1979 Defined Who I Became.

People always say certain years pegged for them personally as the “best years of their lives”. For me, 1979 definitely was the first significant turning point and first journey to the top of the see-saw climb when thing began to change fast and furiously as I first embraced life’s challenges and adventures. I was fresh out of school (Class of 1979), had a great job (Evening Independent Sports Correspondent and DJ/Skate Guard at Southland Roller Palace) , the vast horizon in front of me of sports, academics and even a few moments left in the haze of a Fraternity (DTX) house were unfolding from the first celebrations at midnight on January 1st, to the last somber and emotional moments that December 31st as I welcomed not only a new decade, but the final unclothing of myself as a “teen”.

1979 was a virtual time stamp of great developmental and athletic upswing for myself personally filled with escalating life moments that will definitely come rushing back to me like a Tropical Storm Debbie flash flood the moment the Tampa Bay Rays hit the turf with those retro powder blue and royal blue uniforms. “Turn Back the Clock” Night will definitely be an emotional as well as proud moment for me not only because I get to hear a band I treasured and wore out more than a few 8-Track cartridges on my Dynomite 8-track player.

Even the yellow hued stirrups adorning the Rays calves tonight will evoke a bit of my 1979 Northwest LL Senior League baseball moments. It was the year I got to stand to the right of future San Francisco Giant and Los Angeles Dodger shortstop Dave Anderson, plus the highly bright and audacious yellow mustard color scheme of the Rays stirrups tonight also were reminiscent of my own Monahan’s Shell team issued leggings that always seemed to fall down to my ankles by the end of the game.

I wrote a post recently on the Rays retro gear they will adorn tonight and how I felt they kind of copied the 1979 styling s of the 1979 Brew Crew, but in reality maybe I wasn’t fully attached at the moment of that post with the actual realization that this region could of ever been considered “Major League” by the rest of the baseball world in 1979. St. Petersburg, then known for its green benches and FREE newspapers when the Sun did not shine was packed to the brim during the Spring months with loads of MLB potential, but as the calendar always turned from March to April, the caravans and planes took our MLB hopes and our baseball idols away for the seasonal ride.

Might be a great ironic twist to tonight’s events that Earth, Wind and Fire in January of 1979 entranced us all with their hits “September” and Thats the Way of the World” during an NBC Nationally televised a UNICEF Concert. This was also the year the hit that instantly goes into the minds of people “Boogie Wonderland” and “After the Love is Gone” hit the FM airwaves for the first time en route to Billboard Top 10 positions. Who doesn’t remember roller skating to both of these hit at the typical Friday or Saturday night round-de-rounds on the skating floor either as disco dynamos or couple skating with that special someone.

Definitely going to feel weird tonight seeing the Tampa Bay Rays wearing uniforms that pre-date the franchise’s First Pitch, and even their initial selection of their Expansion Draft. With the entire squad donning time inspired duds from 1979, it will evoke a bit of memories, especially of my Senior year at St. Petersburg’s own Dixie Hollins. It will remind me of the year I “fro’d” my hair to honor a fallen comrade Al Bolden who was paralyzed in a football game that season against Lakewood High. It will bring back the sounds of “Rowdie Raccoon” as my favorite High School teacher Mr P used to call me daily because of my constant wardrobe of Rowdies and rugby attire.

The whole night from the moment I hit the Tropicana Gate 4 media entrance to the moment I again wander into the post-concert humid air, tonight will be both a love fest and emotional roller coaster that I hope I can truly stomach. Every one has defining moments in their life, 1979 held more than fist full of them for me. It was the year I finally got recognition as a ballplayer, signing my letter of intent that January. It was the calendar year I got to have a heart-to-heart and 3 hour clinic with the MLB player I idolized for so many years, and my game exploded with confidence.

From the moment of that first handshake with the immortal “Hot Corner” icon Brooks Robinson to today, my love for baseball expanded from a sport to a lifetime obsession as I got dirty that day guarding the line and gaining insight from one of the game’s best defensive masters. 1979 was the year I proudly adorned my head with a cap featuring that pesky Orioles bird, and wore proudly until the first cap went on sale for our then D-Rays. Tonight is definitely going to be emotional, pulling at the old heartstrings with a vengeance.

This was also the year that writing and journalism took me by storm as I wrote for the High School paper (Rebel Rouser) along with Tampa Bay Times columnist John Romano, all the while flirting innocently with Diane Spears as Mrs Tucker scolded me. It was the year of my first cover story, my first byline both professionally and academically, it was the birth year of the obsession I still possess with writing that is still prevalent and evolving. 1979 was that catalyst moment not only in my physical sports, but in my life development. I owe a huge debt to 1979 that I can never repay because 1979 for me personally was all about the skating, graduation into adult life, the music of bands like Earth Wind and Fire and the first evolutionary moment of my new found love…baseball.

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