Welcome Back, Captain.

 

derek-jeter

 

 

Derrick Jeter is 39 years old. Nine months ago he broke his ankle. His net worth is conservatively estimated at $125 million dollars. He is a first ballot Hall of Famer. The New York Yankees are 49-42 and 6 games out of the AL East lead. He is movie star handsome, respected by his peers, and adored by legions of Yankees, and even a few Red Sox, fans. Why go through a rehab stint when it would have been so much easier to call a press conference and call it a career? What is he thinking? Why not walk away before you’re pushed out? Ego? Stubborn pride?

No. Like another New York legend, Frank Sinatra, Jeter is doing it his way.

I have expounded on what makes Jeter special at one point or another during every Yankees game I have ever witnessed, and sometimes during Sportscenter or MLB Tonight highlights. Class. Leadership. Attention to detail. Commitment to team. Unwillingness to give up or give in. On the field he exemplifies what athletes should aspire to. Off the field too. The fact that A-Rod has played so many games next to Jeter and is still A-Rod says everything about the Yanks 3rd baseman you would ever not want to know.

Two of my top three modern day athletes have retired this year. Brian Urlacher, by his own admission, lost his desire and because of the man he is chose to retire rather than hang around and sleepwalk through a season for a paycheck. Ray Lewis’ body gave up on him- too many Sundays of leaving it all on the field had left him with nothing more to give.

Jeter can still play. And he still wants to. And he is with an organization and a manager that will allow him to play until he can’t anymore. That’s repect. That’s loyalty. And whether or not you like the Yankees you must admit that’s pretty rare in today’s sporting world. Would the Yankees let any player dictate the terms of their exit? Probably not. But Jeter, like a handful of sports legends, has earned the right.

And when the Captain can’t help the team he’ll be gone. His way. And baseball won’t be the same for me.

Lawn Mowers, Crafts, Janitors and Factis Non Verbis: The Gospel According To Pop

My dad (or Pop, as the grandkids know him) is not a talker. He is, however, a prolific reader and since he doesn’t wear ties or dress shirts or after shave I thought for Father’s Day I’d write about a few of the things my siblings and I have learned from him over the years. Thanks for indulging me.

I began mowing our yard when I was 8 years old. I can admit that now because the statute of limitations on child abuse has expired. It has provided me with the ultimate trump card in the ongoing war with my son over who’s responsibility it is to mow our yard.

The boy: Dad, it’s 174 degrees outside and I just finished swimming, playing basketball and chasing girls all day. I’m beat and pretty sure I’ll drop dead from heat stroke if you force me against my will to mow the yard.

Me: Son, when I was your age I mowed the yard before I could even see over the handle. It was 1200 degrees Celsius and your Pop made me use a grass bagger, not this self propelled mulcher you’ve inherited. Our basketballs were flat, we swam in mud and every time we tried to chase a girl her dad would fire at us with a howitzer. Now put on your earphones and chase that lawn mower a while. It’s the only thing you’ll ever catch anyway.

Dad would stay close but wouldn’t micromanage. When I was done, at least by my definition of the word, we’d walk the yard together and he’d point out the places I’d missed at which point I’d grind my teeth, mutter under my breath, and wish ill upon him. But I’d fix it. Then we’d walk the yard again, he’d point something else out, and I’d fix it. After about 2000 times of this process repeating itself I learned Pop commandment number one:

Do it right. Or do it over.

Yard work was the worst, but this was applied to every household chore. Car washing, kitchen cleaning, whatever. Now, whenever I’m attempted to half butt anything, I hear my dad. And I do it right the first time.

My dad is always looking for stuff that needs to be done and doing it. He was high school booster club president for several years, even after my brother and I had graduated. Every year he’d take a collection of old helmets, saw them in half, and mount them on boards with a plaque to give to the senior football players. Nobody asked him to do this. He wanted to recognize the effort of a group of boys so he just did it. There are man caves all over Shreveport, Louisiana that have orange helmets mounted on their wall. I still have mine. That’s just an example, because my dad does stuff like this all the time. Whenever he sees a need, or somebody that should be recognized for a job well done, he does something about it. Which leads me to Pop commandment number 2:

Look for the good in people. Recognize it. Cultivate it.

Dad has been a Facilities Manager- he calls it janitor, but, you know, semantics- since I was in college. Most people have little or no idea of all the things he does on the job except when he’s sick or on vacation. Then the conversations go like this:

“Who adjusts the thermostats?”

“Skip”

“Who counts the number of people that visited today?”

“Skip”

“Who sets up the chairs for the meeting?”

“Skip”

“Who’s job is it to make sure the golf cart is charged?”

“Skip”

Doing the work without chest thumping has probably cost my dad a job or two, maybe even a raise, over the years. But Dad doesn’t need to let everybody know how important he is. He just goes on vacation. Pop commandment number 3:

Do the job. Don’t worry about who gets the credit.

“I just love your Dad!” Once people are aware that I am his son that’s all I hear. Thing is, nobody really knows why. All they can do is tell me about the time he did something for them, or helped them out of a jam, or whatever. I just assumed I was special because he’s always helping me out of jams, picking up my kids or letting me borrow his weed eater or something, but I figured that’s because I’m family. Apparently he does that for everyone. Pop commandment 4:

People remember the stuff you do, not the stuff you say.

See Dad, I was paying attention. Happy Father’s Day!

Moses, Colonel Sanders, and Why I Should Play Linebacker For the Raiders

I don’t discuss with people the fact that I’m an aspiring writer, unless they are close friends or one of the two people that follow my blog. But when I do talk about being a writer I am often asked why I would want to do something with little to no chance of success, little or no promise of monetary gain, and little to no chance of gaining enough fame to hit the million follower mark on Twitter.  Simply put, I want to be a writer because I’m too old to play linebacker for the Oakland Raiders.  It was never going to happen anyway, and at the age of forty it’s time to put that dream to rest.  With age comes perspective, as well as the motivation to read for something other than an English class.  In doing so you come across books like Fight Club, where Tyler Durden tells us,

“This is your life, and it’s ending one minute at a time.”

That did not resonate with me at all the first time I read the book back in ’98 because I was only twenty six and felt pretty confident I would live forever and have plenty of time to be successful at whatever I decided to do that wasn’t the thing I was doing right then.  Last year I read the book again and realized that I was still doing the same thing I hated doing when I was twenty seven.  Thirteen years ago.  And now I realize that time is not infinite (at least for me) and if I harbor any illusions about not doing the same thing I’ve been doing for the last thirteen years for another thirteen I should probably get my head out and do it now.

Not that I’m complaining about my current job. It’s indoors, involves no heavy lifting, and pays well enough for what I’m asked to do.  Still, it’s not what I wanted to be when I was a kid.  My brother is a fireman and every kid wants to be a fireman and that wasn’t his dream as a kid and I’m almost certain that most of us are working in jobs right now that they didn’t dress up as on Career Day when they were in the fourth grade. Somewhere along the way we put down our dreams and decided to make money and have nice houses and cars and to put braces on our kid’s teeth and we lose sight of the fact that our lives are ending one minute at a time.  But they are, and whatever distractions we create in the meantime will not slow those minutes down one bit.

So, when I was 15 I was an aspiring linebacker for the Oakland Raiders.  At 40, I’m an aspiring writer.  When I’m 60 I’ll probably be an aspiring cliff diver.  I think you should always aspire to be something and that something should be so ridiculous that everyone will line up around the block to tell you how stupid you are for even thinking about trying it. Nursing homes are full of people who are only aspiring to live another day.  Or to fit as much Jello in their mouths as possible before the dining room closes.  They are aspiring, it’s just that there’s are pretty good chance they’ll succeed without putting forth any effort.  Kind of like watching Matlock reruns.

We just threw a big party for my grandmother’s 90th birthday.  It consisted of family and friends sitting around a church parlor eating cake and drinking punch.  Most of the revelers were in walkers and wheelchairs and even though it was a party it felt more like a wake.  And if you knew my grandmother even a little it would bother you to no end because it drove me crazy.  I remember her as being way younger than her age, fishing with us, playing ball in the park, and generally acting like she was a ten year old- except she could cook us dinner, which was always nice.  I think after my grandfather passed she quit aspiring to anything.  I hope that doesn’t happen to me.  I want to celebrate my 90th birthday by jumping off Everest in a wing suit without a parachute.  My wife wants a party in a bowling alley with strippers and bottle rockets.  We are two very different people.

I think we all have the potential to be great, it’s just that we let reality get in the way of our dreams.  Moses didn’t do anything other than tend sheep and kill overseers until he was in his 90’s.  KFC didn’t blow up until Colonel Sanders was in his 80’s.  If you have a dream then maybe you should just keep at it until you drop, age and reality be damned.

Somebody get me Al Davis’ phone number.