<![CDATA[Baseball on the Brain - Home]]>Sun, 28 Jan 2018 23:49:21 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[The Grief Packet]]>Wed, 03 Jan 2018 09:48:13 GMThttp://baseballonthebrain.com/home/the-grief-packetPicture
​They give you a grief packet. When someone you love dies and you go to the hospital to pick up their possessions, they give you a grief packet. It’s a good thing, I’ll admit, because it has important information that is very helpful during that time, but it’s also a difficult thing to hold in your hand.
It’s not any better when you set the grief packet down on a table at home after you return from the hospital. You don’t want to open it because that means you’re starting the process of saying goodbye and you’re not ready to say goodbye.

You just want more time. Another a few years is probably unrealistic, but even a month would be nice. Too much to ask? How about a week? Okay, then, please, just one last day so you can tell them how important they are to you. You want to say all the things you didn’t get to say.
You can barely look at the grief packet the first day. It sits there untouched until you go to bed and stare at the ceiling for hours thinking of all the good times in the past that will never happen in the future. You wake up the next day and struggle to get out of bed, knowing the grief packet is still there, waiting.
It feels like betrayal to open the packet so you don’t want to do it. You can’t do it. But you have to do it at some point. There are things to do when a person you love dies. The grief packet comes with a checklist. 

The person I was closest to in the entire world died on Friday, December 29. His name was Les and today would have been his 72nd birthday. He was an eccentric artist who worked just enough to pay the bills because creating art was his passion, the thing he lived for. His talent was inspiring.
My mom, my brother, my sister, and I moved in next door to Les in 1981. Over time, he became a part of our family and, for me, a father figure and best friend. Even though we weren’t related, no father ever did more for his son than Les did for me.
When I suffered a spinal cord injury because of a car accident in Indiana the summer after I graduated from college, Les came out and spent the next year helping me recover and adjust to life as a wheelchair user. This continued when we came back to Bothell. He’s been there every roll of the wheel since. 

 I have friends and family members who have a good understanding of what life is like for someone with a spinal cord injury, but none of them have experienced it with me like Les did. Especially in the early days, he saw the struggles I went through, both physical and emotional. ​He saw the anger and sadness that I did my best to hide from others. Sometimes my anger would be misdirected at him and I’d lash out in frustration. He withstood it patiently and accepted my apology when I regretted what I’d done.
We had great times over the years, including a trip to Niagra Falls and a couple trips to Pittsburgh. Even though he wasn’t into sports, he watched me play baseball when I was growing up and he took me, my sister, and friends to Mariner games when we asked him to. 

We watched almost every episode of Jeopardy! for the last 23 years. I was always a little quicker to respond than he was, and this was particularly true as he grew older, but he had an impressive array of knowledge.

​The last Final Jeopardy question we watched together was two days before he died. I didn’t know the answer but he somehow pulled it out of his brain, despite being literally on his deathbed.
​I haven’t watched Jeopardy! since.

Today is his birthday. We should be going out to dinner. We should be eating the amazingly delicious white cake from Costco, which was one of his favorite things in life. We should be watching Jeopardy! at 7:30.

When I re-read what I’ve written here, it’s too much about me and not enough about him. It's easy to get lost in your own sorrow when someone you love is gone, but this shouldn’t be about how much I’ll miss him. That's selfish. This should be about the terrific person he was.

Oil painting was his lifelong passion, but he was also creative in many other ways. He would go to the thrift store and pick up odds and ends that he’d put together to create lamps. I can’t imagine how many lamps he made over the years, but as I sit here typing I count 12 lamps he created placed around the room. 

His sand collection is impressive. He traveled around the U.S. when he was younger and began collecting sand from different places. When he worked at an elementary school later in life, a job he really loved, the people he worked with would bring him sand from the countries they visited. 

When he cooked or baked something it often didn’t turn out quite like he expected or hoped. He would ask me how I was able to bake things that were so delicious. What was my secret? “I follow the directions,” I would answer. To his artistic mind directions were not to be followed precisely, but merely a suggestion.
He also liked colored glass. Cobalt blue was a particular favorite. He collected glass spheres that he would match up with the perfect base. He had enough glass spheres to open a small boutique.
In fact, if circumstances of his life had been different, I could see him owning a little curiosity shop full of fascinating objects in different shapes and sizes. It could be called The Magical Mystery Store and there could be a section for his oil paintings, another section for his glass spheres, a third section for his hand-built lamps, and a variety of wondrous objects in between. 

There could be a café attached, where I would bake cookies, brownies, and cakes to be paired with the blackberry wine he made one year. It would be a good combination of desserts made with mathematical precision matched with wine made with creativity and vision.
Back in the real world, the grief packet is still on my table. This is day five and I haven’t marked anything off on the checklist. Les’s brother and sister will be here tomorrow, so maybe we can go over it together and figure out how to get through this. Of course, Les would probably tell us not to worry about the checklist in the grief packet. He would say it doesn’t have to be followed precisely, it’s merely a suggestion.
<![CDATA[50 Things That Make Me Happy]]>Mon, 04 Sep 2017 07:13:14 GMThttp://baseballonthebrain.com/home/50-things-that-make-me-happyPicture
1.  A really good breakfast
Might as well start off the list with a good, hearty breakfast. It reminds me of traveling, which my family did frequently when I was young. Actually, it was not so much traveling as moving every year, usually within a couple weeks of Thanksgiving. Often, it was within a week or so of my brother John’s birthday, which was a bummer for him. For a good five-year stretch when I was in elementary school, we moved every year, usually in November.
When we moved, we would stay in hotels and most hotels had a restaurant attached, so we would get breakfast, like pancakes, scrambled eggs, hash browns. Sometimes it would be French toast, sometimes waffles. It was always so good, though, and I still like to go out for a good breakfast. 

2.  Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
I don’t have the actual data for my entire life, but it wouldn’t surprise me to find out I’ve eaten more than 10,000 PB&J sandwiches in my lifetime. I eat them almost every day. I’ve been tracking everything I eat for almost seven years. I always have strawberry jam when I eat a PB&J sandwich and I rarely have it other than when I’m eating a PB&J sandwich. This means strawberry jam is a good proxy for PB&J sandwiches. Over the last seven years, I’ve had strawberry jam 2,125 times. That’s over 300 times per year. That’s about how many PB&J sandwiches I eat.
3. IZ on the ukelele, 
Just listen and enjoy.
3A. Louis Armstrong singing “What A Wonderful World”.

How can this song NOT make you happy?
4. WeRateDogs on Twitter. It’s so good. You can’t help but be happy when you see a new tweet from WeRateDogs. Every dog gets a 13/10 or a 14/10, which is much deserved because they’re good dogs.
In September of last year, a Twitter user named Brant criticized the site and the following exchange occurred:
Brant: your rating system sucks. Just change your name to “CuteDogs.”
WeRateDogs: Why are you so mad Bront
Brant: well you give every dog 11s and 12s. It doesn’t even make any sense.
WeRateDogs: they’re good dogs Brent
Brant: It’s a cheap gimmick
WeRateDogs: well, Brint, the people love it and I’m doing it for them, not you
OrneryPiglett: yeah, Brunt! We love it!
Brant: all I’m saying is you could have real legitimate ratings, instead of just saying every dog is a 10, 11, or 12
WeRateDogs: that’s how it started, but as the audience grew, the amount of submissions grew. Standards were raised
Brant: You could also show some of the less cute dogs as well… like some 3s or 4s
Johnny Walker: why can’t they all be cute dogs, Brint?
It’s so true, why can’t they all be cute dogs, Brint?

5. The Soul of Baseball, by Joe Posnanski
I wrote a review of this book at Goodreads.com. Here it is:
In The Soul of Baseball, sportswriter Joe Posnanski travels around the country with 93-year-old Buck O’Neil, a man who had been barred from playing Major League Baseball because of the color of his skin, but who comes across as a gentleman without the bitterness you might expect from someone who had been discriminated against for much of his life. Through Posnanski’s descriptive writing we are welcomed into the world of Buck O’Neil, a world of joy, kindness, and thoughtfulness. Reading about Buck O’Neil makes you wish you had been able to spend a few minutes with him. Posnanski accompanies O’Neil on his many speaking engagements around the country, and without fail, the fans who are lucky enough to be in attendance are treated to wonderful stories, comfortable hugs, and sly winks from O’Neil.
We learn about O’Neil’s time playing in the Negro Leagues, before Jackie Robinson broke the modern color barrier in Major League Baseball.  O’Neil has stories about all of the Negro League greats, from Oscar Charleston to Josh Gibson to Satchel Paige, who called O’Neil “Nancy” (you’ll have to read the book to find out why). More importantly, Joe Posnanski’s simple observations of how O’Neil interacts with people during their travels makes this a book worth reading. O’Neil brings joy to those around him, simply by being the person he is. You feel better about the world knowing a person like O’Neil existed in it.
This book is about so much more than baseball. This book is about life and how one should strive to live it. Many former baseball players criticize the modern athlete, complaining that “back in their day” they played for the love of the game while today’s athletes are all about the money and the glory. O’Neil doesn’t go down that road. To him, baseball is still the great game it has always been and he doesn’t disparage the current players. It’s refreshing.
As much as I love baseball, the most memorable moment of this book for me was a simple story about an exhausted Buck O’Neil heading into his hotel after a long, tiring day in the sweltering heat of a New York summer. As Joe Posnanski tells it, he and Buck were walking toward the hotel and there was a woman in a bright red dress standing there. Joe continued into the hotel, then turned to ask Buck what he thought of the woman. Buck wasn’t there. Joe looked back through the door and saw Buck talking to the woman in the red dress. When Buck finally came in from talking to the woman, his mood had changed, his energy was back, there was life in his steps. He turned to Joe and asked, “Did you see that woman in the red dress?” Joe nodded. Buck shook his head and said, “Son, in this life, you don’t ever walk by a red dress.”

6. Greeting cards.
I used to really like greeting cards. I still like them, but I don’t spend hours at stores looking through the greeting card section like I once did. I’d buy greeting cards even if I didn’t have an occasion because I thought that someday the occasion might occur that I would need that particular card. In a few cases, the occasion hasn’t yet occurred, so I still have greeting cards from 20 years ago waiting to be used. This was one of my favorites:
Driving home from work one day.
I stopped to watch a local Little League
Baseball game.  As I sat down
Behind the bench on the first-base line,
I asked one of the boys what the score was. 
“We’re behind 14 to nothing,”

He answered, smiling.
“Really,” I said.  “I have to say
you don’t look very discouraged.”
“Discouraged?” the boy asked
with a puzzled look.  “Why should we be
discouraged?  We haven’t been up to bat yet!”
--Jack Canfield
7. When it’s the perfect temperature outside.
For me, 68° is about perfect. When the temperature gets into the mid-70s, it’s a bit warm for me, especially if I’m in the direct sunshine. Over 80° is awful and over 90° feels like impending death. My body doesn’t handle high temps well because of a spinal cord injury, so I like that upper 60s sweet zone. If I’m in the shade with a cool breeze, I can handle 80°, but that’s pushing it. I will never live in Arizona. 
8. Spending time with friends and family.

I think most people have at least some family members they like to spend time with and some friends they like to hang out with. I would also guess that most people say, way too often, that they don't seem to see their friends and family as much as they'd like. We can't find the time to get together. We have too many things to do, too much going on. Then time passes and you haven't seen your closest friend in months or your childhood buddy who lives 15 minutes away in years or your brother who lives in a different state in a decade. Facebook allows people to stay connected, but it's not like seeing someone in person and hearing her laugh or seeing the way he (still) talks with his hands. You don't get the familiar gestures and quirks and looks like you do when you're together. In a way, perhaps this makes the time you spend together even better because it's more rare, but if it makes you happy to be around your friends and family, why not try to do it more often? 

The image to the above left, from the Wall Street Journal, is something to keep in mind.

9. Curly Wurly bars
The Curly Wurly bar, made by Cadbury, is the British equivalent of the Marathon bar, which was my favorite candy bar when I was a kid. The Marathon bar was a long, intertwined candy bar made of chocolate and caramel. I like chocolate and caramel. It’s one of my favorite food combinations.
The sales pitch for the Marathon bar was that it lasted longer than other candy bars, as shown in these commercial clips from the 1970s.

Commercial one

Commercial Two

By the way, the airplane pilot, Quick Kurt, in the second commercial is the guy who played Uncle Leo in Seinfeld. The Marathon bar was discontinued in 1981, but the Curly Wurly lives on.

10. Fireworks
I like a good fireworks show, but it has to be live, like at an Aquasox game. Watching fireworks on TV is like eating mashed potatoes without the gravy. It’s still mashed potatoes, but it lacks the extra something that the gravy gives it. Fireworks on TV just don’t have that watching-it-live feel. 
11. The movie Grease (and the guy in the green shirt)
Setting aside the fact that the actors in Grease are in their 30s and playing high schoolers, I still love watching the movie. It’s one of those movies that I can randomly flip to and continue watching from that point forward even though I’ve seen it dozens of times. John Travolta is the coolest member of the T-Birds, without question. When it comes to the Pink Ladies, of course Olivia Newton-John is super nice and wholesome and beautiful, although I do like when she does the switch at the end and comes out dressed in black with the makeup and big hair. Marti Maraschino is underrated hot in the movie.
When it comes to the movie Grease, I’m kind of obsessed with the guy in the green shirt who shows up in all of the big dancing scenes. I noticed him years ago in the final dance scene at the carnival because he does this goofy penguin walk. Then I started looking for him in the other dance scenes and he’s always there, with his 50s hair. I can’t watch the movie now without looking for the guy in the green shirt.
I found out a few years ago that I’m not the only person obsessed with the guy in the green shirt. Here’s a website by someone who loves the guy and the commenters agree that the guy in the green shirt is one of the best parts of the movie. One person wrote, “I agree with you 100 percent. Dan Levans (the guy in the green shirt) is by far the most interesting person to watch in this movie. He is the most energetic dancer in the troupe, putting that extra touch to make him stand out on the screen.”

Here he is in all his glory. 

12. Seeing someone who is passionate about what they do
Spinning off of the guy in the green shirt from Grease, I enjoy coming across people who are very passionate about what they do, like the guy in the green shirt. He gives it his all in every scene, dancing like it’s the most important thing he’ll ever do. He gives 100%, not the mythical 110% that athletes give, but a legitimate 100%. It’s inspiring.
Another example is an English professor I had at the UW named Roger Sale. I took multiple classes with Roger because he was so incredible to watch teach English. He was the most inspiring teacher I ever had and I’ve written more about him at #37 on this list.
Another very passionate and memorable person was someone I didn’t really know. He was a checker at QFC named Maurice and he genuinely seemed to love his job. He had a big smile for everyone who came through his line, like you were best friends from way back. Sometimes he would sing when it was a slow day. I never saw him acting any way other than cheerful and positive. He never seemed to have a bad day. He was a ray of sunshine working as a checker in a grocery store. Then one day he was gone and going to QFC was no longer as fun as it had been when Maurice worked there.
13. The movie “Before Sunrise.”
Some movies are genuinely great movies and some movies are great because they come along at just the right time in your life. For any number of reasons, it’s the perfect time for you to see that movie because it connects so well with who you are in that moment. Before Sunrise came along at the right time for me. I was recently out of college, like the main character, Jesse. He had flown to Europe to visit his girlfriend who was studying in Madrid. It didn’t take long for him to realize she was no longer as in love with him as he was in love with her, which leads to this quote:
“You know the worst thing about someone breaking up with you?  It’s that you know how little you thought of the people you’ve broken up with and you realize how little the person breaking up with you, thinks of you.” That was a gut-wrencher and a knife-twister for me. I’d never considered it before and it made me look back and feel retroactive embarrassment at how much I’d tried to make a couple previous relationships work after the person had lost all interest.
After the breakup, Jesse has two weeks before his flight leaves to go back to the states so he gets a Eurail pass and travels around Europe. The night before he has to leave, he meets the beautiful Celine and they get off the train in Vienna and walk around the city.
One of my favorite scenes is in a music store, where they are sitting next to each other listening to music and desperately wanting to look at each other but then avoiding eye contact when the other person looks over. Here’s the scene, but if you have any interest in seeing the movie, you should wait and watch it then.

Dancing Eyes

It was the right movie at the right time. Other movies in this category for me include Pump Up the Volume (Christian Slater, shy high school student during the day, angry shock-jock pirate radio guy at night), Beautiful Girls (Timothy Hutton returns to his hometown for his 10-year reunion), and Lost in Translation (Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson meet in Japan).

14. The ending of the movie Lost in Translation.
Speaking of Lost in Translation (above), it was one of those weird, quirky movies that I saw at the right time. It coincided with a weird, quirky friendship I had at the time. I won’t give away the ending. Many people don’t like the ending, but I like that it isn’t wrapped up in a tidy little bow like many Hollywood films. 

15. The final two words of the movie 500 Days of Summer. It’s my all-time favorite movie ending, but I’m not going to give it away here. Just watch it and love it. It makes the rest of the movie worthwhile.
Also, this scene from that movie.
16. The movie Cousins.
Other than playing around with a harmonica every now and then, I’ve never played a musical instrument. I didn’t have piano lessons, never had a drum set, and didn’t even learn to play the guitar, although there exists a picture of me holding one when I was a kid. I’m sure I had no idea what I was doing. In school, I did play the recorder because everyone played the recorder that year.
After seeing the movie Cousins, I asked for and received a trumpet for Christmas. There was nothing I wanted more than to sit up in a window like Larry, softly playing the trumpet late at night while thinking of the woman I loved. Then I got the trumpet and couldn’t play it at all. I didn’t know how hard it was because in the movie it looked like the easiest, most natural thing in the world. I never did learn to play the trumpet, but I still like the movie.

17. Sammamish Trail
I’ve logged many miles on the Sammamish Trail over the last few years. I usually park at Wilmot Gateway Park in Woodinville and head towards Redmond. I’ve been out there so often that there’s a whole cast of characters I’ve come to recognize, people I’ve seen dozens of times. Most are friendly and say hello or smile or nod. When the Pokemon Go sensation was happening last summer, the park was filled with people looking for Pikachus. There aren’t many of those left this summer. That fad came and went faster than “poking” people on Facebook.

I wrote about “Life on the Sammamish Trail” here.
18. Green Lake
The Sammamish Trail is close and easy to get to but Green Lake is a more interesting place to get some exercise because of the people you see. There’s a woman who sits at a table with a sign that says “free poetry.” I’ve never received any free poetry from her, but I’m glad she’s there in case I need some one day. There used to be a guy who had a sign that said “Spanish Lessons” but I haven’t seen him this year. I hope he’s okay. One guy I’d rather not see is the nearly naked, speedo-wearing “Free Hugs” guy. No hug for me, thanks.
One of the popular things at Green Lake this year is tightrope walking. Every time I go, there are at least a few groups of people with tightropes strung up between trees. The tightrope walkers seem to be welcoming people. I’ve seen strangers walk up and express interest and the tightrope walkers always show them how it’s done. If you ever want to try walking a tightrope, head to Green Lake and see if one of the tightrope walking groups will show you the ropes (see what I did there? Ehh?).
The other popular thing at Green Lake this year is the hammock. I’ve seen plenty of people lounging in hammocks this summer. They aren’t the old fashioned Gilligan Isle hammocks; they are new and improved sleek-looking hammocks. Tightropes hammocks and have taken over Green Lake.
One last popular thing at Green Lake is girls in bikinis. No explanation necessary.

19. A fresh-out-of-the-oven cinnamon roll
I really enjoy a warm, buttered, fresh-out-of-the-oven cinnamon roll. A good homemade one is best, but I used to enjoy the ones from Cinnabon also. They are just a bit too sweet, though. I haven’t seen a Cinnabon lately. I wonder if they still exist.
Speaking of cinnamon rolls, in my first year working at Skyview, I was invited to a meeting with four teachers to discuss technology for the upcoming school year. We agreed to meet at the Maltby Café. This was around 20 years ago. When I got there, I looked and looked but there was no way for me to get in the restaurant. It wasn’t accessible. The only entrance appeared to be a set of stairs in the front. Since I can’t levitate, I couldn’t get down the steps without doing the O.J. Simpson from Naked Gun.

One of the teachers asked the manager about it and the manager guided me around the back of the restaurant to the service entrance, where there was a very steep ramp (definitely not built to ADA specifications). I needed one person in front of me and another behind me to get down the ramp. This was just a couple years after I had become a paraplegic and I HATED needing to get help like that. It was humiliating and I’ve never been back to the Maltby Café. Everyone raves about their cinnamon rolls, but they don’t deserve my money.

20. Stories about Prince.
My favorite is Jimmy Fallon’s story about playing ping-pong with Prince. I could watch it every day. I wish I could have played ping-pong with Prince.
21. Peanut butter toast and hot chocolate on a snow day.
This is a tradition I’ve had since I was in junior high. On those rare days when we got to skip school because of the snow, I always had peanut butter toast and hot chocolate. I did this all through junior high and high school and continued the tradition for all the years I worked at Skyview. Even though I’m no longer involved with schools, I still have peanut butter toast and hot chocolate on snow days. A few years ago on a snow day, I got a message from one of my favorite former students, who also held the title “Coolest Person Ever” for many years. She asked, “Did you enjoy your peanut butter toast and hot chocolate.” That’s how she keeps the title, year after year.
22. Randomly hearing from the perennial winner of the “Coolest Person Ever” Award.
Speaking of the “Coolest Person Ever”, she periodically shows up in my life for an hour or two and then disappears again. She’s elusively cool, like a movie star who won’t go on the talk shows to promote a movie. I might not see her for a year or two, then she’ll show up again and we’ll have lunch or dinner, then she’s gone. When she does show up randomly, it makes me happy to be able to spend a little bit of time with her.
23. This video of my niece when she got to go on the field with the players at an Aquasox game.
I don’t believe I’ve ever been as happy and excited as she looks in this video and I doubt that I will ever be as happy and excited as she looks in this video. She’s literally jumping up and down with anticipation.
24. Tom Robbins novels.

When I was in high school and college, I read all of the novels Tom Robbins had written to that point. They were exactly what I needed at that age. I loved the way he expressed his incredible ideas, the words he used, the way his stories were like wild flights of fancy at times and remarkably enlightening at other times. He is skillful with similes and marvelous with metaphors. His writing took me places I never imagined I could go. He was one of the reasons my world expanded from a focus on math and numbers to embracing literature and prose.

The first Tom Robbins novel I read was Another Roadside Attraction, but my favorite is Jitterbug Perfume. Another Roadside Attraction was recommended to me by a girl I knew in high school who was way cooler than I was. She was a year below me in school, but light years ahead of me in what she knew about life. I was the suburban guy who lived a half-hour from Seattle but rarely ventured downtown for anything other than a Mariner game. She invited me to a concert in Seattle and, as the band was playing, looked at me and said, “This would be great sex music.” I smiled and did nothing because I was the most oblivious person on the planet. 

She tried again a few days later. It was near the end of the school year, during that time when we went to our classes but just signed yearbooks rather than do any schoolwork. I was wearing shorts. She grabbed a Sharpie and started at my ankle, drawing a snake going up my leg, around and around. First she said I had nice calves, then she looked me in the eyes and said I had nice thighs. I thanked her. Class ended. We said goodbye. 

One of my favorite Tom Robbins’ poems is this one, Genius Waitress. I’ve been in love with a couple waitresses in my life and this one speaks to me.

Of the genius waitress, I now sing.

Of hidden knowledge, buried ambition, and secret 
sonnets scribbled on cocktail napkins; of aching 
arches, ranting cooks, condescending patrons, and eyes 
diverted from ancient Greece to ancient grease; of 
burns and pinches and savvy and spunk; of a uniquely 
American woman living a uniquely American compromise, 
I sing. I sing of the genius waitress. 

Okay, okay, she's probably not really a genius. But 
she is well-educated. She has a degree in Sanskrit, 
ethnoastronomy, Icelandic musicology, or something 
equally valued in contemporary marketplace. Even if 
she could find work in her chosen field, it wouldn't 
pay beans--so she slings them instead. (The genius 
waitress is not to be confused with the 
aspiring-actress waitress, so prevalent in Manhattan 
and Los Angeles and so different from her sister in 
temperament and I.Q.) 

As a type, the genius waitress is sweet and sassy, 
funny and smart; young, underestimated, fatalistic, 
weary, cheery (not happy, cheerful: there's a 
difference and she understands it), a tad bohemian, 
often borderline alcoholic, frequently pretty (though 
her hair reeks of kitchen and bar); as independent as 
a cave bear (though ever hopeful of "true love") and, 
above all, genuine. 

Covertly sentimental, she fusses over toddlers and old 
folks, yet only fear of unemployment prevents her from 
handing an obnoxious customer his testicles with his 

She doesn't mind a little good-natured flirting, and 
if you flirt with verve and wit, she may flirt back. 
Never, however, never try to impress her with your 
resume. Her tolerance for pretentious Yuppies ends 
with her shift, sometimes earlier. She reads men like 
 a menu and always knows when she's being offered 
 leftovers or an artificially inflated soufflé. 

Should you ever be lucky enough to be taken home by 
her to that studio apartment with the jerry-built 
bookshelves and Frida Kahlo posters, you will discover 
that whereas in the public dining room she is merely 
as proficient as she needs to be, in the private 
bedroom she is blue gourmet virtuoso. Five stars and 
counting! Afterward, you can discuss chaos theory or 
the triple aspects of the mother goddess in universal 
art forms--while you massage her swollen feet. 

Eventually, she leaves food service for graduate 
school or marriage; but unless she wins a grant or a 
fair divorce settlement, chances are she'll be back, a 
few years down the line, reciting the daily specials 
with her own special mixture of warmth and ennui. 

Erudite emissary of eggs over easy, polymath purveyor 
of polenta and prawns, articulate angel of apple pie, 
the genius waitress is on duty right now in hundreds 
of U.S. restaurants, smile at the ready, sauce on the 
side. So brush up on your Schopenhauer, place your 
order--and tip, mister, tip. She deserves a break 

Of her, I sing. 

~Tom Robbins 
Playboy, 1991
25. Joe Posnanski essays.
Joe Posnanski is a great sportswriter, but he’s not just a sportswriter. On his personal blog, he’ll occasionally treat his readers to a personal story, often about his daughters. They are always gems. One of his best was “Katie the Prefect.” I don’t know much about Harry Potter and I don’t have any kids, but I loved the story.
Some of his columns are a mix of sports and music and his daughters and pixi-foods (a food substance that is highly pleasant to the taste as a child and shockingly unpleasant once you became an adult) and anything else that springs to mind. In these columns, he might write one terrific paragraph that sticks with me, or a couple or three paragraphs.
Here is one example about his daughter Katie:
Start at a field. The grass is sparse and burning yellow. The afternoon sun is low in the sky. Leaves crunch underneath. It is autumn. Children are playing. They are not playing baseball; you don't see children play baseball as much these days. Soccer is the thing. Let's face it, the kids are not really playing soccer either, but they are trying. The basics are here. Soccer goals on either side. A soccer ball bounces and skids erratically. The children are at different levels. Some still forget that they're not supposed to pick up the ball. One boy knows how to punt the ball high in the air, sending the others scattering for cover. Another fears getting too close to the ball, so he always revolves around the ball from a safe distance, like Mercury rotating the sun. One girl has learned a slick move where she can stop quickly with the ball and start again, and this will sometimes send defenders crumbling to the ground. Another approaches the ball tentatively, the way she might a large dog.

And then there's another girl, and she is everywhere. Everyone notices her. She is impossible to miss, though she's small. She has short blonde hair, and this gap-tooth smile, and her pink socks are pulled above her knees. She chases after the ball exuberantly. That's the big thing. Wherever the ball goes, she goes full of spirit and hope. The ball bounces this way, she runs this way, it's kicked back, she quickly turns and runs back. This happens again and again, this constant shift of direction, but she never seems to tire, and she never seems to get frustrated. She is so small that at one point the coach simply picks her up to put her in a different defensive spot. She is pure energy and pure joy, and people in the small crowd find themselves cheering for her and calling her name.

End at that field. That little girl. She runs around after the ball with such joy and such zeal. She's sure she will get to the ball, kick it down the field, chase it again. And if she doesn't get to it this time, she's sure that that she will get to it next time. That kind of verve is easier when you're young, maybe. And I wonder if in part that's why people cheer her, because that enthusiasm is so irresistible … and they know how easy it is to lose it. So they shout, "Go Katie! Go Katie!" because they want her to keep going. I know that's why I'm shouting. I want my daughter to keep going like that forever.

26. Tuesdays with Morrie. 

Tuesdays with Morrie is an inspiring book about a man who is dying of Lou Gehrig’s Disease but still lives life with as much joy and optimism as he possibly can. I read it long ago and really liked it at the time. One of the great quotes by Morrie in this book:

“So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they're busy doing things they think are important. This is because they're chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.” 

Many years after this book came out, the author, Mitch Albom, was revealed to be a real jerk. He made an anti-gay statement saying Adam Lambert was disgusting because he’s a “guy-kisser.” In 1995, he crossed the picket lines to return to work. He wrote a story for the Detroit Free Press in which he claimed two former college players were at a game they never attended, then had some difficulties with his fake-apology (or fauxpology). He wrote another column very critical of people in the service industry that very likely included made up incidents to push his point. I’ve worked in a restaurant and I know how hard it is to work in an industry where you have to deal with the public. They’re the worse. Mitch Albom appears to be one of them. 

I haven’t re-read Tuesdays With Morrie, so the book still makes me happy when I think about it, but now that I know more about the author it could easily fall of this list at any moment. Many people think it’s an awful book because it isn’t so much about Mitch Albom’s old college professor who is dying from ALS (Morrie Schwartz) as it is about Mitch Albom and what a great guy Mitch Albom is becoming because Mitch Albom is spending time with a dying man. Mitch Albom loves himself some Mitch Albom.

It sounds like Albom did not follow in the footsteps of his dying college professor because Schwartz did not come across as the jerk that Albom is. I feel if I were to read it again knowing that Albom didn’t learn a damn thing from Morrie Schwartz, it would feel insincere and phony. For now, when I think about the book I focus on Morrie Schwarts and try to ignore Mitch Albom.

27. Music by big-haired rock bands of the 1980s.

Hair was big in the 1980s, particularly with teenage girls and the big-haired rock bands they lusted after. When I look at my old junior high and high school yearbooks, it looked like the girls were in competition to see who could have the biggest hair. Often times, it would rise out of their forehead like a tidal wave or flow from their face as if they were in a massive windstorm. I had a very nice mullet, but it wasn’t so much big as it was long (business in the front, party in the back). Teenage girls and rock stairs had hair that was big AND long. 

A sampling of the big-haired rock bands from the 1980s includes Bon Jovi, Cinderella, Motley Crue, Def Leppard, Quiet Riot, Dokken, Twister Sister, Skid Row, KISS, Whitesnake, Scorpions, and Ratt. My favorite band was Van Halen, but only during the David Lee Roth era. Once Sammy Hagar replaced Diamond Dave, the band was dead to me. David Lee Roth was one of my idols back in those days, mainly because he seemed so confident, with no hint of ever being embarrassed or unsure of himself. I wanted to be as cool and confident as he was. 

One of the first concerts I went to was when Diamond Dave was on a solo tour. He was the headliner when the tour started but his opening act, Poison, surged in popularity as the tour went on and eventually eclipsed him. That probably killed Diamond Dave, who wanted to be everyone’s favorite showman.

Eventually I learned that David Lee Roth probably wasn’t someone to idolize. I still love the music and the creativity of his videos, but his idol status has been rescinded. 

28. Everett Aquasox games.
I usually go to Everett Aquasox games with my sister and one of my nieces, Ruby. They are easier to get to than Mariner games because we don’t have to deal with Seattle traffic. Parking is free and our seats are six rows up from the field behind home plate. Seats that good don’t exist for wheelchair users at Safeco Field, where even the Diamond Club wheelchair seats are in the very back row. Safeco’s a nice enough ballpark, but they could have had better accessible seating. The Pirates did it right with PNC Park in Pittsburgh. The Mariners did not.
At the Aquasox games the players are young, either just out of high school or college or recently-signed players from Latin American countries. Often times, the fielding is amateurish and the pitchers throw hard but lack control. These are the players down near the bottom rung of the ladder, all hoping to make it up to the big leagues.
It’s still baseball, though, and it’s fun to sit in good seats watching baseball with family and friends. We’re semi-regulars at the games. We don’t have season tickets but we try to go once or twice every homestand, so we’ve come to know some of the season-ticket holders. They’ve seen Ruby grow from a six-month old in the summer she was born to the 10-year-old she is now.
Many years ago, before Ruby was born, my sister and I went to a game that is still one of the best we’ve ever attended. It was Flyswatter Night, so the first 1,000 fans received Aquasox Flyswatters in a promotional giveaway. I wrote about that game here.

29. Mariner games (particularly with the Inner Circle)
At least once every summer, I try to get together for a Seattle Mariners baseball game with a group of guys who all worked at Skyview at one time or another, although none of us work there now. We are the Inner Circle. For a while, one member of the group was on the outside of the Inner Circle, hovering around the outer shell, but we finally let him have full member status quite some time ago.
It’s an interesting group that includes the most upbeat, “Jeez, oh boy, wow!” person you could ever hope to meet. That’s not an exaggeration; he actually says “Jeez!” and “Oh boy!” and “Wow!” quite frequently. Some days, it’s hard to believe he actually exists, but it’s always a joy to be around his optimism and enthusiasm. Luckily, the group has the yang to his yin to keep everything in balance.
The other four members of the Inner Circle either are or were math teachers. I’m the oddball with an English degree (but with longtime mathematical leanings). By tradition, we get our hot dogs at Joe’s before the game. Joe’s is one of the hot dog stands between the two stadiums. The guy who runs Joe’s is known for his very loud call when he’s holding the foot long, “Would you LOOK at the size of this dog?!” Joe also seems to have discovered the fountain of youth. He looks younger now than he did 10 years ago. It can’t be the hot dogs because the members of the Inner Circle look older every year.
We sit in the 300 level because the accessible seats everywhere else are not worth the price. The view is fine, but even on a hot day in August it gets cold in the late innings when the breeze comes whistling through. Mostly, we watch baseball and catch up with each other on what’s happened since the last time we were together. It’s a nice tradition.

30. Fresh-out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookies
Most people love the snickerdoodles I make, but my favorite cookie is the good old-fashioned chocolate chip cookie, or the slight variation—the chocolate chip cookie with coconut. I could eat a couple dozen of them as they came right out of the oven. I don’t, but I could.  

31. Doughnuts.
As much as I like chocolate chip cookies, it’s the wonderful doughnut that I like the most. Well, doughnuts or a piece of white cake with white frosting from Costco. Cake isn’t an everyday food, though, doughnuts can be.
My top 5 favorite doughnuts:
  1. Boston Crème
  2. Bavarian Kreme
  3. Glazed Twist
  4. Maple Bar
  5. Cinnamon-Sugar

32. Veraci Pizza
It’s really good pizza. It’s a thin crust pizza they put in 1000° ovens for about three minutes and it’s just delicious. If you’re in Ballard, go to the Veraci on Market street. If you’re in Wedgewood, go to the Veraci on 35th. If you’re in Kirkland on a Wednesday in the summer, go to the Farmer’s Market and let me know what time you’ll be there and I’ll buy you a slice. 

33. Going to sleep with something really exciting to look forward to the next day.
This is a complex one. It’s great when I have something really exciting to look forward to the next day, but it also makes it hard to sleep. I just can’t stop my mind from thinking about it, so I’m awake for far longer than I should be. Still, it’s a good feeling.
In another way, having something to look forward to the next day has helped me get through difficult times. When I was in the hospital recovering from a spinal cord injury, there was a time when I was stuck in my room on bed rest for months. The days would sometimes pass very slowly. One of the things that got me through the nights was thinking about the cute physical therapist (Lisa) who would come to my room the next day or if my brother and his family might be visiting.
34. Jeopardy!
I’ve never seen an episode of Game of Thrones or Stranger Things or Orange is the New Black or any of the other popular shows that people talk about. The only weekly sitcom I watch is Modern Family, and sometimes I forget and miss an episode and have to watch it On Demand. During baseball season, I’ll flip between games with the Extra Innings package.
The one show I watch religiously is Jeopardy! It started when I was in the hospital after a car accident 23 years ago. At that time my longtime friend Les, who has been like a father to me for 30 years, came out to Indiana and stayed with me in my hospital room. We started watching Jeopardy! every day and continue to watch it now. When it gets dark before 7:30, we’ll usually watch it that day, but during the summer when it stays light until well past 7:30, I DVR it and we watch it later in the day. I’ve taken the online test to become a Jeopardy! contestant a few times already but have come up a few questions short of making it to the next round. I keep telling myself to spend a year seriously preparing for it, but then baseball season starts.
35. Seeing Mt. Rainier on a clear day.
I’ve lived here since I was 10 years old and I’m still amazed by Mt. Rainier on a clear day. It’s majestic.
36. Another video of my niece.
She embodies the quote: “You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching.” When I tried to dance in my younger days, like in junior high or high school or at the gay baR a girl I dated in college took me to, I thought everyone was watching and noticing how terrible I was at dancing. They weren’t, of course, but that’s how I felt. I hope my niece continues to dance like there’s nobody watching.

37. Writing
I had an English professor at the UW named Roger Sale who was incredibly inspiring. I didn’t set out to major in English. I took a variety of classes during my first few years of college because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. When it came time to choose a major, my counselor pointed out that I had more English credits than anything else, so I majored in English. I continued to take classes in the subject, but I was not inspired by them. I took American Lit, a class with a requirement to read one novel per week and write an in-class essay on Friday. I never finished any of the novels but had the ability to flip through the book and write top-notch essays so I “earned” a good grade. This is how it went for most of the English classes I took.
Then I took British Lit with Roger. It was incredible. He read Dickens to the class with a passion for words I’d never seen before. I had always been a numbers guy; math was my thing. Then I took a class with Roger and it flipped a switch. I could be both a numbers guy and a lover of words. I ended up taking a few classes with Roger, including some while in the teacher certification program. His passion never waned.
He also called me out on my writing. I’d been earning top grades on everything I’d written for years by knowing what my teaches wanted to read and how they wanted it structured. Roger would hand back the things I’d written with red slashes filling the page and comments like “formulaic!”, “robotic”, “boring!” and “there’s none of you in this essay!” He forced me to become a better writer, to not write what I thought someone wanted to read but what I really wanted to say.
Roger was the only English teacher I ever had who pushed me to go beyond the expected. All of my other teachers gave me high marks as long as I followed all the rules. I remember vividly that Roger often asked me if I wanted to be a coach who taught English or an English teacher who also coached. There’s a big difference.
I took classes with Roger during the year before I was in a car accident in the summer of 1994. A few years after the car accident, I was rolling around Green Lake with a friend. From a distance, I saw a man walking with a woman and talking nonstop with his hands out in front punctuating every sentence. I knew in an instant that it was Roger. I didn’t expect him to recognize me, considering the thousands of students he’d had in his career.
As he came towards me and I towards him, I looked in his direction. He recognized me instantly and shouted, “Bobby Mueller!” We stopped and talked. He turned to the woman he was with and said something very complimentary about me. All these years later, I don’t even remember what it was, but I knew it made me feel really good that day and I remember the moment fondly even now.

[Note: While putting this list together, I searched for a picture of Roger and learned that he died on May 11. This is his obituary. He was 84 years old. This makes me incredibly sad. He was such a bright light in my life, someone who was there at a point in college when I needed him most. I wish I had told him how much he meant to me before it was too late.]

38. Numbers
I like numbers. I was always a math guy in school until I became an English major in college, and even then I was still a math guy at heart. I like numbers and data and information. When someone wants to convince me of something, they better come at me with evidence and not anecdotal stories about “this one person who this one thing happened to this one time.”
I like spreadsheets. I have a ridiculous number of spreadsheets. I can tell you how many times I’ve eaten at Taco Time in the last five years (142). I can tell you the final standings of the Roberto Clemente League in 2006 (fantasy baseball—I won that year). I can tell you how much money I spent on December 1, 2004 ($5.09 at Dairy Queen and $31.53 at Safeway).
When I was in college, I had a temporary job in the winter that consisted of me standing in a parking lot near Bellevue Square telling people not to park there and walk to Bellevue Square. It wasn’t fun being the bad guy. People would park and start to walk over to Bellevue Square and I’d have to tell them they couldn’t do it.
Plus, it was cold. And it wasn’t particularly interesting, especially when there weren’t any scofflaws trying to break the rules. To pass the time, I did math problems in my head. I multiplied double-digit numbers like 27 x 41 (1107) or added three-digit numbers like 753 + 886 (1639). I did that for hours and got pretty good at it. It hasn’t really come in useful yet in my adult life, but perhaps I’ll get a math question when I’m on Jeopardy someday.

39. Making eye contact with an attractive stranger.
It’s like a lottery ticket. When you buy a lottery ticket, you know you’re chances of winning are miniscule (if you have any math sense at all, you know this). Still, you buy the Powerball ticket that might be worth $750 million and you buy yourself a dream for as long as you hold that ticket until the numbers are drawn. You can imagine what you would do if you won, where you would live, what you would buy, who you would help out financially. It’s a form of entertainment. You can pay $12 to go watch a movie for two hours or you can buy a Powerball ticket for $2 and daydream about winning for a day.
When you make eye contact with an attractive stranger, it’s like the lottery ticket. You can spend the next 10 minutes or half hour or rest of the day thinking about the attractive stranger and whether she likes baseball and Jeopardy and Van Halen. You can imagine that she’s intelligent and has a good sense of humor and she’s a genuinely nice person. You may never see her again but, like the lottery ticket, it’s a nice little daydream.

40. 7-Eleven Nachos (but only once a year)
When I was younger, I could eat 7-Eleven nachos pretty much whenever I wanted. When you’re young and active in sports you don’t have to think about calories. You just eat. Those were glorious times. I had a college friend named Kevin. We would get the Little Caesar’s Pizza Pizza meal and each eat a whole pizza, plus the breadsticks and sauce.
I can’t do that anymore so 7-Eleven nachos are a once a year thing. And, yes, I realize they are like eating toxic waste to some people, but that one time a year I eat 7-Eleven nachos is glorious. I cover the corn chips with chili and cheese and, of course, sliced jalapenos. I can never eat them fast enough to keep the chips crisp until the end, but I’ve grown to love the last few “soggy eyelid” nacho chips that are so covered with cheese that there’s no way to eat them without getting it all over your fingers. It’s all part of the experience, the last few limp nacho chips covered with cheese that gets all over your fingers. Don’t offer me a fork, either. I will stab you. 

41. The Natalie Imbruglia video for “Torn”.
This video came out in 1997, which was my second year working at Skyview. It became my new favorite thing, replacing the ice skater Ekaterina Gordeeva. I liked the song and the kind of random video with people moving furniture in the background. Of course, I thought Natalie Imbruglia looked delightful in the video, with her mid-1990s oversized clothing and adorable haircut. When the camera came in close on her beautiful face, I was smitten.
At the time, some students would come into the computer lab during lunch and I’d put MTV or VH1 on. When “Torn” came on, everything stopped for four minutes and five seconds because I had to watch the video. When it ended, life could resume as before. 
42. Skyview memories.
I worked at Skyview Junior High for 18-plus years and have many good memories of those years. I could fill a book with specifics, but nobody has time for that so I’ll just bullet point them:

  • Working with some terrific teachers who connected with students and encouraged them to be the best version of themselves they could be.
  • “Book Club” with teachers after school.
  • Most faculty meetings weren’t particularly fun, but some were interesting and enjoyable. One time I created Bingo Cards with oft-repeated phrases used by the principal at the time. The anticipation grew as people crossed off their Bingo Cards when he would say something like, “I’ve spent way too many hours on this already…” or “I’ve been running the numbers…” or when he would reference the master schedule or the Green Schools Program or something about his daughter that related to sports or something about his son that related to technology. That was a great faculty meeting.
  • Baking. So much baking.
  • Working with eighth graders on the Westward Movement Project and ninth graders on Breakout. I know it probably wasn’t much fun for them working on projects that took a long time to complete, but they came up with some interesting ideas and impressive displays.
  • Getting to know thousands of students for a few years of their lives. Most were like cars on a freeway, with Skyview being a town that they passed through on their journey to somewhere else. I was fortunate enough to get to know them for a few years, then they moved on and another group came through. Some students I really connected with and still know even years later. I’ve seen them grow up and go to college or work. Some get married, some don’t. Some have kids, some don’t. There are thousands of stories going off in thousands of directions but, at one time, Skyview was a part of those stories and I’m glad I could be there for it.
  • A few specific memories:
    • Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
    • Singing the Blues with Mr. McGinn and Mr. Newvine
    • Otis Spunkmeyer cookies
    • The Newlywed Game
    • Brainstorm (district champs!)
    • Mr. Mueller’s Trivia Challenge

43. Baseball.
I could fill this list with a variety of baseball-related things, but I’ll stick with just baseball as one item and include everything I like about baseball, from playing it to watching it on TV to listening to it on the radio to reading about it to fantasy baseball and baseball statistics. It all makes me happy.
My favorite English professor at the UW, Roger Sale, once asked us to write for the prompt: When are you the most you? I wrote about being on the pitcher’s mound. At that time of my life, there was no other option, nothing remotely close to that answer. That was who I was. If I didn’t have a spinal cord injury, I would still be out there playing, probably as the oldest guy on some team in an adult rec league. If my right arm was worn out from years of pitching, I’d learn to pitch left-handed.
43A. Fantasy baseball (especially the auction)
One of the guys in the Inner Circle (see #29 above) is in a fantasy baseball league with me. His name is Vern and he’s an exuberant Asian/Hawaiian man of indeterminate age. I know he’s older than me, but I don’t know exactly how old he is. He was a math teacher at Bothell High for a while, then taught at Skyview for one year, which is where I met him. I introduced him to fantasy baseball through a league I ran at the school and his life hasn’t been the same since.
Unlike many adults who act like they’ve seen and heard everything they’ll ever see and hear and never get excited by anything, Vern is like an adult newborn, wide eyed and enthusiastic about everything. He’s the most animated and optimistic person I know and punctuates his sentences generously with smiles and laughter and phrases like “Oh wow!” and “Ooooh” and “Jeeez!”
The league we’re in is a keeper league with an auction right before the MLB season starts. Vern has his team and I have mine. When we all get together for the auction, Vern is the highlight of the event for everyone involved. He always makes sure to go around the room to say hello to everyone and asks them how they’re doing. Many of these guys we only see once a year, at the auction (some we see twice a year, at the auction and the end-of-year party).
Even though we don’t get together often, we’ve known each other for years, so it’s like old friends meeting up for a reunion and Vern is a buzzing bumblebee making his way around the room. If he had a deceitful bone in his body, I would think he was trying to get some pre-draft intel on what players the other owners might bid on, but he’s genuinely just excited to see everyone.
When the auction starts, Vern gets so excited about bidding on a player that he sometimes outbids himself. The caller will say, “Robinson Cano for $25” and Vern will yell, “$26!” Then the caller will say, “Do I hear $27?” and sometimes Vern will forget that he’s the one who has the current bid and yell out, “$27!”
He has no poker face whatsoever. Every emotion is right there for everyone to see. When the bidding on a player he really likes gets into a dollar range that is higher than he wants to spend, you can see the visible anguish on his face as he tries to decide whether to keep bidding. Sometimes he’ll say, “Okay, forget it” and everyone will think he’s out, then at the last minute he’ll yell out a higher bid. When he gets a player, it’s like he’s opening a present on Christmas morning. There are other aspects of fantasy baseball that I enjoy, but hanging out with Vern an auction day is the best part.

44. Bob Uecker
Bob Uecker had a less-than-stellar major league career as a light-hitting backup catcher. He’ll tell anyone who’ll listen how bad a player he was. He is a funny guy, though, and he’s used his sense of humor to have a long career as an announcer with the Milwaukee Brewers after his baseball career ended. He’s been a broadcaster for the Brewers since 1971. His Hall of Fame speech was a classic. And I think he did it all off the cuff, no notes, just telling stories. 
Over the years, he made more than 100 appearances on the Tonight Show in the 1970s and 80s. He was one of Johnny Carson’s favorite guests. He also became well known for his Miller Lite commercials (“I must be in the front rowwwwwww” and “Good seats, huh buddy?”). He had a TV sitcom (Mr. Belvedere). In 1987, he was the ring announcer for the famous Hulk Hogan versus Andre the Giant match at WrestleMania III. Whenever you see a pitcher throw a wild pitch and hear someone say, “Juuuuust a bit outside”, they are quoting announcer Harry Doyle from the movie Major League. Harry Doyle was played by Bob Uecker.

45. Thanksgiving dinner.
When I was growing up in Florida with my three older brothers and my little sister, my mom made our house THE house where everyone was welcome. My older brothers were always hanging out at our place with all of their friends, often working on cars or hitting a punching bag hung in the den while smoking herb they grew in the woods behind our house. It kind of looked like parsley.  
My mom made big dinners on Sunday and all of my brother’s friends were free to show up if they weren’t getting dinner at their house. Spaghetti was a favorite—mass quantities of spaghetti, enough for a dozen growing teenagers and three younger ones.
My mom’s generosity was never more evident than on Thanksgiving. Everyone was invited. Some of my older brother’s friends didn’t have big Thanksgiving dinners at their place, so they joined us. My mom would get the biggest turkey she could find and spend the entire night before basting it every hour or so, then the next morning she’d put together all the side dishes, like mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes, stuffing, dinner rolls and the gelatinous mass of cranberry sauce that plopped out of a can in its cylindrical shape. Of course, the best part of Thanksgiving dinner for me was the pecan pie.
I wrote all about Thanksgiving a couple years ago.

46. Gilmore Girls
If I lived in the fictional world of Stars Hollow, I would simultaneously want to be a teenager who could date Rory and an adult who could date Loralei. I would want to clone myself and be two different ages. Ultimately, though, I’m more Luke than Dean, Jess, or Logan. I could run a diner that specialized in chocolate chip cookies.
I watched Gilmore Girls when it was popular. There was a group of girls at Skyview back then who made the computer lab their second home. They would have intense discussions about Gilmore Girls and, in particular, which one of them was Rory (they had a similar debate about the Disney princesses, I think because more than one of them claimed to be Ariel). It was totally obvious from my point-of-view which one was Rory, but I stayed out of the debate. Actually, they were all very nice and had some Rory in them. The good thing was, there was no Paris Geller in the group.
One day this group of girls came into the computer lab in the morning and something was off. They weren’t themselves. It wasn’t anything bad, just different. Then I realized it—every one of them had taken on the personality of a different one so that all of them were still there, but it was like they were in different bodies. It was amazing. They were so good at impersonating each other. 
I enjoyed watching Gilmore Girls then and I recently re-watched the entire series again when the Gilmore Girls Reboot came out. It held up. It’s still a great show. I want to move to Star’s Hollow and open a diner and wear a baseball cap backwards.
Dawson’s Creek, on the other hand, has not held up over time. I watched Dawson’s Creek when it was popular, likely because students were talking about it and I was curious about this show they were talking about. At the time, I liked the show.
I tried re-watching it about a year ago and it was unbearable. I couldn’t get through it. I think the main problem is that I wanted to punch Dawson in the face every time he came on screen. This is a short list of why I wanted to punch Dawson in the face every time he came on screen:
  • His face is too big.
  • He had great hair. I never had great hair. I had a top-notch mullet when it was cool to have a mullet (and maybe for a few years after it became not-cool…), but I never had great, Dawson Leery hair.
  • He was so emotional. He was an emo dressed as a preppy. Get over yourself, Dawson!
  • He was oblivious. Here’s a teenage guy who has Katie Friggin’ Holmes climbing in his window at night and crawling into bed with him and he does nothing. That’s worth two punches in the face. 

47. Looking into her eyes and seeing her pupils dilate wider than normal
Scientific America knows what’s up:
A darkened restaurant with tables lit by candlelight can supply just the right amount of illumination to allow you to focus on the face of your date and your food while the surrounding patrons, tables and the rest of the outside world seemingly fade to black. You may be less likely to gaze around the room people watching and more likely to attend to your partner providing them with eye contact and attention.
The darkened environment also allows our pupils to dilate which can be a subconscious signal of stimulation, attraction and readiness for love. Studies have shown that our pupils dilate wider than normal when we are excited about something and even someone. Oo la la! Also, men unknowingly view women with larger pupils as more attractive and we have had a hunch about this for years, even centuries.
Over 500 years ago, women in Italy used extract from the Belladonna plant to dilate their pupils because they believed it would increase their attractiveness. The word Belladonna literally means “beautiful lady.” They thought that bigger pupils would make their eyes seem more “dreamy” and entice men into falling in love with them. While you cannot force or artificially manufacture attraction between two people, modern studies have confirmed that their line of thinking may have been correct.
In the 1960’s and 70’s, Hess et al studied the effect of pupil size on feelings of attraction. In one experiment, they took two pictures of the same woman, presented it to male subjects and asked them to describe the female in the picture. The researchers had artistically altered the photographs, manipulating the size of the woman’s pupils to be either slightly larger or smaller than they were in their natural state. Hess noted that “none of the men reported noticing the difference in pupil size” between any of the pictures but the subtle change seemed to subconsciously influence the level of attraction they felt for the woman. When the woman had large pupils, she was said to be “soft,” “more feminine” and “pretty,” while when the very same woman had small pupils, the men described her as “cold,” “hard” and “selfish.” This frequently referenced experiment and phenomenon has been re-tested using a variety of different methods over the years and has yielded the same results; men finding women with bigger pupils to be more romantically appealing.
This dilated pupil effect can be interesting, depending on the color of the girl’s eyes. It’s more noticeable in a girl with light-colored eyes because of the difference between the light eyes and the dilated pupil. My first serious girlfriend had gray eyes (which could also tend towards blue or green at times). When we were madly in love and she looked into my eyes, her pupils looked huge. It was really noticeable and lovely to see. I’ve also known women with brown eyes that were the same exact color of their pupils, so they had a perpetually-dilated look that was also quite appealing. Of course, it could give off the wrong impression. What I might think are yearning fully-dilated pupils might actually be piercing dagger pupils being obscured by the same eye color.
48. La Palmera in Mill Creek
La Palmera in Mill Creek is my go-to restaurant for Mexican food. When I arrive, the people at the front area show me to my table like it’s eternally reserved for me. I usually go there with a friend I’ve known since junior high and we have good Mexican food and talk about whatever is happening in our lives, then often go for ice cream after. It’s always a great time.
About once a year, a former student who spends her life traveling around the world will be in town and we’ll have lunch or dinner at La Palmera. It’s always interesting to here about her latest trip to Vegas or Europe or Bali. She’s living a life some people only dream about while they sit in their cubicles and stare at computer screens. Of course, no one’s life is perpetual peaks without any valleys, but she’s resilient when the tough times come and still maintains an optimistic outlook, which is refreshing to see.

49. A shoulder massage.
It’s probably not too shocking to learn that someone who uses his arms all day long every single day likes a shoulder massage. Although, there are some restrictions. A few years ago I was on the Sammamish Trail just cruising along to get some exercise on a nice day. I finished back where I started at Wilmot Gateway Park and was just hanging out watching the people go by.
Suddenly I felt some stranger’s hands massaging my shoulders. It could have been the Woodinville Strangler going for my jugular. The person was lucky I didn’t use my ninja skills to attack with a quick elbow/spin around/monkey punch to the throat combination. I just kind of turned my head and saw a woman who looked like she had just walked off the dairy farm that hosted Woodstock in 1969. She had hippy written all over her. I was surprised she didn’t offer me healing crystals . . . or pot.
I must have looked surprised when I turned around because she said, “Oh, I just figured with all the work you do with your arms, you would like a shoulder massage.” It’s true, I would, but not from a total stranger on the Sammamish Trail. That was an invasion of my personal bubble. 

50. Potato skins
It would not be overstating it to say I LOVE potato skins. I make them about once a month and it’s a process, but the payoff is worth it. They’re dreamy. 

<![CDATA[Life on the Sammamish Trail and the Seattle Freeze]]>Mon, 04 Sep 2017 05:50:04 GMThttp://baseballonthebrain.com/home/life-on-the-sammamish-trail-and-the-seattle-freezePicture
“On your left!”

“On your left!”

“On your left!”

The serious bicyclists are a blur of brightly colored spandex with brand names tightly wrapping the contours of their athletic bodies like sponsor decals on a stock car. They cruise past me with purpose, as if they have somewhere very important to go and it’s imperative they get there quickly. Many ride like they’re training for the Olympics on high-quality, expensive bicycles that cruise down the path almost silently. If we happen to make eye contact as they come towards me they might have time for a nod, even as they remain intently focused on the road ahead.

The leisurely bicyclists are a different breed. Many are riding dusted-off bikes that have been sitting in their garage since last summer. Some rent the bikes they’re riding just for the afternoon. For them, it’s about the journey not the destination. Young couples in love, groups of teenage girls, parents with small children, the leisurely bicyclists are more likely to ring a bell or honk a horn as they go past and they make more frequent stops for water or to rest.

The walkers travel at a more leisurely pace. Oh, there are some who use swift, determined strides, arms synchronized with their legs as they power walk with purpose, but most walkers will get there when they get there. They seem to have no particular place to go and no particular time to get there. They are more likely to acknowledge my existence, with the men giving me the “guy nod” of acknowledgement and the women smiling politely.

Rollerbladers come in a wide range of abilities, from the beginners with arms flailing wildly at their sides to the experts doing spins and hops and occasionally skating backwards, just because they can. Even the expert rollerbladers are not as singularly focused as the serious bicyclists. They are artists on wheels who prefer a combination of style and speed, while the serious bicyclists are unceasingly trying to make good time. There’s nothing more important to a serious biker than making good time. All varieties of rollerbladers, from the novice to the expert, seem a little more friendly than the bikers and the walkers, often taking the time to smile and wave and maybe even say “hi” or “hello.”

Mothers pushing baby strollers usually travel in pairs and will often be deep in conversation as I go by. I hear snippets as I pass: “ . . . been trying this gluten-free, dairy-free diet and so far it’s been . . .” “ . . . told his mother that she was being entirely . . .” “ . . . can’t believe anyone would vote for someone who . . .” and the conversations trail off as I continue on my way. Sometimes I’ll use my imagination to fill in the rest, but more often than not I’ll just let it pass as I continue around the bend.

Trail etiquette is important. The regulars know the rules: when to pass, when to hold back, when to say, “on your left.” The inexperienced can be problematic. They walk in sloppy formations that take up too much of the trail and disrupt the normally smooth traffic pattern. Small children on bicycles or, more frighteningly, roller blades, are to be approached with caution. They are unpredictable. Not only are they prone to falling, they often inexplicably stop for no reason at all. 

I’ve been getting exercise on the Sammamish Trail for many years, but I really upped my mileage this spring and summer. After spending so many days on the stretch of trail from Woodinville to Redmond, I feel like I’m a regular out there now. I see many of the same people, the other regulars, all with different modes of transportation and styles of interaction. Many people I see five or six times a week. I’d say they’ve become my summer family, except I’ve rarely actually spoken to any of them.

I’ve lived in Seattle for most of my life, so I know how people interact around here. It’s an interesting thing and, from what I’ve heard, it’s different than other cities. People in Seattle are nice, but not necessarily outgoing or even approachable. They aren’t rude, generally, and not exactly unfriendly either. It’s this weird place in the middle, a polite acknowledgement that the other person exists, but not much more or much less than that.

There’s actually a term for it: the Seattle Freeze. There’s a Wikipedia page and Urban Dictionary entry for Seattle Freeze. According to Wikipedia, the Seattle Freeze refers to a belief that it is especially difficult to make new friends in Seattle and this is particularly true for people from other cities. It’s the idea that people are polite, but not particularly friendly. In a study published in Perspectives on Psychological Science, Washington residents ranked 48th in the personality trait extroverted. We are not an outgoing people.

The Urban Dictionary describes it this way: “It’s not that people here are unfriendly, they will hold the door for you and wave you into traffic and stuff like that, it’s that everything is maddeningly impersonal. It’s easy to get along but making friends is almost impossible. People will say they want to hang out with you sometime but look at you like a freak when you actually suggest something. Most people don’t like or dislike you, they’re totally indifferent.”

This is particularly true for dating in Seattle. You meet someone, you hit it off, you have a good conversation, you seem to like each other. Then it’s, “We should get together sometime.” This, of course, never happens. “We should get together sometime” is the kiss of death to any potential relationship. I think when someone says, “We should get together sometime,” what they actually mean is, “I like you, I’m interested in you, but I’m not going to actually ask you out, ever.” It could be social anxiety or a fear of rejection. Saying “we should get together sometime” is kind of like asking someone out but less risky than actually doing it because no one is ever going to respond with, “No, we shouldn’t get together sometime.” It’s rejection-proof. It also makes Seattle a really difficult place to date.

I’ve heard rumors that in other cities, one person might actually say to another person something like, “Would you like to go to dinner on Friday, around seven, at the Metropolitan Grill?” It’s specific. There’s a day, a time, and a place. Here, it’s more like, “We should hang out.” It’s so vague that you don’t know if it’s a friend thing or a dating thing. There’s no specifics It’s a pseudo-invitation. A Seinfeldian nonvite.

Another aspect of the Seattle Freeze is the desire for a comfortable personal bubble. We like our space. Say you go to a doctor's appointment and have to sit in the waiting area. You're the first one there. You sit down and look at your phone. The next person comes in and will sit an appropriate distance from you and sit down and look at her phone. Then the next arrival will sit appropriately away from you and the other person. We space ourselves out like birds on a telephone wire to lessen the chance of interaction so we can focus on our smartphones instead of talking to the people around us. The chill in the air would be palpable if any of us looked up from our phones for a moment to notice.

I had a friend visit from Georgia this summer. His name is Rich and he’s a big, friendly, outgoing guy with a perpetual smile on his bright red face and a welcoming Southern drawl. Going places around here with Rich was an experience. He would talk to people he didn’t know and they didn’t really know how to respond. He would even talk to people in elevators, which is simply not done. Everywhere we’d go, Rich would see total strangers and just start talking to them.

“Hi, my name is Rich. I’m from Georgia,” he would say. They would look at him with a surprised nervousness in their eyes and he would just keep talking. “Boy, this sure is beautiful country you got up here. I noticed them trees are all green. Guess that’s why you call it the Evergreen state. And that mountain, what a big sumbich that is! We got Stone Mountain down in Georgia but it don’t compare to that big ‘un you got here.” The funny thing was, Rich is so likeable and outgoing and friendly that people seem to really enjoy this curious stranger from Georgia. He actually got people to have conversations with him in elevators. He was able to thaw the Seattle Freeze.

To be clear, I am not blameless when it comes to the Seattle Freeze. I’m as bad as anyone. As a matter of fact, I’m an expert at it. When I'm on the trail or cruising around Greenlake or shopping at a grocery store, I'll acknowledge people as they approach by either smiling or doing the "guy head nod" and most people smile or nod back. It’s typical Seattle behavior. We know the rules.

This is how it is out on the trail. I enjoy being out there everyday and seeing the regulars, even if it’s only on a surface level and I never interact with them beyond a smile or a wave. It’s still comforting to recognize others and be recognized by them. And they are an interesting bunch.

There’s the serious-looking older guy who takes long strides with an aggressive determination. He leans forward when he walks, as if he’s battling a strong wind, with arms swinging wide to the left and right for extra power. He’ll notice me out of the corner of his eyes as he approaches and his left arm will pause mid-swing and hold there for a second to acknowledge that he has seen me before and recognizes me as a trail regular.

Another guy walks at a more leisurely pace, with his weight back on his heels like Popeye’s friend Wimpy. I’m sure he’d gladly pay me Tuesday for a hamburger today, but I’ve never thought to ask. He seems to be in no hurry, with no particular place to go and walks with tranquilly, always looking straight ahead. I’ve never seen him without a cap on, but it’s not a baseball cap, it’s a whitish-tan newsboy cap. I’ve probably seen him over 100 times since the spring. For the first 50 times, we did not acknowledge each other. Then one day he looked over in my direction and I raised my hand slightly as if to say, “hey” and he gave me a small wave back. That’s where we remain in our wordless relationship.

There’s a small but lively redheaded female of indeterminate age. I don’t know if she’s a teenager or in her mid-20s. She could be any age from 15 to 25. She’s always walking with a dog, usually with someone taller than her (everyone is taller than her) and invariably will give me an enthusiastic “hello” when she sees me, like she knows me from somewhere. The first time she did this, I thought it must have been someone I know because it was unusually friendly, but I don’t think I know her.

There’s an older woman on roller blades with the air of a beauty pageant contestant about her. She’s full of grace and charm, with a wonderful smile and a twinkle in her eye. She’s a ballerina on roller blades, dancing and moving in her elegant way. There’s another older woman who walks, dances, and twirls along to whatever is playing through her ear buds. She punches her arms out to the front, to the sides, and to the sky as she walks. She’s not as graceful as the woman on roller blades, but has her own unique sort of charm.

A wild-haired, bearded guy on roller blades wearing spandex gives me the daily weather report. “Sunny day today,” he’ll say as he goes past. Or, “Boy, it’s windy out here.” I respond with, “Yep, beautiful day” or “Yeah, sure is windy.” Every conversation we’ve ever had has been weather related.

There’s a teenage girl who looks athletic and agile in her Nike running shorts and Saucony shoes until she starts to run and then she looks like Phoebe from Friends, with arms and legs thrashing wildly about like a crazy person. She’s the least coordinated runner I’ve ever seen.

A beefy guy wearing a gray hoodie with Belichickian sleeves cut off at the forearms runs like he’s trying to stomp the ground to death. I can hear him from a mile away. I imagine when he eats Cap’n Crunch, it sounds like he’s crushing boulders.

There’s an attractive, dark-haired, stylishly dressed woman who is never without sunglasses and always gives me a nice smile. I’ve seen her often enough that we now say hi to each other. If I were to ever actually talk to her for a few minutes, and if the conversation went well, I might even say, “We should get together sometime.” Then, of course, we never would, because this is Seattle, where no one ever “gets together sometime.”

Late in the summer I had a very unusual experience. There was a woman I’d seen a number of times. She always had a pair of dogs with her and our own personal Seattle Freeze had thawed to the point where we said hello to each other, but nothing more than that. Then one day, out of the blue, she broke the rules. As we passed each other and exchanged our now customary hellos, she said, “My name is Emily.” It totally caught me by surprise. I stopped and turned around and looked at her, not sure how to respond. She sensed my hesitation, smiled, and said, “I’ve seen you out here so many times, I thought we should know each other’s names. My name is Emily.”

“I’m Robert,” I responded.

“It’s nice to meet you.”

​“Thanks, you too.” Then she turned and continued on her way and I continued on mine. It was so odd, but also refreshing. She must have been from out of town.

<![CDATA[The Comeback]]>Tue, 08 Aug 2017 00:11:44 GMThttp://baseballonthebrain.com/home/the-comebackPicture
The announced crowd of 3,672 had dwindled to less than 1,000 as the hometown Aquasox were down 9-5 heading into the bottom of the 8th.  It was a Monday night, people had to work the next day, and a four run deficit seemed a bit too much to overcome. Fans, with pre-game promotional giveaway flyswatters in hand, streamed toward the exits even as the Aquasox scraped a run across in the bottom of the inning, making it 9-6.

In the bottom of the 9th, with three outs sitting between the Aqusox and a loss, they rallied. One run scored, another run scored, making it 9-8, with the tying run looking eager at first base, but two were out. The next two batters walked, as the remaining fans increased their volume. The stage was set: bases-loaded, two-outs, bottom of the 9th, losing 9-8. From my seat 6 rows back and a section over, I could see a man and his son, sitting in the very first row, directly behind home plate, with the protective netting in front of their faces. They had the best seats in the house, a true luxury, as $10 luxuries go, and their vantage point put them about 30 feet from the catcher and umpire in front of them.
The man could best be described as short and thick, like the proverbial fireplug. He was around 40, a bushy dark mustache sitting comfortably above his upper lip, a bowl-cut mess of dark hair, with a free maroon giveaway flyswatter in his chubby fist. The son was a miniature replica, without the mustache. They wore their emotions on their sleeves, and ketchup on their shirts, and the ebbs and flows of the nine-inning game was taking its toll.

It was almost too much. The first pitch came in for ball one. Joyous cries rained from the crowd, and a flyswatter in a chubby fist was thrust in the air. The next pitch came across high, looking like ball 2, but the umpire called a loud, "Strrrrrrrrrrike!"

The outrage! Instantly, the man's face, led by his mustache, was stretching the protective net, now a couple feet nearer the offending umpire's ear than it had been moments before, with a chin jutted forward, and a mouth hurling incensed words that questioned the integrity of the man charged with judging balls and strikes.

With angry echoes drifting to the dark sky, the pitcher settled in for the sign. He went into the windup and in came the pitch. Thump! Hit batter! The tying run is forced in! And the stocky man shouted for joy, exchanging flyswatter high fives with the miniature him, thrusting a fist to the air, with a smile stretched below his mustache, like a row of piano keys laid out beneath a cat's tail. Such joy that beaned batter brought him! The game was tied!

Sadly, his emotional roller coaster would descend back to earth as the next batter made out number three, sending the game to extra-innings. It was tied, 9-9.  By now only the die-hard fans remained. The aisles were empty, without the earlier steady stream of exiting patrons. Those of us still around were in it for the long haul. The top of the 10th went well for the Aquasox and, by extension, their eager fans, as the visiting Volcanoes could not score.

The Aquasox rallied again in the bottom of the 10th, more than 3 hours after the game had begun. Trading hits and outs, the Aquasox put runners on first-and-second with two down. Each hit brought pure joy, each out brought devastation to the man and his son, flyswatters still in hand.

Then number 10 stepped to the plate. His name I've forgotten, but not his number. Number 10 at bat in the bottom of the 10th.  Could this be a good omen? With their superstitious nature, baseball fans love their omens. The fans yelled, they shouted, they cheered. The little man stood, mustache to netting, and pleaded for a hit. If the pitcher noticed the crowd, he did not acknowledge it. The batter also was focused on the task at hand. The pitcher took the sign, looked the runner back to second, and came in with the pitch.
Crack of the bat! Line drive single to left! Left fielder running in to take the ball on a hop. Runner on second rounding third. Here comes the throw. Here comes the runner . . . safe! Aquasox win! Aquasox win!

Never had a flyswatter been waved with such fervor, as the mustachioed man swirled it in circles above his head with shouts of pure delight! Attempting a joyful jump, he lost his balanced and had to grasp the net for support before righting himself. I thought he would pull down the backstop. He yelled with pleasure, he shouted with glee. His eyes were so full of happiness his mustache grinned. Even the ketchup on his shirt seemed to twinkle in the night. His miniature self jumped up and down with happiness, as children do.
In the midst of it all, I just watched and thought, 'this looks like the happiest moment of his life.' Likely it wasn't, but it LOOKED like the happiest moment of his life. It was unbridled enthusiasm, getting lost in the moment, feeling a sense of ultimate bliss because of the relatively unimportant happenings on a minor-league baseball diamond in Anytown, USA. This man would go home and tell his uninterested wife all the details. If she was a good wife, she'd allow him to tell the story, despite her ultimate lack of interest. If not, she'd cut him off with insignificant blather about the next day's weather forecast, inserting a deflating matrimonial pin in his excited baseball balloon. The next day at work, he'd describe the action to his buddies, reliving his pleasure.

And perhaps 25 years from now, when the boy is grown, with a mustache of his own, and the man thicker, with gray overtaking his once-dark hair, the son and father will look back and remember it fondly, remember the comeback, remember the flyswatters, remember the joy they shared with each other once at a baseball game.

<![CDATA[It was 23 years ago today...]]>Sat, 15 Jul 2017 21:23:02 GMThttp://baseballonthebrain.com/home/it-was-23-years-ago-todayPicture
​“Twenty-five years and my life is still
Trying to get up that great big hill of hope
For a destination.”
--“What’s Up?” by 4 Non Blondes (1993)
The music group 4 Non Blondes didn’t last long as a band. The came together in 1989, had this one big hit in 1993, and disbanded in 1994. I can’t even name another song they did, but this one has always stuck with me. I was 22 years old when it came out, which was close enough to 25 that I could very much relate to the lyrics. I was still in college at the time, and *coaching baseball at Bothell High that spring. The lyrics “Trying to get up that great big hill of hope for a destination” fit me perfectly at that age.
* I coached baseball for two years at Bothell High. The first season I was an assistant with the varsity team and coached with the man who had been my coach when I had played there just a few years before, Ron Wayman. The second season, I coached the junior varsity. I really enjoyed coaching, but I didn’t have the experience at the time to be a good coach. I made mistakes and have some regrets. At the time, I thought that would be the beginning of a long career as a coach, but life comes at you pretty fast and things changed.
One year after this song by 4 Non Blondes came out, I had moved along the path of life a bit more. I had completed my student-teaching experience with a terrific cooperating teacher at Northshore Junior High and earned a degree in English from the UW, along with a teaching certificate for grades 6 through 12. It felt like the future was coming into focus a bit. I had taken my first few steps up the “great big hill of hope for a destination.” There was a rough outline of what my future might look like, but it was definitely written in pencil, not pen.

​Then came the detour, the unexpected roadblock that changed the trajectory of my life. It was 23 years ago today that I was in a car accident that almost killed me. It’s a life-altering moment that has become a dividing line. There’s pre-spinal cord injury and post-spinal cord injury. It’s like I’ve lived two different lives.
That car accident was half my life ago, but it hardly feels like it. It feels like the last 23 years have passed by much more quickly than the first 23 years. This isn’t unique to me and it doesn’t really have anything to do with the car accident. It’s the simple fact that people perceive that time passes more quickly as they get older.
Psychologist Williams James addressed this topic in Principles of Pysychology back in 1890. He wrote that time appears to speed up in adulthood because we have fewer and fewer memorable events. When you think about all of the memorable things that happened while you were a teenager (dances in the gym, football games, first relationship, first car, first job, prom, graduation), it’s hard to believe they all happened in just a few years. It’s one new experience after another and it’s an often confusing, sometimes exhilarating, sometimes excruciating time of life (most first loves lead to a first heartbreak). It’s the yin and yang of growing up. Then you get older and there are fewer and fewer firsts to experience.
There’s also a mathematical aspect to this. When you’re 10 years old, the last 5 years represent half your life. When you’re 40, the last 5 years represent only one-eighth of your life. The “ratio theory” goes back to 1877 (French psychologist and philosopher Pierre Janet). We constantly compare time intervals to the total amount of time we’ve already lived. Based on this theory, a year in the life of my 10-year-old niece, Ruby, feels five times longer than a year in my life. 

As a kid, I counted down the days to Christmas. Now it’s a blip on the calendar, each one barely distinguishable from the previous. When I was a teenager, the months between the end of the World Series and spring training seemed like forever. Now it’s barely enough time to complete my fantasy baseball draft prep.
It doesn’t feel like I’ve lived roughly half my life with a spinal cord injury. It feels like the majority of my life was as a person who could run football patterns in the park, go biking for miles and miles (sometimes in a torrential downpour) and, most important of all, play baseball with my friends. The memories are still strong. I think that’s a good thing as long as I don’t let it venture into regret about not being able to do those things anymore. Generally, I’m able to do that, but every now and then it hits me pretty hard.
I don’t have any memory of the car accident that nearly killed me. I had graduated from the University of Washington in June, after six years of college. Yeah, I know, I took the *scenic route through school. I enjoyed my time and wasn’t in a big hurry to enter the “real world” (not the MTV heavily-edited “Real World” TV show that was popular at the time, the actual “real world” that I was always warned about).
*I played baseball during my first year of college and took a few classes that were recommended by the baseball coach. One was called “Fundamentals of Baseball.” We got three credits for that one. It didn’t involve any actual classwork. If you were on the baseball team, you took “Fundamentals of Baseball” and you got an A grade and three college credits. Another class I was encouraged to take was a math class that was very basic for me. I was in advanced math classes all through high school and I killed it on the math portion of the SAT. I could tell the first day that I didn’t need to take that class, so I asked the professor if I could just take all the tests at once and not show up the rest of the semester. He didn’t like that idea, but he did allow me to skip his class during the week and just show up on test day. As I continued my way through college, I took classes I didn’t need to graduate but that sounded interesting, like History of Rock and Roll, Astronomy, and Human Sexuality. I got an A in Pickleball one semeseter. None of these classed guided me towards a degree. Eventually, I had to meet with a UW guidance counselor who strongly encouraged me to declare a major. I had taken more English classes than anything, so that’s what I became, an accidental English major.

Anyway, back to the car accident (I keep digressing. A psychologist would have a field day with this post). I graduated from the UW in June of 1994 with a degree in English and a teaching certificate to teach grades six through twelve. I had done my student-teaching at Northshore Junior High in the fall and winter and would be looking for a teaching job in the fall. At least that was one scenario, the conventional scenario. I would get a job teaching English, become a baseball coach, meet someone, fall in love, get married, get a dog (or maybe have kids, who knows?).
There was another scenario I had in mind also, a very different possibility. In the spring of the year I graduated, I went to a job fair and talked to someone about teaching English overseas. I had relatives who had lived in Saipan and Ponape (islands in the western Pacific Ocean). The stories they told about life on the islands were intriguing. It would be something totally new and different for me. I don’t know if I would have gone down that path, but it was a fascinating possibility at the time.

A few weeks after graduating, I flew out to Indianapolis to spend time with my two older brothers, Ted and Jeff. We call them Number 1 and Number 2. I’m Number 4 because my other older brother, John, is Number 3. My sister doesn’t get a number, she’s just Jennifer. That’s what happens when you’re the only girl in the family. Ted and Jeff are 12 and 10 years older than me and have a different father, but I’ve never felt they were less related to me than John and Jennifer. We’re all 100% siblings as far as I’m concerned.
My time in Indianapolis with my brothers and their families and friends was amazing. We played a ton of golf, more golf than I’d ever played in my life. We hit the best courses in the area, even though our golf game was more suited to a city course. We were happy if we shot in the 90s. The three of us went bowling and played tennis and Ted and I went biking, played basketball, and went to the batting cages. Jeff hosted an annual horseshoe tournament that was the event of the summer. It was terrific, a time I will always remember.

A few days before I had to fly back to Seattle, I drove over to Pittsburgh. I had been a Pittsburgh Pirates fan since I first started playing baseball in the late 1970s. They were one of the best teams in baseball that decade, making the playoffs six times and winning the World Series in 1971 and 1979.
The 1979 “We R Fam-A-Lee” Pittsburgh Pirates squad was my childhood dream team. I still know the starting lineup by heart. When I played baseball with my friends, I would imitate all of their batting stances. The heart and soul of that team was Willie “Pops” Stargell, who was a gentle giant of a man. In 1979, he was the co-MVP of the National League during the regular season, the MVP of the National League Championship Series, and the MVP of the World Series. He carried the team to the title both on the field and through his leadership in the clubhouse. 
On this trip to Pittsburgh, I got to see the *city of Pittsburgh for the first time. I rode the Monongahela and Duquesne Inclines and stood in Point State Park at the confluence of the three rivers (the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio). I visited the famous Primanti Bros. sandwich shop and was disappointed that they were closed by the time I got there that day so I didn’t get to eat their signature sandwich, which consists of grilled meat, an Italian dressing-based coleslaw, tomato slices, and French fries between two pieces of Italian bread. Of course, I got to see the Pirates play at home for the first time. The trip was incredible. It was the perfect culmination to a great post-graduation vacation.
*This was the first time I saw the city of Pittsburgh but a few years before this post-graduation trip to Indiana, I had ridden a motorcycle from Bothell to Chicago, where I saw the Pirates play live for the first time. That’s a story for another day (and one of the most amazing experiences of my life). 

​All I had left was about a five-hour drive back to Indianapolis on I-70. I got up in the morning, had breakfast at a local restaurant in Pittsburgh, and headed west. The last thing I remember was stopping at a gas station. I got gas and a Dairy Queen ice cream sandwich. I remember seeing a VW Bus that looked like an old hippie van from the 70s, with a grungy-looking group of people in their early-20s. They looked like they might have been following a band around the country, like the Grateful Dead or Phish. I passed their VW Bus as I left the parking lot and headed back to the freeway.
The next thing I remember is waking up in a hospital room with my arms strapped to my side. It was dark, with monitor lights flashing and blinking. I think my brother Ted was there and I was probably in the ICU. It’s all a bit hazy now. I was told later that my arms were strapped down because I had ripped out my IV.
That’s just kind of a flash of memory that I have. I don’t know how long I was there or how much time passed until the next thing I remember, which is being in a regular hospital room. I don’t have any memory of a doctor telling me I had a spinal cord injury, but that must have happened at some point. All these years later, I don’t remember having any sort of moment when I heard the news and broke down at the realization that I had a spinal cord injury. If I had that reaction, the memory is buried deep down inside.
I was later told about the accident and what they think happened. I can’t verify how accurate everything I’ve been told is, but this is the information I was given. Even at the time, it felt like hearing about someone else being in an accident. Not having any memory of what happened, I didn’t connect any feelings to the description of it. I still don’t have any emotional reaction when I look at the pictures. 

​I was told that I was in the far left lane of a highway with two lanes heading east and two lanes heading west, with a grassy median in between. My car started to drift off the road into the grassy area. Most likely, I fell asleep at the wheel. If I’d continued in that direction, I would have been going 60 mph into oncoming traffic.
Suddenly, the car veered to the right, across a couple lanes of traffic and onto the shoulder. I hit a guardrail and likely slid on the guardrail until the car hit a column supporting a bridge overpass. You can see the guardrail and markings on the column in these pictures.
The car was crushed round me. People stopped to help but there was no way they could get me out of the car. I was told people talked to me at the time and I was answering their questions and didn’t seem panicked, despite being compressed in a small space and losing blood rapidly. At some point, I stopped responding.

Paramedics arrived and were able to get me out of the car using the Jaws of Life. I was probably trapped in the car for an hour or so. I was then *airlifted to Methodist Hospital. During the flight, I was given multiple units of blood and defibrillated twice. The surgeon who operated on me initially was one of the best spinal cord injury doctors in the country. He worked on professional racecar drivers who were injured in the Indianapolis 500.
*While I was being flown to the hospital, the state patrol in Indianapolis contacted the state patrol in Washington. Years ago, my mom told me how she found out about the accident. She could exaggerate at times, so I don’t know if this is precisely true, but it’s the story she told me. She said she got a knock on the door and a Washington State patrol officer was there. He told her that her son had been in an accident in Indiana. One of the officers on the scene relayed the message that it didn’t look like I would survive. As you can imagine, this was devastating news to hear. Devastating, overwhelming, take your pick. My mom had watched most of my games since I started playing baseball as a nine-year-old. Through rain or shine, heat or cold, she was there with her Diet Pepsi, bubble gum, and cigarettes. It must have been crushing news. I know I can’t blame myself, but I also can’t help but feel terrible about putting her through that, along with what was to come when she visited me in the hospital in Indiana and saw me in the hospital bed for the first time. A few years later she told me about one particular time when she was at home and happened to look out the window to the backyard and saw my mountain bike and she broke down in tears. The car accident was in 1994. My mom died in 2001. I’ve often wondered how things would have been different if I hadn’t been in the accident, not only for myself but for everyone around me, especially my mom. She had serious health issues the last few years she lived and I wasn’t able to do much to help her. I wish I could have. Maybe she would have lived longer. 

The car accident resulted in broken vertebrae in my neck and chest area, a scull fracture, damage to my face and eyes, and a spinal cord injury at the T-4 level. It could have been much worse. I could have died, of course. Also, the broken vertebrae in my neck meant I could have had a spinal cord injury at a higher level, which would have meant less ability to control my arms and hands and compromised breathing.

​I don’t know which came out looking worse after the accident, me or the rental car I was in. I ended up needing stitches on my left eyelid, but suffered no vision loss. There’s nothing quite like having stitches on your eyelid. It’s like having something in your eye that you can’t get out and then having it there for a week. It was a perpetual irritation. For a long time after the accident, that eye didn’t fully close. I would be sleeping and it looked like I was awake. More than a few people had conversations with me thinking I was awake when I was actually sleeping. 

I still have scars on my face and the back of my head from the accident. They really bothered me the first few years after it happened, but now I don’t think about them as much. The spinal cord injury isn’t as easy to forget. I can go hours without looking at my face in the mirror, but the wheelchair is always present.
My experience in the hospital was generally awful. There were mistakes made by doctors and nurses that shouldn’t have been made. I developed a pressure wound that kept me in the hospital for about six months longer than I should have been. Nurses were sloppy with the wound care, which led to infection. I was given the wrong medication at times. It was unreal how many things went wrong. A person with my level of injury would normally be in the hospital for two to three months, then move on to a rehabilitation center. I was in the hospital for around eight months before moving to the rehab center.
At one point, I was eating a breadstick and everything stopped. I had a sudden drop in heart rate and blood pressure and it looked like death was knocking on the door. My mom and a longtime friend, Les, were in the room. My mom didn’t understand what was happening, but Les saw the changes in me. He said I looked like a statue, no movement, no breathing, just frozen in time. He ran out of the room, physically grabbed a doctor by the arm and pulled him into my room. He very likely saved my life that day. 
​Most of the many months I spent in the hospital were difficult because I spent almost all of my time in bed due to the pressure wound. And just to make things even more difficult than they already were, there was a baseball strike that summer that began a few weeks after I was injured, so I couldn’t even lie in bed and watch baseball on TV. The breadstick incident resulted in me being on a ventilator, which meant I couldn’t speak. I tried to mouth words, but it was too difficult to communicate that way. I tried to use paper and pencil to write out what I wanted to say, but even that was too frustrating to do for too long.

​I did have regular visitors. Les flew out from Bothell to stay in my room with me because there were so many mistakes made that he didn’t trust the nurses. My mom visited a couple times and my sister came out also. My two Indianapolis brothers visited often.
Ted, in particular, was there almost every day. He would get off work and come to my hospital room, sometimes with what they call Cincinnati Chili. It’s chili with spaghetti noodles, which is something I’d never heard of before. Apparently, some people really love it. Ted usually stayed until Jeopardy! came on TV. We made a rule that he had to stay and watch the show until he got at least one answer correct. There were days he stayed the whole show, which was nice.
Another bright spot during my time in the hospital was an occupational/recreational therapist named Lisa. She was about my age, beautiful, and quite lovely to have around. Everything seemed better when she was there. She would come into my room with weights and rubber cords so I could exercise my arms while in bed. Les did everything he could to keep her in the room as long as possible. He set out a nice plate of food and a cold drink. She would sit and eat and talk with us while I occasionally did the exercises I was supposed to do, trying to drag out a 15-minute session into 45 minutes or an hour just so she would be there longer.

​I was in the hospital for so long that I got to know Lisa pretty well. On New Year’s Eve, a day she wasn’t working, she and a friend stopped by my room to celebrate with us before they went out to celebrate. As good as she looked in her work clothes during the week, it was a whole new ballgame when she came by dressed up to go out on New Year’s Eve. She looked amazing.
When I finally left the hospital and moved over to a rehabilitation center, Lisa visited me there. When I was able to get out of the rehab center for a day trip, Lisa went with us to a restaurant, then later to a movie theater. It just felt really good to have a pretty female my age want to spend time with me. When I was injured, I was in the best shape of my life. I had played sports for many years—organized baseball, football and tennis with friends, bowling, shooting baskets at the end of the street—and that summer I regularly lifted weights, was an avid mountain bike rider, and frequent golfer. I was also playing in an adult baseball league with some guys I’d played with in the past that was put together by my old Little League catcher, Tad.
Then, suddenly, I was a paraplegic. My body changed. No more athletic legs, no more bike riding, or playing baseball. I had scars on my face and the back of my head. I was still new to all of the changes in my life and it was hard to feel attractive or desirable to anyone. Why would a girl be interested in me when she could go out with someone who could walk and run and hike? When Lisa come into my room at the hospital for a 15-minute therapy session and stayed for an hour, it was the highlight of my day. I looked forward to her visits at the rehab center and was amazed when she suggested we go to a restaurant or the movies.  It was much needed emotional therapy. Here was a pretty girl choosing to spend time with me during her non-work hours, despite how I looked post-injury. She didn’t have to do that, but I’m glad she did.

​There were other memorable people I met in the hospital. There was a very kind and soft-spoken nurse named Gale, who was from Kentucky. She had a peaceful, relaxing presence about her. There was a nurse named Janet, who worked with the spinal cord injury specialist. Janet had short, dark hair and wore glasses. She had the enchanting librarian look. She seemed so prim and proper. One day she mentioned that her favorite movie was “Boxing Helena.” That movie has an incredible scene in which Sherilyn Fenn, as Helena, moves beautifully through a water fountain wearing nothing but black lingerie. I thought a little differently about Janet after seeing the movie (the enchanting librarian with secret desires).
There was a warm and friendly African-American nurse, who was always referred to as a “male nurse” because it was such an uncommon thing at the time. A respiratory therapist named Timothy was one of the hardest-working, most positive, and most eager-to-please people on staff. He was there to help me with my breathing after I got off the ventilator, but he did much more than any other respiratory therapist did. He’d ask if I wanted any snacks or something to drink. I asked for grape juice one time and he said he would be right back. It took him close to an hour, but he came back with the grape juice after searching all through the hospital for it. I thanked him and he said he would “go to the ends of the earth” to get what I wanted.
One of Lisa’s friends on staff was an androgynous and very flamboyant guy named Jarel. He loved to laugh and tell stories, which always included exaggerated flourishes with his arms and his voice going up a few octaves at the culminating moment of the story. One of his favorites was about the time he was at home and had just come out of the shower. He said, without explanation, that he still had curlers in his hair and was in a pink bathrobe when there was a knock on the door. It was a salesman of some sort and the man saw Jarel and as Jarel tells it, “Oh child, he thought I was my momma! I just laughed and laughed!”

There was an African-American nurse who loved to look at the pictures Les posted on the wall of my hospital room. She asked him one day if he would take some pictures of her sometime. He said sure, of course. She came in on her day off with all of her nicest outfits: beautiful dresses and elaborate hats, like they wear at the Kentucky Derby. Les took pictures of her as she sat with elegance and grace on a sofa in one of the waiting rooms and she couldn’t have looked more stunning. You could see in her eyes how much she enjoyed the experience.
There was an ancient African-American cleaning woman named Ora. I should say “Miss Ora.” That’s what the other cleaning women called her, always “Miss Ora.” She was the matriarch of the crew and treated as such. She looked like she’d been there since the Civil War. She didn’t have many teeth left and spoke in a way that was hard for me to understand, like some variation of the French Creole spoken by Louisianans. Even though I could only make out a few words in each of her sentences, She was as pleasant and optimistic a woman as I’ve ever met, generous with a compliment and her beautiful toothless smile.
I was in the hospital as summer turned into fall and fall turned into winter. I spent Thanksgiving, Christmas, and my birthday in the hospital. It was not the ideal place to spend the holidays, but Les did everything he could to make Thanksgiving feel like Thanksgiving and Christmas feel like Christmas.

As difficult as things were, I appeared to handle it all pretty well. I had the attitude that there wasn’t anything that could be done about the past and it wasn’t productive to dwell on it. I was a paraplegic. I needed to figure out how to live with that reality. I couldn’t do much while on bed rest, but I did what I could. I lifted the weights that Lisa brought and tried to not get too angry or frustrated by the situation.
When I was finally healed enough and strong enough to move from the hospital to the rehab center, I looked forward to learning the things I needed to learn to get on with my life. So I learned how to put on clothes and tie my shoes and open doors. It was like being a child again, figuring out how to do really basic things. It was really frustrating at times, but I got through it.
There’s the saying, “I complained that I had no shoes, until I met someone who had no feet.” That was true for me at the rehab center. There were people much, much worse off than I was. For one thing, despite the trauma to my head, I had no brain damage. I met people in the rehab center with traumatic brain injuries. I could see how difficult it was for them and for their loved ones. Some who suffer head injuries seem to become *different people than they were before. I met others with higher-level spinal cord injuries than I had. They struggled with things I could do easily. It wouldn’t be fair for me to complain when I was around people who had it much worse than I did.
*I’ve wondered about these people with traumatic brain injuries. I’m sure it’s different for different people, but I’ve wondered if they know what they’ve lost. It takes a certain amount of cognitive ability to realize that you have the ability to use your brain in certain ways. When someone has a brain injury and are no longer able to do what they once did, do they realize it? Do they remember being able to think things through in a way they no longer can? I remember reading about a baseball executive from the 1950s who had an incredible ability to do math in his head. He never needed a calculator. He could look at the numbers on the page and do the math easily. I’m pretty good at this myself. Then one day this baseball executive looked at the numbers on the page and couldn’t do it. He lost that ability and he knew he had lost that ability, which made it even more difficult for him. It was the beginning of a downward slide. He likely had dementia or Alzheimer’s but not much was known about it back then.
Periodically, I had to meet with a mental health professional. He or she would ask me questions. We’d talk about what happened. They gave me tests to assess my mental health. I was always a good test taker and did well on them. When you’re good at taking tests, you can get inside the head of the person who created the test. What are they looking for? What answer would be best here? In this case, the test had the same question posed in multiple ways. It was designed to determine if someone is struggling with negative thoughts/depression, etc. It wasn’t hard for me to recognize this and I knew what the best response would be to get good marks for mental health. 

​At the end of one session, the doctor said, “You’re doing remarkably well emotionally. It doesn’t seem possible that you can be handling this as well as you are, but I don’t see any reason to doubt you.” I told him I had always been a positive, generally upbeat person and I still was, that I knew having a good attitude about it was a better option than the alternative. It’s basic logic.
The reality was maybe a bit different than how things appeared. I did handle it well, but that was mainly because I didn’t want to be someone who didn’t handle it well. I didn’t want to make the people around me feel bad for me. I didn’t want to be the cause of those negative feelings. They were all dealing with what happened just like I was. It was better for everyone that I didn’t get depressed about it.
This carried over to my life post-injury, especially early on. Once I got out of the hospital and rehab center and returned home, I continued to work hard to not have anyone feel sorry for me. As a wheelchair user, I wanted everything to look easy for me. I didn’t want people seeing me struggle to do something, because of the negative feelings it would cause for them. I bought slip-on shoes because I didn’t want anyone see me struggle to tie my shoes and ask if I needed help doing something so basic. When I’d come to a door that I needed to open and roll through, I wanted to swing it open wide and roll right through with ease because it looked so much better than if I were there fighting and struggling to get through. 

In one of the first few years I was back from Indiana, I met a friend for a stroll around Green Lake on a very hot day. My body does not handle heat well since the injury. I get overheated easily and it’s hard to bring my temperature back down. As we circled Green Lake, I could feel my core temperature rising and I was feeling worse and worse, but I refused to let her know. After we finished circling the lake, she went off to her car and I went to mine. I struggled to transfer myself into the car and struggled to get the wheelchair in after me. Then I started the car, turned on the air condition and sat there in a daze for about 20 minutes until I felt clear-headed enough to drive home. When I got home, it was another struggle to get out of my car and inside. I had to lie down for the rest of the day with cold packs on my head and chest. It was colossally stupid of me, but that’s how important it was for me to appear like everything was always okay. 

It continued when I started to work. I didn’t want the staff members or students I worked with see me struggle. I couldn’t have a bad day because I didn’t want anyone to think it was because I was a wheelchair user. In the staff lounge, other teachers could complain about a sore back or tired legs after doing something strenuous over the weekend, but I didn’t want to complain about a sore shoulder or sore wrist because I didn’t want sympathy for anything that could be related to my spinal cord injury. Trust me, I know how ridiculous this sounds, but it’s a difficult mindset to change.
Even now, I still try to make things look as effortless as I can, which can pose a problem when I confront a hill. Because of stupid gravity, hills are difficult for wheelchair users and I don’t want it to look difficult. I also don’t want any help. If the hill is steep enough, a choice has to be made, either get help or struggle. I almost always eschew the help and go with the struggle, with the main exception being the hill I have to climb after Aquasox games. I let my niece help me get up that hill. 

The rehab center experience was very different from the hospital experience. In the hospital, I spent almost all of my time in bed because of the complications. At the rehab center, I was able to get out of bed in the morning like a normal person. Along with learning how to do the everyday things I needed to do, I also spent time at the rehab center getting exercise. They had a nice setup of accessible weight training equipment. They also had a swimming pool for aquatic therapy, which I enjoyed. It was frightening to be in the water because I was so weak after all those months in the hospital, but having an attractive physical therapist with her arms around me made it an activity to look forward to.
I worked hard to learn what I needed to learn and to gain strength in my hands and arms. I got high marks for effort and enthusiasm. The nurses and therapists remarked at how well I was handling everything and how dedicated I was to getting better. I generally was handling it all well, but there were difficult moments when it hit me hard.
One really tough time I still remember vividly was the day I was allowed to leave the rehab facility for good, after many months in the hospital, followed by more months in rehab. It was just a couple months short of a year since the accident happened and I had dealt with so much over that time, both physically and emotionally. I would be staying with Ted until I was strong enough to fly back home to Bothell.
I was in the passenger seat of Ted’s truck, looking out the window as we drove to his house from the rehab facility. Everything was fine. I felt good. I was glad to be getting out of there and looking forward to having a bit more freedom. In a couple months, I would be back home.
Then I saw an empty baseball diamond and I was flooded with an incredible sense of despair. In that instant, seeing that empty baseball diamond pained me to the very core of my being. I physically hurt inside and tears filled my eyes as I looked at that empty field, with the pitcher’s mound in the center. 

​I love everything about playing baseball, but nothing more so than pitching. Don’t get me wrong. It’s an amazing feeling to stand at the plate and make perfect contact on a pitch and send it deep into the outfield. When you hit a ball off the handle or the end of the bat, it can sting your hands for a couple minutes. When you hit it square, it’s almost like you didn’t make contact at all. It’s one of the best feelings in sports. But for me, pitching was life. I loved the challenge. I didn’t have a Randy Johnson fastball I could blow by the batter. I had to change speeds, change location, mix it up, or I couldn’t succeed. And I loved doing it. I loved getting in a rhythm, where I would throw a pitch and get the ball back from the catcher and know without having to think about it what the exact best pitch to throw next would be.
The last game I ever pitched was during the summer I was injured. We were playing at Lynnwood high school. I didn’t start the game, but came on in relief. And I started tossing knuckleballs, one after the other. The hitters were flailing at them, either missing them completely or making weak contact. I could clearly hear one guy in their dugout chastising his teammates for swinging at the knuckleball. He kept saying, “Just don’t swing at it! He can’t throw it for strikes!”
Then he got his chance to bat. I knew he would be getting nothing but knuckleballs. He probably knew it to, but he failed to head his own advice and couldn’t help but swing at them. I really tried hard not to smile after he struck out.
So, yeah, after everything that happened in the hospital and rehab center, it was an empty baseball field that hit me harder emotionally than anything else. Think about the thing you are most passionate about. Maybe you’re actively involved in acting or singing, hiking or biking, or creating art. It’s the thing you love to do more than any other. Then, suddenly, in a snap of the fingers, you can’t do it anymore. It’s been 23 years, but I can still see that empty baseball diamond. 

​Because I was on a ventilator for an extended period of time in the hospital, I couldn’t eat food normally. I had to be fed through a tube into my stomach. When I came off the ventilator and was gradually allowed to eat food again, I didn’t have any desire to. It was a chore. By the time I was moved to the rehab center, I had lost close to 50 pounds. I looked like a skeleton.
While I stayed at Ted’s house, I tried to gain weight and strength so I could fly home. I also had the opportunity to go back over to Pittsburgh to throw out the first pitch at a Pirates game. Ted and I played catch in his yard for practice. It was fitting. He was the first person I regularly played catch with when I was a kid. He taught me how to throw a curveball that I used so well when I pitched in high school and summer league baseball.
I could throw and catch, but my range was limited. Anything too far to the left, right, or above me would sail past. An occasional ball was right in line but too low and would bounce off my chair because I couldn’t reach down that far. One went right off my shin. It must have hurt like a son-of-a-bitch, but I didn’t feel it.
Les and I drove over to Pittsburgh so I could watch a game and throw out the first pitch. We got to the ballpark and were escorted down to the field through tunnels in the bowels of Three Rivers Stadium. I met a few players and coaches. Unfortunately, the game was rained out and I didn’t get the chance to throw out the first pitch that night.
I was invited back for the next game and a second chance to throw out the first pitch. It was disappointing, though, because they had me throw from about halfway between the plate and the mound and the catcher came out and squatted in front of home plate. With him being so close, I just lobbed it to him. It looked weak. I wanted to fire it in from much farther back. I may have lost my ability to walk, but I still had my pride. 

​After almost a year away, I flew back to Seattle in the spring of 1995. As much as I wanted to be home again, I didn’t look forward to the moment I’d get off the airplane and see my friends and family. I had left the previous year in the best shape of my life, a new college graduate with an English degree and a teaching certificate, with the hope of starting a career in the fall. I was returning as a wheelchair-using paraplegic, skeleton-thin, with scars on my face and skull. I felt like I had let people down because of what happened.
As I rolled down the tunnel after getting off the airplane, I dreaded seeing the faces of my family and friends when they saw me in person for the first time. The moment of surprise, shock, call it what you want, it’s hard for anyone to stifle that look. Then came the lies.
“You look great!”
“You never looked better!”
“You haven’t changed a bit!”
Lies, lies, lies. I knew they were lying. They knew they were lying. I’m sure they knew that I knew they were lying. But it’s a social contract. They say something nice. I thank them. The moment passes. It’s easier that way.
Somewhere, in an alternate universe where everyone tells the truth, the conversation goes like this:
“Wow, you look like you drove into a bridge!”
“I did.”
“Damn, that sucks. Well, I’m glad you’re still alive.”
“Thanks, me too.”
In this alternative, always truthful universe, you can tell someone if they look fat in those pants or if their haircut looks bad or if they have an *ugly baby.
*The best option when confronted with an ugly baby is the Seinfeldien response, “he’s breathtaking.”
In this world, everyone told me how great I looked. Maybe I looked great for someone who had driven into a bridge and spent almost a year in the hospital. Take away the “driven into a bridge and spent almost a year in the hospital” aspect, and I looked awful.
But I had survived. I was back home. I didn’t know what the future would bring or what I would do with my life. I still had follow-up surgeries to get through and recover from before I could do much more than continue to heal from a life-altering event.
One year before, I thought I had taken a few steps up the “great big hill of hope for a destination.” Then, in an instant, the progress I had made was wiped out. I was back down at the bottom of the hill and it suddenly looked much steeper.
<![CDATA[Remembering Monopoly]]>Mon, 20 Mar 2017 19:27:01 GMThttp://baseballonthebrain.com/home/remembering-monopolyPicture
The board game Monopoly has swapped out three traditional pieces for three new ones. Gone are the thimble, the boot, and the wheelbarrow. The new pieces are a rubber duck, a T. Rex, and a penguin.

When you think about it, Monopoly is a brutal game. Say you start out with eight players. One by one, a player is eliminated because he/she runs out of money. Then the losers have to sit there and watch everyone else play the game, which can take hours and hours to finish. Eventually, one person has it all and everyone else has nothing. It’s the board game of income inequality.
I don’t know if my family ever completed a game of Monopoly. It seems like the most likely ending to a game of Monopoly in our house was the board being flipped over and everything flying all over the room when someone got angry about losing (or accused someone else of cheating). Life was a better game. We modified the rules so we could keep going around the board and try to load our cars up with blue and pink pegs that represented children.
When we did play Monopoly, choosing your playing piece was a big deal. If I remember correctly, my brother John always wanted to be the racecar. I think I was usually the guy on the horse. And my sister Jennifer was the little dog. The guy on the horse has been retired and is now joined by the thimble, the boot, and the wheelbarrow in retirement. I don’t think anyone ever wanted to be the thimble when we played, but the boot and the wheelbarrow got some use in our house. Apparently, they have a cat and a battleship now also. Ch-ch-ch-changes…
Despite the board-flipping-in-anger memories I have of playing Monopoly as a kid, I think it would be fun to play again. It’s not that the game was that fun to play, but I do have fond memories of those times in our lives. Maybe getting together with the siblings now, these many years later, and doing something as silly as playing Monopoly would bring back some good memories and interesting stories that we haven’t thought about in years.

<![CDATA[ My First Year Playing Organized Baseball  ]]>Tue, 28 Feb 2017 00:43:07 GMThttp://baseballonthebrain.com/home/-my-first-year-playing-organized-baseballPicture
​The first baseball team I ever played on was called Sports Spot. Sports Spot was a sporting goods store in Florida in the late-1970s. The Sports Spot hat I wore had words in a circle that spell out Bearstown and Rockledge, Florida. According to the Internet, Rockledge, Florida, is the oldest city in Brevard County. My family did not live in Bearstown or Rockledge, we lived in Cocoa, which was one of three places we lived in Florida, along with Melbourne and Naples.
As you can see in the pictures, we had green jerseys. My mom did not like the color green. It was her least-favorite color. I didn’t mind it, though I would have preferred the beautiful combination of black and gold of my favorite major league team, the Pittsburgh Pirates. 

​I’m not sure how old I was or what year it was when I played on Sports Spot. I know it was before 1981, which was when we moved to Bothell, Washington “for a day or a lifetime.” In those days, we moved every year, usually near Thanksgiving, which is right around my brother’s birthday. That would be my brother John, who we called Billy back then. Later, he became known as Number Three because my two oldest brothers were Number One and Number Two. I am Number Four. My sister, Jennifer, doesn’t have a number. She’s just Jennifer. She’s the one in the picture with the broken arm whose fries are being stolen by Billy.
As you can see by the picture of me batting (and probably hitting an impressive opposite-field home run), I was #10 when I played for Sports Spot. I don’t remember how I got the number. If I had my choice, it would be #11. I was #11 while playing baseball in different years after this and it was and will always be my favorite number. The great Edgar Martinez was #11. In fact, the Mariners will retire Edgar’s number this summer. Unfortunately, that means if I ever play for the Mariners, I won’t be able to wear my favorite number. Dang it, Edgar!

​In my hazy memory, I was one of the best players on this team, and even won the co-MVP along award with the goofball with his fingers in his mouth in the picture next to me. I don’t remember his name. I do remember that he took advantage of a rule in that league to help him win co-MVP honors with me.
This was a league in which the kids pitched. I never played t-ball, in a coach pitch league, or in a league that used a pitching machine. My sister played t-ball and Billy played in a league with a pitching machine. He even played “pitcher”, which meant he handed the ball to the adult who then put it into the machine.
Anyway, in this league they had kids pitching to kids and there was a rule in place to prevent walks. If you’ve ever watched youth league baseball, you know how bad young pitchers are at throwing strikes. They just can’t do it, for the most part. Games end up being walkfests, with bad pitch after bad pitch after bad pitch. To prevent that, there was a rule in this league that allowed the batter to hit off a tee after four balls, rather than get a walk. This meant more balls in play, which is always more interesting than a walk.

​I didn’t want to hit off a tee, so I swung at everything, like a miniature Vladimir Guerrero. I was especially willing to swing at anything close when I had a three-ball count on me. Walks were not fun; hitting the ball was fun. You can keep your tee; I didn’t want it.
The goofball with his fingers in his mouth thought differently. He would intentionally try to get four balls so he could hit off the tee because he was better at hitting off the tee. This was the reason he was the co-MVP. He took advantage of the rules. His big hits were off the tee. Mine were legit. I thought it was a chump move by him. Swing the bat, meat!

​Of course, I look deadly serious in all of these pictures, so maybe I took baseball a little too seriously.

<![CDATA[A-Rod and 700 Homers]]>Mon, 01 Aug 2016 21:21:05 GMThttp://baseballonthebrain.com/home/a-rod-and-700-homersPicture
For the first time in about 30 years, the New York Yankees have made trades that indicate they are looking to the future, rather than make a run for the playoffs this year. They traded two of the best relief pitchers in baseball (Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller) and one of their best hitters (Carlos Beltran). They got some very good prospects back for those guys, so I’m impressed with their moves overall. It’s just surprising to see the Yankees in “sell” mode.

So, what about Alex Rodriguez? He's hitting .205 with a .253 on-base percentage and .358 slugging percentage. He's been a below replacement-level player. He was recently reduced to starting just a couple times a week when the Yankees play against a left-handed pitcher. They should be able to pull someone up from the minor leagues who will hit better.

The Yankees owe A-Rod the remainder of his $21 million/year contract for this year and another $21 million for next year. Of course, they're the Yankees. They have enough money that they can just cut him outright and if they did, I don't know if another team would pick him up.

A-Rod is currently just four home runs from reaching 700 for his career. Babe Ruth has 714. Hank Aaron has 755. Barry Bonds has 763. He would be the fourth player in the history of the game to reach that level.
Should the Yankees keep him for the next year and two months? Should they let him get to 700 homers and cut him before next season? Or should they cut him now and let him finish his career four home runs short of 700 home runs (if no other team picks him up)?
I think I know where Seattle Mariners fans stand on this issue.

<![CDATA[Happy Birthday to Satchel Paige]]>Thu, 07 Jul 2016 20:19:53 GMThttp://baseballonthebrain.com/home/happy-birthday-to-satchel-paigePicture
​Today is Leroy “Satchel” Paige’s birthday. More accurately, today is what is considered to be Satchel Paige’s birthday; no one is really sure about that. The record keeping for African Americans born in Mobile, Alabama in the early part of the 20th century was a little sketchy. Paige himself would often give different years when asked when he was born and how old he was. Baseball-Reference.com has him listed as being born on July 7, 1906, so we’ll go with that.
Volumes could be written about Satchel Paige, the man and the pitcher. He was a legend in his time for his abilities on the mound and his gift of self-promotion off the field. He could spin a story with the best of them. His first year in professional baseball was 1926 and he played his last game in organized baseball in 1966. It’s likely that no pitcher in history every pitched as much as Satchel Paige.
Paige was born in Mobile, Alabama and grew up during a time in which blacks were barred from restaurants, saloons, and hotels, among other establishments. Schools were segregated and it was illegal for whites and blacks to marry. And, of course, blacks and whites were not allowed to play baseball together.
Paige was one of 12 kids in his family, so he was put to work to earn money at a young age. According to legend, Paige earned his nickname, Satchel, while working as a porter in a Mobile hotel. As a porter, Paige polished the boots of wealthy white men and carried their bags for a dime. To earn more money, he crafted together a device with a pole and some rope that allowed him to carry up to four satchels at a time. One of the other baggage boys said, “You look like a walking satchel tree.” The name stuck.
Growing up dirt poor in Mobile, Paige eventually got into some trouble and was sent to the Alabama Reform School for Juvenile Negro Law-Breakers. There, he refined his abilities to pitch a baseball thanks to the influence of Edward Byrd. Paige was tall and thin as a teenager and had enormous hands that could deliver a baseball with speed and accuracy. 

​When he left reform school, Paige started pitching for a series of Negro League teams. He was not shy about jumping from one team to another if the pay was better. Because the record-keeping in the Negro Leagues was shoddy, at best, it’s hard to know just how many games Paige pitched in his lifetime. He was the league’s top drawing card, so he started many games, but might get pulled out after a few innings so he could start the next day also. For 22 years, from 1926 to 1948, Paige played for numerous Negro League teams, barnstormed with All-Star caliber players in the off-season, and played in Mexico and the Caribbean in the winter. He kept his own records in a notebook he carried around for all those years and claimed to have pitched in 2,500 games for 250 different teams and winning 2,000 of them. According to his records, he once had a game in which he struck out 22 batters, which would be a record if he’d done it in a Major League game. He also claimed to have thrown 50 no-hitters, earned 21 straight wins, and had a 62 consecutive innings scoreless streak.
It’s easy to dismiss his claims because they seem so outrageous, but when you consider he pitched year-round for more than 40 years, it would only take about 60 or so games a year to reach 2,400 games pitched. The alleged 50 no-hitters is an incredible number when you remember that Nolan Ryan holds the Major League record of seven no-hitters. Paige, though, pitched against professional teams in the Negro Leagues and sandlot teams all across the country. We know he pitched no-hitters against star caliber players, so it wouldn’t be hard to imagine him easily shutting down a team of local men organized to play baseball on their off days from work. 

​While his stats prior to his time in the Major Leagues are hazy, we do know what he did in six big league seasons. Paige was signed by Bill Veeck in 1948 to pitch for the Cleveland Indians. He was 42 years old at the time. Down the stretch that year, Paige started seven games and relieved in 14 others. He threw two shutouts and was 6-1 with a 2.48 ERA. He followed that up by pitching 83 innings in 1949 and posting a 3.04 ERA when he was 43 years old. He didn’t pitch in 1950, but spent three years with the St. Louis Browns from 1951 to 1953 and won 18 games with a 3.57 ERA. He was an All-Star in two of those years, when he was 45 and 46 years old.
In 1965, Charles O. Finley, owner of the Kansas City Athletics, brought Satchel Paige back to pitch one last time in the Major Leagues. Paige was 58 years old at this point, 33 years older than his catcher. He pitched three scoreless innings against a good-hitting Boston Red Sox team, allowing just a single hit to future Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski. He got nine outs on 28 pitches. Again, he was 58 years old and pitching effectively against guys 30 years younger than he was. The guy was simply amazing.
In 1971, Paige was the first true Negro League player to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Jackie Robinson is credited for being the first African American to play in the Major Leagues. Every year, Major League Baseball hosts Jackie Robinson Day in ballparks all across the country and every player in the league wears the number 42 to honor Jackie. Satchel Paige broke down the color barrier in a different way. He wasn’t the first African American to play in the Major Leagues, but he did face white Major League players in post-season tournaments many times. He was so good that fans both black and white filled the park to see him pitch. In his way, he was laying the groundwork for black players in the future. 

How To Keep Young, by Satchel Paige
  1. Avoid fried meats which angry up the blood.
  2. If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.
  3. Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move.
  4. Go very lightly on the vices, such as carrying on in society. The social ramble ain't restful.
  5. Avoid running at all times.
  6. Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you.
<![CDATA[Managing For a Statistic]]>Mon, 27 Jun 2016 21:12:51 GMThttp://baseballonthebrain.com/home/managing-for-a-statisticPicturePirates' manager Clint Hurdle
In Major League Baseball, a starting pitcher must pitch at least five innings to get credit for a win. For years, the win has been one of the primary ways to identify a good starting pitcher. Twenty wins in a season has been a long-held standard of excellence and a winning record has been deemed very important.
Things are changing in baseball. A starting pitcher getting the win is not as important as it once was. Pitchers these days don’t pitch as deep into games as they did in the past and more and more fans are realizing that a pitcher being credited for the win is very dependent on his team’s offense and, in some cases, pure luck.
As an example, the Atlanta Braves are a terrible team this year, but they have Julio Teheran, who has pitched well. His ERA is 2.46, tenth in baseball among starting pitchers. And yet, Teheran’s win-loss record is 3-7. David Price, on the other hand, is 8-4 despite having a 4.68 ERA. David Price’s Red Sox team is much better than Teheran’s Braves overall and are particularly better at scoring runs, having outscored the Braves 419 to 250 so far this year. The respective win-loss records of Price and Teheran don’t accurately reflect how well they’ve pitched this season and more knowledgeable baseball fans know this.
With the win losing its status somewhat as the go-to statistic for starting pitchers, it should free MLB managers from worrying about whether his starting pitcher will get credit for a win. It should. Sometimes it doesn’t.
The Pittsburgh Pirates played the Los Angeles Dodgers today. The Pirates won the first three games of this four game series, including a 4-3 victory over Clayton Kershaw on Sunday. Clayton Kershaw has been the God of pitching this year. Scoring four runs off of Kershaw is unheard of. In 14 of his first 15 starts, Kershaw allowed two or fewer runs. The Pirates got him for four runs and had just enough pitching to get the victory. They were looking for the sweep today.
Francisco Liriano was on the bump for the Pirates. Liriano is having a bad season. He came into this game with an ERA over 5.00. The biggest culprit of his subpar pitching has been an ugly walk rate. Coming into this start, Liriano had walked 5.6 batters per nine innings. He would not improve on that mark today.
The Pirates came out strong with four runs in the bottom of the first inning to take an early 4-0 lead. The Dodgers scrapped out a run in the top of the third to make it 4-1. That was the score when the top of the fifth rolled around. Liriano was still on the mound, hoping to get through the fifth with a lead so he could get credit for the win.
Liriano struck out the opposing pitcher, Scott Kazmir, to start the inning. He then walked Kiki Hernandez for the third time of the game and gave up a double to Justin Turner. A walk to Trayce Thompson loaded the bases. It was Liriano’s fifth walk of the game and the third walk to the last six batters he’d faced.
The Pirates still led 4-1, but the bases were loaded with one out. The game was hanging in the balance and Liriano was on the ropes. Going back to the fourth inning, Liriano had given up two hits and three walks to the previous seven batters. The two outs he had induced were by the #8 and #9 hitters in the Dodgers’ lineup.
So Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle had a decision to make. Stick with Liriano or go get a reliever? If he brings in a reliever, Liriano won’t pitch the required five innings to get credit for the victory. That shouldn’t matter. The Pirates had the lead and were looking for a sweep before flying out to the West Coast. Who cares if Francisco Liriano gets credit for the win?!
Apparently, Clint Hurdle cared. Hurdle left Liriano in and he gave up a single to right to score two more runs. Then Hurdle yanked him. The Pirates gave up two more runs in the game and lost, 5-4.
I believe Hurdle made his decision to leave Liriano in the game, at least in part, because of the win statistic. If the win was not a possibility for Liriano, I think he would have been removed from the game earlier. If it were the sixth inning, Hurdle would have had a quicker hook. Today, Hurdle managed towards the statistic instead of making the move that would most help the Pirates win the game. It was a bad move from a veteran manager who should know better.