The Fourth of July was always a festive event while growing up in New York. The lakes in the Adirondack Mountains were still very cold but not unbearable and it marked the beginning of the short, but very active swimming season.

Our family was pretty big on pitching a tent at one of the many state-run campsites for the Fourth of July weekend, if there were any available. The state of New York certainly couldn’t have gotten very rich on the campsite rental which was 50 cents per night back in the early 1950’s and then doubled to a dollar  in the late ‘50’s.

When I was old enough to drive—a junior’s operator’s license test was available at age 16 but you couldn’t drive after dark until age 18, 17 with driver’s ed.—a couple of my buds and I would drive the 60 mile trip up to the Sacandaga State Park a couple of days early to make sure we got a campsite and pitched the tent.

We spent the day swimming, picnicking and scouting out the chicks who were camping with their parents at the park for future reference.

 There always was a lot going on during the Fourth of July weekend at the Sacandaga State Park and the small Hamlet of Wells, which was about five miles up the winding highway through the middle of the mountains. The Sacandaga River was really just a rushing creek that was dammed up for swimming at the picnic grounds.

It was a great way to forget about the heat and the hustle and bustle of the large city of Schenectady and just relax and pitch horseshoes, quoits and always have a campfire going. There was nobody around who could beat my father at a game of quoits, especially after he had a couple of “Polish pilsners.”

There was no electricity to fool with just an ice chest to keep the perishable food and drinks cold, a Coleman cook-stove and a Coleman lantern for after dark, which didn’t occur at that time of the year until after 9:30 p.m. We slept on cots.

Beyond the camping, picnic and swimming areas was the only link to civilization—a store named Girard’s that sold bread, milk cold drinks and had a dance hall attached where square dancing took place on Saturday nights.

The Fourth of July was a big deal at Sacandaga State Park some 50 years ago, but it sure has calmed down for us. Last weekend we spent a very quiet one at home, hoping to watch some of the events on TV that were happening.

Wife Susan and I even followed Fourth of July tradition by grilling hamburgers and hot dogs, just for the two of us.

 Not caring for tennis or soccer and with Tiger Woods shooting himself out of contention early in the AT&T National Golf Tournament and the hitless Houston Astros playing after 9 p.m. on the left coast, it gave us a golden opportunity to tune in to the American Movie Classics which was showing John Wayne movies the entire weekend.

We enjoyed McClintock, The War Wagon, Cahill-U.S. Marshall, Chism, The Cowboys and Wayne’s final movie The Shootist . It seems as if there’s nothing better than watching a good old fashioned Western movie with John Wayne.

It almost made us forget how pathetic the Astros’ lack of hitting affected their four-game series at San Diego. Houston starters Brian Moehler, Roy Oswalt, Bud Norris and Brett Myers all pitched well enough to win with most teams.

However, thanks to the weak-hitting Astros, none of the starting pitchers were involved in a decision, as Houston managed to win only one of the four games, despite all of the pitchers registering quality starts. Oswalt and Norris both pitched seven innings of shutout baseball and couldn’t get one lousy run from their punch less teammates.

Strangely, all four games were won with the last at-bat as Houston won Thursday night 6-3, lost Friday 3-0, Saturday 1-0 and Sunday 3-2 mostly on physical or mental errors in the ninth inning.

The team is so mediocre, it was difficult to fulfill the All-Star rule of every team having at least one player and finally named center fielder Michael Bourne as a reserve outfielder.

Perhaps after an off-day Monday, the Astros will be able to hit better in more familiar surroundings as they host the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at Minute Maid Park in Houston and then entertain the St. Louis Cardinals this weekend before breaking for the All-Star game.

KWICKIES…Justin Rose almost let another big lead disappear on the final few holes of last weekend’s AT&T National PGA Tournament, but hung on to shoot even par on the final round to win the event by one stroke over the surging Ryan Moore, who fired a five-under-par 65 Sunday. Rose was leading last week’s tournament by three strokes going into the 72nd hole and hit two balls in the water for a triple-bogey eight and lost in a playoff. But by hanging on in the AT&T, the difference between first and second place was nearly half-a-million dollars.

And while on the subject of golf, we heard that Nancy Wood got a hole-in-one on the Par 3, No. 14 at Sunset Grove Country Club last weekend.

Former Lumberton High school star pitcher Clay Buchholz was rewarded for his great season so far by being named to the American League All-Star team. Buchholz, 25, is among the AL leaders with a 10-4 record and a 2.45 earned run average for the Boston Red Sox, but may not be able to play in the July 13 game due to a leg injury he suffered running the bases in an Inter league game last week.

Pro basketball fans are holding their breath wondering how many hundreds of million dollars free agents LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Amare Stoudemire, Chris Bosh and a half-dozen other NBA stars will sign their new contracts for and with whom.

According to a recent edition of The Wall Street Journal, baseball’s power hitters have a little more incentive to hit home runs this season. To get more “athletic, aggressive “ guys to start using their equipment, Callaway is giving away a new set of golf clubs to any player who hits a home run longer than 470 feet. So far only Atlanta Braves rookie outfielder Jason Heyward has earned a set with his 476-foot homer on opening day. Only 10 homers exceeded 470 feet last season, according to Callaway.

JUST BETWEEN US…Another case of a major league baseball player saying something to an umpire about balls and strikes—Cincinnati’s Joey Votto was called out on strikes early in a game last weekend, argued about the call with the umpire and was ejected from the game, snapping his streak of reaching base in 43 straight games. He was closing in on the team record held for nearly 50 years by Pete Rose.