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The Travelin’ Man returns to IBHOF induction weekend-part I

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Jun

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I have lived all my life in Friendly, West Virginia, which, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, has a population of 130. But while Friendly will always be the place from which I hail, I consider Canastota, N.Y. (population 4,034) my home away from home.

“Why?” you may ask. First, Canastota holds a unique place in boxing lore. Native son Carmen Basilio first captured the welterweight championship 60 years ago when he sensationally stopped Tony DeMarco at Syracuse’s War Memorial Auditorium, then added the middleweight title two years later by upsetting the peerless Sugar Ray Robinson. Basilio’s nephew Billy Backus scored an even bigger surprise in Dec. 1970 when horrific eye cuts ended the reign of welterweight king Jose Napoles. Yes, Backus lost the rematch to “Mantequilla” but only after putting up a fierce battle that forced Napoles to fight at 100 percent capacity. Those twin reigns, in great part, led to the second reason I hold Canastota in high esteem: The eventual creation of the International Boxing Hall of Fame and, by extension, its annual Induction Weekend.



Every year since 1993 I’ve made the pilgrimage to central New York, which, according to the math, means that I’m about to attend my 23rd consecutive celebration. Originally, the trip was all about meeting the legends of my youth and collecting the autographs necessary to prove to others I actually met them, albeit for the briefest of moments. But with every passing visit, it has achieved a deeper meaning. Sure, I’ll add a few more autographs to my copy of Harry Mullan’s “The Great Book of Boxing” (which I’ve brought with me since 1995 and boasts more than 300 signatures) but the lion’s share of my joy in recent years has come from reconnecting with longtime friends that I only see in that setting as well as conversing with new faces on the Hall of Fame grounds, at Graziano’s World Famous Restaurant and Inn, or at the various events such as the memorabilia show, the VIP cocktail, the thematic evenings at the Rusty Rail and Induction Sunday.

As we boxing fans know, high-quality, one-on-one fight talk is extremely rare in our day-to-day lives but, during these four days, Canastota becomes the epicenter of penetrating, knowledgeable boxing conversation.

This year, above all others, has the potential for being the most special trip yet. Why? Because several members of the Class of 2015 are friends, colleagues or figures that helped shaped my lifelong love of the sport as well as my two professional incarnations. Consider:

* Nigel Collins, the longtime editor-in-chief of THE RING, was one of the men who gave me my start in the boxing writing biz. I was a mere lad of 23 when this freshly-minted college graduate called the magazine and offered to be its West Virginia correspondent for its “Rings Around the World” section. Nigel, despite not knowing who I was or even if I could write a decent sentence, rolled the dice and let me have at it. After all, the price – or, rather, the lack of it – was right.

After submitting a few reports, I let Nigel and Managing Editor Phill Marder know I was interested in writing a full-length feature. That opportunity came far sooner than I ever suspected but, when it materialized, I jumped at it. The results – “The Alphabet War: Who’s Zooming Who?” and a sidebar detailing my troubles getting quotes from a WBA representative (“Why Bother Answering?”) – were printed in the Dec. 1988 issue. I still have the typewritten letters Nigel sent me during this period (this was WAY before email had been invented) and, from time to time, I look at them and fondly recall my writing roots. While Nigel’s career merited the majority of checkmarks it received on this year’s ballot, I affixed mine with a bit more emphasis because of my past association with him.

* I first saw referee Steve Smoger ply his trade during the classic first fight between Simon Brown and Tyrone Trice for the vacant IBF welterweight title in 1987. Smoger’s third major championship bout as a referee ended with Brown winning the belt via 14th round TKO and Smoger receiving plaudits for his handling of the fight. In the intervening years, he became one of the sport’s top officials but, little did I know, 20 years later we’d be sharing the same ring.

Thanks to a “crew fight night” arranged by ESPN’s Joe Tessitore, I was to fight a pair of two-minute rounds with fellow punch-counter Dale Stewart and Smoger was our referee. Unbeknownst to me, Dale had far more in-ring experience than I did and he unleashed all of it for the majority of the bout. I was smacked around plenty but, all the while, Smoger gave me every opportunity to fight my way out of the fog – which I did in the bout’s final 30 seconds when Dale’s gas tank finally ran low. Other referees might have intervened during my first-round crisis – a crisis that saw my ill-fitting headgear spun around so that I was looking through the ear hole and my gum shield blasted from my mouth – but Steve’s instincts were such that he gave me the chance to fight back, which I didÔǪeventually.

Dale rightfully won a majority decision that should have been unanimous and the beating he inflicted was severe enough to produce a mild concussion. I don’t blame Steve for that; in fact, I credit him for allowing me the chance to retain my competitive dignity and walk out with an “L” instead of a “TKO.” Ever since, Steve and I have joked about my “fight” (he showers me with praise while I play down my performance) and when I told him a few years later about the concussion, he officially “retired” me from active competition. At age 50, I know I’ll never pull on the gloves again except to hit a bag or two but if I’m ever asked to spar, I have the perfect excuse not to do so: I’ve been retired, not just by any ring official but by a Hall-of-Famer.

* When I first became a boxing fan I was drawn to the lower weight classes because of the constant action they provided as well as the history their champions were producing. The exquisitely destructive Carlos Zarate all but decimated the bantamweight class while Miguel Canto’s artistry bedazzled and bewitched the flyweights. But one step below was WBA junior flyweight champion Yoko Gushiken, whose blend of technical brilliance and concussive power resulted in a 13-defense reign that stretched over four-and-a-half years. Since it would be years before VHS recorders were widely available, I followed Gushiken’s exploits exclusively through the words of Hall of Fame writer Joe Koizumi, whose descriptive prose piqued and maintained my interest in him. When I finally secured videos of Gushiken, I learned that every positive thing Koizumi wrote about him was on the money.

Once I became an IBHOF elector in 2001, I voted for him every chance I got and when I began my current writing incarnation two years later, I joined a small group of scribes that championed his Hall of Fame credentials. Year after year, we were frustrated by a majority whom simply didn’t think dominant, long-reigning 108-pounders short of Michael Carbajal and Humberto “Chiquita” Gonzalez were worthy of enshrinement. Only when Gushiken was moved to the Old Timers ballot – and away from the group of unknowing BWAA voters who were limited to the Moderns – has the “Fierce Eagle” been given his just due. Yes, this honor should have been bestowed decades earlier but better delayed than denied.

* As someone who makes his living with words, I have always admired the verbal dexterity of Jim Lampley. He is the only fight announcer I know who can credibly – and correctly – throw in the word “obstreperous” during a boxing telecast (he used that word to describe the occasionally prickly Bernard Hopkins). But while his vocabulary was decidedly Cosellian, Lampley’s demeanor and behavior was far sunnier.

I began working HBO shows a few years after going full-time with CompuBox but, early on, we didn’t say much beyond “hello” because we saw each other only at ringside. He had a job to do and I didn’t want to disturb him by engaging in small talk. For me, the ice was broken in Buenos Aires when HBO aired Sergio Martinez’s defense against Martin Murray in April 2013. The crew meal was held inside a small restaurant inside the stadium and, as was usually the case, the announcers sat at one table to discuss the upcoming telecast while punch-counting colleague Dennis Allen and I were seated with others about 20 feet away. Suddenly, HBO’s “unofficial official” Harold Lederman, with whom I had been friendly for years (and who alerted CompuBox’s Bob Canobbio of my existence), called me over to the table. Apparently he, Lampley and analyst Max Kellerman had been debating the merits of Roman Gonzalez and Harold – knowing that I, too, had a high opinion of “Chocolatito” – wanted me to provide back-up for his side of the debate. Once I offered my customarily detail-oriented breakdown, Lampley and Kellerman began quizzing me about other fighters they thought should be on the pound-for-pound list and where I thought they stood. A few minutes later, I returned to my table with a strong feeling I had created a positive impression.

Later that night, Lampley furthered my already high opinion of him. I rode back to the hotel with the technical crew, which, because of lax crowd control and torrential rain, endured an extremely tough night at the office. When we walked into the lobby, I spotted Lampley, Kellerman and several other HBO higher-ups relaxing at a nearby lounge. The moment we walked in, Lampley stopped what he was doing, rose to his feet and led a standing ovation for the technical crew.

“Fantastic job,” he said with genuine admiration. “This was your greatest night, bar none. I’m proud of you and you should be proud of yourselves.”

Knowing I wasn’t a target for the accolades, I stepped out of line, put down my laptop bag and joined in the applause. It was a classy gesture by Lampley, who, like most people in the public eye, has his share of critics. For this, and other reasons, I am not one of them.

Our professional association continued to strengthen and, in recent months, it has improved by leaps and bounds. In fact, when a fact-checking position opened up for his show “The Fight Game,” he said mine was the first – and only – name that popped into his mind. I received the out-of-the-blue invitation from producer Jonathan Crystal via email and I accepted the gig after briefly consulting with Canobbio. I knew that Lampley eventually would be immortalized in the Hall – his resume and his talent were too prodigious to think otherwise – but I never imagined I’d be working with him when that time came. So, as with the case of Collins, Smoger and Gushiken, I will be listening to his speech with extra attention, admiration and relish.

As for Ray Mancini and Riddick Bowe, my encounters with them were far briefer. I met Mancini on several occasions, first while working the Kelly Pavlik-Marco Antonio Rubio show in Youngstown, Ohio, then when Mancini was a color commentator for an NBC Sports Network telecast a few years later. Both times, “Boom Boom” lived up to his gentlemanly reputation and, during the latter meeting, he signed my copy of his autobiography as well as the Big Book and posed for several photos. As for Bowe, I had just one ringside meeting that lasted just long enough for him to sign the Mullan book. Still, it was clear that “Big Daddy” remained the Big Man on Any Campus He Occupies and that also will be the case this weekend.

Though I had never met Rafael Mendoza, his link to my formative years as a fan was considerable. He had advised 26 world champions, including Canto, Alexis Arguello and Pipino Cuevas, all of whom provided many indelible moments.

As much as I looked forward to Induction Sunday, I knew I would experience plenty in the days leading up to it. Without further delay, here is the start of the rest of the story:

 

Tuesday, June 9: Before I get into the narrative, allow me to tie up a loose end. Those who read my Travelin’ Man from Boston will recall that, during my final walk back to the hotel, the pin on my laptop bag’s extendable handle broke. At the time I thought I would need to purchase a new carry case but, once I returned home, that all changed. My father, a former machinist for Union Carbide and an expert gunsmith in retirement, built a new screw for the bag, inserted it and restored full function. Thanks to him, my bag will live to roll another day.

I spent much of the morning compiling data for the June 26 “ShoBox” bout between Erickson Lubin and Daniel Rosario, then began my customary first-leg drive to Erie, Penn. at 12:15 p.m. Except for a brief but intense downpour 75 miles south of Erie, the drive was done under partly sunny skies and temperatures in the upper-70s.

In the 23 years that I’ve driven to Erie, I had stayed at a variety of hotels but in recent trips, I had often stayed at a particular hotel chain. By sheer force of habit, I veered off Exit 27 on Interstate 90 East and pulled into that hotel’s parking lot. When I gave the clerk my name, he looked in the system and said there was no reservation for me. This came as a huge shock because I placed a call the previous day and was told all was well.

We began to sort out the various details and only when I recited the phone number did I realize I was at the wrong hotel. When I made my reservations in January – a must if one is to guarantee rooms during Hall of Fame week – I placed several calls to this hotel only to have no one there pick up the phone. I assumed the outlet must have closed because that was what happened several years earlier when the Motel 6 shut down, so I made reservations at another location where I had stayed before but not nearly as regularly. I had forgotten that I had done all this five months earlier and, once I realized what happened, I felt a wave of sheepish embarrassment.

Once this snafu was discovered, I was ready to excuse myself and slink out the door but the clerk asked me the price of my room. When I did, he said “I’ll get you a room right now for $30 less.”

That got my attention.

“Can you do the same for me for Sunday night?”

“Yes I can.”

“Great,” I said. “But it’s after 4 p.m. I was told that 4 was the latest time in which I can cancel a room and not be charged.”

“I’ll let you in on a little secret,” he said. “You can cancel at any time. Call them up and see what happens.”

So I did. I asked the clerk at the other hotel whether I could still cancel the reservation. To my surprise, she said yes and didn’t even ask for a reason. What’s more, she provided me a pair of cancellation numbers in case there was a dispute on the credit card. Moments after hanging up, I secured lodging at the other location and saved $60 in the process.

Who knew that making a wrong turn could pay off so handsomely?

After unpacking, I drove to the Pilot Travel Center and purchased a foot-long turkey breast sandwich from Subway, a bag of Fritos and a Coke Zero, then spent the rest of the evening writing on the laptop, then alternating between the Pirates-Brewers game (which the Bucs lost 4-1) and Game Two of the NBA Finals (which Cleveland won to take an improbable 2-1 lead in the series against the heavily-favored Golden State Warriors). At 12:30 a.m. I switched off the light and settled in for a hopefully restful slumber.

 

Wednesday, June 10: I awakened six-and-a-half hours later and was delighted to see sunshine streaming through a crack in the curtains. The weather forecast called for morning showers and potential thunderstorms, so this development was most welcomed. After getting ready for the day, I spent a couple of hours on the laptop and took advantage of the complementary breakfast. I’ve never been a big breakfast guy – I usually have to be awake at least three hours before I feel hungry – but this time I felt the need to fuel up for the five-hour drive to Syracuse.

That drive began around 9:45 a.m. and ended four hours later without a hitch. Better yet, I was given a first-floor room directly across from the lobby, by far the most convenient room location in all the years I’ve stayed there. I called my loved ones to let them know all was well, after which I called Jeff Brophy at the Hall to alert him of my impending arrival.

For the past several years I’ve stopped by the Hall on Wednesdays to say hello to Ed and Jeff as well as survey the quiet before the next day’s storm. Thanks to a free pass given to me a few years earlier, I took the time to visit every exhibit inside the Hall of Fame building but only after I conversed extensively with the young woman stationed at the cash register. I read most of the plaques on the wall, including the ones for the Class of 2015, and took plenty of time to bask in the memories produced by the other fistic treasures. Inside the gift shop under the pavilion, I made sure to visit the original CompuBox computer while also purchasing yet another Hall of Fame t-shirt.

I then drove across the street to the McDonald’s to get a mid-afternoon meal but after purchasing a grilled chicken sandwich, fries and diet soda, I overheard a conversation between a pair of older gentlemen about the merits of today’s fighters versus those from their era. Me being me, I eventually added my two cents to the conversation, which allowed us to develop an instant rapport.

Our talk lasted nearly two hours and, in that time, I learned that I was in the presence of two war veterans – one from World War II and the other from Vietnam. The younger man earned not one but two Purple Hearts and, though he was reluctant at first, he shared several combat stories with me. We, as boxing fans, eagerly relive the wars that took place inside the squared circle but it’s another experience entirely to listen to a veteran tell real war stories.

Once we said our goodbyes, I drove back to the hotel, spent a couple of hours on the laptop, purchased a mid-evening meal and slowly wound down. Shortly after 11 p.m., the TV screen went black and then delivered a frightening message: Tornado warning. The computerized voice reported that a line of thunderstorms had produced several twisters and asked those in the affected areas to take shelter immediately. Aside from some brief bursts of showers and an occasional boom, all appeared well at my location and thankfully it remained so when I turned out the lights 90 minutes later.

 

Thursday, June 11: I snapped out of my slumber six-and-a-half hours later and, once I finished my morning routines, I pulled back the curtain. Once again, I saw sunlight. As was the case before, the forecasts for Syracuse predicted stormy conditions and, while they still could come true, it was an encouraging start to what promised to be a metaphorical whirlwind in terms of activities and experiences.

The IBHOF’s official schedule for Thursdays is always light – ringside lectures from 1 to 4 p.m. and the opening ceremony from 5 to 6 – but, to me, that’s a good thing because that set-up gives the fans the freedom to shape their own memories through conversation on the museum grounds, seeking autographs at the Days Inn (where the inductees always stay) or hanging out at Graziano’s.

After tying up some loose ends in terms of pre-fight research for CompuBox, I jumped in the car and drove to the grounds. The first familiar face I saw was the Vietnam vet with whom I spoke yesterday but as far as Hall regulars, that honor belongs to Canadian Eric Schmidt. Once I hit the grounds, perennial “first guy” Bill Johnston from Canada greeted me from under the pavilion and most of the next several hours were spent sitting in the front row reconnecting with at least a dozen regulars such as photographer Mike Greenhill, David Baum, Bob Scudder, Jacob Sirof (who I call “Bulldog” due to his resemblance to longtime Dodger pitcher Orel Hershiser, for whom he hung the moniker in tribute to his mental toughness).

The first ring talk of the day featured Nino Benvenuti, who, at age 77, still weighs a trim 163 and has retained the movie star looks that shaped his ring persona. The 1992 IBHOF inductee and native of Italy captured gold at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, winning the Val Barker Trophy given to the competition’s best boxer in the process.

“It was a great victory to win the Olympics,” Benvenuti said through an interpreter. “To win the Olympic medal was like winning the [world] title. Italy has won seven medals in boxing – three gold, three silver and one bronze – and I also won the cup for the best fighter of the Olympics.”

Thanks to emcee Joey Fiatto, I was able to ask Benvenuti about his memories of Sandro Mazzinghi, who he stopped in six rounds to capture the junior middleweight title in June 1965 and outpointed in the rematch five months later to run his record to 61-0.

“Mazzinghi was super strong and very aggressive,” Benvenuti said, his face radiating respect for his rugged countryman. “He was not very technical but he was very strong. He was a fighter that made people respect him for the way he used to fight.”

Benvenuti addressed other topics during his talk, such as his remarkable come-from-behind one-punch knockout of Luis Rodriguez in Nov. 1969.

“What I had to do was dig inside of me to try to land the hook that won the fight for me,” he said. “The referee could have counted to 30 and he wouldn’t have been able to get up.”

“He probably could have counted to 100,” I added.

He also spoke of Emile Griffith, against whom he fought three memorable middleweight title fights and who passed away in July 2013 at age 75. As a token of his affection, Nino referred to him as “Emilio.”

“I have a lot of respect for him and it was a pleasure to be with him,” he said. “I invited him to my hometown and to be the godfather of my son. [Physically] he was a welterweight with the structure of a middleweight. He felt like a middleweight even though he was fighting at welterweight. He was very smart and very educated. Our trilogy was one of the best.”

When asked about Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Manny Pacquiao, Benvenuti registered his disappointment.

“They are two tremendous fighters of this era and I have a lot of respect for them but they really didn’t do what needed to be done to satisfy the fans,” he said. “Unfortunately with the styles, it was difficult for Manny to look good against him. They didn’t look like real champions look when they’re in a mega-fight like that.”

One brave soul asked about Carlos Monzon, who dethroned Benvenuti with a right hand that appeared to nearly decapitate him and who followed up that victory with a third round KO that brought the curtain down on his career.

“Carlos Monzon is one of the best, no excuses,” Benvenuti said, “but I was 33. I wasn’t just fighting the opponent; I was also fighting my age. I had a long career, I was 13 years old when I had my first [amateur] fight and, at the end, I was 33. I decided that 33 was enough; it was a very important age to me because I am a Christian and my career would die [at the same age] Jesus died. After 20 years, a lot of the time, fighters don’t know when they need to say, ‘Enough is enough.’ Your body will reveal the punishment it took to you during a fight. I also retired at 33 because I had a name to save.

“Monzon was a great fighter, a strong fighter and very smart,” he continued, “but I was satisfied to be able to retire at 33. The sport of boxing is very tough and it doesn’t forgive. If you don’t show the condition, then it’s best for you to retire or else you’ll pay for it.”

Moments after Benvenuti wrapped up his Ring Talk, Fiatto announced the presence of former light heavyweight titlist Montell Griffin, who, at that point, was just 10 feet away from my front row seat. Since he was a first-time visitor to Induction Weekend, I wanted to add his name to the Big Book and was prepared to stand in line to get it.

It was at this point in which the autograph fates first smiled on me. The man accompanying Griffin, veteran corner man Ernest “Big E” Brown, called me by name, flashed a huge smile and shook my hand. He recognized my face from the cover of “Tales From the Vault,” and he told me how much he enjoyed it. When I asked about getting Griffin’s signature he said, “Absolutely. He’d be happy to sign.” As he said this, a small cluster of fans had gathered at the corner of the workout ring under the pavilion. I took my place at the back of the line, stuffed my press credential inside my laptop bag and waited my turn.

A security guard told us that Griffin would be moved to the same table where Benvenuti was signing, then, seeing the long queue, told us that a separate line for people only wanting Griffin’s signature would be established. I jumped to the head of that newly authorized line and quickly got my first signature of this year’s festivities, not long after I collected the second from one-time welterweight titlist Milton McCrory, who was signing and posing for a small cluster of fans at the other end of the pavilion.

Just minutes later, my day would take a most unexpected turn.

“Big E” approached me a second time and asked, “How are you getting around?”

“My car is across the street,” I replied.

“Great,” he said. “[Two-time cruiserweight champion] Marvin Camel and his wife are flying in from Florida and I was told the Hall was running short on cars. Would you drive to the airport [in Syracuse] and pick them up at 6:30?”

“Would I?!” I exclaimed. “Absolutely!”

We agreed to meet at the gift shop immediately after the opening ceremonies. Meanwhile I spent the next few hours hanging out at the tents on the back of the grounds doing what I do best – talking boxing with anyone who could stand it. In this case, my conversation partners included Sean Pullen, a stevedore from a village located one hour outside London, longtime friend and super-fan Keith Stechman (who told me he had finally picked up the final two issues to cap off his compete RING set) and Chas Taylor, one of the more amazing characters one could ever come across. According to a 2013 article written by Ron Jackson, Taylor is one of the few collectors ever to own a Lonsdale belt and had been a longtime house second for promoters Mickey Duff and Mike Barrett. Even in his late-70s, the Cockney former cab driver radiated a youthful enthusiasm that punctuated his stories about John Conteh and Barry McGuigan. He also spoke with justified pride about his work with the London Ex-Boxers Association. When he received an award for his work with the organization, he insisted that this honor should be characterized as not being for him but rather for his service for former boxers. That humble request was granted.

I remained in the back while Hall-of-Famers Ruben Olivares and Richard Steele gave their Ring Talks as well as during the start of the Opening Ceremony. As the event proceeded, I got up and positioned myself near the gift shop to meet “Big E,” then decided to go inside so it would be easier for him to find me. We ended up meeting at the side entrance of the shop and, from there, we walked across the street to my usual spot near the back of the McDonald’s parking lot.

We arrived at the airport right on time and while “Big E” went inside to pick up the champ and his wife, I hurriedly cleaned the cluttered back seat of my car and threw the contents into the trunk. Had I known I was going to have passengers during this trip (a rarity even in my daily life), I would have done it far earlier. But such is life.

At 63, the 6-foot-2 Camel looks remarkably youthful and, at 205, he remains close to his fighting weight. During the drive, he exhibited a dry wit and a pleasant, appreciative demeanor. The combination of chatter between “Big E” and Marvin’s wife in the back seat and the process of telling one of my many stories to Camel nearly led to my missing the ramp leading to I-90 East. Fortunately, that was the trip’s only mini-hiccup. We arrived at the Days Inn less than 20 minutes later and, after the Camels stored their luggage behind the registration desk, Marvin happily signed my Big Book. Not only did he sign under one photo, he affixed his signature on both available photos.

At that point, I learned my work wasn’t quite done. The Camels were about to leave for the Rusty Rail to attend a buffet reserved for celebrities but, because they weren’t staying at the Days Inn, they needed to be driven back to their hotel in Oneida. I was more than happy to do so but, because I had never driven to Oneida, I needed directions. After a Days Inn staffer wrote down the necessary information, I conducted a “drive rehearsal” while it was still daylight to make sure I’d be able to do so after nightfall. The rehearsal went perfectly and, after filling my gas tank at the station next to Graziano’s, I spent the next hour or so chatting with fellow boxing fans inside the bar area.

In the midst of another conversation, I was jolted by my cell’s vibrating alarm. It was “Big E,” who told me that someone from the Hall would be taking the Camels back to their hotel. Preparing for a potentially fruitful autograph session inside Graziano’s, I headed out to the car to grab the Big Book. Stepping out with me was Sean Pullen, the Brit with whom I spent a few hours on the grounds listening to Chas Taylor’s stories. He told me he had called for a cab to take him back to his lodging and was told that his ride would come in a half-hour – and that half-hour was more than an hour ago.

Ever the helpful sort, I offered to give him a ride back – as long as he could give me directions.

“Let’s give it a go and see what happens,” he replied. And off we went.

He told me he was staying at a working farm in Cazenovia and the business card he was given provided the exact address. With only Sean’s memory to go by – a memory that was hampered by nightfall that obscured his visual cues – we ended up taking the scenic route that featured plenty of narrow, curvy, two-lane back roads that had no lighting, just like those back home in West Virginia. Once we got on the right street, we used the light-reflective address numbers on the mailboxes to track our progress. Thanks to our lively discussion, I missed the turn-off the first time around but a legal U-turn got us back on track and eventually led to his lodging.

Without the help of GPS, I was left to my own direction devices, which, as longtime readers of the Travelin’ Man Chronicles know, are faulty at best. After stopping at two gas stations to ascertain my proximity to I-90, I learned that I had taken the backroads, non-Thruway route back to Syracuse. In fact, I got on I-90 just one exit west of my usual Exit 35 and, soon, I was back at the hotel. Famished, I purchased a late-night meal, watched the end of Game Four of the NBA Finals and turned out the lights shortly after 2:30 a.m.

It had been a long but extremely eventful and enjoyable first three days on the road but I knew that my adventures were only beginning. There still were three more days to spend at the Hall, which promised plenty of events – as well as plenty of old friends – to meet. I could hardly wait to get started.

*

 

Lee Groves is a boxing writer and historian based in Friendly, W.Va. He is a full member of the BWAA, from which he has won 13 writing awards, including 10 in the last five years and two first-place awards since 2011. He has been an elector for the International Boxing Hall of Fame since 2001 and is also a writer, researcher and punch-counter for CompuBox, Inc. He is the author of “Tales from the Vault: A Celebration of 100 Boxing Closet Classics.” To order, please visit Amazon.com or email the author at [email protected] to arrange for autographed copies.

 

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