Charles J. Diggins - Beer League Hall of Fame
A few weeks back, I received the “In or Out?” roll call email from my Wednesday-night beer league organizer checking to see who was going to show up for our skate. But this note was different; it read:
OK, Boys, our first skate is tomorrow (Wednesday November 2nd). Is everyone ready? We start at 9:55, be there a little early and bring $100—easy as that!
The goalies will be John and Taylor.
I know Jason will not be there; he is working on his tan at the Red Wing nuclear plant.
Who else will NOT be there tomorrow? Please let me know!
On a sad note, one of our distinguished colleagues has decided to call it a career while he is still on top. Chuck Diggins has decided to retire. He has been a part of this program for longer than I have and has a number of records to take with him. Those records include:
Chuck, you will be missed! Please feel free to join us any time!
Kinger - If you feel the need to write a proper send-off for Chuck, be my guest!
See you boys at the rink!
Needless to say, I was disappointed that Chuck, a Wednesday-night teammate of mine for years on the white team, had decided to sneak away like a fart in church. Not cool, prompting my Reply-All response:
One more skate!
One more skate!
Chuck, you can't walk away without a proper stick tap from the group—especially after coining my favorite Wednesday-night word:
Chuckus -noun. Any ruckus involving Chuck.
I'll be there tomorrow night. Come skate one more time before you hang up the blades. Let us see you off in style.
Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.
So, come out tomorrow and fade away, Chuck.
One more skate!
One more skate!
Who's with me?!
After a good skate, Chuck and the boys would tip them back at the historic 617 in White Bear
Truth was, we were going to miss Chuck. I specifically was going to miss Chuck, and it wasn’t only because best I could tell at the tender age of 60, he was the only player I might be better than out there. No, we were going to miss Chuck because he was a bona fide beer league original. He had the old three-piece helmet that resembled wrestling gear with the hair sticking out the top. Chuck was not a small man, and he played the game like a human bowling ball, turning on his heels, and routinely running people over like bugs on the windshield. He was likeable as hell, all the way down to his fogged-up wire-rim glasses after every shift.
It took a few weeks, but we finally did get Chuck out to the White Bear Lake Hippodrome for one last Wednesday night. But much to my surprise, Chuck showed up in his street clothes.
When I badgered him like the jackass I am, he surprised me by explaining that he had broken a blood vessel in his eye. He had lost a lot of sight in one eye, and it was messing up his balance (if you know Chuck, there’s a joke in here somewhere). And, while the doctor hadn’t specifically ruled out playing hockey, it seemed like the right thing to hang up the blades.
So, even though Chuck was no longer able to skate with us, he had come out to the rink for one last evening of fellowship with the fellas, a bit of coaching from the bench, and a trip to the 617 bar in downtown White Bear for some postgame barley pops with the boys.
Chuck’s last night left four indelible impressions on me. Appropriately, the first was a dumb joke. Chuck was coaching the opposite team for a bit, and they were beating my squad. I turned to the guy next to me and said, “How are we possibly supposed to win if they have Chuck coaching them? He knows all our secrets.” To which he responded, “Yeah. I can hear him coaching from here. ‘Body! Body! Body! Say you’re sorry! Body! Body! Body! Say you’re sorry!’ ”
Second, when the buzzer finally went off, we called Chuck to center ice and gave him a stick salute. He stood with his hands in his pockets, as you’d expect Chuck to.
Thirdly, the brief debate as to whether Chuck should in fact continue playing only with an eye patch on his bad eye like the puck pirate he’s always been.
But the most meaningful moment in Chuck’s Last Stand had to be a brief exchange I had with another guy about Chuck. I turned to him as I was taking off my gear and said, “Man, I’ve been playing with Chuck for over ten years, and I don’t even know his last name. I don’t know where he works.” To which he gave me a knowing glance and said, “Isn’t that great? That’s the way it’s supposed to be. The rest of the time we have to worry about that stuff, but not here. Here we just play.”
Needless to say, this left me a bit choked up, so I’ve decided to induct the honorable Charles J. Diggins, better known as Chuck from the white team, into the beer league hall of fame.
The White Bear Lake Hipprodome, home of our weekly skate.
To finish, below is an oral history. I’ve collected a few kind words from the guys who shared the ice with Chuck on Wednesday nights for years:
"The thing I like best about Chuck is that he doesn't discriminate on the ice. He could take out a player on the other team, or easily a player on his own team! Most of the time his own team..."
I will miss our weekly collisions. It's been a pleasure playing hockey with you for 20-plus years!"
"One night years & years ago, Chuck accidently ran-ME-over. While we were lying there and before I could say anything, he looked at me and said, “I’m OK, no worries…”
"As the "manager" of the squad, I would often bring in extra skaters to ensure there were enough people on each bench. My warning to them would be, "Watch out for Chuck; it doesn't matter what team he's on, he may run you over. He is built like a bowling ball, so beware."
Chuck has a way of doing things on the ice no one else would. He might make a turn back into the zone when everyone else is trying to leave. You just never know what he is going to do.
Nicest guy out there; he would knock you down and be apologizing before you hit the ice. He would always stop to help you get up, too!
For someone who was "the checking line,” he did have five goals one night!"
"I have taken myself to the ice numerous times to avoid crashing with Chuck, yet that avoidance was never used on the other "chuck" side of the possible collision. Second, it may be used by many, but you gotta love the number of "apologies " that Chuck put out after he layed you out. I think it falls in the line of "Do what you have to and ask for forgiveness later.”
- Rob-Left defense. Both white and dark teams.
"Here you go. I have played with Chuck for 12-plus years. Here are a few things:
1) Would apologize for scoring on me when I was playing goalie.
2) Would apologize during a hit on the ice.
3) Chuck came to the rink in a good mood always. Truly played for love of the game.
4) Once I told him “Nice goal!” on a play, and he responded with “Did I score that?” Amazing.
5) He always played with a smile. "
"I remember Chuck would thank me for passing to him when returning from a shift and then apologize for not capitalizing on the scoring chance."
- Brian– Forward, White Team
"I have only two years experience [playing with Chuck], but the feeling I will remember is sitting on the half wall pulling a pass out of my skates waiting for Chuck. I felt like the lone swimmer in Jaws, and his preemptive "Sorry" was like sitting in the open water and hearing the Royal Philharmonic playing the classic John Williams’ “dun-nuh . . .dun-nuh” piece. By the time you processed it, you were going down."
"Did anyone talk about the car he used to drive to the games? I’m not sure about his last few years, but when I started playing way back when, he drove an old “boat”……..big 4-door 80’s sedan. . .
His gear (leather helmet, wood stick, steel blades) matched his ride….or vice versa. Chuck: Always styling with his gear & ride, but unfortunately that rebellious flowing hair was always contritely harnessed in a pony-tail."
"As a goalie, nothing would create more fear than Chuck getting loose with a puck on his stick. I mean, when he has no idea where the shot is gonna go, how the hell am I supposed to?!"
"I give you a Haiku to ponder
Skating with head down
Ominous strides closing fast
Quickly duck, it's Chuck!"
"My first time skating with the group, I was picking up the puck behind the net. I felt pressure coming behind me, so I thought I would reverse behind the net... after getting completely railroaded from the backside and crashing to the ice in a clump, all I could hear was "Sooorrrryyy" as Chuck proceeded to crash himself into the corner.... oh, by the way, he was on my team."
"Chuck never met a teammate he wouldn't run over!"
"Of all of the facets that make up life at the rink with Chuck, about which I will no doubt reminisce and wax poetic for years to come, I'll remember most the smile, the genuine smile that says, "I'm happy to be here" and "I'm happy to see you.” Chuck wore that smile when he greeted you at the rink, when he was putting away an unexpected one-timer, when he was chopping his way down the ice in his "where-did-you-even-get-that?" retro gear (brownish-gray ponytail flowing), and when he was breaking up a frequent scoring chance for Ben and Joe; but he also wore that smile when he was tumbling to the ice (a frequent occurrence), when he was sending any of us tumbling to the ice (also a frequent occurrence), and when the beloved white squad lost two in a row to the bad guys. Chuck's smile reflects optimism, life lessons, and wisdom that we will strive to preserve in his retirement."