My Emotional Meltdown Will Not Be In Your Newspaper

Thirty-five years ago this month, my name appeared in a football box score for the first time

My name was misspelled, and I missed one of my five extra point tries. But for a high school sophomore whose freshman year could be charitably described as awkward, there was remarkable validation in seeing a reasonable facsimile of my name in agate type.

It was especially meaningful because I devoured the morning Anderson Herald throughout my youth. Anderson was a two-newspaper town until 1987, but much of my window to the world shone through that daily, early-morning delivery into our plastic white newspaper box. I spent inordinate amounts of time digesting boxscores and memorizing minutiae, facts which held on stubbornly in my brain for decades until parenthood, jobs and other valuable material forced them out. The sports section held most of my interest, but I’d flip through other sections as well, including the bewildering stock tables and the wedding announcements.

So when, on a Saturday morning in August 1983, I got to see my name on the page of the Anderson Herald — a minor but confirmed contributor to a glorious beat down of the evil Anderson Indians — I felt like it signaled the start of my real life in the world at large.

_____________

Thirty-five years to the month after I first appeared in a football box score, my son, Ryan, appeared in a football box score for the first time today.

Well, let’s be exact — he was supposed to appear in a football box score for the first time today. A freshman, he kicked his first two extra points for the Cedarburg High School varsity on Friday, and if this were still 1983, I could pick up the morning Journal or the afternoon Sentinel and rip right to the sports scoreboard page.

But there’s only one daily newspaper in Milwaukee, which only picks up boxscores from a partner website, to which nobody submitted boxscore details. As both a parent and former journalist, I find it sad that that “progress” has taken away that little slice of legitimacy.

Luckily, this is 2018, so there’s YouTube.

Setting aside the print vs. digital conundrum, this entire Ryan-playing-football experience is, for me, a cataclysmic collision at a five-way emotional intersection.

I’m proud of his hard work that led to making varsity. I’m happy to have a good excuse to spend four years worth of Friday nights at high school football games. I’m melancholy about the latest hard evidence that it’s no longer my time.

But beyond that, I’m trying to reconcile my excitement and pride against the intense worry that I’m living my dreams through my kid. That is a terrible idea, of course — I’m well aware that violates just about every tenet of good parenting — but watching him grow into a better kicker than I was at the same age has rewired my good judgment.

For years, I have alternately nudged Ryan to give placekicking a try and continually asked to make sure he actually enjoyed it. For years, I think he just humored me and enjoyed the time we spent together on the field. As he improved, however, he started to make kicking his own. Now he’s on the sidelines, and I’m in the bleachers with my worry, my guilt, my pride, my excitement and — just in case there’s never a box score — my iPad.

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My 5 Favorite Cover Songs of The Last Fiddy Years

The fanaticism over Weezer’s accurate and commendable cover of Toto’s Africa has given life to a song that immediately led me to punch the radio button whenever it came on since about three months after its 1982 release.

It also got me thinking about my favorite cover songs. I am not the first to consider this; Esquire Magazine published an epic listing of more than 1,800 cover songs. Even more amazing, some of the covers are not of Beatles or Bob Dylan tunes. Some are atrocious, such as a bluegrass cover of Def Leppard’s “Bringin’ On The Heartbreak.” Some, I’m sure, are good — and when I’m retired, maybe I’ll check out more of them.

But despite that prodigious list, it still didn’t include many of my favorites. Here are my five favorite cover songs, along with a few others deserving of mention. All of these are recorded — concert performances don’t count, purely because it’s my top five.

5. Barenaked Ladies – Lovers in a Dangerous Time

Canadian legend Bruce Cockburn (pronounced Coburn, allegedly) penned the original in the 1980s, which is unmistakable once you hear it or see the video. It features a memorable line, one I still keep in mind at difficult times: “Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight/Gotta kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight.”

BNL’s cover was its first “hit,” even before the band’s first album. Their version is more uplifting than Cockburn’s, relying on the harmony between Steven Page and Ed Robertson. The video budget was about $3.99:

4. Robert Palmer – Early in the Morning

This came on satellite radio a couple years ago. I hadn’t known that the exceptionally white Robert Palmer attempted to cover the cool funksters of the Gap Band. I turned up the volume, eager to mock, and was instead blown away. Palmer’s voice delivers more soul than expected and the arrangement feels edgier than the original.

3. Foo Fighters – Band on the Run

Not only have Foo Fighters crafted 20 years’ worth of hard rock masterpieces, they have a side hustle doing covers. From Prince’s Darling Nikki to Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street, plus live staples like Queen’s Under Pressure, Dave Grohl’s band can maneuver through a variety of genres. They even released a vinyl-only album of various cover songs in 2011.

On that album is a song from on a Radio 1 tribute compilation in England. Foos take a 1974 hit from Paul McCartney and Wings and slather on soaring guitars. It’s better than the original, and I love the original.

2. Faith No More – Easy

Faith No More was a staple of the uncomfortable period between my first marriage and my second, which might be all you need to know about this very odd, very dangerous San Francisco band. Put another way, they are the most un-Commodores-like outfit imaginable. Yet they released a note-for-note, spot-on reproduction of this Commodores smash — with one notable vocal exception, at the break. Also, drag queens.

1. The Struts – Royals

I never got Lorde. I must be … well, I’m fiddy, but even pre-fiddy, her appeal was lost on me. Then I found this re-interpretation of her biggest hit from my favorite new band, one that Dave Grohl has called the best to ever open for Foo Fighters. Lorde, you’re welcome.

A few that failed to make the cut include:

  • Rockin’ 1000 – Learn to Fly (Foo Fighters — and this was so hard to leave out of the top five)
  • Cyndi Lauper – I Drove All Night (Originally recorded by Roy Orbison, but his version was released after hers)
  • Fear Factory – Cars (Gary Numan)
  • Richard Cheese and Lounge Against the Machine – Gin and Juice (Snoop Dogg)
  • Weezer’s Africa is not on the list; while exceptional it’s also already become almost as stale as the original and I’m just about prepared to start changing the station on that one, too.
  • Transition or Midlife Crisis? It’s Moving Too Fast To Tell

    A slightly-more-middle-aged-than-me friend recently shared on social media an article from The Guardian that claimed a midlife crisis is not really a crisis at all — just a transition.

    Other things being equal – that is, once conditions such as income, employment, health and marriage are factored out of the equation – life satisfaction declines from our early 20s until we hit our 50s. Then it turns around and rises, right through late adulthood. This pattern has been found in countries and cultures around the world; a version of it has even been detected in chimpanzees and orangutans.

    My first thought was, bullshit, I am absolutely having a crisis. My second thought was that I would like to see the orangutans that some social scientist thought were going through a midlife crisis, and also see the zookeepers try to tell them, “it’s just a phase.”

    But reading The Guardian article, and a subsequent conversation with this friend, provided some necessary reassurance. The last six weeks sure haven’t felt like a mere transition. Maybe that’s been part of my anxiety around turning 50 — knowing that milestones were about to whizz past at speeds too great to process, leaving me young on a Monday and old by Friday. The following sequence of events doubles as my excuse for not crafting a post in almost a month:

    The Older Woman

    Amy turned 50 on July 4. It doesn’t seem to bother her, perhaps because she got a parade for her birthday AGAIN. She also is far more adept at living in the moment than I am, so 50 is just her age until she becomes 51, and who cares, anyway, because Summerfest? However, I do remind her annually, for 12 days, that she is indeed an older woman. She takes it gracefully.

    Dr. Libby

    When Amy and I were dating, her 7-year-old daughter was in her school’s Reading Recovery program. Liz’s stubbornness served her well, as she fought through word after word, and sentence after sentence, to become a better reader. It didn’t take long for her to develop All-Star reading chops. Entire Harry Potter books fell in one day. A high school diploma was followed by a bachelor’s degree, then a master’s.

    Then on July 11 this year, I sat in a classroom in a what looks like a suburban Boston office building to listen to Liz describe the crowning project for her doctoral degree in psychology.

    Professors stopped in to listen and offer glowing praise, largely for the amount of hefty reading Liz had to navigate for her project. She is not formally, officially Dr. Libby just yet — one more year of an internship is left — but it’s close enough for all of us.

    Mrs. Dr. Libby

    With us in that room was Carson, who proposed to Liz just one month prior to our visit. He had called us back in May asking our permission, which was both endearing and entirely unnecessary. They met in this graduate program, and he will be “Dr. Carson” before Labor Day. So we toasted them, and toasted them again, and by the third time perhaps I was just drinking to drink.

    Turned Fiddy

    This entire self-absorbed blog centers on my 50th birthday, which was July 16. It was a day stacked with profound metaphors for the journey through life, seemingly insignificant interactions with fellow humans which instead opened wide the … ah, screw it.

    In the chaos of being pulled into the random TSA pat-down at Logan Airport at 6:30 a.m., I temporarily lost my boarding pass. By 11 a.m. I was obliterating a stack of blueberry pancakes at a Chicago iHop and a few hours later was plowing through the typical post-vacation drudgery of laundry and grocery shopping.

    A disappointing 50th? Nah. July in our family is basically one long serving of cake and cocktails, so a day with only pancakes and a stranger feeling my inner thigh was actually a welcome breather.

    The Top Step

    Josie has been striving for months to earn the first place in an Irish dance competition that would unlock two huge doors — she would advance to the highest competition level (Open Championship) and, most importantly, would permanently qualify for the North American Championships. Her quest has been a true example of #firstworldproblems as she has placed second TEN times.

    Finally, on July 21, the award counted down from 11th place to second, and her name wasn’t called. As the runner-up came forward to accept his award, Josie turned and gave us a gleeful, knowing grin:

    I was going to hold it together until I saw my little girl on the top podium step, just losing it in a mixture of joy, relief and disblief. So we lost it together. We’ll go find it next July (of course) in Vancouver for the nationals. And if all goes well, we may promptly lose it again.

    Jim’s 75th

    We had to put things back together after the dance tears in order to help my father-in-law, Jim, celebrate his 75th birthday. (I told you July was nothing but cake and cocktails. Liz’s 27th birthday on the July 19 was almost too much to think about.)

    Jim’s activity at this age is something to which I aspire. He’s got his ham radio club and model trains, remains “passively” involved with our local volunteer fire department, takes in plays and goes for walks with his wife, and finds his way to as many of his grandchildren’s events as is feasible.

    In short, Jim appears to have long passed through that transition period — if he ever had one — and is on that “upward trajectory of life satisfaction” cited in The Guardian article. It suggests there is hope.

    High school (gulp) football (double gulp)

    As only makes sense, July 2018 wrapped up with an emotional whopper. Ryan had his first day of high school football practice with the Cedarburg High School freshmen.

    Let’s peel back the layers of my angst at this milestone:

    • It’s my only son’s first official high school activity.
    • It’s the first football practice of his life.
    • He’s joining football as a kicker.

    Living vicariously through your kids is a terrible idea, but I frankly have no idea how I’m going to handle this. My hope is to follow Amy’s example and be better at just enjoying the moment rather than worrying about a future that instead — if I am to believe The Guardian, or orangutans — holds a lot of promise. Such an outlook could make the “crisis” just feel more like a “transition” until, one day, it’s over.

    The transition, that is. Not life. That would really be a crisis.

    How I Trashed My Arm, One Nerfball Doubleheader at a Time

    In 15 seasons as a Major League Baseball player through the 1960s and 70s, Ed Brinkman batted .224 with a grand total of 60 home runs — four per season.

    He fashioned one All-Star appearance, played in one postseason game and, in 1973, struck a somewhat uninspiring pose for his Topps baseball card:

    My best friend Chad had this card, and it never failed to send us into hysterics as 15-year-olds who found pretty much everything funny. The awkward crouch, the choked-up grip, the glasses, the barely-over-.200 batting average and even the name — Ed Brinkman. He was the substitute teacher we never got to ignore.

    Ed Brinkman also was pretty much a No. 1 draft choice for the All-Duds and Weenie Wicks. We crafted these rosters from baseball cards we owned in order to add a thick layer of nerdiness to the Nerfball baseball games that occupied large portions of a couple of our pre-driving summers. These games were contested in Chad’s garage, and each of us blame Nerfball baseball for destroying our throwing shoulders.

    I used to do baseball. Really.

    Somewhere in my early adult life, baseball lost its juice for me. It had nothing to do with a player strike, or with steroids (what a shame Ed Brinkman didn’t have them). I couldn’t even tell you why I stopped following the sport. But by now, when I’m approaching 50 and should be drawn to slow-moving entertainment, baseball bores me terribly.

    During my sports-crazed adolescence, though, baseball stood on near-equal ground with football and basketball. I played Little League through age 12, but that was just the appetizer for the full baseball meal. Scott and Chad, my two closest friends through those years, probably each had baseball at the top of their list and so we spent a lot of time with various permutations of the sport.

    For example, Orangeball was played in Scott’s front yard, hard against a busy Cross Street in Anderson. We plucked tiny plastic oranges from a fake orange tree on their front stoop — surreptitiously, I might add — for the game balls. They were larger than a ping-pong ball but smaller than a tennis ball, light enough to fly far and dance with the currents. A red split-rail fence created a natural left-field wall, and balls struck just right with the long, yellow Wiffleball bat sent George Foster-worthy moonshots soaring over the fence and street.

    Strat-O-Matic, meanwhile, was sedentary. It is “Magic: The Gathering” for the stick-and-ball crowd. Played with complex-looking cards (see below) and a 20-sided die, Strat-O-Matic’s simulated games were supposed to approximate real life results. We could complete a nine-inning game in about 45 minutes, which we did a lot. In the hundreds of games played among my friends, the only no-hitter belonged to Joe Niekro, who didn’t throw one in 500 real-life starts. Whether that tarnishes the credibility of Strat-O-Matic is irrelevant to me because Joe Niekro pitched that no-hitter for my Minnesota Twins. My friend Rick, the victim, didn’t get over that for a while.


    We also played our share of Wiffleball and tennis ball-baseball, but of all our baseball-related pastimes, none created more joy, more anguish and more shoulder damage than Nerfball baseball.

    It was a deliriously simple two-man game. We taped a brown grocery sack to the back wall of Chad’s garage to approximate a strike zone. Just outside the garage floor, we set down duct tape for a pitching line. The only other equipment consisted of a regular Nerfball and that long, yellow Wiffleball bat.

    Balls hit into the driveway were singles. Balls that nestled between the raised garage door and roof were home runs. Everything else was an out. Strikeouts and walks were as normal, using the gentle ripple of Nerfball against grocery sack as arbiter. Games were nine innings, and in those days before pitch counts and good judgment, you finished what you started, firing that light-as-air Nerfball as hard as possible from first inning to last.

    Nerfball baseball made wicked pitchers of us all. My favorite offering was a drop ball, served up by pinching a small piece of the ball and throwing straight overhand. Done properly, that pitch dived two feet just as it reached the hitter. Chad, a righty, preferred what he called his “bread-and-butter,” with a similar grip to the drop ball but slung submarine style. When I flipped to the left side to mimic Kent Hrbek, and saw that pitch coming, I salivated. It was a bitch for a righty, though.

    But hurling that ball of fluff for 150 pitches or more took a toll. When a game was over we repaired inside to recharge with Kool-Aid or Maplehurst fruit punch, a drink that made Kool-Aid look like a green vegetable smoothie. Chad and I collapsed in chairs in front of MTV (Panama AGAIN?”). I remember my right hand being red, swollen and tingly from the blood that had been forced to it by the violent, repetitive motion of drop balls, fastballs and screwballs delivered over the previous two hours.

    Within 30 minutes, one of us would look at the other and say, “Go again?” And this is how my shoulder turned to garbage before I could drive.

    The second summer of Nerfball baseball required a greater degree of realism, so we created rosters from our baseball cards, and kept scorebooks of every matchup. But instead of choosing stars like Tim Raines and Dale Murphy, we started with Ed Brinkman and proceeded to select other light-hitting, unathletic-looking players for the All-Duds and the Weenie Wicks. I cannot remember any of the other players, which is probably why I bought baseball cards for Chad for his 50th birthday in June with the hope of jogging our collective memories.

    A card store in Indianapolis where I was visiting had unopened packs of Topps (1989) and Donruss (1988, 1990) for $1 each. I got 15, with the idea that I would make Chad open the packs while we were on the phone together, separated as we are by over a thousand miles. The laughter we would enjoy when he came across a Strat-O-Matic legend such as Junior Noboa (Announced as JUUUUUU-NIOR NOBODY!!!! at every at-bat) or a former All-Dud player was promising.

    And it would have been great, if the U.S. Postal Service hadn’t lost the package. Thanks for nothing, jackwagons.

    Had the box actually arrived, Chad would have found one other gem along with the packs — a 1973 Ed Brinkman. After I told the card shop owner the brief backstory of the card packs, and why I wanted that specific card from 45 years ago, he threw it in for free.

    Sorry, Ed.

    Calling ‘Full Time’ After 11* Seasons of Youth Soccer

    Earlier in June I “coached” a soccer game for perhaps the final time, 19* years and 11* seasons after the first.

    The quote marks appropriately modify whatever it is I actually do with recreational soccer, the community-based, volunteer-driven little sister to travel soccer. We practice rarely, with players exhibiting a wide range of talent for and interest in the game, and achieve only a smidgen of what I see in my mind’s eye.

    Success on the field was not measured by a record. We kept score, but not standings, and results aligned directly with the level of athleticism and aggression you were gifted at roster time. Over the years I lined up teams, soccer-wise, that were embarrassingly good and those that made me think of “The Island of Misfit Toys.”

    What I celebrated were the little individual victories that suggested improvement. One player might do a pull turn in a game, another might learn to play “off his line” as a goalkeeper, and yet another might just develop enough focus and confidence to run up and down the field the right direction and even go for the ball.

    The other reward came in the relationships with dozens of kids and their parents over the years. That starts with my own children.

    When Amy and I married in 1999, her daughter Liz, 8 at the time, was ecstatic in part because she could now sign up for soccer. Another adult in the house meant there was someone available to help get her to practice.

    It also meant there was another sucker to be roped into coaching.

    Truthfully, I’d always looked forward to coaching youth sports. I love kids, love sports and am full of critically helpful but deeply unwanted advice on all matters of competition and life. Soccer was not the anticipated vessel for this advice — I’d never played or really been around the sport — but the man from the club who called urge my volunteerism assured me that my assistant coach had plenty of experience. Knowing that I could lean on him, I agreed to do it.

    My assistant coach’s experience, I soon learned, could be described by a soccer term: “nil.”

    For three years, I muddled through “coaching” girls-only teams at the under-10 and under-12 age groups. When I started they simply kicked the ball hard and chased it in packs, but by the end of that third season — with a lot of kids who held over from year to year, accumulating all my sage advice — they were able to kick the ball hard and chase it in packs.

    But along with getting to know some great families in my new community, those three years helped forge a bond with Liz that may not have happened any other way. To be sure, we fought and argued, and I kicked her out of practice, and she called me “Matt” instead of “Dad” when I needed to be punished. Today, however, I’m always “Dad,” in no small part because of those years of soccer together.

    Liz also turned out to be a pretty damned good soccer player. She emerged from her rec experience to play seven years of travel soccer and represent Wisconsin in a regional Olympic Development Program event. We cheered her on throughout the Midwest and beyond. Meanwhile, I earned a fantastic job with the Milwaukee Wave indoor soccer team and absorbed soccer knowledge from pros like Keith Tozer, Art Kramer and many others.

    The result of these experiences was that when it was time to sign up Ryan for under-8 soccer in 2009, I actually knew something about the sport.

    Immediately upon “coaching” Ryan’s team, I put this newfound knowledge to good use by organizing training sessions with specific …. oh, I can’t do it. At that age, most kids are ready for little more than basic motor skills, socialization and “touches on the ball.” Even passing is beyond the cognitive grasp of all but a few. It’s them, the ball and the goal, and nothing else matters.

    However, you do see those little glimpses of growth, and they are fun. Without a doubt, the under-10 years were my favorite. Those kids are old enough to put a few things together, but young enough to still hang on your every word and try to improve. Under-12 was similar, and I’m proud that two kids I coached at that level moved on to the select program at our club with great success.

    The first year of under-14, however, was different. All the players were middle schoolers, had little interest in what a volunteer grownup had to say, and acted like it. Months before the final event in early June, I’d decided to hang it up. The only hesitation was Josie.

    Just as Liz and I built a relationship through soccer, the time I spent coaching Josie — eight consecutive years, from when we snuck her onto my team as a kindergartner to this last year as a seventh-grader — allowed me to maintain a connection I feared I would lose without the game. (Ryan, who still plays travel soccer, gives me no such worry.)

    Josie, however, is a focused young lady with the maturity that says she knows when it’s time to stop the silly. She is as tired of the practice chaos as I am. She may continue playing, but understands my desire to find another way to spend my fall and spring. We will find other ways to stay close, such as me barging into her room regularly and peppering my reticent daughter with questions about her day, her friends, her classes and her phone habits.

    I have said I’d like to coach again some day. I know the age I like, and I am confident I can help an interested young player build both some skills and a love of the game. Ideally, I’d find a way to be with players who aren’t blessed with the same support as the kids in our affluent suburban club, as a way to perhaps make more of a difference.

    For now, though, I’m just going to be a fan. Ryan begins high school soccer this fall, and the U.S. men’s national team starts World Cup qualifying next spring. I will “coach” both teams from my seat, and I figure nobody will listen this time, either.

    ______________

    * Back in the mid-1990s, while divorced and living in Marion, IN, I was coaxed into coaching a YMCA team indoors during the winter. The kids had to be no more than first graders, if I remember, and I was given a team more suited to yachting or polo than soccer. There was a Wesley, a Spencer, a Caitlin and an Ashley. When our first game kicked off, little Wesley turned, looked at the sideline, and slowly dissolved into tears.

    Every other team, it seemed, had a Bart or Steve who was the size of a fifth-grader, could smash the ball from one end to the other and kept very loud count of the score as it escalated in his team’s favor.

    If I’m being honest with the timeline, that was the first time I “coached” soccer.

    When Your Sliding Door Appears, Try Not To Miss It Wide Right

    It felt great off my foot, and for just a split second the kick seemed like it would salvage one of the worst days of my life.

    Indiana State trailed Southern Illinois, 16-14, in Carbondale, IL on an overcast October day in 1986. The Sycamores trailed in no small part because I’d already missed 38- and 36-yard field goals. With a little over 2 minutes left, my redemption came in a 24-yard field goal attempt from the right hashmark. As a true freshman kicker with a pair of misses already, it was either make this kick or walk back to Terre Haute.

    The snapper, holder and blockers all did their job, in a violent choreography lasting about 1.5 seconds. I whipped my right leg through it, knew the feel of a good hit, and looked up to see the ball rising fast, with perfect rotation … directly over the top of the right upright.

    No good, again, and this time I was out of chances.

    After the game, I tried to stand up and apologize to the team in the locker room, but the Head Coach Who Shall Not Be Named shouted me down. To say the bus ride back to Terre Haute — yes, I was allowed on — was uncomfortable would be an understatement, but everyone left me alone. I was less sad than numb, and possibly even a little bit relieved inside, knowing what I planned to do.

    By lunch the next day, I was sitting in my position coach’s office, ending my college football career. He didn’t try to stop me. It had been two miserable months of an experience for which I was not emotionally prepared (nor scholarship compensated). Despite having kicked well through preseason, unexpectedly elevated to the starting role after an injury and then performing well in my first four games, I was eager to employ the nuclear option after that disastrous afternoon in Carbondale.

    In the 30-plus years since, I’ve never regretted the decision to leave ISU’s team, but I have returned over and over to a related thought:

    What if that last kick had been one foot further left?

    ——————

    Gwyneth Paltrow is … well, an actress, and I that’s about as far as I do or don’t think of her, typically. But in 1998 she starred in an intriguing movie that I often reference, called Sliding Doors.

    If you actually see the movie, you will understand what a terrible trailer this is. Sliding Doors is a dark film, not the “romantic comedy” the trailer sells. But the trailer does accurately represent the premise: Paltrow’s character’s life is dramatically altered when she barely misses boarding a subway home, as the sliding doors close just before her. From there, the movie follows parallel tracks, depicting the alternate developments resulting from missing and making the same train.

    It’s easy for the movie to inspire reflection on those micro-moments in your own life. When I think about them — or lecture my children about them — I consider those moments in the context of opportunities that present themselves throughout your life.

    In some cases, positive outcomes you feel you truly deserve — a spot on the starting 11, admission to a certain college, a particular job or promotion — might escape your grasp even if you’ve done everything right. Let’s call it, “life’s not fair.”

    But other times, a bouquet of roses drops right into your lap, even if you never particularly liked, wanted or even deserved roses. What will you do with that unexpected gift?

    I look at my sports broadcasting “side hustle” that way. After I was laid off by the Milwaukee Wave in 2010, the kindnesssympathy desperation of Dennis Krause led to me getting a chance as freelance color analyst for soccer broadcasts on Time Warner Cable’s local sports network. Though I’m comfortable behind a microphone and have some understanding of soccer tactics, I was about the 468th-most-qualified person in the Milwaukee area to serve as a soccer analyst. But I have done my best to prepare for games, learn what I can about the craft, not curse on air and be available, and that has paid off as my freelance portfolio has grown. My usual partner, Matt Menzl, and I broadcast the first-ever event on the Big East Digital Network, and I have the confidence to work solo, have added volleyball to my resume and am now going on eight years on the air.

    I am aghast at these opportunities. I keep waiting for everyone to realize I’m an amateur and just stop calling, but so far I have them all fooled. One door slid closed, another opened just a bit, and I slipped through it. Maybe this anecdote isn’t as Lifetime Network-worthy as finding the woman you’ll marry — that’s a similar story for another post — but it illustrates the point well.

    ——–

    So what if that kick in 1986 had gone one foot further left?

    Odds are good the Sycamores would have held on to win, 17-16. Even if I’d relinquished the starting job on account of temporary incompetence, I’d have survived that freshman season as a member of the team. Then, with a couple of scholarships opening up at the semester break, and a senior punter/kicker on the way out, I would have been a favorite to latch onto one of those precious awards with tuition, room and board and a book stipend. Had that happened, I’d have never left Indiana State, as I did halfway through my sophomore year, eventually graduating from Ball State.

    (Also, I might not have received an “A” from two professors in that first semester, professors who, I remain convinced, gave me those grades strictly as compensation for the angst and additional public humiliation resulting from the game.)

    If that very reasonable chain of events had occurred, then nothing about my life today would be the same as it is. My jobs, my wife (OK, wives), my children, the places I’d live — everything would almost certainly be different. That kick was my Sliding Door.

    I’m not happy the kick missed, but if you teleported me back to 1986 Carbondale — and who the hell would want that? — I wouldn’t seek to change the result and forfeit all that’s been my life over the last three decades. Approaching 50, there’s still time for another important micro-moment, my next Sliding Door, and I’ll remain ever aware.

    Though it would be really great if the next one weren’t another crushing failure.

    I Don’t Think We’re At Shadyside Little League Anymore

    When I was almost 13 years old, my Chesterfield Little League baseball team — Chesterfield Pharmacy — decided to play in the Shadyside Tournament. It was the championship of nothing, an all-comers post-season event featuring teams from around Anderson’s thriving Little League environment.

    This was something of a big deal, to get outside of our own league. We had finished in second place in the Chesterfield Majors and as such, felt pretty good about ourselves. I can’t recall the name of the team we played or the league they were from, only that they were rumored to have a girl pitcher who threw smoke.

    Shadyside Park was a whole 6 miles from Chesterfield Little League’s Makepeace Park, and actually closer to my house than Makepeace. Our opponent did not send out any girl pitcher, but we lost anyway, perhaps as a result of being unnerved by the road trip and unusual surroundings.

    When my youngest child was almost 13 years old, she traveled to Pittsburgh, PA from Milwaukee to compete in Irish dance for a grand total of 3 minutes and 30 seconds. It concluded a year in which she’d also traveled to Kansas City, St. Paul, St. Louis and various points in Chicagoland to compete in Irish dance. All of them are more than six miles from our house (thank you, Apple Maps) and collectively, they represent the latest snapshot in an ongoing conflict in my mind.

    How can she ever be awed?

    ——————–

    Journalists have reported extensively on all the awful outcomes from modern competitive youth sports: The expense. The stress injuries. The burnout. The awful parents (and parenting).

    We have experienced some of these over the years, through seven years of select soccer with our oldest daughter, and now through Josie’s Irish dance and Ryan’s select soccer. There have been arguments, and tears, and Liz’s visits to the emergency room.

    Less reported are some of the unique, positive results from youth sports that we have also experienced: The higher expectations the kids must strive to meet. The family bonding that occurs on all the trips. (Liz learned Amy was pregnant with her little brother during a soccer trip.) The opportunity to assimilate and associate with kids from other schools, other communities and even other states.

    Our kids enjoy participating and competing in their chosen events, and we are so fortunate to be able to provide these opportunities. Plus, I just don’t get to eat at Subway enough already. As parents, our motivation is to see our children mature through the success and failures of sport. College scholarships or professional careers are not our expectation. So I’m comfortable with much of what we put behind their activities.

    I do wonder, however, whether these experiences contribute to young adults failing to be impressed.

    During my sophomore year of high school, the football team qualified for the playoffs. Our game was at North Central High School in Indianapolis. The hour-long bus ride was probably twice the distance of any previous trip that season. North Central was perhaps Indiana’s largest high school at the time, with an enrollment of about 3,000. The campus, as shown in this satellite image, is pretty close to what it was back then, and as our team bus wound back past the main building, the tennis courts, the baseball diamonds and the practice fields toward the stadium, the bus was filled with oohs and aahs.

    The stadium was just that — a stadium, with symmetrical concrete bleachers spanning the length of the field on either sideline and a full press box. We wandered around the field before warmups, reveling in grass so thick and pure that a footprint held its shape long after you’d moved. The crisp, perfectly straight yard lines were painted into equally sharp strips mowed tighter than the rest of the field. It was a world away from our simple, rural game field in Anderson.

    We were awed. It didn’t stop us from gleefully kicking the snot out of favored Carmel, but the feeling of awe stayed with me and is part of the basis for my misgivings about our children’s current, far-flung athletic endeavors.

    The awe is important. It helps create indelible memories and reminds invincible young people that there is always something bigger and better. If you lose that feeling by 13 or 15 or 18, how can you ever be excited about what comes next?

    ———

    Over the coming weeks, we’ll be in Dallas, Kansas City, Minneapolis and the Greater Rockford Metroplex. Josie will compete in hotel ballrooms and convention centers against kids from all over the region. Ryan will play soccer against teams from four different states, on expensive artificial turf fields, and eat at Subway a lot. It’s unlikely they will be awed by these experiences, or even notice them as anything special, and that cat is never going back in the bag.