Friday, October 31, 2008

The Math that Matters.

This will likely be my last sports-related column for a while. But, I had to write it. I will get back to talking about the family and the kids soon, and in fact have a column that is halfway completed regarding the kids and their recent independent-streak…stay tuned.

As you may have heard, my beloved Philadelphia Phillies, are, as Harry Kalas would say, the World Champions, of baseball. I’ve followed this team a long time, and have written about sports in this space before. Here are some of my thoughts of late. Thank you as always for your indulgence…

The way that I spoke to my father in many ways was through sports. The hard part was that for the most part, during our time together, our teams, on a regrettable and consistent manner, sucked ass.

While I remember the Phillies 1980 World Series win very well, I was more interested in the Sixers in 1983 than Dad was. It was not something we shared.

What remained was a double decade of awfulness. Dad died in 1990. While I know he would have loved, as I did, the 93 Phillies, I’ve written here more than once about that season.

Over those years, the Eagles, and Flyers, and even the Sixers, though I never cared for the Iverson teams… they all gave us a few potential title runs, and came close, I only now realize that this Phillies championship is what would have made my dad the happiest of all.

Dad was a ballplayer. He taught me the game, and that was the game I played growing up. I wasn’t given the chance to play football, but in addition to swimming, I was allowed to play baseball. He taught me a few pitches, and I made them work while I still played. If I could have hit a curve ball, perhaps I would have played longer. But, once they started throwing those, I knew it was time to focus on swimming and music.

While I was old enough to care, the Eagles and Phillies were both horrible, and then we had the Buddy Ryan years. I don’t remember Dad being overly interested, not in the manner in which I was, and by that, I mean that manner in which I got into fights with the front running-fair-weather-cockroach Dallas fans, or on occasion the Giants fans. Like many young sports fans, I learned how to calculate a batting average long before I understood Algebra. It may have kept me from honor roll a few times, but it mattered far more to me that I could understand ERA and Yards per carry, so I could read football and baseball box scores than it mattered that I understood the “order of Operations” and PEMDAS. There was math that mattered to my life, and well, then there was Algebra.

The math that mattered was far more interesting. Still is.

I remember my dad telling me once that his mom kept scorebooks on the Phillies. Reams of them. I started doing it too, but regrettably, I was keeping score during the forgettable Lance Parrish and Dickie Thon years of Phillies baseball. Those were lean, lean years, and my interest in that pursuit waned a bit.

But Dad loved baseball. He would watch the World Series every year, even if he didn’t care much about either team. As the Phillies were so bad during the late 1980’s, my interest waned, but he always seemed to find a way to get my sister and I to watch some of the series. So I remember the Earthquake during the 1989 Oakland-San Francisco series. I remember the Kirk Gibson Home Run in Game one of the 1988 Dodgers vs. Athletics series. I remember Dad was happy that the Dodgers won, as I think he still begrudged the A’s for leaving Philadelphia. Can’t blame him. I remember the 86 Mets-Red Sox series really well, and I remember him telling me not to go to bed yet…it wasn’t over, and then the ball went through Buckner’s legs, and the Mets won. I didn’t much care for the Mets, and I thoroughly hate them now…but at the time, I knew it was a pretty major moment.

My interest dropped a bit after he died. Whereas he and I and my sister could make even a Von “Five for one” Hayes Phillies team interesting, removing him from that equation, and her as well after she moved out, made for a somewhat less engaging experience. I figure, subtract my family, and any semblance of decent play or a chance to win, and that math added up to me paying attention to other things. The Phils were just awful in those years. And, there was music to learn to dance badly to, Star Trek to watch, girls to flirt with and be rejected by and bad jokes to tell over and over.

But, going into 1993, when reading the Trenton Times, noteably Mark Eckel, and the paper's coverage of the team and it’s new acquisitions, and their personalities, I got hooked all over again. I went to a lot of games that year, and it was a wild ride that I’ve written of here before. While I’d always cared, that team brought the joy of the game back to me.

But now, after 28 years, the Phillies won a World Championship. I think Dad would have been most happy about this. More so than the Flyers two Stanley cups in the 70’s. More so than the 1980 series win. More so than the…well, the Eagles have their own road to travel there, but as they last won an NFL Championship in 1960, and have never won a Super Bowl, they seem like the odd one out here… But overall, I think Dad would have liked this won most of all, as it was of course a fun season, but my sister and I are both old enough, and have truly demonstrated symptoms of the disease that is Philly Sports Fever. I think we could have shared this one in a really fun way. Factor in the addition of my unwitting children to this equation, and one is left with a very satisfying result, were Dad around to enjoy it.

So, what’s odd about this experience for me, is that while I am certifiably excited and happy that the Championship drought of 25 years is over, I’m finding myself feeling two distinct things:

The first is relief. I got way too geeked up for some of these games, to the point that if they had lost, I very likely would have caused great harm to the walls of my home. Just being honest. The d├ęcor is intact.

The second though, is an even deeper desire than I had before for my teams to win. I thought I would feel satisfaction, but now that I’ve tasted it…I want more. More….More. I’m not satisfied. I want the teams to care as much as the fans do. I want more parades. I don't want to see teams let up, now that the "curse" is over.

My kids are now, as I’ve taught them, referring to the Phils as the “World Champion Phillies.” My daughter is in love with the Phanatic. My son wants to watch Hockey, but loved the series, and as the final outs were recorded, I held on to whichever one happened to get close enough for me to hug, in turn. I don’t know that they’ll remember it, but I’ll see that they hear about it. Over and over again. They are part of the Math now.

The twins will be four next month, and the Bear will be two. They’ve lived to experience one Eagles Super Bowl (loss), and a Phillies world championship. That’s two chances for a World Championship and one title in just under four years.

By the time I was four, I had lived through the following: two Flyers Stanley Cup wins in three consecutive trips to the NHL finals; The Sixers went to the NBA Finals one time and lost to Portland. That’s four chances and two titles in the first four years of my life.

I for one, hope that the twins averages hold or improve, as mine did neither: the next 30 some years of my life yielded only a Sixers title, and now a second Phillies title.

I want this to be the start of something great, rather than the start of another 28 year wait.

Here's hoping the Math adds up.

Until the next one. Hope I can make that Parade. Go Philly.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Being a Philadelphia sports fan is very much like living through a Russian novel.

People who know nothing of fact make a lot of comments about the “city of Brotherly love” Often, such comments are limited to ignorant sports commentators। But now and then, the “Philadelphia attitude” becomes newsworthy.

And it has in some ways this week। And I don’t know where to start।

OK-that’s not true। I’d be an even worse writer than I am if I sat down to plunk away at this without any idea what I wanted to say…

Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin dropped the puck at the opening game for my beloved Philadelphia Flyers earlier this week। They lost। She received what I would call a ‘respectful boo” though it was by no means overwhelming. She was received as well as one would hope from a crowd in south Philly that was very likely divided almost down the middle politically. But that has not stopped the media, in their ‘wisdom’ from taking the chance to beat up on the Philly fans. I saw one “reporter” say, “They booed Santa-how will Sarah Palin fare?” Again with this nonsense…

Ohhhh…they booed Santa Claus…।know what? Damn right they did. They booed the hell out of that guy, but do any of you know why?

It was Halftime of a game against the Minnesota Vikings, December 15, 1968. The fans who were not utilizing the time to get more beer or use the facilities, and were actually watching the halftime show, heartily booed a young man in a Santa Claus suit, who had been enlisted from the stands, due to the fact that the guy scheduled to appear as Santa had been snowed in down in Wildwood, of all places.

They pelted him with snowballs, and they booed him heartily…because he made an ass of himself. As my friends from Boston might say, “that guy was wicked hammered...”

The guy embarrassed himself. And he was rightly booed. The fact that sports reporters cling to it even today, nearly 30 years later strikes me as pure laziness. Yeah, cheering Michael Irvin when he got hurt was a little wrong, but that guy tore us up for years. I, for one never threw a battery at J.D. Drew, nor did I throw a snowball at Jimmy Johnson, though I know some who did. Overall, the Flyer’s fans did what they do-expressed their opinion: some booed. Some stood and cheered. And then it was done. Regrettably they lost, as they have all three of their games to start this season, which I assure you, gentle reader, is all that mattered to the fans when the horn sounded.

Philly fans are passionate, they are interactive with the product, they do their homework, and in general, live and breathe the ups and downs of their teams. That said, they probably care more about winning than the owners do, and that has led to generations of disappointment. Many are convinced that the jersey they wear or the bar stool they inhabit makes a genuine difference in whether or not the team wins. I once saw at guy in a bar sent to his car by his buddies to change his shirt after a particularly bad first quarter for the Eagles. He did as he was ordered without argument. I’ve done the mid-game jersey switch myself, as recently as this past Sunday when the Eagles were lucky to get past a pretty weak 49ers team…I’m not proud, but nor am I apologetic. As Pennsylvania native DJ Wiz Khalifa sings, “It’s all in the blood…” But I digress.

Being a Philadelphia sports fan is very much like living through a Russian novel. There are ups and downs, and inexplicable turns of fate. There are characters that come from nowhere and make a demonstrative difference, and there are plotlines that start months away, and culminate 562 pages in in a manner that makes the reader jump out of their seat. And the denouement is so spectacularly tragic, that, while you were glad to have been there to see it, you know you will walk away viscerally changed. Even if you arrive at the conclusion you’d hoped for, you may feel challenged by how you got there. Nothing insignificant ever happens. It all ends up mattering somehow, and the result is usually somewhat melancholy.

In my life, I remember the Phillies 1980 World Series win. To date, it is the only championship for the franchise.

I remember the Sixers 1983 title win, and Moses, and Doc, and Mo Cheeks. I was really into basketball in those years, but I didn’t get to see many of those games on TV. But I loved Moses and Doc. We used to fight on the playground about who got to be Doctor J during our pickup games.

And that was the last championship. I’ve talked about the 93 Phillies here and about the Eagles Super Bowl teams. The Flyers have had their chances, and I’ve written of them in this space too.
I watched the Eagles play in the Super Bowl with my sister back at Ott’s in South Jersey, and up until they lost, it was one of the best nights I’ve had.

I know where I was when Joe Carter hit his homerun and sent Lenny Dykstra, who would have been MVP of that series but for one pitch, into his own version of Philadelphia lore. I was sitting in my dorm room in Ohio, and my girlfriend, who later turned into the wife later on, was dressed to the nines. It was the Fall Formal Dance, and if memory serves, the Artie Shaw Orchestra was playing. Still went to the dance, but Artie’s music never sounded worse.

I’d gone to at least 20 games that summer. I listened to Harry Kalas on the radio on a daily basis. All of those games…I was there for them all, even the one that ended at like 4am and was won by Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams making the game-winning hit, while, as I recall, his Dad was sleeping in Mitch’s Truck. I remember all that, and I remember the names of every player and knew every story. I even got to meet Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn. Well, I accidentally bumped into him, but it was cool. '93 was a fun season, and I don’t think I remember it any less fondly because they lost in the series. Be nice to know what it feels like to have a championship though.

Philly sports fans are a different breed to be sure. I’ve witnessed fights in the 700 level of the Vet, and in the parking lot. I’ve seen a grown man dressed up as “Baby New Year,” diaper and all during a cold winter Eagles playoff game. One time, in the restroom, I saw a guy look at the long line for the urinal and just shrugged his shoulders, and took a leak in the sink. Washed his hands there too.

But, we are nothing if not loyal, and perhaps to a fault. I’ve been very frustrated with my teams, and more than once, I’ve said to myself, there’s GOT to be more to life than this! I’ve tried turning off games that are going poorly-like this weekend’s Eagles and Phils and Flyers games. I try to say that I don’t care, and I say I don’t need to watch. I try to act as though it’s really not important, and that I don’t need to see it all unfold. I can walk away, turn away, is what I tell myself.

But I’m a liar. I always end up turning the game back on, and sometimes, like this weekend, I’m rewarded with the Eagles pulling it out. And sometimes, it goes from bad to worse. I still end up feeling mad, and saying I’ve got to find other things to do with my time and emotional energy, but I can’t stop. I’m hooked. It’s in the blood.

And what’s worse, I’m teaching this to my children. I have passed it on, and while they are all under four years old at this writing, I am passing it on to them. They will toil with me, and while they don’t yet understand what they are in for, I’m comforted by the fact that at least I can pass this affliction on to others. If I do a good job, at least I’ll have the opportunity to suffer with my children.

But in the meantime, the media needs to come up with some new ammunition. The Santa Claus thing is old news, and almost everyone who references it doesn’t know a thing about that day, nor do they understand the people they are lambasting. So, go do some homework. Pure laziness. Do Philadephia fans boo? Yep. Do they boo and cheer sometimes in the same minute. Yep. We cheer what’s good and boo what’s not. Deal with it.

Whether they like it or not, I am actively indoctrinating my children with this mania that more often than not brings me more heartache than joy. At least so far, but I mean, I never had a choice, why should they?

And maybe, one day, they’ll know what it’s like to celebrate a championship. Maybe I will too. I mean, I was 10 last time.

It’s all in the blood, and that doesn’t change.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

This is what I do now. And my kids are cool.

My kids rule. I’ve always thought that, and have always felt that, even in the time in their lives when I wasn’t spending as much time with them as I am now.

I’ve made some critical comments about living in Hawaii since we’ve come here, and while it has been an interesting challenge living here at times, I want to make clear that this move was made for a variety of reasons; the wife’s career may have been the genesis, but it was not the only factor. The move here gave me a chance to walk away from the Educational industry that, to be honest, was continuing to disappoint me. In addition, it gave me a chance to focus on the only job
I’ve ever wanted to be good at-parent. Our family has time together now, and I am spending more time with my kids than ever, and it is truly time that I will never get back, so I am glad to have it. It is also, quite simply time that I would never have been able to have with them back in Jersey, things being as they were. The move here made this possible, and I am grateful for it.

And I always will be, and for a great many reasons. However this all will play out in the coming years, the move to Oahu was the right one for us as a family. Period.

It was just a year ago that the wife and I came over here to look for a home. This December it will have been a year that we’ve lived here. It’s somewhat hard to recall that it has truly been that short of a time, as life in this place has very much been intense in a way that I did not expect.

There are times that the distance from friends and family is difficult in a palpable manner. There are times that time difference alone feels absurd. Having to get up at 7am to see my beloved Eagles play on a Sunday is simply an exercise in ridiculousness. Of course, I’ll do it, but while it may be 7am, my heart is telling me ‘hot cider, chili, wings, Yuengling, and a relaxing Sunday afternoon,’ while my clock is telling me, um, ‘good morning.’ One might see this as trivial, but then, if you do, you are clearly not a Philadelphia sports fan. Or perhaps not a sports fan at all, as I imagine that the “bandwagon-jumping-on-and-off” Dallas fans might have a similar reaction, but only if their team was good that year. They hide like the Mongooses of Hawaii when their team is bad. But, I digress. Cowboys suck by the way.

There are times, that, as unsavory as it is for me to say after the joy with which I walked away from my professional life, that I miss aspects of that life. I did good work then, and I got a lot of satisfaction from the connections that I had with the staff, and with parents and colleagues, but mostly with the kids. Truthfully, there are days, if I’m honest, that I feel some guilt for leaving behind some of the students that I had worked with and for. But they have moved on, and I hope they have done well.

In the end, I could have kept on at all that, but I had the chance to do something else, and I took it. And that something else was my kids.

And, man, they are really something these days. The stuff that they come up with is great, and every day they are giving me something new. Sometimes, I don’t know how I can keep up with their minds and imaginations.

The little bear has entered the ‘I’m learning 10 new words a day now Daddy, so you’ve got to keep up with what I’m asking you, if you don’t mind’ phase. It’s been a real whirlwind. She knows what she’s saying, and means it quite vehemently, and pity on me if I don’t get it right away. Fortunately, she has her older brother and sister to help me get it, which they did very nicely the other day as we were getting ready for bed.

The bear was very clearly saying to me, “Do-da shoo!” and I thought, no, honestly, I had no bloody idea what she was talking about. I tried every stuffed animal in her room, and books, and non of it seemed to make any difference, so I just said to her, all of 22 months that she is, “Bear…I don’t know what you are asking for.”

And so, the Girl, who had been in the room with us, with her “I’m almost four years old-AND, I’m 3 minutes older than my twin brother” senior analysis offered the following:

“Daddy…she wants her Dora shoes.”

There was no physical eye roll, but I felt it deep within. It was all so simple to the Big Sister.

The aforementioned shoes were collected from the next room, and placed where they apparently were supposed to go during nighttime, and the Bear was quite happy. Not so happy that she went to bed in her new “big kid bed” without hollering, but we’ve rather covered that here. It was a big help.

The Girl, in addition to providing insight on her sister, has taken to providing her collection of stuffed animals with their own “big kids” beds since she is now in one. As I have put her to bed over the last few evenings, what I have seen is truly a remarkable achievement in event planning and nocturnal research. Those “Sleep Number” people ought to take notice. The arrangements included the following:

-Panda Bear had her bed on the little chair, with a small book as her pillow. The night before, Panda Bear slept on the floor near the closet, with the little beach rug as her blanket.

-Dinosaur had her bed in her suitcase.

-Tubby the Hippo had a very cozy bed in the Tinkerbell shoebox with Pinky-Dog’s blankie. This was a very nice concession of Pinky to share, which is of course in her nature. Pinky was the first and is still the favorite.

-Happy Bear slept on the other little chair, and had one of the Girl’s drawings as a blanket. Oh, the power of art…

-Pajama Bear and Pinky both had cozy spots in the big Princess box.

-Koala Bear was on a lovely shelf in the bookcase, not far from Pinky, and Pajama Bear.

It was meticulous the manner in which she had laid them all out. Every animal had a spot, and was cared for. She’d read books to them, and tucked them all in, and made sure they were comfy.

And then she went to bed. I’ve checked on her the last few nights just to see where everyone was, and man, the meticulous manner with which she’s made this whole thing happen is impressive. It’s the kind of thing I probably would have missed seeing, but would have heard about later maybe back when I was in Jersey.

The Boy on the other hand has always been meticulous. His toys, and particularly his animals are usually pretty organized, although it rarely looks like it. He is particular in the way that he’ll line up his toys, and books. This is not to say that he won’t simply make a mess just to make one…all of them excel at that, which I find encouraging. He will be quite content to line up his trains, or his cars, and spend hours having them interact. He’s really very fun that way.

The Boy of late, much to my great delight, has become interested in Dinosaurs. In particular, he’s popped on two book that my parents gave me when I was a kid, and was interested in Dinosaurs. He can identify a Tyrannosaur, and Oviraptor, which he knows means, “Egg Stealer,” as does his sister. He likes the Stegosaurus, and knows that it is a plant eater. He also likes the Triceratops, with its three horns. He says it looks like the Rhinoceros form the Zoo, but with more horns. He can also identify the Diplodocus, and the Brachiosaurus, both of whom eat plants.
And, all of my kids, including the Bear, know what “prehensile” means. That may seem a small thing, but to me, right now, and the fact that I was able to spend that time with them in the reptile house at the Honolulu Zoo explaining it to them, and the fact that they remember it verbatim after repeated visits matters to me.

All of my kids, can sing the Philadelphia Eagles fight song. It was their first lullaby, so I would expect no less.

The twins can name the members of the E. Street Band. We are working on Bon Jovi, but they know that they are from Sayreville.

They are great, and they are doing new things every day, and I’m here to see it, and that, my friends, is cool. No matter what else this time in Hawaii may turn out to be, the fact that I’m here living this life with my family is pretty damned cool, and that is really the state of things.

Yeah-it's hard sometimes. I've forced myself to count to ten, and I've walked into the garage and forced myself to's not an easy job.

But it's the only one I need to be good at. I'm not where I thought I'd be, but I'm exactly where I'm called to be, and that, despite the challenges, is truly satisfying.

Plus, the prehensile thing is pretty impressive isn't it?