Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Playing Hooky

Wednesday marks the end of baseball’s regular season.
And the end of the worst fantasy baseball season I’ve ever had.
Considering I’ve been playing that make believe sport since 1987, that’s saying something.
But as much as I love the fantasy game, there’s nothing like going to a real one.
Our local team wrapped up its home schedule last week with one of those mid-week afternoon delights.
So I did what any good father would do.
I took my son out of school at 11 in the morning.
And we headed to the stadium.
When my son saw me waiting at the front desk, he thought for sure he’d been busted.
For what, he didn’t know.
But the last thing he expected to hear out of my mouth was...
“Do you want to go to the game today?”
You should’ve seen the smile on his face.
It was like I had asked him if he wanted to leave school early to go to a baseball game.
I knew he had a science test in the morning, so before we left I asked how he did.
“104%”, he said.
Does he think I was born yesterday?
Percents only goes up to 100.
Before I could complain to the principal.
My son informed me he got the extra 4% for a bonus question.
Must be the new math.
So off to the game we went.
To say my son was excited about the day’s developments would be an understatement.
104% on his science test.
And now this.
On the way to the game I shared a story with my son that my dad had shared with me when I was around 12.
It went a little something like this.
My dad was raised in Jersey City, New Jersey.
A stone’s throw from New York City.
One beautiful spring day.
“The first beautiful day of the year.”
My dad and his buddies were walking to school.
As they got closer, one of the boys had a brilliant idea.
“Today is way too beautiful to go to school.  How ‘bout we play hooky and go to the Yankees game?”
What boy could say no to that?
So they zigged instead of zagging.
And headed towards the train station.
As the story goes, on their way there they ran into their teacher.
It was pretty obvious these boys were not headed to school.
But away from it.
So when the teacher said, “where are you going?”
The answer “school” wasn’t really an option.
So they took the leap of faith.
And told him the truth.
The teacher took a long pause.
Then said, “would you mind if I went with you?”
And off they went.
My dad said he treated them like kings.
Bought them peanuts.
AND cracker jacks.
Of course, everyone was sworn to secrecy.
Which my dad honored.
Until the time was right to share it with me.
I think my son loved that story as much as I did.
For our day of hooky, we got to the stadium more than an hour before the first pitch.
Unheard of for me.
But a perfect time to get him some autographs.
We worked our way down to the first base area where the home team comes out to the field.
And we waited.
And waited.
And waited some more.
There must’ve been 372 people just like us.
Waiting for autographs.
Finally 31 minutes before the game, a handful of players came out to do their stretching.
May not have been all starting nine.
But there were at least seven.
Including the hot shot center-fielder who was greeted by a rousing cheer.
A cheer he didn’t even acknowledge.
Maybe he had his iPod in.
The multi-gazillionaire infielder followed him.
Now I realize that every second is precious.
But this was “fan appreciation day”.
I’m sure you could find a few seconds to make the day of a 12-year-old.
Even if it wasn’t my 12-year-old.
After all, you make 17 cents every second.
$10.46 a minute.
$627 an hour.
$15,068 a day.
$105,769 a week.
All guaranteed, whether he gives 104% or not.
He got on the field at 12:39.
Left at 12:57.
Never said a word.
Never looked our way.
“Did he sign an autograph?”, you say.
And neither did any of his teammates.

Not a one.

Sure my son was disappointed.
But nothing a footlong hot dog couldn’t cure.
I said “when you make the major leagues I hope you don’t forget how you feel right now.”
“I hope so too,” he said.
For the next three hours we sat in a baseball stadium.

And enjoyed every pitch.

And every hit.

It was a perfect day.

And a perfect game.

Maybe someday he will share this story with his son.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Friday Night Frights

I made my daughter laugh last week.
Out loud.
No small feat.
Did I mention she's 14?
(If you have/had a 14-year-old, you can stop nodding now.)
It went a little something like this.
I was driving her carpool to high school.
She asked “are you excited about homecoming week?”
Before I heard the eek in week, I blurted out...
For two seconds.
That felt like two weeks.
I knew the question was directed at her friend in the back seat.
Not me.
But always the joker, I decided to bring a little extra comedy to the car at 7:04am.
Or at least try.
So I answered her question.
Loud and proud.
And this time it worked.
She laughed.
Out loud.
Like twice.
Even her friend laughed.
Mission accomplished.
High school can be a very serious place.
Especially for a freshman.
But after a first day of jitters.
She's really enjoyed the ride.
Ok, it's only been a month.
But so far.
So good.
One of the first moves my daughter made was joining the freshman poms team.
You know.
The ones shaking the bouquets of plastic on the sideline at the football games.
Well some games.
At her school, the roles are clearly defined.
Varsity poms perform at varsity football games.
JV at JV.
And freshman at freshman.
With homecoming week now here, this is a big time for all three of the teams.
Yesterday my daughter's group got a chance to dance at the freshman football game.
My entire family went to watch her cheer.
And cheer her on.
Actually my son went to watch the game.
But we were all there to support.
And the team did great.
Well her team.
Big smiles.
Lots of cheering.
Lots of poms.
Lots of dancing.
Lots of acting.
Actually, LOTS of acting.
The freshman team lost 36-0.
But you never would've known it by watching the poms team.
Football is a great sport.
At any level.
I prefer the NFL.
College is a close second.
But you put two good high school teams on the same field.
And you've got yourself a Friday night.
My friend's son plays for one of those good high school teams.
A school that has won nine state championships.
And ten might not be that far away.
Through four games this year their record is 4-0.
They've outscored their opponents 135-40.
A great way to start his Senior season.
Probably the last year of his football career.
He was not blessed with GREAT size.
Or GREAT speed
Things they love at the next level.
But in high school you can get away without either.
And he's done plenty of getting away this year.
A 48-yard touchdown catch in game one.
A touchdown run in game two.
Four carries for 66 yards in game three.
Through four games, he has 231 yards on just 21 carries.
That's 11 yards per carry.
The NFL record is 6.4.
I know, I know.
High school vs NFL.
But still.
He had a great start to the game last Friday.
On his first rush, the 175-pounder raced 37 yards down the field.
The second longest run of his career.
He got seven yards on his next carry.
This was another blowout win for the good guys.
His team was up big in the fourth quarter when they made a switch.

Switching my friend’s son from running back to fullback.
Instead of running the ball.
The teams leading rusher was now blocking for the guy running the ball.
A position he was not used to.
And a position he will never play again.
My friend’s son got caught up in a big time football collision trying to create a hole for his teammate.
So big that he didn’t get up.
Not right away.
He lost feeling in his arms and his legs for about five minutes.
Five lifetimes to his parents.
The boy was transported to a local hospital where he learned that he had fractured the T1 vertebrae in his neck.
That’s the good news.
If you call it good news.
Doctors say the break is expected to heal on its own.
He has to wear a neck brace for just two weeks and avoid contact for 2-3 months.
But at the end of that time, he should be fine.

Amazing considering what coulda been.

Unfortunately the boy’s football career is now over.
But thankfully he is far from done.
Lying in the hospital bed, he immediately set his sights on the spring.
When he plans on returning to the track team.

And that's something to cheer about.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Lives In the Balance

The world is an emptier place today.
Some might say it is better.
Many feel it is worse.
But two men.
Convicted of two heinous crimes.
Are gone.
By lethal injection, four hours apart.
In two different states.
Two different states of mind.
Two very different circumstances. 
I’m guessing Lawrence Brewer and Troy Davis never met.

Just a guess.
But their tombstones will both end with the same date.

September 21, 2011.
Cause of death -- execution.
Now before you think I am against the death penalty.
I am not.

Far from it.
As long as we know the truth.
The whole truth.
And nothing but the truth.
I say, let ‘em fry.
Enter the case of Lawrence Russell Brewer.
Convicted in 1999 for the brutal killing of James Byrd.
Brewer and two others were found guilty of dragging Byrd to his death at 2:30am on June 7, 1998.

They chained Byrd by his ankles to their pickup truck.
And drove for three miles.
Investigators had to identify Byrd’s body from fingerprints.
Fingerprints they took from a headless body.
Oh and one other thing.
Byrd was black.
The three guilty men were white.
As white as a white sheet.
Unfortunately you can probably find someone in this country who will miss Brewer.
But it won’t be me.
As for Davis.
His case was not nearly as cut and dry.
But many people are praising his execution.
And for good reason.
They believe he is guilty of killing an off-duty police officer in Georgia.
22 years ago.
Just like the jury believed it.
Two years later.
A jury described like a game of checkers.
Seven blacks, five whites.
That jury came to its conclusion after just two hours of deliberation.
They had clearly seen enough.
During the trial, several witnesses testified that they personally saw Davis commit the crime.
But the murder weapon was never discovered.
And no DNA was ever linked to the accused.
But the end of the trial turned out to be just the beginning of this story.
Seven of the nine “eyewitnesses” have since recanted all or part of their testimony.
Some of those witnesses said they were pressured by the police to point the finger at Davis.
If this is starting to sound like a Bob Dylan song.
It should.
This is the story of the Hurricane.
The one the authorities came to blame.
For something that he never done.
How can the life of such a man
Be in the palm of some fool's hand?
To see him obviously framed
Couldn't help but make me feel ashamed to live in a land 
Where justice is a game.

I am certainly not qualified to say that Davis never did it.
Nor am I educated enough on this case to say that he did.
But fortunately I can read wikipedia.
And there I found that Davis was scheduled to be executed in July 2007.
And September 2008.
And October 2008.
But each time, his execution was stayed “shortly before it was to take place.”
Clearly somebody saw something that didn’t make sense.
And it clearly didn’t make sense to a lot of people.
Like former President Jimmy Carter.
"Executing Troy Davis without a real examination of potentially exonerating evidence risks taking the life of an innocent man and would be a grave miscarriage of justice."
But despite the public outcry, Davis was put to death on Wednesday night.

"To those who are about to take my life, may God have mercy on your souls.  May God bless your souls."
Those his final words.
The final words of a man who shall forever be tied to the unknown.
A very different message than that heard from Brewer during one of his final public statements.
“As far as any regrets, no, I have no regrets.  No, I’d do it all over again, to tell you the truth.”
The truth.
Perhaps the truth shall set him free.
But in the case of Davis, we may never know the truth.
We just know that his case is now closed.
In the end, I’m not sure if I fear for what we do know.
Or fear more for what we don’t.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Tattoo You

I’d love to be a fly on the Great Wall when the two new Chinese imports arrive.

Those imports are J.R. Smith and Wilson Chandler.
And they are American basketball players.
Pretty good American basketball players.
But with the NBA currently locked out, Smith and Chandler are moving east for next season.
FAR east.
They have both signed to play in the Chinese Basketball Association.
And under their agreements, they won’t be able to come back to the NBA until the end of the Chinese basketball season.
Which ends in March.
Now if you look at their numbers, these guys are fairly impressive.
Smith has hit over 900 3-pointers in his seven NBA seasons.
While Chandler has averaged nearly 14 points per game in his four years in the league.
But take a closer look.
And I’m not sure you could pick two more unlikely guys to play under the roof of the Communist Party.
Let’s face it, it’s their skin color.
No, not because they are black.
Thanks to an unreliable source on the internet, I found that just 0.7 percent of the Chinese population is black.
Out of a billion plus.
But it is not the color of their skin that makes them unique in China.
It’s the color in their skin.
As in body ink.
Perhaps the only category that Chandler or Smith will ever lead the NBA in is number of tats.
These two guys -- former teammates in Denver -- are covered in tattoos.
And when I say covered, I mean COVERED.

Head to toe.
J.R. Smith
Wilson Chandler

Now personally, I find tattoos disgusting.
Ok, a little one here or there and I guess I’m fine.
But when you get into the neck.
Call me ancient.
Call me out of touch.
Call me anything you want.
But it is gross.
Of course all it takes is a trip to the local amusement park to realize that I am in the minority.
Tattoos have taken over the world.
Or at least this country.
And it’s not just the bikers.
Or the hoodlums.
Or the gang members.
Or however you want to label it.
It’s the school teachers.
And the soccer moms.
And the adult entertainers.
Talk about a buzz kill.
But this epidemic has reached the youth.
When I was growing up kids wanted to be like Mike.
Now they want to be like J.R. or Wilson.
Many kids are getting tattoos before they get their high school diploma.
And their parents can’t do much, but sit and watch.
And in some cases, pay for it.
That’s what happened to my friend.
Well sorta.
You see, a few years ago he got himself a really messy divorce.
REALLY messy.
He and his ex have two kids.
The 14-year-old girl lives with her.
The 16-year-old boy lives with him.
And they live a thousand miles from each other.
1125 to be exact.
A few weeks ago the mom showed up at the dad’s house to pay a surprise visit.
Only the dad was on a business trip.
While he was gone, she got to spend some quality 1-on-1 time with her son.
I’m not sure of the exact itinerary, but one stop on their reunion tour included a trip to the local tattoo parlor.
As a present, the mom bought her son the gift that keeps on giving.
A three-inch Boston Red Sox “B”.

On his left shoulder.
The teenage boy -- a minor I may add -- wanted to be like all his buddies at school who have tattoos.
But his dad wouldn’t allow it.
In fact, the dad made a point to tell his crazy ex a few weeks earlier that even though the boy wanted some ink.
He did not approve.
Not to mention he is Jewish -- and in Judaism tattoos are not permitted.
So he asked that she not do it.
And that’s probably what sparked the surprise visit.
When my friend shared this news with me the other day, I was disgusted.
Not because it was a Red Sox tattoo.
But because it was a tattoo at all.
On a 16-year-old boy.
Sure, mom-bership has some privileges.
But this isn’t it.
Knowing what I know about this story -- even though I can’t share.
Let’s just say she’d already done enough to scar this young boy for life.
She didn’t need to add ink to the fire.
But this kid used the oldest trick in the book to get his way.
If dad won’t let you do it.
Ask mom.
And unfortunately mom bit the hook.

Leaving this boy with a mark.

For the rest of his life.