#BuckFiftyADay Since March, 2014

#BuckFiftyADay Since March, 2014

Friday, March 1, 2013

It's Christmas Morning in Jersey

Watching Ty catch, I wish time could stand still
My son came home from school with a stiff, new catcher's glove yesterday. Seriously, it's a brick. He said, "Coach said this is going to be hard to break in. But I told him you had a system."

Indeed, I do. It's a "system" my dad passed on to his sons. It's a "system" my brother has passed on to his catchers at Princeton. It's a "system" I believe in. You start by soaking the glove in hot water. I mean, you soak it in hot water. You don't just sprinkle it. You saturate it.

Once it's soaked, you beat it up. I use a rubber mallet. You could use the butt-end of a baseball bat if you want. But you pound the pocket like there's no tomorrow.

When you can't pound any more. You put two baseballs in the sweet spot, tie it up and put it in a warm place.

Breaking this sucker in with "the system"
Then you keep repeating the process until the glove is dry.

Then you play a lot of catch.

There's no guarantee every glove will be perfect. A lot depends on the glove's "bones." If it doesn't have the right shape, if it's not cut from a good template, there's nothing a human being can do.

This, my friends, is baseball.

While it would be nice to be earning a paycheck again (that will happen eventually, I have faith), I cannot do justice to the joy that comes from watching my sons play on teams. So, it's the silver lining in this "hiatus." Last year, I sat in the press box at Yankee Stadium and Citi Field, some days fighting back tears, as my dad (and the local reporter from the Coast Star on Twitter) kept me updated on my son's games.

So, for now, 'll try to cherish simple things like breaking in new gloves, throwing batting practice, hitting fungos, clapping the mud out of my kid's spikes before he gets in the car. For now, anyway, I can be a little more like my dad, who never missed any of my games.

My 16-year old son Tyler begins baseball practice today, like all New Jersey kids have done for years and years, on March 1. I remember March 1 as a day I circled on the calendar. Didn't matter if there was snow on the ground, freezing rain falling from the sky, or winds blowing at 50 miles per hour.

March 1 was Christmas morning, and then some.

And so I watched him spring out of bed this morning, pack his bag, including things like a cup, some "sleeves" and, of course, his blue and gray Manasquan cap. When I drove him to school, I saw some of his teammates, who likewise, were sporting caps and school colors, and toting big bags.

I don't care how sappy it sounds, but I'm going to be 50 years old in nine months and I'm here to tell you that nothing - nothing - has ever filled the void that was left when I could no longer be on teams. Looking back it had very little to do with winning or losing. It had to do with working together with your friends toward a common goal.

It also had to do with inside jokes we share to this day.

If you never played on teams, I have a tough time relating to you. Doesn't mean I don't like you, or respect you, but I have a tough time relating to you. Because almost every valuable lesson I learned in my life came from being on teams.

I learned how to take criticism like a man.

I learned how it feels to let people down. I learned how it feels to pick someone up when they're down, and how to appreciate when someone cares enough to pick you up when you're down.

I learned how to tell a joke, but more importantly how to take a joke.

Team sports gave me the ability see who's real and who's fake. When you're in the weight room, sweating, trying to make yourself better, you lose tolerance for slackers. When you're staying late to take extra batting practice and you're watching others leave as soon as possible, you stow that away.

Beau's high school track career begins next week
This is a love letter to my son Tyler. And next Tuesday, my son Beau begins his freshman track season, so it can be a love letter to him, as well.

Cherish these days. Work hard, if not for yourself, for the guy standing next to you. Be one of the guys who brings people together. Always focus on the next play. Forget about the last one, and that means forgetting not only about errors and strikeouts, but also line drives and web gems.

The next play is all that matters.

Come up with a few memorable sayings and write them down.  Pick a few songs to play in the locker room and play the hell out of them. Play them until guys are saying, "Enough!" And then play them some more. When you hear those songs when you're an old man, they'll remind you of these days, spent with your team. "We could be Heroes," still rings in my ears, to this day. Makes me smile.

Never the most talented, but never outworked.
A lot of my peers in the sportswriting community have decided that "leadership" is a myth, that "playing hard" is not quantifiable, and smirk and giggle when anyone uses the word "intangibles."

They never played high school ball, or maybe they've forgotten. Those things are real even if there's not a stat to back 'em up.

Be a leader with the way you practice and prepare. Be a leader with the way you walk back to the dugout after a strike out or a pop up, and simply place your bat in the rack. No throwing stuff. No bad facial expressions. Make everyone in the park believe that you "just missed it."

Play hard. In practice, run every sprint like it's your last. Shout out directions on cut-off plays until your throat stings. Chatter may not work in the bigs, but a few "attaboys" work wonders in high school. Go ahead and lead the team in "attaboys."

Eat right. Get enough sleep. School is your number one priority, but your teammates also rank high on the list. Do not let them down because you're tired or hungry or distracted.

They're counting on you.


Drew Sarver said...

Great piece Jeff. Makes me want to run and have a catch.

Anonymous said...

Jeff my name is Ed Mounts and I need your help, someone is trying to steal your friend COL John McHugh's identity and is using it on FB. Please call me @580-678-9006 my email is emounts@apus.edu

Jennine Stalder said...

This is a very inspiring blog. Seeing our kids in their uniform for the first time, watching their games, having a good talk about it over the table are the most precious experience we will never forget. I’m sure your sons will take this as a good advice from you. And eventually apply this to their performance during their games.

Jennine Stalder @ UESports.com