Thursday, November 5, 2015

Holler With Impunity

The things we touch
bear us up and change with us
There may be no message
but nothing survives us
without a name
Given away       altered      and given back

  --Lawrence Raab, February 1971 
It can be traced to Max Alvis.

Influenced by three brothers from Brooklyn, I started collecting baseball cards in June 1968 in Berkeley, California. While my father studied the origins of the universe during a summer fellowship at Cal-Berkeley, Id study the back of Max Alviss baseball card.
My Brooklyn chums, Yankee diehards, lived in the apartment building next door and spent the summer hoping to land a Mickey Mantle. We’d sit beneath a palm tree and wheel and deal. Max Alvis was always a throw-in. Never a pot sweetener.
Observant, my father. He watched our growing interest in baseball cards and on a Friday night in August, loaded us in our red-over-white 1967 Volkswagen microbus, across the Bay Bridge and into Candlestick Park.
Late in the game, Pop asked if I was hungry. “Kinda,” clueless about ballpark eating etiquette. Pop spots a guy with a big satchel a section over, stands up and hollers, “HEY PEANUTS!”
I learned ballparks were these wonderful places where you can holler with impunity. A place where guys would actually come right to your seats bearing peanuts and hotdogs. Back home in Wichita, more baseball experiences, one right after the next, would seal my love of the game.

In the spring of 6th grade, the Kansas City Royals started playing ball just up the turnpike from Wichita. A year later, the Cleveland Indians moved their Triple-A minor league club to our city and my best buddy, Scott Scheuerman, and I would bicycle downtown from Pleasant Valley, eat hotdogs and holler with impunity at future big leaguers.

The 1970 Wichita Aeros remain vivid in my mind’s eye. Chris Chambliss in left, Buddy Bell at third. Vince Colbert throwing gas. John Lowenstein hit a home run out of Lawrence Stadium that bounced in front of a taxicab on McLean Boulevard and rolled into the Arkansas River.
Munley got around (KFH, KWBB).
Scott (for whom my son is named) taught me some gems. “HEY CHAMBLISS! IS THAT A FLASHLIGHT IN YOUR POCKET OR DO YA JUST LOVE THE GAME?” I wanted desperately to lay that one on Jose Bautista from our right field seats in the ALCS last month, but my wife was next to me... and... well, I guess I’m no longer in seventh grade.

Holler with impunity. Within reason. As the circumstances dictate. So I opted for, LETS GO ROYALS!

At home, I’d tune my parents’ antique (even then) dark grey breadbox-shaped Zenith radio to KWBB and hang on Jack Munley’s every call of Aeros play-by-play. I used my mom’s pink nail polish to paint a line on the tuning panel at 1410.

“In there... for a CALLED... strike three!” 

Then a book that would change my life.

Jim Bouton, erstwhile Yankee pheenom who had lost his fastball and was trying to hang on with a knuckleball, published a diary of his 1969 season with the expansion Seattle Pilots. Not an idealized portrayal, but accounts and descriptions of the game that were legit, written and disseminated without the expressed, written consent of The Man.

Bouton’s first line of Ball Four remains my fav from all of literature.

I’m 30 years old and I have these dreams.

Sharing Ball Four with my son when he was a kid, ca. 1999.
At age 10, my first pack of baseball cards, from a little mom-and-pop grocery store at the corner of Ellsworth Avenue and Parker Street in Berkeley, California.

Forty-seven years later on a November night in Queens, Eric Hosmer made a mad dash for home. The memories have been washing over me since. The Brooklyn boys in Berkeley... Max Alvis and his career .247 batting average... my father hollering at the peanut vendor... Jack Munley on the radio... my childhood best friend... Jim Bouton... my son... Eric Hosmer. 

Life is about moments and experiences. As I ease down into the precipice of middle age, my team won the World Series. 

It just keeps getting better.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Put a Sock In It

I've heard this song before.

When I was about 13, I took issue with Curt Gowdy’s play-by-play. I’d watch NBC’s Game Of The Week on our Amazing 1971 Zenith Color Television featuring Chromacolor 100, a Totally Advanced Color TV System.

(Zenith. The quality goes in before the name goes on). 

I had two specific laments about his efforts:

1. He told the story about Darrell Evans’ mother playing professional softball every time the Atlanta Braves were on. Sometimes twice in the same game.

2. He about wet his pants anytime there was an infield popup with fewer than 2 down and runners on first and second or the based were loaded.

Breathlessly, Gowdy used the exact same words and inflection every time. If you just tuned in, you’d think it was the Emergency Broadcast System, that Soviet ICBMs were on the horizon and our only option was to duck and cover.


My grandmother grew weary of my complaining and urged me to write him a letter. So I did.

July 21, 1971 

Curt Gowdy 
NBC Sports 
30 Rockefeller Plaza 
New York, New York 10112

Dear Curt,

Deep breaths, fella. It’s a pop fly.

Your friend,


Today it’s Joe Buck. My problem is a general ‘know-it-all’ vibe he gives off that I find annoying. Harold Reynolds thought maybe Hosmer’s foot was on the bag in the 4th inning of Game 2. Replays appeared inconclusive. Buck was convinced Hoz’s foot was off the bag. Rather than swallow it, he then felt compelled to share that sentiment.

Acting on his compulsion, showing up a colleague and strengthening the know-it-all vibe.

In addition, there are just too many voices. Three people in the booth, Rosenthal with the bow ties, Erin Andrews and her penetrating on-the-field interviews. No fewer than five bodies on the pre/post-game “committee.” My God, that’s ten throats vying for a finite amount of air time. Each trying desperately to come up with some new, undiscovered pearl or insight.

There’s little, if anything, plugged-in Royals fans will learn from these ten. We know they Keep The Line Moving, that Esky swings at the first pitch. We know Salvy’s preponderance to go oh and 2. We know sometimes Ned leaves pitchers in too long, but often comes up smelling like a rose. 

Die-hard Mets fans know their team the same way.

Plus, with the savviness in which big league ballplayers stay on message, the “interviews” seem pointless.

On-air personnel used to be ancillary to the action on the field. Today, unfortunately, they have become the show, the unwanted drama. We’ve blown way past the sweet spot and are mucking around in the bitter and sour. 

My bottom-line message from age 13 remains unchanged: 

Less is more.

I think I’ll buy five pair of Officially MLB-Sanctioned Kansas City Royals Men’s Team Socks.
That’s ten socks. One for each mouth.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Positive Influences

Sitting in the lobby of the Four Points Sheraton across the street from Kauffman Stadium. Just tried to confirm our reservations for this Tuesday, the first night of the World Series. Almost had to communicate via the written word, because my voice is shot.

That’ll happen after nine innings of hollering, “LET’S GO ROYALS” at the top of my lungs. I learned long ago my voice carries. So I feel compelled to lead the cheers in our right field section, just below Rivals. These seats also proved to be prime real estate to share with Joey Bats just how those of us in the right field seats feel about his antics. 

The jeers are toned down a bit from my youth. They’re also modulated considerably due to the influence of the woman I love.

Jackie’s still in the hotel room, asleep. I wake up every day, 6 a.m.-ish. Makes no difference whether I go to bed at 9 p.m. or 4 a.m., I wake up at 6. When we stay in hotels, I get dressed quietly, find the coffee in the lobby and hang out until she awakens.

Pictures of Jackie Taking Pictures. Pennant winning style.
She’ll wake up happy this morning. Her beloved Kansas City Royals won the pennant last night. That’s two pennants in a row, first time ever in franchise history. 

My wife credits her love of the Kansas City Royals to her parents. Jack and Jean were in their 40’s when Jackie arrived, the baby of the family, last of a line of six kids, ten years after the most recent one. Jackie was supposed to be a boy. In fact, she was supposed to be Jack E. McClaskey, Jr. 

But she was the fifth girl in a row and Jack E. Junior became Jackie. She’s her father’s daughter in every sense.

Jean’s pushing 90. This season, Jackie made it a point to call her Mom after every Royals game. The ones we watched on TV and the ones we saw in person.  Wins and losses.

Last night, amid the din of a pennant winning celebration, on the phone with her youngest daughter, Jean didn’t question Ned’s managing, she marveled at Lorenzo’s speed and gave credit to the guts and heart of the Greatest Relief Pitcher in the Game (my caps). 

So my natural default tendencies to second guess and to sometimes skew negative when the ball bounces the wrong way are overshadowed by my wife’s 2015 Royals mantra... “Trust Ned.” 

That comes naturally for her. You see, she’s also her mother’s daughter.

We’ll be back in the right field seats Tuesday and Jackie will call her Mom after Game 1 of the World Series.

Win or lose, all is right with the world.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Matson Heritage Tour

It started as a way to kill some time. It ended with memories washing over us like waves.

Two generations of our family gathered in Wichita last month from far-flung points when it became evident my father would not recover from an accident in his home. 

My sister, Viki, from Nashville. My brother, David, from the Pacific Northwest. His kids, my niece and nephew, also from Washington state. My son and his wife from Denver. 

This notion that my siblings and I are now “in charge.” When Viki, two years older than me, arrived and first sized up the enormity of the situation, she remarked, “Where are all the grownups?” 

We have met the enemy and it is us.

3130 N. St. Clair (2015).
My father had long ago suited me up with durable power of attorney for health care decisions and while I had no doubt as to his wishes, it doesn’t make it any easier. I was to quickly discover that it doesn’t take long for the decision-making to pivot from the patient to those who love him.

If you’ve ever been on a death watch, there are a couple of options, seems to me. You can mount a 24-7 bedside vigil, sit around and look at each other, repeating polite, trite mantras, or you can do something else. So we piled into cars and caravanned to Pleasant Valley.

Shared with “the kids” the places we worked, went to school, hung out. Memories of growing up in the Land of Baloney on White Bread with Miracle Whip in the late 60s and early 70s. It’s been two generations since those formative years in Pleasant Valley. 

Looking backward through the eyes of our young adult children. Examining a distant culture and time. Realizing my siblings and I are no longer “the kids.”

First stop, a patch of ground equidistant between the Arkansas River and the Little Arkansas River. (Imagine early pioneer ACTUAL CONVERSATIONS... “Well, yanno, Bill, this here river’s littler than that there one... so... maybe, I donno... 'Little Arkansas..?'”) 

Back then, the Twin Lakes shopping center was what Wichita’s Bradley Fair is today. Twin Lakes had the city’s first “twin” movie theatres. Wichita’s first checkmark in the trend toward multi-plexes. I remember three lines that stayed on that marquis for nearly a year:
Out to Wichita Heights High School. Asked about vivid memories, Viki recalled race riots, I talked about positioning myself behind a tree to capture a pic of a streaking classmate for the yearbook. (Today, that streaker’s an attorney in Wichita, if it please the court). David remembered a baseball coach long on rah-rah, short on strategy.

3130 N. St. Clair (1977).
Trends emerged. My sister’s memories tended toward the virtuous, while mine skewed: “Enjoyed some beers on the Big Ditch...” “Spent a lot of time with chums in a bar that was right here...”

The next generation paid polite attention, happy to see the three of us relaxed, respecting, loving and enjoying each other’s company. Lotta factors influenced that: Pleasant Valley, circumstances and experience, James E. Matson, time, Geri Ordway, her parents.

Then, the bittersweet reality. My father’s death means if we’re ever to gather again in Wichita as a family, we’ll have to work hard to do it. Followed closely by the truth that at least for now, I’m the only Matson left in Kansas.

Time only moves one way.

In the days and nights since Pop died, the sadness seems to come in waves. You can let the waves inundate you, or you can ride the wave and hang ten to the safety of the beach. Since September 18, the waves seem to be getting further apart. I count that as a good thing.

Which begs the question: Why does a guy, born, raised and living on the Great Plains in the middle of the country, use surfing analogies?

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

My Father's Eulogy

I suspect if my father were with us today, witnessing these goings-on, he’d get a little vertical crease in his brow, lean in a bit, and ask, earnestly, in a stern tone of voice...

“Why all the fuss?”

Owing to my career choices and other circumstances, during the last three years, I’ve been very fortunate to be able to spend some quality time with my father. He shared with me much about his life of which I was simply unaware.

Things that helped fill in the mosaic of his life and helped a son get a much deeper and more meaningful sense, not only of his father, the human being... but of the things that transcend the generations of a family.

The good and the bad. The happy and the tragic.

In many ways, my father’s was an improbable life. 

His mother was a 19-year old Catholic farm girl from Minnesota, eager for some adventure. His father was a motorcycle-riding troublemaker eager to provide adventure.

Pop was conceived in the autumn of 1931 on a houseboat honeymoon voyage down the Mississippi River from St. Paul to New Orleans. 

When his parents got to New Orleans at Christmas, they sold the houseboat, bought a motorcycle with a sidecar and struck out across the western United States, bound for Spokane, Washington, where my father’s father’s parents lived. 

Pop’s grandfather was a doctor, and the idea was to make it to Spokane by the springtime, so they could invoke the family plan and his grandfather could deliver the baby.
They didn’t quite make it to Spokane. My father made his first appearance in Walla Walla. His early childhood years were on the move. All over the western United States.

In addition to being a troublemaker, his father was a land surveyor, who found work in massive Great Depression-era reclamation projects: Grand Coulee Dam near Spokane, Shasta Dam in northern California, military airfields near Anchorage, Alaska.

It was an itinerate existence. They lived in tents. It was great for my father, a little kid who loved the outdoors. It was like camping – all the time.

At age nine, in the winter of 1942, just weeks after Pearl Harbor, with a genuine fear of a Japanese invasion of Alaska, the wives and children of the men working on the airfields boarded a transport ship for evacuation back to Seattle.

It was to be a key moment in my father’s life. It was the end of his parents’ marriage and it would mark the last time he would ever see his father.

Back in Washington state, his mother found her own way into some trouble. Her next ten years featured a lot of alcohol and what my Pop and I would come to describe as a revolving door of husbands. So my father learned independence at a very early age. His frame of reference growing up was that if he was going to survive – he would have to make his own way.

From his limited experience and worldview at the time, he thought he could count on no one else. This childhood left him bereft of three pretty important values: Structure, trust and love. 

He would find structure in the U.S. Navy. He would find trust in his father-in-law, and I think we all know where he found love. More on that in just a minute. 

One of the last of my father’s mother’s husbands was from Plainville, Kansas and that’s what brought him to the middle of the country – as a sophomore in high school in the fall of 1948.
That’s also where Dad met my mother – and her father, Victor Ordway.

A story my father told me about his father-in-law: Pop is a senior in high school in Plainville, actually living by himself because his mother had taken off again. 

He’s dating my mom. She and some girlfriends are going to Phillipsburg for a church function on a Sunday afternoon and Pop volunteers to drive them. About 40 miles north. But before he can make the trip he has car trouble. So he walks to the church Sunday morning, waits for Mom and her family until after services, so he can break the news that there’ll be no trip to Phillipsburg.

Mom’s Dad, Victor Ordway, takes all this in, reaches into his pocket, pulls out his keys and says to my father, “Why don’t you take my car?” 

In relaying this story, Pop would tell me, at age 17, he could not get his head and heart around why this man would trust him with something so important. It was to be the first of many kindnesses shown to my father by Victor Ordway – the individual my father credits with having the single most positive influence on his life.

My father never lost his independent streak – his do-it-yourself tendencies. Those were at his core. They defined him. But along the way, he found structure, he learned how to trust and he found the true meaning of love. 

He wasn’t much for reflection, if it’s done, it’s done. Let’s move on. But in the last three years, as he was sharing some of these moments of his life with me, a couple of times, when it was just him and me, he’d reflect a bit, then ask, “Why do you think it turned out this way?” 

It may have been a rhetorical question, but since I was the only one in the room with him, I volunteered my thoughts. 

“Pop, I think God had a plan for you.”

I think when that transport ship pulled out of Anchorage in the winter of 1942, God said, OK this kid’s now fatherless and his Mom’s a basket case. 

We’ll put some obstacles in his life to overcome, some experiences to help shape him, some people who can help him learn about things like structure, trust and love. 

You see, it’s not until you recognize that you don’t know how to value things, that you really begin to develop a good value system.

Why did his mother – despite all her emotional flaws and defects – have just enough character to do everything she could with what she had... to remain connected with her son?

When Victor Ordway first sized up this lanky, bespectacled teenager from the west, interested in his teenage daughter – this kid from a broken home, living alone as a senior in high school on the wrong side of town – why did he befriend him and take him under his wing, rather than give him the stiff-arm? 

When my fathers marriage to Viki, David and my mother ended, and now he was a basket case, rudderless, adrift. Why did he meet Glenna Lee Bloom?

These things don’t just happen.

We can’t choose where we come from – but we can choose where we go.

And when we drill into those choices, it’s then that we really discover the course of our days and nights on terra firma is being guided and directed by a loving God.

We’re like a fly on a log, making its way down the river. The river twists and bends, the log is carried along by the swift current. But that fly thinks he’s steering. There were many times when my father thought he was that fly.

Those of us who loved him will miss him terribly. Our hearts are broken. James E. Matson’s gone from us, but he’s still here.

I look at my nephew, Jeremiah, and I see my father. Perseverance, hanging in, overcoming obstacles. 

I see him in my niece, Jacinda, who now inherits the mantle of leadership for the uniquely cutting-edge phenomenon that is the Matson sense of humor. 

I cast my eyes on my son, Scott, who shares my father’s intellect and curiosity. Question everything.

I see my father in my brother, David. I mean literally. Mannerisms, appearance, but also in a well-honed knack to cut through the clutter to reach the goal.

I see him in my sister, Viki, who, by any meaningful definition, is following in her father’s footsteps by helping mold and train young hearts and minds.

And finally, I see him in his bride, Glenna, who simply by showing up, living her life, by doing what comes so naturally to her, taught my father what love really means.

Glenna not only softened up my father’s rough edges, she brought him, sometimes kicking and screaming, into the mainstream of life – and made him the man he was for the last thirty years of his life.

Without Glenna, that man would not have existed. With Glenna, my father evolved into a man who transcended his difficult childhood and its aftermath and built a life on this Earth that was worthy.


The last few months, Pop was in pain and had begun to lose interest in many of the things that brought him joy earlier in his life.

Today, my father’s free of pain. Free of all the Earthly, man-made stuff that we tend to let get in our way. That’s all gone now for James E. Matson.

Life everlasting. The promise. The great reward. I don’t know how it works. I cannot begin to comprehend. I’m not supposed to know.

The mystery of faith. 

So Pop, that’s why all the fuss.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Social Norms

And the story's only mine to live and die with
The answer's only mine to come across.

          --Different Days, Jason Isbell
The Tour de Fat is one of those social creations illustrative of the 21st century. It brings like-minded enthusiasts together in sort of a costumed bicycle parade. It’s been described as a rolling carnival of creativity.

It’s exactly the kind of event that appeals to my son and his wife – third year medical residents in Denver. Surrounded by the like-minded, emotionally and demographically.

I spent Labor Day weekend with them, my first extended time there since the Bright Line.

It’s been said you succeed as a parent, if your child turned out better than you. My son’s the third consecutive generation of our family from a broken home. The marriages of his great grandparents, grandparents and parents failed.

‘Failed’ may be too strong, maybe ‘did not succeed because we all lacked the knowledge and wherewithal to understand the forces at play.’

Or maybe that’s just spin and denial.

He helped me decipher and interpret his great-grandfather’s death certificate for this book I’m writing. He’s filled them out before. I had to let that sink in. He’s already seen more death up close and personal, than I ever will in my lifetime.

Over dinner, they reflected on their days in an acronym-laden patois in which they are fluent. They help each other debrief and diagnose, infused with a steady current of mutual love and respect.

He and I went grocery shopping and I was rocketed back in time and space to similar supermarket visits when he was in college in Lawrence. Only this time more fresh salmon, fewer ramen noodles.

We go to check out and I reached instinctively for my wallet. He reached for his, pulled out his Safeway Club Card, racked up some instant additional savings and paid for his own damn groceries, thank you very much.

My son has a much deeper grasp on what I call the ways of the world than me at that age. He possesses a blended view of the physical, the human and the cognitive. He brings this to his life, his learning and his work.

I juxtapose the generations from which he sprang.

Concentric circles expanding outward. Each succeeding generation seems deeper, smarter, more aware, more imaginative and empathetic than the previous one. At a much earlier age.
My son is as comfortable with the concept and application of technology as I am with the concept and application of, say, turning on a terrestrial radio, as my father is with fetching a newspaper from the driveway.

He pulled his phone out of his pocket, punched, swiped and in an instant, we were
surrounded by the music of his favorite artist. His Jason Isbell is my Fleetwood Mac. My father’s Tennessee Ernie Ford. 

I think that’s right. I think this is the way it’s supposed to be. His Tour de Fat. My disco. My father’s sock hop.

This life he leads in the middle of the second decade of the 21st century. Rocky Mountains to the west. High Plains to the east. A mile above sea level in the Five Points neighborhood. A young physician who loves his wife, his family, his dog, Jason Isbell and the Kansas City Royals. 

He saves lives, grills salmon, fills out death certificates, climbs mountains and adheres vigilantly to the Eighth Commandment of the Tour de Fat: 

Keep the day true with thy good juju.