Category Archives: Life

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.”

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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?

Patriots’ Day: Boston’s (and my kids’) Best Day

Patriots’ Day was established as a Massachusetts (and Maine) civic holiday to commemorate and celebrate the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the first battles of the American Revolutionary War. And in Boston, we know how to celebrate our history in style — a Red Sox game at Fenway for breakfast (11:05am start time), and the world’s coolest foot race (Boston Marathon) for lunch.

Today, I was lucky enough to attend the game with two of my children (9 and 6) and their friend (9), enjoying a rare Monday day game while kids in other states across the country were busy toiling away in school. And after Delcarmen nailed down the final out, we walked three miles from Fenway to Cleveland Circle, cheering on those runners at the back of the pack, the ones who needed our wild cheers the most.

At 9:00am, my boys and I picked up a friend and posed for our first photo of the day.

Daddy needed a cup of coffee, so a quick stop at Dunkin’ Donuts was required. The Papelbon poster got us into the mood for the day.

We parked the car at a friend’s house near Cleveland Circle, and the small plot of green grass in the front yard meant that forward progress towards Fenway would have to wait for a few minutes…. boys will be boys.

The Reservoir T-stop was crawling with Red Sox fans…

… and we squeezed close together on the train to make room for Sox fans getting on at subsequent stops.

The walk from the Fenway T-stop to Yawkey Way is one of the great walks in North America.

The goosebumps get huge when you get to Brookline Avenue and see the crowd outside Fenway.

This was my six year-old’s first game at Fenway (since he was too young to remember anything), so I taught him to hold his hand over his heart during the National Anthem. He sang at the top of his lungs.

After two innings, my six year-old started getting restless. Hot dogs and pizza helped a little. But what he really wanted (and needed, it turned out) was a Red Sox #1 foam finger!

Let us not underestimate the power of the foam finger! To a six year-old, it can provide hours of companionship, entertainment, and enjoyment!

Then, in the fifth inning, it was time for…. the blankie!

By the 8th inning, many of the seats had been vacated, so the boys headed down to the very front, where they sang “Sweet Caroline” and cheered the Sox to a sweep of the Rangers.

What would a perfect Patriots Day be without a greeting from Wally the Green Monster? (The six year-old is not pictured here, because he was sobbing about his blankie, which he’d dropped into a puddle of beer.)

And I honestly can’t remember the last time I saw a player signing autographs at Fenway Park…. but after the game, Josh Hamilton of the Rangers signed for one and all… and made it an extra-special day for a lot of kids.

Then, it was time to head out to Beacon Street to cheer on the marathoners!


Petting the dog wearing the Kevin Garnett jersey was a highlight of our long walk from Kenmore Square to Cleveland Circle. And at the end of our walk, my six year-old proclaimed, “My feet ache all over. But that was the best day of my LIFE!”

A Monday without school, a day spent with family and friends, four hours at Fenway Park on a sunny day, a Red Sox win, the opportunity to high-five courageous runners as they near the finish line of a long, grueling race, and memories to last the rest of the year and longer. What’s better than that?

Jackie Robinson, Bill Russell, and the Red Sox

jackie-robinson.jpgOn Friday night, February 1, the day after Jackie Robinson‘s would-be 89th birthday, I attended the Red Sox’s celebration of his life in the EMC Club at Fenway Park. The event featured a panel of speakers, the star of which was the legendary basketball hall of famer, Bill Russell (who, on February 12, celebrated his 74th birthday). Russell, one of the greatest Celtics of all time, shared some memorable stories and insights (transcribed below), but first, panelist and author Steve Jacobson reminded us about Jackie Robinson’s own connection to Boston – one that is painful for members of Red Sox Nation to hear.

pumpsie-green-1960-baseball-card.jpgIt is fitting and ironic that the Red Sox are the only team that formally celebrates Robinson’s birthday, for while the Red Sox were the last team to field a black player (Pumpsie Green in 1959, three years after Robinson’s baseball career ended), the Sox were the first team to give Jackie Robinson a major league “tryout” – in April 1945, two years before he was named Rookie of the Year as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Of course, the tryout was a sham, and it only happened because of public pressure that was thrust on the Red Sox by Boston city councilman, Isadore Muchnik, who threatened to revoke the Red Sox’s permit to play Sunday games at Fenway Park unless the Red Sox offered a tryout to three black players. Those players were Marvin Williams, Sam Jethroe, and Jackie Robinson.

tom-yawkey.jpg“The workout was supposed to be supervised by four Red Sox hall of famers,” writes Jacobson in his new book, Carrying Jackie’s Torch. “Joe Cronin, the manager; 78 year-old Hugh Duffy, a coach; owner Tom Yawkey, a South Carolina lumberman; and Eddie Collins, the general manager. Cronin refused to give an evaluation of the players he’d seen. Duffy said one workout wasn’t enough. Yawkey said any judgment had to come from his baseball people. And Collins said he couldn’t be there because of a previous engagement. Don’t call us, we’ll call you — and the Red Sox never did call.”

It’s mind boggling that the Red Sox had “first dibs” on Jackie Robinson. Can you imagine how different Red Sox history would be — indeed, Boston history — if Jackie Robinson had played second base at Fenway from 1945 to 1956? Writes Jacobson: “The Red Sox, who won the American League pennant in 1946, the last year of the all-white major leagues, did not win another pennant until 1967. The effect was clear.”

I didn’t know the whole story of Robinson’s bogus tryout with the Red Sox until Jacobson retold the tale. And when he was finished speaking, it was Bill Russell’s turn. I took notes of everything Russell said, and I’ve done my best to represent his words below.

bill-russell-2-2-1-08.jpg“I’m proud to be here tonight, and I’m so glad the Red Sox are honoring Jackie Robinson on his 79th birthday, and anytime the Red Sox want me to be part of something honoring him, I’d be glad to do so, even though I live in Seattle and you can’t get here from there.”

“I remember Jackie liked to bunt the ball down the first base line – that meant the pitcher would have to run over and field the ball as Jackie ran past, and Jackie was a football player….” Bill Russell smiled. “Slight collision!”

“The day after Jackie died, I got a call from Rachel Robinson, and she asked me to be one of the pallbearers in Jackie’s funeral. And I asked her, ‘Rachel, why would you ask me?’ And she said, “Bill, you were Jackie’s favorite athlete.” And when I hung up the phone, I remember thinking, “How does a man get to be a hero to Jackie Robinson?

“There were people along the way who tried to discourage me. But I lived a charmed life, because there were many people – black, white, Jewish, Christian – who pushed me forward, too. My high school basketball coach was one of those people. [Russell mentioned that Frank Robinson and Curt Flood attended his high school in Oakland at the same Russell was there.] He just looked at kids and saw baseball players or basketball players. And that’s what I encountered in Boston with Walter Brown and my coach – and my friend – Red Auerbach.”

bill-russell-and-red-auerbach.jpg“Now I came to Boston believing I was the best player in the land. But I didn’t get along with my college coach [at University of San Francisco] for one single day – yet we managed to win 55 straight games and two straight NCAA championships. And my Olympic coach was from Tulsa, and we didn’t get along at all, either – but we won the gold medal. So when I came to Boston, I expected not to get along with the coach. But the first time I met Red, he said, ‘You’re among friends.’

“I was with a friend of mine in an airport and a stranger came up to me and said, ‘You’re tall. Are you a basketball player?’ and I replied, ‘No.’ Then another person came up to me and asked, Are you a basketball player?’ And I said, ‘Nope.’ So my friend asked me, ‘Bill, why do you keep telling them no?’ And I told him, ‘Because basketball is what I do, but it’s not who I am.’

At one point, a woman stood and asked a question about what Bill Russell thought about urban kids all wanting to become athletes or entertainers, like the heroes they most admire. Bill’s response:

“I think it’s a myth that black kids today all just want to be athletes or entertainers. And my view is, we shouldn’t discourage kids from wanting to be special. I teach that we have to make changes inside-out rather than outside-in. I tell kids if you do work hard and use your intelligence, there are people who will give you a helping hand. But just giving help all the time [outside-in] can become a negative.”

“I don’t see any problem with a kid wanting to be an athlete or an entertainer, and I reject that the only thing all these athletes are teaching kids is to be athletes and entertainers. That’s just not true. You know, almost all of the best players in the NBA have foundations and are doing a lot of work with kids in the community – almost all of the best players – and we rarely hear about that, but it’s true. And these players are teaching kids a lot more than how to be a professional athlete or entertainer.”

russell-ali-brown-jabbar.jpg“In schools across the country, physical education programs are being cut as budgets are slashed. And this is a big problem. P.E. programs aren’t about creating pro athletes, they’re about creating healthy people. In my case, I have a mild case of diabetes, and my doctor tells me that the only reason it’s not severe is because of the active life I led in my youth and young adulthood. Mind and body are both important in a child’s education.”

“I remember the first time my mother said we could play in our front yard. Until that time, we had only been allowed to play in our back yard, but then one day my mother said we could play in the front. But she said to us, ‘Now people may walk by on the sidewalk, and some of them may say things to you. Some of the things they say may be good things, some of them may be bad. But whatever they say, don’t pay any attention to it. Remember, they don’t know you. And when they say bad things, that’s their problem, and they’re wrestling with their own demons.’ So, growing up, I was determined that no one would stop me. Particularly no one I didn’t know.”

“My daughter was one of Professor Ogletree’s students [at Harvard Law School – Ogletree moderated the evening], and her mom and I went our separate ways when she was 12 years old. So there I was, a single parent with a 12 year-old girl, and to this day, it’s been the single greatest adventure of my life. And back when she was 12, I made two promises to my daughter: 1. I will love you ’til I die. 2. When you leave this house, you’ll be able to take care of yourself better than any many you’ll ever meet. And I told her that because I wanted her to feel the same way my parents made me feel. And that’s what I’m trying to do today with kids – to teach them to have confidence in themselves and not to be afraid. Jackie Robinson was never motivated by fear. He didn’t see obstacles, he only saw opportunities, and he saw every challenge as a chance to show what he could do.”

“I’m looking forward to the next great baseball player, but I’ll tell you the truth, I don’t care what color he is.”

red-sox-retired-numbers.jpgThe Red Sox will never shed the facts of the team’s racist history; but the birthday party at Fenway for Jackie Robinson, featuring Bill Russell — not to mention our two World Championship teams featuring players from a variety cultural backgrounds – shows that those facts truly are history. History to be remembered, but never to be repeated.

Roger Clemens: Fascinating Theater, and That’s All

roger-clemens-1984.jpgI remember the first time I ever heard about Roger Clemens. It was the early ’80s, I was around 14 years old, and my dad was sitting at our kitchen table reading the Boston Globe sports section aloud, telling about the excitement surrounding a pitcher the Red Sox had drafted out of the University of Texas. The article said Clemens threw heat and that he had Hall of Fame potential. I still remember how that name sounded the first time I heard roger-clemens-big-guy-at-the-plate.jpgit. It sounded like raw talent. It sounded like an ace of spades. It sounded like hope for a franchise desperate to win a World Series. Today, the sound of Roger Clemens’ name has a different ring to it.

Like everyone out there, I have a gut feeling about whether or not Roger Clemens used performance-enhancing drugs. And my gut feeling has been the same for several years, since long before I ever heard of Brian McNamee. The ridiculous improvement of Clemens’ statistics as he got older (especially after his mid-career demise between 1993-1996) says a lot.

But the current public grilling of Roger Clemens serves only one purpose, really. It’s great theater. Riveting entertainment. Clemens is arguably the greatest right-handed pitcher of all-time (his 7 Cy Young Awards are a record) and we all find it fascinating to watch him fight desperately to save his reputation — and his wife’s — with the same competitiveness and bullheadedness that made him a superstar. Yup, it’s fascinating in an O.J. Simpson kind of way.

clemens-hits-manny.jpgYet I can’t think of one reason why it makes any difference whether we ever learn whether Clemens used something, or not (other than to save the credibility of whichever of the two is telling the truth). We already know that performance-enhancing drugs have been part of the culture of baseball in the sport’s recent history. Every team had users. The outcome of every game over the last ten years was probably affected in some way by steroids or HGH. That’s all that really matters to me as a passionate fan of the game. Baseball needs to be cleaned up. Period.

The objective of the Mitchell Report was not to implicate players, it was to reveal the degree to which performance-enhancing drugs have infiltrated the game and to recommend steps to recover the game’s integrity. So can someone tell me how the conversation has degenerated into this made-for-TV-ratings soap opera that has nothing to do with the Mitchell Report’s original intention?

And why does Congress care so much about whether Clemens or McNamee is telling the truth? I don’t get it. Aren’t there many, many more important things for our elected government officials to be worrying about than whether or not Roger Clemens stuck neroger-clemens-red-sox.jpgedles in his butt? Have these U.S. representatives been sucked into this story for the same reasons we’ve all been sucked in — by a fascination with the potential meteoric downfall of one of the most famous athletes of our time, and by the magnitude of the story? How did that hearing today help the people of the United States of America?

So, either Clemens or McNamee is lying. None of us can help but have an opinion about this debate. But unless you make your living from tabloid journalism or you happen to be closely related to Clemens or McNamee, the issue is really irrelevant. Let’s move on. After all, Red Sox pitchers and catchers report to Fort Myers TOMORROW (Thursday, February 14). Rejoice!

The Meaning of the 2007 Patriots

bruschi-and-vrabel.jpgI don’t buy it.

Everyone says the Patriots’ season became meaningless when they lost the Super Bowl to the Giants. All the wins, all the records, all the great feats of 2007 — up in smoke with one pass to Plaxico Burress.

But you know what? I don’t buy into that. And you don’t have to, either. We live in a society that has decided to shower the “winners” with a ridiculously disproportionate level of praise and credit and to strip all value from every other competitor or team that didn’t reach the mountaintop (where there’s only room for one). I don’t really know why we’ve decided to see things that way, but I, for one, particularly in this specific case, do not buy it.

Yes, the Giants won the Super Bowl. They are the Super Bowl Champions. They are to be commended. They earned it. They deserve it. They and their fans should feel awesome. The Patriots did not win the Super Bowl. But the Patriots of 2007 are still one of the greatest NFL teams of all time. And the 2007 Giants are not.

Now I hear you saying: “You can’t consider a team to be the best ever if they didn’t win the championship – you fool!” But that’s only true if we buy into what pop culture has drilled into us since we were tiny tots crawling on the floor in front of Sunday afternoon football games on TV. We have been taught since we were born that only the winner can feel proud, and that every team or competitor that doesn’t win failed. And by God, if you don’t win the big game, well, you’re just a footnote and nothing more. LOSER!

But do you really believe that about the 2007 Patriots? Isn’t part of thetom-brady.jpg reason that it’s so hard for us to make sense of their Super Bowl loss that there’s a deeper part of us that KNOWS they had a truly remarkable season and that they were still — by far — the best football team in the league this year — and THIS DECADE? And this deeper part of us (I’m talking to you, Pats fans) knows they still deserve a parade in Boston. And this deeper part of us ACHES to go to that parade and to cheer for them for playing so incredibly well this year, for giving us a feeling we’ve literally never had before with any team in Boston — a complete, unassailable belief that we are invincible.

OK, so that feeling of invincibility ended up vanishing with less than a minute left in the Super Bowl, but that feeling was still quite a thrill, quite a gift to all of us in Patriots (and Red Sox) Nation. And even in losing to the Giants, the Patriots played with a level of effort that deserves our admiration. So they lost. Does that mean we abandon them? Is the only reason we loved them that they kept ending up with more points than the other team when the game was over? Was that really the only stinking reason?

No. For me, it was more than that. And maybe I didn’t realize that fact until they lost to the Giants. Their wins were a reflection of their beautiful excellence. And I loved them because of their beautiful excellence. Before this season, I always thought of thewes-welker.jpg 1986 Chicago Bears as the greatest NFL team ever. (They were 18-1 too. But their loss came during the regular season, so we don’t hold it against them.) But if I could pick one team in history to win one game against ANY team, I would pick the 2007 Patriots (with a healthy Tom Brady). And you know all the TV sportscasters WANT to say the same thing (because deep down, they know it’s true), but they are afraid to because they know they’ll get ridiculed (as I will) for praising a team that “lost the big one.” They’ll get ridiculed (as I will) for going against the code of our society that says, “Only the winners of the Super Bowl can hold their heads high.” That’s just hogwash. And declaring it so helps me deal with their loss. It relieves some of the pain. It sustains my appreciation of the Patriots, and that feels good. (Try it!)

So, what’s the meaning of the 2007 Patriots? That you can still be considered one of the greatest teams of all time and LOSE the big game. That no team, no competitor is invincible. (When I yelled at the TV, “Why did you miss that??” as Samuel dropped that potential interception on Manning’s final drive, my 8 year-old son said to me, “Because he’s human, Daddy.”) That you can still be considered a “winner” by fans and by commentators even if you come in second. And that, if you choose to buy in to the “rule” that only one team and one set of fans has the right to feel good at the end of the season — well, that’s a rule that’s going to give you a lot of pain in your life.

randy-moss.jpgYeah, I’m incredibly disappointed that the Patriots lost. Still stunned. A little numb. No doubt, winning is better than losing. But I won’t line up behind the people that want to just forget about them. The 2007 New England Patriots were awesome. And one play with 0:35 seconds left doesn’t eradicate an entire season of jaw-dropping performance. Unless you decide that it does. But I just don’t buy it.

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?