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Put Me In, Coach

Funny's friends throw him a curveball.

I don't really care for many of my friends, so generally I do not support their extracurriculars. Oh, I'll pretend to stand behind them. I'll show up at their concerts or attend their company picnics, but this is really a false sort of support, a passive-aggressive means of pushing them further and faster along the dire path they're taking, a path I can see clearly but they have yet to realize is laden with poverty and disease. Because when a friend fizzles out like a wet sparkler on the Fourth of July, you feel that much better about your own life path. Viewed through the prism of a close buddy's failures, your successes seem all the more grand, your harebrained schemes not as cerebrally fuzzy. When What's So Funny correspondent and roommate Monty made a short-lived attempt to enter the World's Strongest Man Competition, his practice runs pushing tractor tires down our street were as heartbreaking as they were hilarious, and they made my short-lived attempt to dominate northwest Denver real estate all the more forgivable. No harm, no foul.

But lately, a few of my friends have impressed me with the way they are spending their Sundays, eliciting a genuine tolerance of their behavior, if not an actual sense of pride.

Allow me to introduce you to the Denver Browns.

When my buddy Brett moved out to Colorado, he planned to stay with me for the first few months. The morning he arrived, he informed me that he had baseball practice in an hour and that I would be driving him to it. Brett had played ball in college, even screwed around with a semi-pro team afterward, and unbeknownst to me, he'd arranged a position on a team before he ever hit town. I did not appreciate this behavior; I found it audacious and arrogant, similar to when Brett gels his hair. Still, I drove him to his first practice with the Denver Bulls, and I listened all season, bored as an autistic child, as Brett regaled me with tales of his efforts on the diamond. But Brett didn't really mesh with that squad, nor did Gino Grasso, a buddy he made there. So at the end of the season, Gino took it upon himself to create his own team in the National Adult Baseball Association.

"We wanted to do something a little more than just being another team," Gino explains. "We wanted to branch out into the community."

And by community, he means bar. Gino worked out a sponsorship deal with Three Dogs Tavern and whipped up some T-shirts and a website, www.denverbrowns.com. He also put together a squad that comprises former college players and a few guys who'd dabbled in various professional leagues before hanging up their big-league dreams, as well as an old coach of Brett's, Chris Campassi, who, when not watching NASCAR, likes to hit the snot out of a ball. They held a fundraiser at Three Dogs, where a million beers were consumed and the slogan "Do work, son" was christened. Last season, the Browns did enough work to finish 13-5, son, but they lost in the semi-finals to the Reds.

This year, they're out to win it all. I know, because every time I go to Brett's — he now lives with Chris and Gino — Gino tells me this. Well, this, and that I should buy a Browns T-shirt. Then, when I buy the Browns T-shirt, he tells me how they've hooked up with the baseball coach at Manual High School, where they play all their home games, and that they're offering free monthly clinics to inner-city kids to try to push baseball in areas where it's not readily available. When I start feeling guilty for not doing anything nearly as philanthropic, Gino makes me feel more guilty by pointing out how I haven't attended a single Browns game. At this point. I typically say, "Hey, Gino, look — I think that's Craig Biggio walking down the street!" and then I dive out a back window.

But recently, the Browns got to me. Maybe because I'm a hopeless romantic for baseball. Maybe it's because they were playing at East High School, and I like to visit my alma mater. Maybe it was because it was a beautiful Sunday. More likely, it was because this was another opportunity to try to pick up girls with my puppy. (By the way, that effort is so not working — I think she's broken or something.) For whatever reason, I was there to watch the Browns come from behind, and I have to say, they were doing some real work out there. Son. But according to Gino, it's no work at all; it's truly a labor of love.

Even if having to genuinely support your friends is not.

 
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