Year of the dog

Last December, having been a dog owner for all of three days, I was letting our seven-pound puppy drag me around the neighborhood for about the 12th time that afternoon. I was completely exhausted, and I already had serious doubts I had what it took to make it work.

We ran into a congenial middle-aged man named Pat, in town from Ohio to visit his daughter. He calmed GG down, raved about what a handsome dog she was and we talked a little sports.

Something about Pat’s easy demeanor told me I’d found a sympathetic ear. Before we parted ways, I told him GG was my first dog, explained how difficult this first week had been and asked whether things would get better.

Pat looked me straight in the eye and smiled warmly. “You’ll have to put in some work,” he said. “But I can tell she’s a good dog, and you’re going to be just fine.”

Grasping for straws, I believed him. And it turns out he was absolutely right, everything worked out pretty great.

But it did take a lot of work, and things would get worse before they’d get better.

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Hall of mirrors

Before the obligatory Gatti hospital tripAdmittedly, I used to hold the concept of the Hall of Fame in the highest esteem. When I was a kid reading as much about baseball as I possibly could, Hall of Famers were flawless demigods from a thousand years ago who pitched comets and swung bolts of lightning.

My parents took me on a pilgrimage to Cooperstown when I was in fifth grade, and I dutifully took pictures of the plaques for Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and personal favorite Ty Cobb. As recently as a few years ago, I vowed to be in Canton when Dan Marino was enshrined into the football Hall.

As have many of my stances, my position has changed quite a bit over time. Marino’s big day came and went; I never even made the conscious decision that it was too much of an effort to make the trip from New Jersey. I spent a couple days in Springfield, Mass., for a prep basketball tournament last winter and declined to check out the Basketball Hall, though I drove by it several times. (It was really cold outside.)

The baseball Hall, in particular, seems more and more laughable to me, a morality-soaked tug of war between old school Murray Chass types and new-age Dave Cameron-ites. Omar Vizquel is probably going to make it to Cooperstown, while Barry Bonds probably won’t, which pretty much tells you everything you need to know.

Plus, I’ve gotten to know a few baseball Hall of Fame voters, and though some are sharp, by no means does that apply to all of them. One in particular, I wouldn’t rely on to vote on what I have for lunch. For the most part, I tend to laugh off most Hall of Fame debates – that don’t involve Bonds – as the harmless rantings of fans, and fans with press passes.

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Looking good

The Fighter

When I went to meet Muhammad Ali the morning after I graduated from high school, my enthusiasm was tempered by my growing recognition of what was happening to him. I’d seen Ali light the Olympic Torch the previous summer, I knew all those fights had taken a toll, but it didn’t totally sink in until I shook his hand and felt it shake. I verbalized my admiration for him; it was a one-sided conversation.

Compared to Ali, I was relieved to find Micky Ward seemingly in relatively good shape when I went to the North Jersey book signing for his new memoir, “A Warrior’s Heart,” last Tuesday. I came away thinking that Ward looked and sounded pretty good, considering his former line of work. And honestly, that’s what we want when we seek out the heroes of our youth.

We want to be able to say, “He looks good.”

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The Fighter: Balancing authenticity with suspense of disbelief

Ward-Gatti 3

The two Micky Ward-Arturo Gatti fights I attended rank up there with the Mike Piazza post-9/11 game as the best sporting events I’ve been to live.

As such, I’ve eagerly awaited The Fighter since first seeing the trailer. I’m just not good at actually carving out time to go to the movies, so it took me a while to see it after it released.

Bear in mind I’ve never actually done a movie review. I’m far from qualified to be a film critic, as evidenced by my affinity for Ichi the Killer. But for what it’s worth, I did very much enjoy The Fighter, as a fight fan and in general.

Of course, it was by no means a perfect film.

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Do the right thing: Pacquiao-Mayweather a needed spike for fight game

Face to face 
With boxing, as the Rolling Stones said, you can’t always get what you want. In fact, you virtually never get what you want.

But just this once, as a fight that every boxing fan desires actually may become reality, you might just find you get what you need.

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Live fast, die young: A champion falls

I always just sort of had this feeling that Arturo Gatti would die young, but it doesn’t make it any less stunning when it actually happens.
Iconic Gatti
Hearing about his death on Saturday was one of those times where you simply don’t know what to do next. He’s been my favorite fighter since high school, when about 15 years ago, I saw him beat Tracy Harris Patterson for his first title.

Gatti was never the most talented boxer, not the most successful. But he was by far the most entertaining. Even after he got with trainer Buddy McGirt and stepped up his fundamentals, Gatti’s defense always took a back seat to his offense; he’d take three punches to connect with one. But his determination and threshhold for pain made his fights must-see wars, so much so that I went to three of his fights in Atlantic City, including the final two of his near-legendary wars with Micky Ward.

It’s no wonder people loved him. Gatti was the everyman, with the name and look of a young mafia don, the swagger of a bullfighter and the courage of a firefighter. He was known just as much for his propensity to party as his prowess in the ring. Gatti liked fast cars, fast women, fast punches and fast times. He’d go out to party still bleeding after one of his epic ring wars.
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Programming note: Watch the Gatti-Ward trilogy

A week after Arturo Gatti’s untimely death, whether you were a fan or are just learning of him now, it’s in your best interests to check out his trilogy against Micky Ward. All of Gatti’s fights were great, but the three-fight series from May ’02 to June ’03 was the epitome of sportsmanship and athletic competition.

Luckily, HBO Sports is airing the trilogy back-to-back-to-back this weekend. Set your DVR: It’s on Friday night starting at 9 p.m. ET on HBO2, and then Saturday morning at 10:15 a.m. on HBO. It’ll also be on demand until Aug. 16.

Make sure you take advantage of this rare opportunity to see two great champions, one of whom we recently lost.