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Kelly Hodge

Managing Sports Editor
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Memories of a real gamer

March 29th, 2014 6:49 pm by Kelly Hodge

Memories of a real gamer

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thursday marked the 10th anniversary of the death of Tom Hodge, the reporter, columnist and editor who became the face of the Johnson City Press to many readers during his 52-year career. Following is the reprint of a column written by his oldest son, Kelly, in April 2004.

The games go on, and I’m sure Dad takes comfort in that.

For all his many civic and professional pursuits that have been recounted in beautiful, humbling detail since his death last weekend, my father was at his core a sports fan. He began his long career at this newspaper reporting on the various teams around us, and he left this world as a thoroughly passionate observer of the Bucs, the Vols, the Braves and just about anybody else who could bring a ball to life.

It was appropriate, I’ve been told many times in recent days, that my father died while helping the Kiwanis Club. He was a tireless doer with a daunting resume. It’s just as appropriate, I would say, that he died on the grounds of a bustling sports venue like Bristol Motor Speedway.

Truth be known, Dad wasn’t really a NASCAR guy, though he appreciated the passion and pageantry of the races. He probably should have been struck by lightning on the golf course as he stood stubbornly over an eight-foot par putt while everyone else was dashing for cover. Or gone out at the Dome while grumbling about Southern Conference officials, or balls and strikes at my son’s Little League field.

Patrick, who is 11 now, was one of the first to put his grandfather’s love of sports in perspective last weekend as the NCAA basketball tournament was pared down to the Final Four.

“He’s not even going to get to see the ballgames,” said Patrick.

Seeing the ballgames was always a priority at Tom’s house. Back in the pre-cable days, he would routinely have three televisions going at once in the den, their antennas twisting every which way to try to pull in a game. He could somehow tell you the down and distance, the pitch count, whatever, on any of the sets at any given moment. And sometimes he’d be listening to the radio while he watched.

Our friends would come and go, reverently darting across his field of vision as they made their way into the kitchen. He never seemed to notice.

Dad was like that in a lot of ways. He didn’t volunteer much information (except in print, where he would bare his soul to anyone willing to read), but sports was always a way to ease into conversation. The games were a vibrant connection between us that needed constant updating.  “Did you see …?” was my standard start-up to any number of discussions. Of course, he had seen it all.

He hardly ever missed an ETSU game, football or basketball. It was reassuring for me to look up and see him in the stands, knowing what was going through his mind. He loved UT, his alma mater, and was never more satisfied than the day the Vols were crowned national champions in football. The Lady Vols were an annual source of pride.

Dad’s greatest love, oddly enough, may have been the Braves. It didn’t matter if it was September and they were 27 games out of first, which they often were back in the ’70s and ’80s. Dad was planted in his traditional spot in front of the couch, keenly interested in every pitch.

Baseball, with its unbothered pace and endless strategy, was a comfortable fit for his personality. He taught me and my younger brothers, Kevin and Kendall, the nuances of the game as a Little League manager, and he kept right on coaching years after we had moved on. He really never stopped coaching.

He taught us to bowl, to water ski, to notice the finer points of just about any athletic endeavor. I guess the only game we lured him into first was golf, and he quickly developed a level of enthusiasm that was alternately uplifting and maddening. Just the other week, at 74, he was telling me about some new driver that had supposedly raised his game, helped him break 40 on the back nine.

I haven’t even picked up a club in a couple of years but think I might need to play a round soon, just for him. Maybe I’ll use his driver.

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