Sometimes You Just Can’t Follow Good Advice

If you follow the sport of professional baseball, you’re probably aware of the ancient and on-going controversies surrounding umpires; those stalwarts who serve as the game’s chief arbiters.  Many baseball enthusiasts believe that it’s time to clean house and bring in a new generation of umpires, replacing those who have been around too long and are perhaps growing somewhat complacent in their jobs.

As I was reading an article outlining the latest proposal on this subject, I was reminded of one particular umpire who I will never forget.
Little-League
It was the summer of 1961 and as I’ve documented in previous posts, I was totally focused on playing Little League baseball.  It was my raison d’etre.  I was the starting third baseman on the team which was sponsored by Franklin’s Drug store and we were in the middle of a rigorous eight game schedule.  Truth be told, I was a so-so third baseman.  What I lacked in fielding ability was more than eclipsed by my complete lack of speed when running the bases.

Based on the level of raw athleticism which I brought to the game, you may find yourself wondering why I was on my team’s starting line-up in the first place.  The answer is provided in an earlier post entitled, “Remembering the (little) Boys of Summer” which can be found in my March 2013 archive.  But enough with the shameless self-promotion.

As anyone who has ever coached, played, or witnessed a Little League baseball game knows, one of the most difficult challenges facing every team is finding pitchers who can consistently throw pitches which end up anywhere close to the strike zone, let alone the general vicinity of home plate.  The arm strength and pitching capability of the typical 8- to 9-year old boy just doesn’t allow for many would-be hurlers to rise to the occasion.  As such, I was one of many on the team who were frequently called on to fill the role of relief pitcher.

In general, the arm motion used in throwing a baseball can be divided into three distinct categories.  There is the “over-the-top” delivery in which the throwing arm extends vertically over the shoulder as the ball is delivered.  Then there’s the “sidearm” delivery in which the throwing arm sweeps in a horizontal motion parallel to the ground.  My natural throwing motion was, and still is, what’s referred to as a “3/4 delivery “; meaning that the path that my arm followed was somewhere between that of the other two deliveries.

I recall one game late in the season when I was called on to relieve our starting pitcher.  He was on a pace to consecutively walk the entire line-up of the opposing team.  The parents and other fans seated in the bleachers were growing restless having to watch the kid out on the left field scoreboard change the numbers as run after run was walked in.

I felt as if I was entering a maelstrom as I reluctantly walked to the mound from the otherwise friendly confines of third base.  After allowing me time to toss a couple of warm-up pitches, play resumed.

As I’ve mentioned, the spectators seated in the bleachers had already been worked up into a state of impatient agitation.  By the time I’d thrown my second or third pitch, I began to be heckled from the stands.  Yes, the Boo-Birds show up at Little League games too.  After every pitch, a loud and somewhat abrasive voice could be heard shouting, “Throw it overhand!  Overhand!

Obviously there was an aficionado of the “over the top ” school of pitching in attendance.  I’d deliver a “3/4 ” pitch and the voice, like thunder, would come rolling out of the bleachers and across the diamond, “Throw it overhand!
Umpire
After about ten or so pitches, the plate umpire threw his hands into the air and barked, “Time out! ”  Pulling his face mask off, he walked slowly out to the mound.

When he reached me, he said, “Son, you’re doing just fine.  You just do what comes natural.  You don’t have to pay attention to whoever that is that’s yelling at you.

I remember shuffling my feet and twirling the ball in my hand as I considered his genuine and heartfelt advice.  “Thank you sir, but yes I do.  That’s my mother.

Finding himself with nothing further to offer, he mumbled, “Oh,” slowly spun on his heels and shouted “Play ball! ” as he returned to home.

As the saying goes, “You gotta know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em 

OM

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It Ain’t Easy Being El Niño

Sergio
Sergio Garcia, the professional golfer, is all over the news lately.  It seems that Sergio has a long standing dislike for Tiger Woods which came to a head during the recent Tournament Players Championship played at the TPC at Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

Sergio was paired with Tiger during the third round of the tournament.  As Sergio was hitting an approach shot, Tiger’s fans started applauding for something that Woods had done while waiting to hit his shot.

Now you have to understand that 90% of the folks following Tiger know next to nothing about golf.  Our culture’s cult of celebrity has driven them out there so that they can tell friends, family, and associates that they once actually stood near Tiger.  This cabal will clap their hands and scream “Get in the hole! ” at the slightest provocation – for anything from Tiger stooping to pick up a pine cone to him simply scratching an itch.

In any event, the noise from Tiger’s gallery of fans apparently distracted Sergio, causing him to feel that Tiger had not done all in his power to keep his fans quiet.  Old grievances were suddenly made raw again.

The following day it became clear that, even though they were tied for the lead, Sergio and Tiger would not be playing together during the final round.  When asked what he thought of not playing with Tiger on Sunday, Sergio commented that it didn’t take a “rocket engineer ” to realize that he and Tiger were not the best of buds.  One is left to ponder if a rocket scientist would have arrived at the same conclusion.
Tiger
Fueled by a collapse of monumental proportions on the final two holes of the tournament, Sergio went from being tied with Tiger for the lead to the status of just another “also ran”.   As a result, the state of Sergio’s antipathy for Tiger apparently rose from simmer to full boil.

Earlier this week at a European Tour award’s dinner, Sergio inserted both of his feet (possibly up to his knees) into his mouth when he suggested that during the upcoming U.S. Open he might invite Tiger to dinner, closing his comments with “We will serve fried chicken.

Sergio is undoubtedly a very talented golfer, but I wonder just how much notoriety he would have gained during his career but for a single shot he hit as a 19 year-old during the 1999 PGA Championship at the Medinah Country Club.
Sergio Leaps
That year during the final round, his tee shot on the 16th hole came to rest against the trunk of a large tree.  Undaunted by his bad lie, the relatively unknown Sergio hit the shot of the tournament by putting his ball on the green, but more memorably by performing a gazelle-like leap into the air as he sprinted up the fairway so that he could follow the flight of his ball.

Unfortunately, as the saying goes, “one shot does not a tournament make.”  Sergio finished second, by a single stroke, behind one Tiger Woods.

But that was all it took for the media to ordain Sergio as charismatic and the foremost challenger to Tiger at the top of professional golf’s pantheon.

Since that fateful day, reality has trumped all of the media hype and mythology.  At this point in their respective careers, Tiger has posted 78 PGA tournament victories including 14 majors; while Sergio has only managed 8 total wins, none of which are majors.  I don’t think that Tiger senses Sergio breathing down his neck.

It must be difficult for Sergio.  He’s gone from being a darling of the media to now being their whipping boy for becoming the latest celebrity to run afoul of the universal doctrine of political correctness which holds that everyone has the right to never be offended.

Contriteness may well be the order of the day for Sergio.  On second thought, make that the order of the foreseeable future.

The great St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Dizzy Dean once said, “It ain’t bragging if you can do it.”  Sergio would do well to remember Dizzy’s words.  For despite the media’s misplaced prognostications, he ain’t done it.

Drive for show, putt for dough.

OM

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Where’s Einstein When You Need Him at the Grocery Checkout Line

Many years ago, Albert Einstein was attempting to explain the concept of the impenetrability of solid objects in the physical world.  He very eloquently, and in simple terms which anyone should be able to understand, stated it this way:

No two objects can occupy the same space at the same time.

One would think that this reality would be intuitively obvious to just about everyone, but I have learned without question that there are those who believe that the laws of theoretical physics simply do not apply in the grocery store checkout line. I know this through direct observation having had the misfortune of engaging two such skeptics within the past few weeks.

Let me set the scene for you.  One afternoon a few weeks ago, I had completed cruising the aisles at my local Publix, picking out everything that I needed.  The heavy work done, I proceeded with my full cart toward the front of the store. Arriving there, I scoped out the nearest open checkout line which didn’t already have someone queued up waiting for their turn to stimulate our nation’s economy.
Check out
Once in the line, I started unloading the items from my cart and placing them on the checkout line conveyor starting at the end nearest the clerk and working my way backward, filling up the empty conveyor as I went.

And it’s at this point that this otherwise simple and efficient process ground inexorably to a halt.

I reached into my cart, extracted a couple of cans of something, turned to place them on the conveyor belt only to find one of those bars used to separate purchases, behind which was stacked the next customer’s groceries.  The only problem was that I still had half a cart of groceries that I needed to place on to the conveyor.

The first time that I found myself at this impasse, I turned to the somewhat vacant looking woman standing at her cart in line behind me and politely suggested, “Pardon me, but I’m going to need some space to put the rest of my groceries.

She momentarily registered a confused expression, then paused for a moment before huffing, “Well, I’ve got to put my stuff somewhere! 

Quickly I deduced that she had probably cut class on the day that Einstein’s principle of the impenetrability of solid objects had been reviewed in Physics 101.  The realization that her stuff  had been quite content waiting in her cart for its turn to be placed on an empty conveyor had obviously never crossed her otherwise self-consumed and vacuous mind.

Forrest Gump was never more insightful than when he stated, “Stupid is as stupid does.”  And in this particular case I’m quite confident that Einstein would have been in lockstep with Forrest’s assessment.

At this point the conveyor moved forward about a foot leaving an open space directly behind her groceries.  In a somewhat theatrical fashion I looked from the empty space behind her groceries to the total absence of space where I need to place my purchases and then back again.

Immediately, it was obvious that my antagonist just wasn’t following the complexities of this situation, so I took my arm and swept her groceries back up the conveyor to make room for mine.  It only took two repetitions of this maneuver in order for me to finish unloading my groceries.

Sadly, I must report that this exact scenario repeated itself this afternoon; right down to the customer behind me being totally oblivious to the fact that she had shown no consideration for the person in line ahead of her, much less even a rudimentary understanding of the principle of impenetrability.

My response this afternoon was quick and effective.  I simply leaned over and swept her groceries back up the conveyor making all of the room that I needed.  I knew better than to waste words in a futile and frustrating attempt to illustrate the problem.

For you see, I am well aware of another of Einstein’s principles:  Insanity is defined as doing the same thing over again in an attempt to obtain a different result.  And I’m not insane.

Happy shopping!

OM

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If I Didn’t Have Bad Luck, I’d Have No Luck At All

Emerson
Bad times have a scientific value. These are occasions a good learner would not miss.

                                                                                                    – Ralph Waldo Emerson 

I would agree with Ralph Waldo, but only up to a point.  The fact of the matter is that bad times, repeated often enough, cease to be opportunities for learning and personal growth and morph into intolerable, non-value adding life experiences.  They can become agonizing thorns in one’s side which one begs to have removed by any means available.

I’m confident that Emerson was an intelligent and compassionate man, and that he had the best of intentions when he penned his thoughts on the subject of bad times.  But I also suspect that he never had to experience the personal impact of corporate down-sizing.  Certainly not twice in the span of five years, as I have now done.

My current reaction to bad times (aka workforce reductions and lay offs) is more in line with the sentiments expressed by Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant when he mournfully wailed:

                                                       “Good times, bad times, you know I’ve had my share…
ID-10055840
My first opportunity for “learning” from a workforce reduction came after 34 years of continuous and uninterrupted employment.

One afternoon, I walked into a meeting with my boss to review several projects that I was then managing, only to find out that I was no longer qualified for the position which I had held for several years.  Imagine my surprise when I also discovered that I was equally unqualified for any and all other positions within the company.  In fact, my only alternative was to accept early retirement.

I was, in effect, made an offer I could not refuse.

Having lived through the emotional tailspin of unexpectedly finding myself unemployed, I’ve said many times that I would never wish this turn of events on anyone.  Not even the miscreant (nor the senior management team surreptitiously skulking behind him) who had orchestrated my release into the world of the under-employed; along with 500 or so of my coworkers.  I still firmly stand by that statement.  No one deserves to have their career and livelihood ended so abruptly.

Let’s fast forward five years, rapidly skipping over a number of interim jobs which I was very thankful to have at the time, but was equally happy to have left behind.  A few months ago, Good Fortune finally shined upon me in the form of a “real” job.  My simple definition of a “real” job is full-time, 40 hour per week employment in which I am responsible for a number of tasks that I can envision myself doing for many years to come.  Semi-retired employment nirvana, you might say.

And it was …… for as long as it lasted.  One morning the Vice President of Operations and the Human Resources Director walked into my department.  I looked up and without even thinking said, “Uh-oh.  This can’t be good.”  The HR Director, who I’d gotten to know, replied, “You’re right.  It’s not.

Two hours later, the entire department, including its manager, had been laid off due to …… you guessed it!  Workforce Reduction.

So once again, I find myself out in the wide, wide world of the Un- and Under-Employed.  Sadly, I’m not alone.  Even after five years of meandering in and out of this state, I find that over-population is still an issue out here, despite the somewhat dubious statistics being reported by our friends in government.

Right now, I’m totally focused on reconnecting with Good Fortune, but I haven’t found him yet on Linked In.  If you know his e-mail address, feel free to pass it along.

OM

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In Memory of Gump Worsley

As I’ve probably mentioned many times, I’m a fan of sports.  I’ll watch just about any sport you put in front of me with the possible exceptions of gymnastics, synchronized swimming, and horse racing.  Most recently, I’ve become thoroughly infatuated with the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup playoffs which are currently being broadcast by NBC Sports.
Stanley Cup
I’m not sure if I’ve been drawn into watching these games due to NBC’s creative “Because It’s the Cup” commercials promoting the playoffs or simply due to the fact that the other detritus littering the tube during primetime is simply not worth the time and effort.

If you haven’t noticed, NBC has been broadcasting four Stanley Cup quarterfinal games per night on their NBC Sports Channel and on its sister financial network, CNBC.

Typically, I’ve been picking out one of the early games to watch in full and then recording one of the late games for viewing the next day.  Yes, recording as in VHS.  I don’t expect to move up to TIVO or another DVR until those devices have been replaced with at least two generations of more advanced technology.  I’m not one to rush into following the latest trends.

I saw my first hockey game when I was around 5 years old.  I grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina, which, as one might imagine, was not what could be called a hot bed of hockey enthusiasm during the 1950’s.  Yet in 1956, the Charlotte Checkers franchise came to town playing in the now defunct Eastern Hockey League; which eventually became the Southern Hockey League.
No helmets
There apparently is something to this genetics thing because my grandfather, who had always been an avid baseball fan, suddenly and inexplicably became a hockey fan.

I remember him telling me about the new team that had come to town to play the “fastest game on ice.”  Eventually he took me down to the old Charlotte Coliseum to watch the Checkers play.  I’ve been a fan, if not a rabid one, of the game ever since.

Yesterday, as I watched one of the Stanley Cup playoff games that I’d recorded earlier, my youngest son sat down to watch with me for a while.  After a few minutes, he commented that he couldn’t understand why some of the players had protective visors mounted to their helmets, while others did not.  Then he went further by asking, “Why don’t they have a face mask that covers their entire face?

He was a bit incredulous when I explained to him that when I was a kid, hockey players didn’t wear any form of protective headgear.  When my son gave me one of those looks which says so clearly, “Yeah ol’ man.  I’m not falling for this one“, I immediately thought of Gump Worsley.  And who wouldn’t have?
OBIT NHL Worsley
Gump Worsley played in the National Hockey League from 1952 until 1974.  He was a goaltender.  To this day Gump is the third winningest (is that a word?) goaltender in NHL history.  He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in1980.

But that’s not why I remember Gump Worsley.  As far as I’m concerned, he’ll forever be remembered as the last NHL goaltender to play his position without wearing a protective mask. When asked why he chose not to wear one, Gump famously replied, “My face is my mask.”  Who can dispute that kind of logic?

In 1961, Gump was in goal for a game against the Chicago Blackhawks.  Playing for the Blackhawks was Bobby Hull, the famous left winger who was known as the The Golden Jet  for his powerful slap shot which had been timed at over 118 miles per hour.

During the game, Hull fired a shot at goal which struck Gump directly in the middle of his forehead.  Worsley dropped like a proverbial rock; immediately rendered unconscious.  Upon waking up later in the hospital, he was asked how he was feeling.  Gump replied, “Good thing the puck hit me flat.”  There’s no argument there.

In last night’s quarterfinal game between the Boston Bruins and the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto defenseman Marc Fraser was hit directly in the face by a shot necessitating another quick trip to the hospital.  Fraser wasn’t wearing a visor on his helmet which would have prevented the injury that he sustained.  I immediately thought about my son’s question, “Why don’t they have a face mask that covers their entire face? ”

Maybe they should.  To my mind, it certainly wouldn’t detract from the speed and excitement of the game.

OM

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This Might Be A Good Day to Read A Book

It’s the 4th day of May.

Whether or not you were aware of it, this is a very special day which many people have had circled in red on their calendars and have been waiting for with breathless anticipation.  It seems that May 4th is a day for conviviality and a day for enjoying nature and being outdoors.

No, I’m not talking about May 4th being the day on which the “139th renewal of The Greatest Two Minutes in Sports” will be held.  That is of course a reference to the running of the 2013 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Kentucky.  As an aside, I am in total agreement that two minutes is a very good estimate for just how long most sports fans will remember which horse wins this year’s event, but I digress.

More importantly, May the 4th is now universally recognized as “Star Wars Day.”  So named because it is on this day that you may, with a straight face, greet all of your friends, neighbors, and strangers on the street with the phrase, “May the Fourth be with you!
leaf-no-man-behind_l
I suspect that in many, if not most cases, your overture will be greeted with a blank stare and a hasty retreat by the person being thus greeted.  But no matter, you will have kept the spirit of the day alive!

“But That’s Not All! “

Just when you thought it was safe to go back outdoors after a long winter, be aware that May 4th is also “World Naked Gardening Day.

Sponsored by the American Association for Nude Recreation (who you know better as the AANR), this day is billed as a celebration of weed control, the planting of flowers, and the trimming of hedges without the encumbrance of clothing. Apparently the use of gloves is left to the discretion of each au naturale gardener.

The organizers of the event tell us that “besides being liberating, nude gardening is second only to swimming as an activity that people are most ready to consider doing nude.”  Really?  For the sake of brevity and in order to maintain my PG rating, I think I’ll just let that assessment pass unchallenged.

Unfortunately, here in my neck of the woods, it’s going to be raining all day and the temperatures aren’t expected to rise above 55 degrees F.  Not that it would have made any difference to me if it was going to be sunny and 75.

I’ll be happy to spare my neighbors and innocent passers-by as I celebrate May 4th by maintaining my habitual status as a nudist on strike.

“Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?”  – Princess Leia

OM

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