Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Steve Jobs and the Myth of the Exceptional American

Image courtesy of fuzzimo
Steve Jobs deserves all of the adjectives ascribed to him by the media.

He was indeed a genius, innovator, and pioneer. I’m writing this on a Macbook in close proximity to my iPhone, two iPods, while listening to a decade’s worth of songs downloaded from iTunes, so I don’t have to be sold on Jobs’ place in the Pantheon of America’s best minds.

However, the word I’ve had the most trouble with has been exceptional. I’ve always had issues with this word anyway, even more so when coupled with the adjective American. I’m as patriotic as they come, but to defend the idea that my fellow citizens and I are exceptional considering that we glorify the casts of Jersey Shore and The Real Housewives of Orange County, can’t get out of our own ways politically, and barely notice we’re still fighting two wars overseas that have claimed more an untold number of lives on both sides is as dangerous as it is stupid.

In my opinion, we are all exceptional—regardless of ethnicity, color, or creed—just by being alive. When our ancestors left the cave and stood on two feet—and if you believe recent studies ran, not walked, to outlast our stronger and smarter Neanderthal competitors—they left us a legacy of being able to tame the earth and cast our own destinies. One could argue that war and pollution have tarnished that legacy, but the fact that we’re still moving forward in time despite our differences is indeed exceptional.

I’m not saying that there haven’t been moments when American achievements have outshone those of the rest of the world. We built railroads to connect our distance coastlines; we took to the road, air, and the reaches of outer space in the spirit of efficiency, adventure, and discovery; we harnessed the power of steel, wiped out smallpox and polio, and—thanks in large part to Jobs—changed the way we listen to music, read magazines and books, and interact with one another. But after only 235 years of existence, can we really say that our exceptional moments are greater than those of the countries we share this world with?

Were Martin Luther King’s peaceful efforts to move the civil rights movement along during the 1960s more significant and inspiring than Gandhi peacefully inspiring a country to shake off the yolk of British imperialism? Franklin D. Roosevelt steadied a country during World War II, but was it more exceptional than Winston Churchill holding his country together with twine and Duct tape while enduring constant bombardment from Hitler’s Luftwaffe? Is anything any of our brightest and most talented innovators, leaders, or business people are doing right now illuminating our world more than those that live in societies whose existences endure through war, famine, and choice? Or has the fact that America has accomplished so much in such a short period of time an indicator that we’re exceptional?

I don’t have good answers for any of these questions. In fact, I have no answers. All I know is that Jobs wasn’t much different than any of us when he thought up a good idea. The difference is that he, like so many great minds throughout history, didn’t let those ideas go down the shower drain where they were born; he had the courage, will, and persistence to see their birth. We all have this exceptional ability to change our world no matter what country we were born into. We all need to start thinking of the next big idea, the next step forward. Steve Jobs himself said it best in his address to Stanford University’s graduating class in 2005:

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

Image courtesy of grace176
To put the bigger picture back in American terms, our world didn’t go dark after the passing of Thomas Edison, statesmanship didn’t perish along with Benjamin Franklin, journalistic standards didn’t erode when the world lost Nellie Bly, and our idealism wasn’t tempered by the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It wasn’t that Jobs was exceptional. Like the influential men and women that came before him, he was just better able to figure out what was exceptional about the rest of us.

Which is why I’ll go to sleep easily at night even though his light has been extinguished. I’m content knowing that the next great innovator is out there somewhere, ready to not only redefine what we want, but who we are. I won’t care what nationality, race, religion, or sexual orientation he or she is; as long as they can read the tea leaves as well as Jobs did and point us toward our next collective exceptional moment.

But I hope he or she hurries. Because of Jobs, we’re all a little impatient.

*I was told when I was writing this that I was pretty daft if I believed there were no other American innovators on the level of Steve Jobs. I’m not saying that at all. I’m just saying that Americans don’t have a monopoly on being exceptional, now or ever. I’m just kick-starting a debate, so forgive any shortcomings this post might have.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Blanchette Blood: Moving Uncle Bobby

"This hasn’t moved out of here for 27 years,” Uncle Bobby said. “It belonged to your grandfather."

He’s pointing to an old toolbox that looks every bit its age. I had been ready to make a crack about how many dead bodies he had hidden in there. As it turns out, it contained Blanchette ghosts instead. My mother’s father, Arthur, had built the toolbox in upstate Maine on a day that no one can remember. All of my mom’s brothers—Roland, Clifford, and Jimmy—had possessed it at one point before it came to rest in Uncle Bobby’s basement. Inside this nostalgia treasure box were tools that the Blanchette men had touched, used, and, more likely than not, spilled blood on. It was a connection to a generation of family that I admired and respected above all others.

Arthur Blanchette's Toolbox

So, naturally, my first inclination was to make a joke. “I guess I shouldn’t point out that I’m 27 years old, right?” I asked. Uncle Bobby mumbled something in French and gave me a look that said, No, you really shouldn’t.

We picked it up wordlessly and put it in the back of the trailer he had attached to the back of his powerful pickup truck. He shut the doors and we hopped into the cab. We were on our way to his new house, which was also a connection to the past of sorts. He was moving into my Uncle Roland’s house just down the street. He had passed away a few years ago, and Uncle Bobby had just bought the house from his widow.

After moving a table saw that had the density of a felled water buffalo, we moved my grandfather’s toolbox to its new home in the workshop connected to Uncle Bobby’s new garage. It certainly would have plenty of company during its next 27 years.

“It’s going to take me years to figure out where everything is and where all the light switches are,” Uncle Bobby said. He looked around at the vast amount of tools and odds and ends and chuckled. “At least when I go, moving all this shit will be someone else’s problem.”

I should point out here that I didn’t come home to help out my uncle. The story works a lot better if I jumped on a train without thinking after hearing he needed me, but the truth is I came up to run a race in Higganum, Conn. Well, that and have a few beers with my brothers at my nephew’s birthday party. None of this ended up happening. What did happen made the trip that much more worthwhile.

One of the earliest memories of my Uncle Bobby is sword-fighting with him on the steps of my porch using his tape measures. Actually, most of my memories with him involve a porch, a stoop, or a set of stairs. Like all the Blanchette men, he had this unmistakable French accent that colored everything that came out of his mouth—which, more often than not, would include plenty of colorful language.

All of the Blanchette brothers also had their own distinct laughs and eccentricities. I don’t remember my Uncle Clifford—who I’m told I owe my temperament to, which may or may not be a compliment—but I remember Uncle Roland being softer-spoken, and Uncle Jimmy being so loud at times that he scared the crap out of me as a kid. Uncle Bobby is certainly as hardscrabbled and tough as his brothers, but he always seemed to me to be a generous and good-natured man—something he reaffirms every snowstorm when he plows my parents’ driveway.

The Blanchette Men: Roland, Arthur, Jimmy, Clifford, and Bobby

I wasn’t close to him during my teenage years through my early 20s for a variety of reasons, but all that changed this past year. He had remarried a wonderful woman from New Hampshire named Sherri and had reconnected with the remaining members of the Blanchette crew, who couldn’t have been happier to shower him with all the love and attention he’d missed out on over the years. While having a few beers with him at my father’s 60th birthday party, I got the best advice I think I’ve ever been given. “Life’s too short and hard—no use being miserable through the whole thing,” he said. “As long as you’re happy, the rest is bullshit.”

So even though I hadn’t planned on it, helping my uncle an easy decision. As fate would have it, a giant nor’easter was headed toward the East Coast. It was expected to drop 6–12 inches and start right around the time we’d be moving the rest of Uncle Bobby’s stuff to his new house.

“I was telling my mom, I think your brothers might have had something to do with this,” I said after I had arrived early in the morning the following day. “Normally, I’d say Clifford or Jimmy are the culprits, but since you’re moving into his house, Roland might be the one messing with you.”

“You better believe all of them are up there having a good laugh,” Uncle Bobby said, rolling his eyes. “Bastards.”

The threat of the weather fueled our work that morning. We were machines. While Sherri, my mom, and my Tante Peewee—for those wondering, that’s “aunt” in French, and no one knows what the hell a Peewee is—packed up the rest of the house in boxes, the men robotically moved the heavy furniture to the new house. We got everything done just as the snow was starting to really accumulate.

After all the heavy lifting was over, Uncle Bobby ended up sitting on the top step of the small set of stairs to the family room where the rest of us were seated in a variety of rocking chairs. We were happily devouring the lunch my mom had prepared—along with a few well-deserved beers.

“I haven’t had this tomato rice soup in 30 years,” Uncle Bobby said through a mouthful of the steaming soup. “Hits the damn spot, though.” Sherri said something to the effect that she couldn’t get over the fact that my mom had stayed up all night making the bread and thought to bring her Crock-Pot and griddle to feed everyone.

“That’s the type family you married into,” he replied. He’s right. Come hell or high water—or a nor’easter—this family comes together to help one of its own. Usually, that aid comes with a warm meal and homemade Whoopie pies.

When we were leaving, Uncle Bobby shook my hand and thanked me up and down. I joked that I’d call in the favor the next time I moved in New York City. “You say the word, and I’ll be there without fail,” he said. He wasn’t kidding.

Me and Uncle Bobby

My cousin Terry mentioned out at some point that I didn’t have her father’s Mainer accent. “That’s true,” I told her. “But I inherited just about everything else—the height, the stubbornness, the nose, and the temper.”

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Adventures of the Noreasters: Champs!

2011 BASL Rainbow Division Champions

I was standing on second base.

Dan P. was at third base, after reaching base and then advancing on my double.

Spud was being intentionally walked.

The Noreasters had the bases loaded with one out, down by one run against the Gators in the first of potentially three playoff games to decide the Big Apple Softball Rainbow Division champion.

Our third baseman Chris dug into the batter’s box. I heard the shortstop call the outfielders in, trying to cut off the winning run scoring on a single. Our bench was yelling at the top of their lungs. I clapped my hands and got ready to run like hell once the ball was put in play.

And put in play it was.

As soon as it left Chris’ bat I knew the game was over. I sprinted home, screamed, and pumped my fist. Our team made a beeline to the middle of the infield where Chris had jumped into Spud’s arms and was now being carried around like a ragdoll. Once Spud put him down, the rest of us swarmed him. It might have been the only time in Chris’ life when he didn’t mind his carefully maintained coiff being manhandled.

The script for game one couldn’t have ended any more perfectly. The win ensured that the team that made it out of the loser’s bracket would have to beat us twice. That was not going to happen on this day.

But more importantly, it gave Chris one hell of a swan song. We were losing our “Puma.” After a couple of years looking for a job, he finally landed one…in Virginia. Unlike last summer, in which he informed us a day or two before he was leaving for San Francisco for three months and would miss a good chunk of the season, he emailed Spud and I a couple of weeks ago to let us down gently. To no surprise to any of us, he provided a goodbye that outshone anything Spud and I could have thought up.

I joined the Noreasters in the spring of 2007 and was instantly brought into the family by Chris. I’m pretty sure the first thing he said to me was an insult. I can’t count the number of insults that have passed between the three of us, but I can assure you that Chris has walked away the victor more times than not. When I moved into the infield earlier this season, Chris was there waiting with good-natured ribbings and plenty of olé plays. I will miss his stories, his belittling of Spud, and of course, his enduring counsel and friendship. As I’ve written before, I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by good men, and I count Chris as one of the best I know.

Me, Chris, and Spud

There was still work to be done however before we could start looking for a third baseman that didn’t need a chiropractor after bending down for every ground ball hit his way (sorry Chris, I really couldn’t resist).

The Gators beat the Ball Breakers (our dear frenemies) in the next game, and it looked early on that they were going to get revenge.

Vinny, after all his heroics during the tripleheader from hell, couldn’t find his rhythm. We knew it was bad when Dan P. could be heard shouting from the outfield after every ball, “You’re killing me Vinny! Throw f***king strikes!”

Despite the handful of runs we were giving up every inning, we weren’t completely out of the game. We roared back to tie the game in our first at-bat and kept coming back each time they thought they had put enough runs on the board to make us stay down for good. We never gave up. Their best player ended up hurting himself, and their team seemed to crumble.

We put up 10 runs in the bottom half of a late inning to really seal the deal. After that, Bob, who we now call “Hammer,” came in to save the game by setting the Gators down in order. We ran back into the dugout, ready to score more runs to really etch our names on the trophy.

Turns out, that didn’t happen. The umpires pronounced the game over since we were nearing our time limit (BASL games are officially over after an hour and 15 minutes no matter what the inning), and even if we were to get three quick outs, there wasn’t time to start another inning.

The Noreasters were champs! We celebrated…by walking around in confusion as to what had just happened.


It didn’t take us long to shake off the oddness of the moment and enjoy in the hard-fought victory we had been building up to all summer. We played in some of the worst conditions, beat every team in the league, and even survived me playing an infield position. The other teams can say whatever they wanted to about us, but no one can deny that we hadn’t deserved this.

As we huddled up, I went looking for the game ball. There was another story line at work here-one I am convinced saw us through to the final game.

Our manager Trish’s 93-year-old grandmother died earlier in the week, and from what I am told she was an amazing woman who Trish and several of our teammates were extremely close to. After losing my grandmother in January, I knew how hard this week must have been for Trish and I didn’t want to let the moment pass without letting her know we were behind her.

The entire team started clapping after I presented the game ball to Trish. It was great seeing the woman who took so much time out of her life to organize our team, as well as deal with our many personalities on the field, have a moment that was all her own.

“Thank you guys,” She said. “Now who is going to Rock Bar for drinks.”

The whole team whooped and hollered!

As always, the stories from our adventure out must stay hidden to protect the innocent. But I will leave you with this slideshow that contains a picture of everyone on our team holding the WWE belt that Brad brought from his office. I’d give you more context, but really, you don’t really need it.

Here’s to the 2011 BASL Rainbow Division champs and our 2012 title defense!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Baseball Runner: Queens Half


Run.

I’ve been defined by many words in my life. I’ve been labeled writer my whole life thanks to my imagination and occasional way with words. Many members of my family would use the words shy, moody, sensitive, and emotional to describe me growing up. I’ve always been attached to the words baseball and student, and probably will be the rest of my days.

However, the past two years have seen another word come to define me like no other has.

Runner.

I found myself at the start of the 2011 Queens Half Marathon this past Saturday hoping that the label hadn’t left me for dead.

I kicked my legs out in front of me, trying to keep them loose and shake out the nerves. I bent down to tighten the laces of my shoes about a million times. I had my iPod set to Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run,” my traditional half marathon leadoff song. I watched the other runners in my starting corral and felt intimidated because most of them had trained infinitely more than I had.

What the hell am I doing standing here?

I hadn’t run in three weeks. I hadn’t had a solid week of running in months. I was out of shape and disillusioned. I had spent the last couple of months watching my life go up in flames. It was self-inflicted, and I had no one to blame but myself. Other than the people I cared the most about, a major casualty of all this was my ability to run. I couldn’t summon up the inspiration or motivation to run through the pain and replace it with blood, sweat, and tears. All I could do was order Chinese food at the end of the day, pass out, and hope the next day would bring me salvation.

I was tired of feeling that way. I could easily have remained in bed with the air conditioner cranking, my spirit broken enough to prevent me from running a race I had so eagerly signed up for months before. I didn’t have to be in Flushing Corona Park in the heat and the humidity at 7 in the morning. But I needed to be here. I needed a jumpstart. I needed to believe that runner wasn’t just a passing fling, but a lifelong definition.

As the crowd around me began to build, my mind wandered back to how the running had started.

I had a horrible hangover after one of my nephew’s birthday parties had gotten out of hand two summers prior. I don’t remember everything I drank, but I knew it was a lot. I had let the bottle attempt to wash away everything weighing on my mind, and like every time before, it failed. My Uncle Jimmy had just passed away, my younger brother was starting basic training in Texas , and my relationship was going through a rough stretch. I was trying to juggle a job and night school, unsure whether all my hard work was ever going to lead me to something meaningful.

I like to tell people that I started running because I’d have a better chance of not getting the crap kicked out of me when the Airman came back home. If I couldn’t withstand a few punches, at least I could have a chance at outrunning him. I promised myself that I wouldn’t have a drink until my brother graduated from basic training. If he was sacrificing, so would I.

I dug up my old running shoes and looked out my window toward Astoria Park. I was the only thing standing in my way.

Run.

The track at Astoria Park
I could hear my uncle telling me, “This is bullshit!” My mother points out to me often that he’d tell me no one should run that fast or that far without someone chasing you. During those first runs, a lame donkey hauling an 18-wheeler could easily have caught up to me.

My idea of a run at that time was a mile around the track. Nothing more, nothing less. I was lucky enough to have a running partner who pushed me to do more. In fact, she came up with the idea to work toward running the Hartford Half Marathon in October. It was a life-changing suggestion.

Little by little, I kept adding time and distance. I was running an out and back through Astoria Park almost every day. There wasn’t a moment during the day when I wasn’t thinking about the next time I could pull on my running sneakers.

I was alone one steamy night in July, on my way back from Ralph Demarco Park, when I noticed the lights were still on at the track in Astoria Park. I had the legs and the breath to keep going. I remember thinking about what my younger brother was going through in basic. I remember thinking about my uncle. By the time the lights were shut off, I had run seven miles without stopping. I now thought of myself as a runner.

By the time I saw my brother graduate from basic training, I was in the best shape of my life. I remember finding him in the crowd of newly minted Airmen in the sweltering San Antonio heat, eager to share with him everything that I had achieved. We shook hands and embraced tightly. We were both deeply tanned and skinnier than rails. We didn’t have to express many words to show how proud we were of each other. And we knew our uncle had a hand in both of our achievements.


I ended up finishing my first half marathon in under two hours. I wasted no time in reaching more personal running milestones. I ran a 7.25 minute/mile pace in one of the New York Road Runners’ winter races in 2009, I set a personal record of 1:41 at the 2010 Virgiinia Beach Half Marathon, and twice successfully ran up the hill at West Hartford Reservoir during the 2011 Greater Hartford Quarter Marathon without dying.

2009 Hartford Half Marathon
I was on a running schedule during the early part of 2011 that saw me running all but a handful of days from February through May. I signed up for a flurry of half marathons (including Providence on Aug. 7 and Hartford on Oct. 15) with the expectation of continuing that plan. As you already know, I took a flamethrower to my life that pretty much killed that idea.

But, here I stood at the start of the Queens Half, ready to become a runner once more.

Everything left my mind once the national anthem ended. All the memories, all the pain, all the crap took a backseat. I was now only thinking about the 13.1 miles of pavement ahead of me. I wasn’t hot, I wasn’t worried, and I wasn’t scared. My legs no longer felt nervous; they felt eager to prove there was no distance they couldn’t run. The fire was burning inside me, that primal place within me that I thought was unreachable the past few months, instead of burning down everything around me.

Queens was my borough. It was my home. I don’t break in my town. I’m not weak in my town.

Only one word thundered in my head as I heard the starting gun.

Run.

Player Spotlight: Lack of Speed

There are four players in Major League Baseball history who have some variation of “speed” in their names. However, only one of them played for more than three years.

Speed Martin pitched in six seasons for the St. Louis Browns and Chicago Cubs from 1917 to 1922.

He had his best season in 1921 for the Cubs. He won 11 games, completed 13 games, and pitched 217.1 innings. However, he also lost 15 games and only struck out 86 batters. His ERA was 4.35, but that was good enough for second-best on a Cubs team that only won 64 games and finished seventh in the National League that year.

Martin finished his career with only 29 wins, 207 strikeouts, and an ERA of 3.78.

Horace Speed played three seasons as an outfielder for the San Francisco Giants and Cleveland Indians from 1975 to 1979 (he did not play 1977¬¬–1987).

Speed finished his career with a .207 batting average, five RBI, four stolen bases, and 38 strikeouts in 120 at-bats.

Speed Kelly played 17 games as an infielder for the Washington Senators in 1909. He managed just six hits in 42 at-bats, one RBI, one stolen base, and 15 strikeouts.

And who can forget the joyously named Speed Walker? He played in only two games as a first baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1923. Walker had two hits in seven plate appearances. He scored one run.

Also, check out this great article in Runner’s World magazine about a relief pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals who ran a marathon inspired by his six-year-old daughter with a rare chromosomal disorder.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Adventures of the Noreasters: Three in the Heat

The 2011 Noreasters
“I have seniority, so I’m getting one of the rocking chairs,” Dan, our right center fielder, said. “This place is totally awesome.”

He dropped his stuff and quickly collapsed into the chair. Spud and I eagerly did the same on the couch nearby.

“This is like a cabin back in the 1970s,” Chris, our third baseman said. “I feel like we’re at camp.”

It wasn’t far from the truth. We were at the Cowgirl Diner in the Village. There was a deer’s head looking at us from his perch above the fireplace and the chairs and couches were arranged in a circle. Also, part of the ceiling was painted black with painted on stars. It was the perfect refuge for a sweaty bunch of softball players.

It got even better when Spud walked back from the bar with two beers for me in his hand. I hadn’t had anything but water, Gatorade, and bananas to eat or drink all day, but that didn’t stop me from taking a healthy pull from one of the bottles.

I smelt terrible. I had salt deposits on my cheeks as if I had just finished a half-marathon. I was tired, sore, and hungry.

“I asked them for the biggest Diet Coke they could possibly find.” Brad, our injured second baseman, said after someone made a remark about the gigantic cup of soda he was about to consume.

It had been well earned.

Dan, Chris (wearing a hat and about to play the outfield), and Spud
As some of you may have noticed, a heat wave swept across the country last week.

According to one report, last Saturday the temperature 100 degrees, but felt like 113, in New York City.

All the softball games scheduled on Randall’s Island were canceled by the Parks Department.

Were the Noreasters one of those lucky teams? Did I get to spend my Saturday parked front an air conditioner somewhere with an ice cold beer?

Of course not.

My softball team was only lucky enough to have three games scheduled back-to-back-to-back during the hottest part of the day. And rather than being out in the open with the possibility of a warm breeze, we were stuck playing in the oven that is Hudson River Park off the West Side Highway.

I had a bad feeling about the weekend when my manager Trish emailed the team urging us all to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate the day BEFORE the game. I also had my own mother texting me every hour checking up to see if I was drinking plenty of fluids and worrying about me playing in the intense heat. My plan to grow my hair out went down the drain (literally), after I took my long neglected buzzers to my out of control mop. I threw three pairs of socks into my softball bag, along with three extra dri-fit shirts and three different hats. I had two large Gatorade bottles and a full Nalgene, and planned to buy even more water the next day. I would remind all of you that this preparation is for a recreational softball league and not military exercises in the desert.

I have to sprint onto a field at the beginning of a practice or game. My older brother taught me that hustling off and on the field meant something, so no matter what condition I was in, or how miserable the weather, I had to run my ass to my position. So, I was already sweating profusely by the time I got to shortstop. I could barely catch my breath. My feet could feel the heat rising up from the turf infield through my cleats. My hat felt heavy on my head after fielding only a couple of ground balls.

Sweating
After starting the year 9–1, our team had gone on a little bit of a winless slide (a slide stopped by a hard-fought come-from-behind tie the week before); so first place was going to be up for grabs all day.

We were faced off against the Ballbreakers (our nemesis) in the first game. Despite the conditions, we played nice and loose and managed to eek out a close win. Although I made a nice backhanded play on a liner in the hole and threw out one of the fastest runners in the league in a key inning, I'm obligated to tell you I had five or six line drives go just past me or just over my head. Yes, I am short.

One game, one win.

Game two pitted us against the Sirens, who had destroyed us two weeks ago. They found every gap that week, had a bunch of worm burner hits that went just past the pitcher’s mound, and got our team so flustered at each other that one Noreaster was prompted to tell another “Eat me.”

Today was different. They weren’t the same team. We clearly wanted the game more. It didn’t hurt that we had Vinny as are pitcher. He’d been off the past few weeks dealing with a family issue, and had stoically volunteered to pitch all three games. He was exactly what we needed. He didn’t waste any time on the rubber, cracked jokes the whole day, and fielded a ton of liners back to him that turned into easy outs. He was the MVP of the day, hands down.

Vinny getting the job done
Two games down, and we had won them both.

Thank goodness the third game was a blow out. If it had been close, our minds would have melted even more than they already were. Just to stick it to Spud one more time, I won the RBI challenge we had started at the beginning of the day. During the first inning, I hit a two-run homer, followed by a grand slam. Late in the game, I came up with runners on second and third. At that point, we knew that we were close, so this at-bat was crucial. Needless to say, I came through, bringing both runners in with a double. Spud had a chance to get back into it since he batted right behind me, but ended up popping up to end the inning. Sara, our official scorekeeper and all-around cheerleader, let us know that I had won by just one RBI. Spud took solace in the fact that he hit one more homerun on the day and didn’t fall into a unending pit of personal despair like he otherwise would have.

The other highlight of the last game was Brad acting as our third base coach. He had done it all day, but he really got into that last game. It seemed on every ball hit, Brad was waving someone around third. He said it best, “I’ve never met a run I didn’t like.” However, we didn’t have one runner thrown out at the plate all day. The best part was he was wearing a Tom Landry style fedora. His advice, though, needs some work.

Brad
“I know we have a lead guys, but we can’t be giving up six runs every inning,” he said matter-of-factly after a messy inning.

“Really inspiring coach, thanks,” I said as most of us dragged our fatigued bodies back to the dugout.

It almost didn’t feel real when the last out was recorded. Three games, three wins. We were now controlled our own destiny (UPDATE: We ended up clinching the division yesterday. Go Noreasters!).

“Who wants to have drinks?” Trish asked.

Every hand shot up.

I wish I could tell you everything we talked about at Cowgirl. If I did, many of us would either be in jail or fired. Just know that there was not one moment we weren’t laughing, making fun of each other, devouring appetizers, or sucking back some kind of alcoholic beverage.

Vinny was the only casualty.

He finally cracked after all that time in the sun. After throwing up in the bathroom, he was last seen stumbling out of the bar. He sent out an email the next day, telling us he was all right. It was his heartfelt thank you for giving him the game ball that struck me though.

“I really didn't deserve it,” Vinny wrote. “It is a team sport and we all contributed both offensively and defensively.”

This from the guy that lost his breakfast, lunch, and dinner just to help us out. It’s not hard to see why I love being on this team. We’re a family and we’re always there for each other no matter what. Win or lose, we always enjoy each other and have a good time.

Expect for Spud. He just whines incessantly (just kidding…sort of).

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Little Leaguers: First Catch

My 4-year-old nephew Jack posed a question as soon as I opened the car door.

“Uncle Daniel, can you play baseball with me when we get home?”

A younger Jack ready to play ball

I collapsed into the passenger seat. I craned my body around to answer and say hello to him and my nieces Katie and Madeline (2 years old and 7 months, respectively), all of whom had made the trip with my older brother Tom to pick me up from the New Haven train station.

I winced immediately.

My neck was sore. My back was sore. My legs were cramped. My skin was pink. I could barely lift my arm. I had played two softball games with the Noreasters in the wretched humidity oven that is Hudson River Park. I had moved to shortstop earlier in the season, so I was constantly moving on every play. I was cranky, hungry, and pissed we’d badly lost two games. Two hours on a Metro North train hadn’t helped.

All that faded when I saw Jack’s eager brown eyes looking back at me from the far backseat of Tom’s minivan.

“Sure, Jack!”

He wasn’t done asking questions. He never is. Jack’s mind works in such a constant state of overdrive that his parents worry they are raising a future insomniac. He asks questions so fast that you think he’s not processing your answers before he asks another (but he is because he’ll be quick to correct you if you later change your story).

“Did you ride on a high-speed train? Did your train have a lot of cars? Where are you going to sleep tonight? Do you like playing baseball? Can I have some chips?”

His normal interrogation was thrown off when I started devouring the potato chips Tom had brought me.

Tom explained to Jack that he could have some when we got home since we couldn’t reach him, but sneaked several to Katie. She was closer and started wearing him down as soon as she caught on there was food to be had (like any true Ford).

“I wanna ‘nother one,” Katie said.

“We’re almost home. The bag is empty anyway,” Tom said.

“I wanna feel the bag,” Katie demanded.

She was yelling that at Tom when I hopped out of the car to pick up Coronas and limes (essential all-night videogame-playing groceries). She was still yelling at him when I came back in. She continued the entire two-minute drive home. We pulled into the garage right just as Tom was about to blow his brains out. He had barely put the minivan in park before handing Katie the obviously full bag. I’m not sure if her wide smile indicated she was happier that she had (yet again) caught her dad in a lie or that she now had all the chips in her grasp.

Jack, on the other hand, was out of the car in a flash. He quickly collected his soft bat and a bag of tennis balls. He plopped a plastic home plate on the driveway. He raised the bat up to his shoulders and got into his stance.

I was still in the minivan.

And I was slow in moving out of it. This was much too slow for Jack.

“I’m wearing a bathing suit, so I’m going to play in the water while you get ready Uncle Daniel!”

Jack tossed off his t-shirt and proceeded to splash around in the kiddies’ pool.

“Jack, can I use my glove to pitch to you?” I asked.

He thought for a minute and happily nodded his approval.

I took a deep breath. The inside of my glove was still damp with sweat as I slid my hand in. I smacked my fist into the palm.

It was like the previous eight hours had never happened.

I wasn’t tired anymore. I could feel the adrenaline wiping away every sore joint and muscle. I didn’t feel cranky, hungry, or pissed. I felt ready.

I was fired up…to pitch to a 4-year-old.

He was ready too. He smiled as he swung and missed at my first couple of underhand tosses. He didn’t complain and he bounded after each stray ball. He finally connected on one and my instincts prompted my once tired legs to hustle after it.

“Wow!” Jack yelled. “Daddy can’t run that fast.”

“He sure can’t, buddy,” I said.

“Well, only if it’s downhill,” he added.

Jack took a few more swings before he changed his mind about what we were doing.

“Can you help me put on my cool baseball glove?” He asked.

He gave the pool a splash as he made his way over to me. I undid the Velcro on his glove and he smushed his hand in. After I tightened the strap, he slapped his hand in the palm like he had seen me do and rushed to the other end of the driveway.

My first throw missed his outreached glove and hit him gently in the chest. Jack giggled as he tore after the ball. It landed in the grass and he bent down to pick it up with his glove. The grass was long, so he tried and failed a few times.

What a difference a year makes...

“Hey Jack, when the ball’s on the ground, you can pick it up with your bare hand,” I said. “That way you’re in a better position to throw the ball after making an error.”

It just kind of popped out. I realized I was trying to give baseball advice to a 4-year-old who would take a 10-minute break to carefully inspect a worm that had wandered into our game. Besides, he ended up catching only a few of my throws, so he had to get some use out of his glove somehow.

However, he threw the ball pretty damn hard and accurately for his age. He laughed out loud every time the ball skipped by him. He beamed excitedly every time the tennis ball would hop right into his glove. I would pump my fist in the air each time it happened, making him smile even more broadly.

“Uncle Daniel, you can sleep in my room tonight,” he said as we wound down our first catch together.

“Thanks, Jack, that’s very nice of you,” I said.

He dropped everything where he stood and rushed into the house to get ready for dinner. I cleaned up everything for him, still high from ending the day on a good note.

After putting on an eating display (as Tom said, Pépère would have been proud of that fact that I took down a sausage and two hot dogs), Jack dutifully provided me with a pillow and blanket to put on the air mattress that was now blown up at the foot of his bed.

“Jack, are you excited to have a roommate?” Tom asked.

“Yes!” Jack yelled exuberantly.

He celebrated by jumping up and down on the air mattress as Madeline clapped excitedly from her perch on his bed.

“You can have this to sleep with,” Jack said. He handed me his Lighting McQueen stuffed animal. I knew how much the movie Cars meant to him, so I was very honored.

Although he wasn’t thrilled that I wasn’t going to bed at the same time as he was (Madden 2010 and Lego Star Wars weren’t going to play themselves into the wee hours of the morning), he let me go without complaint after I read two books to him.

“Uncle Daniel?” Jack asked as I was leaving his room.

“Yes?”

“Did you miss us?”

I smiled.

“Yes, Jack,” I said. “Did you miss me?”

“Yes!” He replied. “I’m going to wake you up tomorrow and we can finish our puzzle!”

I didn’t cringe at the thought of Jack stomping all over me at an ungodly hour of the morning. I knew that even though I’d be cranky, sore, and sleepy, that Jack would make it all go away with his first questions of the day.

And like the day before, I’d be ready with answers.

Playing baseball with Pépère

Friday, July 8, 2011

Baseball Beginnings: On Derek Jeter


I still remember how good it felt to notch my first base hit.

It was a couple of games into my second season in my hometown’s summer recreational Pony League. Up to that point, I only had strikeouts and two weak ground ball outs to show for all my effort.

I’m pretty sure I made an error in the field the half inning before because I ran in from the outfield angry. I led off the inning and I remember being angry standing in the batter’s box. I angrily lined the first pitch I saw into left field where I saw it drop in front of the outfielder. I stopped being angry when I reached first base.

I remember how good it felt to be standing there. I hadn’t made an out. I hadn’t walked. I had an honest-to-God hit. I didn’t know then that I’d have that feeling only 12 more times.

I have no way of processing how good it would feel to do that 3,000 times.

However, the most important Yankee of my generation is about to find out. As I write this, Derek Jeter is two hits away from 3,000 with three more games before the All-Star break.

Much has been made of Jeter’s decline in recent years. Fine, I get it. As you know by now, I’m a homer for the New York Yankees. I’ve been that way my whole life. I’ve never thought about rooting for another team (except for when I would root for the Mets when they were doing well before I moved to New York and actually met a Mets fan). I could tell you that I’m a Yankees fan because my dad was born in New York and has been a Yankees fan his whole life, but that wouldn’t be telling the whole story. I’m a Yankees in large part because of Derek Jeter.

Before 1996, I didn’t follow baseball religiously. I would watch the game with my older brother and my dad, but I had no connection to players like Pat Kelly and Melido Perez. I couldn’t steal Don Mattingly away from my older brother because I was in diapers when Donnie Baseball was tearing up the league during his prime. Besides, I was too young and having too much fun playing Wiffle ball with my younger brother in our backyard. What kid wants to waste three hours watching a bad team when he could be outside arguing with his brother about who is going to be the Yankees that day?

Derek Jeter and the 1996 Yankees turned me into a true baseball junkie.


Here’s a player I could connect with. He was young. He wore a single digit number. He played the coolest position on the field. He had an inside out swing that I would grow to emulate. He was fast. He was always smiling. And he loved his parents, who frequently went to the games to see their son play.

I can’t lie—winning the World Series that year helped endear me to Jeter. I vividly remember watching my father’s reaction to Charlie Hayes catching the last out. I think he jumped higher off the couch and cheered louder than either of the two sons he had be his side. I remember watching a smiling Jeter drenched in champagne, smiling broadly, and thinking that anything in this world was possible.

The Yankees kept winning during the late 1990s and my family and I became even more intertwined with our team. As much as my younger brother and I admired the Yankees shortstop, no one became more ensorcelled by Jeter than my mother. She has a shrine to Jeter at her office at work, as well in her computer room at home. Her nickname for him is “Jeter-Butt” because of the way he gets out of the way of an inside fastball (and for a host of other reasons, I’m sure). My older brother made her life when he bought her a picture of Jeter shaking hands with her other favorite baseball hunk, Cal Ripken, who was playing at Yankee Stadium for the last time in his career. No one is allowed to criticize anything Jeter does in her presence…ever. The few times anything negative about Jeter slipped out of my mouth were quickly followed by a backhand to the head.

Maybe my mom is a big reason it makes me feel good to cheer for Jeter. Maybe it’s he hasn’t been connected to steroids. Maybe it’s because I admire his charity work. Maybe it’s because he wouldn’t validate parking for two women he had at his apartment. Maybe it’s because he stayed out of trouble in baseball because he was afraid of letting his parents down (and for people like Bill Simmons who have poked fun at this, it’s not the worst way to go about your life).

Former major leaguer Doug Glanville wrote an excellent opinion piece that ran in The New York Times. Glanville says that “numbers tell a story,” and that Jeter’s numbers were hard earned. To get to 3,000 hits, you not only have to be good, you have to be lucky too. Jeter has been relatively injury-free and consistent for so many years, allowing him to “ooze [his] way to greatness.”

Like Glanville, I’ve enjoyed counting Jeter’s hits along the way. I liked watching him collect them when I was smacking Wiffle balls in my backyard, when I was amassing 13 hits in my recreational league baseball career, and now, when I’m drinking a beer alone in my apartment in New York.

Jeter will be the player I’ll tell my kids I saw play his whole career. I’ll tell them about the November night he became a hero to my hero.

For the next three games, I’ll live every one of his at-bats like I did when my younger brother was in Little League. Every ball he fouls off, every swing and miss, every groundout will make me jump and sigh with a mix of relief and anticipation for the next at-bat.

Three thousand is a special number. Derek Jeter is a special player, and will remain that way to me even if his batting average drops below the Mendoza line.

He’s earned that incredible feeling that’s going to wash over him when he stands at first base for the 3,000th time.

I hope I get to keep counting with him to 4,000.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Brothers, Baseball, and Beer: The Art of Playing Catch


The search began as soon as the day started to break toward spring.

The porch, the shed, the cellar, and my parents’ cars turned up nothing. I scanned the front and back yards cautiously. I didn’t want to discover that its final resting place ended up being a soggy piece of lawn recently buried under two feet of ice and snow. I came up empty no matter where I looked. I took a slug of my beer dejectedly. I was ready to concede defeat and suffer through yet another weekend without a sacred early spring ritual.

That’s when my eyes fixated on my younger brother Pat’s closet door. I was fairly certain that he had thoroughly investigated it, but with no other options left, I decided to check his work.

My faith in my brother was rewarded. There was nothing baseball related in plain sight. However, I noticed a duffle bag that I didn’t recognize. Always open to “borrowing” a forgotten pair of sneakers or workout shorts, I decided to keep digging. As soon as I moved a pile of clothes out of the way, Pat’s stupidity was reaffirmed.

The missing black Rawlings baseball glove was staring right at me.

I slid my hand into the soft leather glove. Any frustration I might have felt melted away as soon as I opened it and hammered my right fist into my opposite palm. I rushed to pick up the baseball I had abandoned in despair. When the ball was safely nestled in the webbing of the glove, I fired off a text message to Pat

Found your glove. Get your ass here.

The Ford brothers didn’t always play catch in the middle of the street. My earliest recollections have us tossing the ball around in our backyard. The grass always seemed to be perfectly mowed, well-worn dirt patches surrounded our plastic bases, and our neighbors’ fences ensured that our bad throws would end up a manageable distance away from us. Whether playing a heated Wiffle ball game or getting smacked in the head with one of our father’s throws, our backyard was a baseball paradise for a kid.

Maybe we decided to move after I sailed a ball over Pat’s head that ended up smashing the glass window on my father’s grill. It could have been the other throw that I unleashed that violently took off the top of one of the wooden fence posts separating our yards. It could also have been because we were tired of losing baseballs in our death-defying patch of poison ivy and then contracting a rash going in after them. Pat sent me a message the other day that put our flight from the backyard into perfect perspective: “It was a swamp until June and it was full of dog shit.”

Obviously, a new home was necessary.

We tried the driveway first. This was short lived because one of us failed to get a glove on a baseball that put a hole in my father’s taillight. We couldn’t long toss in then front lawn because there wasn’t enough room and we didn’t want to chance destroying our neighbor Jimmy’s prized vintage Buick. According to my older brother Tom, the street had everything we were looking for; convenience, fewer obstacles, reduced chance of damages, and more space to air it out. The street became our refuge and we wasted no time in creating memories we could actually remember.

Since our street is on a slight hill, I was quickly banned from throwing downhill. I developed a case of the yips for a couple of months and everyone, myself included, was tired of having to run to prevent the baseball from going into the woods or sewer after every errant throw. If I forgot my softball glove in New York, I usually ended up being the brother who was stuck with the inadequate-in-every-way catcher’s mitt. I might as well be playing catch with a tiny Latex glove.

2010 was a banner year for us.

On day, my brother Tom pulled up to the house, got out of his car with his glove on, and ran out to join me and Pat who had been throwing for a while. Tom’s wife Kristen had been inside, waiting for him to take her to lunch. And here he was ready to play ball with us. Good thing she wasn’t pregnant at this point (oh wait….). After throwing the ball around for a good 15 minutes, Kristen poked her head out the front door and admonished Tom for making her wait. Tom’s defense was that he had just gotten there. Pat looked at him after Kristen slammed the door and said, “I don’t think she bought. It might be because you’re sweating profusely.”

Our best days came early in the spring. All we did Easter weekend was drink beer, throw a baseball around, and eat. We’d throw for a bit, drink half a beer, throw a little bit more, finish a beer, throw, run to get refills, throw some more, etc. etc. This all occurred on the street and in our front yard. The only thing missing from our redneck tableau was a matching set of lawn chair furniture and a car up on cinder blocks. The only break we took was during Easter brunch, after which we continued to throw our arms out and sneak beers to Tom without Kristen knowing. Later that night we ended up scarfing down the leftovers from the cookout the night before as if we hadn’t eaten anything all day. My father complained later on that he looked like an alcoholic when he dragged three full trash bags of empty beer bottles to the Lions Club.

Found your glove. Get your ass here.

This past Sunday found Pat and I right back where we belonged. We had all the essentials we needed, except for one (in reality two, counting Tom)—beer. Pat had fought his instinct to buy anything near his Air Force base in Massachusetts, failing to remember you couldn’t buy liquor in Connecticut on Sundays. Undeterred, we dusted off our father’s bottle of Bombay Sapphire Gin and made gin and tonics. I have to say, our pint glasses really classed things up.

The rhythms of the catch were unchanged. There was the same inkling of soreness in our arms after the first ball was thrown, the frequent stopping to let cars go by, and the constant putdowns and slams we lovingly hurled at each other along with every baseball. The seams of the ball tore at our soft, winter fingertips, and the bright, unscarred baseball tore through the air with the familiar machine gun sound.

One thing stood out to me on that cool Sunday afternoon. Pat was dressed in his military uniform having come right from work. It was a clear sign of how time had changed him, changed the entire family really, and how precious these moments with each other truly were. I found out later that he was being shipped to some of the more unsavory parts of the world for a training mission. I shook his hand and hugged him good bye, told him to stay in the wire over there, and that I’d be right there waiting for him with a beer when he got back.

He won’t have to look very far for his glove this time either.

Player Spotlight

My buddy Chris and I bought $5 tickets to go see the Yankees last week. It was his first time at the new Yankee Stadium, which meant the baseball gods conspired to rain out the game. We still managed to have a good time by spending $50 on food and waiting 15 minutes just to see a guy being carted off on a stretcher after police halted traffic on the ramp leading to the upper deck. We actually could have left the scene at any time, but stayed thinking someone important might be strolling by, like the time Henry Kissinger and Beyoncé walked past me during Game One of the 2004 American League Championship Series. Nope, this time it was just some random unconscious guy.

The highlight of the evening was visiting the Yankees Museum. Even if there had been a game, and even if the Yankees had won, it still might have been the highlight since Chris and I are both Yankees homers and huge history nerds. Along with old jerseys, bats, championship rings, and World Series trophies, the museum included a display of baseballs signed by anyone who had been affiliated with the team. We giggled over seeing our favorite players and reacted with horror after seeing a baseball with Suzyn Waldman’s name proudly displayed. One of the ushers told a mildly disappointed Chris when he told him Mel Hall was too busy banging out license plates to sign baseballs. Well, that and FedEx doesn’t exactly deliver to those serving a 45-year prison sentence.

The reason for bringing this up, other than to continue our running Mel Hall joke, is to highlight a player that caught Chris’s attention because he shares the same nickname.

Spud Chandler

Chandler made his debut in 1937 and played his entire 11-year career with the New York Yankees. His breakout year came in 1943, in which he won 20 games, had a winning percentage of .833, pitched 20 complete games, had an E.R.A of 1.64, and won the American League’s Most Valuable Player Award. He would retire in 1947 with the best winning percentage of any pitcher with over 100 career wins (.717).

Chandler served in the U.S. Army during World War II from April 1944 to September 1945. He was not assigned to active duty because of his age and injuries to his arm. Like many baseball greats, Chandler missed out on two years during the prime of his career. However, he did not complain and is quoted in a 1993 issue of Baseball Digest as saying, “I came back. Some of those boys didn’t.” When he did come back to the league full time in 1946, he would win 20 games and post an E.R.A. of 2.19.

For more information on Spud Chandler, as well as other information about baseball players who served during World War II, I encourage you to visit Gary Bedingfield’s Baseball in Wartime. The website includes player biographies, memorials for those players who died during the conflict, details on service teams and games, and photo galleries. The author also maintains a blog, which can be found here.

Diamond Tweets


April is military child month. The Army will be sponsoring activities at installations around the world to recognize the sacrifice of military children. According to the U.S. Army, more than 1.7 million kids have one or more parents actively serving in the armed forces, with an estimated 900,000 children who have had one or more parents deploy multiple times. To learn more, click here.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Baseball Beginnings: Why I’m Not a Baseball Player


I was not a baseball player.

I left that to my brothers.

I didn’t know the fundamentals of fielding a ground ball, how to round first base after singling up the middle, or how to use two hands to nab a fly ball out of the unlimited summer sky. I had no concept of how long 90 feet between bases actually was, what signals the pitcher gave away that let me know it was time to steal second base, or what it meant to pick up a teammate who stranded a runner in scoring position.

This wasn’t because I didn’t want to be a baseball player.

I watched in awe with my father as my older brother pitched his heart out in high school without reservation or fear. When he put on that Bristol Eastern uniform with "1" stitched on the back, he ceased to be my brother and became a superhero. He was everything I wanted to be.

It’s also not like I never played baseball.

It just wasn’t real baseball.

My younger brother and I would play Wiffle ball in the backyard from the start of spring until the chill of late October. I hold the Ford Stadium records for career homeruns, single season homeruns, strikeouts in a game, and career championships. If there were a Wiffle ball Hall of Fame, I’d be in it (turns out there is, and I'm not).

I had plenty of opportunities to be a baseball player.

My family is baseball obsessed. This all stemmed from my father. He followed the great New York Yankees teams of the 1960s (and the not-so-great teams during the backend of that era), and, according to his memory, could pick the ball out of the dirt at first base with the best of them. His oldest son was in uniform practically out of the womb, so one would have assumed that his second son would follow suit without question. He made it clear to me that it was my choice to play or not to play.

I wasn’t a baseball player because I was afraid.

You can’t be afraid and be a baseball player. I was shy. I was a crier. I was a thin-skinned kid who took everything the wrong way and then sulked about it. It would be easy to heap all the blame on my father for not forcing me to play, as my older brother often does, but I can’t imagine the tantrums I would have thrown once someone starting rifling ground balls my way. The scenario in my head gets even worse thinking about if I had made a mistake in a live game. My father’s tough, but no man could have endured that kind of humiliation.

I did end up trying to become a baseball player.

I started shaking off my shy demeanor as a teenager, and tried out for my middle school baseball team. I was the first player to take batting practice that first practice. I fouled off the coach’s first pitch, and I could feel the vibration in my stung fingers in the bottom of my throat. I never made contact again. The coach announced at the end of the day that everyone would need to turn in a physical form if they wanted to play. I knew I wasn’t any good, and didn’t want to put my parents through the trouble of arranging everything when I was just going to get cut. I used this as an excuse to give up.

My tryout for the local summer recreational league was possibly my most embarrassing moments as a player. I had decided I’d be a good first baseman, since they didn’t seem to do very much, so there I was as a low throw came in from the shortstop. I didn’t have a chance at catching it. Luckily, my big toe stopped the ball from getting past me. My knee caught the next throw with ease. This was all in view of my older brother, who was going to be a coach in the league. I wasn’t embarrassed for me, I knew I was terrible, but I hated letting down my hero. He drafted me anyway.

I tried two more times to join teams of any consequence. I gave it my all and lasted through weeks of tryouts for the freshman baseball team in high school. The problem was I still couldn’t hit, was slow afoot, and was only an average fielder with a below average arm. Pretty cut and dry analysis of why I was cut. My sophomore year I tried out for the J.V. team, and within two days my legs felt like I had run back-to-back marathons. In what felt like a coward move at the time, I wrote the head coach that I was done. I heard through the grapevine that he thought it was a classy way to go out.

So, I failed at being a baseball player, but these failures didn’t mark my complete banishment from the game.

I got to be in the same dugout with my older brother as he coached my team for two seasons in that summer league. I was able to become an assistant coach for my younger brother’s Little League team and watch him experience everything I was too afraid to do at his age. Eventually, my lack of baseball prowess helped me land a job with a great northeastern college baseball team, giving me all the experiences of a collegiate athlete with half the work. Not to mention, along the way I learned how not to give up.

When spring approaches and baseball season breaks through the boredom of a long winter, I think of all the things that could have been, and I appreciate the things that are. I can’t rob a line drive in an endless expense of lawn; I can’t eyeball a pitch outside to force a base on balls; and I can’t ensure my team is wearing the whitest damn uniforms possible during a Sunday day game. But I sure as hell can write about the game that I’ve loved all my life. And that’s just what I plan to do.

I should point out before signing off this Sunday, that I’m the last Ford brother to wear anything resembling a baseball uniform. It may be in a softball league, but it still connects me to the game in some way.

I’m not a baseball player…but, I’ll take it.

Player Spotlight: Old Reliable

My goal was to find a player whose name contained some variation of “beginning” or “origin” to commemorate the reboot of this blog. I perused through my voluminous ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia early in the week, but came up empty. I tried to think of old ballplayers my father randomly mentions and listened intently to the Opening Day telecasts in hopes of getting a good lead. No luck. I thought of ditching the idea of Player Spotlight entirely, until I entered the magic word into the search engine of baseball-reference.com.

Start.

Joe Start.


Joe couldn’t have been more perfect for a baseball/history nerd if he tried. He began his career with the Brooklyn Atlantics in 1980, four years before the Civil War and eleven years before the formation of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players (the early predecessor to the National League). He led the Atlantics to two undefeated seasons in 1864 and 1865, years better remembered for the final clashes between the armies of Grant and Lee. He joined the New York Mutuals of the National Association in 1971, and would play professionally for 16 more seasons before retiring in 1886. He also, despite some debate, is considered to be the first first baseman to play away from the base, rather than close to it or on top of it as was the custom during the early days of the game.

Joe registered his highest batting average of .360 in 1871 for the Mutuals. He led the led the league with 100 hits in 1878 with the Chicago White Stockings, and logged a .351 batting average. He averaged 105 hits from 1878–1885, and drove in nearly 300 runs during that span. Joe smacked a career 117 hits in 1882 for the Providence Grays, and would finish his major league run with 1,417.

I realized why I should still care about Player Spotlight. Only the men wearing them make the uniforms of our hometown teams memorable. Baseball players' personalities, eccentricities, and character (good and bad) have defined the game just as much as their athleticism has. Throughout the game’s history, fans have piled on expectations on these men who, at their core, are no more superhuman than the rest of us. We revel when they defy logic and met them, and sulk and moan when they reveal their true humanity and fall beneath them. Either way, only a chosen few get to button up a jersey, pitch or hit a searing fastball, and leave behind a lasting statistical imprint that nerds like me can scrutinize centuries later. Their stories matter, so I’ll keep looking for them.

Opening Day

“Detroit is in Michigan?” one of my coworkers asked out loud in front of people.

While my other coworker, who happens to be from Michigan, tried to answer diplomatically, my eyes were fixed on the flat screen television above the table where we were enjoying lunch.

It wasn’t showing scenes of weeks old trash being unearthed from two feet of melting snow, celebrities devouring goddesses with tiger blood (no, that can't be right), or people stepping cautiously through the Bronx Zoo.

It was showing a baseball game.

Finally.

My beloved Yankees were playing the Detroit (yes, the one in Michigan) Tigers and I had done enough work that day to justify stealing away to catch a couple of innings of the first game of 2011. The Yanks hadn’t managed much against Tigers’ ace Justin Verlander until the bottom of the third inning. Mark Teixeira came up with two runners on and launched a ball to deep right field.

As soon as the ball was hit, I leaned my body toward fair territory, helping the ball’s trajectory stay true. As the umpire called the ball fair, the patrons around us cheered, and so did I. I got chills as if the homerun had decided the final game of the World Series instead of a meaningless game in April.

Baseball is back. And so am I.