Nature’s Way

Spring is when our natural world emerges from hibernation—at least that’s how it works in places like New England—especially in the far-flung northern locales of the region. Buds appear, perennials poke up through the earth, and dormant lawns demand attention by way of a lawn mower.

Even in the midst of coping with the fallout from death and loss, it’s impossible not to notice and be affected by spring’s rousing “hallelujah.”

May moves forward and folds into June. Summer’s official commencement isn’t far off. And yet, the defining event rooted in winter’s cold and darkness travels with Mary and me, no matter how bright the sun shines, or how directly its rays reflect.

Upon returning from California, I was shoved into normalcy. I say “normal,” knowing that for us, normal will never be the same again. How can it be after losing someone we loved as deeply as Mark?

I’ve blogged about being a baseball umpire. Spring is a busy time when you officiate high school baseball in Maine. While our season is shorter than other parts of the country, by the first week of May, high school schedules are in full swing. With rainouts backing games up and umpiring numbers being down across all four umpiring boards in the state, you can work as many games as you want and can physically tolerate.

Beginning with an extra-inning contest at the Ballpark in Old Orchard last Friday night, I have logged nine games over the last week. Three of the nine have gone extra frames.

On Wednesday, I was on the plate between Greely and Falmouth. Mark played for the Rangers of Greely. This game between neighboring rivals pitted Falmouth with their undefeated record, and Greely having only one blemish on theirs. I had two of the best pitchers in the state going head-to-head.

When I received the assignment, I almost turned it back. Part of me had doubts if I was up to the task in terms of the emotional aspects associated with it. Like all similar situations in my life, I steeled myself for the task and decided to face up to it.

Save for Mark’s former coach being a bit too vociferous about a few pitches that he thought his pitcher should have had, things went without a hitch. I dealt with questions about balls and strikes like I had in the past—informing this coach that I wasn’t going to listen to him “chirp” about balls and strikes any longer. That took care of that.

On the way out to the parking lot to change and debrief, my partner said, “great job, buddy.” I knew he was right. While I won’t say this was easy being behind the plate in a key schoolboy contest involving Mark’s alma mater, I can say that it felt good to face up to the challenge and succeed. Mark wouldn’t have wanted anything less from his dad.

Mary’s been my rock for as long as I’ve known her. Gracious, even when her heart’s been broken. She continues to amaze me in how she’s been able to carry forth.

She’s handled what seems to be a never-ending list of Mark-related administrative tasks with courage and competence. “What else is there to do,” something we’ve both said to one another, time and time again. With our return, Mary’s resumed her weekly training with her beloved SheJAMs sisterhood. She’s focused on July, when she’ll be entering her fourth Tri for a Cure triathlon, this being the 10th anniversary of the event.

A small solace hitched to spring’s arrival that I’ve been paying attention to is the busyness inherent in  the natural world—at least when I’ve slowed down and truly paid attention to it. I’ve been working at cultivating a daily ritual of descending the stairs from our bedroom and looking out the cove-facing window that sits at the base of the stairwell. I’m enjoying cranking open the window and spending  a good five minutes taking in the sound of the birds, watching for the shadowy movements of squirrels in the trees, and marveling at the earliest flecks of sunlight shimmering on the surface of Woodward Cove.

A window into nature.

The natural world is where we both feel Mark’s presence. We noted this when we were in the midst of the desert and Joshua Tree National Park. We felt him with us at the edge of the surf, on Santa Monica Beach.

Mark’s spiritual presence isn’t enough to mitigate our sadness and stop us from missing his physical form, but it’s what we’re left with and worth holding onto.

Absurdity Illustrated

Wheaton College holds a special place in our hearts. It’s where Mark spent four formative years between August, 2002, and May, 2006. We made the 180-mile trek (from Durham, at the time) probably close to 100 times to visit him on-campus.

I’ve been reminded often of late that there are many people who don’t know of Mark’s baseball exploits at Wheaton and before that, at Greely High School, in Cumberland, Maine. In high school, Mark was also a defenseman in hockey, and one of the captains of the team as a junior and a senior. The barefoot-walking, vegan superhero, who didn’t seem enamored of “doing sports” while making videos and blogging his way across the country, was once quite an athlete.

Back when I was driving up-and-down (and sideways across) Maine, retraining the state’s workforce in my nonprofit role, I regularly touched on “transferable skills.” Mark’s death and the subsequent focus on his life and our memories of him reminded me on Wednesday that his laser-like focus and discipline he drew upon “doing sports” transferred readily to that next creative chapter in his life, when he walked away from the diamond.

Professor Charlotte Meehan played an integral role in Mark’s literary and creative development when he showed up at Wheaton. She organized a wonderful reading in his honor on Wednesday at the college. More than 50 people filled the May Room in the Mary Lyon building to hear selections chosen by Meehan of Mark’s work. These were read skillfully by former professors, his college baseball coach, the sports information director, friends and classmates, and other faculty. I closed the reading with a selection from my 2014 book of essays, specifically, “A Northerner’s Journey Crossing the South.” Continue reading

What’s the Call?

I am a baseball umpire. I enjoy telling people that and I’m proud of my development over the past four years.

Baseball is a sport that I’d say is “in my blood,” one I’m intimately familiar with—I played it, then served as a coach and later—ran a summer college league (one of the oldest in the country) for five years. I can say with authority that I know the game of baseball. I think that’s played a role in helping me advance as an umpire. This spring and summer, I’ve done 65 games and save for a couple of miserable games in the rain, enjoyed every experience of being on the field and calling games.

Several weeks ago, I learned from one of my umpiring partners that volleyball is growing rapidly in Maine and that there is a need for new officials. He had begun attending rules classes, and he encouraged me to check it out.

I asked Joe if he had played the game and his answer was, “no.” That piqued my interest because like him, I have never played volleyball, save for the backyard-variety version of the sport that many of us have dabbled in at a party or family gathering. I’ve also been interested in picking up a “second sport” to officiate. Perhaps volleyball could be added to my repertoire? A secondary question could be added;  “Do I need to add yet another task to my already loaded list?”

I'll be calling a brand new sport this fall.

I’ll be calling a brand new sport this fall.

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Dream Sequences and Baseball Fields

Dreams get referenced often, yet I contend that they’re one of the least understood elements of our brains and subconscious.

All of us dream. Researchers tell us that people can spend two hours of their sleep in some stage of dreaming.

Sometimes reality impersonates the dream fugue. Visiting former haunts and places that once occupied significance in our lives can unleash memories that we’d stored away.

The Ballpark in Old Orchard Beach was built in 1983, principally fueled by the vision and dream of a successful Bangor lawyer, Jordan Kobritz, who didn’t want to practice law anymore. Kobritz believed that OOB’s summer influx of tourists and vacationers would provide the population necessary to support a minor league baseball team, one played at the AAA-level.

Baseball meets the beach at OOB.

Baseball meets the beach at OOB.

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The Land of Confusion

It’s Saturday (not Friday). I’ve been consistent about posting on Tuesdays/Fridays. I’ve remained steadfast about that schedule, because that’s how self-imposed deadlines work.

As a freelance writer, I’ve always been proud of delivering on (and prior) to agreed-upon deadlines. Occasionally, I’ve had to ask an editor—usually someone I’ve developed a relationship with over time—for an extension. I guess blogging and self-imposed deadlines allow some flexibility, too.

Questions about content?

Questions about content?

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April Baseball

Like most members of Red Sox Nation, I was disappointed that Monday’s season opener in Cleveland was postponed due to cold weather. Baseball and 30 degree weather don’t make for optimum conditions. Having grown up playing baseball in the cold and pitching in some brutal weather in Aprils past during high school and college, I concur with the decision, and hopefully, the boys can get at it this afternoon, in Cleveland.

Listening to afternoon sports talk, on-air personalities on WEEI, yesterday. Dale Arnold, Michael Holley, and Jerry Thornton, questioned the postponement of the game, indicating that Tuesday’s weather won’t be much better. Having Cleveland host a home opener in April is always fraught with cold weather possibilities, but their fans are entitled to see their baseball team host an occasional home opener. The Tuesday forecast at Progressive Field is calling for sun and 34 degree temperatures, sans yesterday’s wind along with rain and snow showers.

I don’t envy Cleveland’s hitters getting jammed by a David Price fastball. The Sox batters are also facing a tough pitcher in former AL Cy Young winner (in 2014), Corey Kluber. On paper, it appears that it might be a low-scoring affair. Hopefully the Sox packed their thermal undergarments and balaclavas.

Wearing the mask. (Getty images)

Wearing the mask. (Getty images)

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Exit Summer

Summer is fading. In some ways, it seems as though summer, at least the ones I remember as a kid—never arrived. You know the ones—full of friends, adventures—seemingly endless in duration.

I can always tell when summer begins getting antsy, commencing packing up the cottage,readying to return to wherever she goes until the following year in late May and early June. That’s when she’ll return for a few short visits, tidying up the seasonal digs, before arriving in glory in July. Then, if lucky, summer has a solid 6-8 week run, offering endless options and bliss.

With the release of another Farmers’ Almanac, local news directors all trotted out stock images and file video reminding us of last year’s snowy winter. If local TV news is anything, it is predictable. That was the big story for Monday. Continue reading

Late Summer Baseball

If you are still following Boston’s baseball team, the Red Sox, you are well aware that the odds of a post season this year are slim to none. In a town that’s grown entitled to having their professional sports teams play meaningful games late into their respective seasons, losing becomes a hard pill to swallow. Nowhere is this more prevalent than with the members of Red Sox Nation.

Winning a World Series in 2004, again in 2007, and then the improbable championship run in 2013 has only heightened expectations among its fan base. However, when you look at the reality of baseball played in places like Cleveland, Arlington, and San Diego, the carping about Ben Cherington and Red Sox ownership on sports talk radio ought to cease. It won’t, but winning championships nearly every season isn’t the norm—except perhaps if you are a follower of one particular franchise whose players are adorned in black pin stripes—a club with 40 World Series appearances. Dare I utter “the New York Yankees” in these parts? Continue reading

Calling the Command Center

Being an umpire, I’m always interested while watching a Major League game, when an appeal is made regarding a call. Umpires are human and humans are prone to error—but umpires may be less prone to error than many people assume.

If you’ve been living under a rock, MLB now allows certain plays to be reviewed upon request by one of the two teams. This change occurred when the powers that be initiated expanded instant replay during the 2014 season, thinking that it would improve the game. And interestingly, over the first season of reviewing a plethora of calls, the umpires made the right call almost all of the time. For all the ins and outs of instant replay and what calls can be reviewed, the Wikipedia entry on instant replay is really good and gives a great overview.

Fans and players have always had an adversarial relationship with officials. Both of them are far from being objective about whether the right call is being made. They have inherent bias built into their reaction to close calls, especially if that call goes against their teams, or them personally.

(8/10/2010) – James Brosher/AMERICAN-STATESMAN – Home base umpire Mike Lusky signals safe as Express first baseman Brian Bogusevic (23) slides into home plate, scoring Round Rock's first run in a game against Sacramento at Dell Diamond on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2010. 0811express

(Photo by James Brosher/AMERICAN-STATESMAN – Home base umpire Mike Lusky signals safe as Express first baseman Brian Bogusevic slides into home plate.

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Baseball Eye Candy

I’ve been talking and writing (at least on this blog) about infrastructure because it seems obvious to me that rebuilding and upgrading our nation’s structural foundation is essential—economically for sure—but also to stave off literal collapse and disaster.

I’m not in the business of reading tea leaves. Occasionally, however, something happens that lends an air of prescience to some posts—like when a train goes off the rails on one of our busiest rail routes between Washington, DC and New York City.

As a writer, my hope was to parlay some of this interest and research into paying gigs on the topic. Alas, like the lack of spring rain, my freelancing has hit a dry patch.

It’s always disappointing when you think you have something to say about an issue, but instead, editors only seem interested in the same old claptrap re-purposed with new ribbons and colorful bows—offering nothing new about politics, economics, and the way the world works.

The local news used to be a morning ritual. Lately, however, as soon as I get my weather forecast, I’m tuning into last night’s baseball highlights via MLB Network’s Quick Pitch with old Boston friend, Heidi Watney. It’s less stressful than being fed lies, obfuscation, and outright propaganda about the world.

Baseball highlights, Heidi-style.

Baseball highlights, Heidi-style.

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