On Holidays, Heroes and a Patriot Named Brady
In this Memorial Day edition, we’ll cover Tom Brady’s future, the punishment for Jim Irsay and Ray Rice, Super Bowl site voting, the continuing hoo-hah over a team name and a small-college baseball player with big-time patriotism
On this Memorial Day, we pause to remember the 1.3 million American soldiers who have died in war since our founding, and the 1.5 million who have been wounded. Thank you. Thank you again, to all who have served and sacrificed, and to those who now serve and sacrifice.
And to those who will serve, thank you in advance. I want to tell the story of one man in particular this morning: Joe Grimaldi of Hawthorne, N.J., a senior relief pitcher for the St. Thomas Aquinas (N.Y.) college baseball team, which opened NCAA Division II College World Series play last night in North Carolina … without Grimaldi. He has always had twin passions—baseball and military service. He pursued baseball hard, getting cut from two college teams before making the roster at a community college and enrolling at St. Thomas Aquinas for his last two years, and making the back end of the bullpen there. Knowing he was never going to be Mariano Rivera, Grimaldi decided to enlist in the Marines, with his reporting date coinciding with the end of his senior year at St. Thomas Aquinas. Grimaldi threw 7.2 scoreless innings out of the bullpen for the team this year, and St. Thomas Aquinas earned a spot in the World Series. But Grimaldi’s report date is May 27—Tuesday—and his enlistment officer said it could not be delayed.
Grimaldi has been playing baseball since he was 6. Local teams, travel teams, high school teams, college teams. He loved being on a team, banding together every spring and summer and being part of a team, trying to beat whoever his team was playing. Now, before the biggest week of his baseball life, it was over. He didn’t seem to be mourning about it. With the Marines, he said, he would get to be a part of a similar brotherhood, at a higher level.
“Being at the College World Series is the thing I wanted to do second-most in the world,” Grimaldi told WINS radio in New York. “And the thing I wanted to do first-most is to be a Marine. So … I’m okay with it. What they’re doing is so much more important than baseball.”
Good luck, Private Grimaldi.
* * *
Tom Brady, not in the twilight.
Sometimes, Tom Brady gets slapped in the face that he’s still a pretty big deal, even with no Super Bowl titles for going on a decade now. His charity of choice, Best Buddies, which fosters relationships and employment training for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, asked him to make a trip to Houston for a private Best Buddies dinner and auction. “I sat next to this man’s wife at dinner, and it was a really good night,” Brady said. “He’s been very supportive of Best Buddies, and he was that night.” I should say: The man bid $100,000 for a spot to play in Brady’s touch football game this Friday as part of the 15th annual Best Buddies Challenge, part of a fund-raiser that brought in $850,000 in one night for the organization. Not bad: Half a day in Houston, almost a million bucks for the charity he’s passionate about. Which left him grateful, and a little dazed about raising that much in Texans country, half a country away from his team.
“I shake my head about a lot of things these days,” Brady said.
Not much changes for Brady, except the calendar. He goes to some horse races in the offseason, squires his famous wife to A-list events, throws the football with his receivers, is very serious about this charity venture, works on his throwing motion with mechanics doctor Tom House and tries to beat his fellow Patriots to offseason workouts at Gillette Stadium. Time marches on, and he’ll be 37 in August. The other day he used his 6:20 a.m. drive from Boston to Foxboro to talk about his present and future, but not to dish very specifically about anything.
My favorite Brady line from our 40-minute chat, talking about longevity: “You know, you don’t have to suck when you get older.”
Said Brady: “It’s hard to explain this to people, but the commitment I make, in terms of keeping my body in shape and my nutrition right, should make me healthy. I feel better today than when I was 25, and I know that’s hard for people to believe, but I do. I work at it. Basically, I work all off-season to prepare my body to not get hurt. I can’t help the team if I’m on the sidelines. I’ve got to be durable.”
So he works with House, the former baseball pitcher and maestro to many pro quarterbacks and major-league pitchers, and he is diligent about his eating and fitness. But beyond that, he’s not going to help you with specifics.
“It’s all very well-researched,” Brady said. “But that’s for the other guys to figure out. I’m not going to give away any state secrets. I’m not here to be king of the weight room. I do things to make me a better quarterback, whatever they are. Does it work? You be the one to judge. Watch me play. Then draw your own conclusions.”
Since returning at age 32 in 2009 from his one major NFL injury—the knee reconstruction after the injury suffered on opening day 2008—Brady has started all 89 Patriots game. So the durability is spotless, obviously. And the results? It’s pretty amazing to consider that, even with the 16-0, 50-touchdown-pass season of 2007 included in the pre-knee-surgery category, he’s been better in his 30s, and after the knee surgery, than he was in his 20s. Look:
|Brady, 2001-2007 (before the surgery)||12.3||2,293-3,639||.630||197-86||92.98|
|Brady, 2009-2013 (after the surgery)||12.2||1,877-2,933||.640||162-48||99.26|
Now, Brady and his cadre of mostly inexperienced receivers suffered last year, and he had his lowest completion mark (.605) since 2003; his touchdown total (25) was his lowest since 2006. So there’s been that to focus on this offseason. As well as the draft: Bill Belichick waded into the second round to take Jimmy Garoppolo of Eastern Illinois, his highest pick of a quarterback in the time that Brady has been his starter. It’s the second time Belichick has spent a fairly high pick on a passer in recent years. In 2011 he used the 74th overall selection on Ryan Mallett. This year Garoppolo was the 62nd overall choice.
Mallett’s been in the witness protection program since draft day 2011; he’s thrown four passes in his three NFL seasons. Even when the Patriots are routing foes, which is often, Mallett hasn’t played. Though Brady is entering his 13th starting season, he hopes Belichick’s just wasted another pick on Garoppolo.
Don’t expect Brady to ever say that. But there’s no question that’s how he feels.
“I had a pretty good idea we’d take a quarterback,” Brady said. “Coach Belichick doesn’t care who the quarterback is here. He’s always going to play the guy who he thinks gives him the best chance to win. It’s not my role to choose players here, thankfully. And this is not the first time they’ve taken another quarterback either. There’s no entitlement in the NFL. I don’t expect to be given anything. I just hope I’m the one most entitled to play that position for a long time here.”
Three other Brady quickies:
On wanting to play for multiple years: “There’s nothing that can wake me up at 5 o’clock in the morning on a Thursday in May like getting ready for a day of football. I want to play a long time. There’s nothing I like doing that’s close to football. What’ll I do when I’m done playing? I don’t know, but I know it won’t be nearly as fun. I can tell you neither me nor Peyton [Manning] will probably be very far from the game of football when we’re done.”
On the nine-year Super Bowl-win drought: “It’s hard to win. Thirty-two teams are working hard to try to win it every year, and we’ve been close … 14-2, the Super Bowl in 2011, the AFC Championship Game in 2012 and 2013. You get to those games, and you have to play your best to win, and we haven’t. I haven’t. We had too many opportunities we missed last year in Denver. And then what it comes down to is only one team really had a great season at the end.”
On self-scouting: “Sometimes we’ll be watching tape and [offensive coordinator] Josh McDaniels will say to me, ‘What happened on that play?’ And I’ll say, ‘I missed it. I just missed it.’ Throwing a football is a very, very tough to thing to do consistently well. Other sports too. You think when LeBron tries a three-pointer he’s aiming for the back of the rim, hopes he hits the back of the rim? Of course not. On an approach shot in golf, are you trying to miss by four feet? No—you want to get it in, or within two inches. That’s why, to me, it’s so important to work in the off-season perfecting mechanics. Say you’re off 1 percent on your mechanics of throwing in one week, and you don’t fix it. Over four weeks, if you keep going, that’s 4 percent that you’re off. And you say, ‘Why am I not throwing the ball as crisply as I need to? I was the 199th pick in the draft for a reason. I need to maximize my efficiency, my mechanics and my reps to be sure I stay on top of my game.”
Now he was in Foxboro. The clock struck 7. Last question: “How’s it been to work and throw against Darrelle Revis so far?”
“I’m tired of throwing against him, that’s for sure,’’ Brady said. “I did tell him, ‘Hey, we plan on building a couple of hotels on your island over there, so don’t be offended.’ ”
The 15th annual Best Buddies Challenge takes place this weekend, beginning Friday night in Boston and culminating on Cape Cod on Saturday. There’s a touch football game, with Brady quarterbacking and mates Julian Edelman, Vince Wilfork and others playing, Friday night in Boston, followed by a Guy Fieri-led cookout; a 20-, 50- or 100-mile bike event from Boston to Cape Cod Saturday with Tour de France veteran George Hincapie (Bill Belichick has ridden the past couple of years); and a five-mile run/walk with Olympian Carl Lewis on Saturday. Best Buddies is aiming to set a fundraising record for the Massachusetts event this year—$4 million.