ITMOD: Ditti's 2018 In Review

Mike Venditti
December 31, 2018 - 2:31 pm
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This one will get personal and is steeped in homerism.

This is your one and only warning.

2018 was an interesting year for me, to say the least. Lots of ups and downs, lots of good and bad memories and every single one somehow ties in to sports. Cause that's me.

This year started out with a bang for my sports fandom with a South Carolina Gamecocks victory over the Michigan Wolverines in the Outback Bowl on New Years Day, January 1, 2018.

That day, the Gamecocks battled back and showed some true grit and ability that had us all hopeful for the 2018 campaign.

Well, that hope wasn't quite lived up to as our Gamecocks finished the season 7-6 with a blowout, shutout loss to the Virginia Cavaliers in the Belk Bowl just the other day.

The 2018 Gamecocks season was marred by injury on the defensive side of the ball and inconsistency on the offensive side....but since I just wrote a new Tales From The Cockpit about this, I'm not going to go into much depth here...seriously go read that.

As January rolled on, my sports and life focus became about something that wasn't going to be covered on SportsCenter or talked about on sports talk radio. I was finally getting my chance to attend Sports Adventures Boston Fantasy Camp and doing so with my older brother, Nick.

At the end of January 2018, the Patriots had just clinched their 8th AFC Title in the Brady/Belichick era and I was heading to Ft. Myers to honor my late father, Al, at Boston Red Sox Fantasy Camp. Things were lining up perfectly.

Camp starts (every year) on the bye week between the conference title games and the Super Bowl, so it set up magically for us to not only experience the camp that kept Pops so happy for so many years, but we would also have the opportunity to watch the Super Bowl together as a family, in his home...which we did.

Nick, my mother and myself all arrived at the hotel in Ft. Myers on the Saturday before the Super Bowl and checked into the hotel and into camp, running into our dear old family friend "Psycho" Steve Lyons in the lobby. After a few drinks, it was up to the room for a shower and then to the rookie orientation meeting.

Yeah, we had meetings in camp. They truly treat you like you're trying to make the Sox...it's amazing.

After getting initiated, the entire camp gathered for dinner in the banquet hall and then drinks at Shoeless Joe's (another sign this trip was perfect). Of course, I ignored the advice of the older campers and kept drinking all night only to learn my lesson the next morning.

Sunday morning was the first morning of actual camp, and for us rookies it was time to get to work right away. Early morning BP, shagging fly balls and running more than I have in a decade. By lunch time I was already in pain and still had 6-more-days to go!

I was not going to let up...I had to get drafted after all!

In the afternoon, the rookies played in a pickup game against the rest of the camp as the pros gathered behind home plate to finish evaluating our play.

Now, I'm sure a lot of you think that this kind of week would be all fun and games, especially for the former MLB players...but you'd be thinking wrong. Those guys are every bit as competitive as they were in their playing days, and drafting their squad is the height of the drama.

For us, it was all just a dream to be honest.

I was on the mound getting pointers from Bill "Soup" Campbell while guys like Brian Daubach, Keith Foulke, Bob Stanley, Gary "Ding Dong" Bell, Steve Lyons and more are gathered behind the backstop watching me. I haven't felt that much pressure since I tried out for high school ball....but I loved every single second of it.

I, along with my brother, was drafted to the team of Bill Campbell, Gary Bell and 2004 World Series Champion Lenny DiNardo. Our team only won one game all week (the first one), but I maintain that I had the best coaches and teammates in the entire camp.

From our wounded warrior teammates to our super fan, living the dream teammates, we were all there for the same reason. To play the game we love with every ounce of our hearts.

By the end of the week, I was barely mobile and getting made fun of by every single 70-something camper in the hotel...but it was totally worth it.

I had a sprained ankle, a swollen knee and I couldn't feel my right arm due to the pain, but I felt like a million bucks.

The week was an emotional one for my family and the longtime campers as well. The whole reason for my brother and I being there was because my father had passed away just a year earlier and the campers and camp runners wanted to keep the Venditti name in camp and let us come to fill the void left by Pops.

The entire week was just one long memorial and remembrance of the legend that was my father.

Every had had the number 45 stitched into the side, the number my mother and I chose for him back in 2000 when we first sent him to camp...obviously because of Pedro Martinez. The camp even went as far as to have an entire banquet night dedicated to my father and retired the number 45 from camp entirely.

That special night included a "State of Red Sox Nation" speech from the voice of the Red Sox, Joe Castiglione. I then had to follow my broadcast hero and try not to ball my eyes out...I think I held my own with the legend.

To close out the week, Nick and I were invited to join the two teams in the championship game played at Jet Blue Park, or as us Sox fans know it, Fenway South. We were split up and I was lucky enough to be on the winning team.

We held Dad's jersey up in our team photo, the team made a toast to his memory and I spent the next hour on one knee on the mound crying. I wouldn't give that memory up for any other in my life...

After camp concluded, Nick, Mom and I headed back to the East coast of Florida to Mom's house and had our own little Super Bowl watch party. Of course, the Patriots came up short as the Eagles won their first ever Super Bowl in franchise history, but that still may be my favorite Patriots Super Bowl viewing experience. Just felt like Pops was watching along side of us.

The Summer and fall led to more ups and downs in my personal life, but my fandom life kinda stayed on fire thanks to the historic season of my beloved Boston Red Sox.

The 2018 Red Sox were the best team in franchise history with 108-regular season wins and of course went on to win the 2018 World Series, only losing 3-playoff games on the way.

This seems obvious for me to be happy about, but if you reference the last segment of this piece, you'll know that this was the first Red Sox championship since I lost my father.

My Red Sox fandom (and oddly enough my Sacramento Kings fandom, but that's another story) is all thanks to Al Venditti. He raised me Red Sox, he taught me everything about the joy and pain of being a die hard Sox fan and he even showed me how to properly cuss at the television when the team is garbage....or when umpires are.

My relationship with my father was founded on Red Sox baseball, the framing was Red Sox baseball and even the insulation was Red Sox baseball.

We lived for this team together.

Dad would have absolutely loved this 2018 squad. With the super stars like Sale and Martinez to the Gamecock Sox and their heroics in the post-season. This Sox team was the perfect team for fans like us.

So on October 28th, 14-years and 1-day after the 2004 World Series championship, the Red Sox once again raised the Commissioners Trophy and I once again popped a bottle in my apartment...but this bottle was more than just celebration. It was remembrance and it was, in the end, a thank you to the man who introduced me to this undying, undeniable and unrelenting love for the game and our Red Sox.

Now, here we are...once again...on December 31, 2018. Tomorrow is a new year, literally, and just as always I'm preparing to watch my Patriots in the playoffs...and as always I'll have to wait an extra week to do so.

This will be the most homer part of this blog...your second warning...

It's pretty hilarious to me how desperate folks are getting about their hopes and dreams of the end of the Patriots dynasty. They want so badly to see Brady fade away and the Patriots return to the mediocrity I grew up with....and eventually they will.

The issue I have is the need to reach SO far to find reasons why you're hopeful this is the end.

Yes, 11-5 is the Patriots worst record with Brady at the helm in quite some time...but they still have a first round bye. Of course Tom Brady doesn't look like the MVP we've known him to be...but he's 41-years-old and still winning.

I like how former Steelers DB Ryan Clark explained it on ESPN. Brady isn't falling off a cliff, he's just becoming more human.

We've never seen him make errors that every other QB in the league makes, so when it happens, the negativity wagon jumps on the "it's all over" narrative. To me, he just messed up. It happens.

The most fun, at least today, to come out of this "down year" for the Patriots is the Week 14 and Week 15 celebrations by the fans of our rivals in Miami and Pittsburgh...I hope y'all enjoy that regular season Super Bowl, guys.

Oh, and fun fact. All 5-teams to beat the Patriots this season fell apart and missed the playoffs. Not sure why that matters or why it means anything, I just find it hilarious. That'll make you think twice about beating the Pats!

Alright, that's gonna do it for this very different edition of Inside the Mind of Ditti.

With the year ending and a new one beginning, I once again have to thank each and every one of you for your endless support, not only with my career dreams but in my personal day-to-day life.

My mental illness makes life difficult, but it doesn't define me and I do so much better at battling it thanks to all of you and your support. So thank you.

As always, you can find my work both here and at ESPNUpstate.radio.com. Podcasts are available on Google Play, Apple Podcasts, iHeartRadio and Spreaker.

And, in the immortal words of Bill and Ted, be excellent to each other.

Have a safe and happy New Years

-Ditti

Find me on Twitter (@Ditti33), Instagram (dittius33) and Facebook (/InsideTheMindOfDitti).

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