Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Doc is Done

So Halladay hangs 'em up.  And he does it as a Jay, signing a one day contract and then retiring.  Warm and fuzzy feelings all around.  I watched his press announcement from the Winter Meetings and he was friendly, reflective and teetering on the edge of an emotional cliff throughout - decidedly un-Doc-like.  But it was to be expected - you could see that he would like nothing more than to keep going, to keep pushing.  But it was clear that there are bigger picture health risks and family considerations that make the choice to walk away from his playing career the right one.

As a role model, for my money, he brings all the right pieces.  He works hard, has such incredible singular focus and always acted professionally.  There was no ego.  No petulance.  No overblown television special when he "took his talents to" Philly.  It's the way you want your professional athletes to carry themselves.  And he's a guy I can point to in good conscience and say to my kids, "that's how you do it."  Focus on your craft.  Work hard.  Never give up.  Ignore all of the noise and just do your thing.

I hope that he finds a way to contribute to baseball for many years to come.  It would be great if he could pass on some of that good stuff to the guys coming up now, but it doesn't always work that way.  I know the Jays will find a place for him if he's interested.  But I think if it isn't a role where he feels like he is actually contributing in a meaningful way he'll walk.  And that would be a pity.

Anyway, for the hard work, the dedication, the seemingly inhuman performances at times, thank you Roy Halladay.  You were a joy to watch.  And a role model I can use for my kids.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

I Can't Catch Justin Verlander

Certainly not when he's tossing the heat.  But let's be clear.   I don't think I could handle anybody that gets paid to throw a ball for a living.  Hell, I'm pretty sure I can't catch Justin Bieber, let alone Verlander.  But to be fair, Bieber drives a Lamborghini.   At least while in Dubai.  Tool.

Seriously though.  We were at the ballpark to watch the boys in blue against the Tigers.   We went down a bit early to catch some BP although it is only ever the visiting team's batting practice because the Jays are always done well before we get there/the gates open.  Nonetheless, we got to watch Prince Fielder crush some balls off the facia of the 5th level which was pretty impressive.  So anyway, Verlander is out in the field shagging fly balls and shooting the breeze with his compadres.  I'm there with the kids and my glove (I've learned my lesson) looking for a souvenir.  Verlander finally decides to throw one into the crowd rather than back to the ball boys and his gaze lights upon my boys beside me.  He points to me and gives me a soft toss.  Now understand, we're standing in right field above the visitor's bullpen and he's down on the field so he has to throw up and towards us.  Which he does.  With no difficulty.  Obviously.  He's Justin Verlander for crying out loud.  But the ball gets to me just at the apex of it's arc.  I reach out with my glove.  I squeeze.   And it squirts out.  Straight down into the bullpen.  COME ON VERLANDER! PUT A LIL' PEPPER ON IT, WILL YA?

No souvenir BP ball.  Again.  So where is the lesson here?  Can't always get what you want?  Yeah, we've been over that one.  Hope in the face of disappointment?  Yup.  Covered that too.  How about the basics of catching?  Probably a good start.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Hard Choices

The writing has been on the wall for some time now.  After last night's game, a loss for the birds, Munenori Kawasaki was optioned to Toronto's AAA affiliate, the Buffalo Bisons.  Everyone knew that, barring injury to another player, when Jose Reyes returned to the big club it would be Munenori that would go the other way.  There was just no room to keep him around without taking a hit elsewhere to the talent on the team.

But what a loss it is to the players, coaches and fans to see him go.  Kawasaki was a spark plug for the team.  He was a fan favourite.  He bubbled with personality.  In a stretch of bad baseball that could have seen many walk away from the 2013 edition of the Blue Jays, he helped keep it fun to watch.  If you haven't seen it, here is some vintage Munenori, courtesy of MLB.com:

The guy has been a joy to watch as a fan; I can only imagine what he is like to be around day to day.  He's got a positive attitude and is always upbeat.  My kids LOVE him.  My youngest has even taken to doing the deep knee bend and hop before he approaches the plate that is part of Munenori's routine.

And that's the lesson for my boys.  In life you will at times face hard choices; you need to look at the situation and make the best decision possible.  From a baseball perspective, the Blue Jays didn't have much by way of options.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013


Today is a strange day.  The younger of my two sons graduates from Kindergarten today.  It's exciting. It's a thing to celebrate.  I'm proud of him.  He's so pleased and full of joy and I love him for it.

But today is also the anniversary of the death of one of my dearest friends.  Ten years.  And still I struggle with it.  Not everyday.  And not in a way even remotely similar to what his family must bear.  But still.  I miss him.  And I think what I struggle with the most is the absence of his influence.  Not on me so much, but on those who were closest to him.  He left behind a family.  Children.  Parents.  Friends he had known since childhood.  Co-workers.  And he's just...gone.

Don't get me wrong - his wife has done a spectacular job of keeping his memory alive for her children, their family and everyone who knew him.  More than I've ever seen anyone do it.  She constantly celebrates his life.  And the children aren't suffering.  She's remarried to another good friend.  They are living a happy life and providing all of the support, love and opportunity those kids could want.  It is beauty from tragedy.  Hollywood even.  Not in the fake collagen filled smiles way of the people who live there but rather the 2 boxes of Kleenex® stories they often create for us.

And I don't know why I struggle with this so much.  As I said, he was a dear friend.  We were roomies for a time, went to University together, did the wedding party thing, each playing a part in the other's wedding.  All the usual stuff.  But after we finished school he went his way and I went mine.  We stayed in touch and got together when we could but never as much as we said we would.  I had tremendous respect for him.  He was generous.  Funny.  Really funny actually.  A musician.  Bright.  Clever.  Caring and empathetic.  In short, one of the good ones.  So it makes sense that his absence hurts.

But still.  I'm a grown man.  Halfway (I hope!) through my run.  I've lost people.  I've seen other people  lose people.  But for some reason, even ten years gone, this one still guts me every time.  Even now as I type this, I have to pause to pull myself together.

One of the things his wife does a great job of is reminding everyone, whenever an important anniversary (like today) arrives, to remember him for the joy he brought to the world.  She asks people to remember something fun or silly or special that he did.  She encourages everyone to do something he would have done.  She urges us to celebrate the time we had with him.

So today, when my boy graduates I'm going to hug him, kiss him, tell him how proud I am of him.  And then I'll probably give him a wedgie.

I miss you Jason - the world is a lesser place without you.

June  25, 2013

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


OK, so as Blue Jays fans, opportunities to teach my boys about handling disappointment abound.  The same can be said for any team a fan chooses to support; each year, no matter the sport, generally at the end, there is only one victor.  That leaves the fans of every other team feeling some degree of disappointment.  The additional hype that came with the overhaul to the team during the offseason simply made every loss that much more pronounced.

But we're beyond that now.  Losing, just as winning is a part of the day in and day out rhythm of sports and in particular baseball, with it's 162 game season.  So we've had time to talk about that.  Especially since, so far this season anyway, we had only attended games that the Jays coughed up.  So we've been working on that lesson.  A lot.  But again, this past weekend we had a new opportunity to address the idea of disappointment.  And we combined it with some other tangential issues.

We headed down to the park early to catch batting practice.  We've done this before and it's always a bit of fun for the boys (and me).  We're hanging out in left field right above the Toronto bullpen.  There are a couple of Texas players fielding balls and they will occasionally toss one of the balls into the crowd of fans trying to catch the balls that the batters inevitably crush into the stands.  That's us.  My two young sons and I.  We're front and centre against the rail above the pen.  Nobody in front of us.

One of the players, I think it may have been Tanner Scheppers, points to my kids and double pumps a ball to indicate he's going to throw it to me.  So I nod to him that, yes, he has my attention and I'm ready for it.  He uncorks and sails it over my head.  I extend and the ball deflects off my fingertip, ricochets of the seats two rows back and rolls down the row.  A young girl quickly scoops it up and dashes off with it.  The people around me put up a small fuss but I don't chase the girl down for the ball.  What am I going to do, pry it from her hands and tell her it's my ball?

My boys are disappointed but they take it well.  We talk a bit about it at the time but not more than a couple of quick words.  There's no pouting.  We move on.  After ten minutes or so the same player makes eye contact again.  I nod.  He throws it straight to me.  I reach straight ahead.  I don't need to lean over the rail or reach up or to the side.  It's coming straight on.  And then a glove slides in from the side and snatches the ball just before it reaches my hand.  The guy beside me shouts triumphantly and passes the ball to his daughter who is at his side and probably the same age as my youngest.  More disapproving murmuring from the crowd.  The guy turns and looks at me, sheepishly smiles and tells me the rest are for me.  He takes his daughter by the hand and quickly leaves the area.

So now the conversation I have with my boys goes beyond straight disappointment and we begin to explore the idea of fair play.  We discuss the fact that not everyone choses to play by the same rules as us but that in the end we have to be comfortable with the choices we make.  And we are.  I don't begrudge that guy the ball.  He's there with his daughter and for them that was a moment.  I get that.  I do question the example he is setting for her.  But I also know that there are plenty of people out there that live that way.  You get what you go after.  You look out for yourself.  But that's not my style.  And so that's what I'm teaching my boys.

We didn't let that episode bring us down.  We had fun at the game.  And we learned some lessons too.  The first one is that we won't be going to batting practice again unless I have my glove.  I would have had that first ball.  The second was that not everybody plays fair; the key is to not let that change the way we act ourselves.  And last, the Blue Jays bullpen is pretty solid - they held it together and got us the win.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

"...while I've been putting off and putting off, the trees have been growing..." - George Eliot, Silas Marner

The above line has stuck with me for somewhere around twenty years.  That was when, as a young, fresh-faced twenty-something I read Silas Marner as part of my university curriculum.  It's funny actually.  But not in the ha ha way.  The idea behind the line was that life keeps moving forward and we can't make up for the time that passes.  I won't write a book review here; the book is a classic and that's why it was on my course curriculum.  If you haven't read it, I encourage you to give it a shot.  But again, that's not my point here.

Time passes.  There is nothing we can do about that.  We can't stop it.  We can't get more.  We can't go back.  We use it as it comes.  The question is, how do we use it?  Do we use it well or poorly?  Do we waste it?  As I mentioned above, I read that book twenty years ago.  And the thing that stuck with me through all of these years was that image of time passing and the regret that can come with not using that time well.  And yet, how do I use my time?  There is a reason we use the phrase "spending time".  Like money, time comes and goes.  The difference is that we can always find ways to get more money. Not so with time.

So then, how have I been spending my time?  As the date stamp makes clear, not by writing reflections on this blog.  Does that mean I have wasted the past two years of my life?  Certainly not.  But do I regret not following through with the posts that I had set out to create?  Yes.  I do.  Don't get me wrong.  I have spent the past two years doing lots of excellent things.  I continue to teach my boys about life and sports.  But I haven't formalized it.  I haven't captured my thoughts to share with the good peoples of the internets.  I haven't been deliberate about it.

I read an article yesterday and the author mentioned that his life changed when he decided to create something new every day.  That is a bold move.  But it induces a need for deliberate living.  It's so easy to get into a rut.  Life is busy.  There are bills to pay.  There are so many things that tug at our time, competing for it.  Cut the grass.  Take the kids to their sporting events.  Finish the big project at work.  Get the groceries.  And on it goes.  Nothing new here - we all live this.  The question is, how do we change it?  We have to be deliberate.

Here's an example.  My wife saw a picture of a patio table online that she really liked.   I agreed to build it.  I'm no carpenter.  But my father is and I spent a large portion of my youth at his side so I can find my way around the wood shop.  Until this project came along and we decided to do it I wouldn't have said I had time for an undertaking like this.  But guess what?  I'm enjoying it, I care about it and so I'm finding the time.  I'm making time for it.  It has become a priority.  I still have to cut the grass.  I still go to work.  But somehow I am finding the time to do something extra that is bringing me a little bit of joy.

And that's the key.  Again, there is nothing new here.  Nike® boils it down to be about as simple as possible with their "Just do it.®" slogan.  It really is that simple.  The toughest part is choosing to live your life deliberately, rather than letting life just happen.  The truth is that everyone lives their lives in fits and starts.  We have setbacks.  We get sidetracked.  We change course.  But if we always approach our life deliberately, we won't ever look up and see that while we've "been putting off and putting off, the trees have grown."  So I'm going to work at it again.  I won't make any empty promises about posting everyday.  But I will try to live each day deliberately and find a way to create something each day.  Wish me luck.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

My View from the Ballpark: Opening Weekend

A pint in my hand, oak under my elbows and back-to-back jacks by Bautista and Lind on the big screen – its opening night and the Blue Jays are off to a fantastic start. Add two more dingers from the young catcher, a double-digit score and we’ve got an opening day win.

Game 2. Two more deep balls and Kyle Drabek, the much-hyped rookie pitcher gets his first Major League W in his first Major League appearance.

Game 3. My boys and I are on the train into the city. It’s filled with people going to the game. They’re young and old and come from all walks of life. The woman in the seat beside me asks the boys about their favourite players and tells us that her family has attended Opening Day for years. Her son, who is now grown and lives in Washington, can’t join them in person, but a flurry of texts throughout the game keeps their family connected.

This is what I want for my boys when it comes to sports. I want family traditions. I want fun. I want them to appreciate the joy that can come from being a sports fan and in particular a baseball fan. Sure, when they start to get a firmer grip on skills and strategy I look forward to debating long term solutions to the turnstile that is third base. But for now, while they’re young, I want them to enjoy the pleasures of baseball. Check that - I want more for them than fun and fandom; I want them to benefit from the lessons that can be found in the game.

I try to focus on the good. Not that it’s all that difficult; when you’re hanging out with your kids at the ball game, it isn’t very hard to do. So we share hot dogs. We delight when a Brett Cecil warm up ball ends up as our souvenir. We discuss which way the players have to run around the bases (my guys are still quite young!). And we generally just enjoy the day - taking it all in, singing cheers, chanting player’s names, donning our rally caps, doing the wave. It’s time well spent.

A few months from now, my boys will probably remember little beyond the Bautista Bobblehead they received on the way into the park, but I’m holding out hope that something further sticks. What I’ve learned as a dad is that sport provides a context for those bigger life lessons – our days at the games give us common ground and language. It’s difficult for a six year old to appreciate the importance of school. Baseball provides a context for me to help him understand. The notion that these professionals still take batting practice as part of their job helps me illustrate for my boys that we can always be learning and improving. And with practice comes success.

The education of my sons is a work in progress. Like a team moving toward that ultimate goal, there are a number of skills we need to master if we hope to succeed in life. I hope to use baseball as a platform to discuss, among other things, values such as patience, teamwork, perseverance, sacrifice, determination, humility, confidence, pride.

Baseball may be just a game, but it can be more than that – what’s important is where you place the emphasis. I’m looking forward to watching this season unfold, for the love of the game, and for the love of my boys.