Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Don's ashes are happy this week

        Don Bowman would have loved this week.
        With the Oakland Athletics and the Washington Nationals winning their divisions and being in baseball's playoffs, and with college basketball's "Midnight Madness" coming up, Bowman would have been in heaven.
         He probably is, if you believe in that kind of thing.
         Don was our co-worker in sports at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram -- a part of the "desk," the inside crew that puts out the paper -- and probably the biggest character in a department of characters.
Don Bowman
         We lost him suddenly in May 2008, the victim of a massive stroke. He was 56, and full of life, or full of it, to put it mildly.
         We all agreed. He was about as funny, or as crazy, as anyone any of us had worked with, anywhere. But he was a dedicated worker, he was talented, he was versatile, and he loved the newspaper business.
          He could edit copy, write really clever headlines, come up with great ideas, and he had one writing day a week in which he usually took a subject, researched it well, and produced some history-related stories which were usually pertinent and interesting.
         Mostly, though, he was a sports fan, through and through. He had his favorite teams -- and everyone knew who they were. The A's. The Nationals. The Terps (any University of Maryland team). He was opinionated and loud ... and such a clown.
          Yeah, we were kindred spirits.
          First night I worked at the Star-Telegram, I sat across from Don. Didn't take long to find out how knowledgable he was and how personable. Also this: I thought I had moved around the country a bit and had a bunch of jobs -- seven, ranging from Hawaii to Florida -- but Don had us all beat. He had a chart showing his job movement; it was something like 16 jobs over 30-plus years.
           He had been all over the country, and had friends from all over. He left them laughing in a lot of places.
          But like me, Don found a home at the Star-Telegram and worked there much longer than any job he ever had. Same for me.
          Found out, too, that first night that he had dozens of repetitive sayings -- "where's your messiah now" was a favorite -- and he was quick with a cryptic quip. He could dish it out, and sometimes he could even take it.
          And he had a desk full of toys and trinkets, and most of them made noise, such as the spinning, wheezing doll and the pen with hysterical, loud laughter. Then there was the pig mask (actually, it became two pig masks) that, about once a week, he would slip on and sneak up behind unsuspecting young Nolan Shaver in our department and then yell, "Nolan!" and scare the hell out of Nolan.
          Plus, his computer screensavers were usually a scream, too. Don hated Duke, anything Duke, but especially Coach K -- the iconic Mike Krzyzewski. He delighted most anytime Duke and Coach K lost. His favorite screensaver was of a young Duke fan crying after a Duke loss in the NCAA Tournament. Don called Coach K "ratface" and he'd scrunch up his face and make rat sounds when he talked about him.
          Much as he loved baseball, college basketball was his favorite topic. He followed it closely and knew more about it than 99 percent of the population. His favorite day of the year, I think, was "Midnight Madness," the start of college basketball practice, usually about Oct. 15.
         Don would let you know ... "142 days until Midnight Madness" ... "six weeks until Midnight Madness" ... "17 days until Midnight Madness," etc. So he'd be really proud today because it's "three days until Midnight Madness" and one of the sites ESPNU will visit Friday night is the University of Maryland.
          (The day after, Bowman would announce ... "364 days until Midnight Madness.")
          Don, a Maryland graduate, often wore Terrapins shirts and thought Gary Williams and Brenda Frese were the best basketball coaches in the country. He even liked Ralph Friedgen -- big Ralph -- as the football coach until he didn't like him any more and adopted the chant (in Seminoles/Atlanta Braves fashion) Ralph must gooooo, gooooo, gooooo; Ralph must goooo, goooo, gooooo.
            In my first year at the S-T, Maryland won the men's NCAA Tournament, Don's dream come true.  He also predicted a women's title soon, and it happened in 2006, and the championship-game victory was against ... Duke.
           One thing Don didn't like about college basketball was the impact of the mid-majors. He thought mid-majors didn't deserve NCAA spots over major conference schools. So in 2007, when Butler beat Maryland in a second-round game, it made a lot of people in sports happy as we watched on TV.
           Don didn't come in the office until after the game ended, but when he came in, someone said, "Too bad about Maryland, Don" (like he meant it). Don glared and then mumbled, "Why does everybody pull against Maryland? ... I'm not that bad a fan; I don't push Maryland on you guys."
           When I replied, "You just keep believing that, Don," it drew some laughs.
           But it was Don's love of the Oakland A's that drove the department to distraction at times. He would watch their games on his computer and practically give you play by play. He would talk about them constantly, whether you cared or not. (Now you know, I would never do the same about the Yankees or LSU.)       
           Don't know exactly why Don loved the A's. He grew up in the Washington, D.C., area and was a big fan of the 1960s Washington Senators, the awful Senators whose only real star was big Frank Howard. He saw them play often at RFK Stadium in D.C. That's the team that moved to Arlington, Texas, in 1972 -- with Ted Williams as manager -- and became the Texas Rangers.
             Don felt that Arlington, with mayor Tom Vandergriff, "stole" the team and that owner Bob Short sold out on Washington. So Don despised Short, and really, despised the Rangers.
            He rejoiced every year in the early 2000s when the Athletics whipped up on the Rangers. Disdainful of the huge contract the Rangers had given Alex Rodriguez, he kept a chart in 2002 and '03 of how many games A-Rod made a difference in the Rangers winning and how many he made no difference when they lost. The losses far exceeded the wins, to Don's delight.
            (When the Montreal Expos moved and became the Washington Nationals in 2005, Don was thrilled and made a trip home to watch the Nationals' first home series at RFK.)
            So in 2002, when Maryland won the NCAA basketball title, and the Athletics reeled off 20 consecutive wins that summer -- the Moneyball team featured in the movie last year -- Don had a great year. He laughed at Rangers' fans every day during that winning streak.
            He definitely bought into A's general manager Billy Beane's low-budget, great pitching, on-base percentage offense philosophy. He didn't like Art Howe much as a manager, but if he'd seen Moneyball, even he would have said that the movie disparaged Howe. Don could get down on players, too, such as Barry Zito, the pitcher whose name he changed to Barry Meato.
            Bowman would not have liked the Rangers' success of 2010 and 2011, but he absolutely would have relished the second half of this season, especially the A's sweep past the Rangers last week for the AL West title.
            Don had a lot more going than sports fandom. He did some charitable things away from the office, he liked theater and movies and cats, and after a bad marriage and some relationships that didn't work, he was happy with a girlfriend, Peggy, in Arlington.
            Don had thick, dark hair -- unlike some of us older guys -- and he led a newspaper drive for Locks of Love, in which people let their hair grow long, then had it cut and donated to make wigs. Don's hair got so long, we were rooting for the drive to end. Didn't want to tell him he looked like a werewolf.
           And here's what he did for me one time. A company was making CDs entitled "You Are The Star," a 20-minute radio-type narrative of a game -- a fantasy -- in which someone would be the hero for his team. I'm at my desk one day and I hear my name as the star for the LSU football team. I hear it several times. Don is playing this CD on his computer and it's loud enough so everyone in the office -- everyone in downtown, in fact -- could hear it. "Nico Van Thyn is the quarterback for LSU." This goes on for about five minutes, and I hear my name about 20 times.
            I don't embarrass easily, but that day ...
            Damn Bowman.
             On his final conscious day, on a day off from the paper, Don took Peggy and her daughter to an A's-Rangers game at Rangers Ballpark. The Athletics won 12-6, so Don was happy.
             He was too heavy and had a big belly, and had high blood pressure, so he worried some about his health. He had blood pressure medicine, but it didn't mix well with some other medications he was using.
             That Sunday night, while in bed, he had the stroke. It was devastating.
              Driving back from Tennessee on vacation the next morning, I got a call from an assistant sports editor with the news and the word: "It doesn't look good."
              For about 10 days, Don lingered in the hospital, never regaining consciousness. It was heartbreak for us, so hard to take. There was one day when there was some hope; some vital signs looked better. Two days later, they took him off life support.
              It's the hardest thing I've been through in 40-plus years of newspapering.
              The wake at the funeral home drew almost everyone from our department. There was Don in the open coffin wearing his red "Fear the Turtle" shirt. A day or two later, he was cremated. His remains are in Arlington.
               Not many days have passed since when I was in the office that we didn't have a mention of Bowman, something he said or did -- "Bowmanisms."
              Forgive us for this -- it's sports department humor -- but our friend Randall Perry suggested one night soon after Don died and the A's won a game that "Don's ashes are happy." That became standard for any of his teams. If they lose, it's "Don's ashes aren't happy."
             This week, with the Nationals and A's playing, and "Midnight Madness" almost here, Don's ashes are happy.
             We miss our crazy friend.                     

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