Monday Musings: October 11, 2010

Perhaps the most self-centered activity I engage in is my volunteer work. I spent a wonderful decade coaching football to (mostly) under 13 kids. Currently, I fill the void as a member of Kiwanis International, where my peers and I are solely committed to serving the youth of the world. I say self-absorbed, because there are few visions more pleasing to the eyes, ears, and heart, then a group of happy and engaged children. As an example, the Macomb Kiwanis chapter, of which I am a member, is now in the process of completing a major project; the financing and building of a new playground for our little town’s central park.

This has been a project long in the pipeline, debated and fretted over for two years before I arrived on the scene. My only substantive contributions would be in the actual building of the site, a project scheduled to take less than 12 hours over two days. After 12 hours on Friday (that I was not present for), 12 hours on Saturday, 8 hours on Sunday, and 8 hours today, the playground is now almost complete. Where my hands were roughened from power-lifting, the callouses have split; where my hands were still soft from my decidedly non-physical life of managing and writing, blisters have formed and popped. As with everyone else, my joints are sore and my nerves are frayed.

Murphy’s Law, the age-old tenet which states that anything that can go wrong, probably will and at the most inopportune moment, was the law under which this project was built. After all of the extra labor and pain, my colleagues and I finished securing the main fixtures of the play area this afternoon (the swing-set will wait a little longer, for the concrete). There is a 6 inch layer of mulch covering the area, with an equal volume laying about in piles where the city loader left them. We just didn’t have the strength left to rake them out today. All of us felt defeated, frustrated, and disheartened. So, with the area safe if not complete, we cleaned up and took down the yellow caution tape surrounding the playground.

And then they came…

Children. Children and their parents. One father, then another, gingerly walking the apparatus in advance of their kids, ensuring the safety of the unit. Toddlers and 12 year old’s reaching, discovering, falling, laughing. Parents, some nervous and others content, all smiling as their kids enjoyed their holiday in the park. As the few of us who remained began to notice their arrival, we were able to set aside our clean up and slow down the removal of our tools. On the fourth day of construction, four days that we now realized had perfect weather, we were able to see the why at the root of our labors. None of us I am sure, at that moment, harbored any illusions of grand giving. All of us I am sure, at that moment, were savoring perfect little moments of personal glory. Self-centered indeed!

Politics

The third son of North Korea’s petulant little caricature of a dictator entered the military at the rank of 4 star general. Iran is still nominally under the leadership of an idiot sponsored by that nation’s ruling mullahs. Achmadinejad still gets off the occasional blast “condemning” or “warning” our nation. I am not paralyzed with fear. Some 60 volunteers from every conceivable racial, religious, political, and ethnic background joined with thousands of donors to build a playground in Macomb, Illinois.

My conclusion: our nation will be just fine friends, a fact sometimes difficult to keep hold of in the insanity and hyperbole of an election year.

Sports

In noting Roy Hallady’s no-hitter, just the second in playoff history after Don Larsen’s blasphemy (I jest) of a perfect game against the Dodgers in 1956, I am again stunned by the tiny margins between perfection and infamy in baseball. In Bull Durham, the character of Crash Davis sums up the difference between minor league oblivion and Cooperstown; one hit per week. One hit per week is the difference between a .250 batting average and a .300 batting average in a typical season. When baseball is boiled down to a single series or game, the differences ride upon the edge of a knife. It is true to the nature of baseball that Edinson Volquez’s disastrous start for the Reds was the product of, perhaps, a dozen pitches that missed by an inch.

Doc Halladay, as well, might have made a dozen critical pitches that were an inch better than the efforts of the Reds’ hurler. Think further though, and you see that Halladay missed the greater accomplishment of a perfect game by perhaps a half of an inch; just a little to low or inside on the 3-2 pitch to Jay Bruce. It is the same of all of the heroes and goats of baseball.

Steve Bartman was in a crowd of fans all reaching for a ball that was in the stands; the lack of focus and mental toughness on the part of the Cubs, and now-Reds manager Dusty Baker’s failure to calm his squad (he was busy being angry at Bartman and the umpires) were the factors that doomed the Cubbies that year. Bartman’s inches simply allowed the blame to be transferred. Similarly, few remember the dozen or so poor pitches by Boston reliever Calvin Schiraldi in 1986. Those mistakes turned the certain Boston win into Bill Buckner’s moment of inches…the two inches that separated the bottom of his glove from the ball. The agony for the mythical Crash Davis comes from the knowledge that the difference between the goats and the greats may be small, but a difference nonetheless.

Television

I hope I am not the only American with a big-screen television who can’t see the scores and scrolling in the corners of my screen. My rage is only amplified when the local network affiliate superimposes their logo over a caption or informative graphic. When networks impose idiotic graphics over the top of programs in progress, causing me to miss information I need, I feel a terrible (and admittedly juvenile) compulsion to send the executives in charge boxes filled with old dirty diapers. I could give up on television permanently, but who would I be kidding. I probably just need a break. Perhaps I will turn off the boob-tube and go out to the park…our town has a neat new attraction there now.

The Rational Middle is listening…

4 thoughts on “Monday Musings: October 11, 2010

  1. Of my many accomplishments and failures in life. The most rewarding work I have ever done was my 12+ years of Coaching in the local Parks Organizations.

    Not only did I have the particular pleasure of Coaching and nurturing my own children’s aspirations, I KNOW I positively influenced the lives of many youngsters.

    Nothing is more rewarding than a “Water Cooler” drenching by a group of 6 year olds (that I had to “accidentally” kneel down to facilitate) upon winning their first, and only game of the season!

    If I had my life to live over again and know what I know now, I would position myself to be able to work with young people on a full time basis.

  2. Turn off the boob tube Michael, now that’s just crazy talk. I understand what you mean about the logos causing you to miss information. On my (not big screen) TV those damn logos often cause me to miss the score or stats during a game…

    Sounds like you had a rewarding experience coaching football.

  3. Eight of the richest and most rewarding years of my life were those spent as a Cub Scout leader. What began as a parent reluctantly attending a weekend cub camp blossomed into my full involvement in the scouting movement.

    One day, many years after I had left the Cubs, a young man approached me in the supermarket. I did not recognize him at first but when he introduced himself as a former Cub in a pack I had led, I instantly made the connection. He shook my hand vigorously while thanking me and stating that the three years he spent with me in the Cubs were years he would never forget. I teared up.

    Working with and teaching children, Michael? The most rewarding experience of all.

  4. Congratulations on a worthwhile project completed for the most important of us. I like the musings…much more fun than politics, but it doesn’t jump start the brain and get the blood boiling. Those feelings are probably what makes politics interesting to many.

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