Best of Fred: No. 50

Best of Fred: No. 50

Retiring executive sports editor Fred Kroner has seen a lot in his 34 years at The News-Gazette. Each Sunday until his last day, he'll share his best stories. This week:

Folks often ask what’s my favorite sport to cover.

Truthfully, one appeal of this job is the vast number of sporting options available to watch. There aren’t any dislikes.

Under the influence of truth serum, however, two co-favorites would likely be revealed: baseball/softball (listed as one entry because of the expression, “You can’t beat fun at the ol’ ballpark”) and basketball.

On Thursday, July 16, 1981, I was driving east on Washington Street in Urbana, en route to Prairie Park for the first two games of the 19th District American Legion baseball tournament.

In those days, I rarely listened to the radio, unless the Cubs were playing. For some reason, I turned on the radio late that afternoon. In the middle of a set of songs, the news broke that Harry Chapin had died earlier in the day in an accident on a rain-slickened New York freeway.

I didn’t have much enthusiasm for the baseball doubleheader where I watched Mattoon beat Rantoul 4-1 and Decatur handle Champaign 5-2.

I never had performers as role models, but I made an exception for Chapin, an entertainer like none other I saw before or since.

I am the person who:

— Bought tickets to both shows when he played the UI Auditorium twice on the same night;

— Convinced the ushers after the first show that those of us with tickets to the second show shouldn’t have to leave the building and get in the back of the long line (since there were no reserved seats) and successfully wound up with a second-row aisle seat for the encore;

— To this day still plays at least one Chapin CD each day I’m in my vehicle.

Some people remember where they were when President Kennedy was assassinated. I’ll never forget my location when I learned the news about Harry Chapin’s passing. Had I been past my six-month probationary period, I’m sure I would have asked for the night off.