Monthly Archives: August 2009

Interview: Mike Sielski discusses his new book

For years Mike Sielski has been writing masterpieces, just under deadline for Calkins Media’s family of newspapers. But now, Sielski has decided to try something new- writing a book.

After spending years covering the Central Bucks East vs. Central Bucks West rivalry, Sielski discovered two players, two rivals, and two stars, who would later become teammates. Teammates far away from the Doylestown, Pa., gridirons, where they spent much of their youth. In fact, their team involved no footballs or goal posts, rather guns, ammunition and heroism.

Yes, these two high school football stars would later become teammates on America’s front-lines, protecting the country they love.

But I think Sielski himself tells the story just a bit better, because after all, it’s his. In Sielski’s first book Fading Echoes: A True Story of Rivalry and Brotherhood from the Football Field to Fields of Honor he tells this story as only he can.  And he was kind enough to talk with us about the book, which is available  now, wherever books are sold.

SHAY RODDY: Could you give us a brief summary of the book?

MIKE SIELSKI: The book is a non-fiction narrative about the lives of Colby Umbrell, who played football at Central Bucks High School East and eventually became an Army Ranger, and Bryan Buckley, who played at CB West and became a Marine. Even though they weren’t close friends, these two men grew up in the same small town (Doylestown) and took similar paths into the military and actually ended up serving in Iraq at the same time. Unfortunately, one was killed in action.
SR: I understand you spent some time covering the Central Bucks West vs. Central Bucks East rivalry for the Inteligencer, back in the beginning of your career. At what point did you come across these two characters (Colby Umbrell and Bryan Buckley) and realize what a successful book the story could make?
MS: I was the Intelligencer’s East-West beat writer for more than four years, starting in 1998–Colby’s and Bryan’s senior season. I knew them fairly well that year, but once they graduated, I lost touch with them. Once I learned what each of them had done since they had graduated from high school, I realized that combining their stories could make for a good book. Their lives and experiences had the necessary archetypes and dramatic elements: war, high school football, small-town America, etc.
SR: At what point did you begin writing the story?
MS: I wrote a series of articles about Colby in December 2007. Those articles became the starting point for the book. I got the book contract in July ’08 and began writing the rest of the manuscript then. I finished on Friday, Feb. 27, 2009–not that the date stays in my mind or anything.

SR: What additional reporting/research did you have to do for the book?
MS: I had to interview dozens of family members and friends of Colby and Bryan, collect documents and e-mails and letters, and read everything I could about Iraq and the war. Plus, because Doylestown was such an integral part of the story, I had to research its history and development, too.

SR: Where/ when can we get the thing?
MS: It should be available in just about any bookstore in the country. I know you can order it on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com, among other places.
SR: You’ve spent most of your career in newspapers. What made you decide to write the book?
MS: I love long-form narrative writing, and it’s rare anymore to have the space and the time to pursue those kinds of stories in newspapers. I’m a big fan of books such as “The Devil and the White City” and “They Marched into Sunlight”–historical narratives that put a compelling true story into the context of its times. I wanted to try to do something similar–tell a sports-related story that was simultaneously univeral and unique.
SR: Did you enjoy it?
MS: Loved it. It was very liberating to be able to write as much as I wanted in the way I wanted. It was exhausting because I was still writing my column regularly and because I spent the fall teaching part-time at La Salle University, but it was worth it.
SR: What can we expect from you in the future?
MS: I’m still columnizing for Calkins Media. As far as the next book project goes, I’m trying to find the right subject or topic.
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Special Thanks to friend of Phillie Phanantics Mike Sielski for, as always, so graciously and quickly doing this interview.

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Wrigley beer thrower identified

As you’ve all heard by now, a terrible, disgraceful act took place at Wrigley Field Wednesday. As Shane Victorino ranged back to the ivy to catch a fly ball, a beer was thrown at him from the first row of the bleachers.

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Say what you want about it. Dispute the “what if it happened in Philly” storyline. But the bottom line is Victorino doesn’t mess with anyone. He wants the guy to face what he has done. And now he has.  Johnny Macchione, the 21-year-old beer tosser turned himself in to Chicago police. But let’s not let this knuckle head off with a warning. Let’s let him know what Philly thinks.

In this age of technology, everyone has a Facebook. So, I present you with Johnny Macchione’s Facebook page.

Let him know what you think of him yourself.

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Moyer not happy with new role in pen

There’s no promises in baseball. Jamie Moyer knows that. But that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be upset about the decision to move him to the bullpen to make room in the rotation for former Cy Young Award winning pitcher Pedro Martinez. The forty-six year old Moyer feels a little betrayed.

He sat alone in the fifth row of the Wrigley Field stands before last night’s game just staring, and thinking. After letting his new role sink in for a few minutes he called the traveling media over.

Moyer, who is the consummate professional addressed the situation as only he could.

“I most certainly don’t want to be a distraction to my team, so I hope you guys will respect that,” Moyer began. “I’m just going to tell you that, you know what, I’m really not happy with this decision that the Phillies have made.”

Moyer tried hard not to create a side story, but certainly showed his frustration. Frustration he certainly warrants having, after winning the team ten games already.

Moyer continued his soliloquy by expressing frustration with general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr.

“Ultimately, I’m a little disheartened because I know this past winter when I was negotiating with the Phillies, this was a sore thumb, if you will, about this potentially happening. You can’t promise anything in this game, but I really felt that Ruben kind of parlayed to me that this type of situation would not happen.

“I actually even had some conversation with David [Montgomery], and them reassuring me this type of situation won’t happen. Again, I’m a little disheartened by the way it’s happened, how it’s happened. We’re still in first place.”

But Moyer agrees the only way to get through this is to be a professional.

“I feel disheartened and misled, but I refuse to be a distraction,” he said.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, who ultimately agreed with Amaro on sending Moyer into a relief role said this has been among the hardest decisions he’s ever had to make.

“It was the toughest decisions I ever made because of who it was,” Manuel said. But he ultimately believed that Martinez “deserves a chance.”

And he will get a chance tonight in Chicago against Jeff Samardzija, who is 1-1 with an ERA over 6.00 in sixteen games for the Cubs.

Who knows, maybe he’ll be like the Pedro Martinez of old, but if he comes back as the washed up pitcher he was last year for the Mets, Moyer will be ready to reclaim his spot.

It may not be right away, as Martinez is guaranteed more than one start.

“He has to go more than one time,” Manuel reasoned. “He should get a chance.”

But the manager will also count on Moyer’s aid from his new role.

“He will be ready,” Manuel said. “And I won’t be afraid to use him.”

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Honoring a legend

It’s still hard to believe that the sound of our summers is gone. For many of us, Harry Kalas provided the sound track to the shore, or your porch in South Philly. He was the sound of baseball in the Delaware Valley. He was one of a kind.

He called games through the worst of seasons, where losses often outnumbered wins. But with his singular voice and trademark calls, he made those years enjoyable. He didn’t disappoint in the Philies’ good years either.

He called games in 1980, where he reached a high-note in the League Championship Series as his beloved Phils moved on to the World Series. But that’s where his run came to an end. Local broadcasters were forbidden to call the World Series, a rule that sidelined Harry for that chapter of baseball history.

The absence of Harry when the team was on baseball’s grandest stage infuriated Phillies fans. Through their letters and protests, they got the rule changed a year later.

Harry came to Philly in 1971, after the Phils lured Bill Giles to Philly to help unveil the Vet. And Bill Giles knew the perfect master of ceremonies. When he got here, he wasn’t instantly popular. He was far from a legend. He was known as “the guy who replaced Bill Campbell.” But it didn’t take Harry long to win Philadelphia’s heart.

He joined a team of some of the single greatest broadcasters ever, including his long time broadcast partner and lifelong best friend, Richie Ashburn. Ashburn and Kalas teamed up to become what could be described as a long running Broadway act. They performed each year from April to September, bringing their shows to the homes an cars of Phillies fans.

They were the perfect team.

But in 1997, the Phillies ventured to New York, where the Phillies would take on the Mets at Shea. And after the game, a tragedy occurred- Ashburn had a heart attack and died.

In the years following Ashburn’s death, Harry was never quite the same. He worked with numerous broadcast partners, none of which were anything like Whitey.

In 2004, Harry received Baseball’s grandest honor, and induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

He continued to call games for the next few years. And as his beloved Phils began to build up hopes of winning another World Series title, Harry brought fans all of the action, as only he could.

Finally, in 2008 there was justice. On a perfect autumn night, with the sky-scraping buildings shimmering in the background, the Phils once again wrote their name into the history of this city. This time, Harry was there to document every second, calling the final out.

After Harry led the city in celebration, he returned to his home in Media. He was a super-star, but that’s never how he looked at it. He was still the same guy, who you would regularly see at the Wawa, filling up his coffee cup and chatting with everyone in the store. He never lost sight of why he had a job in the first place- the fans.

After arriving at 2009 Spring Training late, after having what, at the time, was an undisclosed operation, Harry seemed to fit right back into his groove. He called games the same way he always did for the first weeks of the 2009 season. But, on April 13, he died, after collapsing in the press box at Nationals Park.

It was the most unbelievable day. A monument had fallen. No one knew quite how to react.

His memorial service was held at Citizens Bank Park. He was one of three people ever to be remembered with an on-field memorial service. The others- Jack Buck and Babe Ruth. And I don’t doubt for a second that Harry fits right into that category. He transcended the game of baseball, which is something you can’t say about many people.

Tonight, at Citizens Bank Park, Harry will be remembered once again and honored, in a ceremony for the conssumate master of ceremonies, as he will join the Phillies’ Wall of Fame.

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