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By Bucky Gleason
One man was enduring the heartache that comes with a long goodbye to his father, the other a first-time father who barely said hello to his son. Joe Girardi and Pat Neshek, manager and player on opposite coasts, are related only in their love for baseball and how the game enabled them to overcome personal grief.
Girardi's passion for the game came from his father, Jerry, a bricklayer and bartender who ended up in sales. They were two teammates in life and partners in sports when Joe was a kid in Peoria, Ill. They enjoyed fishing and basketball but nothing compared to their enthusiasm for baseball and cheering for the Cubs.
Alzheimer's had stolen Jerry Girardi's quality of life long before he succumbed to the disease while his son managed the Yankees in the American League Divisional Series. Joe recalled his father once breaking his thumb while fixing the bathtub and refusing to quit until the job was completed.
On the day his father died, Joe stayed with the Yanks. Jerry Girardi, 81, was buried Monday while the Yankees had a day off in the American League Championship Series against the Tigers.
“He just taped [his thumb], so I thought that's what my dad would want me to do,” Girardi told reporters during the ALDS. “So that's what I tried to do. My dad would want me to do everything we could to go win a World Series.”
On the day Girardi's father died, Neshek rejoined the A's after the death of his son for their divisional series against the Tigers. Gehrig John, named after Yanks legend Lou Gehrig, was the first child for Neshek and his wife Stephanee. He lived only 23 hours before he stopped breathing, never getting a chance to play catch with his dad.
Neshek stayed home in Melbourne, Fla., for a few days before his wife insisted he return to the A's. With a black patch on his sleeve to honor his son, also worn by his teammates, Neshek pitched one inning of scoreless relief. He struck out Austin Jackson for the final out on a filthy slider before sobbing in the dugout.
“I was thinking about him the whole time,” Neshek told The New York Times. “You kind of take it second by second and see what happens. I feel comfort in baseball. I feel normal on the mound. I don't know what would happen if they took that away from me. I think it really helped.”
The game helped them the same way it has helped Americans for more than 150 years. It provided therapy. It provided relief. It provided an escape from the real world.

Castillo takes the fall

Eagles coach Andy Reid wasted little time in firing defensive coordinator Juan Castillo after two straight losses dropped them to 3-3.
“We're six games into the season and average isn't good enough,” Reid said in a statement. “I know the potential of our team and insist on maximizing it.”
Reid should be credited for demanding improvement, but Castillo looks like a fall guy. It was Reid who decided Castillo could make a successful transition from offensive line coach to defensive coordinator. Philly has a weak pass rush, but its 17 turnovers on an offense Reid oversees have been a bigger problem.
Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha didn't help Castillo's long-term security after the loss Sunday, when he complained about a shift in strategy. Asomugha held Lions receiver Calvin Johnson to one catch in the first three quarters. Castillo cranked up their aggression, and Johnson torched them for 107 yards on five catches in the fourth.
“The fourth quarter was a lot of blitzing,” Asomugha told the Philadelphia Daily News. “So, the fourth quarter, they were able to find the matchups they wanted amidst the blitzing. You could say, 'You should blitz more,' but we did that and it didn't help us in the end.”

Big names not supportive

It's funny how NHL players continue criticizing Commissioner Gary Bettman and chief confidants such as second-in-command Bill Daly and Buffalo-based Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs for the lockout. Meanwhile, the players are signing contracts with teams overseas for doing little to support their so-called union.
Nearly 125 players jumped to Europe or elsewhere, according to TSN, proving many players are worried only about themselves. They would have a greater impact if they were here and more involved in negotiations rather than taking a European vacation while Donald Fehr works on a solution.
The biggest stars are still making big money, but hundreds of others are left without jobs. Patrick Kaleta and Matt Ellis, for example, make less than the NHL average and are now out of work. Meanwhile, teammates Thomas Vanek and Christian Ehrhoff, who don't need the money, continue rolling in dough.
It's why the NHL has a players' association, not a players' union.

New mission for Parker?

A recent rule change lowering the age requirement for Mormons to serve their missions will likely have an impact on college basketball next year and could affect the first pick overall in the 2014 NBA draft. It all depends on how Jabari Parker, the best schoolboy player in America, views his mission in life.
Parker, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has been touted as the next LeBron James. He can begin his two-year mission in June, after turning 18 and completing his senior year at Simeon Career Academy in Chicago. The previous age minimum for males serving their mission was 19.
A 6-foot-8 swingman and Mr. Basketball in Illinois as a junior, Parker planned to play college ball for one season before deciding whether to begin his mission or start his career in the NBA.
Now, he can complete his mission and start his NBA career one year sooner than he planned. He recently narrowed his college options to Duke, Florida, Michigan State, Stanford and Brigham Young.
“When he's 18 and if he did want to go on a mission, he can now,” his father, Sonny Parker, told ESPN.com. “He has to decide whether or not [he wants to]. He hasn't decided one way or another. We've talked about it. … I know his situation is different than a lot of people. We'll just see.”

School coach suspended

If you need an example of our society raising a nation of sissies, look no further than Des Moines, Iowa, where a high school suspended a football coach who had the audacity to discipline players with …
A smack upside the helmet, a common practice that's outdated? No. Getting paddled with a sawed-off goalie stick, which was an alternative choice to detention in at least one junior high school in, say, 1980? No. Making a sophomore take extra laps for running his mouth?
Kids, when in doubt, always pick C.
Apparently, Lincoln High in Des Moines believes making kids run sprints and take extra laps equates to corporal punishment. The school suspended football coach Tom Mihalovich for that very reason.
“Good common sense would indicate we're past using conditioning and running in a punitive manner,” Mike Dick, Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union executive director told the Des Moines Register. “To use conditioning as punishment is 'almost vindictive in nature.'”
For goodness sake, the director should take a lap.

Stats Inc.

• 14 – Earned runs allowed by the Tigers pitching staff through its first 64∏ innings of the postseason, half the number allowed by the Giants in 64 innings.
• 400 – Dollars, in millions, Barclays Bank agreed to pay over the 20 years for the naming rights to the Brooklyn Nets' new home, the Barclays Center.
• 0 – Pennies paid for the naming rights to Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Quick Hits

• Five weeks later, with golf season over and basketball beginning, I'm still waiting for a sensible reason from the Williamsville School District for why Al Monaco was removed from coaching at South. It's mind-boggling that he was canned from golf when the dispute was about basketball.
• Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher justifiably deserve the grief they're getting in the postseason, but both had better batting averages and on-base percentages than Robinson Cano. Cano was batting .063 and had a .091 OBP going into the Yanks-Tigers game Tuesday night.
• In a 30-hour period last week, the Yanks knocked off the O's in an elimination game, the Cardinals rallied from a 6-0 deficit to beat the Nationals, Notre Dame beat Stanford in overtime and Raul Ibanez hit another dramatic homer to force extra innings against the Tigers. Funny, but I didn't miss the Sabres not playing the Penguins.
• Men's Health magazine listed Michael Phelps as the fittest man of all time, just ahead of late martial arts legend Bruce Lee. Teenagers might find this hard to believe, but Bruce Jenner, aka Mr. Kardashian, was No. 23. Jenner was six slots ahead of Jesse Owens, eight higher than Carl Lewis and 10 better than Bo Jackson.

email: bgleason@buffnews.com