Living Out Loud: Sports, Cancer, and the Things Worth Fighting Forby Craig Sager, Brian Curtis (With), Charles Barkley (Introduction), Craig Sager II (With)
“Time is something that cannot be bought, it cannot be wagered with God, and it is not in endless supply. Time is simply how you live your life.” Craig Sager
Thanks to an eccentric wardrobe filled with brightly colored suits and a love of sports that knows no bounds, Craig Sager is one of the most beloved and recognizable broadcasters on/b>
“Time is something that cannot be bought, it cannot be wagered with God, and it is not in endless supply. Time is simply how you live your life.” Craig Sager
Thanks to an eccentric wardrobe filled with brightly colored suits and a love of sports that knows no bounds, Craig Sager is one of the most beloved and recognizable broadcasters on television. So when the sports world learned that he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) there was an outpouring of love and support from everyone who was inspired by his colorful life and his fearless decision to continue doing the job he loveddespite being told that he would have only three-to-six months to live. Sager has undergone three stem cell transplantswith his son as the donor for two of themand more than twenty chemotherapy cycles since his diagnosis.
In Living Out Loud, Craig Sager shares incredible stories from his remarkable career and chronicles his heroic battle. Whether he’s sprinting across Wrigley Field mid-game as a college student with cops in pursuit, chasing down Hank Aaron on the field for an interview after Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record, running with the bulls in Pamplona, or hunkering down to face the daunting physical challenges of fighting leukemia, Craig Sager is always ready to defy expectations, embrace life, and live it to the fullest.
Including a foreword by Charles Barkley and with unique insight from his son Craig Sager II, this entertaining, honest, and introspective account of a life lived in sports reveals the enduring lessons Sager has learned throughout his career and reminds you that no matter what life throws at you, to always look at the bright side.
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Living Out Loud
Sports, Cancer, and the Things Worth Fighting For
By Craig Sager, Craig Sager II, Brian Curtis
Flatiron BooksCopyright © 2016 Craig Sager, Craig Sager II, and Brian Curtis
All rights reserved.
"LET'S PLAY TWO"
I was as nervous as I'd ever been. I've jumped out of airplanes, swum with sharks, climbed the Great Wall of China, run with the bulls in Pamplona, been arrested — a few times — and recently been told I have months to live. But as I stood in the dugout waiting to be introduced, I could actually feel my heart beating through my blue dress shirt underneath my all-white linen suit. My fingertips were so clammy, they left sweat marks on the baseballs I used for my warm-up pitches under the stands, and I was rocking back and forth on my feet when Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who was to present me with a personalized Cubbies jersey prior to my pitch, walked up to me and lightened the mood with a little banter. As I looked around at the forty thousand Cubs fans in sold-out Wrigley Field on that June evening in 2016, I realized this baseball team, this place, was the touchstone by which I could measure my whole life.
Almost all of my childhood birthdays were spent here, and in the weeks leading up, classmates would try to curry favor with me — bribing me with baseball cards and their lunch snacks — knowing that an invitation to Wrigley hung in the balance. I always got autographs before games from our Cubs heroes, though my father would make me share my prized signatures with my friends who were a bit more reserved — which angered me. One pregame, I remember getting Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Tony Taylor, and Don Zimmer autographs on their baseball cards. Dad allowed me to keep Banks and Williams but made me give Taylor and Zimmer to my friends who were in tears at their failure to match my aggressiveness.
My bedroom in Batavia, Illinois, about fifty miles from Wrigley, was awash in Cubs paraphernalia — Cubs sheets, Cubs pillowcase, Cubs backpack. I even drew the Cubs logo on all of my school folders and binders, just in case a classmate was unsure of my loyalties.
In my father's old briefcase, a gold-colored aluminum box with two flaps, I kept my most prized possessions as a child — baseball cards. The Topps sets came out every spring, and Schielke's Grocery on Main Street sold the cards in packages of twenty, along with a piece of pink bubblegum, for just a nickel. My Aunt Lil kept me well stocked with a pack in her weekly grocery shopping. Opening a pack was like Christmas morning. The scent of a pink stick of bubblegum was the aroma of a forthcoming afternoon of blowing bubbles. But more important, it was the concealment of what was stacked below. A Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, or, better yet, a beloved Cub: a George Altman, an Al Spangler, a Bob Will, or — a winning lottery ticket — an Ernie Banks, a Ferguson Jenkins, or a Billy Williams.
I devoured the cards, memorizing and reciting the batting statistics, hometown, and height and weight of each player. I looked for deals with my friends, trying to complete a team set and, of course, was always open to a trade that involved a Cubbie.
When we weren't brokering baseball card deals, we were on the sandlot next to Peterson's Foundry, which churned out hot metal every afternoon. The lot was really just dirt with a few patches of dead grass, but it was big enough for us to live out our dreams on. We would play four-on-four games of baseball, with actual bases thirty feet apart and intricate rules for what counted as a double or a triple. We could stay out all day in the summer, just like my Cubbies would.
Once we were eight years old and eligible to play Little League, I was crushed when I was drafted by the Batavia Body Company White Sox and not the Batavia Central Pattern Works Cubs. The Little League field was right by the Fox River, and you could often find me at third base in the springs and summers, where I had more talent fielding ground balls than making contact as a hitter. In fact, taking pitched balls to the head and upper torso seemed to increase my on-base percentage.
In high school, my friends and I took the train from Geneva Station, the depot closest to Batavia, into Chicago for games, my parents even giving me their blessing to play hooky from school once in a while to catch a Cubs matinee — all Cubs home games back then were afternoon games. I nearly always got away with it. Nearly. One time, my high school coach caught me on TV as I was catching a foul ball. (Though now that I think about it, why was Coach Tom McMahon watching the game during school hours?)
My decision to attend Northwestern University in Evanston, near Chicago, instead of accepting an appointment to West Point, was tipped by the fact that I wanted to be able to escape on the "L" train to Wrigley at will. I perfected my plan by choosing morning classes just in case I heard the call of the ivy, which I often did.
At the end of the Cubs' 1972 season, my classmate Dan DeWitt (whom we called "Dimmer") and I hopped on the train to catch the Cubbies' season finale. We scored tickets on the third-base side, right behind the field tarp just beyond the dugout. I had it in my mind that at some point during the game, I was going to run onto the field, to experience — if only for a fleeting moment — the Wrigley grass under my feet. As soon as the Cubs closed things out in the top of the ninth inning, I blurted out, "Let's go!"
Without waiting to see if Dimmer was on board, I sprinted across the third-base line and onto the infield as bewildered Cubs players stood by, I like to think, amused. I touched second base and then ran toward first, by now being hotly pursued by Chicago police officers. I made it to first base and kept running, not toward home but rather toward the stands. I lunged over the fence on the first-base line as thousands of fans stood and cheered. As I raced up the bleacher steps, I noticed Dimmer right behind me. We ran down the ramp at Sheffield Avenue and Addison Street, with the officers still some thirty yards behind us. I thought we would make it. What I didn't know was that the officers had radioed ahead for security to close down the exit gates, and Dimmer and I were quickly in custody, handcuffed together. They walked us back up the ramp, down the stands, and, unbelievably, across the field toward the holding cells.
"We get to do this twice!" I said to Dimmer with a smile.
What was my obsession with the Chicago Cubs? Was it the white uniforms with thin blue pinstripes that brought me in? Was it the afternoon games at the friendly confines of Wrigley, with the ivy, the smell of beer, and the drama of sport? Or maybe it was the joy of watching grown men play a kids' game with a smile? No, my love affair with the Cubs starts and ends with Ernest "Ernie" Banks.
Banks was a star with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League when the Cubs, aided by Negro American League's legend Buck O'Neil, signed Banks to a contract in 1953. The Texas native had already played two seasons with the Monarchs, interrupted by two years of military service during the Korean War. When he arrived in Chicago, Banks was the first black player to wear the blue and white. Once he cracked the starting lineup, he not only became a mainstay but was one of the Cubs' most popular players. I was born in 1951, and in my most formative years, Ernie Banks was everything to me.
When we would go to Wrigley, we would arrive early enough to watch Banks take batting practice, and I would marvel at his quick hands, his constantly moving fingers, his phenomenal balance, the way he loaded up his lower half and used his legs to drive the ball. I would admire his white jersey with blue pinstripes, the classic red-white-and-blue Cubs logo over the heart, the blue bear cub inside the red circle on the left sleeve, and the iconic number 14 on the back, as synonymous with Chicago as Michael Jordan's number 23 would become a generation later.
But I was in awe of something more than his hitting prowess. You see, Ernie Banks loved life, loved his job, saw each and every day as a new opportunity, and it showed in his smile, his laugh, his hustle, his desire. "Let's play two!" was his motto, always wanting more out of every day. And he never complained, even when his team was consistently at the bottom of the standings or when he was in a slump.
A life-size poster of Ernie was taped to my bedroom wall and he was the first thing I saw when I opened my eyes every morning. I never once thought it was odd that a young white boy from the farmlands of Illinois worshipped a black man from Dallas, Texas, even though it was a time when segregation was still prevalent in American life.
The highlight of my youth was, as an eleven-year-old, winning a Cubs-sponsored hitting contest and getting to shake the hand of Mr. Cub himself. The picture of the two of us from that occasion remains one of my most treasured sports relics.
I didn't just want to be Ernie Banks the Chicago Cubs All-Star; I wanted to be Ernie Banks the man, and that meant taking on his optimistic approach to life. I decided as a young boy to emulate my hero and look at each day as a gift.
* * *
Ernie was on my mind as I stood in the Cubs' dugout waiting to be introduced to throw the first pitch some forty-four years after I had last touched the hallowed grass of Wrigley, and this time, my senses took in everything — the freshness of the grass, the evening breeze, the smell of hot dogs, the sunset rays enhanced by the lights installed in 1988. I thought about all that has happened in my life since I sprinted onto the field in 1972, especially as it relates to my family, all of whom were standing on the field behind home plate.
There was my bride of fourteen years, Stacy, full of splendor and life and my heaven on earth. Next to her stood my oldest child, Kacy, thirty, an NBA blogger, and her sister, Krista, twenty-four, a Tampa resident and a budding golfer. To Krista's right was my oldest son, Craig, twenty-seven, whom we call "Junior" and who is the reason I am still alive today. And there were my youngest children, Riley, eleven, and Ryan, ten, adorned in Cubs paraphernalia, looking on in amazement. It was incredible to have my entire family with me, in addition to the more than thirty cousins, friends, and classmates who had made their way to Wrigley to celebrate with me. After a difficult two years of battle, it was a celebration in many ways for all of us.
And now, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome NBA reporter and Chicagoland native Craig Sager.
The crowd cheered as Joe Maddon insisted that I remove my suit jacket and pull over my head a Cubs jersey with my name sewn on the back, which I eagerly agreed to do. I began my walk to the pitcher's mound. At another time in my life, I would have sprinted onto the field, full of Banks's "Let's play two!" spirit, but the weakness in my legs and my struggles with my balance kept me to a walk, so I made the most of the moment by waving to the crowd like a politician.
Throwing out the first pitch at a Cubs game was a moment that I had never envisioned, but a moment that I had been preparing for, for four weeks, after I received the invitation. My preparation started with throwing a tennis ball with Ryan on the driveway, as my strength had been zapped by the rounds of chemotherapy. But every day, I focused on getting ready for that first pitch, and by the time I arrived in Chicago on May 31, I was ready.
Some first-pitch honorees elect to throw to home plate from in front of the pitcher's mound to ensure the ball gets there. Me? Sixty feet, six inches was the only way to do it. Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, himself a cancer survivor, got down in a catcher's stance, punched his mitt a few times, and gave me the nod. I put my right foot on the rubber on the mound and cocked my right arm back. The crowd seemed to go silent as the ball left my hand ...
Funny how life comes full circle when you aren't looking. So much of my life has revolved around the world of sports, witnessing some of the greatest moments and players in the game. One of the great things about sports is that there is always tomorrow or next week or even next season. You gotta have hope. And for me, that hope started in a small town called Batavia.CHAPTER 2
"Traffic" in my hometown of Batavia, Illinois, was controlled by one stoplight. There were no hotels or motels, no McDonald's. There was, however, Avenue Chevrolet, Hubbard's Home Furnishings, Schott's News, Schielke's Grocery, and an assortment of other retail choices named after their proprietors. Since the big city of Chicago was only a forty-minute train ride away, we were not all that isolated from the real world, but it sure seemed like it some days. With a population of just 7,600 and a high school of five hundred, we literally all knew one another.
Founded in 1833, Batavia was known as the "Windmill City," because six of the largest American windmill factories used to be located within the town limits. Notorious Chicago gangster Al Capone and his gang had used the area as a quiet getaway from the jurisdiction of ATP agent Eliot Ness, and John Dillinger once lived on Batavia Avenue, across the street from where I would live one day.
I was like most boys in Batavia and probably like millions around America, with a curiosity for the world and a passion for sports. Yet there was one major difference that set me apart from all the others: a genuine fearlessness, or, as some may accuse me of, a reckless approach to life.
From my earliest memories, I cannot recall a time when I was afraid. I was never afraid of falling or breaking a bone or even losing my life; never afraid of bad grades in school or missing the game-winning shot; never afraid of my parents or teachers or the police; never afraid that I might not reach whatever dreams I set. That fearlessness could be confused with confidence or even vanity, I guess, but I simply relished thrills. Anything that got the heart racing and made me feel as if everything was happening in the moment.
That's why one night, when I was the fifth wheel with my buddies John Clark and Tom Cornwell and their girlfriends, I decided to climb out of the passenger window and get on the roof of John's car, lie flat on my stomach, and hold on to the metal rim where it met the windshield as John gunned the car to 50 miles per hour on an empty country road. It's why I would drive my own GTO at speeds in excess of 120 miles per hour on the roads outside of town, never fearful of crashing and certainly not afraid of getting pulled over. It's why, when I was twelve, I convinced my buddies to strip down and run along Route 31, a major thoroughfare, in our birthday suits. It's why I would hide behind curtains on the windowsill during roll call in class, before jumping out to throw a scare into Ms. Burly. It's why I was the guy who, in the middle of the horse races at nearby Aurora Race Track, accepted a dare from my friends to climb to the top of Aurora's water tower next to the track. Not only did I make it to the top, but I stood and watched the next race as hundreds of patrons turned their eyes toward me, instead of the finish line. And it is why in the summer of 1967, I decided to elevate the stakes.
The big news in town that year was that the Batavia Public Library had scored a photocopy machine, something most of us had never seen. We were used to the carbon paper handwritten copies, so the fact that for just one nickel you could make a copy of an image was a big deal.
"I have an idea," I distinctly remember telling my buddy Greg Issel.
I could tell he had apprehensions, but I could be persuasive, so Greg and I walked down to the library and strolled up to the machine. Greg was nervous. "I'm not sure we should ..."
"It's perfect," I interrupted.
I pulled a tattered $1 bill out of my pocket, placing it facedown on the copy machine glass, and dropped a nickel in the machine. A few seconds later, out came a copy of George Washington, serial numbers and all. We could make ninety-five cents' profit on every copy if we could use the fake bills at a store! We were not copying the front and back of the dollar bill, mind you, and of course the serial number was the same on every copy. Even more than that, our one-sided, single-serial-numbered copies were in black-and-white. Still, I thought our plan could work, and we made a dozen copies. We cut the excess paper off of the copies so the fake dollars were the same size as real dollars.
We left the library and headed right to Wilson Street, the hub of activity in Batavia (which meant not a lot of hub), and devised a plan as we entered Olmstead's. Olmstead's was a typical small-town store that sold everything from stereos to potato chips and even had a laundromat in the back. The plan was simple: I would distract the store manager by pretending to be interested in purchasing a stereo while Greg would feed the fake dollar bills into the laundromat's change machine.
Excerpted from Living Out Loud by Craig Sager, Craig Sager II, Brian Curtis. Copyright © 2016 Craig Sager, Craig Sager II, and Brian Curtis. Excerpted by permission of Flatiron Books.
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Meet the Author
CRAIG SAGER (1951-2016) was an Emmy Award-winning broadcaster for Turner Sports who became synonymous with the NBA over his more than four decades on air. He has also reported on MLB, the NFL, college football, twelve Olympic Games, the PGA Tour, Wimbledon, the World Cup, the Goodwill Games, and horse racing for TNT, CNN, CBS, and NBC.
CRAIG SAGER II is a managing editor and sportswriter based in Atlanta covering high school sports as well as working with the Atlanta Journal Constitution and the Atlanta Falcons. Sager graduated from the University of Georgia where he participated as a walk-on football player.
BRIAN CURTIS is a New York Times bestselling author who has contributed to Sports Illustrated. He is the author or coauthor of six books, including The Legacy Letters: Messages of Life and Hope from 9/11 Family Members and Go Long!: My Journey Beyond the Game and Fame (with Jerry Rice). Curtis was nominated for two local Emmys for his work as a reporter for Fox Sports Net and served as a national reporter for CBS College Sports.
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