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,