Just Like Yesterday

Two events this weekend remind me that sometimes things that happened a long time ago feel like they took place just yesterday. The first of these events occurred exactly 22 years ago today. On February 2, 1991, my Dad died of a heart attack. He was 56 years old and I was 25. This is a picture of us a little less than two years before at my graduation from San Francisco State University. At the time this picture was taken, he was newly sober and we were repairing our relationship. I was re-discovering the man that my mother said she married and the man that I had almost forgotten. This was the man who taught me to throw a baseball, to swing a bat and the man who took me to Giants games at the spur of the moment on a random school night, if my homework was done.


I had missed that man for too many years, but in the short time between 1989 and 1991, all the hurt and anger dissolved and we were enjoying each other’s company again. Needless to say, his death was quite a shock to both my mother and me. But, I’m so grateful for those two years. At least I didn’t have anger and guilt on top of my grief. He was okay. We were okay.

The second event is the appearance on Sunday of my hometown San Francisco Forty Niners in the Super Bowl for the first time since 1994. When I think of the Forty Niners, I also think of my Dad. When my Dad was watching a game, it sounded like five guys were in the room. I can clearly hear him yelling every time the offense tried to run a sweep and they failed or when Joe Montana connected with Freddie Solomon or Jerry Rice on a long pass. He hated most television announcers aside from Pat Summerall and John Madden. If Pat and John weren’t doing the game, he’d turn off the sound and listen to the great Lon Simmons on the radio.

Dad would often take part in football pools. I remember answering the phone many times and hearing the clink of bar glasses as some guy in a raspy voice would quickly ask, “Is Frank there?” And I, being a smart ass like my Dad, would say, “Dad! It’s Jimmy the Icepick for you!” He didn’t win very often but one year he won this Forty Niners jacket. He wore it all the time and I’ve kept it in the hall closet ever since he died.

Niner 2Niner1

My Dad died the week after the 1991 Super Bowl in which the New York Giants beat the Buffalo Bills. I didn’t know he had won money until he was dying in my arms. As we were waiting for the fire department and ambulance to arrive, my Dad was going in and out of consciousness and I was trying to keep him calm. My mother was a nervous wreck in the kitchen, asking if we’d need money at the hospital. Somehow my Dad heard her and whispered to me, “Money. Envelope. Desk.” He had just picked up his winnings the day before.

I thanked him and told him not to worry about us. He got very quiet and when the paramedics arrived and I moved out of the way, I knew he was gone. His face had turned gray and he wasn’t responding. He was declared dead an hour later at the hospital.

There hasn’t been a day over the past 22 years that I haven’t thought about him. I often wonder what he’d think of the current state of politics or how I’ve turned out. And I miss him every day, today and tomorrow especially. Maybe I’ll take the jacket out of the closet and slip it on for good luck on Sunday.

So Dad? If you have any pull up there, see what you can do about a Niners victory, okay?

Hey Dad. Wanna Have a Catch?



Baseball season is starting and as always, my thoughts turn to my father. As some of you know, my Dad instilled a love for baseball in me as soon as I could hold a baseball and put a cap on my head. This is a picture of my Dad back in high school just about 60 years ago.



In my baby book under age two, my mother wrote that my favorite song was “Bye, Bye Baby, the song that opened San Francisco Giants radio broadcasts on KSFO. As you can see, I started early. As soon as I could stand, Dad was tossing a ball to me. He taught me how to catch and how to hit as well. He often said that he did this, not because he secretly wanted a boy, but because he believed all children should be coordinated and develop a love for sports. The photo at left is of me at age 3 wearing my trusty Giants cap. It seems that my little friend Monica was going for more of a Jed Clampett Beverly Hillbillies look.

This year marks the 21st baseball season that my Dad hasn’t seen. A lot has happened in our national pastime over those years and I often wonder what his thoughts would be. One of the things I miss most is talking baseball with my Dad. He took me to so many games at Candlestick Park and we sat everywhere from the luxury boxes to the bleachers. His favorite spot was behind homeplate so he could describe to me what the pitcher was throwing. I learned everything I know about baseball from all those times with him. They are memories that I treasure.

He would have hated the strike in 1994 but would have applauded Cal Ripken breaking Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game streak in 1995. The steroid era would have disgusted him, especially with hometown kid Barry Bonds at the head of it. I think he would have initially disliked inter-league play (mainly because he despised the designated hitter rule), but would have come to enjoy seeing the Giants play the likes of the Yankees and Red Sox. The idea of the All-Star game determining home-field advantage in the World Series would have annoyed him and struck him as “PR bullshit”. I can’t say that I disagree with him.

He would have loved AT&T Park. He never got over the fact that the Giants left cozy Seals Stadium for God-awful Candlestick Park. He always said, “They left perfect weather here in the Mission for cold and fog out in the Bayview. Political bullshit.” I can hear his voice now saying, “Hey, Kel. Wanna catch the streetcar downtown and see a game?” How many times he came home from work on some random weeknight and asked if I finished my homework and asked if I felt like hopping the bus and heading out to the ‘Stick. It was the 1970s and the Giants were horrible, but I always wanted to go.

When the Red Sox finally won a World Series in 2004, he would have cried like I did. His tears would have been mainly because Ted Williams hadn’t lived to see it. My tears that night were for my Dad for the same reason.



But, by far, sharing the World Series victory of the Giants in 2010 with him would have been great. He would have loved that team. Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Brian Wilson and the rest of the staff would have thrilled the old pitcher’s heart. And he would have loved the spunk of the rest of the guys.

So, in honor of the start of the 2012 baseball season, here’s the scene from Field of Dreams that makes me cry like a baby every time I see it. I’d give anything to have a catch with my Dad right now.

Tennis, Anyone? (Part Two)

As I wrote in my last post, my love of tennis has returned and much of that is due to a young woman from Australia named Samantha Stosur. Oh, and in case you hadn’t heard, she defeated Serena Williams handily in the U.S. Open final yesterday, 6-2, 6-3. Sam became the first Australian woman since Margaret Court in 1973 to win the U.S. Open. While this is great cause for celebration for Australia and Australian tennis, it’s great for anyone who values champions with class.

There was some controversy at the beginning of the second set that almost tilted the momentum to Serena Williams. The umpire deemed Serena’s celebratory scream after she struck a ball before the point was over as as a violation of the Hindrance Rule and awarded Sam the point, which gave her the game. Serena then behaved like a petulant brat and unfortunately the crowd started pulling for her.

This situation reminded me just how much I dislike the idea of rooting for someone simply because he or she is from your country. I support a player because I like him or her not because he or she is an American. An acquaintance on Twitter took offense at my characterization of the crowd as jingoistic yet she basically admitted that she was rooting for Serena simply because of her citizenship. This is not the Olympics or the World Cup where supporting your country is natural and appropriate.

Add to this mix the emotions of the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 and this could have gotten really ugly. Luckily for Stosur and for the game of tennis, she remained composed and let her playing do the talking for her. I hope that when people look back on this match, they’ll give Stosur the credit she deserves for her high-quality play and her grace under pressure. What we don’t need is any whining about a bad call (which it was not) or excuses for Serena’s lackluster performance. Serena Williams is an incredibly talented player who will go down as one of the greatest to have ever played. On Sunday, however, a 27 year-old from Down Under was better.

Tennis, Anyone?

I’m re-discovering my love of tennis while watching the 2011 US Open and as I do with everything I get interested in, I become obsessed. Thanks to an upgraded cable package that included Tennis Channel, I’m getting acquainted with a lot of new faces, especially on the Women’s Tour. For a few years now, I’ve found women’s tennis unwatchable due to the prevalence of shrieking that so many top players seem to engage in as they hit EVERY SINGLE BALL.

Now, I’m not a professional tennis player but I used to play a lot. I don’t remember Chris Evert (my favorite), Evonne Goolagong (my Dad’s favorite) or even Martina Navratilova wailing like banshees as they hit the ball. They just played the game and played it well. This shrieking is unnecessary, it’s distracting and it’s pure gamesmanship. Some of the men grunt and groan but not all of them. If Roger Federer can win all the championships he has while being as silent as Marcel Marceau, what’s Maria Sharapova’s excuse?

In any case, I found myself watching more men’s tennis of late but I started missing watching the women. So, I started following the coverage on Tennis Channel and there are some incredibly talented women out there, and even some who don’t cause dogs to bark on the other side of the world. One of my favorites is Sam Stosur from Australia. She’s strong and fun to watch. And she’s quiet!

She’s made it to the semifinals and is now set to face Germany’s Angelique Kerber. I know nothing about Kerber but I’m hoping Sam makes it through to the finals. The other semifinal is between Serena Williams and Caroline Wozniacki, the current Number 1 player. Both Williams and Wozniacki can make noise but I’m hoping I don’t have to watch it on mute.

Watching tennis again has brought back a lot of memories, most of which are wonderful. I started playing at age 10 with my Wilson Chris Evert Autograph racquet and I won a mixed doubles championship at aged 11. I remember copying Chris’ mannerisms and strokes as best I could. I try not to remember the cruelty of the girls on my high school team whose taunts and dirty tricks made tennis not fun anymore and led to my quitting the team after two years.

But high school was a long time ago and it may be time to pick up my racquet and start playing again. Luckily, tennis is a game that you can play at any age and I have courts within walking distance from the house. Now I just need to find a partner. Tennis, anyone?

Are You Ready for Some Football?

Football season is fast approaching but I’m not talking about the National Football League here in the United States. The football to which I’m referring is the Barclays Premier League. Still befuddled? It’s the top league in English soccer, or football. As an aside, it really doesn’t make sense that American football is called football, since the focus isn’t on kicking. In fact, punters and field goal kickers are the least respected players on an American football team. Quite a conundrum, isn’t it? But I digress.

Premier League play starts this weekend and I’ve decided to follow it. Bear in mind that I know practically nothing about soccer in terms of rules, players, etc. I tried to get into it back in high school when I had crushes on two handsome French-Italian brothers with whom I had gone to grammar school. I’d go to their games and sit with their parents, taking pictures with my Olympus OM-10. I went to three Proms with the Fontana brothers in 1982. Ah, yes. They were such handsome boys. But, yet again, I digress.

There are a couple of rules I have that are mandatory when I watch a sport: (1) I need to have a basic understanding of how the game is played and (2) I need to have someone for whom to root. In terms of Rule Number 1, I may have to read this book. I have the book for golf but like my golf clubs, it hasn’t been used much. Rule Number 2 is much easier. I have adopted the favorite team of my friend Rob Marshall, the Wolverhampton Wanderers, aka, Wolves. I met Rob on my first, and so far only, trip to England in 1990. He was playing music at a wine bar close to where I was staying in Kensington and we immediately hit it off. We’ve kept in touch all these years and he even visited me back in 1993.

So, I follow the Wolves on Twitter. I “Like” their Facebook page and I may even check out a local Wolves fan group in San Francisco that I came across. If you’re under the impression that I seem rather gung ho about this, you’d be right. I tend to get obsessive about something when I first get into it. If I like a musician, I tend to want everything he or she ever recorded. I got into comic books last year (Batwoman is my avatar on Twitter) and now I’m on a first name basis with the staff at my local comics store. The trick is sustaining my interest over the long term.

It will be difficult to catch matches live. There’s the time difference for one and where to watch them is another. I know Fox Soccer channel airs many matches and I’ve already been doing research on bars in San Francisco that air the Premier League. The thing is, even though I’m very outgoing, the idea of going to a bar by myself to watch soccer is a tad uncomfortable. So, if you happen to be a Wolves fan in the San Francisco Bay Area and you somehow stumbled upon my little blog, contact me. We’ll raise a pint and cheer on the Wolves.

You Play to Win the Game

Back in 2002 when he was the head coach of the New York Jets, Herman Edwards uttered this line and his sentiment really resonated with me in light of the coverage of the defeat of the U.S. Women’s National Team in the World Cup Final. I was puzzled and annoyed by the coverage of their loss mainly because it seemed patronizing. The fact that the U.S. team failed to capitalize on multiple scoring opportunities in the first half, lost a lead twice, committed sloppy errors that led to Japan’s scores and totally broke down during penalty kicks was absent in the coverage. It was all hearts and flowers about their wins over Brazil and France. Don’t get me wrong. Those were great wins and there is no doubt that the U.S. team did wonders for women’s sports, especially soccer, here in the U.S. All you have to do is look at the ratings.

But, if the goal of playing is winning, they failed. Why are people so afraid to say that? I think it’s because no one, especially men, wants to be accused of being a sexist. The fastest, easiest way to shut down debate is to call someone either (a) racist, (b) homophobic, or (c) sexist. By pointing out that they failed to win the game doesn’t mean that they are failures as human beings or that their run in the tournament was a failure. Anyone with common sense knows that. Are female athletes so fragile that they need protection from criticism? Hardly. Female athletes are strong in body, mind and spirit, just like their male counterparts and they deserve to be praised and criticized by the same standards.

Finally, someone said just this very thing. On the July 19, 2011 episode of Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel, host Bryant Gumbel delivered a spot-on commentary. I don’t always agree with Mr. Gumbel, but he said everything I was thinking after the World Cup Final. I applaud him for facing the slings and arrows he’s sure to receive for daring not to parrot the politically correct party line.

Mastery versus Mollycoddling

This article in the July 18, 2011 New York Times posits the idea that today’s “safety first” playgrounds harm children more in the long run than any injuries they could suffer if the playgrounds were less safe. As someone who wrote a paper in college defending cartoons and by extension, their violence, as important to a child’s development, it shouldn’t surprise you that I agree with the conclusion by Norwegian psychologists Dr. Ellen Sandseter and Dr. Leif Kennair.

I’ve noticed a dramatic change when in comes to kids and sports since my early school days in the 1970s. The playgrounds of my youth were full of metal slides that baked in the afternoon sun, monkey bars that were either placed over concrete or if there was sand, you had to watch out for the hypodermic needles lurking just below the surface. Today’s playgrounds are all rounded edges and plastic. Sure, the kids don’t get a boo boo, but what is this protectionism setting them up for?

 Ask this same question about the trend in youth sports to give every kid a trophy just for participating. I’m sorry, but the main purpose of engaging in sports is not to falsely build self-esteem. It’s to provide an opportunity for mastery. Yes, you want kids to have fun and feel good about themselves, but does that mean that disappointment or defeat should be banned from their experience? If a child never learns how to handle defeat and disappointment, how is little Johnny or Jane supposed to deal with criticism from a boss?

A clue may be found in this piece from the Wall Street Journal in 2008. When little Johnny and Jane enter the workforce, they often feel entitled and expect praise from the get-go. These “Millennials”, who were generally born between 1980 and 2001, were pampered and indulged by their Baby Boomer parents from birth. If this isn’t karmic irony, I don’t know what is. To this early Generation X’er (born in 1965), the Baby Boomers can come across as spoiled, ungrateful brats who took all the goodies their Greatest Generation parents gave them and threw it in their faces. To now complain about working with the Millennials they spawned is disingenuous, albeit amusing.

Granted, not every Millennial is an entitled slacker, not every Baby Boomer is a spoiled whiner, and not every Gen X’er is as insightful (or humble!) as yours truly. But, the overall point about whether we are cultivating a culture of healthy empowered individuals or one of coddled, over-protected wimps is worthy of discussion.