Sunday, June 16, 2013

Father's Day

It's almost 10:00 a.m. and I haven't gotten any Hallmark cards yet, so I can't say for sure if Father's Day is a Hallmark holiday or not.  I can say that each Father's Day I've celebrated as a father has gotten richer over the years, if also more complicated.  When I went downstairs this morning to make the coffee, after debating with myself whether I should really get up or not, and cursing myself for not taking the time to make sure that at least one of my two sons knows how to make a decent pot of coffee so that I could save myself the trouble, I did get a big hug from my 10-year-old.  That was nice.  My 13-year-old son is still sleeping.  That's fine.  I wish I were still sleeping. 

My plan today is to go for a run, eat some breakfast, and then go coach my younger son's championship baseball game. He doesn't know that I know this, but my son wants to give me a championship for Father's Day.  Okay.

I never thought that the best part about Father's Day, the one thing that I would look most forward to, would be spending 45 minutes or so running by myself.  But as I said, fatherhood grows more complicated every year, it seems, and sometimes we just have to simplify for a bit.  And if my family allows me to do that for a little while today,then I'm happy.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Baseball Is A Simple Game

Youth baseball is now in full swing (pun intended), and after an extended period of irritatingly cold weather, we've had a stretch of heat that's fired up some thunderstorms that have cancelled some games recently, as sure a sign of summer as anything. 

Here's my problem with baseball: the adults who run kids' leagues.  No, let me try that again.  Here's my problem with baseball: because the action takes place in manic bursts of energy that die away almost as soon as they get started, people watching the games have too much time to think about, pick apart, examine, and analyze the game's minutiae.  And there's a hell of a lot of minutiae--it's the only youth sport that I've coached where it's not just advisable to carry a rulebook in the equipment bag, but where the chances are pretty good that on any particular play, you might have to consult the rule book to get clarification on something. 

Ive always hated when people use knowledge as a weapon to humiliate or intimidate other people, and unfortunately I see that type of behavior on the baseball diamond, particularly with obnoxious coaches and rookie umpires. 

But I'm getting away from what I really wanted to write about, which is the story out of Westfield, MA, about the 12-year-old Little League player who's been told by the league that he can't pitch, because he has too strong of an arm. He's pitching in Westfield Little Leagues "minor" league division, where most of the players are 9- and 10-years old. So the kid may have a good arm, or it may be that he's just got an advantage because he's a couple of years older than most of the other kids he's playing against. The story explains that some parents of opposing players actually heckled this kid while he was pitching. The move has upset the player and his family. The story also states that it's too late in the year for the kid to be moved up to the "majors" division.  It seems that the National Little League policy is to prohibit 12-year-olds from pitching in the minors, but Westfield's local rules permit it. 

That must mean that Westfield coaches have to carry TWO rulebooks in their equipment bags.

Now, I'm sure there are details that Ron Chmelis left out of his story for one reason or another, and that I don't know the full story.  But what I do know is that youth sports is supposed to be about developing in the participants the skills they need to enjoy playing that particular sport. While I'm sure the 12-year-old enjoys pitching against younger kids, I'm not sure that he's going to get much better at baseball playing against lesser competition.  And I'm not sure that the kids who have to bat against him will see much improvement, either.  Seems pretty cut and dry:  let the kids play against kids his own age.  I'm sure if left on their own, the kids would have figured this out themselves weeks ago. 

Stupid adults.

Monday, May 13, 2013

(Don't) Kill the Ump!

This hasn’t been a good run for Major League Baseball umpires. In one game, they mistakenly declared a home run to NOT be a home run, even with the help of instant replay.  In another game, they allowed a pitcher to warm up and then be removed from a game, which is illegal.  The umpires involved in these decisions have been suspended and some have even been fined. 

Nobody likes the ump; that’s one thing that even Yankee and Red Sox fans can agree on.  Umpires don’t have an easy job, to be sure, but what bothers me about Major League umpires is the general disdain they show for everyone in baseball who isn’t an umpire, players, coaches, and fans alike.  The next time you’re at a Major League game focus your attention for a moment on the first base umpire and watch how long it takes him to confirm a call.  If he’s a typical umpire, there will be a second or two between the ball and base runner getting to first and the official call. 

It’s not like he’s got anything better to do.  I mean, it’s only HIS JOB to make these calls.

And don’t get me started on the strike zone.  Not only is every umpired allowed to interpret the rules to mean he can make the strike zone be anything he wants it to be, but anyone who questions it is subject to immediate.    

So, much of the criticism the umpires are facing right now is justified and self-inflicted.  For people who work in a profession that will be replaced by robots or lasers hopefully any day now, I would think that they’d be nicer.  Instead, they act as if people pay to see them do their job and reject any notion that they can ever be wrong.  That’s all okay, though.  They’re professionals making big bucks.  What I can’t live with, though, is how their boorish behavior is spreading to college, high school, and youth baseball umpires.  This behavior may be a reaction to the other side of this ugly coin, the increasingly coarse behavior of parents and other fans, but no matter the cause, it turns what should be a celebration of baseball skill and passion into an adversarial exercise when it doesn’t need to be. 

I’ve disagreed—even sometimes, but rarely, vocally—with umpires many times over the years.  Like any father, fan, and coach, I can exchange bad umpiring stories with the best of them.  But I’m not going to do that as much anymore.  Why?  My 13-year-old son just began umping games.

Talk about a shift in perspective.

He decided to become an umpire not because of a power trip, but because he loves baseball and this gives him another way to be involved with the game. Prior to his first stint behind the plate this past weekend, he was so nervous that his whole body was shaking—he wanted very badly to do well.  The lesson to be learned here is that even if an umpire makes a call that goes against your team, it can still be a good all. 

I’ll try to ease up a bit on the umpires this year.  I won’t let the questionable calls get to me, and I’ll smile and shake hands afterwards with sincerity.  After all, as I’ve come to realize, even umpires have families who love them

Monday, April 29, 2013

Off the Cuff

It stares at me without pity from the pages of Wikipedia:

"Many rotator cuff tears are asymptomatic. They are known to increase in frequency with age and the commonest cause is age-related degeneration and, less frequently, sports injuries or trauma. Both partial and full thickness tears have also been found on post mortem and MRI studies in those without any history of shoulder pain or symptoms."

I could quibble over the questionable wording (commonest?) and how that might undermine the accuracy of the information, but the ache in my right shoulder tells me that the information is more accurate than not.

I never realized that I could get injured simply by doing nothing. So much for the "use-it-or-lose-it" philosophy of staying fit.  And then just below that result on the Google search was the medical article with this hope-crushing title: "Age-related prevalence of rotator cuff tears in asymptomatic shoulders."  

In other words, there are a lot of us walking around with bad shoulders, due to torn or strained rotator cuffs.  Some of us may not know it, and I suppose they are the lucky ones. Others know that there's a problem, but have no idea how they might have injured their shoulder, because it's something that just happens. 

It's hard to be an American male and not be able to throw. I've been thinking about it, and I've basically been throwing all my life.  Baseballs, footballs, balls of all types, of course; rocks, dirt clods, sticks; playing cards into hats, coins into fountains, chestnuts at kids from our rival neighborhood during the Chestnut Wars of 1978 to 1982.  Now I can still throw, but it really, really hurts when I do it.  This makes coaching baseball really difficult, and with baseball season just getting underway here in the Northeast, that's a problem. 

But what's really upsetting is that I haven't been able to play catch in the back yard with my kids. This injury has made me more aware of the fact that those moments are going to be fewer and fewer as the years go back.  A rotator cuff can happen for no apparent reason, but at least they can heal. The missed connections from a simple game of catch in the back yard is not as easy to correct.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Running for Peace

With the events of this week still freshly in my mind, I ran the Cave Hill Classic Road Race today in Leverett, Massachusetts.  This 5-mile race starts on the road in front of the Peace Pagoda, and finishes right in front of the Peace Pagoda.  The five miles in between features hills, lots and lots of hills.  This is the only race I've ever run where the race director, before firing the starting gun--in this case, banging the starting gong--gives the runners one last chance to opt-out. "The last mile-and-a-half," he said.  "Is all up hill."  He paused a moment to let that sink in before continuing.  "And the last part of the race is the steepest part." 

I've run a fair amount of races over the past five years, but I'm still not a confident enough runner to be able to completely ignore the specter of hills.  But it wasn't like I was going to turn around and just head back to my car. No, I was there to run. 

The hills were tough.  And the last part, the insane incline I had to run up before I could even catch a glimpse of the Peace Pagoda, that was just as hard as advertised.  But I ran up that hill, and I gratefully accepted the origami crane on a string that one of the Buddhist monks placed around my neck. 

This race just felt different.  There was a lot of pre-race chatter about what happened in Boston on Monday, and about the successful conclusion to yesterday's day-long manhunt.  Standing around a mountain top on a chilly April morning, the events of the week felt both immediately present and far away.  Thoughts of Boston were with me as I ran. I ran freely and with thoughts of peace flowing through my body. I ran hard and felt proud and safe. I ran because I'm a runner. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

We've Got To Keep Running

In 2008 I ran my first—and to this point my only—marathon, in Hartford.  I did not have an especially good race.  I hit the proverbial wall at around mile 20, and I spent way too much time walking instead of running.  But I finished.  And I was supported along with way by friends and family who met me at different points along the route to give me encouragement.

Near the finish, I willed myself back into a running pace, determined to run across the finish line.  About 300 yards short of the finish line, my family met me again.  My younger son, who was then five years old, darted out from the sparse crowd and ran with me towards the finish line.  I am not ashamed to admit that I had tears in my eyes: I’d trained hard for that moment, and not only was I going to finish, but my family was there to see me do it.  It was a triumphant and sweet moment.

That’s what I thought about when I saw the news coverage of the bombing at the Boston Marathon. What I didn’t sufficiently realize until I immersed myself in the news cycle was that a marathon is not just a moment of triumph for one runner.  Instead, it’s a moment of triumph for thousands of people, and not just the runners, but the families and friends of the runners and even for those who might not know anyone running.  A marathon—or any road race, really—is a celebration of human achievement.  Yesterday I thought about how I celebrated my marathon, and I thought about how that had been taken away by the cowardly scumbag(s) who set off the bombs, along with lives and limbs and feelings of personal security.  I felt a profound sense of loss and a growing tide of anger.

Now that the weather has finally turned here in New England, I’ve found myself contemplating doing another marathon this year, in part to erase the memories of a poorly run race five years ago. After yesterday, I realized that the stakes have been raised significantly.

Can I really be thinking about bringing my family to the finish line of a marathon after what happened in Boston?  Will big city marathons ever be safe, or be the same?  Will there still be people willing to run in marathons if in addition to worrying about the weather and pacing and training and fuel they now have to worry about their loved ones’ safety? 

This morning I had the same argument I have with myself every morning, should I run or go back to bed?  I ran. I ran this morning not because that’s what the training plan said I had to do or because I needed to build my base. Instead, I ran out of a sense of duty and out of anger.  I ran this morning for those people who, after yesterday, can no longer run for themselves.  And that’s why I’m going to run a marathon this year.  I refuse to let the scumbag(s) win.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A Spring Fever Breaks

At the end of a warm day in April, the kind of a day where you opened up all the windows to air out the house and invited in whatever hopeful, fragrant air might be out there, you walk into your bedroom after the sun has gone down and feel a bit of a chill.  It's dark out now and the temperature has dropped. Now the open windows are just letting in cold air. 

You shiver a bit as you close the windows, and your body reacts to a distant memory: spring days when you were young and the cooler temperatures and setting sun called you back home, and you ran into the house a little sweaty to finish homework or maybe to have a late dinner.  Then, the receding warmth of the day was easier to accept; it didn't portend anything because you'd already wrung out of the day all that you could. Now, the cooler temperatures and the blackness outside the windows serve as a reminder of wasted energy, and the relentless drive towards darkness that we all must face, regardless of the season. Another chance at fun simply thrown away.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Baseball Arrives

Mark Twain is credited with the quip about San Francisco's notorious weather, "the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco."  That quote popped into my head yesterday evening, the first baseball practice of the year. 

Now, I know cold.  I grew up in New Jersey and spent many fall and winter Sundays sitting in the stands of Giants Stadium in wind-blown East Rutherford, NJ.  I can remember a couple of times sitting in the stands and resting my feet on ice from a previous night's storm. Every year for the last 25 years or so, I've gone on an annual Spring golf trip to Pennsylvania, where snow flurries are the state bird.  In other words, it gets cold. 

Once when I was a kid, maybe 11 or so, a friend of mine called me up because he wanted to start a baseball team and he asked me to be on it.  The first and only practice we had was on a bitterly cold spring day.  Afterwards, I spent about an hour in our pantry, because it was warm in there. 

None of that previous experience prepared me for the 38-degree temperature and the 25-mile-per-hour wind that greeted us last night as we began to get ready for baseball season.  I had running tights on under my pants, two pairs of socks (sox, I guess, since we're talking baseball here), and three top layers.  And I froze my ass off. It was so cold that I didn't even remember to complain about my strained rotator cuff. 

I'll say it now: you won't here me complain at all this summer about the heat, after this crappy, cold spring. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

*$#@@ You, Winter

Poets have always written paeans to Spring.  It certainly makes sense: spring is the time of year when we feel alive, when the earth and all of its creatures emerge from a long winter's slumber.  Spring also serves as a nice metaphor for other important things in life, like growth, love, and lust.  But as I've sat and suffered through this winter that just doesn't seem to want to end (we had snow a week ago, and temperatures have been running 5- to 10-degrees below normal for weeks), it occurred to me that one of the reasons poets write so much about spring as opposed to winter is that they're all cowards. 

Winter is a bully and no one wants to stand up to him.  Instead, we collectively ignore the issue and praise spring.  I'm done with that.  Screw you, winter, and your life-sucking ways.  You arrive every year with promises of snowball fights and sledding, Christmas and hot chocolate.  Then you convince autumn to let you get started early and don't answer spring's calls four months later. That leaves us with four months of ice, snow, darkness, and cold.  Your job is over now, time to move on. 

I know that there are a lot of people out there who say that they love the winter.  I think they're lying. They may have found ways to cope with winter, such as skiing or skating or snowshoeing, but I don't think they really love winter.  They're just like the poets, though, too scared to call winter out for fear that it will retaliate. 

I'm over that.  I'm taking a stand and telling winter to hit the road.  Sure, I know winter will be back next year, but so will I. I could run away somewhere south (theoretically, that is) but I'm going to stay to keep an eye on winter, to keep it honest. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Back in the Saddle

It's been sitting there, like a pair of pants in the closet that you swear you'll be able to fit into again, some day.  It's been gnawing at me, especially as I have come across something in my daily travels that I label "blog-worthy."  But there comes a point, I believe, where the plant that you haven't watered for a long time ceases to be a living plant and instead becomes a relic, a memorial to live plants.  It can't be brought back, no matter how much water and sunlight you might provide. 

I'll stop now because the needle of the metaphor meter is pinned to the red.  I think you get the picture: after a long hiatus, I'm resurrecting the Prospect Perspective.  I do it for no other reason than I enjoyed sharing my thoughts with those people lucky enough to happen upon my tiny corner of the web. 

Yes, I'm going to ask you to stay tuned.  But you won't have to wait too long for new content.  I promise.