Category Archives: A+ Articles by Regular Rob

Youth Baseball in Red Sox Nation: The Tryouts

“Tonight, you need to take your son to his summer league baseball tryouts, OK?” my wife said to me on a recent Sunday morning. No problem, I replied. I assumed that every child would be placed on a team appropriate for his level of skill, and that my baseball-loving son would simply be auditioning to show coaches which team he belonged on. What is it that they say about assumptions?

56 kids showed up for the tryout at a field with four diamonds. Each checked in at a table and received two stickers with a number — one for the front of the shirt, one for the back of the shirt. Then, they all found a partner and started warming up. What a sight: 28 pairs of 8 year-olds playing catch, each with visions in their heads of making a summer travel team, hitting .400, and eventually playing for the Boston Red Sox. Even the ones who can’t catch or throw very well.

Parents toting thermoses set up their lawn chairs at one end of the field to watch. I struck up a conversation with a friendly looking dad, and it was then that I learned that only 26 of these children would make a team — that there would be an “American” team and a “National” team (each consisting of 13 players) and that 30 kids would be cut. Those 30 kids would have NO team to play on this summer. (“The spring league is for participation,” the other dad told me. “The summer league is for development and competition.”)

I was stunned. In my own baseball experience, I didn’t face do-or-die tryouts until sophomore year in high school (I still remember Coach Cohen reading my name at the end of that tryout, indicating I had barely made Brookline High’s JV team. In fact, the stick I picked up off the ground and held in my hands as he read my name sits on my dresser, the only good luck charm I’ve ever had.) Thinking from the point of view of an 8 year-old ballplayer, I was stunned at the harshness of it. And I was bewildered by the idea of 30 moms and dads consoling their third graders about not having a team to play on this summer. What would I say to my son if he were cut? Honestly, I couldn’t even begin to imagine that conversation. The kid lives for baseball. It would be devastating. I decided to cross that bridge if I came to it, and hope for the best.

The children were split into four groups of 14, and they cycled through four stations (hitting, ground balls, fly balls, and live infield situations) where they were evaluated by two to three coaches, each scribbling away on his clipboard after every play. Suddenly, it dawned on me that the skills my son had developed during those endless hours of wiffle ball in our backyard, and the thousands of ground balls and fly balls we had practiced in our front yard, and the two seasons of coach-pitch little league were being evaluated right now. It occurred to me that if I’d known the cut-throat nature of our town’s summer league tryouts, I’d have practiced a lot more with my son over the last year. Then it occurred to me that it was probably good that I didn’t know this, since it might have brought out the the “crazy over-coaching dad” that’s probably inside of me somewhere, which definitely would have killed my son’s passion for the game. His wiffle ball experience will have to carry him, I reasoned.

My heart sank every time he swung and missed. I wanted to bellow some encouragement to him, but with all the other parents silently rooting against my son, it didn’t feel right. Then he connected. I was surprised at my pride. Then a line drive, and another one. A couple of foul balls, a miss, then a weak grounder to third. “NEXT!” yelled the evaluator, and he was back in the field. Was that good enough? I asked myself.

He looked solid on the grounders – got in front of every ball, kept his butt down, used two hands, made some crisp throws to first base. For a moment, I deluded myself into believing I’d taught him his technique — the truth is, he was simply imitating his favorite player, Nomar Garciaparra.

At the end of the tryout, the coaches called the kids in and had them get down on one knee at home plate. Then one of the coaches brought out a gigantic trophy and explained to the youngsters that last year’s 8 year-old team from our town had gone undefeated and had won that trophy, and that the tryout group couldn’t touch it until they had won the right to have their own team’s name engraved on it. Nice. 30 of these kids are going to get bad news in a few days, and now that news will be even more painful to receive. I assure you, none of those 56 kids was in a state of mind to be inspired by the trophy – they just wanted to earn the chance to wear a town uniform!

Part II of the tryout continued one week later. The kids were obviously grouped by ability this time, and I was relieved to see that my son was in a group of somewhat capable players. I just wanted him to make a team — any team! I hadn’t begun to compose my “Michael Jordan didn’t make his high school JV team” speech, and I really didn’t want to. 30 of us parents were going to have to come up with something to ease their pain, though. I dreaded that, for all of us.

In the final twenty minutes, the coaches had the players line up at home plate and they timed them running from home to first, then again from home to second. As the kids crossed the base, the timer yelled out the results for all to hear, and another guy with a clipboard wrote down the times. I felt like I was at the NFL pre-draft combine. Then, the five fastest kids raced, then they narrowed it to two, and those two raced…. and we have a WINNER! And everyone cheered for the fastest boy. (The point of this, other than pure enjoyment for the adults running the tryout, completely eludes me.)

On the way home, my son spoke with total self-confidence. He was sure he had made one of the teams. I suspected all 56 of the young men felt the same way. “If you do make a team, do you care which team you’re on?” I asked. Nah, he said, I just want to play. I was about 43 times more nervous for him than he was for himself. So, this is what it’s like being the parent of an aspiring athlete, I thought. (Butterflies, and a total lack of control over the outcome.)

Then came the wait. 3 days, 4 days, 5 days, and no word from the league. “Did you get an email?” was the first thing my wife and I said to each other when we talked on the phone from work, or when we arrived home in the evening. “Nope, nothing.” Finally, an email came late one night. Based on the recommendation of our evaluators, we are pleased to offer your child a position on our Summer Eight Year Old National Team.

I woke up my wife to tell her. We both felt the relief sweep over us, like we had just dodged a cannonball. And our son? When we told him the next morning, he was actually a little bit disappointed. Turns out he had his heart set on the American team, which he perceived to be the more prestigious of the two. Did I mention he’s got a lot of self- confidence?

I couldn’t help but wonder about the other 30 kids who’d been cut, all of whom wanted to play baseball this summer. And what about their parents? At the same moment my wife and I were feeling a rush of relief, they were all preparing their consolation speeches. What could they say? “Michael Jordan was cut from his high school JV basketball team” is a good start, but then what? Perhaps towns should give all parents a Handbook on Talking With Your Child About Tryouts when they arrive on that first day. I know I could have used something like this had my son not been so fortunate….

POSTSCRIPT: My son read this article and said to me, “Daddy, half of the article is about what you would say to me if I didn’t make the team. But Daddy, there was no chance I wouldn’t make one of the teams.” Son, did you think about the other 30 kids who wanted to play summer baseball too, but got cut? “Daddy, they didn’t believe as much as I did.”

Questions of a Six Year-Old at Fenway

As I wrote in my previous article, on Patriots’ Day I took my six year-old to his first Red Sox game, and afterwards we cheered for the back-of-the-pack between miles 22 and 25 on Beacon Street. Someday, this boy will know all the ins and outs about baseball (like his nine year-old brother). But this is the first spring that he has begun to show glimmers of interest in the Red Sox, so a visit to Fenway is different for him than for everyone else at the ballpark. And after he’d asked me a few questions during the first inning, I knew I had to write down all of his questions for the rest of the game. Classic stuff:

Can I have a hot dog? (Sure.)

Why do we have our gloves on? (In case a foul ball comes back here, we’ll be ready to catch it.)

Why is that screen there? (To protect the fans behind home plate from dangerous foul balls.)

But how do the balls come back here? (When the hitter swings his bat, sometimes the bat doesn’t hit the ball squarely and the ball flies in back of home plate.)

Can we do something besides just sit around? (Sure we can walk around a little bit.)

(We were walking past a concession stand.) Can I have some pizza? (Sure.) Can I have a big cup of Coke? (Sure.)

(Back in our seats.) Can I have a foam finger? (Sure, let’s go catch up with the foam finger vendor.)

(The crowd suddenly cheered after a Rangers player popped out for the third out of an inning.) Is that good Daddy? (Yes, that’s good, now the Red Sox get a turn to hit and to try to score some runs.)

(The crowd suddenly cheered after Ellsbury stole second base.) Is that good Daddy? (Yes, Jacoby Ellsbury just stole second base.)

Who’s winning Daddy? (The Red Sox are winning.) Yay, the Red Sox are winning!

Why did they turn on the lights? (Good question, I really don’t know why they turned on the lights on a sunny day.)

What’s the score? (Six to nothing.) Is this normal? (No, this is really good.) I mean, are they major leaguers? (Yes.) This is stupid. (Why?) I thought that major leaguers were supposed to be good. (They are, but our pitcher, Clay Buchholz, is pitching so well, the Rangers can’t get very many hits.) Oh.

Is it almost nighttime? (No, it’s 1:20pm.) Is the game almost over? (Well, we’re in the fifth inning and the whole game lasts nine innings.) So there are four innings left? (That’s right.) Will it be nighttime when the game is over? (No, there’s a lot of daytime left.) Good, ’cause there’s a show I really want to watch on TV tonight. (What show is that?) I forget the name.

Is a trillion more than a billion? (Yes.) How many trucks would you need to carry a trillion dollars? (Um, a hundred.) No, you’d just need one, because you could have one bill with a trillion on it.

Daddy, I made up a number. (Really? What is it?) A killion. And it’s so big, the dollar bill would be as long as Fenway Park. It’s as big as a trillion billion dollars.

(Look, here comes the wave.) What’s the wave, Daddy? (That’s the wave.) Why do they do the wave? (Because it’s fun.)

(We were on the sidelines of the marathon and I had cheered for many runners by reading the names on their shirts. My six year-old was incredulous.) Daddy, how do you know all these people?

Farewell Doug Mirabelli

mirabelli.jpgDoug Mirabelli had the best timing of any backup catcher in the history of major league baseball. He joined the Sox in the middle of the 2001 season, as the team hurtled towards its 83rd straight year of unfulfilled hopes, then celebrated a joyfully apocalyptic championship in 2004 and another for good measure in 2007. Upon his release yesterday, he left the Red Sox as one of only eight players who played on both championship clubs.

I’m a sentimental baseball fan, so I was truly saddened to hear the Sox had let Mirabelli go. But I trust Theo and Terry and I’m sure it was the right thing for the team.

What never ceases to surprise me, however, is how easily fans and media let someone like Doug Mirabelli just slide out of sight. He’ll get a short article in the Herald and Globe that will be primarily about how important Varitek is to the team, and the callers to our sports talk show radio stations today will say, “Doug was overweight and slow, and he couldn’t hit a lick, good riddance!” We obsess over these players and cheer for them like crazy, then when their usefulness is spent, we discard them like old cell phones.

I realize that every professional baseball player’s career must come to an end, and that they always come to an end while the player is relatively young (Doug is 37, and in the whole scheme of things, that is young). I realize that turnover in baseball is inevitable – and, ultimately, desirable. I realize that Mirabelli’s batting average dipped to .202 last season and would probably have dipped below the Mendoza Line this season. I’m not saying that releasing him was not a smart move.

But let’s give the guy his due. He was the only player capable of catching Wakefield’s wicked knuckleballs. He hit some dramatic, key home runs as a member of the Red Sox. He accepted his backup role with grace and appeared to be a good teammate, too. And most importantly, he was our backup catcher during the greatest era in Boston Red Sox history since the early 20th Century.

The former baseball commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti once wrote, “The game breaks my heart because it was meant to, because it was meant to foster in me again the illusion that there was something abiding, some pattern and some impulse that could come together to make a reality that would resist the corrosion…”

“Of course, there are those who were born with the wisdom to know that nothing lasts. These are the truly tough among us, the ones who can live without illusion, or without even the hope of illusion. I am not that grown-up or up-to-date. I am a simpler creature, tied to more primitive patterns and cycles. I need to think something lasts forever.”

mirabelli-and-kapler-on-duck-boat-2004.jpgI’m like Bart. There’s a part of me that wants to believe the illusion that that 2004 team can last forever; that the Wake and Dougie battery will be there every fifth day for eternity. And that part of me died a small death yesterday with the news of Mirabelli’s release. Of course, for Doug Mirabelli himself, the news has to be its own unique form of dying. It’s the end of the most magical period of his life. “Not a lot of fun for anybody,” said Terry Francona about breaking the news to Mirabelli prior to yesterday’s game.

Fireworks aren’t necessary, nor is the cover of Sports Illustrated. I get it. He’s not Brett Favre. But how about a heartfelt “standing O” for our #28? Those members of Red Sox Nation who have the good fortune of attending the Red Sox’ home opener, on April 8, will get their chance to applaud Mirabelli’s contributions to this franchise as he is introduced to receive his 2007 World Series ring (unless he’s playing for another team by then). Maybe we’ll get to hear Tim McGraw’s  “Live Like You Were Dying” one last time (the poignant song about making the most of every moment that Mirabelli chose to blare from Fenway’s loudspeakers every time he came to the plate). If you’re there that day, I hope you’ll cheer long and loud. Not just for Doug Mirabelli, but for all members of that great 2004 team who have slipped away silently from baseball; who, in the end, could not “resist the corrosion.”

What I Love About Baseball

baseball-bats-and-batting-glove.jpgThe leathery-dirt smell of a Rawlings baseball glove. The feel of a high-seamed baseball under my fingertips. Kids imitating their heroes’ batting stances. Defensive replacements in the 9th inning. The allure of an expansive green lawn. The thwack of a fastball slamming into a catcher’s mitt. Luis Tiant. The count. Inches. Emphatic umpire’s calls. Outfielders throwing bullets over long distances to a precise point in space. The pivot at second base. Stealing third. A catcher nailing a would-be base-stealer at third. Acrobatic centerfielders. Baserunners flying at full speed at the crack of the bat, with less than two outs, knowing the line drive will drop in. Earl Weaver. Fielders balanced on the balls father-and-boys-outside-fenway.jpgof their feet as the pitch is delivered, imagining infinite possible outcomes. It’s every day. The black of the plate. Jason Varitek. No-hitters. Extra infield work. Broken-bat singles that end a slump. A perfectly executed suicide squeeze. A totally botched suicide squeeze. Anticipation and hope in the bottom of the ninth inning. Peter Gammons’ old baseball columns in the Sunday Globe. Big league dreams in the imagination of a nine year-old. The scoop at first base. A pick-off at second base, in slow motion. Taking the first pitch, all the way. Taking the 2-0 pitch, all the way. Purposefully moving the runner over. Catchers who frame the pitch just inches off the plate, and umpires who don’t fall for it. Jackie Robinson. Two-out RBI hits by the player the pitcher preferred to face, following an intentional walk. Meaningless chatter when managers visit pitchers on the mound, and umpires who go out to “break it up” after ten seconds. Dewey nailing a baserunner at third. Batters who sprint to first base after getting drilled in the back, expressionless. Stealing home. Catchers who back-up first base. Curt Schilling in the post-season. A 3-2 change-up….three times in a row. Grown men playing a child’s game. The Red Sox. Players who talk to, smile at, or wink at fans while in the on-deck circle. Catchers who block the plate, and baserunners who barrel into first-base-line.jpgcatchers blocking the plate. Old men and women who keep score, every game. The marvelous sensation of my bat connecting with a ball on the sweet spot. Listening to the game on the radio – in my car, in my kitchen, on the beach. Take Me Out To The Ballgame. Fenway. Wrigley. Eliot Playground in Brookline. Hot dogs. Kids who wear their gloves in the stands and expect to catch a foul ball. Putting on a baseball cap and transforming into myself. Pennant races. Dr. Charles Steinberg’s “Path of the Fan Experience.” Pitchers who use numerous arm angles. The knuckleball. Baseball Tonight on ESPN. The expression on a kid’s face when he/she walks up the ramp into a major league baseball stadium for the first time. Cal Ripken. Poring over the sports section, 365 mornings a year. Fathers and mothers playing catch with sons and daughters in the driveway. Hitting fungos to my brother on a 90-degree day…. just one more. Rem Dog’s astute color analysis. The first practice of the little league season, when kids get their t-shirts and begin to bond with their uniform number. Tommy Lasorda. Sunflower seeds. Eye black. Pitchers who show no emotion. Overly emotional pitchers. Batting averages. Box scores. When the home team trots onto the field in the top of the first inning. Francisco Cabrera and Sid Bream. Grown men and women wearing shirts with the names of their favorite players on the back. Ticket stubs in my little-leaguer-1976-photo.jpgfather’s mirror over his dresser. Kids seeing “the wave” for the first time. Fans high-fiving perfect strangers around them after a home run. Barehanded plays. Taking the whole family to see a minor league game, in good seats. Dirt dogs. Relief pitchers who sprint in from the bullpen to the mound. Starting pitchers who stay in the dugout after they’ve left the game. October. When someone in the dugout throws a ball to the first baseman who’s running off the field. Nolan Ryan. Pinch hitters. Double-switches. Pine tar. Batting gloves in the back pocket. Ripped uniform pants. Spectators at “over-40” amateur baseball games. High schoolers who can hit 90 on the radar gun. Pitchers who shake off three or more catcher’s signals. Catchers who call time out to tell pitchers who shake off their signals to throw the damn pitch they called. Dan Gladden. Complete games. The words, “I can’t use my tickets tonight, would you like to go to the game?” Homers that clang off the foul pole. Opening Day. Vin Scully. Joe Garagiola. Curt Gowdy. Ned Martin and Jim Woods. Jon Miller. Deer-in-the-headlights pitchers on the mound for the other team in critical situations. Manaroberts-steals-second.jpggers who go out to argue with the intent of getting tossed. Knee-buckling curveballs. Home team pitchers who induce a swing-and-a-miss on a fastball that everyone in the stadium knew was coming. Taped fingers. Trivia. Opinions about who belongs in the Hall of Fame. Derek Jeter. Dave Roberts. Anything can happen. Triple plays. A walk-off balk. The hyperventilating rush of watching a ball I’ve hit curl down the third base-line for a potential double. Bill James’ Baseball Abstract. The day pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training. Game 7s. The authenticity and excitement of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. Rookies making their first major league appearance. Watching the game from “standing room only” and feeling as lucky as anyone in box seats. Wiffleball. little-leaguers-on-the-bench.jpgMemories of my own glory days and goat days on the diamond. Players who sign autographs for kids… all the time. When a left-handed hitter strokes a hit off a left-handed reliever who was brought in to face one batter. Pitchers instinctively covering first base on ground balls hit to the right side. Pitchers who back-up third. Ichiro. Hot stove talk in December. Trade offers in fantasy baseball. Those incredibly rare little league coaches who make every kid feel special and aren’t in it for their own competitive reasons. Holding tickets to Fenway in my hand. Hitting streaks kept alive on the final at-bat. Player superstitions. Rally caps. Baseball card collections in shoe boxes. Ninth-inning miracles. Outfielders who get a jump on the ball before it’s even hit. The bleachers. Taking the T to the game. Curses obliterated. Pepper. Former power pitchers winning with finesse. Holding a 32 or 33-inch bat in my hands. Hitters battling the twilight shadows between home plate and the pitcher’s mound. Managers who don’t believe in “letting the pitcher work himself out of a jam.” When ball girls, ball boys, and base coaches toss foul balls to kids in the crowd. Kirk Gibson.

What would you add to this list?

Bobby Knight Was My Catcher

catcher-pitcher-conference.jpgLast night I was interviewed on a local cable TV show called The Boston Baseball Heads Show. We talked a little bit about Red Sox Nation, but what I enjoyed most was reminiscing about my years pitching in Boston’s Yawkey Amateur Baseball League, during the 1990s. The host of the show, Dave McKay, is the president of the league and a former manager of one of the teams I used to pitch against, McKay Club.

Even when I was a player on Avi Nelson Club, I hardly ever talked about the team or about playing baseball when I wasn’t at the park with my teammates. Why? No one else wanted to hear about my stupid baseball team. It just wasn’t interesting to anyone else. But man, I thought about pitching ALL THE TIME during those years, and I was obsessed with winning the championship (during my ten years, we never made it past the semi-finals). So it was such a pleasure to actually be ASKED by Dave McKay to talk about pitching and my memories of playing in the Yawkey League. And yet, the brevity of the interview left so many stories and memories untold. Hey, I guess that’s why blogs exist…

One of my favorite memories is of our catcher, Greg, and the things he said to me during our pitcher’s mound conferences. He only called time-out for these meetings when I’d misread one of his signals and thrown the “wrong” pitch, or when I had hit a batter on an 0-2 count, or when I had walked a couple of batters in a row, or when I had started talking back to players who were trying to “rattle” me with trash talk. Greg would walk out to me slowly, and I’d start smiling, bracing myself for the next chapter in an almost comical pitcher-catcher relationship.

Now Greg was one of the older guys on the team. I was about 25, and he was perhaps 38 (which was ancient to me). A little overweight, creaky knees, graying beard, balding. He’d played on lots of teams during his lifetime and somehow he’d hooked on with us. He’d lost some zip on his throws and his mighty swing wasn’t fluid anymore, but you could tell that he had once been great. Every now and then, he’d hit a home run that would make everyone’s jaw drop. And he’d just trot around the bases, expressionless, then walk back to the bench and start putting on his equipment, already focused on the next inning. He seemed to play baseball with a silent, personal vengeance.

bobby-knight.jpgWhen he arrived at the mound for a conference, Greg would remove his catcher’s mask and, in a very calm (but intense) voice, curse me out with all the venom of Bobby Knight. I’m sure everyone observing us had no idea of the thrashing I was receiving, partly because I had the expression of a person trying to hold back laughter. Greg was about a foot shorter than I, and he never looked me in the eye during his epic tirades. He either looked at my chest or let his eyes wander the field while every four-letter word ever invented spewed forth. At the end of his speeches, he DID look me in the eye and say something encouraging, like, “See this glove? Just throw to it.” or, “Next pitch, fastball inside, and we’re out of this inning.”

Funny thing is, I actually found Greg’s berating to be inspiring. Somehow, I knew that he respected me as a pitcher, had extremely high expectations for my performance, and really enjoyed catching me. I knew that his rude remarks were motivated by a deep passion for winning, and it felt awesome to have a teammate who was so driven. When he’d walk deliberately back to home plate, put his mask and glove back on, and crouch behind the batter, I knew that I’d execute my next pitch perfectly and that the batter was doomed.

Greg faded away from our team in the mid-’90s and I haven’t seen him since then. But when I was inducted into the Yawkey League Hall of Fame in 2003, he wrote me a nice email congratulating me on the honor. Of course, it was one of the most meaningful notes of congratulations that I received at that time. Although we were never friends, we had collaborated intensely for a few years as “the battery” for those Avi Nelson Club teams, two totally different personalities sharing a passion for baseball and a deep desire to win.

My 7 Year-Old Son’s Life List

I originally wrote this article for Lifehack.org in April 2007 (click here to view the original). With the new year upon us, I thought it would be appropriate to update and re-publish it here. Enjoy!

7-year-olds-life-list1.jpgLast February, on a rainy Saturday, my then seven year-old son (who was enjoying his budding ability to write) came to me with a small, yellow pad of paper and said, “Daddy, I want to write a list. What should I make a list of?” Suddenly, I recalled reading about John Goddard and the life list he wrote at age 15. His list consisted of 127 things he would like to do or see during his lifetime (for example: Climb Mt. Everest, run a mile in under five minutes, land on and take off from an aircraft carrier, and circumnavigate the globe). Goddard is now 75 years old and, at last count, has accomplished 109 of the goals he wrote as a teenager.

“Why don’t you write a life list?” I suggested to my son. “OK,” he said. “What’s a life list, Daddy?”

In April, while I was tidying up my son’s room, I came across that yellow pad of paper. Since showing him John Goddard’s life list two months earlier, I hadn’t seen or thought about the pad. Behind the cover were nine pages of goals (55 total) he had written over the course of the last sixty days. Some were written in pencil, some in black ink, some in green ink – and all in the painstakingly careful handwriting of a second grader. As I read his life list, I could see his life unfolding before my eyes (not a life of achieving all of the goals on his life list, but certainly a life of adventurous striving).

Before I share highlights of my son’s life list with you, consider:

1. To what degree do you think a young person increases his chances of a fulfilling life by seizing the freedom to dream big, imagining what he wants to achieve, and writing it down?

2. Which habit would you wish for your child more than that of creating exciting mental pictures of the future with a spirit of expectancy?

Check out some of the excerpts of his list (I have corrected his spelling):

pop-and-robert-on-moosilauke3.jpg#2: Run a marathon. #3 Visit the castles in Scotland. #7: Climb Mt. Washington (in New Hampshire). #9: Read a 200+ page book. #10: Live to be 105+ years old. #14: Set a record. #15: Be a dad. #17: Go water skiing. #19: Make something that goes in public. #21: Be able to speak more than two different languages. #23: Invent something. #24: Never get an ear infection until I’m ten. # 26: Be a professional athlete. #27: Visit the pyramids in Egypt. #30: Go to another continent. #35: Be in 125-degree weather. #36: Play 18 holes of golf in par or under par. #39: Be in the newspaper twice. #40: Never wear long sleeves to school on the first day. #43: Eat a wild food. #47: Visit a place on the equator. #48: Be in the hall of fame for any sport. #50: Rescue somebody on a real mission. #51: Win a championship game. #55: Visit any hall of fame for any sport.

Someday, my son will look back on this first life list he ever composed and laugh at some of the things he wrote – just as you laugh at some of them now. But he’ll also laugh at the many things he achieved, and realize that it was that rainy day back in 2007 when these accomplishments and experiences started hurtling towards him – and when his habit of shooting for the moon was born.

Postscript, January 1, 2008:

Today, for about an hour, I drove three of my kids around in our minivan while doing errands. In the spirit of New Year’s Day, I told them I’d record their “Life Lists for 2008” (yes, I did this while driving). Here’s what they came up with:minivans.jpg

8 year-old boy (the one who wrote the life list last year, when he was 7): “I want to make the travel team (baseball), win the lottery, and get a new baseball glove.”

6 year-old boy: “I want to make a 20-foot high snowman.”

3 year-old girl: “I want to make a big snowman too!”

6: “And I want to go to Florida for one whole week, and I want to skate on Squam Lake.”

8: “I want to climb two 4,000-foot mountains.”

6: “I want to climb Mount Everest. And I want to climb every mountain in the universe!”

3: “I don’t want to climb any mountains, Daddy.”

8: “I want to live into the 22nd Century. And I want to be a major league baseball player, with a lifetime average of over .300.”

6: “I want to run all the way to Mount Everest. And I want to drive a car.”

8: “I want to see the castles in Scotland, and I want to run a marathon, and I want to do the Ironman triathlon, and I want to go to the Grand Canyon. I also want to be a dad.”

3: “And I want to be a mommy.”

6: “I want to be a kid. Being a grown up is hard work. So I want to be a kid.”

3: “I want to be a girl!”

8: “I want to be six-feet tall.”

3: “I want to be ten-feet tall.”

6: “I want to make an experiment where a cup breaks. And I want to swim to Florida. And I want to be rich so I can buy Mt. Everest and so I can buy the world.” [Why do you want to own the world? I asked. “Because it would just be fun,” he replied.]

3: “I want to have ten birthdays!”

8: “I want to go to Stonehenge.”

6: “I want to be so strong I could touch a tree and it would fall down.”

3: “I want to buy a happy Hanukah.” [This is totally random…. we are not Jewish, and we don’t celebrate Hanukah.]

8: “I want to get a baseball scholarship to college and to high school. And I want to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame.”

6: “I want to write a song, and I want everyone in the universe to hear it, and I want everyone in the universe to like it.”

3: “Me too, Daddy.”

Have you written your life list yet?

The Physics of the World Series Trophy

ws-trophy-and-kids.jpgI work at a school for kids ages 4 to 14, so when Jerry Remy selected me to be Vice President of Red Sox Nation (after I placed second in the presidential election), I immediately began brainstorming ways to bring “Red Sox love” to the students, teachers, and staff at my school. I like to think big, so I asked the Sox if I could have the World Series trophy for a morning. Miraculously, they responded that the trophy would be between other engagements and in my school’s area on a certain day, making it available to me and my school for perhaps 45 minutes. Unbelievable.

I arranged for the trophy to be a surprise. And what a surprise! I unveiled it at a school assembly at the conclusion of a brief speech to the community on the lesson that there are many ways to “win” in any contest besides getting the most points, getting the highest grade, or winning the gold medal. “For example,” I said, “I didn’t get the most votes in the race for president, but as the runner-up, today I have the chance to present to you THE RED SOX 2007 WORLD SERIES TROPHY!”

Within five seconds of the unveiling, the trophy and I were in a sea of kids (with a sprinkling of adults who had suddenly become kids again). Over the next hour, hundreds of students and teachers posed with the trophy, as did several of the construction workers out back and a few parents who were lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.

Posing for one particular photo, I put my arm around a member of our school’s maintenance staff who was holding the trophy, and his whole body was shaking and trembling uncontrollably. Other adults at the school were moved to tears when they finally cradled the trophy, and the smiles in their “trophy photos” express a wild combination of bewilderment and joy.

The first, second, and third graders lined up against the wall of a long hallway, and I paraded it down the hall slowly so they all could touch it. I wish you could’ve seen the expressions on their faces. (see above photo) Many of them hugged it, several of them kissed it, and their elation was every bit as real as the adults’.

I know physicists say that an object’s gravitational force is proportional to its mass, but then how do we account for the pronounced gravitational pull of the 33-lb World Series trophy? The way in which people at my school were drawn to it – the euphoric look in their eyes, their animal need to touch it and to hold it and to embrace it – well, I’ve never seen anything quite like it. And I’ve got my own amateur physicist’s theory:

kieltys-pinch-hit-homer-in-game-4.jpgThe World Series trophy’s mass consists of all the emotions of the season, as experienced by every member of Red Sox Nation. It includes the “mass” of the emotional roller coaster every fan experienced during the Mother’s Day Miracle” on May 13, when the Sox scored six in the ninth inning to beat Baltimore, 6-5. It includes the “mass” of the stress every fan experienced as the Yankees inched closer and closer to us in the A.L. East in August and September; it includes the “mass” of the emotions every fan experienced when Manny connected off of K-Rod for his walk-off homer in game 2 of the Division Series. And it includes the “mass” of every fan’s emotions at the moment Bobby Kielty hit his pinch-hit homer in game 4 of the World Series (pictured here). All these emotions from the 2007 season – and every emotion that occurred between these games, from every fan around the world – are contained within that 2007 World Series trophy. That’s a lot of “emotional mass,” and it helps account for the fact that the trophy has the gravitational force of a moon.

And the 2004 World Series trophy? Well it has the “emotional mass” of 86 years of Red Sox fan experiences crammed inside it. Only a Cubs trophy will ever come close to matching the “mass” of that baby…..