• My Boys and My Blessings

    My new friend Tom e-mailed me the link to a newspaper column the other day, thinking I would enjoy it.

    I did not.

    The column was by a sportswriter for the Seattle Times, a very good writer named Jerry Brewer, who wrote about going back to his hometown to be inducted into his high school’s hall of fame. But really, it was not about that so much as it was about the writer counting his blessings for being paid for doing what he loves to do – write about sports.

    That was the part where I became morbidly depressed. I mean, do I need to be reminded about people who not only are still employed, but really, really happy about it?

    Then the other night, I was minding my own business, laying in bed and waiting for another Sex and the City to begin, when I caught part of the show, My Boys. For those of you who have never watched this show on TBS, it is about a woman sportswriter who covers the Cubs for the Chicago Sun-Times.

    It’s not a bad show. I actually really like it, primarily because like most successful shows, it bears little to no resemblance to real life. For instance, the main character, PJ, is dating her competition at the Tribune. This part could maybe happen. And both PJ and Bobby are gorgeous, which I guess, could also possibly happen but if it did, both would surely be searching for bigger game than another baseball beat writer.

    Also, PJ and Bobby never work. Instead, from what I can tell, they drink and play poker and get to see all their friends on a nightly basis without ever having the office call and bother them, or missing a flight or even taking a flight.

    The other night, they were covering spring training – again with all of their friends. This is the part where I came in and once again became instantly depressed because even a fictional character was gainfully and happily employed as a sportswriter – and why wouldn’t you be with a job where you never have to work, have a gorgeous boyfriend and all your friends with you on every assignment? — and I’m not.

    But then last night came around, I played softball, I wrote about playing softball and I was ecstatic. If you read the blog, you will know my mood had little to do with the game. Rather, it had everything to do with writing about it, liking what I wrote and genuinely enjoying the process.

    Sometimes, I admit, I wonder what I am doing. I mean, I sit here and write my little column every day like a kid playing office in the basement — “Yes, Mom, I mean Editor Jones, here’s my deadline column.”

     I realize there are many, many – MANY – other bloggers out there doing virtually the same thing – writing every day without being paid. Because I was paid to do it for the last 26 years, forgive me for being slightly conflicted.

    But here’s the thing. I used to talk to my friend and former colleague Skip Myslenski about the “writer’s high” you get after finishing a story and feeling good about it. Some of that might have had to do with the cocktails afterward. But there was no mistaking it and I am happy to report the endorphins are still there, paycheck or not.

    Writing is still a joy. It is my crutch. It is my passion. If you asked me five weeks ago why I loved my job, I probably would’ve said something about the people I was able to meet and the variety of the work. Jerry Brewer wrote about championing the little guy, about re-connecting with his childhood, about traveling to cool places and covering major events. He mentioned connecting with readers and always wanting to be a sportswriter.

    For me that stuff has largely disappeared over the last several weeks. But I have found my voice again and I have, in the absence of editors and real deadlines and a guaranteed audience, been reminded why I did what I did in the first place. And turns out it had nothing to do with covering Super Bowls.

     I love the power of the written word. I love to use it to tell a good story, and I’ll tell it from my basement to three people if I have to. Some day, I may be sitting with my computer on my lap and a tin cup in front of me. But I’ll still be doing what I love.

     And for that, yep, I’ll be counting my blessings.

  • Co-ed Softball, Fat Guys and other Lies

    “You’re still playing softball?” my daughter asked incredulously tonight as I hunted for my crusty cleats, as if somehow being too old, too slow and, well, bad would suddenly stop me from playing in our co-ed softball league this year.

    I mean, why should this year be any different?

    Playing for our Red Star Tavern team isn’t about being the best or making every play or, in my case tonight, any play. It’s about the camaraderie, the joy of competition and the drama of seeing how many of us are going to end up in the emergency room each week.

    Tonight, Sean and Betsy left the field with deep, bloody gashes in their respective knees. You can’t get that kind of entertainment sitting at home, particularly since ER is off the air.

    Betsy bought it rounding third, her cleat sliding across the damp base and sending her face first into the mud about a quarter of the way toward home. Later, most of the other women agreed they would have crawled back to third at that point. I said I would have simply stayed there, called my husband and had him bring the car around.

    But Betsy is a trooper. Knowing the score was tied in the bottom of the sixth and also being somewhat influenced by Sean barreling around third behind her, she picked herself up and actually slid under the tag at home, thus shredding whatever skin still remained on her lower extremities. Sean would score on the next ground ball, also sliding and being the nice guy that he is, coming up with a matching wound suitable for suturing.

    I should point out that we were at an unfair advantage tonight. Normally, we are one of the more competitive teams in the league. Tonight, however, we played against one of those teams that is particularly galling in the adult softball world, and that’s the opponent with players younger than yours.

    Their clean-up hitter looked like he was still in high school. Their women were sneaky good. And their secret weapon was the player you really hate – the short, squat middle-aged guy who needs a pinch runner to get to first on a walk and looks like he should be bowling, only to rear back and hit a screaming 400-foot home run to clear the bases in the seventh.

    By this point, I was playing catcher, after having already booted two balls in the infield, moved myself to right and now was needed to replace Betsy behind the plate since she could no longer bend down.

    Let me pause here for a second to say something on my behalf. I used to be good. I swear. Softball was my best sport when I was younger. OK, much younger. But I had a good glove and an above-average arm and OK, so I could barely hit my weight. That’s not important right now.

    A few years ago, when I joined the Red Star team, I guilted my husband and kids into coming to a game. I thought it would be a fun time for them, make them proud even, as they saw me streaking across the field making diving catches.

    Afterward, as I limped to the car, my husband couldn’t help himself. “Gee, honey,” he said, not trying nearly hard enough to erase the condescension from his voice. “You’re kind of, um, slow.”

    I was incredulous. I mean, of all my qualities as an athlete, I was never slow.

    “Slow?” I asked meekly.

    “Yeah,” he replied gently, “really, really slow. Like you were running in slow-motion slow.”

    After punching him in the arm, I had to admit I had noticed certain changes as I got older. When you’re young, you see a ball and you run after it.  But then one day you notice that when a ball is hit, your legs must first have a brief conference with your brain. During that one- or two-second delay as you consider moving, your brain is now having a discussion with your central nervous system. At some point, your legs enter into the equation and by this time, the ball is dropping and your pitcher is yelling at his shortstop and leftfielder as our pitcher Andy did tonight when he shouted out, “God, are we old.”

    He spared our third baseman Melody, who – no lie – gave birth six weeks ago. Andy is nothing if not a gentleman.

    Because it is my blog and I am no longer operating under the ethical standards and practices of a real newspaper, I’m going to say we won tonight. And while I’m at it, I’m going to say, since they asked, that Josh made a diving catch in left and Andy was 4-for-4.

    I’m also going to say I beat out a throw to first, my back isn’t killing me right now and that the fat guy struck out to end the game.

    That makes me feel so much better.

  • Baseball Players are Big Babies

    When Lou Piniella was a player for the New York Yankees, he once flung his batting helmet in the dugout in anger and grazed the head of his manager Bob Lemon.

     “But that was a ricochet,” said Piniella’s Yankees’ teammate Fred Stanley, defending his buddy.  “It bounced off two things first. It was not an all-out assault.”

    Just the same, Lemon started wearing a helmet in the dugout after that, just in case.

    Piniella, now the manager of the Chicago Cubs and two years removed from his last serious temper tantrum when he kicked dirt on the shoes of the third-base umpire (who acted all offended as if somehow this was unexpected), finds himself in a little bit of an awkward position.

    This week alone, Piniella has had two players ejected and two take their bats to the new drink dispenser in the dugout as if it was a giant orange piñata. These incidents shockingly did not involve Milton Bradley, a player who once had to be physically restrained from running up to his team’s TV booth in full uniform to yell at a broadcaster who said he lacked self control.

    On Wednesday, Piniella’s pitcher, Carlos Zambrano, put on a show that had one Internet outlet calling it “one of the top meltdowns ever,” strong words in a sport that boasts more babies per square inch than your average daycare center.

     Zambrano, arguing a call that, naturally, was incontrovertibly correct, was thrown out of the game by the home plate umpire and responded by trying to throw out the umpire. When that didn’t work, Zambrano threw the ball into the outfield and then proceeded to attack the Gatorade dispenser.

    Piniella raced out of the dugout to help restrain Zambrano, which is required of all baseball managers when one of his players is seriously disturbed, but Piniella could barely contain the giggles as he watched Zambrano give the ump the heave-ho.

    It’s hard for Piniella to act all self-righteous when one of his players acts like a two-year-old, since he was the poster two-year-old as a player.

    But now Zambrano faces a suspension, which means that just as he’s maybe returning to form after a stint on the disabled list, he will be on the bench again. 

    Every sport has its goofballs. Hockey has its goons. But there is still a certain honor there that is not present in the seemingly more dignified sport of baseball. I am watching Wednesday night, as the Chicago Blackhawks line up, as hockey tradition dictates, and shake hands with the Detroit Red Wings after their overtime loss in overtime sends Detroit to the Stanley Cup Finals against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

    Like they’re taught in pee-wees, they go down the line saying, “Good job,” to opponents who only minutes earlier tried to rupture their spleens.

    Hockey is, well, charming as hell.

    The Red Wings refused to touch their conference trophy after their victory, because they didn’t touch it last season and they went on to capture the Stanley Cup.

    That’s a tradition as well. You don’t touch something as trivial as a conference trophy in hockey, you barely look at it, because it’s not the big one, the Stanley Cup, the one that demands your full respect and attention.

    The Penguins touched their conference trophy, though. They put their fingerprints all over it, even carried it around. Why? Because they didn’t touch it last year and they lost to Detroit in the Stanley Cup Finals.

    How do you not love this sport?

    Baseball players don’t shake hands with their opponents. They act like babies and beat up drink dispensers and reduce their managers to those parents you feel sorry for in preschool when their kid is the biter.

    You suspect Piniella will handle things. He’ll explain to Carlos why it’s wrong to try to throw the umpire out of the game and to swing your bat in the dugout.

    And if that doesn’t work, Piniella can always start wearing a helmet.

  • My Dream Job and Men of Religious Persuasion

    The dream job.

    More than once over the last few weeks, I have been told that I had that. And I’m not always sure how to take it.

    I suggested to a female sportswriter friend that it seemed like it was maybe sexist. As in, “You should be grateful for having a job so seemingly great, being a woman and all.” I asked her if she thought male sportswriters were told the same thing.

    Good friends tell you the truth. They also support you when you’re being irrational. I have a guy friend who, whenever I would launch into any complaint, would say, “OK, so what do you want me to say here?” and then give me a multiple choice of responses.

    It’s kind of along the lines of asking your husband or boyfriend, “Does my ass look big in these jeans?” Even “No” is not a good answer if you don’t say it the right way or quickly enough.

    But my female friend told me the truth, that I was basically an idiot. Women sportswriters do not throw around the “S” word lightly. We save it for when we really mean it, when it really applies. Otherwise, it just diminishes the real examples.

    “No,” she said, “I don’t think it’s sexist. And yes, I think male sportswriters are told that all the time.”

    I wonder if male sportswriters are as careful in responding as I’ve always been. For example, when someone tells you how lucky you are to be a sportswriter, they really don’t want to hear about the deadlines or travel problems or athletes who treat you like spittle.

    And I never tell anyone about the time I nearly neutered a monk.

    OK, so he may not have been a monk. But a man of some religious persuasion and I shared a limo from the airport once, and I broke the cardinal rule of limo riding or really any moving-vehicle riding, which is:  Do NOT get up while it is moving.

    In my defense, I was merely trying to give the driver my credit card in order to get a little bit of a headstart in getting out of the limo when it arrived at my house. Of course, I did this at a toll booth, which is not technically a stopping point. But also in my defense, it had been an arduous road trip, I was at an advanced stage of pregnancy and there was some urgency in expediting the proceedings, if you get my drift.

    As I retrieved my card, the driver inconsiderately started moving again, thereby throwing me toward the back seat, where my co-passenger was sitting, minding his own business.

    For those of you who don’t know what happens to a pregnant woman’s fingernails when she takes prenatal vitamins, let’s just say they are not unlike lethal weapons. This can actually be a wonderful and beautiful thing unless you’re being thrown into a perfectly innocent monk inside a limo.

    I’m not exactly sure where I violated him, but it was apparent he was in great pain, bent over and nothing I said could either restore his power of speech or keep the limo driver from laughing.

    You see what the driver knew that I did not, was the destination of the other passenger. He had been wearing a coat, thus hiding his identity until we pulled up to his stop, which happened to be a monastery.

    He was very nice when he got out of the car, whimpering a goodbye and nodding as I apologized for the fortieth time. I asked the driver if the man could have really been a monk and between hysterics, he assured me that he was, adding some other really unfunny remarks.

    Now I’m sure you’re saying, “But this could happen to anyone, not just someone with a dream job as a sportswriter.”

    And I would have to agree.

    So would my co-passenger once he stopped whimpering.

  • Star Trek and Spock’s haircut

    Being out of work gives you time to reflect, to ponder, to –as former Bulls coach Phil Jackson once said of himself — think deep thoughts, such as why Mr. Spock got such a raw deal with the bad haircut.I was outnumbered this weekend on a trip to the movies and so I found myself at Star Trek.  A boy movie. And a geek movie, at the risk of offending all geeks who might possibly stumble across my blog on their way to a Trekkie website or convention or something. As someone who is neither a stereotypical female moviegoer nor a stereotypical female, for that matter — i.e., I include Diner, Caddyshack, Dirty Harry, Scarface, Goodfellas, Stripes, Cool Hand Luke, The Longest Yard, and pretty much every other prison movie among my favorites – I was not pre-disposed to disliking this movie.And I did like it, on some level, which I will share in a moment. I would promise that I won’t ruin the plot of Star Trek, but frankly, I am not capable as I don’t really know what happened except there were more explosions at the end and more beaming up of people, and Spock still had his bad Vulcan haircut.I do not in any way want to suggest that I, nor any other woman, lacks the intellectual capacity to understand a typical guy movie such as this one.  This one was easy compared to others of its ilk. Star Wars? My daughter Amanda and I somehow thought we could stomach that one with her father and brother. But we bolted out of the theater about 10 minutes in, and ended up sitting through the final hour of a movie in which we did not recognize a single actor, couldn’t tell you the title or the plot line. But it was infinitely more enjoyable because – and this I do remember – it a) had humans in it and b) took place within a time period of 10 billion years from today.In the interest of societal and cultural significance, I believe it is important to delve into why men and women differ so dramatically when it comes to movies. Perhaps I should disqualify myself because as I previously disclosed, I am not your typical woman. Also, as I perused a list of “top 10 chick flicks,” according to “O” Magazine, I found myself instantly annoyed with the clichéd “chick flick,” expression and I discovered that I couldn’t stand most of the movies on the list.I mean, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, The English Patient, and four others made before 1947? I was bored just reading the list. Where was Pretty Woman, Terms of Endearment, When Harry Met Sally . . ., Steel Magnolias, Dirty Dancing,  A League of Their Own, Titanic?But once again, I digress.I think about why a man – and for the sake of a specific example, my husband Rick – could not sit through, say, Terms of Endearment, without audibly groaning,  but he could and has, sat through Legally Blonde. Many times.And why did I literally sprint out of Star Wars but I sort of liked Star Trek?Could it possibly be because my husband has a not-so-secret crush on Reese Witherspoon (after once catching him pausing just a little too long while flipping past Legally Blonde 2, it wasn’t that hard to figure out) and I thought the guy who played “Captain Kirk” in Star Trek resembled a young Brad Pitt?I have no real aversion to explosions or your typical movie gore. I mean, Scarface is so bloody, it becomes humorous. Maybe I like it because I resent being pigeonholed or left out in the same way I resented not being allowed to play Little League as a child. But in the same way my husband watches the end of Titanic and yells angrily — each and every time — for Leonardo DiCaprio to grab the piece of wood that Kate Winslet is using as a floation device while I weep over the tragedy of it all; I watched Star Trek and all I could think of was why Spock’s mother, being human and everything, allowed him to have that haircut.In the end, we accept our differences, embrace them.Men focus on the superficial. Women have feelings.And we both like to look at the beautiful.There, that was easy.