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Patch, for personal reasons, is my Kentucky Derby favorite

By Norm Clarke  (VSiN Columnist) 

May 6, 2017 02:04 AM

I’m going with my heart, not the handicappers, in this Kentucky Derby.

One of the most fascinating stories of adversity in thoroughbred horseracing in many years is Patch, the one-eyed bay facing long odds.

But then, I’m a little biased. Anyone who’s lost a limb, their hearing or had vision issues can relate.

My heroes over the years were vision-impaired people who overcame major challenges.

Bob Schloredt was my earliest inspiration. All he did was quarterback the University of Washington to consecutive Rose Bowl titles in 1960 and 1961.

Sammy Davis Jr. lost an eye and nearly an entertainment career after a car wreck.

I watched “Colombo” because actor Peter Falk’s blind eye was half closed, like mine, the result of my suspenders coming loose.

In my 20s, when I began carving out a foothold in journalism, I borrowed bravery, admittedly on a much, much smaller scale, from Moshe Dayan, the fearless eye-patched Israeli war hero.

I grew up in a small Montana town. When I was 10 my father died of cancer. Months later, I was told my right eye had to be removed, for fear that it was turning cancerous.

Sports meant the world to me. Football was my favorite because all I had to protect was my space and go after the ball carrier. There’s not a big future in basketball for a kid who specialized in air balls.

When I got to high school, it never occurred to me that I couldn’t keep playing football. But my mother, my coach and my eye doctor disagreed with me.

I watched from the sidelines, feeling excluded, while my childhood friends, in my eyes, turned into warriors. I tried everything to rejoin them: I moped and endlessly lobbied my mother, but to no avail.

By my junior year, I sensed a shift. My mother said she would take me to the eye doctor and ask him whether I could play football. Surprisingly, he finally relented, but with the odd stipulation that I wear an eyepatch in case I got hit so hard my glass eye would fly out. You’ve seen stoppage of sports events when somebody lost a contact lens. But when is the last time you saw a game interrupted to find an artificial eye? Luckily it didn’t happen.

I had my share of close calls with my good eye.

When I was covering the Cincinnati Reds during their back-to-back world championships in the 1970s, I decided I’d get a one-on-one interview with Pete Rose during the 1976 World Series in Boston, rather than do the media scrum with hundreds of reporters getting the same quotes.

So I spotted Rose taking infield at Fenway Park and approached him. I kept him inching closer to third base so I could hear his answers.

With some of the Reds in the batting cage, Rose cautioned me several times not to get any closer or I might get hit by a line drive.

Sure enough, he suddenly yelled “watch out” as slugger George Foster smoked a line drive down the third base line. I was incredibly fortunate.

Since I wasn’t watching the batter, I didn’t even have time to see the ball let alone react to it. I braced myself and felt the ball hit the back of my foot. There was no pain but I was sure something must have been broken. But the only damage was to my boot. The boot heel was nearly ripped off.

I got the message.

About 10 years later I was on a spring training tour for Denver’s Rocky Mountain News. I stopped at the Baltimore Orioles park before an exhibition game.

I spotted Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams standing next to the batting cage and introduced myself. Before leaving for Florida I had interviewed Denver billionaire Marvin Davis, the oil and entertainment mogul who was Denver’s leading hope to bring the city a Major League Baseball franchise.

During that conversation I mentioned to Davis I was heading to Florida for spring training. Davis asked me to pass along his regards to Williams, a longtime friend of the prominent attorney. I mentioned that to Williams and he went out of his way to take some questions I had about the possibility of baseball expanding to Denver.

Maybe three minutes into the interview, I started swatting at an insect that was buzzing around my face. Suddenly, I yelped in pain. A wasp had stung me in my left eye, my good eye. My eye was watering so badly I couldn’t see. “Are you alright?” said Williams.

No, I said, “I’m blind in both eyes.”

Williams took charge, yelling for the club trainer, who led me inside the clubhouse and began spraying water in the eye.

“I can see the stinger. It’s still in the puncture,” the trainer said ominously. “You’ve got to see an eye doctor.”

Within a few days I was back on the road.

The patch didn’t become part of my life until 1989, after an infection nearly got away from me at age 47.

It was an empowering experience when I realized I was no longer avoiding eye contact, something I had done since childhood. But my fear was that the patch might make people uncomfortable.

Much to my surprise, the opposite happened. I met more people than I imagined and, for a journalist, contacts are everything.

There are so many questions surrounding Patch’s run for the roses.

With bad weather in the forecast, how can he avoid being momentarily blinded by the flying mud? How will he react if he gets bumped near his good eye? Can he rise above the adversity?

It could be one of the most inspirational sports stories of our age.

Media update

Don’t be surprised if the radio voice of the Vegas Golden Knights is John Walton, the Washington Capitals radio voice for the past seven seasons.

He’s got a long association with George McPhee, the Golden Knights general manager who was the Caps’ GM for 17 years.

The Caps went into the weekend on the verge of elimination, trailing the Pittsburgh Penguins three games to one in the NHL’s second-round series. Walton is a supremely talented play-by-by guy from what we’re hearing.

The scene and heard

Talk about girlpower. “Ocean’s 8,” the all-female spinoff of the “Ocean’s 11” franchise, has Rihanna filming at the former site of the Arthur Kill Correctional Facility on Staten Island this weekend. The announcement was made by Borough President James Oddo.

Rihanna is joining a cast that includes Cate Blanchett, Sandra Bullock, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson and hip-hop artist Awkwafina. Kim Kardashian and Kendall Jenner are guest-starring in a scene inspired by the Met Gala…

Speaking of horses, Motley Crue lead singer Vince Neil has a horse farm in Tennessee with his horse-crazy girlfriend, Rain Hannah. She’s a well-known makeup artist who has worked with Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. She fell in love with horses at an early age. At age 13, she entered a rodeo queen pageant.

On this day…

May 5, 2000: Angelina Jolie and Billy Bob Thornton, both wearing blue jeans, get married at Little Church of the West. It’s his fifth marriage, her second. Though they become famous for wearing vials of each other’s blood around their necks, they divorce three years later.

May 6, 2007: HBO chairman Chris Albrecht, credited with developing many hit TV shows, is arrested for assaulting his girlfriend in the MGM Grand parking lot after a boxing match at the hotel. He blames a relapse of alcoholism and is forced to resign.


Denver Broncos stars Von Miller and Emmanuel Sanders, with Roger Saffold of the Los Angeles Rams at Tao (Venetian) on Thursday…

Blac Chyna, the on-again, off-again girlfriend of Rob Kardashian, is appearing at the Sapphire pool on Saturday, beginning at 3 p.m.

The punch line

“Nissan is developing technology that blocks cell phone signals so people won’t be distracted by their smartphones. First Nissan will put the technology in their cars, then they’ll put it in the Oval Office.” – Conan O’Brien.

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