Thursday, November 12, 2015

On Failure

I have a desk. And a computer. And responsibility.

Ten years ago, I worked for an independent professional baseball team. I started as a public relations intern before moving up to Media Relations Manager after my first season on the job. It was hard work, with a lot of hours at the ballpark, and I wasn't very good at it. This was especially true when it came to the most important component: sales. After less than a year on the job, I was "laid off" the day after the end of the 2004 season.

I had failed before - the occasional bad grade in high school or college, relationships that didn't work out, less than stellar performance at the job that helped put me through college - but never to this magnitude. When I told my mother about the full time position, she had been thrilled. "Your son is gainfully employed!" she told my father.

It occurred to me recently that I had never figured out how to generalize failure. I never saw the loss of a job for what it was, as something on the same scale as those other issues, just bigger and therefore just as possible to overcome. I had graduated with honors despite those occasional bad grades. I had met the woman I would eventually marry despite those other failed relationships. I just needed to pick myself up again and move on.

Instead, my already fragile self-confidence broke. For the next decade, I worked at jobs that rarely required me to take risks. Back Room team member at Target. High school paraprofessional. Direct support professional. Every so often I would talk about wanting more, but it always came down to one thing: no responsibility meant no chance of failure.

Until a year or so ago when I told my boss I wanted to do more. I was a new father for the second time, soon to learn that numbers three and four were on the way, and that sparked something inside me. I was scared of failing at something again, of being proven unworthy, of having ten years of voices in my head by proven right.

But all that was outweighed, for a brief moment at least, by the thought of my children. How could I encourage them to reach high if I myself had given up the first time things got hard? How could I expect them to attempt great things - to attempt ANYTHING - if I was afraid to do the same?

My boss agreed that I was capable of more than I was doing and ultimately offered me a position despite my insistence that others would be better choices, or my descriptions of the myriad ways in which I could fail, or my outward expression of the war between No You Can't and Yes You Can taking place in my head. If you can say nothing else positive in my favor, at least say that no one else in the history of the world has ever tried so hard to talk his way out of a sure thing.

As things were starting to get set up in my workspace, my boss looked around my small office and casually noted that I could decorate however I wanted. The next day I brought in two things that had been in my car, my previous "office": a picture of my wife with all four of our kids and the prayer card from my grandmother's funeral.

The family picture was a no-brainer. My wife has always supported me and told me I'm better than I think I am, and my children are the most important people in the world to me. Those five people are the reason I do anything. I want them close to me.

And my grandmother...there's a story I've told about her many times that only recently struck me for its relevance (this is not an uncommon theme in my life). When I was nine or so, I wanted to learn to ride a bike but had no one to teach me. So the task fell to my Mum-Mum, then in her mid-60s.

We went into her driveway and worked at it, but at some point I started to fall. Though I caught myself, the bike knocked her over. She rolled across the ground and bounced to her feet, laughing and encouraging me to give it another try.

She's gone now, and I've forgotten that lesson too many times. You fall down, you pick yourself up. Something knocks you down, you pick yourself up. As many times as it takes.

I have a desk. And a computer. And responsibility. People are counting on me. And I am going to fail, most definitely, to varying degrees. And when it happens, I'm going to look at my wife and kids and remember that no matter how poorly I do at work on a given day, their smiling faces and excited yells will greet me when I walk in the door. And I'll look at my grandmother's card, the one with the Irish lullaby on the back, and remember that I need to laugh, pick myself up, and try again.


Saturday, June 20, 2015

Best Names of the 2015 First-Year Player Draft

The Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft took place a couple weeks ago. Every year, I like to look back on the players chosen and pick my favorite names. There's no clear-cut criteria for making the list; it's all about those names that amuse or interest me in some way.

1.      Kyle Funkhouser, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers (1-35)
2.      Travis Blankenhorn, 3B, Minnesota Twins (3-80)
3.      Trey Cabbage, 3B, Minnesota Twins (4-110)
4.      Demi Orimoloye, RF, Milwaukee Brewers (4-121)
5.      Skye Bolt, CF, Oakland Athletics (4-128)
6.      Kade Skivicque, C, Detroit Tigers (4-130)
7.      Parker French, RHP, Colorado Rockies (5-137)
8.      Jagger Rusconi, CF, Boston Red Sox (5-141)
9.      Ka’Ai Tom, CF, Cleveland Indians (5-154)
10.  Tucker Tubbs, 1B, Boston Red Sox (9-261)
11.  Sarkis Ohanian, RHP, Cincinnati Reds (9-265)
12.  Seby Zavala, C, Chicago White Sox (12-352)
13.  Scooter Hightower, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates (15-457)
14.  Nate Gercken, RHP, Minnesota Twins (17-500)
15.  Rock Rucker, LHP, Cincinnati Reds (20-595)
16.  Toller Boardman, LHP, Detroit Tigers (22-670)
17.  James McMahon, RHP, Colorado Rockies (24-707)
18.  Zach Morris, LHP, Philadelphia Phillies (24-714)
19.  Icezack Flemming, RHP, New York Yankees (26-783)
20.  Taylor Hicks, RHP, Detroit Tigers (26-790)
21.  Christian Turnipseed, RHP, Baltimore Orioles (28-853)
22.  Earl Burl III, CF, Toronto Blue Jays (30-902)
23.  C.D. Pelham, LHP, Texas Rangers (33-978)
24.  M.T. Minacci, RHP, Chicago Cubs (33-983)
25.  Jake Peevyhouse, LF, Arizona Diamondbacks (34-1006)
26.  Joeanthony Rivera, LHP, Texas Rangers (34-1008)
27.  Kewby Meyer, OF, Tampa Bay Rays (37-1108)
28.  Rayne Supple, RHP, Chicago Cubs (38-1133)
29.  Bucket Goldby, 3B, Miami Marlins (39-1166)


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Most Bus Leagues Game Ever

Back in 2007, my friend Eric and I started a blog called Bus Leagues Baseball. For five years we chronicled various aspects of minor league baseball: players, promotions, mascots, teams, oddities – anything that caught our attention, really.

Eric and I live several hundred miles apart, but we would get together from time to time to catch a ballgame or two, meetups that I eventually began referring to as “Bus League Summits.” (I have a vague recollection of mentioning a Bus League Summit to Someone Important. They were intrigued by the concept until I was like, “Um, yeah…it’s pretty much just two dudes watching baseball.”) There was the Hall of Fame in 2008, an Orioles game in 2009 (where he was famously harangued by an usher to return to his seat because, “This isn’t general admission – we’re close to a sellout!”, and a Phillies game in 2010. I think that was the last of the Bus League Summits before we shut the site down following the 2012 season.

The last…until now. (Cue dramatic music. No, not that one, the other one. Right. Thanks.)

Eric came up north for a visit last weekend, and after attending a Red Sox-Twins game with my wife and son on Thursday (nothing exciting happened there, unless you count Blake Swihart’s first major league home run and the extremely drunk person behind us in the eighth inning who began profanely telling his friend that he planned on killing someone who said he had poured beer on his head; THIS…IS…BOSTON!), we got down to business on Friday, heading up to Manchester to see the New Hampshire Fisher Cats take on the Richmond Flying Squirrels in a tilt that he ultimately labeled, “The Most ‘Bus Leagues’ Game EVAR!”

One of my professors in college told me that bullet points are lazy writing and should be avoided. Apologies, Professor Frankfurter, but a) it’s late, and b) bullet points and numbered lists are also Bus Leagues Things. So away we go.

1) Food: We were in the ballpark for roughly four minutes before hitting up the concession stands. Eric got a sausage and a beer; I went with a sausage, fries, and iced tea. After enjoying a great sausage at the Sox game I expected to be disappointed by a minor league offering that was somehow almost the same price; it was a pleasant surprise, then, when the Fisher Cats’ version delivered.

2) Prospects: When I emailed my friend and Bus Leagues fanatic Craig Forde to tell him we’d be at this game, he said he wouldn’t be able to make it due to a prior commitment but noted that we would probably get to see Tyler Beede’s first Double-A start. I didn’t know who Beede was and honestly didn’t bother to look him up (that statement would have given 2011 Brian a stroke), though it was obvious that he was somebody since Craig deemed him worthy of mention.

Turns out he was the Giants’ first round pick in last year’s draft. A righthanded pitcher originally from Auburn, Massachusetts, he was originally drafted by the Blue Jays in the first round in 2011 but didn’t sign and ended up attending Vanderbilt, where he won a College World Series championship in 2014. So he’s pretty good, and he just turned 22 on May 23.

Against the Fisher Cats, he was obviously nervous, surrendering hits to two of the first three batters he faced and walking another to load the bases with only one out. A double play ball got him out of the jam, though, and the Fisher Cats did not touch him again. And by “did not touch him,” I mean, “he retired eight in a row before putting a man on with a throwing error, then got seven more outs before walking a batter.” He was, as they say, as advertised (even if I didn’t pay attention to said advertising). In the end, it was seven innings of two-hit, three-walk, four strikeout baseball.

Sadly, Beede’s success meant nothing good for one of my favorite players, New Hampshire’s Ronald Torreyes. My friend Chris laughs at me for how much I love Torreyes, a non-prospect I’ve picked up and released several times in our thirty team fantasy baseball league, and he’s probably right: the Venezuelan infielder is hitting .162 this season (including .098 for the Fisher Cats) and has played for four organizations (Cincinnati, Chicago Cubs, Houston, and Toronto) in six minor league seasons.

So why do I love him so much? Because he’s listed at 5’10”, 150 pounds (but I seem to remember reading at one point that he isn’t even close to that big) and he’s played at the upper levels of every organization he’s been in since he was 20 years old. Maybe he’s a weird sort of organizational filler, a guy who can be plugged in to hit .260 and do little harm. I don’t know. I don’t care. I just like the guy.

Alas, Tyler Beede did not agree with him, to the tune of an 0-3 day at the plate, which means I don’t like Tyler Beede. Sorry, Tyler.

On the bright side, K.C. Hobson hit a home run for the Fisher Cats, which is always fun to see, and a Flying Squirrel named Rando Moreno (I couldn’t figure out how to explain my delight at the fact that his name was Rando M.) went 5-for-5.

3) Seats: At Fenway the day before, Eric and I were crammed in side-by-side (at first; the rest of the row remained empty so we were able to spread out once that became clear), which was awkward considering we hadn’t seen each other in like five years. Northeast Delta Dental Stadium (Nedd’s to its friends…okay, only Craig and I call it that) presented no such problems. When ordering tickets, I correctly assumed that location wasn’t a huge concern; with that in mind, I avoided the sun drenched bleachers in right (you’re literally staring into the sun for a couple innings) and went with the General Admission seats (take that, Biff!) in left field.

When we walked in and determined that it was, actually, first come first serve as far as where we wanted to sit, Eric looked over at me. “I assume up close is good for you?” he said. In actuality, I don’t mind sitting further back and overseeing the action from afar, but when in Rome. He led the way down the steps, to the very front row, and parked himself squarely behind the Richmond bullpen.

For several innings, the banter amongst the pitchers provided us a pleasant alternative to the game, which was quickly out of hand in favor of the visitors. The first inning largely featured commentary on Beede and his struggles. Later, family members and friends stopped by to say hello and steal a few minutes of conversation. A nearby fan inquired about a Frozen backpack on the bench and was told that it belonged to the last bullpen pitcher to surrender a homerun. Someone questioned if “Bum” (I’m assuming Madison Bumgarner) had skipped Double-A; I resisted the urge to lean forward and let them know that I had watched him pitch on that very field several years before, when several of them were likely still in high school.

Midway through the game, a good-natured argument broke out: what year was the movie “Super Troopers” released? Guesses were submitted, but no one knew for certain. Finally, one of the pitchers caught my eye.

“Hey, do you know when Super Troopers came out?”

“Actually, I was intrigued by your conversation, so I looked it up,” I said. “Don’t any of you guys have cell phones?” Eric wondered out loud.

“And…?” the pitcher said to me while another told Eric that the fines for bringing a cell phone to the bullpen is very, very large.

“2001,” I said. Cheers erupted from the pitcher who had guessed correctly, groans from those who had missed.

“This is the most Bus Leagues game ever!” Eric exclaimed.

“I wonder when Barbie Girl came out,” murmured one of the other pitchers, who I had already pegged as the sarcastic cut-up of the group. I wasn’t falling for it, though; a line must be drawn somewhere.

Around the top of the seventh, another pitcher, Stephen Johnson, asked when the weather could be expected to improve, a question that began a half-inning conversation about crowds in Richmond, losing streaks, Eric’s job, and other mindless banter. For him, I’m sure it was little more than a way to pass the time in a blowout game with a couple guys who had been sitting next to him, mostly quiet, for a couple hours. For us, it was just a cool moment in general, one that ended when Johnson realized the entire team was standing at attention and “God Bless America” was starting.

As the game drew to a close, Johnson shouldered the Frozen backpack (the current holder was already in the game, so as the youngest member of the bullpen, Johnson was tasked with bringing it back to the dugout) and wished us well. Eric and I exited the ballpark at the final pitch. The decision not to wait for fireworks, and the cool weather (it had dipped into the sixties, but felt a good ten degrees cooler), saved us plenty of time getting out of the parking lot; minutes later, we were on our way home.