Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Love Letter From a Football Fan

First things first. I love football. It's a theatrical game with four even quarters and an equal amount of players on each side of the ball. It's a classic tug of war. Pushing and resisting, up and down an evenly marked field. It's easily the most physical of the major sports (sorry hockey). Its players are some of the biggest, strongest, fastest humans alive, and they do things no "ordinary" human could do. It combines athleticism, skill and raw strength into a truly beautiful game. Also, it's fun. You get to scream and yell constantly (if you prefer). It has cultivated a general spirit called "Tailgating", in which one can eat, drink and play cornhole before the game even begins. It's just as celebrated in it's professional form as it is in it's collegiate and, to a slightly lesser extent (except in Texas), high school levels. Its fandom doesn't discriminate by age, and although it oozes machismo, women follow the sport as fervently as their male counterparts.

It's also a truly horrific game. One that, by its very nature, necessitates injury to its players' bodies and minds. The physical toll of playing the game (especially from a young age) has caused many to rethink the way they interact with football. From not letting their children play, to reassessing their fanaticism in general. I can say, personally, that while watching football is still a joy of my offseason, the way I feel while watching has changed. Whereas I used to cringe at the idea of a qb rushing a throw to avoid a big hit, I now think "yeah dude, I get it. Protect yourself." When our DB would lay out a wide receiver across the middle on 3rd and short, I'd yell and cheer. Now I have to look away when they show the replay. With all of the heavy hitting and injuries, the game has, for me, become less theatre and more coliseum fighting. It's hard not to think of it as grown men willingly causing harm to one another just to win a completely arbitrary game.

I'll say it again. I love football, and will, in all likelihood, continue to watch it. Continue to cheer on my teams and continue to get way too caught up in the W-L columns. But that's not why I'm writing you this letter. I'm writing to tell you something I've always known, but just recently rediscovered. I love you more, baseball.

You're a hard game. I don't hold it against you (most of the time), but there's no doubting that at times you seem almost unfair. One hitter versus 9 other players? An above average success rate for a hitter is 30%? 162 games over 6+ months? Games that regularly push the 4 hour mark? Sometimes you're downright brutal! But you're also an amazingly unique game. No game clock. No ties (and if so, it goes to the runner). No completely uniform playing fields (see HERE and HERE). The defense always has the ball. You're leisurely enough to watch while sitting, eating a hotdog and possibly snoozing off for an inning or so. Yet, you're so exciting at times that your stadiums literally shake under my feet (see Houston, October 2015). Your game itself is highly analytical and your rules, extremely thorough and extensive. At your most complex, you seem to have endless concentric circles of smaller games happening simultaneously. But at your simplest, you're an individual sport between a pitcher and batter. There's something in your game for fans with all levels of interest. If simply watching, drinking a beer and cheering is what you're after, what better place to do that than outside on a summer evening? If one wants to intellectually engage during a game, there's a system and a code for charting everything. Not only are you a game for fans, both men and women, you're a game for players of both sexes too. Your history is just as rooted in legend as it is in fact. Nobody knows exactly when you were born, or where, and your most famous player lives in American mythology as our version of Hercules. Most importantly, though, there is no "type" of baseball player. No form or mold that best fits what a ballplayer should be. If he or she can play your wonderfully timeless game, then they need only take the field.  

And so it is with me. You gave a guy like me a chance to play a professional sport. For that, I am forever grateful. As much as I wish that my athleticism could've made me a great football player, we both know I just don't have what it takes to hit the field with those behemoths. A 6" tall, semi-athletic kid from the suburban neighborhood park has a chance to play your game at its highest level. And not just me. I play with men of every shape and size. Tall. Short. Skinny. Fat. Fast. Slow. From all over the globe. What is still America's past time has turned into truly a global game.

It's mid march now and football is over. I know you must question my devotion over the winter, but the cold is melting away. Spring is just around the corner. And just like every year since I was old enough to throw a ball in the yard with my dad, my love for you continues to grow.


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Death of Down Time

Yogi Berra has passed away. One of the greatest ballplayers, on the greatest team, of the greatest generation is gone. He felt like my last real link to that time period in baseball history. I've seen monument park in Yankee Stadium. The Ruth, Gehrig, and DiMaggio plaques, casted in bronze with epitaphs to remind me how good and real they were. But Yogi was here, and here for a long time. He didn't just represent what that generation was about, he was what that generation was about. He was a war hero. He was a great ballplayer and great family man. His Yogi-isms weren't composed tweets or snarky Facebook posts. They were conversations, with real people. 

And it's gotten me thinking about my generation. Plenty of articles have been written about the danger of (anti) social media. How it hurts our ability to connect with each other. How we've become dependent on it for just about everything (education, work, entertainment, conversation, etc.). Over the last few years I've noticed it invading my life in a new and illusive way. My down time...or lack there of. 

Standing in my hotel lobby, waiting for the elevator to work its way down from the 26th floor, my mind senses that there will be some amount of seconds/minutes before its scheduled arrival. Simultaneously as my head realizes this, my hands begin to reach for my phone. You know, the big oversized iPhone 6 Plus that barely fits into my slim cut jeans back pocket. I pull out the phone/tablet/TV/game system and scroll through my 40+ apps to see which one will fill the next 40+ seconds of my life until this elevator gets here (ugh, why is it taking so long!). Instagram. That's the ticket. I scroll again, this time down, through a few new pics. My buddies' breakfast from this morning, no caption because what can you really say about pancakes with toasted pecans. An airplane wing from the window seat, I wonder if she got the exit row? 470 likes! I mean, it's a good picture, but not that good.

It's the little experiences like that throughout the day that have me grieving the death of my down time. My time to day dream and think deeply. My time to be still and listen. My time to be brave and start a conversation. Nowhere is this more evident than in my sanctuary for half the year, the clubhouse. 

I wonder sometimes what it was like in Yogi's clubhouse. Before iPhones and tablets. Before direcTV and NFL Sunday Ticket. Baseball has been relatively unchanged in its structure for over 100 years, so I have to believe that they experienced the same daily lulls that we experience. The multiple 20 minute or so gaps between the time you arrive and the time the game starts. Maybe they played a lot of cards. Maybe they got really good at crossword puzzles. Maybe they read the paper. Possibly, same as us, they filled their time with the "things" that were around them. It's also entirely likely that a large portion of their time was spent actually talking face to face with their teammates. Conversations about any number of things (because there are any number of topics if you really try). And those conversations probably felt less taxing than they do today. The idea of a twenty minute conversation with someone today would give most of us hives. Texting for twenty minutes, no problem. But eye contact and real words for that long...awkward! Therefore, if you walk into any professional baseball clubhouse these days you will see 25-30 guys staring down at their assorted media devices killing their time. Both literally and metaphorically. Clash of Clans. Solitaire. Fantasy football research. Netflix. Endless scrolling of the Twitterverse and Instagalaxy. Texts on texts on texts. If any of us looks up for longer than a few seconds we realize how zombie-ish we all look. We feel bad that this is what it's come to. Then our down time is over and we move onto the next thing. 

I wish this was one of those articles where at the end I lay out a few quick and easy steps to get my generation back on track. A simple to-do list of things that will breathe life back into our down time. But unfortunately, this isn't that type of article. I'm writing this on my iPhone 6 giant. I already instagrammed my coffee this morning. I haven't talked to a single person (except "thank you, bro" to my barista). I'm guilty. I wonder what Yogi would do. What he'd say about all this. I wonder what stories he could have told me about his teammates? The ones he had a bunch of 20 minute conversations with. I wonder what I could tell him that would interest him? I don't think he'd want to hear about my friend's latte from that hipster coffee shop in Atlanta. I should probably use my down time to come up with some new material. 

Ding. Elevator's here. Gotta run. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

What To Do With Your Extra 8.5 Minutes

This year Major League Baseball has introduced some new rules aimed at quickening the pace of play and shortening the length of baseball games. I'm sure, if you follow baseball at any depth beyond beer and hotdogs (although that might be the best depth in my opinion!), you've seen the rules in action. Batters must keep one foot in the batter's box unless they do something crazy like fake bunt, or swing or have to move their feet at all. Pitchers must begin each inning by the time a 2:25 clock runs out. And let me tell you, after taking three amazing (terrible) swings to end the inning during inter league play last week, I was pretty gassed! But I soldiered on and managed to beat the tick-tock of the clock as the next inning began. Now finished with our first month of the season we can look back and say SUCCESS! All of these new initiatives have served their purpose and now the game is quicker than its been in a long while. We've managed to shave 8.5 minutes off the average game time...8.5 minutes, people! Think about all of the amazing things we baseball fans can all do with our extra 8.5 minutes. Just imagine the possibilities!

Personally, I remember as a kid being able to run the bases after the game on certain days at Turner Field (if we ever made it to the end of a game, but I'll get to that later). So cutting off 8.5 minutes per game would mean 8.5 fewer minutes of me asking my parents "is it over yet?" Consequently, it would also mean one less run to the Dippin' Dots stand to shut me up. 

As an adult baseball fan it would, in all likelihood, mean 8.5 fewer minutes to eat/drink said hotdogs and beer. And seeing as how they incentivize buying the half gallon size draft beers, my guess is that means more 6th inning chugging before last call in the 7th. Because we all know you want another one, but double-fisting two 64 oz souvenir cups with Jose Altuve's face on them is tough. Gotta finish the first one in 8.5 less minutes. Chug, chug, chug! 

If you're my dad (God bless him), you've been plotting since the 3rd inning about how to leave early. Most likely citing "beating the traffic" as your main objective. While 8.5 less minutes of baseball could be the perfect compromise to allow the family to stay and watch the last out, high fives and possible Gatorade shower, it simply increases your anxiety knowing that EVERYONE will get out earlier, and thus traffic will "be a disaster." 

I'll admit, watching anything for 3+ hours is tough. I can barely make it through a 2 hr. movie these days. The marginal satisfaction of every Michael Bay explosion decreases exponentially after a certain length of time. At some point I begin to think of all the other things I could/should be doing with the precious 24 hours in my day. So now that baseball has ducked under the proverbial 3 hour limbo stick and gone from a 3:02 avg. gametime to 2:53:30, let's think about all the things we can do with our extra 8.5 minutes per day all summer long!

I'll get us started, but feel free to chime in with your suggestions in the comments below:

- make a deli sandwich (not a panini, though. too much time. Sorry Italy)
- listen to one movement of a classical piece of music or almost all of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Freebird"
- finish 1/875th of an upgrade to your Archer Tower in Clash of Clans
- play one extra hole of golf (as long as I hit the fairway, green and don't 3 putt...so nevermind)
- read another page of Stephen Hawking's "A Brief History of Time". At this rate I should finish it before time itself ends
- have a phone conversation with one of my siblings or a quarter of a conversation with my mom
- watch this cat video another 90 times
- do the warmup of a Crossfit workout (then puke, immediately quit and vow never to do that again)
- help change the flat tire on that elderly lady's car. C'mon yall, let's use this 8.5 minutes for good!

Ok, your turn...

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A Letter To My Minor League Self

After my last blog post, I was referred to an interesting article written by the great Doc Gooden. It was a letter to himself. The now aging Gooden wrote a letter of all the things he wished he could've told his 20 year old self. It's full of little nuggets of advice like this:

"I can’t believe I have to tell you this, but the reason fans are following you to the grocery store is because you decided to put a strip that says Mr. Dwight on the windshield of your Z20 Camaro. You’ll remember this car as the one with the bunny rabbits painted on both sides. Oh, and the big fuzzy dice. Try to practice a little discretion." 

Reading this and trying to digest its wisdom made me think about what I would say to my minor-league self, given the chance. There are roughly 6000 minor leaguers on affiliated teams. Of those, only an estimated 300 will ever reach the big leagues. I remember soaking up every piece of advice that a big-leaguer ever threw my way, hoping in some way to improve my chances of being part of that elite group. By no means do I have the same depth of experience to draw from like Gooden's 16 year major league career. But, entering my 8th year of pro ball and having just enough big league time to know the difference between here and the minors, I thought it would be interesting to see what I would tell 20 year old Collin...

Dear baby-faced, kinda chubby (but with a strong hairline), naive, bright-eyed Collin:

1) Calm down!
I know you think that everything you do, everything you say and every fastball you miss with is ammunition that the team will use to ultimately rationalize releasing you. You're right, it's true. But you can't control what people think of you. You could be the nice guy who never cusses and reads his Bible in the locker room, or you could be a bum who drinks his breakfast, lunch and dinner. You could be a sophisticate who listens to NPR every morning and enjoys fine wine, or you could barely have your GED and never know the difference between your, you're and yore. The truth is, you could be just about anything. But, as long as you stay healthy and throw the ball effectively across the plate, you will keep getting chances. Your neuroses about what the team has "planned" for you aren't helping anything. You will only drive yourself crazy obsessing over stuff you can't control...oh, and your wife will appreciate this one even more than you do. Thank her every day for reminding you to calm the **** down. 

2) Having roommates is good for you, but having 6 at one time is not. 
It's easy to isolate yourself from people when you're away from the park. For that reason (and because sharing rent is WAY cheaper), you will decide to always have roommates. Good call. Community is something that doesn't come easily in baseball. You really have to be intentional about developing relationships with people that go deeper than knowing the facts on the back of their baseball cards. Living with them has a special way of fostering friendships that mean more than just being teammates. It will teach you and your wife to enjoy hosting people, and it will make you much more tolerable of each other's weird quirks. However, when you're starting your second year of A-ball and you find a sweet condo with 5 bedrooms...move on. Being the "landlord" of 5 roommates and multiple girlfriends will be the backdrop to the hardest year of your life. 2011 will be hard enough as it is, trust me. Pay the extra few dollars a month and stick with one roommate. You'll thank me later.

3) Reconsider the Agent/Client relationship you're involved in. 
It'll save you thousands of dollars, it won't improve your draft status and you will only be bitter about it later on. Get good advice from people who have been in pro ball before, and don't jump at the first person that tells you they can give you everything you want and more. Your agent will dump you within a year of signing and you'll realize over the next 4 years that buying cleats and gloves yourself isn't that hard. 

4) Fans will be fans, don't take it personally.
You will be cheered and booed. It's the fans' prerogative to do this at their pleasure, but you will take both very personally. The boos will make you sulk and the cheers, like drugs, will leave you groping for ever-increasing approval. Neither is healthy and neither makes any real difference to your career. Don't hold it against fans for expressing their opinions - they are 100% entitled to them. Also, don't go searching for those opinions via the Internet...which leads me to #5.

5) Approach social media with caution.
It's quite possibly the greatest invention of the Internet age. Social media will allow an 18th rounder from a small NAIA school to be on the same vocal platform as MLB superstars. Its allure will lead you to develop your writing skills and create this blog (which to this day is one of your proudest accomplishments). It will also open you up to a entire fan base and all of their opinions. You'll get just enough praise for your Twitter humor to keep doing it, until the one day you make a tasteless joke that sours your reputation and hurts your relationship with teammates. It's not worth it. Digital laughs, likes and retweets will never bring you the pleasure you desire: so stop looking at your phone.   

6) On a lighter note, enjoy your long hair.
As you get older and wiser, your hairline will get thinner and weaker. The days of your long, thick hair are long gone. Enjoy it while it lasts, and for heaven's sake STOP THINKING ABOUT SHAVING IT OFF! (as a side note, you will discover the wonders of facial hair, so don't get too depressed.)

7) You'll never have more free time than at Spring training, don't be lazy.
You are just now realizing, to your high school teacher's amazement, that you enjoy reading. For 6 weeks every year you will have more free time than the rest of the year combined. Stop napping in the afternoons, you're not 70 years old. You don't deserve naps yet. Read the books people keep recommending and stop lying to them, saying "Oh, for sure! I'll definitely have to check that one out." Maybe learn how to fish. Everyone else down there seems to know how, but because you're from the city, you think fishing is beneath you. People have been fishing for thousands of years, you're not that special. 

8) Write things down.
You'll really enjoy writing this blog. It will be cathartic and illuminating. But, even though you try to remember it all, you'll forget so much. 8 years of experiences, eccentric teammates, amazingly strange places, and so much more will escape your memory faster than you think. Take a notebook, keep it close by, write in it. It doesn't have to be clever or profound. Just take notes and enjoy reading over them year after year. When it's all said and done, maybe you could fill a novel with all the stuff that happened around you. 

I'm sure there's so much more that I could tell you, but rest assured, the surprises are worth the suspense. Enjoy the journey, always buy flowers for your wife and never stop throwing your curveball. For now, that should suffice. 

Yours a few years older, and a few years wiser,

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Anatomy of a Trade

As the baseball offseason is moving into the new year, teams have been a frenzy of transactions and trades. Finding myself getting swept up by the gossip and rumors, I decided to give an inside look on what getting traded feels like from my own experience.  

At 11:30 pm on a Wednesday night I got a phone call.

"You've been traded..." and just like that my entire life turned upside down.

Once I gathered myself enough to ask where I had been traded to, he replied, "Colorado." After all the formalities of the 45 second conversation had ended, he closed with the business-like mantra, "We truly appreciate your service." He sounded sincere and I appreciated his best wishes. But I couldn't help thinking all I had done was stay just good enough to trick some other team into giving up one of their (presumably better) players in return for me. I remember the 5 stages of grief passing over me on the rest of the drive home.

Denial & Isolation. Surely my team, the one who drafted me and developed me, isn't making me leave? What will I do without all the guys I came up with? They're the only people I've ever played with in pro ball. What do I do now?

Anger. I gave the best years of my life to this organization. Maybe I'll be better off without them. I'll make them sorry they ever traded me.

Bargaining. If I only had a few more starts. My debut was great, but if I would've just had more consistency. One more outing and this all could've been different.

Depression. The tears started involuntarily. I looked at my wife, and we realized everything was gonna be different from this point on. The weight of all that change hit us both. We started crying silently. Where would we be going tomorrow? Where would we live? How long before we got to see each other again. I grabbed her hand, knowing in the morning I would be on a plane for some other life.

Acceptance. My boarding pass said 12:35 PM, Tulsa, OK. Can't miss my flight. They'll be expecting me. Maybe if I have a few good outings they will call me up. The details will work themselves out, they always do. Who knows? Maybe it's not so bad. At least I've been given another shot to play ball...again...somewhere else.

Of course, that conversation with our Asst. GM was just the final stage of a process that started much earlier. There had been multiple transactions over the course of 10 days that landed me on the trading block. For the organization, it was all about business. The business of getting better, more efficient, more competitive. For fans of that team, I'm sure seeing me go was a sign of good things to come. I'm sure there were even fans that (gasp!) couldn't wait to see me go. My production just didn't live up to their expectations and that was unacceptable. Blogs, newspaper articles, and tweets called for my head because my ERA was a bit too high. I'm not here to argue the value of trades. Although, for the first 7 years of my career, I have been closer to a pork bely future than a human being. Baseball is a business, and the goings-on behind the scenes reflect the beauty of capitalism. Like we always say, "if you don't like it, play better." But, in the portion of the year where trades and transactions are happening seemingly by the minute, I want to give a look at the human perspective of these commodity trades. The human beings actually being traded.

I hear people in my hometown talk a lot about how bad this or that person was this season. How there's no way they should can that guy around. That he is LITERALLY the worst player they've ever seen. But let's think for a moment about what baggage this "hypothetical" guy carries with him. Maybe he was traded over here from a different team, in a different city, with a different house. He had, let's say, a 3 year deal, so he decided to move the whole family up here. His kids (5 and 8 respectively) had to change elementary schools in the middle of the year. The family left their house (the only ones the kids ever knew), their church and the teammates/families that they had become so close with over the past years. They were a year into his contract now. Making new friends. Getting used to a new school for the kids. A new church community. New neighbors (that keep complaining about their lawn being so "unkempt"...they're the worst). He just finished a bad season. By all metrics, he didn't live up to the hype of his deal. He's frustrated. His wife feels terrible for him, but has so many things of her own to take care of that she can't offer the support she knows that he needs. There's just so little margin in this lifestyle. The kids don't seem to care about daddy's average. They just want to know whether he's gonna get to see their piano recital in may (he won't. away series in LA). On top of all this, he hears the rumors circulating. The rumors about his potential trade. A confusing 3 way deal sending him to the west coast for two minor leaguers. He tries not to pay too much attention to it, because, let's be honest, there's absolutely nothing he can do about it if it happens. All the money that his contract is worth couldn't buy a no-trade clause (just like the other 99% of big leaguers). The storm of transactions comes and goes after the Winter Meetings. His name came up a few times, but he looks to be in the clear. 3 days before Spring training he's driving his wife and kids home from a movie. The phone rings...

I'm sure you could fill in the rest of the story. As a fan, the trade seemed like a no-brainer. Improve the team. Get rid of that bum. Maybe the team had to eat some of his contract, but it's a small price to pay for the possibility of two minor league prospects becoming good major leaguers. As a fan myself, I get it. It's easy to connect so deeply with a team that you refer to them as "we". But as soon as that "we" has feelings, emotions, or baggage, it's just as easy to sit back and play armchair GM. All of this might not (probably will not) change the way you think about trades and transactions. It probably won't stop you from being disappointed in the guy with a 14.00 ERA, but it might keep you from personally hating him. I still sincerely hope you comment on your favorite team blog, calling for the front office to shell out the big bucks for an ace starting pitcher. As fans, it's fun and the game wouldn't be the same without our passion/opinions. But I also hope you understand the weight of responsibility taken on when you do sign that guy. When he and his family make the move to your city. When they invest in your team and in you, as fans. I hope you can embrace them with open arms, and really appreciate all that goes into making a change like that. From a business perspective I realize that, as players, we aren't much more than commodities. But as human beings, we are people that carry a lot of baggage.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Becoming Gluten Free

I grew up in a home like many Americans. Middle class. Suburban. More well-acquainted with "dinner from a box" than "dinner from a garden." Most of the meals we sat down and ate as a family were cooked with extra love by my mom, but also contained extra fat, sugar and preservatives. By no means do I blame her (mom, please don't feel bad!). Feeding a family of 6 is basically a full time job, and since she already held one of those, the food we bought had to last in the pantry until we got around to preparing/eating it. Basically every meal was boxed or canned and included wheat flour. Dinner rolls, cinnamon toast crunch, pop tarts, bologna and cheese sandwiches on "healthy" whole wheat bread. They all contained copious amounts of (what I would come to know this past year) as gluten. Gluten is the binding agent in wheat flour. It's the wonderful reason why bread is so fluffy and soft. It is also, as scientists and the population at large are realizing, a huge problem for a lot of people.

My relationship with gluten, as I mentioned earlier, started a long time ago. As a kid, and well into my teenage/post teen years, I was always kinda chubby. None of my siblings (2 brothers and a sister) were overweight at all. They were fit, athletic and ate whatever they wanted. I was overweight, slower and could gain 10 lbs by looking at a chocolate cake. I also suffered from, what the doctor called, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). To them it was a catch-all for my "bad stomach". To me it meant that, like clockwork, I would be sitting on the toilet within 10 minutes of every meal, praying to God that if he let me live through this particular bowel movement I would never sin again. I struggled with inflammation around my belly, chronic stomach aches and embarrassingly frequent gas. As I got older I began to notice more concerning signs of bowel issues, for which I had to undergo some pretty crappy butt procedures (no pun intended). These still yielded no definitive prognosis, so I was left to assume that I was just one of the defective ones. That guy at the party who would ALWAYS ask to use your bathroom. I say these things in such honest terms to dissuade you from thinking my new gluten free lifestyle (and inevitably someone's you know) is part of some stupid and passing fad. I wrestled with these body issues for a long time, and until I stumbled into eating GF, I thought it would be my lifelong battle to fight alone. 

So how did I decide to stop eating gluten? Well, like all great men who make decisions, my wife told me I should do it. She had been voicing to me for a while how she thought I might have a gluten issue. As I said before, I grew up with a taste (more akin to an addiction) for wheat flour and all its tasty/sugary/fatty partners in crime. The thought of a life without Krispy Kreme donuts, chocolate croissants and even ham sandwiches was too much for me to handle. Every time I had one of my gut-busting episodes, I would get defensive and chalk it up to eating things in the wrong combinations. Soda and anything deep fried. Milk and breakfast pastries. Alcohol and wedding cake. I was rationalizing away the common thread that all these things share. Gluten. It wasn't until my wife was instructed by her wholistic doctor to cut out gluten from her diet that I even seriously considered eating GF. Her doctor recommended it as a possible solution to her thyroid problem, so out of marital solidarity I figured I'd try it for a week. 

I expected so little. Maybe I'd feel a little bit better (mostly about my ability to "sacrifice" something I loved), but surely not good enough to make it a lifestyle! Yet, within 7 days of not eating gluten I felt like a new person. My energy level was higher and lasted all dat without need for a nap. All of the aforementioned stomach issues were non existent. I was INCREDIBLY regular (and as a side note to those guys who think pooping 4 times a day is "regular"...it's not!) It was as if I could feel my body repairing itself after years of tearing it down donut by donut. Mentally and physically I knew that this was a breakthrough for me, yet still I was hesitant to admit that it was a "real" problem. The little devil on my shoulder would whisper, "it's all in your head." So after a week of purging my gut of gluten, I decided it was time for a reintroduction to test whether it was fact or fiction. 

Sitting down in front of a big juicy burger is something that usually sends the serotonin coursing through my veins straight to the part of my brain that feels happiness. Some of that is all of the memories associated with burgers: cookouts, 4th of July, the smell of charcoal fires. But the other part of that is a more scientific one. Gluten, as scientists have discovered, is the one substance most suited for carrying nutrients and toxins directly to the brain. In fact, they are trying to figure out how to use gluten as a transmitter to direct Alzheimer's medicine to the brain more quickly. So as I sat down in front of that burger, basically drooling with anticipation, one of two things would happen. Either I would eat it and feel the wonderful bliss of its nourishment, or I would feel only the pain of not being able to digest the gluten (in the form of both gut pain and brain fog). Sure enough, within minutes of eating the otherwise delicious burger, my body began to tell me that the prior week was not a fluke. My stomach cramped up and I could feel myself losing focus on anything except how bad I felt. I realized that my body really does prefer a diet free of gluten, and that its consequences are not a figment of my imagination (as plenty of people have told me since). 

I love food. My wife and I have traveled all over the place eating and drinking just about everything we could get our hands on. We enjoy good stuff and bad stuff, rich tastes and bland tastes, both popular and exotic. For me, the choice to cut gluten out of my diet was not something that I did flippantly or without plenty of pause. It was only when the overwhelming evidence was presented that I decided my long term health was more important than the short term satisfaction of eating that buttery flaky ticking time bomb. I could go into the long frustrating rant about American food integrity and processing, but nobody wants to hear that. It's too big of an issue to tackle in a dumb blog post. But I will say this. The 2014 baseball season was the best of my life so far. Was it solely because of my change in diet? No, of course not. But did it affect my performance on the field and on a daily basis? Absolutely. It improved my quality of life. It reinforced discipline. It made me more resourceful. Sure, I was called a hippie, a tree hugger and high maintenance. For anyone who doesn't struggle with the issues you do, it's impossible to expect them to exactly understand your struggle...and that's ok. I would just encourage any of you who do struggle with similar things, you only get one life. No one else gets to live your life and no one else reaps the consequences of how you live your life quite like you. If living the way you see fit is hard, embrace that! Know that you're not alone in it. Maybe we don't share the same struggles, but we all struggle. 

Is it easy now, on the other side of gluten? No, hardly. I still have to run past the bakery section at the grocery store and sometimes I have to leave the room when yellow cake with chocolate icing is served. I've had to educate clubhouse managers, hotel concierges and waiters about what I can eat and why. Like I said before, I love food. That won't change. But it gets a little easier each day, each season. The holidays are just around the corner, and I'm sure it will present its fair share of challenges. It always does, and perhaps it always will. But I'm not afraid of it anymore. My gluten allergy is real...and really beatable.

Thursday, November 6, 2014


It's been said that pitching is an art. Tom Seaver wrote "The Art of Pitching" and Greg Maddux, for all intents and purposes, took the reigns and came as close to perfecting that art as any of us have ever seen. Growing up in Atlanta, I saw him carve up hitters more consistently than any other pitcher of the last quarter century. It literally was like watching a painter methodically work his way across a canvas. You could see the creativity in all of his pitch combinations and speed changes. His imagination and the execution of that creative mindset baffled hitters for the better part of 20 years, yet very few people would call baseball (even pitching) a creative occupation. In fact, when making analogies to baseball, people most often reference war or racing or some other brute activity. This frustrates me. I like to believe that all people in all endeavors (paid and unpaid) have the ability to be creative...not just the "creative community".

My wife works in a collective studio/office space in Atlanta. She, a letterpress printer and calligrapher, shares space alongside photographers, film directors, bloggers, graphic designers and comedy writers (see Aaron Chewning). The motto of the collective is "Home of Atlanta's Creative Citizen", which makes sense considering all of the people working there would be classified as "creatives"...meaning they all get paid to use their creativity. But sitting in the studio, watching all of them be creative, I found myself thinking about creativity in different spaces. For instance, in a crowded floor of cubicles on the 20someodd floor of a tall building downtown, there are accountants using all of the creativity God blessed them with to figure out my taxes (which must be filed in 17 states for 2014...what!?). Down the road from there, a firefighter might be looking at a mangled car imagining all the possibilities to get a young girl out safely. At my favorite restaurant spot, there is an amazing chef who everyone would agree is part of the "creative community", but the real creativity lies in the gluten-free/dairy-free/soy-free suggestions that my waitress keeps whipping up out of thin air.

I believe that, all too often, people are either encouraged or discouraged from exercising their natural creativity based on the job expected of them. Interior designers are expected to imagine a room, brainstorm about its Feng Shui and create it, while mechanics are expected to rotate the tires, change the oil and get it finished quickly. On the surface, those seem like fair descriptions of their jobs, but when you dig a little deeper, both have their creative side and their transactional (get stuff done) side. The mechanic has to use his imagination and creativity to troubleshoot that weird sound my car makes when I turn the wheel to the left, and the interior designer has to drudge through a few days of sewing pillows and hanging curtain rods. At times both share residence in the "creative community" and at other times, neither do.

Baseball is no exception. I truly believe that baseball players can be as creative as anybody in any other profession. Their duty in the game might not always call for the most creativity or ingenuity, but seeing a 9 hole catcher with cement in his shoes lay down a perfect drag bunt for a base hit...that is as creative to me as my wife's perfect calligraphy. Perhaps I am a bit biased towards the creative. My brothers are graphic designers, musicians and film majors, while my sister is a singer/songwriter living in Nashville. Being the "dumb jock" of the family, I made it a point to exercise my creativity in any and all outlets at my disposal. I began to write at an early age and picked up guitar, saxophone, clarinet and drums along the way. Just because I was good at baseball didn't mean that I would allow myself to sell out to the game at the expense of my other talents and attributes. At this point in my life, writing is my creative outlet, but I'm also experimenting with other creative endeavors. I'm learning how to cook (mostly gluten-free & paleo) and cultivate a garden (my succulent collection is getting pretty impressive). I'm also toying around with the idea of different iphone photography projects and the long term goal of possibly writing a book. Some old-school people might say that doing all of these things might hinder my baseball playing. That a ballplayer should play ball and not clutter his mind with frivolous activities that don't affect the game. My official opinion, however, is that all of my creative outlets do affect the game. Every time I practice thinking outside the box, every time I strum a guitar, plant a flower or sit at a keyboard and contemplate how to express what's brewing inside my mind, It prepares me to execute well on the mound.

It's the 8th inning of a one run game. We have the lead and they have 3, 4, 5 coming up in the lineup. I've already faced them three times that day and dozens of times over the course of a season. There is a way to get them out, there always is, but it's up to my imagination to figure out what the answer is on that given day. I've practiced my fastball, curveball, cutter and changeup thousands of times, but how often have I flexed the creative muscle required to attack these hitters on this day? I believe in living a holistic lifestyle where work, food, creativity, faith and leisure are all interconnected. If everyday I can work on all of these things, then when that moment comes I won't have to worry about being prepared. Simply living my life and cultivating all of the talents/passions that have been entrusted to me will prepare me to succeed. I refuse to be a dumb jock. Life (baseball life, particularly) is too short to pigeon-hole myself into what a stereotypical ballplayer has evolved into. It doesn't matter what you do for work or play, YOU ARE CREATIVE. Let's flex our creative muscle and see what we happens!

I will be starting a series on Instagram (@cmchugh) using the hashtag #UnleashMyCreative. Whenever you use/see creativity in places/people that aren't stereotypically "creative" take a picture of it, write a caption and hashtag #UnleashMyCreative. It's all around us, everywhere we look. Go out, be brave, be creative.