Sunday, June 29, 2008

Lou Piniella, Don Mattingly, Mike "Pagalulu"... and My Mom

(My mother & me in Masan, South Korea. I think I was 4 here)

Friends have asked me to write this story down for posterity. Since I now have a full-fledged blog, I figure this is as good a place as any to do it.

My mom was a rabid diehard New York Yankees fan. She embraced the team wholeheartedly when she moved to the US with my dad from Korea in 1963.

Forget that she barely knew English.
Forget that she barely knew baseball.

Her new father-in-law (my Grandpa) was the biggest Yankees fan on the planet (or at least, Edgewater, New Jersey). He found a willing recruit in the petite woman his son brought home as a bonus from a stint serving with the U.S. Army in Seoul. Forget that her husband was a Dodgers fan (Brooklyn, then Los Angeles). My mom saw Yankees pinstripes and was hooked from Day One.

As her command of the English language grew, so did her knowledge of baseball and her love of the Yanks. Her favorite players were Lou Piniella (as a player, then later as manager- we used to take "Sunday drives" past his house), Don Mattingly (I gave her a Cabbage Patch doll dressed in Yankee pinstripes for Mother's Day one year. She named him "Donnie Junior." and held him at every game she watched. I inherited "Donnie Junior." when she died), and, as she called him, Mike “Pagalulu”.


(Donnie Junior. He's missing a shoe but otherwise in good shape. He's traveled from NJ to Alabama, Miami & Seattle, where we now live)
 
I have to insert a confession here. I, too, am a Yankees fan. I’m not as rabid as my mother and there were times I didn’t know the entire starting lineup (let’s just say my brain was a little addled at times, with help from foreign substances). My favorites (Bucky Dent, Rick Cerone <-circa 1970's) were not the same as hers. And although I was very familiar with Donnie Baseball and Sweet Lou, my unfamiliarity with a certain other player leads to the story that is being recorded here for posterity.
 
(Sweet Lou - I got to work with him recently & shared the Pagalulu story. He loved it.)

The year: 1985. A friend set me up on a blind date with this guy I had admired from afar. His name was Will and he was a surfer. Okay, he was really a waiter (but he surfed on the weekends). He was tall, sandy hair, nice build. (Ladies, you get the picture). Very athletic and into sports. So was I. Except… my sports knowledge lay with the New York Giants at the time, not the New York Yankees. Still, I decided to “borrow” from my mom’s expert ramblings in an attempt to match his enthusiasm for the Bronx Bombers.

Things got off to a good start. I knew enough about Sweet Lou and Don Mattingly to keep the conversation going. Then, I got a little cocky.

Me: Oh yeah, and let’s not forget third base. Mike Pagalulu

Will: Who?

Me (coyly): You know. Mike Pagalulu

Will (scorn creeping into his voice): You must mean Mike PAGLIARULO

Me (face burning beet red by now): Oh. Yes. Of course, that’s what I meant.

If I remember correctly, our date ended about 10 minutes later. That’s how long it took to get the check and leave the beachside cafĂ©. I remember it had been a balmy night and I was sure we would have walked on the beach after dinner, had things gone well. Not a word was spoken during the drive home. I didn’t even get the customary, “I’ll call you.” Wow. Who knew that Yankees fans could be so damn prickly?

The next day, my mom asked me how the date went. I told her it went fine, then paused, trying to figure out the best way to broach the topic of Mike “Pagalulu.” Finally, I just went for it.
 
(The man who will forever be known in our family as: Mike Pagalulu)
Me: Mommy, I have to tell you something. You’ve been pronouncing a player’s name wrong.

Mom: What you talking about? What player? Who player?

Me: Mommy, the third base guy. His name is Mike PAGLIARULO, not PAGALULU.

Mom: That’s what I say. PAGALULU

Me: No, Mommy. Listen to me very carefully. pa-glee-ah-ROO'-low

Mom: That’s what I say. PAGALULU

Me: No, really. Listen: you’re saying: PAGA-LULU. It’s really: pa-glee-ah-ROO'-low
She started to get annoyed.
Huffily she said, THAT’S what I SAY: PAGALULU

I gave up. “Okay, Mommy.” And I went to do the dishes.

As I worked, I thought about Will and how uptight he had become because I mispronounced a player’s name. I wondered what else would he get uptight about.

And as I rinsed the dishes, I realized I didn’t really care.



Ancora Imparo


I saw something on someone's Facebook profile recently and can't get it out of my mind.

Two words: ANCORA IMPARO

Since I don't know Latin, I googled it and found it means: "I am still learning."
I also learned that Michelangelo scribbled those words in the margin of a piece of art he was working on.

The words are simple, yet so powerful at the same time.
I find they describe my life to this point.
Even after years of successes and hard knocks, I am still learning.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Learning to LIVE in the Moment


My computer wallpaper consists of a photo featuring two hockey players: Kris Letang and Luc Bourdon. Kris’ arm is draped around Luc’s shoulders. They are both grabbing the handles of a trophy cup. Medals hang from around their necks. Luc's face is split in a wide, joyful grin. Kris is smirking, his free hand raised to show the “we’re number one” gesture. It’s a jubilant moment frozen forever in time. The only things on these two young men’s minds were their great accomplishment, and quite possibly, where they would go celebrate afterward.

I don’t know when it was taken. I’m going to guess that it was a tournament that Team Canada won because Kris is wearing a Team Canada hat. We all know that Kris went on to be drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins and Luc joined the Vancouver Canucks. We also know that Luc died in a motorcycle accident near his home in New Brunswick last month.

Suddenly, young and carefree collided with painful loss and responsibility. Kris talked about how excited Luc had been to ride his motorcycle, which he had bought just two weeks before his death. In a press conference just hours after learning of his friend's death, Kris insisted that Luc knew the dangers and knew to be careful. (The RCMP does believe that rain made the road slippery to handle and call the collision a terrible accident.) And the hockey world watched a young man struggle to understand just what had happened. At this moment, he wasn't an NHL star on a team that was making a run for the Stanley Cup. He was just a young man trying to come to terms with a heartbreaking fact: that his good friend, with whom he had planned to vacation this summer, was gone. Just like that.

The tributes I’ve read about Luc describe a man with tremendous hockey talent and a tremendous heart. Everyone said he loved living and lived to the fullest. He contributed on the ice and off. He was friendly and enjoyed everything about being an NHL player, from playing with the likes of Trevor Linden, to meeting fans. The future only looked brighter for this 21 year old. And then it was gone.

And so, I come back to that photo, that moment frozen in time. My son asks me why I have it as my wallpaper. I explain. I keep that photo as a lesson to always LIVE IN THE MOMENT.

Celebrate every victory as though it is your first… and last.

Never take a friend… or yourself for granted.

Because you never know when it will all go away.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The HEART of the NHL

I LOVE HOCKEY.

I freely admit it.

I love everything about the game: the speed, the grace, even the violence.
And after reading an article posted by Jodie over at “The Sidney Crosby Show”,
http://sidcrosby.blogspot.com/2008/06/oren-koules-is-awesome.html , I have another reason to love hockey, or at least, one NHL Team owner.

The article talked about a young hockey player named David Carle, who was projected to be drafted as high as the second round. And why wouldn’t he? By all accounts, the 18 year old was a terrific player, a talented defenseman headed to the University of Denver on a hockey scholarship. And I’m sure he set out for the NHL Combine with high hopes of passing every physical and intellectual test.

I don’t know if you’ve seen what goes on at an NHL Combine. I’ve seen video and it looks brutal. Players with their feet taped to the pedals of a stationary bike, being loudly urged to ride as hard and fast as they can. I’ve seen some kids throw up after this “exercise”. There are also other grueling looking “exercises” that I’m sure are meant to test endurance and mettle, including one where a guy does goes all out-- while breathing into a tube with his nose pinched shut while some drill-sergeant type guy yells at him to go faster. Like I said, brutal.

But I digress.

David went to the Combine. I don’t know how many exercises he went through, or whether he went through any at all. What I do know is an EKG uncovered a heart defect that had not been found in previous exams. More extensive tests at the Mayo Clinic revealed that the defect could cause a sudden, fatal cardiac arrest if his heart endures too much stress.

How this boy survived playing hockey for so many years with this defect boggles my mind.

But what happened next will stay with me forever.

His advisor notified all 30 NHL teams that David was taking his name out of the draft, since he can no longer play hockey. 29 team owners took it in stride, but one did something amazing.

Oren Koules, the new owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning, used his last pick to draft David Carle. When asked why he did it, here’s what he said: "The kid worked his whole life to be drafted in the NHL, and I didn't see a reason he shouldn't be."

David Carle will go down in the books as the 203rd pick of the 2008 NHL Draft, because one team owner decided to forego adding to the fold, to make a young man’s lifelong dream come true.

So… the teen whose heart problem forced him to give up his dreams of NHL glory, got to live just a little piece of that dream, thanks to a man whose heart was bigger than his business sense.

This could be the end of David’s story.

It‘s not.

As they say in those annoying TV commercials, “BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!”

Remember the hockey scholarship to the University of Denver?
The school will honor that scholarship. David will get a college education, and the coach says he will be involved with the hockey program in some way. It might be small comfort to someone who has lived and breathed the game since he could walk, but somehow, I think he will be okay.


Want to read the article for yourself?
Here’s the link:
http://www.adn.com/sports/story/443351.html

And after you’ve read it, ask yourself: What can I give from my heart today?

The answer may just surprise you.



Monday, June 23, 2008

GIANT Footsteps


I read a newspaper article today that really drove home the meaning of the word “Giant.” It was about a former New York Giant who decided to walk across the country to honor and raise money for 9/11 rescue workers who are battling various illnesses as a result of their heroic efforts at Ground Zero. (more info: http://www.ajourneyfor911.com )

The article says George Martin walked 3,003 miles, from New York City to San Diego. He went through 24 pairs of shoes and lost 40 pounds. Oh, and he also raised $2 million dollars along the way.

In an era that has given us pro athletes who rack up felony arrest after felony arrest, for everything from robbery, to attempted murder, to dog fighting, George sticks out like a sore thumb. He didn’t have to do this. He could have rested on the laurels of his illustrious football career. He played for 14 years and was co-captain of the amazing 1987 New York Giants team that won the Super Bowl.
I read that during parts of George’s cross-country trek, the winds were so bad that he had to walk backwards. He endured rainstorms, ice showers and brutal heat. He went through 80 pairs of socks. His walk took nine months, five months longer than he had planned, and ended in San Diego, instead of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.


But did he complain? NO.

George said he needed to do something to bring attention to the plight of so many 9/11 workers who are dealing with respiratory problems and other illnesses. Their insurance doesn’t cover the treatments they need. Some are dying before they can receive treatment. In George Martin’s eyes, these men and women who spent weeks and months digging through the dusty ruins of the World Trade Center and surrounding buildings, looking for remains, in an attempt to bring closure to so many families, are the true heroes.

I agree. These unsung heroes need help to care for themselves. They need to not be forgotten by the system and by the country.

But, I need to add one more hero to this list. He doesn’t want accolades or adulation, but in my eyes, George Martin is one GIANT hero. And we could all learn from his example, one step at a time.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Penguins Rumors... and Hope



I have liked the Penguins for years, but this is the first time I’ve felt almost visceral about the need to keep the current team together.

I was upset when Jaromir Jagr was traded away. I hated to see Mark Recchi leave the Pens, and rejoiced when he came back, only to leave again. I thought it unfair that a promising talent like Colby Armstrong was given away just like that.

I understand that this is part of the “business” of hockey. I get that there are decisions that the front office needs to make, in order to pay the players who need to be kept, while keeping an eye on the salary cap.

BUT… this year, for some reason, I cannot stand the thought of losing a single player. To me, they are ALL integral to the workings of the team. The way they gelled this season, and then that amazing run for the Cup. Everyone contributed in some way and it didn’t matter where they played. First line or fourth line- everyone added something to the run.

The season ended in heartbreak, then the leaks started. It started out well: the Pens filed for arbitration to re-sign Marc-Andre Fleury. The Pens were making an offer to Marian Hossa. Then, the not so good. The Pens were considering sending Pittsburgh native Ryan Malone to Columbus. The Pens offered Evgeni Malkin to the Kings in exchange for the 2nd overall draft pick. The Russian league was offering Geno the equivalent of $15M US to go back to Russia. Each news article felt like a stab in the heart.

Now, I’m not so naive that I think the Pens can keep everyone on the team and pay them what they want. I know that players are going to have to go.

BUT—a tiny, childlike part of me hopes that Ray Shero can pull off some magical feat that will allow this year’s amazing team to continue to grow, gel and WIN the Stanley Cup next year.

Is that so wrong?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

BIG Effin' Wake Up Call

I was driving home from work on Friday when my Blackberry flashed and beeped, signalling a new message. I clicked on it to see what had crossed (yes, while I was still driving), and nearly drove off the road.

It was a news bulletin and it read: Tim Russert dead at 58.



WHAT???????

I immediately called my boss. "Tell me it's not true!" I demanded. She sighed. "It's true. Can you fucking believe it?"

I could not fucking believe it. And I still can't.

Tim Russert and Robert Mak are the only two journalists I can watch for politics. They break down races and issues in a way that lets me clearly understand what's going on. Tim has always come across as friendly and down to earth. And even if that white board he uses on election night might seem a little cheesy, it didn't look out of place in his hands.

I didn't know a lot about Tim Russert before Friday. I only knew him as the moderator of "Meet the Press", which I watched religiously on Sunday mornings. I knew him as the "go to" guy during elections coverage, the guy who can gauge the political wind by the exit polls. The guy who declared Barack Obama the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee recently, in his matter of fact style. That following weekend, Hillary Clinton bowed out of the race.

In addition to politics, he had also written two best-selling books-- honoring fathers.

As I watched live coverage of his life and death (which ran not just on MSNBC, but CNN and Fox News, I learned about the man behind the white board: the proud husband and father, the devout Catholic, the mentor and inspirational boss. And I felt the gaping loss at his death even more keenly.

I learned that he had returned to Washington, DC after taking his wife and son to Italy as a graduation gift for his son. They stayed in Italy while he came home to work. He was at work, recording voiceovers when he collapsed. He was rushed to the hospital, but doctors could not save him.

Hour after hour, I watched anchors and reporters laud him; from a stalwart Tom Brokaw, to a quivery Keith Olberman; from a somber Andrea Mitchell, to boyish David Gregory, telling funny stories about Tim. Greta van Sustern on Fox News sang his praises. Campbell Brown led the coverage on CNN. All three aired messages from the President. From John McCain. Barack Obama. They conducted live interviews with politicians, past and present, Democrat, Republican, Independent, who had sat in the hot seat and faced him. They all said the same thing: Tim Russert had been tough, but he had been fair.

New agencies around the globe reported on his death. The BBC website let readers leave comments. Those comments ranged far and wide, from the US to Dubai, where this comment came from: "A true Journalist who asked the right question in the most difficult of situations. A serious loss to TV journalism first Peter Jennings & now Tim Russert. If it was possible , I know Tim would have reported from the heavens." Indeed.

Back to my boss. As we wrapped up our conversation, I said to her, "He died doing what he loved. If this isn't a great big fucking wake-up call to get out there and do what you love, then I don't know what is."

She sighed. "I know."

Boss, you'll have my resignation on Monday.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Ovechkin is Great, BUT....





I was holding out hope that Evgeni Malkin would win the Hart Trophy last night.

Yes, yes, I know all about Alexander Ovechkin and his 65 goals. I know about his exciting play that helped drive the Capitals to the playoffs.

But... I still contend that Malkin's efforts are more MVP-worthy.

When Sidney Crosby went down with a high ankle sprain, everyone wrote the Penguins off. Then, Malkin, who is already an excellent player, stepped up his game even more.
It was as though someone lit a fire under him. He scored goals, he made dazzling plays. He and the other Pens charged along, full-speed, until Sid was ready to rejoin them.


We all know what happened next.

Okay, so Geno didn't have the best playoffs. But the Hart Trophy is about the REGULAR season, and his regular season was SPECTACULAR.

Again, I'm not taking anything away from Ovechkin and his accomplishments.

But to me, Evgeni Malkin is MVP all the way.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

It's SHOWTIME!




About two weeks ago, I googled "Sidney Crosby" and found countless sites dedicated to this hockey wunderkind. They ranged from "Sid's goals" to "Does Sidney Crosby have a Girlfriend?"

After slogging through several sites and coming away more dissatisfied than before, I stumbled upon a site called "The Sidney Crosby Show." I didn't have high hopes when I clicked on the link. But then, the site opened up, and so did my eyes!

This site is chock-full of all things PENGUINS, not least of all their erstwhile young captain. It's run by two people, with a woman named Jodie taking up the lion's share of the work.

It is smart, witty, entertaining and extremely informative. Not only that, the site contains links to blogs about other hockey teams, sorted by conferences! Who else gives you all this and great photos that can be turned into wallpaper at the click of a mouse?

I highly recommend "The Sidney Crosby Show" to anyone who's a fan of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Sidney Crosby, or hockey in general.

Here's the link:
http://sidcrosby.blogspot.com/

Friday, June 6, 2008

Eight Inches

"Ready?" she asked, scissors poised.

I took a deep breath.

"Just do it."

I closed my eyes, and heard the familiar 'snick' of the scissors. The next moment, my hairdresser gently placed a ponytail into my hand, containing eight inches of my hair. Eight inches that I had been growing for months. Those eight inches are now on their way to Pantene's "Beautiful Lengths" program, which makes wigs for cancer patients.

I've had long hair for years. It's been like a shield. I could always hide behind it when things got too rough. But I know that in the end, it's only hair. It'll grow. And there are women and men who are enduring some painful treatments to fight a disease. Some embrace the bald heads that emerge from chemo and radiation. Others need a shield, like I do. So, if my hair can help someone look in the mirror and not feel so strange, then it's worth it. It is SO worth it.

In the meantime, I shall continue to look in the mirror and try not to feel strange at my short bob. It's actually kinda cute. Maybe I'll learn to face my fears head-on, instead of looking for another shield to hide behind.

And in the end, what's eight inches anyway? (keep your minds out of the gutter, please).

More info on Pantene's "Beautiful Lengths" program:
http://www.beautifullengths.com/en_US/index_home.jsp

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Black and Gold Tears



The tears came last night.
They started as the buzzer ended, and the final score flashed: 3-2.
The Penguins' quest for the Stanley Cup had come to a heartbreaking end, 6 games in.
Players hunched on the ice.
They sat in stunned silence on the bench, before getting up and congratulating the Red Wings on their victory- classy even in the face of despair.
And my heart broke for them.

The tears flowed again as I watched the locker room post.
Some players were so choked up, they couldn't talk.
Some put on a brave face to answer questions they didn't even want to *think* about.
And their leader, just 20 years old, tried gamely to talk, even as his voice quivered and his eyes welled up again and again.

I, personally, did not lose the Stanley Cup.
I never set foot on the ice.
I think the team played their hearts and their guts out and don't fault them for anything.

So why do I feel as bad as Crosby, Malkin, Malone, Fleury, Talbot and the rest?
Have I become the type of fan that takes the team's loss as personally as the players do?

The tears flowed this morning as I read several wrap-up articles, lauding the young Penguins and painting a bright outlook for the future of these amazing guys.

And as I looked at my tears, I saw that they had turned BLACK and GOLD.