#BuckFiftyADay Since March, 2014

#BuckFiftyADay Since March, 2014

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Coming Home

I have to laugh.

For the last 13 and a half years, I've written for ESPN The Magazine, and lived pretty much in anonymity. And then last week, I started writing a column for the Star-Ledger and, suddenly, it was like I'd become an overnight celebrity.

Old friends from high school, relatives I had not spoken to in years, basically a bunch of folks I'd crossed paths with during my lifetime as Jersey Kid now felt like I'd reached the pinnacle. And let me tell you, it's a good feeling. It's good to be home.

I grew up as Ledger kid, reading the words of Moss Klein and Dan Castellano every day with my Fruit Loops. A baseball-loving kid in the 70s and 80s loved the Ledger for Moss and Dan, but also for the full AP game story and box score with every MLB game. I know times have changed and all the boxes go on one page now, but as a kid who grew up loving Robin Yount and George Brett, I loved that I could read their game stories and see their stat line without having to turn the page. The Ledger was the paper of choice for a baseball fan. It was the only paper I'd ever need until the day I left for college.

Ironically, my first job in newspapers was writing for the Daily News, covering the Yankees in 1992. I always did my best, but I don't think I was ever viewed as a great, or even good tabloid beat reporter. My interest was never so much in trying to find out what George Steinbrenner was going to say, or what players (usually asking for anonymity) wanted to say something critical. My interest was always on the field, inside the game. And at times, I know my colleagues mocked me for that.

I'd miss out on some natural tabloid angle (sources say Danny Tartabull is miffed that he's playing left field and not right field) because I was talking to a pitcher about some grip-change he'd made, or to a hitter about something he was working on in the cage, and maybe I'd have a good story for the so-called seamheads, but I'd cost the News a headline. I would be the first to admit I was not a natural on that beat.

A lot of years have past since those days, 16 to be exact, and I have landed at the Ledger with the hopes that their readers are still the same as this Jersey Kid, oh, 35-40 years ago. Folks interested in reading about the game, the players, the characters. I hope they share my love of the good baseball story, because that's what I'm going try to bring them. If a kid could fall more in love with baseball the way I fell in love with baseball... because I wrote a memorable story, that would be pretty cool. About as cool as all the attention I've been getting this week.

It's good to finally be home.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Short Piece of Fiction about Hamburgers

I used to work at a burger place. The restaurant came about because this really big company with a really big name wanted to get into the burger business because they felt their patrons were burger people who would buy...you guessed it...their burgers.

We made very good burgers. We weren't the biggest or best burger place in the country, but we were pretty good. We were set up to provide burgers to burger-eaters. Nuf said.

Well, of course, times being as they are, we also had some salads on the menu. You know, even burger eaters, occasionally want some salad before they dig into their burgers. Not too much, mind you, but a little taste of something different can be nice.

The guy in charge of salad was not a burger eater. He was a salad guy through and through. Wore a beret, spoke in a language the burger people couldn't understand. A smart guy, but a salad guy.

Salad guy got good reviews from the folks in charge of the bigger company, and it started to go to his head. Suddenly, salad guy had opinions on burgers, even though he didn't like or know much about burgers. I mean, the guy never made a burger and rarely bit into a burger. How much could he know about burgers?

So anyway, the day came when the folks upstairs thought, "Hey, Salad Guy is smart and full of fresh ideas. I mean, he comes up with new salads all the time. Did you taste that Mango-Thai thing? Maybe Salad Guy should run the burger restaurant."

And so Salad Guy got his chance to run the show and what did he do? He turned a good burger place into a salad place. He'd have Avocado Mondays and Caesar Sunday. Some people thought the salad was great, but the people who loved the burgers, the people who were the reason for the restaurant in the first place, they didn't get it.

Some of the burger-makers became pretty good salad makers, but not me. My heart was still into ground beef and cheese and sesame seed buns.

And so I was told I wasn't needed or wanted any more.

The End.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Lost in Translation

It was 1993 and I was working for the New York Daily News.

Part of the drill each day was a phone call from our sports editor Barry Werner, who would always greet you with the same two-word question. "What's doin'?" Every day. Same two words.

My answer was usually one word, "Same." And then we'd begin to talk ideas. Normally those ideas pertained to New York baseball, which was my beat, but Barry was definitely not averse to big ideas. He actually liked to think outside the box and I think he knew I was a captive audience.

So after "What's doin'?" and "Same" were exchanged, Barry said, "How would you like to go to Japan?" My answer was quick. "I'd love to." Seriously, it's funny to say after the last 10 years have taken me all over the world, but in '93 I'd not traveled much, so the thought of a Far East adventure was very appealing. The thought of getting away from the Yankees and Mets for a week was even more appealing. Barry explained that he wanted a series of stories on baseball in Japan that would include stories on a couple of Yankees (Mel Hall and Jesse Barfield) who were playing over there. Barry said that he'd offered the idea to a more senior member of the staff, but when that guy said he'd go only if he got to fly a certain airline (for frequent flier miles) and stay at a certain hotel (for points), Barry figured it was time to call Bradley.

"If you can stay on budget, be my guest," Barry said. I can't remember what the budget was, but it wasn't a lot. He then gave me the address of Japan Airlines in the city and the name of their public relations director. I swung by the JAL office, met with the guy and things were in the works. Turns out the PR guy was a baseball fan and he immediately told me he could get me an upgrade to business class. He gave me a list of reasonably priced hotels and a book on everything an American would need to know when traveling to Japan.

But it turned out the most important thing he gave me was a number to the Foreign Press office in Tokyo. Didn't realize it at the time, but without that number I'd have been lost.

You'll soon see why.


I was 100-percent solo on this trip.

In subsequent years, as more and more of my colleagues have made their way to Japan as part of American groups going over to cover games between Major League teams and Japanese teams, I've often scoffed at them and told my tale of 10 days in Japan on my own.

My hotel room in Tokyo was slightly bigger than a twin bed. The bathroom was no bigger than a phone booth. The sink was inside the shower. The toilet was just outside. I never figured out how to take a shower without completely flooding the place.

The only people I could find in Tokyo with any English speaking skills were school kids. They could say a few words. Adults basically knew nothing.

In and around Tokyo, at least I could read street signs because they were written out phonetically in our alphabet. But about 20 miles outside Tokyo, there were no phonetics.

I think it was on Day 2 that I looked down at my tip sheet and saw the number of the Foreign Press office and decided to dial it up. When I started speaking in English, there was dead silence for a few seconds and then there was a voice saying, "Can I help you?"


We complain a lot (don't we?) about all the things that keep us wired 24-hours a day. The internet and email and Facebook and Twitter and TXT messaging.

In '93, we had none of that. And I wish we did.

Because I don't remember his name. And I really don't remember what he looked like. All I remember is he made my trip to Japan work.

I called him "Sonny."

I called him "Sonny" because when we met at his office and he asked where I was from, I told him "New Jersey" and he immediately told me, "I'm a big Bruce Springsteen fan."

But that wasn't it. He told me how, in his early 30s, he felt such a connection to Springsteen's lyrics. That he was just a guy who got up every morning and went to work each day.

He was a die-hard.

And when I asked him what his favorite Springsteen song was, he said, "Racing in the Street," which happens to be my favorite all-time song (live, of course). So I began to call him "Sonny," as in "Me and my partner Sonny." He loved the name, and he called me "Boss."

Sonny loved Racing for the same reasons I love it. Because it speaks to man's need to have something in his life that makes him feel alive. Even in times when everything else around you seems wrong, there's got to be one thing that feels right. He was married with kids. I was engaged and getting ready to begin the next phase of my life. We shared a number of meals together, and a few Kirins. He wasn't much of a baseball fan, and that didn't really matter.

Sonny had a handful of friends who could speak English and he made sure I met them all during my stay. He made sure whenever I went to a ballpark I had "an appointment." In Japan, you just don't show up at the ballpark and expect to get your interviews. "You need an appointment, Boss." And so Sonny would make all the necessary phone calls. Send all the faxes.

And my trip was great. I wrote a series for the Daily News on baseball in Japan and it was picked up by a number of papers across the country. In my years at the News, it's probably the work of which I am most proud. Without Sonny, I'd have had no chance.


I have no way of figuring out his name. I've never been much of a hoarder. I throw out old notebooks. Got rid of my clip files years ago. I wouldn't know where to begin.

Friends come in so many different forms. There are lifelong friends and fair weather friends and friends of convenience. But Sonny, he really had no reason to be my friend.

Yet for those 10 days in Tokyo, I can't imagine I've ever had a better friend.

And I can't stop thinking about him.

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Friday, January 28, 2011

Look at Me!

So, it's time to blog again. Always weird when you take some time off and you want to get something fresh on the site, just to keep the calendar moving, and to change the appearance that your blog/website is dormant. And that you're a total slacker.

But what to write about? You know I can't write about sports here. Well, not sports in a direct kind of way. I can write about sports, so long as it's not sports that anyone cares about.

Great, right? I'm trying to convince you now to read about something that I'm guessing no one cares about. Well, it's my blog and I'll do what I want to.

I'm going to write about my fitness regimen. Lock in, baby, and get ready to read about my six-pack abs!


Are you familiar with P90X? Well, for the last four months, I've been working out six days a week on that killer program. Part of what you're expected to do in P90X is take before and after photos. I skipped that part, and honestly, I'm way too self-conscious (and hairy-chested) to put up any topless shots of myself.

So, how do I look? I guess OK. Am I chiseled? No. Ripped? Not a chance. Toned up? Yeah, I guess if you go by what I looked like pre P90X, I've toned up a good deal.

I still look way better with my clothes on.

Truth be told, it took me four months to work up to P90X. The first time I attempted the workout, I dove right in, attempted to do all the push-ups and pull-ups that are assigned on the very first DVD and, well, it nearly killed me. I took my family out to dinner the night after that first workout, sat down at the table, looked across at my wife and said, "Keep an eye on me. One of two things might happen. I might pass out. Or I might vomit."

She laughed and I said, "I'm not joking." Thankfully, I didn't pass out and I didn't puke. But I felt absolutely awful. And that was nothing to the way I felt over the next -- believe it -- three weeks. Yes, for 21 straight days I was unable to perform the most basic motor skills. Things like grabbing a coffee mug out of the cabinet, opening a car door, created incredible pain.

I hate failing at things, so when all the soreness went away, I backed up to a program called Power 90. It's a workout designed by the same trainer, Tony Horton, but it's:

A. A lot easier.
B. Funny to watch because it's so low budget and dated (who wears short shorts?).

The great thing about Power 90 was, simply, that I could do it. And I did it for all 90 days, 33 of which were spent in various hotels in South Africa. Having completed that routine, I decided to try P90X again. And, guess what, I've been able to complete it...and start it again.

A few things. I can't do the pull-ups. They demand a lot. I can only do a few. So, I hang resistance bands from the pull-up bar and improvise that way. Also, unless you starve yourself (aka the P90X diet), you're probably not going to burn enough calories to get all ripped up. There's not a lot of cardio in P90X, unless you do what they call "doubles."

I don't do "doubles."

Another thing about P90X is they encourage you to become a "Beachbody Coach." This is a multi-level-marketing thing where, if you agree to get some amount of products every month, you can get others to join the same program and make a few bucks.

I'm guessing that those who are successful "Beach Body Coaches" look better than I do. But that's OK. I'm improving day-to-day and proud that I can simply say, "I did it."

And I'm going to keep on doing it.

Do you care?