Thursday, June 2, 2011

"WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN???"

Dear Readers of Pittsburgh's Black and Gold,

First of all, I can't thank you enough for all the emails asking what happened to me. It's good knowing that you are appreciated not to mention, missed!

About nine months ago, I began working on my second book. This story is the tale of my exploits on the golf course and it is entitled,

"LIFE is an Unplayable Lie".

Being as last June marked the 25th anniversary of my "winning" the title of "America's Worst Avid Golfer", I thought that now was as appropriate a time as any to compose a tell-all biography documenting the unbelievable 2 1/2 decades that followed.

I tried to juggle my book writing and blog writing, but the further I got into my book, the more difficult it got. Then, in February, I was contacted by "Golf Channel" as they invited me to go back down to the TPC Sawgrass to have another go-around at the legendary 17th hole.

If I may jog your memory, this is the famous hole where I lost 27 balls en route to shooting a 66 on that one hole, thus cementing the life-long title that I now possess.

My wife and I traveled back to Ponte Vedra for a few short days and the result was the video that is available here entitled "Remembering Angelo". My producer for this shoot was a young man by the name of Dominic Dastoli who did an amazing job coordinating the entire event. Dominic later commented to me that he felt that this video represented the "best work of his career". I'll let you be the judge of that.

Not only did Dominic secure the use of the TPC course, he also managed to have a PGA official, the TPC's official starter, as well as legendary former commissioner, Deane Beman on hand to participate as well!

Needless to say, I was blown away by the folks at the TPC and the video was shown by "Golf Channel" as a part of their week-long coverage of the Players Championship.

It was totally an unbelievable coincidence that at the same time that I was writing a book, that the final chapter would land on me courtesy of Dominic and the folks at "Golf Channel".

When I came back from Florida, as you can imagine, I became completely immersed in and obsessed with completing my book which at that time was about halfway finished. Meanwhile, as I pounded away nonstop at my keyboard, consumed with completing it, I was unable to keep up not only with sports, but composing my sports blog as well.

As I write this, my book is now about 80% complete. The stretch run will involve more writing but the lion's share of the work will involve the task of copy reading, editing and polishing the entire manuscript. After I've finished doing that, I'll do one final pass-through to insure that "no stone has been left unturned".

Trust me, after spending eight hours a day writing a book, you're too burned-out to compose a story for your blog which can take anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours depending on the story.


So what I'm trying to say is that I apologize for not posting and I hope that once I've completed my book that I'll be able to get back into covering Pittsburgh sports as I always have. In the meantime, I hope you get to watch the video that shows how I managed to get what I called, "The biggest penalty in the history of golf." Also, below I'm going to give you an excerpt from chapter one of...

"Life is an Unplayable Lie".

I'll greatly appreciate your comments!

                                           ---Angelo Spagnolo "66"


CHAPTER ONE.
               
I Never Knew My Real Name Was
         "Charlie Brown" 
_________________________________
"Are you crazy? Do you want people to think that I’m making a joke out of this? No way. There’s no way that I’m putting across that path. I’m going to get on that green the way this hole was designed to be played."
________________________________________________________

That was a conversation I was having with my caddy, over 25 years ago. I had already lost about a dozen golf balls into the lake surrounding the dreaded 17th hole at the TPC Sawgrass course in Ponte Vedra, Florida. My caddy at Sawgrass was a young, part-time real estate agent named Paul Karahalios. God bless him, he thought it would be more fortuitous for me to putt my way down a packed sand cart path near the waterline and then out along a snaking path that made its way out to the green. This was about the most absurd idea that I had ever heard in my life and there was no way that I was going to do it. No way!!!…. What I didn’t know at the time was that it wasn’t even my caddy's idea! More on that later...

Have you ever become involved in something and later found yourself asking, "How in God’s name did I ever get myself into this?" That was me all during the years 1984 and 1985. It was during this time when I unwittingly was laying the groundwork for establishing a worldwide reputation for myself as the worst player in the recorded history of golf…the worst on the planet…the worst golfer who ever picked up a club, yes, the worst who ever lived! 

"How do you do this," you ask? "It ain’t easy," we often will say here in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

What I’m going to attempt to do in this story is try to explain how all of this came about and the craziness that it became. But as is the case with any good story, I have to first take you back, back, back; All the way back to my days as a young boy growing up in Pittsburgh (sound of harps in background).

I was a pretty happy kid growing up. I was the oldest of three children with a younger sister, Mary, and a little brother, Frank. My parents were hard-working, good people who loved each other and their children very much. We lived in a middle-class neighborhood and we kids all went to Nativity of our Lord Catholic grade school, so religion was always a big part of everything year ‘round.

My earliest sports activities were playing in pickup baseball games and of course, playing little league for four years. I loved baseball as a boy and I played nearly every day. I always had my glove on the handlebars of my bike just in case a game broke out. You would have thought that I would have improved after playing so much, but unfortunately, I didn’t. That should have been an early clue of things to come for me later. Even though I wasn’t some uncoordinated person who was always falling down the steps or something, at an early age I had already displayed a striking inability at playing sports. Any sports.

Normally, when we played pickup games there would only be ten or twelve of us total, so we would have "ghost" fielders. If, say, the fielding team called a "ghost" for left field and the other team hit a ball there, well too bad, you were automatically out. In my case, I was the kid who was always chosen last during the per-game ritual of picking teams. This was because: I couldn’t catch fly balls, I didn’t throw that great and, oh yeah, I couldn’t hit. Other than the fact that I didn’t have blazing speed either, I was great.In reality,I should have been a ghost player.

This was very frustrating because I really loved baseball, but I also really stunk. We used to play on a field that we called "The Coal Mines". This was because that’s basically what it was, an old strip mine where they had basically cut off the top of a hill. This place had only a backstop, no benches, no dugouts and no fences. If you hit a ball over someone’s head, well forget it, you’d be chasing it forever. So being able to hit was a major consideration in these games.  

If you ever had to slide at this field, a tremendous cloud of dust would be kicked up and your clothes would be covered in black coal dust. The players would wear this as a badge of honor, viewing themselves as being a gritty player. My mother, on the other hand, would become infuriated at what I was doing to my clothes. She’d often say, "And don’t be going to that coal mine." But with every guy waiting outside my house for me to finish practicing my accordion, well, I had already suffered enough of a humiliation for one day already.

Like a rebel without a cause, I went anyway and tried not to slide. Most of the time there was no problem because I didn’t get on base that often anyway!

My love of baseball continued into organized baseball. In the "minor leagues" I played on the "Pirates". I seldom got a hit, but one day I lucked-out and made contact. I actually hit a double. I didn’t know it at the time, but that would be my career highlight. But most of the time I was an "automatic out". More often than not I was usually looking at simply striking out. My hand-eye coordination was awful, just as it is trying to hitt a stationary golf ball! Naturally, I began "riding the pines" as players do when they stink.

One day we were playing on a field that had benches but no dugout or fences to protect anyone. We were small kids, ten years old, so no one should have been in imminent danger...well one would have thought, anyway. One of my teammates, a righty, was late on a swing. I was sitting on the bench along the first base line, not paying enough attention, when he made solid, albeit late, contact. The result was a hard line drive that hit me directly in my forehead. Since I only had my baseball cap on at the time, the result was the biggest "hit" of my baseball career. I was briefly knocked out.  

When I "came to" a short time later, I had a massive welt on my forehead. My firs dubious athletic performance was now history. It was then that the league put in the "Spagnolo Rule": All players at this field not in the game had to wear a batting helmet. My teammates just loved me for that.

The minor league Pirates, just as has been the case for the last 18 years with their modern day brethren in Major League Baseball, were a pretty bad team. However the next year when it came time to move up to the "majors" in our league, I was unbelievably drafted by the best team, the Yankees. They obviously must have been lucky at drafting, because they didn’t much of a scouting department if they drafted me.  

This team was loaded with solid players: Good hitters, dominant pitchers and slick fielders. My contribution was usually one or two innings in left field. Since there were more right-handed batters and odds were that they wouldn’t "get around" on the ball against our pitchers, there were less chances that I’d have to be called on to field a fly ball, unless a rare left-handed batter came to the plate. Hence the reason for "hiding" me in left field.

I can vividly remember playing against the "Pirates" in our major leagues. Unlike their minor league counterparts, this team was really good. In a playoff game in later innings, we had runners on second and third with two outs when it came time for my trip to the plate. I was determined that I wasn’t going to strike out and let our team down. I may not have been good, but I was determined, a trait that would rear up its ugly head throughout my sports and business career.

The kid on the mound, Tom Austin, was a hard-throwing, extremely intimidating pitcher. I dug in at the plate and before the first ball was even thrown, the umpire called time out and said, "Son, would you get back off that plate, you’re inside of the batter’s box!!!"
I stepped away, then stepped back in and took a nasty fastball for a called strike one.I knew I could never hit this kid, not in my wildest imagination.The second pitch came in seemingly faster than the first one and I took my patented "rusty gate" swing that produced only a "strike two" call from the ump. There was only one more strike and I wasn’t going to cost us this game I guarantee that.

I dug in again and it was another fastball but this time over the inside corner. I leaned in and took a terrible blow to my upper arm. This kid was the hardest thrower in our league and I got a nasty-looking black and blue mark, complete with the stitches of the ball branded into my arm. But more importantly, I had "taken one for the team." Fighting off tears, I proudly went out to first base while trying to conceal my agony. Meanwhile, our dugout was wild with excitement. We had bases loaded and a chance to win because I had allowed myself to be hit. The next batter, our leadoff man hit a game winning single. I almost felt like I had done it myself. At least I had kept the inning alive! It was a small victory for me, but our team went on to win the league championship. Not because of anything I did, mind you, but because I had allowed a real hitter to get to the plate. But at least I was on a winner. It meant a lot to me.
I began wondering that perhaps baseball just wasn’t the right sport for me though. Maybe I’d have better luck playing football? At least I wouldn’t have to swing at fastballs.....
                                     
                                             TO BE CONTINUED....