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Jewish World Review August 20, 2001 / 1 Elul, 5761

Bob Greene

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Consumer Reports

The calming moon high in the sky -- NEW ALBANY, Ohio -- There are moments when the world sends you a little message that maybe you ought to calm down, exhale, and let your nerves unclench.

Such a moment came at a hotel registration counter the other afternoon. I was checking in; another guest was checking out.

I was trying to do double duty that day -- I was on a reporting trip, but I also had a Jan and Dean concert at the local minor-league ballpark that night, so I had a computer bag in one hand and a guitar case in the other.

I was feeling frazzled, and I must have shown it. I could hear the tense edge in my voice -- a sound that I hate -- and I could almost feel steam coming out of my ears as I inquired of the perfectly nice person checking me in: Where is the fax my office said they had sent? Why is the billing information for my room wrong? Is there any way to hurry this process up?

The other guest at the counter -- the fellow standing next to me -- was gracious and polite and almost courtly. He was about my age, and he spoke with a British accent. He, too, was carrying a musical instrument. He seemed to be a patient, sweet-tempered individual.

So after he had checked out, I said to the hotel employee:

"Who was that fellow?"

And the hotel employee said: "He plays guitar for Black Sabbath. They were in town on the Ozzfest tour."

We both started smiling, and then laughing at the ridiculousness of this. You know your life has taken a wrong turn when your disposition and personality can objectively be said to come off poorly in comparison with Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne's touring party. The Black Sabbath guy is the sunny-dispositioned guy, next to you.

So I took the lesson as a sign, tried to slow down, got some work done in the afternoon, and that night, at the minor-league ballpark -- the same one where my dad took me to my first baseball game in the 1950s -- sat along the first-base line waiting for the game between the Columbus Clippers and the Toledo Mud Hens to end so that we could do the postgame concert.

I saw that the Clippers' first-base coach, with his back to me, wore No. 40 on his uniform. In central Ohio, No. 40 is almost sacrosanct. It was the number that Ohio State football halfback Howard "Hopalong" Cassady, the 1955 Heisman Trophy winner, always wore as he scampered for touchdowns to thunderous cheers in Ohio Stadium.

But that was a long time ago. The baseball game ended, the stage was pulled onto an area behind the pitcher's mound, and I said to Ken Schnacke, general manager of the Clippers, that I was curious about who on his coaching staff was wearing No. 40.

He said: "Hop."

Yes. Hop Cassady -- 67 years old -- is first-base coach for the minor-league Clippers. It's how he spends his summers.

After I absorbed this, I asked Schnacke if he would mind letting me say hello to Hop. We walked down the steps of the Clippers' dugout, went through a narrow tunnel -- and there in the locker room was Hop Cassady, half-undressed, getting out of his uniform and into his street clothes. We shook hands, and then Hop said:

"Sorry we couldn't give you a win tonight."

It took a second to register. The Clippers must have lost to the Mud Hens. Hop was apologizing. Is this a wonderful world?

The stage was ready, the evening was warm, the moon was high in the sky. We played a longer set than usual -- no one should ever be in a hurry on a night like this -- and guitarist Don Raymond sang lead on Jimmy Buffett's "Margaritaville":

Some people claim that there's a woman to blame....

I looked into the stands. I thought about how my afternoon had started: more wound-up and dark-mooded than Black Sabbath. I had to laugh again.

I looked up at that summer moon and thought about people present and not present, as we backed up Don Raymond's vocals:

...but I know, it's my own damn fault.

I tried to see if I could find Hop Cassady up in the stands. I hoped he was there. On nights like this, there's more than one way to get a win.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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