Here’s my goodbye with many thanks to Dave’s Digital Domain visitors

Here’s my final post to Dave’s Digital Domain, a blog that started three years ago because those of us in the newspaper business have been pretty much told to blog or die.

I’m retiring this week after 40 years at the Palm Beach Post, so the blogging and the tweeting and all the other digital doodling will cease forthwith, at my choice, just like stepping away from a great company that has taken good care of me and my family since 1978 is my choice. Considering the way things have been going in the industry it’s a real pleasure to be able to say that.

Anyway, I’m hoping somebody enjoyed these posts. The numbers were always modest but this is not soul-crushing in any respect. Digital domination belongs to today’s generation of journalists. I am from another time, and here, in recognition of that, is a blog I wrote in 2015 about the passing of wrestling great Dusty Rhodes.

It has nothing to do with today’s news that Bruno Sammartino has also passed, but that report got some of us in the office talking about spectacular old wrestling heroes and villains and their touring shows, and this is where my mind drifted in response.

I was a kid when Dusty used to blow through our town, packing the West Palm Beach Auditorium like a one-man circus, and his name will always be a reminder of my youth and the fun I used to have with my knucklehead buddies and the joys of not worrying about much of anything but homework.

If you’ve been reading my work in the Post for a while, and bless you if that’s so, I like to think that we’ve all grown up a little bit together.


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“The American Dream” is a fairly grandiose tag to hang on one man, but Dusty Rhodes, the 275-pound star of many a pro wrestling show at the old West Palm Beach Auditorium, enjoyed the challenge.

The American Dream Dusty Rhodes facing off against Ken Patera in Miami, circa 1978. (Photo: Michelle Bogre / Miami News)

Maybe you think pro wrestling is a joke. OK, Dusty would make you laugh strutting around the ring and sporting his curly mop of dyed-blond hair.

Maybe you were all-in on the blood and sweat and urgency of Texas death-match drama. Dusty delivered that, too, taking chairs over the head and nosedives through the ropes, but always climbing back up to keep the screaming crowds on his side.

Dusty, whose real name was Virgil Runnels, died Thursday at 69. One report said it was kidney failure. Could have been anything, really, considering the destruction that comes over a long career performing in dingy small-town arenas and Madison Square Garden and eventually back to the hinterlands again.

I dug Dusty, and so did all my middle-school buddies, getting dropped off at the West Palm Auditorium by parents who wondered exactly what was wrong with us. It was silly, sure, but it was fun, and never have I heard Dusty’s name spoken in all these years without a smile springing out from way back in the 1970’s.

Larry Mlynczak, my first sports editor at the Palm Beach Post back in the late ’70s, sent an e-mail at the news of Rhodes’ passing to remind me of how people packed that crazy teepee-shaped building to see Dusty. National Wrestling Alliance cards on Monday nights easily outdrew minor-league baseball and most other events around here, and because the same wrestling stars appeared each Saturday on television from Tampa, it actually gave a feel of something big coming to town.

Dusty Rhodes at the Miami Beach Convention Hall. (A.G. Montanari / Miami News)

These were the same people who fought at the Miami Beach Convention Center and in other major venues around the state. These were the same guys, too, who later would merge with the WWE wrestling universe and go nationwide.

We even ran a few paragraphs of the results in the paper, not because the competition was real, but because the interest was. Once Mlynczak dropped in to interview Dusty, just to see what would happen.

“Is wrestling fake?” Larry asked in a dressing-room interview, and Dusty Rhodes asked right back, “When I broke my ankle tumbling out of the ring, was that fake?”

Before long the conversation turned, as it always did around TV microphones, to Dusty’s rough upbringing in Texas. It was a story told by the son of a plumber who wanted to be so much more.

“I was a grave digger in West Texas when I was a teenager,” Dusty said. “I even put some in the ground. I didn’t know who they were. I didn’t know their names.

“I knew then that I wanted to be different. I wanted to have a name.”

That’s when Virgil started thinking about becoming Dusty. That’s when he started dreaming that American Dream.

Palm Beach County pipeline leads to national baseball championship for Florida Gators

 

The Florida Gators won their first national championship in baseball Tuesday night and the program’s long ties to Palm Beach County athletes and coaches had a lot to do with it.

Gators head coach Kevin O’Sullivan played at Jupiter High School and was an assistant coach at Florida Atlantic University.

OMAHA, NE – First basemen J.J. Schwarz of the Florida Gators celebrates after beating the LSU Tigers 6-1 to win the National Championship at the College World Series on June 27, 2017 at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images)

One Florida assistant, Craig Bell, was the Palm Beach Post’s Coach of the Year during a nine-year-stretch at Palm Beach Lakes High School and was an assistant coach on Wellington’s 1999 state title team.

Another Gator assistant, Brad Weitzel, played at Palm Beach State College for former Palm Beach High School star Dusty Rhodes, who is generally acknowledged as the originator of the pipeline of top players from Palm Beach County to Gainesville.

Two of the mainstays in Florida’s championship effort at the College World Series in Omaha and all season long were former Palm Beach Gardens High teammates JJ Schwarz and Nick Horvath.

Schwarz made a great defensive play to preserve the Gators’ one-run lead late in Tuesday’s championship clincher against at LSU. He backhanded a sharply hit ball at first base and was right on target with a throw to catch a Tiger baserunner at home plate. That play helped to stop an LSU rally and Florida added four runs in the bottom eighth inning to win 6-1.

Horvath scored twice and drove in a run Tuesday and for a moment was warming up in the bullpen in case O’Sullivan needed him to pitch in relief. Horvath also came racing in to make a sliding catch in center field to end an LSU rally.

Combined, Schwarz and Horvath drove in half of Florida’s runs in the title-clinching game.

Gators third baseman Jonathan India is another product of Palm Beach County high schools. He was the Palm Beach Post’s 2015 Small Schools Player of the Year at Delray Beach American Heritage.

The championship gives Florida national titles in football, basketball and baseball. The Gators are the first program in 50 years to join that elite list.

It wasn’t easy. Florida won 19 games by a single run, the most in the nation. Other Gator teams have gone to Omaha with bigger reputations and achieved less.

An on-campus championship celebration is scheduled Wednesday from 6-8 p.m. at Florida’s baseball field, McKethan Stadium. Wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see a bunch of Palm Beach County license plates in the parking lot. Seems like it’s a natural.

 

National baseball award winner Dusty Rhodes always kept Palm Beach County kids first in mind

Been trying to catch up to Dusty Rhodes for a long time now, ever since the news broke that he was the 2016 winner of the prestigious Lefty Gomez Award presented by the American Baseball Coaches Association for outstanding local, national and international contributions to the game.

For a while there he was out fly-fishing in Montana, where cell service is spotty. Then he was rambling around the Midwest catching up with former players of his at the college and minor-league professional levels. Oh, and there was that banquet in Nashville last month where Dusty had to drop by to accept the same national honor that in the past has gone to giants like 11-time College World Series champion Rod Dedeaux, University of Miami legend Ron Fraser and Peter Ueberroth, former commissioner of Major League Baseball.

(FILE PHOTO) -- Several baseball celebrities were at a recent baseball benefit dinner for the Palm Beach Junior College Pacers. Seated from the left are Mickey Mantle, New York Yankees star, with the new Yankees' manager Dick Howser and Atlanta Braves' manager Bobby Cox. Standing from the left are Dusty Rhodes, Pacer coach and PBJC president Dr. Edward Eissey.  The dinner raised $2,500 for the Pacers.
LAKE WORTH – Baseball celebrities at a 1970’s-era baseball benefit dinner for the Palm Beach Junior College Pacers. Seated from the left are Mickey Mantle with the new Yankees’ manager Dick Howser and Atlanta Braves’ manager Bobby Cox. Standing from the left are Dusty Rhodes, Pacer coach and PBJC president Dr. Edward Eissey. The dinner raised $2,500 for the Pacers. (Palm Beach Post file photo)

Finally this week, on a day when he had just driven back home to Jacksonville after a volunteer-coaching session at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Dusty stopped long enough to pick up the phone.

“You know, you chase this game all over the world,” said Rhodes, a 1989 inductee to the Palm Beach County Sports Hall of Fame. “You’re never in one place for too long.”

Well, that’s not entirely true. For all of Dusty’s formative years, both as a player and a coach, he was a West Palm Beach fixture, known by all who wanted to learn to play the game right, or wanted their kids to learn.

It’s a little-known fact that Jeff Wilpon, the chief operating officer of the New York Mets, once played for Dusty at Palm Beach Junior College. Team owner Fred Wilpon, Jeff’s father, sought out Dusty to help lay down some guidelines on discipline and drive.

“His dad brought him on campus,” said Dusty, who rattled off 303 wins in seven seasons as the Pacers’ coach beginning in 1975. “Jeff had been at Miami but he got into a run-in with Ron Fraser. Ron told him ‘There’s a guy at Palm Beach Junior College who can straighten him out.’

“We had some rough times early but Jeff finally figured it out. He was supposed to be a catcher. He struggled a little bit but he could hit so I put him at first base. Ended up getting drafted by the Montreal Expos.”

Everybody has a Dusty story like that. He’s 69 now, but friends from his childhood days at Northmore Elementary in West Palm still can see and hear in him the scrappy kid who played on the Little Major League’s 1959 state championship team at Phipps Park. Old coaching mentors, the ones who are still around, picture a natural leader on Palm Beach Post 12’s state champion American Legion team, and at Palm Beach High School.

Then there are all the players who grew up with Dusty as their exacting coach, the man who made them get the fundamentals right or they wouldn’t play, and part of those fundamentals always involved showing up to rake and water and mow the diamond.

Future major-leaguers Robbie Thompson, Randy O’Neal and Andy McGaffigan played for Dusty at PBJC, now known as Palm Beach State College. The first two are in the Palm Beach County Sports Hall of Fame and the third, McGaffigan, will be inducted next month.

Dusty never really left Palm Beach County behind either, even after he headed to Florida as an assistant coach and to North Florida to start from scratch the program he ran for 23 years. Our local kids could always be found all over his rosters, and the reasons were obvious. Our kids are good, which is part of the reason Rhodes’ PBJC program reached No. 1 in the national rankings and his North Florida teams regularly advanced to the College World Series in the NAIA and Div. II categories.

If you’re still reading it’s probably because Dusty was a part of your life, and a major factor in how it turned out. He knows so many people throughout the industry. St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, for example, played for Rhodes as a 20-year-old catcher for the Milwaukee Brewers’ Rookie League affiliate in Helena, Mt.

Dusty plans to pop in on Matheny during spring training. Wants to tell him about some kids he knows from coaching the 2004 Olympic team from Greece, plus a prospect from Flagler who might be worth a look for a spot in somebody’s minor-league organization.

This is how it works with Dusty, and always will work. He remembers toeing the line for Palm Beach High coaches Jim Maynor and Joe Ceravolo, who applied the same detailed techniques to multiple sports. He remembers being an assistant to Bob Shaw, a former World Series pitcher, on a Post 12 team that finished third at the American Legion national tournament.

He remembers, too, his first trip to the American Baseball Coaches Association convention, a much earlier version of the 6,500-member meeting where he was just honored.

“The first time I went to the convention, Bill Adeimy took me,” Dusty said, referring to the area baseball benefactor whose name is on the field at Palm Beach State. “Ted Williams was one of the guest speakers. Now there were hundreds of top baseball coaches there, but we all went to hear Ted Williams.”

If Dusty wasn’t hooked on baseball by then, that would have done it, but you get the picture by now.

He was hooked from the moment he pulled on the uniform of Arnold Construction and stepped onto the green grass of Phipps Park, a Little Major Leaguer with a million extra innings already on his mind.

 

 

 

 

When Dusty Rhodes made Monday nights magic at West Palm Auditorium

“The American Dream” is a fairly grandiose tag to hang on one man, but Dusty Rhodes, the 275-pound star of many a pro wrestling show at the old West Palm Beach Auditorium, enjoyed the challenge.

The American Dream Dusty Rhodes facing off against Ken Patera in Miami, circa 1978. (Photo: Michelle Bogre / Miami News)
The American Dream Dusty Rhodes facing off against Ken Patera in Miami, circa 1978. (Photo: Michelle Bogre / Miami News)

Maybe you think pro wrestling is a joke. OK, Dusty would make you laugh strutting around the ring and sporting his curly mop of dyed-blond hair.

Maybe you were all-in on the blood and sweat and urgency of Texas death-match drama. Dusty delivered that, too, taking chairs over the head and nosedives through the ropes, but always climbing back up to keep the screaming crowds on his side.

Dusty, whose real name was Virgil Runnels, died Thursday at 69. One report said it was kidney failure. Could have been anything, really, considering the destruction that comes over a long career performing in dingy small-town arenas and Madison Square Garden and eventually back to the hinterlands again.

I dug Dusty, and so did all my middle-school buddies, getting dropped off at the West Palm Auditorium by parents who wondered exactly what was wrong with us. It was silly, sure, but it was fun, and never have I heard Dusty’s name spoken in all these years without a smile springing out from way back in the 1970’s.

Larry Mlynczak, my first sports editor at the Palm Beach Post back in the late ’70s, sent an e-mail at the news of Rhodes’ passing to remind me of how people packed that crazy teepee-shaped building to see Dusty. National Wrestling Alliance cards on Monday nights easily outdrew minor-league baseball and most other events around here, and because the same wrestling stars appeared each Saturday on television from Tampa, it actually gave a feel of something big coming to town.

Dusty Rhodes at the Miami Beach Convention Hall. (A.G. Montanari / Miami News)
Dusty Rhodes at the Miami Beach Convention Hall. (A.G. Montanari / Miami News)

These were the same people who fought at the Miami Beach Convention Center and in other major venues around the state. These were the same guys, too, who later would merge with the WWE wrestling universe and go nationwide.

We even ran a few paragraphs of the results in the paper, not because the competition was real, but because the interest was. Once Mlynczak dropped in to interview Dusty, just to see what would happen.

“Is wrestling fake?” Larry asked in a dressing-room interview, and Dusty Rhodes asked right back, “When I broke my ankle tumbling out of the ring, was that fake?”

Before long the conversation turned, as it always did around TV microphones, to Dusty’s rough upbringing in Texas. It was a story told by the son of a plumber who wanted to be so much more.

“I was a grave digger in West Texas when I was a teenager,” Dusty said. “I even put some in the ground. I didn’t know who they were. I didn’t know their names.

“I knew then that I wanted to be different. I wanted to have a name.”

That’s when Virgil started thinking about becoming Dusty. That’s when he started dreaming that American Dream.