Saturday, June 28, 2008

Summertime Jealousy

I am jealous.

It's clearly summer now. Both the weather and calendar agree. The days are hot and steamy. Thunderstorms could erupt at almost any minute. The grass is growing so fast it needs to be cut every three days. The cool waters of our pool are warming to temperatures in the eighties.

Yet my golf clubs sit idle in the storage room downstairs. My knee isn't ready yet.

So I am jealous of those who are playing twice or more a week. I hear them talking daily at work about their game. Their problems with slices and hooks. Their short games bailing them out or failing them. Their putting success and woes.

And I wish I had their problems.

The Tiger's are playing well now (knocking on wood as I type this). They are a game below the even mark of .500 after being as poor as twelve games below that mark. I sit on the back yard deck on the evenings they play and the weekend afternoon games. I root for every pitch. I have some friends who have season tickets – and others who have bought the baseball package for their satellite or cable T.V. at home. I couldn't justify the thousand dollars for the season tickets or the couple hundred for the TV package.

I prefer to listen to a ballgame on the radio, but still, I am jealous.

When I was a kid, I loved summer more than any holiday. More than my birthday. I would live with my friends down at the community pool at Plantation Swim and Racket club. The club is still there. I checked it out on Google Earth. And then I walked the neighborhood in Lawrenceville, Georgia. It looks exactly the same. Thirty years have not changed the physical appearance of the place at all. They did add two tennis courts though.

Now my kids have a pool and playground in their backyard and I wonder if I did them any real favor by buying this house with that stuff. But we do love to hang out in the back yard playing in the nice weather.

But on Mondays, as I head back into the office, I am jealous.

I know that jealousy is an immature thought. And I am not a person generally jealous of material objects – except perhaps the huge LCD HD Television my in-laws have. But I do cherish my personal time. And there is not much of it I can claim with work, physiotherapy, and events my daughters partake in. So when it comes to the free time I had like when we were kids in the summer, I get jealous.

This is a condition that I have learned to control. But not a condition I have learned to conquer. I know there are people who have conquered jealousy though.

And of those who have conquered jealousy, I am jealous.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Last Day of Turtles

After six months of Saturday and Sunday practices in a gymnasium, with outdoor practices and then games taking place on the infamous Turtle Club ball diamonds; today was the wrap up of both Alannah's Red Timbits T-Ball team, and Ashley-Rae's Green McDonalds Blast-Ball team games.

The season ended today with the Turtles Club annual Tournament of Champions.

The progress made by Alannah's T-Ball team since those first days of gymnasium clinics has been pretty astounding. Remember that explaining baseball to a child for the first time is a huge educational task. The game is not easy to figure out until it has been instilled as a part of personal experience.

Now, after six months of dedicated coaching by persons I can only describe as Saints of Patience, not only do the girls know how to throw a ball, catch another player's throw, field a ground ball, and hit the ball off the tee to a target area where the opposition has left a gap in their coverage – but they now even know where the next play is to be made – and what their role in that play is. Each infielder covers their base. Outs made by infielders throwing the hitter out at first are common.

It's an incredible example of progress and player development.

The fifty year old Turtle Club's facilities are exceptional. Six quality diamonds, each perfectly fenced with nice dugouts and groomed with perfectly cut grass, orange clay dirt with perfectly straight white chalk lines defining the boundaries of each field. Bleachers that change from shade to sun found on each side of each diamond make watching a game a pleasure. And three parking lots intertwined through the facilities accommodate the traffic of the busiest game days.
Like this weekend's Tournament of Champions.

Between games, Alannah and I would go watch the big girls play fast pitch softball. Today the Turtle Club's under-seventeen girls travelling team was playing a Michigan clubs traveling team. The flags of each country were proudly stretched across the back of each team's dugout. The pitchers of both teams wind-milling their underhand pitches at speeds comparable to boys overhand pitching.

Alannah and I sat and watched three innings of this game – sitting in the shade of the bleachers. Watching the girls hit line drives, steal bases, and turn double plays.

"This is the kind of ball you will play when you get older, Alannah." , I said to my eldest daughter as she watched the big girls with wide eyed amazement.

The announcer on the PA speakers announced the next batter. Her name was Alannah. Alannah looked at me with her mouth wide open. Then she sat and watched the older Canadian Alannah drill a line drive into left center field, through a gap, for a stand up triple, and driving in two runs.
Alannah stood up and clapped real loud for her older namesake.

"Dad, do you think I will be that good?", asked Alannah.

"If you practice real hard and try your best, I bet you could, Alannah", I answered. "You might even play on this team."

"Wow – that would be sooo cool."

"Yes, Alannah. Yes it would".

So now that the season is over, and the girls have their participant trophies, I find myself sad that the 2008 season is over. I will admit that in mid March – after two months of 9:00 AM Saturday and Sunday gymnasium practices, I was ready for this day to come a quarter of a year ago. But now it is over. And Alannah has grown to become a ball player. Perhaps not a great player, or maybe not even good yet, depending on your criteria for judgment. But a ball player is a ball player.

And ball players are my favorite kind of people.

Now I fully recognize that things may change in Alannah's mind as the next six months unfold. But I hope some of her accomplishments, achievements, and the things she saw the big girls do will stay with her and she will still want to be a ball player again next year.

And if she does, there is no better place to play ball than with the Turtle Club.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Thanks A Lot, Tiger

Yesterday I had my six week post-op visit with my knee surgeon in Detroit.

I have tremendous respect for my knee surgeon. So much so that I would never use his name without his permission. So I will simply refer to him as 'the Good Doctor'.

Six weeks ago, the Good Doctor replaced my shriveled ACL with part of my hamstring. He also repaired a tear (bucket handle for those in the know) on my meniscus and as much (but nowhere near all) of the arthritis from the same meniscus was removed.

And it feels great.

Still swollen. Still puffy. But everyday feels better than the day before.

My physiotherapist is very pleased with my progress. We had set my goal to play golf by the end of July. Our Irish friends from Dublin are returning for a visit then. Ray is an exceptional golfer, and a great guy to walk a golf course with. So I have been looking very forward to playing golf by then.

After the Good Doctor examined my knee, he restated several times that this is actually the most dangerous time for the new ACL (once part of my hamstring) to tear. "If this things tears", he warned quite clearly and seriously, "we can't go back in there and fix it again. This is it. Don't screw it up!"

I nodded my acknowledgment, and would explain my practices for safety. And after each of examples, the Good Doctor would reply:

"If this things tears we can't go back in there and fix it again. This is it. Don't screw it up!"

And most would have known to keep their mouth shut, and perform the Boy Scout salute while promising:

"I will be very very careful and do nothing dangerous, Good Doctor. I promise I won't screw it up!"

Most would. But apparently not me.

".. you see, Good Doctor, I have some friends from Dublin Ireland coming to visit in the end of July…", I started.

The Good Doctor turned and looked at me – holding my chart – looking over the lenses of his glasses as they dangled on the end of his nose.

".. and I have set this target for myself to be able to play golf by then …", I finished.

The Good Doctor shook his head – almost in disbelief. Almost as to say – although he didn't verbalize the sentiment – "Haven't you heard a word I'm saying?"

But all the Good Doctor did was look at me.

"I would wear my brace of course ... ", I said trying to predict his argument – like a teenager asking to borrow Dad's car to drive to a party.

The Good Doctor kept on staring.

".. and I would ride in a cart, of course .. ", I continued.

The Good Doctor kept on staring.

"See, I hit the ball from my right side and shift my weight quickly to my left ... and since I would not hold any real weight on my right leg …", I continued further, now trying to safely demonstrate to him that I had analyzed this thoroughly and in my own expert opinion …

The Good Doctor kept on staring.

And then he started to shake his head. Head shaking is never a good sign when asking someone for permission.

He laughed a gentle laugh and he said "didn't you hear about Tiger Woods?".

"Why yes, I watched most of the US Open, it was clear he was in great pain, but his bad knee is his left …" I answered, but then cut off.

The Good Doctor kept on staring.

"Tiger Woods is done for the year!", he stated. "It was in the news this morning".

"Really? He hurt it that bad?"

"Yes, and his ACL is now torn, and he has a double-stress fracture in his tibia!"

That sounded bad. I know the tibia is a leg bone, and fracture means a break – and well – double usually means two.

"Huh." I replied.

The Good Doctor returned to staring.

I sat there quietly.

"Let's see how you do this next month then" said the good Doctor – after several long moments of silence passed he said ...

"If this thing tears we can't go back in there and fix it again. This is it. Don't screw it up!" he stated again.

This time it really sank in.

"I will be very very careful and do nothing dangerous, Good Doctor. I promise I won't screw it up!" I replied while speaking slowly and sincerely. "Scout's honor".

"Were you a Boy Scout?" asked the Good Doctor.

"Cub Scout"

And then again, he started to shake his head. "I'll see you in six weeks, Mr. Brill", he said almost dismissingly. But then he added one final time, "If this thing tears we can't go back in there and fix it again. This is it. Don't screw it up!"

Thanks, Tiger.

Thanks a lot.

And Tiger, should you ever happen to read this, I hope you get better quickly – but my advice is to let it heal this time. Otherwise you will have to endure hearing your knee surgeon say "Since you tore this thing again we can't go back in there and fix it again. That was it. You screwed it up!".

And you, Mr. Woods, will feel as childish as I do now.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Best Father’s Day Yet

I have only been a recipient of Father's Day benefits for seven years.

And each of those years I have reaped very nice gifts.

Multi-colored socks, ties with cartoon characters on them, and homemade pictures and picture frames with the girls photographs placed inside.

And each are treasures of equal value.

Those Father's Days have all had a similar schedule, starting with a nice family breakfast in the morning, and then getting dressed to Darlene's parents house to spend the afternoon with her Dad, known to the girls as "No-No's".

But this year was different. I didn't ask for it to be. It just happened that way.

This was the best Father's Day a guy like me could ask for.

Remember that I am only five weeks recovering from knee surgery – and unlike Tiger Woods, I am not allowed to play golf for at least another four weeks. So, shy of a round of golf, my ultimate Fathers Day went something like this.

The morning opened on a sour note, unfortunately, when our new black lab puppy Suzy was retrieved from the garage – her puppy bedroom for now – to be let out in the back yard. It would seem that something Suzy ate yesterday did not agree with her – and the garage floor was covered in .. well .. it smelled real bad. Sour indeed.

But that problem would have to wait, because we had a busy day ahead.

My Father's Day gifts were presented to me bright and early – two very excellent hand-made cards that will sit prominently on my desk – a seeding of a geranium plant that I will most likely kill, a cup of trail mix made with sunflower seeds and M&Ms. And a beautiful orange polo golf shirt.

First, Alannah had a T-ball game at 9:00 am at the Turle Club around the corner from our house. Alannah played well, hitting a good ball into the outfield, and fielded well getting a close play at first base.

I took this picture with my cell phone and sent it to my Brother Paul, with a message "Happy Fathers Day". He replied back with the message wishing me one right back.

They had been practicing for the last six months – since early February, and the clinics and skills they are coaching are now very noticeable in every one of the girls.

Every game they get better and better.

But one of Alannah's team mates told her she stinks – as 7 year olds are known to do, and she believes it. So any congratulations are replied with "I stink".

It breaks my heart.

The daughter of my girls God-Mother is like a cousin to my daughters. They love Katie and they want to be just like Katie. Katie, who lives on the other side of the county, recently found herself dating a boy who lives just down the street from us. She has been coming to stay with us lately on weekends so she can see this boy. Incredibly coincidental is the fact this boy is also one of the umpires who consistently officiates Alannah's T-Ball games. And a nice young guy he is – so it has been nice having both Katie and Mike at the house lately. Katie is a joy to have around, yet at the same time is a snapshot into the future of ten years from now, when my daughters reach the "teen age" years.

It is a scary snapshot of make-up and junk-jewelry and boyfriends. I get the cold sweats just thinking about it.

Therefore when we bought our Tickets for the Fathers Day Tigers game at Comerica, we had no problem enticing Katie to babysit the girls for us.

As always we underestimate the traffic of the Detroit River Tunnel. And as always, we missed the first inning. The knee held up strong as we walked from our favorite ten dollar parking lot around the corner to Comerica Park. And the knee felt uncontested as we made our various stops once in the park – for a scorecard, a quick wash-room stop, and two cold beers. The knee felt great as climbed up the steps of the stadium to the upper deck, between home plate and the 1st base side visitor's dugout.

I took this picture from our seats with my cell phone and sent it to my Brother Paul. Again I wished him a happy Fathers Day. He replied back again with the same, and wondering if I was at the Tigers game.

To my brother Paul in Baton Rouge – "Yes, yes I was".

The view was excellent.

The sun was hot.

The beer was still cold.

And the game was still scoreless.

Jim Leyland had started faithful Nate Robertson. And Nate held them scoreless. Joe Torre's new Dodgers starting pitcher phenom Clayton Kershaw was holding the Tigers to only two hits. That was until the sky collapsed and a torrential downpour caused a 45 minute rain delay.

One thing about the upper deck at Comerica Park; there is no place to hide from the rain.

Once the game restarted, Torre replaced Kershaw with reliever Chan Ho Park.

And the Tigers bashed Chan Ho around. Three runs in the fifth and two more in the sixth as Marcus Thames and Brandon Inge hit back-to-back dingers – both to deep center field.

In the end, Bobby Saay came in to close the game out and gave up two quick runs. With two men on and the tying run at the plate, the game became a potential save – so closer Todd Jones came to the mound. Jones is scary best – but always manages to get the job done – just not as painlessly as a fan would like. Two more runs scored and the game in jeopardy, the game ended with a long pop fly to Curtis Granderson.

So now the Tigers have won 6 in a row. Eight of their last nine.

They are getting better. Some fans still try to say they stink.

And it breaks my heart.

Back at home, someone had to drive Katie across the county to her house. Darlene and the girls made the trek while I stayed home to "get some chores done".

And son-of-a-gun, what was on TV? The final round of the US Open. Tiger had miraculously picked up three shots on the last three holes to take the lead by one over Lee Westwood. Rocco Mediate was two shots back. But when turned on the TV, Woods was in trouble, Westwood was struggling, and within the next minute Rocco was the one shot leader – putting for birdie for a two stroke lead in the club-house.

But Rocco missed the putt.

Woods had one more chance to win the US Open, keeping his streak of wins when leading a major perfect. He had to Eagle the eighteenth.

Woods drive went in the fairway bunker. With two-hundred and something to the green, he chose to lay-up. But his lay-up shot from the bunker found the rough. And not only the rough, but a spot where a previous player had shot from.

It looked bleak for Tiger now – to get up and down from this position. He hit a high iron shot into the right rough at pin-high. The ball hit, jumped, and spun on to the green to about 15 feet from the pin.

Okay – but he has to make this putt to tie Mediate.

And he did. The ball did one full rotation around the top of the cup before falling in the hole.
But he did it.

I wanted to send this picture to my brother with my cell phone. I didn't take it of course. He would have wondered how I got from Detroit to Southern California so quickly.

As I write this, Woods and Mediate are playing another eighteen holes. The last time I looked, Mediate was up by one after four holes.

After I finished watching Tigers putt fall into the cup, I remembered I promised to do chores. Laundry and the dog poop from Suzy in the garage.

I did the laundry first.

And then I tackled the garage as best I could.

Suzy is a good dog, really. She still chews things and digs holes.

But she is getting better and better every day.

And so are my Father's Days.

Each one gets better year by year. My beautiful wife Darlene makes sure of that.

But this year I kind of feel like I spent it with my brother Paul too.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Baby Steps Are Tigers Answer

We all know that true progress advances slowly.

Quite often things improve at such a gradual pace it is hard to see.

Take as an example the experience of watching your children grow. It's not until you look at pictures from a couple of months prior that you realize how quickly they are really developing. Since you see them every day, their daily millimeter of growth occurs unnoticed.

The same is true for the Detroit Tigers.

A quick recap for those who are interested – the Tigers were picked this year to handily win the AL Central Division, the American League, and the World Series. It was expected that the combination of amazing pitching and collection of All-Star power-hitters would result in a romp through the American League.

And .. well .. so far .. that hasn't happen.

Instead the Tigers lost their first seven opening games of the season and went on a horrific slide to start the year, reaching at one point 15 games below the level .500 mark. The problems were so numerous that it takes a long list to explain, but in short, the lineup couldn't hit – the starting pitching was weak and only able to last a few innings, and defensively errors were being made at all positions. The disabled list (DL) is perhaps the longest in the majors – with many of the remaining players playing hurt with broken fingers, bad backs, shoulder injuries, and even hemorrhoids.

The team that was supposed to burn up the league instead got burnt to a crisp.

In Detroit, the term "emotional investment" is used quite a lot when discussing fan loyalty to the teams this town supports. If you stop and think about rooting for a team, you can actually track the level of your caring for a team by the emotion that you invest in them. High emotional investment translates to great faith and large expectations for the season. Little to no emotional investment comes when the faith and / or expectations are failed to be realized, or never existed in the first place.

And for many Tiger's fans – the investment was cashed in already – willing to accept their loss and invest elsewhere.

Too bad.

Because the Tigers are quietly getting better.

The Tigers are winning more frequently than losing right now. The starting rotation has taken us seven innings, and giving up four or less runs – quality starts as the sports pundits say. The hitting has come to life a bit more day by day, and rally's to come from behind have started to erupt. Hits with men on base have started to increase. And the small ball play of sacrifice bunts, steals, and hit-and-run plays called by manager Jim Leyland have started netting some rewards.

Slowly but surely they are getting better.

They still sit ten games behind Chicago for the lead of the AL Central. And they still sit ten games below the even mark. And coming into this current series, the White Sox were red hot. But the Tigers put some water on that fire last night with timely hitting, solid pitching, and strong defensive play including a throw from left fielder Brent Clevelan to catcher Pudge Rodriguez for a close out at the plate.

It was a great game.

It was the Tigers baseball we expect.

And we have been seeing a lot more of it lately.

The sparks of life are coming from the farm system in Toledo. Names like Clevelan, Mathew Joyce, Ryan Raburn, Clete Thomas, and Armando Galarraga have provided sparks lacking from the superstars Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis – Willis sent yesterday to Single A Lakeland, Florida.

If the Tigers sweep this series with Chicago, they are only 8 games back, and it is only June. And Chicago can't stay hot forever.

And in recent history several teams have come back from ten or more games behind on June 11 to win their division, and even the World Series.

Stranger things have happened.

And what goes around, comes around.

So I am keeping my emotion invested in the Tigers. It's a long term investment renewed each year, and I don't plan to withdraw until October.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

In a Rut?

I think I am in a rut.

By a rut, I simply mean that things are not going smoothly – or as smooth as I wish they were. Some things are just plain going wrong.

My Tigers were supposed to be 10 games in front of the rest of the AL Central right now. But currently they wrestle to climb up from 10 games below .500. It's nobody's fault (except the players of course), it's just the way circumstances fell. Just plain bad luck.

My front yard looks more like a pasture than a lawn. It did not come up well this summer. We seeded, and thatched and weeded. But it just plain is not working. And ant beds seem to be migrating in and starting a thriving civilization. It's nobody's fault. It's just plain bad luck.

Our new black lab puppy Suzy just seems to love to chew things. Shoes, flower pots, hanging baskets, deck posts, air conditioner tubing and wiring. You name it. We have disciplined her to within an inch of her existence. We have scattered more chew bones than my daughter's have toys. It's nobody's (people wise) fault. It's just plain bad luck.

And maybe a missing page from the puppy training manual.

Our new house plumbing seems to be poorly done. With problems from the kitchen sink, to the dishwasher to the main floor toilet. They all have to be fixed. It's nobody's fault (except mine for not taking plumbing instead of computer science in University). It's just the way the circumstances fell. Just plain bad luck.

My knee surgery happened at the same time as Darlene's transition to full time disability. And therefore our cashflow is not as strong as it should be. It's nobody's fault, it's just the way circumstances fell. Just plain bad luck.

My new roll at work places me at the bottom of the food chain. And after all these years, I had higher expectations. It's nobody's fault – save some how I don't yet see it's my own. It's just the way circumstances fell. Just plain bad luck.

So here I sit.

Here I sit on the back deck, Suzy lying next to me. I'm in my swim suit typing out this list of things wrong with my life, next to the pool which when I finish this I will jump in with the girls and play a game of Marco Polo or water polo. The ice is all that remains in the lemonade and vodka I have every night after work, and the Tiger's game due to come on the radio shortly – which I will listen to as I barbeque up some hamburgers for our supper.


Maybe this is not really a rut. Maybe all these frustrations are just the price a guy like me has to pay to give my family, and myself, the kind of life we enjoy.

It's just not quite perfect.

You know, maybe I actually have it pretty damned good – and have no reason to complain.

Never mind.

Friday, June 06, 2008

The Old Hockey Stick

I am an old hockey stick.

At one time I was a favorite stick, used in big games to score important goals.

But now my flex is gone and my blade is cracked.

But I am still valuable. There are still many important jobs I can do.

I can be used to pry open new doors to go through, and prop them open as you transcend through.

I can be used to beat sense into those that refuse to understand the position you are taking.

Stick me in the dirt and use me to prop up ailing seedlings to help them grow healthy and strong, providing stability until they can stand on their own.

Or you can sit me in a corner of the garage, and merely look at me to remember days of greater glories.

But if I had my choice, I would rather be taped back up, and used to score more goals.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Starting Over and Over

Last year, I wrote on these pages about how the team I worked with found out that a long standing contract we had been working on was coming to a close, our disappointment, and how were working hard to learn our new roles.

Basically, we were starting our careers within the company over again.

When all the dust had settled, I was delighted to find out that I would be working on a brand new project – not merely maintaining a system someone else had designed and built. This project was large in scope, deemed to be critical to the future success of our organization, and would usher in some radically new technology that would transform many aspects of how we currently do business.

I travelled frequently for weeks at a time on this project. Weeks away from my family and leaving my full time career Registered Nurse of a wife to deal with all those aspects of raising two little girls along with her own professional duties.

We had what we considered to be great success on this project as we delved deeper and deeper into what the users of our new system would need and require. And we put those pieces together in design, intricately integrating various solutions together to result in one very impressive result of a design.

But when we pitched our designed solution, our vision of what we were to build, we were not applauded. There were no standing ovations. Instead we heard gasps. Gasps for what their perception of the size and scope of the solution would be. Gasps at tentative project timelines as they crept across months and into years to complete.

The final solution was going to weave together existing components for collaboration, contact relationship management, and our prestigious claims adjudication system. Very little would be written from scratch. Most components would simply be tweaked and customized. But as any good project manager knows, you always manage expectations of delivery dates of large projects by adding contingency time planning.

So what was once a high-priority and eagerly anticipated solution was now being balked at by those who control both resources and budgets.

My role was to partner with another systems engineer as we pieced this solution together. Once completed, implemented and deployed, I would carry this new system with me to another branch of our IT group to ensure they understood it, to manage it, and to extend it further as time went on.

It was a career opportunity. It was one of those few opportunities to move up in an environment with a very low glass ceiling for professional mobility. And our team was making the very most of it.

And then I went off work for three weeks for knee surgery.

I returned to work two weeks ahead of the doctors desired recovery period as I was excited to get back to the project.

But upon entering the office that first morning back, I was called into my Manager's office. And the news was not good. It appears while I was away, the decision had been handed down from above that this project was not that important after all. The priority had dropped. The interest had evaporated. And the project was shelved.

As any good project manager knows, once a project is shelved, its chances of being rekindled are little or none.

I was told that I would be moving into the group that maintains existing projects. The group I was going to join bringing this project with me. Only now I was joining empty handed. It was explained to me that my return to this team was indeed unexpected – but not to worry, we will find something for you to do.

The opportunity to advance was lost. My mobility to rise professionally seeming stifled.

My disappointment was immense. And I apologized to me new team management for my disappointment, they responding with empathy.

So I find myself now in the awkward position of starting over starting over.

Do I feel I failed on my last assignment? No. I consider the work we did do to be of tremendous value. Do I feel I let this project fail? Perhaps only by taking this time to have my knee surgery done – eliminating the potential for face-time to persuade a decision maker. But I had no control over resourcing, or timelines. Their needs were what they stated them to be. The scope of the project was scaled only to satisfy those needs.

Now those needs go unsatisfied.

So now I spend my days learning data models for other systems so I can support their maintenance.

My career must sit on hold at least for now. Because again, I am starting over.

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