Remembering my dad today


It was twelve years ago today that my dad left this earth.  Where he went, if anywhere, well I haven’t figured that whole thing out yet.  I do know that the night before he passed away I prayed for the first time in my life.  I remember going to bed late, like 3:30 in the morning, looking up at the ceiling, and saying “Just please let him fall asleep and not wake up.”  He was so worried about the the possibility of the tumors in his lungs bleeding and suffocating him.  The next morning I woke up at 11am.  I went out and talked to the hospice nurse for a second, and she said he had been sleeping well, which was a change from the norm.  She left a couple minutes later, and simultaneously my uncle Gary came over.  He and I sat on the couch quietly chatting for a couple of minutes.  At one point I looked over at my dad, saw his stomach move gently up, and then down, and then stay down.  I sat there fixated on him, even though I was trying to listen to what my uncle was talking about.  His stomach made one more small up, but then it settled back down.  It never went up again.  After a few seconds, I finally told my uncle “he’s not breathing.”  We went over to him, and it was clear he was already gone.  His passing, after more than a year of pain, treatment, misery, and agony, was the most peaceful transition we all could have hoped for.  The next few minutes were pretty awful.  I didn’t cry.  I was numb.  But I had to call my mom and tell her that my dad, her husband of 20 years who fathered both of her children, whom she hadn’t spoke too in two years, had passed away.  I had to meet my sister, who walked up the driveway just a few minutes later out front.  My uncle had to call my grandma to inform her that her youngest son had just died.  I’m not an overly spiritual or religious person, but I believe in every fiber of me that it’s not a coincidence that he died ten minutes after I woke up and five minutes after my uncle got there.  I think he wanted to be with us when he passed.  Call me crazy, but I believe it.

My dad was 47 years old when he passed away.  Far too young in my book.  Skin Cancer, cancer of any kind, is a mother fucker.

My dad is a really tough dude to describe on paper.  He was this strange mix of bitter, hilarious, grouchy, charming and mean.  He played baseball all growing up, and was the top pitcher in Washington state his senior year in high school.  I used to love to comb through his scrap books and read all the newspaper stories.  I wanted to be a baseball player like my dad.  He and his friend Ken Phelps both took scholarships to Washington State University and they were off.  My dad had immediate success at the college level, and his freshman year, on March 23, 1973, threw a no hitter against the Eastern Washington U. Eagles.  His name is still on plaque at the WSU field for that no hitter as well as being on the Coug’s all 70’s team.  He hurt his arm during his junior year and by the time his senior year came about, he had lost all the zip on his fastball.  He told me often about his last outing, pitching against Arizona State, and giving up 12 runs in 2/3 of an inning. He said he kept looking over at his coach, Bobo Brayton, pleading to take him out, and Bobo shaking his head saying no!! LOL

He met my mom in college, on accident.  She had called to talk to his roommate, who I believe was the third baseman, and instead got my dad.  Apparently he sweet talked her into a date, which knowing my dad for the 21 years I did, I can’t picture at all.  They married in 1977, and my mom said that her favorite quality of my dad was that he didn’t bullshit anybody.  That was an understatement.  I sometimes felt my dad’s inner monologue just went straight out his mouth.  He was a tough guy and usually brutally so.  And often mean.  He was tough on us kids.  I think in his mind, that kind of ‘motivation’ would work, which it did for some things.  I got bad grades in 8th grade and he sat me down and gave me the “do you want to be a truck driver the rest of your fucking life” speech.  Since I saw him come home from his job everyday miserable and pissed off and head straight to the bottle or the poker room, I figured “no I don’t want to be a truck driver.”  LOL  I got a 3.3 GPA the next semester and never got bad grades again.  I was scared to death of my dad, and if getting good grades avoided getting yelled at, then i’d bust my ass in the library.

I always felt that when his baseball dream died, a big part of him died as well.  I don’t think he ever got over that.  He carried around some kind of inner pain and turmoil that I never understood.  Until I found it in myself after he died.   I miss him very much.  Our relationship was something I always struggled with, and probably always will.  He was complicated.  But he interspersed those bad things with moments of greatness.  He could crack me up and charm the pants off people when he wanted to.  There’s a video that my aunt Barbara made after his passing (it’s posted below), and one of the last pictures is him throwing his baseball hat in his uniform.  He was the most passionate coach I’ve ever seen on a baseball diamond.  He was so far ahead of the other coaches it was pathetic.  He could get more out of a team by sheer will than anyone.  He started a select 18 year old Sr. Babe Ruth team with my uncle in 1997, and by 1999 they were in the Babe Ruth World Series, where they finished 2nd.  In three years he started from scratch and had the second best team in the country.  And his motto for every team, was “Play harder, longer.”  Those three words I’ll carry with me until my stomach finally stops going up.

Opening Day at a small track

Tomorrow is opening day of the 67th racing season to be run at Portland Meadows.  It’s also the start of my 8th season at the track. I always have mixed feelings on a new season starting.  It’s a strange mix of anxiety, excitement, anticipation and generally lots of things popping up at the last second.  But overall, it’s a special time for me.  I love Portland Meadows.  I love it for all the good parts of the place, and for some of the bad parts.  I love being a small track racecaller.  I love that I get to ride up the worlds most rickety elevator to get to the roof.  Then walk down a long hallway, with no windows, and a paint job from well before I was born.  I love that I have to share my announcer’s booth with the equibase guys, who oddly enough, have become some of my best friends in and out of racing over the years.  I love that my booth is small.  I love that the desk is essentially just some plywood thrown together to make a desk.  I love that the windows make a shrieking noise every time I open them.  I love that when I first started as the announcer here I used an old clip mic that you just clipped onto your tie instead of a proper headset.  I love that over the years, the speakers have gone out on the apron more than a handful of days.  I love even more when fans tell me they missed hearing me because those speakers didn’t work.  I love getting to call post parades and say the names of the owners, trainer, and jockeys in each race.  I love that I get to say “and the race is on” at the start of each race.  I honestly don’t have any strong tie to the phrase, simply wanted to say something different than everyone else who said “they’re off” or “there they go” or one of the twenty variations of those calls.  I love that I have to use a tripod to hold my binoculars.  Because no matter if there is three people on the apron of the track or three thousand, my nerves are still enough to make my hands shake without the support of the tripod.  I love getting to color my programs each day with the silks of the owners and trainers who have poured their hearts and souls and cash into getting that horse to that race for that day, even if it’s running for just a $5,000 purse.  I love when out of the corner of my eye I can spot an owner or trainer I know down on the apron, their hands up in the air and their direction to the winner’s circle.  I love that my booth is low enough to hear fans conversations before the races.

People always talk about opening day at Del Mar and Saratoga and the big tracks like that. I’ll probably never get to announce a big opening day at a place like that, but our opening day is always just as special to those of us who love racing here in the City of Roses.

Let’s do this!

Opening Day tradition

We all have some traditions in our lives.  Some big, some small, some just out of habit moreso than anything.  One of my favorite traditions I have occurs the night before opening day at track.  It started the night before my first day at River Downs.  I was sitting in my apartment in Cincinnati, this strange city with no teriyaki restaurants, and my nerves were pretty strong about the next day.  I’d probably only called 11 races in my life at that point (over the air, I’d called hundreds just to myself), so they were taking a pretty big chance on me.  Well I decided I was going to go out to dinner.  So I went to what I was told was the best steak in Cincinnati, Jeff Ruby’s Precinct Restaurant.  As it sounds, it was an old police precinct they’d turned into a steakhouse.  And it was boss.  I brought my program and colored pencils along and colored in the silks of the horses just to the right of the jockeys names.  Sat there and enjoyed my Rib-Eye, with a side of hollandaise.  When dinner was over, I went home, full and now sleepy and popped in the great movie Let it Ride.  I’ll never forget going to the track the next day, nervous as hell and the phone ringing 2 minutes before the first race.  It was my friends from Portland Meadows and they said “Don’t answer the phone you got a race to call!”  Dicks!

So after that, each time a new meet would start, be it in Cincinnnati or here in Portland, I always go out for an amazing meal and color my programs.  There was veal parmigiana at Ciao Vito on Alberta Street, a rigatoni at Nicola’s in Over the Rhyne, every form of pig at Higgins on Broadway, a petite filet at El Gaucho, and others.  It’s a dumb tradition, but I love it and hope to keep doing it for a long time!

This is how I color my programs.  I used colored pencils

This is how I color my programs. I used colored pencils

Remembering Luke

Me and Luke at Turf Paradise in 2007

Me and Luke at Turf Paradise in 2007

Today is the 5th anniversary of the passing of a one of my favorite people I ever met in horse racing, the great announcer Luke Kruytbosch.  Luke called the Kentucky Derby as well as races at Turf Paradise, Ellis Park and about 50 other tracks during his time.  The first time I met Luke was in April of 2006, as I was driving over to River Downs to begin my career announcing races.  I met him in the lobby and introduced myself, told him I was going to be an announcer and instead of just saying hi and nice to meet you, he invited me up to his booth to hang out for the day.  It was like a kid going to play minor league ball and getting to talk with Babe Ruth.  He gave me advice, told me funny stories, said to come visit him at Churchill, and told me to make sure and meet Vince Cyster, who was a good friend of his (and subsequently became my best friend in Cincinnati).  I remember hitting a superfecta for 1,100 at Turf Paradise that made my day and paid for most of my move!  I figured if I never met him again, it was still pretty cool to have gotten to hang that day.  Fast forward to Kentucky Oaks day, a Friday and one of the biggest days of Luke’s year.  I’m announcing the races at River Downs and my phone rings.  “Hey Jason this is Luke Kruytbosch.”  Well Hi Luke, aren’t you a little busy today? LOL  He just called to tell me he was watching the River Downs races between races at Churchill and wanted to tell me I was doing a great job.  That was about as cool as it gets.  Over the next couple of years we would hang out anytime I went to Churchill or Ellis, or when Luke would trek up to Cincinnati.  The most interesting things I remember is often echoed by other people who knew him.  He ALWAYS made you feel like the most important person in the room.  I remember telling a friend that after we hung out with him at a bar, so I promise this isn’t post death hyperbole.  That’s just how he was.  Everyone who knew him felt that way.  I haven’t met anyone in racing who was as universally beloved.

Two quick fun stories:  First of all, we were sitting in a bar at Churchill Downs after the races watching the races from Hollywood Park and Luke was having a couple cocktails.  One of his favorite pastimes was to do impressions of other announcers while we watched their races.  The funny part was, every impression just sounded like Luke.  His voice was too distinct.  So he started doing an impression of Bill Downes, who announces at Beulah Park and Indiana Downs,and some stranger walks up behind us and says “Man you sound just like Luke Kruytbosch.”  Luke smiled and looked at me and said “yeah i get that alot.”

My other favorite memories were during the winter time on Tuesdays.  Luke’s track Turf Paradise was one of the few tracks running along with us at Portland Meadows.  He would call and try and prank me and say “Hey this is Frank Stronach (who owns PM) we just wanted to say you’re doing a great job.”  or my favorite one “Hey this is Flip Nollar (PM former Jockey)”.  I also remember he called right after I had done a promo for our lunch special and said “Yeah how can I order that Roast Beef Sandwich.”

God he was a great guy.  Pretty good announcer too 🙂


Great Friends

Yesterday, I called my friend Brand X.  His name’s actually Chad, but he played for the wrong baseball team one year, so Brand X is how I have him labeled in my cell phone.  He said he was going to our friend Chris’ lake house for the 4th.  I hadn’t been up to the lake house party in a few years, and since I had no plans, I sprinted up the freeway  north to Kent.  I’m glad I did.  It was a pleasant evening, a food spread that was amazing, featuring BBQ pork shoulder and ribs, every kind of macaroni salad you could want and probably enough beer to get half the city drunk.

But mostly, I was just so thrilled to get to see my friends.  Throughout much of high school, our little foursome of Chad (Brand X), Flynn, Chris and myself spent countless hours playing cards, hanging out at one another’s houses, playing baseball together for our schools and for our summer teams and much more.  It’s kind of surreal to hang out 15 years after high school ended, Chris and Flynn both with two kids each, and wives, and houses, and me and Brand X still bachelors and both condo owners.  Chris is a farmer and works for his family business.  Flynn’s a retired Navy Seal and now Ivy League Business Student.  Chad sells medical supplies and is an 11 handicap.  I call horse races.  Kind of neat to see where we’ve all ended up since those days of quarter poker games like 3-5-7 and Guts.  I think we’ve all done pretty well.  We’ve all lived in different cities than one another for the last 15 years, but put us together, and it’s like there was no time missed.  I love those three guys and feel so blessed to have been able to call them friends for all these years.

“I never had any friends like the ones when I was a kid.  Jesus, does anybody?”

L to R (Chris, Me, Chad, Flynn)

L to R (Chris, Me, Chad, Flynn)