I see other fans at the games that I recognize. I don't know all of their names, but they've been there for as long as I have. Some longer. The concourse consensus: This Commodore guy shouldn't be here. Look at what he says about our town. Who does he think he is? He's doing no good here. Get out!
Commie wasn't moving, still with his back to me. Silently, I glided toward him, picking up speed with each stride. Halfway toward this perceived pariah, I started to raise my hands. Commie, I thought, this is from all of us. Us in Springfield. Us in Columbus. My hands, now parallel to the ice and at head height, I hit the defenseless Commie with all my might. Satisfied at the crushing blow on an unwitting defender, I tucked my weapon, my keyboard, under my arm and skated off into the night.
Last week, I wrote about the miserable season of Mike Commodore. In places, I made comments that were not in keeping with our journalistic ideals here. More about that later. However, first and foremost for anybody offended, I offer my apology.
This past Sunday started much like any of the other 364 days. Early morning coffee and email. One message stood out from the rest. It was forwarded to me from The Dark Blue Jacket. Tom was a standup guy in forwarding a message that was for somebody who is not even on his own writing staff. I recall something about Commodore in the subject line. I read and re-read it, and one line kept jumping out at me:
It's rare that anybody has to tell me to "man up". I'd go so far as to put it in the "never happens" category. Even if it puts me in peril, I gladly do so. So while it was apparent that Commie took issue with just about everything I said in the column, the time came to "man up".
For the next couple of days, I went back and re-read my article. Several times. The most damning reference was to Commie being a cancer in the dressing room. I wasn't comfortable with that phrase when I wrote the piece. The use of it several days after the fact didn't improve it's literary merit at all. Were there issues on that team? I believe there were. Could the singular factor in the Falcons dismal season all be put on one man's shoulders? The short answer is indeed "no".
The time came to "man up". I had a break in my schedule that allowed me to call. When I sat down at my desk, I remember looking out a window. Almost as if an entire class of first graders were there, I could hear the voices. In that sing-songy melody:
"Sticks and stones can break by bones, but names will never hurt me!"
As that tune played itself over and over and over in my head I thought, so what the hell is this all about anyway? What exactly is the big deal? A little thin skinned, eh? There had to be more to it than that, so I picked up the phone.
There was no apprehension on my part. I was hopeful that if I was able to get any more than a minute of his time, I might actually get to scratch the surface of the recently ended season. In other words, get Commie's take on things.
After we were connected, Mike summarily told me what he thought of my alleged writing skills. There was something in this part of the conversation that was unexpected. While he rightly chastised me for what I wrote, his comments were never directed at me personally. Just the prose. I was an easy target, yet Commie didn't knock me down and hand my ass to me with a side of fries when he could have done so quickly and then simply hung up the phone.
Commie's concerns came down to three areas. One, the cancer part. Two and three, his perception as a "drunk" and a "gambler" (in quotes because those were his words). As stated previously, the cancer comment didn't sit well with me. However, the latter two were not part of the original story. I explained this to him. He said that he didn't have a computer and didn't, therefore, have the piece in front of him. Simply put, I wrote that I'd like to spend time in a bar with Commie. It could have just as easily been "at the mall", "at the beach". Hell, even walking the streets of "The Jungle". The gambling comment was at the inclusion of a betting term (perfecta), something which I'm sure is common knowledge to a race horse owner.
After the initial "manning up" on my part, Commodore actually sounded comfortable with our conversation. He was extremely generous with his time. He didn't have to be. Not in the least. I appreciate the fact that we were able to talk for nearly 20 minutes. Mike Commodore by no means had to "man up" to me, but he truly went above and beyond.
All that said, Commie touched on a variety of subjects. What follows here are quotes from our conversation. I transcribed them exactly as they were spoken. They are all used with his permission.
About only playing 11 games for the Falcons:
"There were nine defensemen down there. Nine defensemen, most of them are all young...It's the end of the year. It's the last 15-20 games. The team isn't going to make the playoffs. I'm not really part of the organization any more. Yeah, I'm getting paid because they owe me money. But I'm not really part of the organization any more."
About being a distraction in the room:
"I could have been a cancer in the locker room. I could have been an asshole. I could have made a huge stink about it. But you know what? I didn't. I understood."
He confirmed that downtown Springfield was indeed "The Jungle":
"I was living downtown. I walked around at night a few times. It's not really a place you want to walk around at night. But really, I have nothing against Springfield."
About being sent to Springfield:
"Things didn't work out in Columbus. There was a thing between me and the coach."
About contributing to the Falcons:
"I'm doing more good for the Springfield Falcons by going out and practicing every day because they don't have a "D" coach - a coach for the defensemen - trying to help the kids out there."
The audio from which I transcribed was a little bumpy directly after this quote. Mike added that he was always available for the young defensemen when they had questions and he answered all of them.
About his status:
"I'm under contract for two more years with the Blue Jackets. What they decide, the ball is in their court. What they decide to do, I don't know. All I'm doing is preparing for next year. Wherever that ends up, I don't know. I have no idea. It's not in my hands."
About his abbreviated season in Columbus (the topic transitioned as he was talking about stats):
"The stat guys had the wrong - honestly in the 20 games I was 2 goals, 4 assists, honestly I was probably -2 which is right in line with the rest of the team. It's a .500 team - at the time, that's where it was."
Summing up the 2010-2011 season:
"If you think my year was a joke, you can say that - it was a joke. I mean, I played 31 games. Do you think I worked my ass off all summer, every day, other than Sundays to play 31 games in a year? No, I don't do that. Did I want that? No, I didn't want that. But it was taken from - it's out of my hands. And I did everything I could."
We closed our conversation and then the reflection began. My first thought was that Mike Commodore was a man's man. He took the time to talk about things that were difficult for both of us. He didn't owe that to me or anyone else, but he did it anyway. Like a man, he accepted my apology and I thanked him for his time.
Last, and to me more telling, was something that the above quotes cannot convey. The frustration and emotion behind his words. To me, for 20 minutes on a Tuesday afternoon in a playoff-less month of May, Mike Commodore's voice rang true with the desire to get back to the National Hockey League. By the same token, I have to conclude that unless he and Scott Arniel can find their peace, it simply won't be as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets.