the plate. Mantle had natural speed and athleticism and gained strength working summers with his father in Oklahoma’s lead mines. “The Commerce Comet” eventually won a scholarship to play football for the University of Oklahoma. However, baseball was Mantle’s first love, so when the New York Yankees came calling, Mantle moved to the big city.

Mantle made his debut for the Yankees in 1951 at age 19, playing right field alongside aging center fielder Joe DiMaggio. That year, in Game 2 of the World Series, Willie Mays of the New York Giants hit a pop fly to short center, and Mantle sprinted toward the ball. DiMaggio called him off, and while slowing down, Mantle’s right shoe caught the rubber cover of a sprinkler head. “There was a sound like a tire blowing out, and my right knee collapsed,” Mantle remembered in his memoir, All My Octobers. Mantle returned the next season, but by then his blazing speed had begun to deteriorate, and he ran the bases with a limp for the rest of his career.

Still, Mantle dominated the American League for more than a decade. In 1956, he won the Triple Crown, leading his league in batting average, home runs and runs batted in. His output was so great that he led both leagues in 1956, hitting .353 with 52 home runs and 130 runs batted in. He was also voted American League MVP that year, and again in 1957 and 1962. After years of brilliance, Mantle’s career began to decline by 1967, and he was forced to move to first base. The next season would be his last. Mantle was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974 in his first year of eligibility.

Mantle’s father and son both died in their 30s, the result of Hodgkin’s disease. Mantle was sure the same fate would befall him, and joked he would have taken better care of himself if he knew he would live. In 1994, after years of alcoholism, Mantle was diagnosed with liver cancer, and urged his fans to take care of their health, saying “Don’t be like me.” Although he received a liver transplant, by then the cancer had spread to his lungs, and he died at just after 2 a.m. on August 13, 1995, at the Baylor University Cancer Center in Dallas.

At the time of his death Mantle held many of the records for World Series play, including most home runs (18), most RBIs (40) and most runs (42).

TRIVIA FOR TODAY: in honor of international left-handed day: lefties make up about 3% of the population in the most peaceful primitive societies, but 27% in the most warlike ones. Researchers believe that in violent societies, left-handers may benefit from their unexpected left hook. Left-handedness has also been called mancinism, sinistromanuality, and cackhandedness. Other colloquialisms for left-handedness include skivvy-handed, scrummy-handed, kaggy-fisted, cawk-fisted, gibble-fisted, southpaw, cunny-and ballock-handed.


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