The joy of crossing Vin Scully off my bucket list

Shortly after I went to prison I started a list on the back of a letter I received because it was the only paper I had at that time. I’m a notorious list maker — in my head, on scratch paper, on my hand, if necessary — about virtually any topic that comes to mind. I have to-do lists everywhere.

I’m not sure what compelled this list, but I recall what was first on it: “Listen to a Dodgers- Giants game called by Vin Scully on a sunny afternoon.”

It started a type of bucket list, things I wanted to do once I regained my freedom. On the list are some items I can’t do like have a Sam Adams with my son in those new glasses they made specifically for their beer. I wasn’t too interested in sobriety back then as I am now. Some will take years to cross off. Some have already been removed. But the list grew. About a year later I shared the idea with my brother who came to visit in me in prison. I told him about Vin Scully. He winced.

“He’s retiring this year,” my brother said.

My heart dropped. I couldn’t wrap my mind around the idea of not being able to recapture my youth and listen to the magical verbal stylings of Vin Scully call a baseball game.

As it turned out, he decided to delay his retirement, much to the delight of all Los Angeles and baseball fans everywhere, but none, I suspect were more thrilled than me.

When the baseball season started this year, my first since freedom returned to my life, it was a sunny day and my Giants were visiting Chavez Ravine. I tuned into Vin Scully and delightedly crossed the first thing off my bucket list.

Freedom has rarely felt so fine. Knowing more moments like this lay ahead, I wake up each day with a profound sense of gratitude, determined to do just a little bit better each day, be a little bit better person each day, make a little bit more of a positive contribution in a small attempt to atone for past mistakes each day.

Today, I tip my cap to Vin Scully, the greatest baseball announcer the game has ever known.

“There’s 29,000 people in the ballpark and a million butterflies,” Vin Scully said way back when during Sandy Koufax’s perfect game.

Many call this the greatest baseball call of  the greatest pitched game ever. A maestro on the mound, described by perhaps the greatest artist of play-by-pay to ever paint a verbal canvas. (I used to have this whole transcript up on my office wall… enjoy).

It’s amazing the baseball Scully has seen. I think if I had one of those wishes to meet anyone in history, it would be to watch a Dodger-Giants game in the sunny outfield with Vin Scully to hear incredible stories like these:

Vin was the theme music to some of sport’s greatest moments, from the Gibson home run to the “The Catch” at Candlestick (with a football, not a baseball). Scully is a poet who has painted American sports, like these:

Vin, I’m glad you came back to make this one item on my bucket list come true.

Pope Francis uses inmate-crafted cross for Palm Sunday

Pope Francis has joined a shoulder to press against the global industrialized prison complex.  So much of the world is on the margins and Francis continues to shine a light of grace into the urban blind spots, impoverished communities and even into dank prison cells.

Pope Francis used a pastoral staff made of wood carved by Italian prison inmates, who donated it to him. The pope is determined to put people on the margins of life at the center of the Roman Catholic church’s attention.

Read on this Palm Sunday:

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis, marking Palm Sunday in a packed St. Peter’s Square, ignored his prepared homily and spoke entirely off-the-cuff in a remarkable departure from practice. Later, he hopped off his popemobile to pose for “selfies” with young people in the crowd.

In his homily, Francis called on people, himself included, to look into their own hearts to see how they are living their lives.

“Has my life fallen asleep?” Francis asked after listening to a Gospel account of how Jesus’ disciples fell asleep shortly before he was betrayed by Judas before his crucifixion.

“Am I like Pontius Pilate, who, when he sees the situation is difficult, washes my hands?”

He sounded tired, frequently pausing to catch his breath, as he spoke for about 15 minutes in his homily during Palm Sunday Mass, which solemnly opens Holy Week for the Roman Catholic Church.

“Where is my heart?” the pope asked, pinpointing that as the “question which accompanies us” throughout Holy Week.

Francis seemed to regain his wind after the 2 ½ hour ceremony. He shed his red vestments atop his plain white cassock, chatted amiably with cardinals dressed more formally than he at that point. Then he posed for “selfies” with young people from Rio de Janeiro who had carried a large cross in the square.

He had barely climbed aboard his open-topped popemobile when he spotted Polish youths, they, too, clamoring for a “selfie” with a pope, and he hopped off, to oblige them.

via Pope Francis Ignores Prepared Homily In Palm Sunday Speech.

Talking activism with Phil Allen 900 AM WURD

I’m an early riser, but 4 a.m. is a pretty rough alarm shrill, even for me. But within 20 minutes I was wide awake as a guest on  900am WURD, with host Phil Allen. He’s lively that early in the morning — as drive time radio jocks have to be — but more importantly, he is thoughtful, provocative and damn entertaining.

The good news is he let me contribute to the conversation. We talked civil rights and the death of former Jackson, Miss. Mayor Chowke Lumumba (a story I wrote for

In the immediate days after his sudden death from “natural causes” the same day he was working on city business, his close ally Councilman Kenny Stokes went live with his suspicion. The mayor was murdered Stokes said, demanding an independent autopsy (but Stokes hasn’t returned follow-up emails and calls to me about the autopsy). The talk faded, but not for Phil Allen. It was the first question he asked me about, stemming from my story that I wrote. It led to a lively conversation about politics, civil rights and the economic plight of urban areas — all topics that I have written about and studied for decades, dating back to my graduate school days and then later as a political columnist.

The time flew and by 5 a.m. when I was off-air, I was wide awake. He’s that type of host. I’m looking forward to my next guest appearance on WURD.

Read more about Phil’s unlikely rise from sports radio caller to featured talk show host. Since this story came out, Allen has become the full-time morning host for WURD. It’s quite a rise for a talented, thoughtful and creative talent:

It’s been almost 20 years since Allen placed his first call to WIP to complain about then-Phillies manager Jim Fregosi. Host Howard Eskin called him a moron and an imbecile and told him never to call back. Undeterred, Allen eventually became the station’s most distinctive and celebrated caller, thanks to his wit, charisma, sports knowledge, prodigious rants and polarizing opinions. Hosts like Anthony Gargano and Mike Missanelli often let him speak his piece longer than the usual one-minute-40-seconds allotted to callers.

By 2006, Allen says, he was in talks with WIP to become a host but nothing came of it. And then, when Missanelli signed on with WIP rival The Fanatic in 2008, Allen switched call-in allegiances and—with the help of Missanelli, one of Allen’s biggest champions—he convinced Fanatic program director Matt Nahigian to hire him. “Part of [joining the Fanatic] was because [WIP] spurned me,” says Allen, “and now my job is to kick [WIP’s] ass.”

After more than a year of early Saturday morning shows with various co-hosts, Allen’s got two solo shows now—he’s on Saturday afternoons from 3 to 7 p.m., and he’s got a Sunday night sports wrap-up show at 6—in addition to occasional fill-in work during the week. He also does a Saturday morning show on WURD 900AM. Though he’s used to his hosting duties by now, he still gets hyped up before every show.

“When I’m in there, it’s on. I didn’t even sit down for my first year and a half. I threw things. If I had a wireless microphone, I woulda paced that room like I’m on fire.” He still rants about the Eagles front office or how badly the Sixers need to trade Andre Iguodala, but he’s learned to dial it back. “You can’t be over the top all the time. But to this day, being on the radio for four hours is intense. It’s just like sex—when you’re done, it’s like, ‘Damn, where’s my cigarette?’”

Allen’s garnered a loyal following; like any good sports-talk radio host, he’s got listeners who think he’s the shit, and others who think he’s full of shit. He’s rarely hard-up for callers, the lifeblood of any sports-talk station.

“I love my guys,” he says of such regulars as “Mike the Weasel,” “Guido from Ambler” and even “Mitch from East Windsor,” who Allen laughs “drives me crazy, he’s so fuckin’ annoying.

“They’re the guys I tailgated with, the guys I went to the Vet with, we’re the denizens of the fucking darkness,” he continues. “I know what it’s like when you sit on hold for 40 minutes just to get your minute-40. It’s hard for me to hang up on people.”

With more than two years as a Fanatic host under his belt, Allen’s hoping for a more prominent role at the station someday, ideally a daily gig. “I think I’m as talented and know my sports as well as anyone at The Fanatic,” he says. “I think I could do any time slot.”

Even his good pal Missanelli’s top-rated, highly coveted weekday afternoon slot? “If something ever happened to him, I’d step over his dead body right up to that mic in a heartbeat!” Allen shouts, bursting out of his chair and doubling over laughing.

“I love [Missanelli],” he says after catching his breath. “But I’m a competitive guy. I would love a shot at that drive-time show. This is my life, man. It’s radio or die!”

via Being a Host on 97.5 The Fanatic Is Still Phil Allen’s Dream Come True | News and Opinion | Philadelphia Weekly.