Vaught's Views: Aging not easy for stars, fans

April 12, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

For as long as I can remember, they have been part of my sports world.

I'm really not sure when Arnold and Joe entered my world, but they've always been there. That's why Friday was one of those painful reminders that even when it is painless, we all age.

First, there was 74-year-old Arnold Palmer playing his final round at the Masters. This was his 50th straight Masters and he won titles in 1958, 1960, 1962 and 1964. That's when Arnold, not Tiger, was the real king of the golf world.

It was also when I envisioned myself as a hotshot golfer one day. I can still remember practicing my Arnold Palmer swing in the back yard and visualizing what he would do when I was a youngster perfecting my game on the golf course.


Whether it was a high school match, fun round or invitational tournament, I could only dream of what it might be like to hit the ball like Palmer or charge from behind in the final round to win. He never played it safe and no matter what the circumstances, he was a fan's player.

I wanted to cry when he took that last walk up the 18th fairway at the Masters Friday. Maybe that's not what a 52-year-old sports editor should feel like doing, but Palmer was special. He was "the man" before we even knew what the phrase meant.

It was no surprise that other players, caddies and most Masters officials lined the 18th green to watch him play the final hole. He had to be tired by then just from tipping his cap to fans from the first tee to the 18th fairway.

No one cared what he shot. Good or bad, every time he swung a club, fans roared. And they should have.

Amazingly, Palmer talked about how much he "owed" fans after his emotional round before having to stop and wipe tears from his eyes. But we are the ones who owe Palmer for showing us how to play, and win, with class. He made golf the sport it is today.

Perhaps it was only fitting that Phil Mickelson finally won a major championship with a birdie on the final hole Sunday. After saying farewell to a legend Friday, the golf world needed a cause to celebrate again and what better way than for Mickelson - a player often criticized for having the same bold, aggressive style as Palmer - to finally win a major title and do it with a Palmer-like finish.

Joe probably understood Arnie's emotion

Joe probably watched Palmer's final round, too, and understood the emotion Palmer was feeling.

Usually Joe Nuxhall would have been busy preparing to join Marty Brennaman in the Cincinnati Reds' radio booth, something he's been doing for the last 37 years. Yet on this night, Nuxhall turned his seat over to newcomer Steve Stewart because he's become a part-time broadcaster this year.

Joe and the Reds belong together. The 76-year-old Nuxhall was the youngest player ever to appear in a major league game 60 years ago. He was a dependable pitcher for the Reds, but his voice - not his pitching arm - is what made him part of my sports world.

There was no ESPN - or Jessica Simpson variety show - for a young kid to watch 38 years ago. Instead, I tuned my portable radio to the Reds' games whenever I could and Joe was always there with his own unique style and explanations.

He was at his best with Brennaman, who became the play-by-play voice of the Reds 30 years ago. The two could be as entertaining talking about golf or growing tomatoes as they were when they discussed baseball.

Nuxhall was a fan. Make no mistake about that. But he also enjoyed baseball. He was not a high-priced, spoiled player like many of today's stars. He played because he loved baseball and he stayed involved in the game for that reason.

He was the eternal optimist when it came to the Reds, but that's what most of us wanted to hear when we dialed him in on our radio.

He'll work about half the games this year and will make his own sentimental journey just like Palmer did.

But on this particular day, watching Palmer walk into the sunset and having the Reds play without Nuxhall behind the microphone, it made one middle-aged sports editor appreciate how lucky he has been to have them both in his sports world - and also realize that he was getting old himself.

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