Keeping Score: Homecoming for a changed man 

Friday, June 16, 2017

Good morning!

Several winters ago James Smith and I met in Vero Beach to watch a spring training game in Dodgertown.

Smith grew up on Clesson Brook Road in Buckland, above the Rte. 116 straightaway toward the Ashfield town line. His father Ed Smith, was a farmer and Republican town selectman.

It was 2005, and Smith was living in Washington and working on Capitol Hill for Congressmen Tom DeLay and J.C. Watts. A staunch baseball fan, he’d purchased season tickets to watch the Nationals play their inaugural season in D.C.

That was the last time I heard from him until yesterday. I was trying to call Jim Smith the football coach who lives in Buckland and mistakenly dialed the James Smith whom I’d met in Florida who is now Father James Smith.

Five minutes earlier, James Smith had tried to call me at the Recorder. Features editor Anita Fritz had taken the message, but before she could call me, I’d already dialed him up.

He wanted readers to know he was recently ordained into the priesthood and will be serving his first solemn Mass tomorrow at 2 p.m. at Our Lady of Czestochowa in Turners Falls. “It’ll be a Latin Mass complete with Gregorian chants. It will be a beautiful chant from the choir. They’re going to do a great job I’m sure.”  

He never did get to use those Washington Nationals tickets. “I sold them to a friend,” he said. “I went to Baghdad and spent three-and-a-half years working for the Bush administration.”

After Obama was elected, he left politics and started a company in Dubai of the United Arab Emirates. He’d seen a lot and was restless. “I’d become a Catholic and applied to a seminary in the U.S.,” he said. 

In 2010, Smith returned stateside and entered Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Denton, Nebraska. It was there he studied the ancient liturgy as it was prior to 1962. “Tomorrow is my first solemn Mass in New England. I did one a few weeks ago in D.C.”

His first assignment begins July 1 at St. Stanislaus in Nashua, N.H. The church opened in 1908 to serve the Polish community and was slated for closure until it was saved by a renewed interest in Traditional Mass for which Father Smith is trained.

Thus ends his remarkable and transformative journey.

“Can I just clarify?” he added. “I’m not a Nationals fan. I’m definitely a Red Sox fan.”

Fran Murphy passed away early Wednesday morning. Murphy was a Greenfield guy through-and-through and was a gridiron standout for Jim Smith at Deerfield Academy. His daughter Julie moved from Arizona to take care of him the last year, and his goal was to walk her down the aisle to marry her fiance Ric Hawthorne.

When that became unrealistic, they changed the date to last Sunday. Murphy watched from his wheelchair as the couple was married on the deck of his home in West Deerfield.

Though I barely knew him, there were at least three things that “Murph” could do better than me: run with the football, build a house and put up with my former wife. Even my children liked him, and that’s saying something.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. is heavily favored to beat Ultimate Fighting Champion Conor McGregor (a 4-to-1 underdog) in their super-welterweight boxing match at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Aug. 26. The 40-year-old Mayweather is 49-0 in the ring and the 28-year-old McGregor 21-3 in the octagon. They’ll use 10-ounce gloves in a 12-round fight.

Mayweather’s last fight was almost two years ago. He’ll use the next two months to get in shape, and McGregor will likely use it to improve his boxing skill. It won’t be enough, predicted boxing analyst Alex Kay in forbes.com: “Expect counter-blow after blow as (Mayweather) nimbly deflects and dodges the sloppy power punches coming his way.”

Tickets on Craigslist are selling for $2,100 and those are the cheap seats; the best seats are selling for $50,000 and up. 

T-Mobile Arena is also where the Las Vegas Golden Knights’ selections will be announced during the NHL Awards ceremony on Wednesday. Every NHL team will lose a player and not just any player, like the 1967-68 St. Louis Blues wound up with the likes of an aging Terry Crisp and the infamous Noel Picard.

Teams have a choice of protecting eight skaters and one goalie, or seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie. The rest of their respective rosters are up for grabs. 

The Knights also get the sixth overall pick in the draft on June 23-24, and  UMass recruit Cale Makar is projected to go between fifth and tenth. Maker is quoted saying he likes to rush the puck, and that makes scouts happy. USA Today calls him a “mini-Erik Karlsson,” referring to the Ottawa Senators’ captain.

Patriots backup QB Jimmy Garrapolo was on the sideline for practice Tuesday, churning doubts about his durability. Jimmy G hurt his shoulder and missed two games last year, and CSN’s Jim Murray reported on Felger & Mazz he injured his leg during the mandatory OTAs. Garrapolo has shown he has NFL caliber talent, completing 63-of-94 passes with five TDs and no picks.

But as Murray said, “The Patriots better not have screwed this up if they had GMs falling all over themselves to give two No. 1 picks and God knows what else. (Garrapolo) better not be made of Triscuits.”

Over the years Dolly Gagnon received calls from thousands of readers who had the best or worst of news — a birth or death in the family, or an engagement or wedding announcement to report. She did the “Talk of the Towns” and plenty more during the 62 years that she worked in the newsroom.

Dolly retired in 2016 and this is her favorite season, when she can garden and hop on a bus with her friends to bet the ponies at Saratoga. She’s currently hospitalized in Springfield where you can send a card or note to her in care of Baystate Health, Room 5145, Daly 5-A; 759 Chestnut St., Springfield, MA. 01199.

SQUIBBERS: “Frank the Tank” on Felger & Mazz: “I haven’t spent a single dime at Fenway Park for 13 years, since they kicked me out for wearing a ‘Yankees Suck’ T-shirt.” Really? There must be two sides to that story. … A week after the Kentucky Derby I walked into a pizza shop in Hinsdale, where the owner looked at me and yelled, “Those horses you gave me ran like mules!” … Sonic Mule finished last in the second race at Belmont Park last Saturday, but I didn’t give him that horse. … After Epicharis was scratched out of the Belmont Stakes by the track veterinarian, a TVG reporter quipped, “I’d probably be a vet’s scratch when I get up in the morning.” … Texas’ Adrian Beltre needs 45 hits to reach 3,000. The Red Sox play the Rangers in a road series July 3-5. …  UConn right-hander Wills Montgomerie was the first New England college player taken in this week’s MLB draft. The Huskies’ all-time strikeout leader was chosen by the Dodgers in the sixth round (190th overall). … Mets’ shortstop Jose Reyes is in a season-long slump, batting 100 points below his career average (.286). At this writing, he’d had five hits in his last 50 at-bats. … The Penguins book-ended an 82-game regular season between two Stanley Cups and a total of 49 playoff games. …  Spotted South Deerfield’s  Dan and Sue Carmody having ice cream at the creamy stand in Whately on Sunday. Dan’s such a UMass hoops fan that Sue said, “He nearly went to a game while I was in labor.” Carmody claims the team has turned the corner. “Wins and losses don’t matter.” If that’s true there is no corner, just a road to the cliff. … Conor Sheary stood five feet tall, weighed 100 pounds and didn’t make the varsity hockey team his freshman year at Cushing Academy. He graduated in 2010, played at UMass, and in six years went from being small-time Penguin in Ashburnham to a big-time Penguin in Pittsburgh. Last year he brought the Stanley Cup to Cushing where he signed autographs and posed at his locker. Maybe UMass will get a glimpse of it this year. That would be a first. … The Keene Swamp Bats host the Winnipesaukee Muskrats tonight at 6:35 at Alumni Field. This is Keene’s 20th season in the New England Intercollegiate Baseball League. The games are at Alumni Stadium next to the high school and tickets are $4 for adults, $3 for seniors, and children $10 and under are free. … Courtney Sheary, sister of aforementioned Conor, is an assistant women’s hockey coach at Dartmouth. … ESPN’s “30-for-30” on the Celtics-Lakers rivalry includes several clips of the inimitable Johnny Most dissing the Lakers: “The yellow, gutless way they do things here!”. … Happy Father’s Day to my son-in-law Corey Greene, doting dad of my beautiful grandchildren Chase and Carter.

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley. He can be reached by email at sports@recorder.com.