Thursday, February 4, 2010

Literati Glitterati

This is another in a series on celebrity authors.

George Plimpton was an author, journalist and actor. Some of his books were first-hand accounts of sports as he actually entered the field of competition. Perhaps Plimpton's most well-known book is Paper Lion, a book about his experience as a quarterback in training camp with the Detroit Lions. My favorite Plimpton book is Open Net, detailing his time as a goaltender with the Boston Bruins.
The great thing about Open Net is that it is a little bit of everything. Plimpton brings some of the nuts and bolts of the great game of hockey, while interspersing some interesting stories of some of the players. All of this is done with he backdrop of Plimpton's "participation-journalism". Plimpton didn't just write about the Boston Bruins training camp, he was part of it. While Plimpton wasn't actually vying for a position on the Bruins roster, he went through the rigors (and the hijinx) as if he was. Plimpton gave readers a rare firsthand look at life on and off the ice for a hockey player, but through the eyes of an average guy.
Plimpton's brothers in goal included Gerry Cheevers (Hall of Famer), Gilles Gilbert and Jim "Seaweed" Pettie (Plimpton's training camp roommate and my favorite). Legend has it that Pettie got his nickname because the stringy, wild look of his hair looked during games.
Pettie is a great guy and a hockey fan as much as he was a hockey player.
I recently contacted Pettie and he was glad to contribute to this, stating, "especially to expand the fan base or interest of the greatest game going." He says he still gets asked a lot about Plimpton (or "Pimple" as he was called).
Pettie started by saying, "I will always treasure that experience. He was so easy to be with. The stories he told us about his exploits were amazing...and he told all of the stories with the humilty of having a beer with a neighbor."
Plimpton's humility is evident in the fact that he didn't just grandstand and get some time in the nets during an exhibition game. Plimpton did the work and l
earned the ropes along the way. Plimpton studied and leaned on his goalie mates for instruction. When he finally took the ice against the Flyers, he was as ready as could be. He was even ready (although a bit hesitant) to face the penalty shot by Reg Leach (a shot conspired by his Bruins' teammates).
After the experience, Plimpton didn't just leave his hockey friends behind. According to Pettie, "Whenever he was close to or in Rochester, he would always find the time to meet me to have a beer and reminisce. He said being with the Bruins was one of his best experiences and he considered me his friend."
I have often heard that hockey players (especially those not so recent) make strong bonds and friendships with teammates and maintain them long after retiring. Plimpton seems to have adopted that hockey trait as well. While I am not exactly "friends" with Pettie, I do feel fortunate that the book and this experience has allowed me to get to know him better. I really hope to eventually meet Pettie.
Through the book, I learned a lot about hockey, players from my youth and Plimpton himself. I really couldn't ask for much more out of this book.
Jim Pettie (left) and George Plimpton-late 1970's.

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