Athletes Choke, But Moms Don't

A sports writer salutes his MVP

by Mark Dewar

[The following was originally written for the Johnson County Sun newspaper in Overland Park, Kansas, and is used with permission.]

Somewhere in the midst of that huge bite of cake I took in celebration of my seventh birthday, it struck me that I should not have inhaled.

But I did anyway, dude.

My cake -- chocolate, if memory serves -- shot into my windpipe like a fly ball to the gap. The rest of me immediately went blueberry. My face began to take on the look of a Los Angeles Dodgers road uniform.

Leave it to a mother's intuition. Even amongst all those revelers, it above all struck Eileen Dewar as curious that her youngest son's face suddenly would appear so Dodgers-ish, given his love for all things Kansas City Royals at the time.

Mom leapt into action, fully aware that if her son were to reach any of his sporting goals in life that respiration could play a crucial role.

Dr. Heimlich likely is somewhere giving himself the Heimlich over what happened next, but this is how Mom reacted: She grabbed me and picked me up by my little ankles while a room of frozen onlookers soaked in the action. She shook me up and down, my little nose bouncing up and down inches above our kitchen floor.

Do not look for a reenactment any time soon.

Seconds later, a wad of birthday cake approximately the size of Fred Patek (hey, loved those Royals!) fell from my windpipe and onto the floor.

In what is a storied career as a mother, that instance represents Mom's first recorded save, so far as I can recall. Of me, anyway.

It certainly has not proven her last.

While her quick thinking that day never has been recognized in any official record books, just ask me about its place in history.

Forgive me, but I never found a way to question my mother's methods too much following that episode.

Hey, Tony Pena does not care if Mike MacDougal hangs an 0-2 curveball to Ivan Rodriguez, so long as it gets Pudge out.

That is my mom. A master of the good result, regardless of what creative methods she must employ to get there.

This column, then, is in honor of my mom and other hard-driving sports moms. Nobody, but nobody can do pro-active the way sports moms must do. Master game planners, they are our schedulers, drivers, trainers, psychologists, dietitians, launderers. And that, of course, is in between their regular duties as magicians.

I cannot recall a single sports highlight of any magnitude during my upbringing when I could not look up into the stands and see my mom, up there beaming with pride through every baseball double, every basketball swish and every tennis ace.

It is not that she so loves the games I played. She loves the boy who played them.

That, however, is not what makes my mom my MVP.

She and she alone also hung around for every bloodied lip, every dirtied uniform and the occasional tearful exit from a particularly heart-wrenching loss, long after the crowds stopped screaming and the fair-weather types had headed elsewhere.

And frankly, her kid probably did not smell too good after those losses, either.

I never shall forget the time I lost an opening-round match in a junior tennis tournament in Tulsa once on a 100-degree day.

I looked to the heavens and inquired of whomever would listen, "What else could go wrong?"

That is precisely the moment when one extremely well-nourished bird flew by. He pooped the length of my shoulders, including my head, dotting me like a fighter pilot.

To this day, I am pretty sure Mom emotionally felt each splash right along with me.

Years earlier, I dove headlong into a parked car while bolting after a fly ball in a pickup baseball game we played in our street. My first recollection -- as soon as the wooziness wore off -- is of my mom heading a team of mom specialists in our kitchen working to stop what had become a record-setting nosebleed.

Maybe they used clothes pins. In those days, I recall our moms could make a clothes pin cure about anything -- broken faucets, burst vacuum bags, squawking children, tailless cats.

Did not matter one iota to me. I am still here, and I am not bleeding.

If ever there has been a microcosm of my mother captured in the movies, it is that scene from "Rain Man," the one where Dustin Hoffman's character looks down at his dinner plate of three fishsticks and complains that he usually gets six fishsticks for dinner.

Tom Cruise, who plays his brother, takes a fork and cuts the three fishsticks right down the center into six pieces, screaming, "There are your six fishsticks!"

Then or now, no matter what, Mom can find a tidy solution -- and usually, it's quick -- for whatever hurdles stand in her way.

Sports crazy? Nah. Her favorite question upon entering a room where a football game flickers on the screen continues to be, "What inning are they in?"

At first, Mom was not kidding. Through the years that followed, she has come to learn what inning the football game really is in.

Nah, what Eileen Dewar loves are any and all sports events as they relate to our dad, Gerry, or my big brother, Brent, or me.

With her baby's own playing days at an end, not surprisingly, Mom roots me on in my newspapering endeavors nowadays. She serves as something of an unofficial mom to the Sun's editorial staff. She loves to bake things for my co-workers or send little people-specific gifts to individuals in the newsroom.

Hers is as big as hearts get.

During my childhood in Overland Park, she often tutored neighborhood kids who needed help increasing their reading skills. She substitute taught in the Shawnee Mission School District in my early years, then continued to work passionately and successfully as an area realtor through my teenage and most of my adult years.

Mom provides living proof that you do not need to hang a "Block Mother" sign in the front window to serve as one, and a very effective one at that.

My pride swelled the time I showed up for an 8-11 Baseball practice at Pawnee Elementary my fourth-grade year after Mom had taught several of my teammates that day as a substitute teacher at Pawnee.

I still remember their report.

"Your mom is so nice!" teammate Curtis Hoyt blurted upon my arrival, speaking for all of them. "And so strict!"

Couldn't have put it any better myself, Curtis.

But mostly, nice. Just the other weekday morning, Mom remarked how cute Dad looked as he headed out the door from their home in Shawnee to hit his 7:06 a.m. tee time at St. Andrews.

That same day she saw me wearing the black turtleneck sweater she bought for my birthday this year (I didn't choke on the cake this time) and said I looked like a fashion model.

Sorry, Mom. The Dewar boys are unanimous on this one. You are the model in this household.

Mom actually did a little work as a fashion model back in her college days. Still her very best modeling she performs day in and day out. With the way she conducts herself, she provides Brent and I with the best path to travel on this planet in order to reach a higher and better place once we leave it.

Such knowledge helps ease the pain of a few earthly realities. As much as I loved Amos Otis growing up, I never will be the Royals centerfielder.

No matter. The Hall of Fame beckons, anyhow. Mom, you are the cornerstone of mine.

[Mark Dewar has served as sports editor for The Sun Newspapers in Overland Park, Kan., since 1995. He has received 12 first-place awards in sportswriting from the Kansas Press Association. Dewar says he still loves chocolate cake -- and recently enjoyed a slice without incident on his 38th birthday. Having grown to a height of 6' 3", he reports the boosts he receives from his mother, Eileen, these days are mainly emotional ones.]

copyright © 2005 The Johnson County Sun 2005

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