Saturday, June 1, 2024

Praise the messenger

"Rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for U.S. Steel."

With the twisted economics of baseball, big-market teams, like the Yankees and Mets, spend major money on players while teams like my Cleveland Guardians work with shoestring budgets. So when our budget-strapped teams actually are winning, it feels so awesome!

For the third consecutive season, the Cleveland Guardians have the youngest team in Major League Baseball. Their payroll ranks 27th out of 30 teams, yet they stand with the third best record in the league, only behind the Phillies and U.S. Steel.

The start of this Guardians season has been an utter blast, and there are reasons to think this is not a fluke. But this blog entry isn't about the awesome Guards' start. It's about the Cleveland media and our main man, Tom. Why not praise the Cleveland media during this wonderful stretch?

When we witness political mudslinging, economic inequality and social injustice, we sometimes forget about the actual issues and blame the media. But then it seems rare to praise the media when things are going well. Let's do that for a brief moment.

Honestly, we couldn't cheer for these scrappy, young underdog Guardians if the Cleveland sports media didn't exist. Our love of the team has a lot to do with the thoughtful, entertaining product the team presents.

The voice of the Guardians — Tom Hamilton — with his radio buddy Jim Rosenhaus along with the TV team of Rick Manning, Matt Underwood and Andre Knott truly make the Guardians experience worthwhile and deserve major credit for the joy Guardians fan experience. And, of course, stalwart beat writer Paul Hoynes and Cleveland.com's coverage is excellent, too.

But of all the exceptional Cleveland sports journalists out there, I must single out Tom Hamilton as the top of the top, the best of the best. He's our Vin Scully. I cannot say he is better than Vin Scully (which he is) because I once said that to a Dodger Fan and nearly was punched in the face — gotta be careful.

Now, you might say that I am totally biased (which I am), but I challenge you to listen to Tom Hamilton and compare his broadcast with any other's on the MLB app. While I have run across a few respectable announcers, most are borderline, incompetent or flat-out dull. Do they even want to be there?

Tom is vivid and clear, insightful, and has a love of the game that is contagious. I love his emotion, especially on the details of the game, such as getting excited over a ball the dirt that is blocked by the catcher that prevents a runner from moving to second base.

On the TV side, Manning and Underwood with Knott offer insights that we mere fans might not have considered. While they are an excellent broadcast team, I do not see as big of a gap between their broadcasts and other markets. However, Hamilton and Rosenhaus' radio broadcasts are major steps beyond other markets. And of course, let's give major credit to the teams behind these front men because we all know that the producers and crew make or break broadcasts.

Earlier this year, longtime Yankees announcer John Sterling retired. He was excellent and deserves his accolades, but many markets just don't have a respectable, day-in-day-out broadcast wizard like him or Scully or Jon Miller in San Francisco. They might think they do because of the regularity of listening, but sadly, their guys aren't really talented or insightful.

In Cleveland, we have maestros in radio, broadcast and print (or Cleveland.com, if you will). Both Hamilton and Manning have been a part of the Cleveland broadcast side since 1990, so that's 34 years. That is a darn long time, and strangely, they don't feel as if they've been there that long because they keep things so fresh. Hamilton actually has been at it longer than Cleveland icon Herb Score, who was on the radio for 29 years.

Every night, Hamilton creates a stirring narrative, puts a vivid picture of what's happening on the field through words alone and then punctuates it with appropriate emotion. I mean, fuhgeddaboudit, Tom's da best!

Oh, and good news, Tom Hamilton also has explained what I need to get in case I have rust to bust or what type of sausage to try. He also put in my mind the mathematical odds of scoring four runs in any of the first four innings and the value of a free car wash in weather-erratic Cleveland. Let's praise Tom and the Cleveland media. ... Ballgame!

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Connection keys our health

Editor's Note: The Snooze Button Generation originally published "100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend" in 2019. As we read more nonfiction books worthy of recommending, the list continually updates. Today, "Together" by Vivek Murthy enters the Personal Growth category.

I've often found myself in conversations with fellow Gen Xers about how cool it was as kids when we'd ride our bikes to our friend's house and follow the accepted rule of the day: "Be home before the street lights come on."

My gosh, how things have changed. Our kids had no desire to go out on their own. They cocooned themselves at home, and soon parents followed suit. Facebook came around, and many of us spent an inordinate amount of time on trivial things, such as social media, the Internet or streaming TV.

So the United States now is experiencing a mental-health crisis and various societal ills, and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy wrote a compelling book Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World (2020). Murthy's main point is that a lot of our nation's mental and physical health problems stem from a lack of community and connection.

That thesis rings true, and he explores various stories and facts to support it. The book, coincidentally, came out one month into the Covid shutout, and its main point has been amplified following that disaster. With lack of in-person, human connection a problem before Covid times, it's even worse now.

Personal technology, a fugazi of connection, is probably the biggest reason why individuals are so disconnected. They mistakenly think by spending hours upon hours on their screens that they are participating in connection, but in reality, they have accidentally given away their much-needed human time to the nothingburger of screen time.

When we toss in the political division that many Americans still swirl in, the lack of neighborhood connection, spurred by the loss of local news, and misconceptions of service, then it's easy to see how so many Americans are isolated. It might be counterintuitive. But service and giving, by the way, are not draining activities, but rather cup-filling ones. When we help others, we also help ourselves.
So the surgeon general of the United States has used his platform to wave his arms and point out this isolation, loneliness epidemic, and it was no newsflash to me. However, I did realize that this has been happening for at least the past 30 years. 

Back in 1995, Robert D. Putnam wrote an article Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social Capital and a subsequent book, in which he examined the United States' declining social capital. Since 1950, there has been a steady decline of in-person social interaction upon which Americans used to find, educate and enrich their social lives. Now, Americans literally find themselves sick without enough social interaction because we are social animals that are being neglected.

Of all that Murthy writes in Together, I found Chapter 7: Circles of Connection to be the most illuminating. Basically, we have three tiers of friends — our inner circle, middle circle and outer circle. The inner circle is our loved ones who we see every day. Sometimes, real close friends and confidants are there. The middle circle are our friends we see now and again and connect with every so often. Our outer circle are our colleagues and acquaintances.

Murthy suggests we connect with at least one person a day, preferably through a conversation or FaceTime who is in our middle circle. It's also important to understand that our inner circle cannot replace, or trump, our other circles. As human beings, we need to know that there are many, many people that do indeed care about us. It's not just our loved ones, but a whole menagerie of folks who've we've connected with and have affected us throughout our lives.

It's crucial to remember how important we are and how we care about so many people and vice versa. The chapter on our circles of friends begins with this brief quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: "The only way to have a friend is to be one."

Then, as the next chapter opens, Murthy uses the following quote, which we'll end with. It's from Christopher Robin in Pooh's Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin.

"There is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we're apart, I'll always be with you."

Monday, April 1, 2024

Darkness before light on Opening Day

My hometown of Cleveland will experience quite a day next week, when the Guardians play their Home Opener two hours after a rare total solar eclipse.

Cleveland is a city in an ideal path for the eclipse, and the Land will be totally dark for nearly four minutes, starting at 3:13 p.m. on Monday April 8. Two hours later ... "Play ball!"

With extra tourists expected to be in downtown Cleveland for the eclipse, this Opening Day could be one of the most memorable in Cleveland history. But for me, I got to go with Opening Day, 1991, as my most memorable. 

Back on April 16, 1991, a few hundred St. Ignatius students, myself included, trekked two miles to Cleveland Municipal Stadium for the Indians' Home Opener vs. the Texas Rangers.

We students bought $5 tickets for the bleachers and saw the Indians lose 3-1 in what turned out to be a 57-105 season — the worst season in Cleveland Indians history. But to cut school for the only time in my high school career and not get in trouble because so many kids did it — that was pretty darn cool.

The attendance for that 1991 Home Opener was 46,606, even though the baseball capacity of the stadium was 74,000. The next day attendance was a mere 6,023. Before you knew it, a scenario of walking up on Opening Day for $5 tickets would be long gone.  

In 1994, the Indians moved to Jacobs Field, where they became a powerhouse and were in the World Series in 1995. If you build it, they will win — apparently. The Jake soon had 455 consecutive sellouts from '95 to 2001.

Mimicking the darkness of this year's Opening Day followed by the light of play, the Tribe experienced A LOT of darkness before stepping into the light. That's a pretty common narrative. I think about the crucifixion then the resurrection, and I personally know many people who've had dark times only to commit to not revisiting those and are having bright lives. 

Reminiscing about Cleveland Municipal Stadium, it's kind of wild how long that dreary stadium hung around. It opened in 1931 as the largest open-air venue in the world. It was a multiple-purpose stadium, then housed the Tribe until 1993 and the Browns from 1946-1995. It was totally outdated for a long, long time.

Even though Jacobs Field — now called Progressive Field — is the 10th oldest facility in Major League Baseball, I think it's still one of the nicer ballparks in the league. 

The "new" Cleveland Browns Stadium, AKA the Factory of Sadness, is the 12th oldest NFL stadium, being built on the site of Municipal Stadium and opening in 1999. There is talk about either putting $1 billion into renovations for the Browns Stadium or possibly constructing a dome in Brook Park.

But baseball and football are much different animals. In baseball, we have 81 home games as opposed to about 10 in football (considering the preseason and playoffs). The United States goes bananas for the NFL, while Major League Baseball is practically an artisan affair by comparison.

TV-wise, the NFL boasted the top 50 watched sporting events in 2023. For the top non-NFL sporting events, Game 4 of the World Series came in at 42nd place. Look, popularity between the NFL and Major League Baseball just isn't comparable.

But for me, Opening Day garners more hope than the Super Bowl. It's a symbol of spring and newness, and I am a devoted Cleveland Guardians fan. Yeah, we could talk about the economic ridiculousness of pro sports and how corporate they are, but win or lose, I genuinely enjoy the Guardians and the process of the 162-game season.

While winning always is nice, World Series, total eclipses — you can have them, sure, but there is a certain comfort, love and brightness when the first pitch comes at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.

Friday, March 1, 2024

We are not our accomplishments

Editor's Note: The Snooze Button Generation originally published "100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend" in 2019. As we read more books worthy of recommending, the list continually updates. Today, "Never Enough" by Jennifer Breheny Wallace enters the Education category.

With my alma mater Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland praised on pages 195-199 in Never Enough: When Achievement Culture Becomes Toxic — And What We Can Do About It, it made it easy to recommend Jennifer Breheny Wallace's 2023 book.

The harsh truth is that achievement culture in schools often is toxic. Kids stay up all hours doing their schoolwork. They have a difficult time staying healthy. Many are disconnected, and they have an unsustainable lifestyle that, I believe, is an accidental and involuntary response to our cruel, billionaire-led, wealth-gap system of economics.

As a mom of three teenagers, Wallace explores this toxic culture and offers solutions for parents and educators. As a dad of two teen daughters and as a high-school teacher, I must say that she nails the culture we've been facing, but the solutions aren't anything earth-shattering.

It's real easy for parents to get wrapped up in competition and comparison, and so kids follow suit. I respond most to Wallace's parenting tips because, although I agree wholeheartedly with separating self-worth from achievement and unconditionally loving my daughters, I admit that I've talked about the college-admissions process so much, it's absurd.

By focusing so much on college, I think I undermined how important character, connection, communication and community are — among other things — in comparison to academics. Because the college-admissions process often is a divisive, self-centered exercise in disconnection, students and parents take it too seriously, and their values often become obscured by the vacuous and vague idea of "success."
We parents and educators can change our own behavior and attitudes, but we can't change the toxic individualistic culture our kids find themselves. Heck, a lot of this is old news. You've likely heard the stories of how pregnant ladies in New York City often battle for placements on waiting lists for preschools before their kids are even born. The madness often starts before birth.

Perfectionist parenting leads to perfectionist youths, and both are illnesses. We need to strive for purpose, not perfection, and, sadly, too many parents and students find themselves derailed by a culture that I continue to assert is a byproduct of "our cruel, billionaire-led, wealth-gap system of economics."

Perhaps my favorite part of Never Enough is the sense of hope that we have through genuinely connecting with our children and with positive individuals in our children's lives. However, it might be easy for Wallace to say that because she is in a position of privilege as a cultural oligarch herself.

Harvard-educated Jennifer Breheny used to be an associate producer at 60 Minutes, and Mike Wallace set her up on a blind date with his grandson, Peter. So Chris Wallace is her father-in-law. Maybe this is irrelevant, or maybe it's uber-relevant because we're living in the influencer, oligarch world, and she figured out how to be one of sorts with an extremely important topic.

And, hey, Wallace found herself interviewing Coach Mike McLaughlin, a teacher and soccer coach at St. Ignatius. Mad props! Coach Mike explained that the goal of the school is to have students "balance their own personal needs and goals with a responsibility to help others meet their needs and reach their goals, too."

I have discovered that true service, which can only involve a symbiotic relationship with those being served, is difficult to find. It can occur under the right circumstances, and St. Ignatius does its best to put students in a path of true service by requiring it and urging them to develop relationships with those they're serving.

"You don't have to fly to Haiti and build a shelter to do meaningful volunteer work," Coach Mike tells Wallace. And so I wonder why so many elite students don't actually do volunteer work close to home, or if they do, why does it have to be something grandiose they put on their college transcripts?

Maybe some just never realized they actually have the ability to make an impact in others' and their own lives, and that only can start in the home and in their actual community. 

Thursday, February 1, 2024

Accidental wisdom seeps in

Patience is the companion of wisdom. A wise person sees the big picture and recognizes that they are not God or the most important person in the world.

Kindness is wisdom. Wise people are also humble.

True wisdom comes from sifting through all the noise and finding simplicity at its core.

I've discovered that it's not effective to actively pursue wisdom. Rather, wisdom seeps in over time. Wisdom is more of a feeling than a thought.

At least that's what I'm feeling nowadays, in which I've had a pretty good stretch in life, realizing the phrase "accidental wisdom" probably is redundant. Perhaps wisdom only can be accidental.

While I've been accused of being a bit too woo-woo and partially agree with that, I've been a bit more relaxed of late and have reprioritized my activities and what's important to me. Quality time with my beautiful wife and daughters tops the list of my daily goals. And then, bike rides and walking around El Dorado Park's Nature Center or other worthwhile landscapes, whenever possible, have been my focus.

C'est la vie. Why concern myself with trivial things when I can be looking at the ocean, trees, lakes or turtles?

I had much different feelings for most of my life. Not only did I eschew nature, but I reveled in the glory of manmade constructions, such as The Rock (AKA New York City).

After getting a master's in journalism in The City and working in newspapers for 12 years in New York and L.A., I was an inevitable newshound for most of my life. While I stay abreast of the world's happenings just once daily on the AP News app and German's DW (Deutsche Welle), I think another source of the main sense of calm, and wisdom, I've been experiencing comes from my distinct lack of social media, TV news and scrolling.

So as we head into a presidential election in which I honestly believe is an embarrassing media-gross process and event for Americans, I simply refuse to follow it. Nope. Disregard. Dismiss. Not taking the click bait. I've got an actual life to lead here. I got trees to see.

I don't have any regrets having that 12-year career in newspaper journalism during a time when newspapers existed. I still vehemently argue that we need quality journalism as a part of our nation's checks and balances. Unfortunately, that journalistic ideal is a pipe dream, but it would be nice not to have the Washington Post owned by Amazon and The New York Times telling me the time length each article takes to read on its app.

Henry David Thoreau once said, "If we read of one man robbed, or murdered, or killed by accident, or one house burned, or one vessel wrecked, or one steamboat blown up, or one cow run over on the Western Railroad, or one mad dog killed, or one lot of grasshoppers in the winter — we never need to read of another."

So, yeah, I think Biden/Trump, again, is just the icing on the cake that shows the news cycle we witness in the United States is not only ridiculous, but toxic. It just feels so good to give myself permission to dismiss it and not get hung up on the painful news of the day.

It took me a while getting here, but I guess it's accidental wisdom. Like rings around trees, my wisdom has been sneaking up on me and helping me enjoy my days more and not wasting them on the dreadful news of steamboats blowing up.

Monday, January 1, 2024

Quick nunchi in Costco

If you can't beat 'em, join Costco.

After eschewing Costco for most of my life because it symbolized lame overconsumption in my mind, I finally succumbed and joined.

"Wait, you never had a membership," the clerk said as I signed up.

"No, never."

"Really?"

Do I look like a Costco member? What does that even look like? Why didn't he believe me?

I liken myself to an artiste of sorts, kind of like Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth, downtown New York, East Village or Lower East Side. Why would I be in freaking Costco?

Is there some sort of spiritual connection happening in Costco as we revel in oversized pot pies, 3-pound bags of tortilla strips and 15 packs of coconut water? Is God speaking to us?

Eh, I'm not so sure that exists because it seems so mindless. Do we even notice each other as we grab our 40 packs of spring water and 10 packs of Kleenex? Are we supposed to notice each other? How do I blend in among these big-ass pumpkin pies and chocolate cakes?

In stark contrast to my foray into Costco, I just read a small book called The Power of Nunchi: The Korean Secret to Happiness and Success by Euny Hong. Nunchi has no true translation in English, but it's perhaps best described as "reading the room" or seeking first to understand or, for me, finding power in not speaking.

I suppose I take a lot of American culture for granted, such as self-promotion and the myth of individualism. On the other hand, I don't know if I can accept Costco. On some level, that big ole warehouse just ain't right!

Do we really need all of this stuff? Isn't it a bummer that so much of our culture is disposable? Do you think I will use three cans of Reddi-wip, or is that two and a half cans too much?

While rolling my supersized shopping cart in Costco, my mind drifts to the nunchi book and how nunchi differs from empathy. While I take it as a given that one should strive for empathy, Hong questions that.

Empathy puts the focus on one's self other than the actual person. We try to "put ourselves in their shoes." But shouldn't we really just listen, soak in what the person is saying and allow them to be seen and heard?

I've often chastised myself for overtalking. I am just so hilarious and insightful that it's best that I talk over as many people as possible so I can be beheld in all of my glory. ... Uh, not the best look.

So as I push my oversized shopping cart, I get out of my head and notice what I see. People appear jostling for space and time. Many do not, or cannot, consider the others around them. This is consumption. This is California. This is Costco.

I do not have any answers, but I'm developing questions. Are we just members of the consumption class? If it's disposable, does it have any worth?

Why do I rush so much? Why I am happiest when my mind is blank? Why must you get a three-pack of guacamole when I just want one?