Thursday, March 30, 2006

Spring is finally here! Keep your shirt on.

[BREAKING:] No time to read? I totally understand. Let me read this blog to you HoCoMoJo Podcast style!

Like every other stir-crazy homebody that has had enough of winter, I’m ecstatic that spring is finally here. Longer days, warmer weather, the return of life all around us; it’s a welcome time of year. Granted, I’m a whiner, so I’ll also complain about the misery of seasonal allergies and the return of the insect world –my windshield is already covered with those that were in this world less than the second season of Jake in Progress, Emily’s Reasons Why Not or Love Monkey. [Note to self: watch the dated references] ahem...less than the second season of Middle Class Stay at Home Dads that love their HAM radios of East Cambridge, only on Bravo.

Leaving the jacket in the closet is that little bonus I treasure. And spring attire looks great on paper, but in practice can be a disaster. This spring, please show consideration for everyone else before dressing by following these simple yet practical rules:
  • Capri pants (no matter what label they’re given this season) only look good on women – trust me, you look ridiculous, dude. And if you could straighten the brim of your trucker hat parallel with your nose, or opposite exactly 180° (that's just plain backwards), I’d be ever so grateful.
  • Topless lawn care can only be pulled off by 2% of the male population, and even they come off as narcissistic – are you in the top 2? Seriously?! We both know the answer to that, so keep your shirt on. Ladies? Hey, if you want to continue to allow a repressive male society to keep you down with their outdated, puritanical restrictions, that's your choice.
  • If your thong looks like it’s splitting two giant hams, it’s definitely not kosher. For dudes, the Capri pants rule applies.
  • Banana hammocks are meant for Olympic swimmers – and only at Olympic events held every four years in another host country; never the beach or neighborhood pool.

Gentlemen, your razor is your friend. Don’t be shy with it. If you can’t reach a spot, ask for help. Otherwise, cover it up. You’re scaring the children.

If we all follow these simple rules, everyone can enjoy the season (and keep our collective lunches down). Thank you!

What fashion faux pas belong in your neighborhood's covenants or rental agreement?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Why I Love the Game

I just returned from my first spring training trip. I went to Florida with my buddy Frank to see my favorite team, the Baltimore Orioles. With the World Baseball Classic in full swing, eleven starters were off representing their native countries. At first I was frustrated, but that passed before we even made it to our first game. Besides, it’s more fun witnessing new talent so you can say – “I remember when…” When we landed in Ft. Lauderdale, waiting for our baggage, I heard the voice of one of my baseball idols, Brooks Robinson. Frank called his name out; he turned to us and smiled, firmly shook our hands, and then went on his way. We didn’t ask for autographs. We didn’t ask for pictures. We just wanted to introduce ourselves and shake the hand of a legend. What a way to start a week of baseball!

At one of the games, I saw a t-shirt with a picture of a worn baseball and a caption that said “Life begins when the season starts.” New beginnings, everyone’s in first place, and spring means new life for so many reasons. This slogan could apply to any sport for your typical sports fan, but it just felt perfect at spring training in Florida, where the sun was out, the grass was green, and we had just left winter behind in Baltimore, even if just for a few days.

But why do I love baseball? First, I need something to tide me over until football. I never played football. I was too delicate. But I played baseball. Not well, but I loved it. I played little league for years, and my parents were at every game. And my parents weren’t the sort that insisted I be the best, or had fantasies of scholarships, or lived their own dreams vicariously through me. They loved to watch me have fun. And even make a few good plays.

Everyone who plays baseball or softball has a few moments they’ll never forget. A solid hit where there is no recoil or vibration from the bat. It’s so smooth you almost don’t feel it, except for the launch of the ball off the end of the bat. Or that one amazing catch. My best year was when I was 12 and played outfield, but was slightly off in my timing and judgment so I would make a last second adjustment and catch a fly ball with a stretch and a roll. I was unstoppable – just for a season. My plays looked outstanding, and it was all due to delayed timing. But hearing cheers and helping your team was the best. Especially after plenty of seasons in the outfield chanting to myself softly “don’t hit it to me, don’t hit it to me, don’t hit it to me” because missing that pop fly as another run scores is, well, just the opposite.

But playing is only part of my love of the game. My dad would take me to Pirates games when I was a boy, and it is by far one of my fondest memories. Baseball games weren’t televised regularly back in the day, and we lived hours from Pittsburgh. But my dad would get tickets and take me whenever he could. Plus I saw my all-time favorite player in person at Three Rivers Stadium – Roberto Clemente. You should read about him. He was an outstanding player, and an incredible man.

Sports fans sound like name-droppers, but when we say a player’s name in awe, it’s not just about stats (and never about money). It’s about true amazement at one’s hand-eye coordination and ability to perform in such a competitive and pure sport. Baseball fans are patient. For many, people it’s a slow-moving, boring game. For true fans it’s witnessing strategy, skill, drama and the anticipation of the next big play, or perfect pitching performance.

So I love playing the sport, and watching the sport. I have my fondest memories with my father watching me play, and taking in a game together. And although my son Sean is all grown up and isn’t a big baseball fan right now, he played when he was younger for the same reasons I did. My wife and I went to all his games and practices just like my folks. I also took him to his first major league game with my buddy Greg when he was only four or five years old (Sean, not Greg). I remember his excitement the days leading up to the game, the day of the game, and the days that followed. I also remember taking him a few years later to a Baltimore-Seattle game and witnessing his first bench-clearing brawl. As much as I tire of retaliatory pitching, a 20-minute slugfest really is something to behold.

My daughter Megan played softball for the same reasons Sean and I played baseball: for the fun of the game. When it no longer became fun [insert stories of team stacking, prima donnas and relentless parents here], she tired of it. Same went for Sean and I.

I also enjoy going to minor league games. Actually, I prefer them. We have a single-A affiliate of the Orioles about 45 minutes from our home, the Frederick Keys, and they’re wonderful. 2005 Carolina League Champions! Just like at spring training, the stadiums are small and intimate. You really feel up close, all seats are great and the players are approachable. With minor league ball, you’re witnessing players that are in the beginning of the system. They’re in it for the love of the game. They make next to nothing financially, so all hold full-time jobs during the off season. In fact, many players are housed by local residents like visiting exchange students in high school. They’re all looking to move up the system, or head straight to the big leagues (the show). And fans are right there with them, hoping to see them achieve their dream.

I’m not a sportswriter. I can’t recite stats, or records, or recall what year anyone did anything. I can’t explain every rule, describe every pitch or guess what moves the manager is about to make. But I just love this game. And everyone has a baseball story.

I’ll close with just one more. When I was a boy, my cousin Peter and I were visiting a few of our other cousins in Montreal, Quebec, back in the early 1970s. I was probably seven or eight years old. My Uncle John was friends with a player on a minor league team (he may have even been a Montreal Expo). We were headed to a game with our uncle to meet his friend and our car overheated on the way. We found an orange plastic cone on the road side, trudged into the woods and found a stream, then brought back water several times until the radiator was filled (after it cooled of course). Eventually we got back on the road but were hours late and missed nearly all of the game. But my uncle was able to find his friend and introduce him to two young fans who were thrilled beyond words. I may not remember his name, but I will never forget the moment. The minor league stadium was huge to this little boy, and the player larger than life. Meeting Brooks last week took me back to Montreal, and the Pirates games with my dad. I may be 42 now, but the feeling is no different. Baseball makes me feel like a boy and a son and a father and a player and a fan. Awestruck, I shook the hand of Brooks Robinson who looked me in the eye and smiled back at me because I was grinning like an idiot and he knew I simply love this game.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Don’t Answer It!

Simple concept: if your cell phone rings, chirps, raps, sings, farts or vibrates and you’re already in a conversation with someone, don’t interrupt it to start a new one on your phone. Looking at your hip, glancing down at your phone, or pulling it up to your eyes, when speaking or being spoken to, is simply rude. “I have to take this” is the biggest lie since “I meant to call you.” There is only one reason to check your phone in a conversation: you are a licensed therapist and it’s one of your more unstable patients. Talking someone down from a building rooftop is an acceptable interruption. OK, maybe one other exception but it better be legit: potential hookup. Otherwise, ignore your damn cell phone. It shouldn’t control your attention the way crack does for Whitney.

You have voicemail for a reason. Use it. I challenge you to think of a time when you’ve had to answer your phone the moment it rings. Even if it’s an emergency, chances are you don’t know if they should cut the blue wire or the red one, MacGyver. Have you ever checked your voicemail five minutes after a call and said, “Damn. If only I had answered it when it rang. Now it’s too late.”? No, you haven’t. Yes, it’s a pain to call your voicemail, punch in your pin, listen to a message and return a call. But it isn’t rude. Sometimes, it's not about you.

So the next time someone looks at their phone during your conversation, give them a little slap. “Hey! Eyes up here. We’re talking.” It will be a firm but effective reminder that they’re already talking to someone; the other person can wait.

When we cut the cord (phone cord) and went wireless worldwide, it was supposed to provide freedom. Who knew we’d have to cut the cord again, this time the wireless umbilical cord so many cell phone users are attached to?