Archive | October 2016

#Takes

Monday afternoon now and I’m just sitting down and I come across the news that the Patriots have traded Jamie Collins.

Just yesterday, my brother said to me, “I’d keep [Donte] Hightower before I kept Jamie Collins.” I agreed. Hightower is incredible in the middle. He’s bringing the entire position back. He’s smart and he’s versatile. We want him in New England for years to come.

That said, Collins was a fine linebacker. Freak athlete. Did some incredible things on the football field. He was bizarre, though. He disappeared for a while last year with a mysterious illness; He showed flashes of brilliance on defense, but then got burned a couple times in the AFC title game last winter. Collins seemed to have the tools but not the right instruction manual. In other words, he was definitely big and fast and athletic enough to fit into the system in New England. Maybe he didn’t want to listen to his coaches. Just a guess.

***

Buried this weekend was the news that Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez, who tragically died this summer in a boating accident, had cocaine in his system and had twice the legal limit of alcohol in his blood stream with he died. That’s a shame. But I hope this knowledge doesn’t bury the fact that this death is still a sad one.

We all did crummy, shitty, bad idea things at the age of 24. Many of us lived to tell the tale, many of us look back and understand the dopiness of our decision making. This isn’t to excuse Fernandez’s behavior as just youthful indiscretion. He could have hurt someone. In the end, he and his friends died. It’s still a tragic loss. Doing cocaine or drinking too much or making bad decisions — even if it isn’t a one-time thing — doesn’t make a person a bad person. I think that tends to go overlooked when a toxicology report like this comes out.

“Well, that person was an idiot,” we hear or say or both.

Maybe so. Probably so. But it doesn’t erase the fact that Fernandez was, by all accounts, a beloved boyfriend, son, and soon-to-be-father. His post-mortem shouldn’t lead people to believe he was anything other than the charismatic and cherished teammate. I hope it doesn’t.

***

I get a kick out of the following hypothetical interaction:

I assume there was a grandfather driving home from games three or four of the World Series in Chicago with his grandson who is, let’s say, ten years old. This kid just watched his favorite team, the Cubs, get beaten by the Indians. He is, for all the right reasons, upset about this.

He’s in the backseat crying. To his sports fan heart, this is the most upset he’s been. He’s never seen the MJ Bulls or a good Bears team. His experience watching the Blackhawks has been great. This ten-year old went into Wrigley with his glove and his hopes with his grandfather only to watch the Cubs get trounced at their home field.

The grandfather, having seen the Cubs fail to reach postseasons and World Series his entire life, looks in his backseat at his crying grandson and thinks, “Fuck off.”

***

Put an entire turkey on the smoker yesterday. Came out great.

Best part about leftovers are the sandwiches, turkey & stuffing. Is there any other food where it’s acceptable to eat a bread sandwich?

Missed one yesterday

I even had a title for the hours missed, I swear.

When it got to around 2:30 EST, I figured I could title it “lunch time in Chicago,” when it became a little bit darker, it was, “Lunch time in L.A.” then it became Hawaii and my attitude was “eff it.”

On Wednesday night, I covered the Celtics season opener against the Brooklyn Nets.

(Short aside: It’s amazing how difficult it was to write “Brooklyn” the other night. I know they’re the Brooklyn Nets. I call them the Brooklyn Nets, but for whatever reason, I kept abbreviating them as NJ.)

I’d never walked into the bowels on the TD Garden before. It was like seeing how a sausage was made. Food was being carted around; Dancers stretched and choreographed routines; Media people I see on TV were eating fried fish and green beans. At the risk of sounding pretentious, I’ve been in the same room with many professional athletes. Very rarely (anymore) do I get starry eyed. This didn’t happen this time — I promise not even when I asked Brad Stevens a question at the post game presser.

What I always marvel at, though, is how big these people are. They’re tall, they’re bodies like Adonis. Just gigantic individuals. Except Isaiah Thomas, who is my exact height and weight, yet, looks entirely different than I look without a shirt on. My daughter told me it’s because he’s got bigger muscles. Nice saber metrics analysis.

It’s different watching a game as a member of the press than as a fan. I caught myself a couple times. Most notably, when Jaylen Brown, the Celtics lottery pick cut to the hoop and went for a dunk (he was fouled). I reflexively bounced to the front of my seat and clenched my teeth before realizing I can’t root here. Closest I got was at the end of the game. I elected to stand to watch the final seconds run out on a close Celtics win.

After the press conference and locker room, I hit the road. It took me about 40 minutes to get home. I unloaded my stuff and hit the bed. In the morning, my son’s nap allowed me time to write a draft (I’d written a bit during the game); Post-lunch naps allowed me some edits; My wife came home and I got a chance to finish a draft to hand it. It will be posted here when I get the final draft published.

Read: I didn’t read much aside from Celtics research the entire week leading up to the game, so I can’t help much here, but I did sneak in Mark Titus as he wrote about Villanova’s win and it’s effect on the college basketball landscape. I love college hoops. I’m excited about this year and this article, written by one of the more entertaining and thorough college basketball minds, is a good place to start.

Drink: Man, I don’t know. Same thing. Not a ton of drinking happening this week, but I really enjoyed Remain in the Light by Cambridge Brewing Company here in Massachusetts. Found it on draft before the Celtics game when I wanted to take some of the nervous edge off. It’s a nice light pilsner, I think a little below 5% ABV, so it’s perfect for those days when you just want to have a beer and not get a buzz.

Apropos of Nada

On the Barstool Sports network of podcasts, there is a podcast called The Podfather, which is three of their staff writers, who have children discussing what I think to be an under-represented form of media: fatherhood.

Don’t get me wrong. Dads get their say. Plenty of fathers have written, blogged, been recorded talking about being a dad. Today’s society demands it. It’s a good thing. Yet, it’s still under-represented. We ceded that neighborhood of media to the women and rightfully so. Our lives as fathers are changed, but not nearly as close to how the lives of the women we love are changed.

That said, on the podcast, they were talking about the nine and a half months of pregnancy. They hit the usual topics: no drinking, what to say/not to say, no caffeine, etc. They didn’t talk about one part, though, which my wife and I were discussing the other day without prompting from the podcast.

The BEST part of the nine months of pregnancy, at least for the first child, is the complete ability to do nothing at all. My wife sat on the couch and watched Netflix for months and it was awesome. We had a complete excuse to sit around and do nothing. We didn’t have to fulfill social obligations; We didn’t have to call people back; We didn’t have to feel bad when that Netflix screen pops up and asks if we’re still watching and then four hours later asks again. It was incredible!

That changes when number two comes around. Child number one doesn’t stop being a child to acquiesce to our decision to have another kid. We can’t sit around eating popcorn, making fake drinks for wifey, real drinks for me and hanging out. The child wants to keep playing, getting into cabinets, needing to be fed. It’s horrible. Completely changes the dynamic.

After the first kid, you’re like, “Hell yea, I can do that again.” Then you do it again and think, “What the F was I thinking? This is NOTHING like the last time. Where are the chips? Where is the sleeping in? Where is the AppleTV remote?”

Oh, and they’re not kidding about the sleeping. Don’t expect to ever wake up after 7 am ever again. Ever. Again.

Of the thousands of things that worry me

Tomorrow night, for the NBA season opener in the city of Boston, I’m going to watch my favorite basketball team begin their season against the Brooklyn Nets. More than going to watch them — I’ve been to dozens of games — I’m going as a member of the working press. I will be on press row, sitting as close to the action as I ever have, with full media access the entire time. It’s kind of a dream come true.

Look, I’ve covered some cool shit. I’ve been to Hall of Fame inductions, I’ve been to Fenway, I’ve been field level watching USC-era Reggie Bush as his jogs resembled Olympic-speed sprints.

But this is the Celtics. I’ve been watching the Celtics for a long time and, being just old enough to have watched Bird, but juuuuust young enough to not really remember it, my fondest Celtics days were the KG-Pierce-Ray teams that I always felt should have won more championships. And my brother tells me it’s solely — yup, there’s NO other reason, not injuries or Kobe or luck or any other variable — because Rondo couldn’t hit an open jumper. Hey, I’m not saying it’s not a reason. It’s just not the reason.

This year’s iteration should be fun to watch. It’s a team in a player’s league. They’re probably not winning an NBA title, but at least they’ll be entertaining and competitive and will win more than they lose.

That’s not my worry.

I won’t get into specifics, but the price I sold the piece for went down today due to an extremely tight budget, says the editor. That’s okay. I’m not mad about this. It’s certainly not going to affect my kick-ass telling of the story; Certainly not going to keep me from heading into the Garden tomorrow. That said, in the freelance game, you hear things like this. It happens at one publication, then another … then you hear it a third time. It’s not to not worry.

Another editor told me last night about another pitch that they’re beginning to focus on more athlete-created content. So there’s another site that’s veering away from the model of “let’s get some writers in here to write” and cutting out the middle man to tell the stories of professional athletes. I get it. Kind of. I get that there are athletes that are capable of writing a 400-word (or 4,000-word) piece on their lives and their opinions.

The good news for these publications is that an athlete making $6 million dollars a year isn’t really that concerned with freelance rates and will surely do the piece for free. It’s promotion of their brand and their message (and usually there’s a plug for a charity in there, too, some company who, you know, pays them).

It’s hard not to worry as a writer that these opportunities to talk to athletes and tell their stories or being able to go into Fenway or the Garden or anywhere where people play sports and cover a story will go away. It’s hard not to worry when it seems that more of more publications can get content cheaper or they have a nonexistent or very small freelance budget.

Freelancing is an ever-changing landscape that forces us to adjust on the fly. Who pays, who doesn’t; Who is accepting pitches, who’s not. It’s not easy to remain confident going forward sometimes especially as the number of opportunities seems to vanish every few months. Soon, I wonder what’ll be left.

As writers, we have to remain confident that above most else, story telling will endure. There will always be a story to tell. I just hope we have a place to tell it.

Writers and Excuses

I’m sitting here in front of my computer just browsing around sites that I visit frequently, if not daily: NY Times, NY Mag, Atlantic, ESPN, et al. Just this morning, I was linked to an article about the 70 greatest pop culture conspiracy theories. You know, Elvis isn’t dead, Stevie Wonder isn’t blind, Paul McCartney actually died in 1971 and was replaced. The article had links to YouTube videos. It was a colossally distracting way to spend an hour.

But I wasn’t writing. I have a story to report on Wednesday night. I could have been prepping for that. I have another lead on a story for which I need to write a short pitch (to an editor I know and like and have worked with a lot, so it’s not even a really formal pitch). I could have been working on that. And I didn’t.

The house is quiet (the 7-month old has a bit of a cold and is napping). It’s a perfect opportunity to write or pitch or to be in some way proactive.

As writers, I think it’s easy to get into the mode of excuse making. Why wasn’t I writing? Want the reasons that I gave myself this morning in a morning of weakness?

I sat down at the computer, opened Pages.

Shook my coffee mug. “Ah, halfway empty. Let’s refill.” (Excuse #1)

I used the bathroom. (Excuse #2)

“What did the Celtics rank in total defense in 2015-16?” Googled it.

Stayed on basketball-reference.com for an extended time. Evan Turner likes to shoot mid-range jumpers? Word. I think there was a reference to this on The Ringer.

“2016-17 NBA Predictions? Well, this constitutes ‘work’ I think.” (Excuse #3)

Proceeds to read article that didn’t mention the Celtics once.

“I barely slept the last few nights (Excuse #4). I just need to chill out in the quiet for a couple minutes.” Reads NY Mag.

Well, here I am. And note that I did get some research and questions written down before I started writing here. The bottom line, maybe, is that writing can be hard. Getting motivated to write can be even harder. I had a friend in college who was fond of saying, “Doing nothing is the hardest thing to stop doing.”

We give ourselves excuse after excuse to delay the process until it becomes something more along the lines of, “Well, I have a grocery list to make and shopping to do and the trash won’t take itself out,” and then we don’t write. We make these impossible deadlines like write 1,000 words every day or write two pages of your book every day. We look at those goals and convince ourselves that, because we can’t accomplish that today, we shouldn’t do anything.

It’s like quitting a diet after two weeks because you snuck one brownie after dinner on a Saturday night. You don’t always have to meet your goals, every day. You just have to stay on the path, every day. Some days you’re going to exceed your goal; Some days you won’t even get halfway there. Both are okay. We just can’t let the latter get in the way.

 

The End of a Weird Week

Maybe my goal in writing every day is to be transparent enough with myself that I can kind of share what’s going on. I try to do that. Catharsis, maybe. Water ends up finding it’s level and that’s what writing things out tends to do for me. This week was an odd one, and one into which I won’t go into much detail, but it was stressful and caused a great deal of anxiety. I’m ready for a couple days off with family and friends and a couple more drinks than is healthy.

But the week was also rewarding in my return to the classroom as a guest speaker. It was a different experience being the one asked questions, rather than the one asking them. It’s very rare, I think, for a journalist to be on the other end of the microphone. All in all, the experience was fun. The rose on a week of thorns.

If you’re going to drink (like me) and read this weekend, here are some options:

Read: Bill Belichick has a crush list by Robert Mays. Belichick gets a lot of shit for coming off as arrogant in press conferences. He mumbles and doesn’t say a lot unless you get him on a topic he wants to discuss. Just this week, he gushed over the “roster addition” of his new grand-daughter. He railed against tablets earlier this week, too. Get him talking about tight ends or special teams or players he likes and he’ll give you a dissertation. Not to get too Patriots-heavy, but this on Dante Hightower was good. For the hoops fans, check out Shea Serrano on Kawhi Leonard. Apologies. The Ringer got a lot of love just now.

Also, been digging “Here I am” by Jonathan Safran Foer. I don’t always get into fiction, but I like him.

Drink: Wicked Weed Old Fashioned is an old ale, aged with cherries and orange zest in bourbon barrels. Yes, designed to mimic an already great drink. Hey, if you want to drink an Old Fashioned, do it. But this beer is spectacular. I was also a huge fan of Proclamation Ales Derivative this week. Brewed with galaxy hops, this beer was a crisp, clean but full flavored pale ale. Lots of citrus, light bitter finish. Great beer.

I know, no excuses

When I began writing every day at lunch time, I let it be known that I’d write every day in lieu of everything else going on. We’ve got deadlines, chores, e-mails to send, social media to distract us. Above all, writing every day.

For the first time in some time, I don’t have much to say. A personal issue has left this house anxious about our safety and this is monopolizing my brain space. We’ve had quite the infringement on our personal space, which is frightening in a home with two children.

That said, excuse or none, we write. I wrote an e-mail earlier today just to kind of unload and vent my frustrations, angers, and anxieties, and wrote, “Writing has the ability to level out where I am, high or low.”

This is a true statement. Regardless of where I am from a disposition standpoint, I’m able to write in a way to level myself to where I need to be. If I write because I’m excited or overly joyed, writing with soothe me. I will have to stop to think and make clear my statements. You can’t overwrite. You can’t express something frantically; On the other side of the coin, if I’m down, writing lets me “talk it out,” to figure out exactly how I am feeling and why. It’ll calm me. It’ll help me make sense of everything.

I’m often saying that life is fascinating. It’s also scary and maddening and filled with unanswered questions. Life is unpredictable. And so that’s that. It’s time to feed a hungry boy. It’s time to distract myself with his love.