For the past six years I have been enjoying a strange and wonderful long-distance relationship with Ralph Garcia, the charismatic and easy-to-get-along-with leader of NGSC Sports. I have been submitting countless sports blogs for him to publish on his increasingly popular sports website. Never in a million years would we have thought we would become such good friends.
Despite all these interactions, we had never met in person — until Saturday.
I drove from my home in North Carolina to his hometown of Nashville, Tennessee as we had made plans to go together to the Wake Forest vs Vanderbilt football game on Vanderbilt’s campus. Wake Forest, my alma mater, won the game and that was as sweet as cotton candy.
Ralph picked me up in his Cadillac at my Ritz Carlton Hotel and, for our pre-game meal we went to Bojangles where he ordered a steak and cheese biscuit and I asked for a sausage egg and cheese biscuit. We both ordered a Bo-Berry Biscuit drenched in glazed icing. This only seconds after Ralph told me he doesn’t eat sweets and I told him Bo-Berry Biscuits taste better than anything in the world.
On our way to the stadium, he drove me through the rough parts of downtown Nashville where he had spent so much time, often tumultuous, in an earlier phase of his Tennessee life. He showed me a tire store and car wash where some stuff went down none of us should ever live through or hear about. Ralph regaled me with stories of his previous life roaming night after night in Nashville. I thought about how we all have regrets or concerns about things we did in the past, and how that’s part of what it means to be human and not so unusual.
Suddenly and without announcing it, he pulled into a driveway of an old laundry mat and I didn’t know why.
“That’s where I met the love of my life, my wife, the greatest woman in the world I would do absolutely anything for,” he said.
When Ralph says things, he has a way of sounding believable, which is why when he uses the word “anything” you assume he’s not exaggerating and don’t ask for details.
Driving along he started telling me about his childhood growing up in New York City with a tough Dad who demanded his son do exceedingly well in school – or else.
“I remember one semester my grades in classes were like 98, 100, 99 and 97,” he said. “I studied so much and did so well in school always out of fear of what would happen if I didn’t get great grades.”
In his high school class of several thousand, his finished with the second highest overall grade point average. He was the Salutatorian. But that wasn’t good enough for his Dad. He wanted his son to be the Valedictorian.
“Ralph with those grades you could have gone to Harvard,” I said.
“Yeah, I could have, and Brown University offered me a scholarship, but they weren’t places for me,” he said.
“Why not?” I asked.
“They just weren’t,” he said.
On our way into the stadium, Ralph bought a charcoal black hat with an undersized golf “V” signaling Vanderbilt. He’s been a fan of the Commodores for all his years in Nashville, the place he calls home with emphasis and true love in his voice. We entered the near-empty stadium an hour before kickoff and took our seats as a drizzle cooled us.
“I love sitting in the rain’” said Ralph.
“So do I,” I said.
Two guys born in the same year, 1963, brought together and bonded by the marvels of the Internet and sports blogging. A random relationship that has caught fire by a million-to-one-shot twist of destiny and fate.
Ralph remembers when he first came across my writing and thought it was the most non-sensical stuff he had every read.
“I didn’t like your writing,” he said. “I also decided not to bring you on as a writer.”
But then he re-read a blog I submitted and a light bulb went off in his mind. “Oh, I get it. This guy is writing stupid stuff on purpose.”
Having this epiphany, Ralph changed his opinion of me, Sammy Sportface. He would publish my blogs and see where that took his site, which has always been his primary concern and not my writing per se and he’s up front about that.
Smart men make brilliant decisions sometimes and for Ralph this was one of them. I have been – at least in my mind — the engine room driving up the number of daily viewers of his website not because the writing is good but because people keep clicking on Sammy Sportface headlines because they don’t make any sense or wonder what the hell the blog is about.
“Sammy is stupid,” says Ralph. “He doesn’t make any sense.”
In the stands on the 50-yard line, Ralph and I talked about our lives and how we ended up where were yesterday, bonded, hanging out, and how unlikely it would be the two of us would be sitting next to each other at a Vanderbilt football game if not for some incredibly unusual and unplanned set of circumstances.
He came across my writing, we talked, I wrote, he published, and we’re rolling as a team.
Ralph is intense – about everything. I love intense people.
He approaches life with purpose. How many guys you know wake up at 3 am for their customers? Ralph does constantly, posting new blogs on his site for his readers who like to log on at 5 am to see the timely content on NGSC Sports.
Whenever I need to talk with Ralph, he takes my call. How many bosses are like that?
I told Ralph how much I’ve enjoyed our business relationship as well as us being friends. I’ve had dozens of editors during my writing career and he’s by far my favorite because he doesn’t believe in changing what a writer submits except for fixing typos and other obvious mistakes. He lets writers express themselves and doesn’t barge in and take over, thinking he knows how to make the prose better.
“Once I start editing, the writing no longer belongs to the writer,” he says. “I want writers to be free to express themselves. They should have more passion about their writing than I do about their writing.”
I said to Ralph: “You know, we’ve been having a great run these past six years, Ralph. We’ve laughed a lot and had fun constantly and really what’s more important than that? Hopefully along the way some readers have laughed and had fun reading Sammy Sportface. That’s really more important than anything else.”
As the game progressed, Ralph and I noticed something else we have in common: the cowboy boots worn by the Vanderbilt coeds. As if on a beauty pageant runway, one after another after another walked up the stadium steps and past us and Ralph and I talked about how great a Saturday afternoon we were having watching those cowgirl boots stride up the steps, the pageantry and competition on the field, and chowing down hot dogs, nachos and pizza.
The drizzling from the sky continued non-stop for four quarters.
But these two friends loved every drop.
Sammy Sportface, a sports blogger, galvanizes, inspires, and amuses The Baby Boomer Brotherhood. And you can learn about his vision and join this group's Facebook page here:
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