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Keeping Score

Backstage

Good morning!

The disadvantage of youth is we don’t know that we don’t know. Sometime around the seventh grade, our class visited Springfield Symphony Hall to watch a concert pianist named Harvey Lavan Cliburn Jr., Van Cliburn for short.

During the concert I became restless. Piano concertos weren’t for me; I was more attuned to the sounds of Del Shannon, Roy Orbison and Marty Robbins. At the intermission I got up, walked to the lobby and opened a door to an underground hallway that led backstage, where I opened another door to a small room and came face-to-face with Van Cliburn.

He looked up, surprised, sweat on his brow. “I really enjoy your music,” I stammered, and handed him my program. He was gracious, smiling he clasped my hand with both of his and said, “Thank you.”

Although the program he signed for me that evening is long gone, the memory is strong as ever. Van Cliburn died earlier this month at his home in Texas, and not until reading his obit did I realize the impact he once had on the world stage. In 1958, the 23-year-old Van Cliburn performed at the International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow. The event was meant to showcase cultural superiority in the Soviet Union but Van Cliburn’s virtuoso performance earned him a prolonged, eight-minute standing ovation.

“Is he the best?” Khrushchev asked the judges, who were intimidated to give an American first place at the height of the Cold war.

They nodded.

“Then give him the prize.”

The impact that Van Cliburn’s feat had on American pride rivaled Jesse Owens’ four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics and Joe Louis’s first-round, 1938 knockout of Max Schmeling at sold-out Yankee Stadium.

He returned home, was given a ticker-tape parade in New York City, and put on the cover of Time Magazine as “The Texan Who Conquered Russia.”

Perhaps it was just as well I didn’t know the man’s accomplishments that night at Symphony Hall. If I had, I may have stayed in my seat.

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Colleen Paul of Warwick wants readers to know that an article that recently appeared in this newspaper was slightly misleading. On March 4, her husband Joseph Paul drove to Maine to go snowmobiling. The following morning, he heard that 17-year-old Nicholas Joy was lost in the woods. The Medford teenager had lost his way while skiing with his father at the Sugarloaf Mountain Ski Resort in Carrabassett Valley.

A volunteer Warwick fireman and Maine native, Paul decided to join the search and found Joy walking on a logging road early that morning. He gave the lad some crackers and peanuts and returned him to safety.

“The one little thing that bothered me is that the article made it sound like my husband went up to go glory seeking,” said Colleen Paul, a Warwick native who was born Colleen Carey and has lived in the same Warwick home with her husband since 1997. “That’s just not Joe, he’s just a very helpful person. He left the day before to go snowmobiling, heard it on the news and happened to be in the right place at the right time.”

A contractor by trade, Paul was in the right place at the right time again on Monday. Was he working? No, explained his wife, “He’s at jury duty.”

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Greenfield’s Neal Graves, GHS Class of 1960, wrote to correct an item from several weeks back regarding the school’s record holder in the discus. According to both Graves and GHS athletic director Mike Kuchieski, the honor belongs to Joe Dziekonski Jr., who flung the dish 146 feet, two inches, in 1961. Eight years later Dziekonski was killed in a deer hunting accident in Littleton, N.H. At the time of his death, he was an assistant football coach at Cathedral High School in Springfield.

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Apparently they still enjoy using the Puritan method of punishment-by-humiliation in the Deep South. During a stopover off I-95 for breakfast in Georgia, I picked up a copy of the Savannah Morning News. It contained the usual array of local and international news until the classifieds, which included something I’d never seen in a newspaper: “DUI Conviction Notices.”

Not like this anyway. Notice of each conviction included a photo of the driver together with the details of the arrest and the sentence levied. Adding insult to injury was that said scofflaws were ordered to pay the $25 fee for “publication of conviction and photo.”

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The World Baseball Classic on MLB TV is fun to watch but is not baseball at its best, not with Vinnie Pestano pitching for the U.S. versus Puerto Rico on Tuesday. Pitchers like Justin Verlander, David Price and Adam Wainwright all opted out of the tournament. Can you blame them? Daisuke Matsuzaka was never the same after winning the MVP award for Japan in 2009. Matsuzaka was 33-15 in his first two seasons for Boston and 17-22 in his four seasons after the Classic.

This season he’s with Terry Francona in Cleveland and has a 2.25 ERA with three strikeouts and one walk in eight innings pitched.

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Squibbers: Asked if a lack of physicality contributed to his team’s 3-1 loss to Buffalo on Tuesday, Rangers coach John Tortorella snapped, “I’m not going to pick it apart. We sucked. (Buffalo) was ripe to be beaten.” … The Red Sox don’t care if Larry Walker saw Satan in Alfredo Aceves’ eyes during the Canada-Mexico dustup as long as the righty reliever keeps getting out of jams, deal or no deal with the devil. ... Former Devils defenseman Ken Daneyko on Canada’s preparedness to empty the bench versus Mexico: “These guys grew up with fisticuffs in hockey. They were ready for it.” ... Southpaw Drake Britton handed over his debit card to police after he was pulled over for DUI in Naples. Britton signed a $700,000 signing bonus with the Red Sox and follows the tradition of Bobby Jenks, who was popped for DUI last spring after leaving a Naples strip joint. … License plate on a late model 4Runner parked at the Emporia, Va. Fire Station: BADFYR. … After attending Fantasy Camp, 69-year-old former Red Sox infielder Rico Petrocelli told his XM Radio listeners, “Other than not being able to walk or throw or turn my head to the left, I feel pretty good.” ... Greenfield handicapper John Dobrydnio phoned with the following scoop on Tuesday: “I wanted to give you a little insight on who the new Pope is going to be. They’re actually gambling on this. The new Pope is coming from Warsaw, Poland.” Business has to be slow when there’s action on naming the new Pope.

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley.

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