Dan Kazmierski missed Thanksgiving dinner with his wife, Teri, and his kids, Amy, Emily and Chet.
For Dan, this was sad, because Dan loves his family, and he loves to eat. For the rest of us, it was admirable, because Dan also works for the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, and when FEMA was seeking volunteers to help the people back East dig out from Hurricane Sandy, he was among the first responders to sign up for 45 days of digging out.
“It was just my Polish-Catholic upbringing,” Kazmierski, 52, said about raising his hand.
Dan Kazmierski grew up in Hammond, Ind., in the industrial Chicago suburbs. He went to Mass every Sunday at St. Casimir Catholic Church in North Hammond and played on the offensive line for the George Rogers Clark High football team. After he moved to Southern Nevada in 2006, he became president of Green Valley Little League.
When he arrived on Long Island, one of the first scenes he came upon was of the good people of Belle Harbor, all without power, many without homes, trying to salvage a baseball diamond that was under water. Seaweed and other debris was stuck in the outfield fence.
Kazmierski couldn’t believe the destruction and the havoc and the burned-out homes and the hopelessness – CNN didn’t do it justice, he said – so he began to write it all down. He took pictures, and posted stuff on Facebook:
■ On Nov. 12, he encountered a woman and her 5-year-old son sleeping on the second floor of a house that was without heat, electricity or food.
■ On Nov. 13, he met a 90-year-old Breezy Point woman who was trying to stay warm by placing bottles of boiled water in aluminum foil and wrapping the bottles in a blanket. “Her house had been knocked off its foundation. She had nowhere else to go.”
■ On Nov. 18, reflection: “It has been two weeks since I have been deployed to assist FEMA with Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts. My team has visited over 1,200 homes. I have never been so humbled. My view of life has been changed forever.”
■ On Nov. 20, death: “Just came across a man crying on his porch. I asked what was wrong. Right before the surge from Sandy hit, his wife went into the basement. She wanted to get some pictures. The surge broke through the basement windows and the glass cut her neck. No emergency (personnel) could get to them. She bled to death in his arms. After pulling out my rosary and sharing prayers and tears with him, I had to move on. He is forever in my heart.”
■ On Nov. 22, Thanksgiving dinner: Kazmierski ladled sweet potatoes onto the paper plates of the displaced in a tent on Belle Harbor. He didn’t feel like eating.
So, en route to the TS Kennedy, the maritime academy training ship in New York Harbor where he sleeps, he stopped at White Castle.
This reminded him of being back home in Indiana. This also reminded him that in a couple of weeks, he would be going back to his second home, in Green Valley, to be with his wife and his kids, and they will have Christmas dinner with trimmings. And it will be good to be home, and it will be good to have light when you flick the switch.
And before you know it, it will be baseball season. And then Dan Kazmierski will think of the seaweed in the outfield fence and wonder if baseball season will ever be the same for the good people of Belle Harbor.
■ I see where the UNLV basketball team attempted only 10 3-pointers against Iowa State on Saturday, thereby ending hope any of the Rebels might have had of transferring to Grinnell College in Iowa. Except, perhaps, for Bryce Dejean-Jones.
■ With all respect due this kid Jack Taylor, who scored 138 points against Faith Baptist (Iowa) Bible College, Herbie Hancock still is Grinnell College’s most famous improvisationist. Just three years after graduating, Hancock joined Miles Davis’ “second great quintet” in 1963 – before there even was a 3-point line.
■ The Las Vegas Legends – our new indoor soccer team – are off to a 4-1 start and haven’t broken any lamps, which is what me and my brother did while playing indoor soccer against the baby sitter when we were kids. The team’s next game at Orleans Arena is Dec. 9 against Mexico.
■ I saw a picture of Las Vegan Shabazz Muhammad wearing black horn-rimmed spectacles – like LeBron wears – while waiting for the NCAA to rule on his eligibility at UCLA. Remember when black horn-rimmed glasses were for nerds?
■ Have you seen the ads for these tablets that can be connected to a computer keyboard that are supposed to be the next great thing? Fifteen years ago, when they were called laptops, A.J. Foyt threw one down the pit lane at Indianapolis when his driver ran out of fuel.
■ A bunch of people outside of Best Buy had set up tents on Wednesday waiting for Black Friday. Some said they couldn’t wait to buy a tablet that can be connected to a computer keyboard. Others said they weren’t leaving until the UNLV football team wins a road game.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.