Auston Matthews and Humanity

Auston Matthews.

Auston Matthews.

Auston Matthews.

Auston Matthews.

Four goals in a debut NHL game.  No rookie in NHL history has every done it before.  The second goal looked like Matthews was playing a video game.  Swiping the puck from a defender and skating in on the wing and shooting.

Come on kid.  Give the league a chance.

Auston Matthews.

Get used to it.  He’s finally in Maple Leaf blue and white.  The Gardens don’t buzz anymore and Foster Hewitt doesn’t broadcast from the gondola but the Maple Leafs are forever.

I wonder what went through his mind after the game?

Did he stop and look around at his teammates and think “I did something these guys couldn’t?”

Is he like that?

Or did he stop and say, “I couldn’t do it without these guys?”

I hope that he’s not one of those guys who felt like he’s the man.

“Just put it all on my shoulders I’m gonna save this team.”

But isn’t that the kind of superstar the world loves?  The fiery, ambitious young man who longs for the spotlight?  The one who calls out his teammates in press conferences and interviews because they don’t play at his level?

Is that the nature of sport?

What is it that we want from superstar athletes?  To celebrate their talent?  Or to stroke their ego?  Or do they both go hand in hand?

When we see a superstar athlete in the street do we stop and stare?  If you saw Austin Matthews would you stop and ask for an autograph?

Okay.  Maybe you might not know his face.  Yet.

But if you saw Wayne Gretzky would you stop and stare?  Maybe get an autograph?  A picture?

Or what if you had a seizure while waiting for that star?  Like the man waiting for Tim Tebow?  Imagine if the star actually helped the man.  Do you think all the stars would do it?

The same Tebow the New York Mets took so much flak for signing because critics called it a “publicity stunt.”

Sure.  Aren’t most players signed for some kind of publicity?  Michael Jordan wasn’t Babe Ruth on the diamond for the Birmingham Bulls.  If I came out the stands, the Chicago White Sox organization would not sign me to a contract.  It was because it was Jordan of course.

Tebow, because he CARES about people, stayed with the fan until help could arrive becuase he knows life is bigger than the game.  Whatever his religious beliefs, he truly believes in the wellbeing of people and at some point everyone needs to adopt that belief.

I wonder if Auston Matthews stopped in the locker room and questioned the gravity of the situation.  Did it all fly by in the blink of an eye?  After everyone left, did he look around and wonder what he just accomplished?  Or did he just leave?

Just another day at the office for him?

Some players have talked about that life changing moment going by without them soaking it in.  No time to look around.  Next thing they know they are retired and looking back on a championship or a record or a key victory with regret.


Every day we talk about it.

“What time is it?”

“I can’t wait til the weekend.”

“Time heals all.”

“Wait til next year.”

“When we all look back on it.”


All it does is remind us that time saps us of our energy, our youth, our strength and our talents.

While we look to the future we lose sight of the present.  This game, this inning, this shift sometimes we forget that one builds for the next.  Or even this day.  We get so caught up looking forward to the next.  One sun-up leads to the next sun-down and the next thing we know it’s the start of another season.  Ten seasons later we don’t know the players.  We don’t know where it all went.  There’s a 19 year-old Auston Matthews scoring four goals and a warm-hearted player dwelling in instructional league baseball that cares about people that is criticized for his intentions.  Is that the nature of sports or the nature of humanity or do those lines cross?  Maybe that’s why we like sports so much?


The Re-Evaluation Of A Sports Fan

Imagine being a sports fan all your life – knowing who is playing on Saturday and Sunday. Knowing who is in the playoffs and knowing the rosters of every team.
Being a Virginia Tech Hokies football fan I talked about interviewing the legendary Coach Frank Beamer. I sat behind the bench of a Tech game when they played Rutgers and I saw the players up close. I was there during Marcus Vick’s (yes, the brother of one Mike Vick) rookie year when he threw 2 interceptions and was benched for playing like crap. I remember seeing him and questioning how someone like that could be so highly rated over his brother. He sure didn’t look great that day.
Little did we know all the things that he would be known for – the stomp, running from the cops, the weed and the underage drinking with girls. It turned into one of the worst examples of Coach Beamer believing in a player in his tenure at Virginia Tech. I almost believe it soured him for the rest of his career from then on out. He certainly never appeared to be the same Coach after that.
Since Coach has retired and I’ve gotten older, I don’t follow Tech football or many other sports for that matter like I used to. I do try to play hockey and ref soccer but that’s about as deep as I get. Maybe it’s the philosopher in me or the psychologist that does too much questioning. I’ve ruined it. I’m starting to wonder if I’ve even ruined playing these sports just by questioning.
Walking away from the games has made Saturday and Sunday different. I can remember fall Virginia days with the windows open, the leaves falling, watching football with a blanket on. It didn’t matter what games were being broadcast I was watching them. Now, you’ll be lucky to catch me watching football for an extended period of time. I don’t know the roster of Tech and all I know is that Coach Beamer shows up on the sidelines to talk to the players but not instruct them.
The opportunity came up to go to Syracuse to see the Hokies play a Saturday game – one that I always said I would take if I ever had the chance. I declined.
“It’s too much, I don’t know the players anymore and Beamer isn’t there.”
It’s just not the same for me. It’s a struggle and a painful one at that. Something that was the biggest part of my childhood is gone. Through the questioning of concussions, wondering about the mindset of athletes and the examination of profits in sports I’ve lost that love for the game. I do truly wonder if I think too much about things.
I find myself not enjoying skating or soccer as much anymore. I question my ability to skate. Why? Why should I? It feels like a cycle or a circle. Here I go again.
“I can only do so much,” I tell myself, “but I don’t do enough.”
My body gives out and I can’t push it like I used to. I know there are guys older than me playing but why not me? Am I just not built the right way? I question my genetic makeup.
“Maybe I wasn’t built for skating.”
I’m arguing with people when it comes to soccer – i’m too strict with the rules.
“Why,” I ask myself, “does it have to be this way?”
Should I really be forcing everything in soccer to be by the book? Do I have to look for all the details to be just right?
I know that I can’t step down from my position as a coach and ref. I can’t quit on the volunteer organization simply because I feel like I am not doing the job properly. Can I?
Ah self doubt you creep in again.
Self doubt my old friend.
Where would I be if I didn’t doubt myself?
Before I step on the field I’m confident but between the games I am ready to call it quits. I think back to each decision and each play wondering if I missed something. I know I had to have.
“No one is perfect,” I tell myself.
Did I call one game too leniant? Did I call one too strict? Why? Was I tired?
It breaks me to think about these things in between games. I want to hand in my whistle because I’m sure I’m letting someone down. I can’t be a good ref and doubt myself can I? Isn’t that the reason why I gave up on sports? Because I doubted the nature of it? I doubted everything about it. How pure it was supposed to be. Now I’m doubting how good a job I’m doing as a ref. How can I help a kid learn a game if I question what it is I’m seeing?
All these questions. Isn’t it supposed to be easier? Aren’t I supposed to be good at this? For all the talk I’ve made out of knowing the game, I should boast about my ability. But that’s not me. I spend more time questioning my ability than praising it.

The same person who can build a wall can tear it down. I can just as easily call a good game as I can a terrible one. How do you keep the human element from creeping in when you are supposed to be a robot? An emotionless machine that calls fouls. That can be a challenge as I tend to my feelings on my sleeve. Sometimes I think that’s the best place for them. The more I think about it there’s not enough room there for all of them.

Light Up My Hundred Dollar Bills

Lavish life of luxury. Big cars and homes. Swimming in money like Scrooge McDuck.
That’s what I think of when I think of owning a sports team. Maybe that’s because you have to stock multiple armored trucks with cash in order to be able to afford one.

I can’t imagine the men who ran the early instances of the Toronto Maple Leafs or the New York Yankees would have envisioned the state of the franchises now. Who knows if they even saw them being what they are now – or if they could believe they’ve lasted this long?

I don’t believe being an owner is always a picnic but from the outside it looks like a game played by rich men funded by those who have less.

That’s right – local governments give tax breaks, citizens vote to finance a stadium (they pay for it in taxes but it’s sold as “bonds” or outright donation), fans go to games, buy all kinds of things (including things they don’t need) and the athletes earn tv contracts and other revenue for those owners. Light those Cuban cigars with hundreds boys!  Forget bottles – we’re buying the bar tonight!

Am I missing something?  All this money comes in and they are paying for what? Contracts, salaries and then what?  Stadium upkeep?  There’s sponsorship deals for that. So where is it all going?  Oh right – in their pockets.  I imagine they have to go to their tailor every couple of months to get the pocket on their jacket redone so they can fit more cash in it.  It gets pretty stuffy in there.

Does it not seem like a rich club? There’s about as many people in that club as people in the mountains that have high-speed internet.

I enjoy playing the sports video games that have owner mode or GM mode. The new version of the NHL franchise for Xbox One has an in-depth GM mode with goals that are set by a CPU owner.  There are some that I happen to really enjoy:

“Make X amount this year.”
“Keep salary at X% of the profit this year.”

Yes Mr McDuck.  I’ll make sure to keep the funnel from the arena to the vault at your home running Mr McDuck.

As a player I am given the option of adjusting sliders for the cost of jerseys and shirts in the club shop. I can choose to upgrade bathrooms or club seats and even buy new parking.
However, I go into the club shop section and adjust the price of clothing so that fans can afford it. If a shirt costs the club $20 why am I charging $45? So that the owner can make $68.5 million this year? Get out of here. I’m going to adjust the cost of everything – this makes no sense.

There’s even an option to relocate the team – you know, just in case you AREN’T making ENOUGH money. It’s too bad they don’t give you the option to relocate the New York Rangers to one of those upstate New York casinos they keep talking about. They probably could get some tax breaks and incentives. There are no options in the game for tax breaks. Maybe next year. Too bad they don’t have a button to light up that cigar with a hundred-dollar bill.

Moving on.

I don’t see sports clubs that look like towns in rural areas. There are no owners who are travelling in Geo Metros wearing the same clothes day in and day out.

They aren’t like the mayor of a town with buildings that are condemned, stores closed and a handful of restaurants that are barely edible. Imagine the problems that person must face?

It’s certainly not what Jerry Jones is facing with his mammoth monument to himself that sits on the Texas plain. A giant screen in the center, players walk through a fans area (let’s sell that at high prices!), a pole dancing area sponsored by beer! great!, tons of flashing lights and eye candy that all screams “drop your money!”

Billion to Billions to build the stadium. Tax breaks. Incentives. You know, it’s the NFL. Don’t fight it. We need it. Besides, it’s Jerry! Oil man. He doesn’t have enough money, let’s give him some more.

I get it though. This is a Capitalist system. (Big C.  Whoever has the cash makes the rules. Basic break down – but much more complicated than that.)  It was set up that way from the foundation of the country. We’ve come so far and pushed our ideals throughout the world. It’s now a world economy, not just a national economy. There’s talk of jobs and companies moving here and there – it’s a part of a world economy.

Though some parts of our country can’t communicate with the world because they don’t have access to phones or internet but let’s build Texas Stadium!

I’m getting off topic again.

All that being said – we have to keep paying and giving them what they want. Ya know – the green.  The system is going to keep eating itself, like a snake eating it’s tail. Will it ever catch itself? That’s the question that we may or may not ever see the answer to. Until we come up with a better solution than capitalism we have no choice than to hold our lit hundreds up every time some rich person passes with a cigar. Here’s mine – light ’em up. Just don’t tell Mr McDuck the shirts are half off in the club store!

What Is The Value Of The “C?”

Recently, the Edmonton Oilers named the youngest captain in the National Hockey League when they placed the “C” on Connor McDavid’s #97 jersey. Connor McDavid, born on January 13, 1997 – hence the number 97 on his jersey, was 19 years and 266 days old when the announcement was made by the Oilers.

Gabriel Landeskog was the previous record holder when he was named the captain of the Colorado Avalanche at 19 years and 286 days. Before Landeskog, Sydney Crosby was 19 years and 297 days when his “C” was added to the Penguins jersey.

Of course we could keep going with all the others who were before – but that’s not really the point is it?

When most 19-year-olds are handed a leadership position how do they handle it? This isn’t to say that McDavid can’t handle it. Certainly it seems that Landeskog has handled it and Sid the Kid has no doubt handled himself with tons of poise.

However we’ve seen 19-year-old kids in all sports who have struggled with the expectations of living up to their talent much less leading a group of men into the locker room night in and night out. On February 28, 2017 when the Oilers end a six game road trip in St. Louis if they are out of the playoff hunt will he be able to motivate his team to get up for the game? How will he keep the momentum going on that road trip? He has said that he’s not a vocal leader, so does he leave that to his alternate captains?

I’m not doubting that he can be a good captain, he certainly is able to lead on the ice – his talent speaks volumes. I’m sure he can lead on the ice. He puts up goals, assists and points – 48 points in 45 games in his first year.

I wonder though how we value things?  Whether it is our hockey card collection or a new cd or the “C” that we put on someone’s jersey. Things only have value when we give them value. If McDavid gives that cloth letter a value and believes that it is worth something then truly it is worth something. It’s no different from believing that being the captain of our beer league team is the greatest thing in the world – it can be if we truly believe it to be.

We give thoughts, actions, items and even speech value. What is the value of the title of captain? That “C”?   Do you look at McDavid different when he steps on the ice? Do you look at anyone differently because they play hockey? Or because they are an athlete? Are they role models?  Charles Barkley said “I am not a role model.”

If you are a card collector – how can a Gretzky rookie card be worth thousands? Would you be willing to pay that much money for it? For a piece of paper with a picture on it? At one time I would have said I’d pay money for a Gretzky autograph – but what exactly is an autograph? Someone took a pen and scribbled their name on a piece of paper or item.  It’s nothing but some ink that I’ve suddenly given value to.

The same goes for game worn memorabilia or game used items. Why are they valuable? Because they were worn or used?  Is a swatch of a jersey or bat worth that much? How do I even know that it is theirs? Does that athlete even care that they are giving it to me? Does that athlete even care about me?  Take a look at the hockey card collection. Who gives that hockey card collection value? You? Or some magazine that comes out monthly? The guy at the card shop? Someone on Ebay that wants to buy it? If you want to sell it you give it whatever value you want to sell it for. If you want to buy a card with an autograph it’s whatever you want to buy it for. Sure there are magazines out there that will assign a value to a card – but it’s a random arbitrary value. How can it truly be worth that?

But what is value? What is money? How do we define that? If you want to go see Connor McDavid and the Oilers play how much are you going to pay? How do you decide? Are you going to pay x amount? Or are you going to pay x amount for his autograph or jersey or card? What causes us to put value on something? It seems to all come back on what we work for or how we generate value. “We” or “I” generate value. That value that we put on something. That value that we put on that label of the “C.” So if I value the “C” more than McDavid, maybe I’ll wonder why they gave it to him? It’s all in the eye of the beholder – much like beauty.

Reality is amazing when you break it down to simplistic terms, when we break sports or life’s details into the small points it’s all how we look at them. Take for example our pain, joy, experiences, value (of course), memories or dreams. All of these are subjective to ourselves and what we feel. No one can truly know our experiences or how we truly feel inside of us but us. No one can know how deep an emotion or an instance strikes us but us. If I were to go through a situation with you, we may have seen it differently, describe it differently and feel it differently. This is both the joy of being a human and the fatality of being a human. How do we describe a world that our mind colors specifically with our individual being as a target?  Our flaw is ourselves.  Being human is both a curse and a blessing.

As we ponder these things, we must consider young Connor McDavid’s plight. How does he approach other young men in the Oilers locker room? How does he approach older men in the locker room? I would imagine he’s not looking at it from the philosophical side of them seeing the situation from his side versus theirs however I have to wonder what they see in that “C?” Do they see a captain or do they see a 19-year-old? What value do they put in the title of captain?

Struggling to Find The Passion In Sports

I wonder sometimes how others experience a sporting event.  Whether they are watching it at home or at the game in person.  Do they feel the highs and lows as their team goes from in front to behind and comes back to win a close victory?

There’s a struggle inside me that I’ve found through years of reflection and two college courses – philosophy and psychology.  I don’t see sporting events the way I used to and in some ways it haunts me and in others I feel like I am better for it.

My passion for sports started at an early age.  I craved that rush of football on Friday nights, Southern high school football is a religion, Saturday afternoon college games and Sunday pro games.  I had to have my fix or else my weeks were not complete.  When I could get other sports I had to gobble them up as much as I could.  I was the rat in the cage hitting the button as soon as the light went off to get my pellet of food.

Studying the works of philosophers and the minds of others made me question what life is all about.  Not that I have found any answers.  The secret to life found in a sporting event?   I don’t know.  Is it going to make me happy?  I don’t know.  Some would say it’s a waste of my time.  Are they right?  I don’t know.  Only I can make those decision to be fair.  It’s up to ourselves to figure out what  true happiness is to us.

Sports was what made me happy when I was that kid chasing the lights at the end of the week hoping for touchdowns and extra points.  As I’ve gotten older I’ve looked at the writing of those before me to ask what it’s all about?  What are we doing here?  What have we learned?  Does what I feel match up with others?

Sure there are millions who worship at the church of football on the weekend and I am good with that.  You do your thing.  It’s not been that long since I was there.  Less than 10 years ago I was sitting behind the bench at a Virginia Tech football game watching them play Rutgers.  Now I can’t tell you half of the roster much less the starters.

It makes me feel empty in a way – something that made me so happy for so long now feels so distant.  It feels so worthless but I was the one that gave sports a value.  It was me who chose to treasure a game.  I made my own happiness in a life that revolved around sports.

What happens though when you try to find a way to play the games?  When you try to pick up one of the most demanding sports at an advanced age but can’t complete one of the most fundamental actions?  The ability to stop in hockey makes it difficult to play at any level.  You can love to play the game but when it leaves you frustrated and pissed off at yourself how do you cope?  You keep hearing that if you want to do something you try and try and you can do anything.  Keep trying.  At some point the doubt creeps into your mind and the happiness is pushed out.

Doubt and sadness begin to take over.  The aches and pains of a body that does not recover or move like it used to lead to more agitation.  Six months after beginning the process and looking back on what I’ve done, I’m not sure what I’ve accomplished.  However, I never went into this with a goal.

Maybe that’s where I went all sideways – I should have had a goal.  But goals can be good and bad.  They can push you to achieve them but after you achieve them where do you go?  Set another one?  For some, you find yourself struggling to bother.  For others you aren’t sure where to set the next one.  I have a hard time setting goals because I don’t know where I’m going to end up.  I tend to go with the flow.  I find myself at the bottom before I see the waterfall.

The same is true with being a soccer referee.  There was a happiness at one point.  The ability to know a game so well that I could watch it and instruct it – giving the players the right way to do it.  But others get involved and politics come into play.  The happiness gets pushed out.  Happiness is what you make it.  Sure, it’s only happy and enjoyable if you are digging it.  How can you enjoy it if every time you look up there’s another salvo coming your way?  Keep your head down and don’t say anything?  Sadly that’s not me – nor is it enjoyable.  I don’t have to be in charge of everything nor do I want to be.  I just wish to find the respect that I give to the game and the laws of the game.

So where does the happiness in sports come from?  I write about it, watch it, learn about it and play it but it’s not like it used to be.  At times it feels empty and I just don’t care.  The philosopher in me says it’s what I made it.  What have I done?  Guess I’ll find out in time – I know that doesn’t always bring happiness.

Don’t Pick Me – Hey Wait?!?

Somewhere in Canada or the United States or hell even in Europe there’s some kid who is learning to play hockey.  They’re skating and deke-ing all over the ice without a care.  Pucks are going in the net while the kid is flying up the ice and not breaking a sweat.  They aren’t even thinking about where it is all going to lead to.

Meanwhile, back in my part of the world – every time I step on that 200 x 85 I’m thinking about every stride.  Okay.  Maybe not every stride but it’s pretty damn close.  Some people can love the game so much that they know the moment they step on the ice they are having fun.

There are other sports like that too.  I tried kicking the soccer ball the other day.  I won’t say that I’m going to make it to the Premier League or even make it to Major League Soccer – don’t get me started on that topic.  However, the thing is sports are supposed to be fun.  When you go out and play a sport you are supposed to be enjoying yourself.  I think you are. For the most part, I’ve known people go play recreational sports and enjoy them but it may be because of the beer afterwards!

In a recent “game” of rookie hockey players, and veterans, most of what I remember of the game was me getting up off the ice or seeing the other players skate past me.  To be fair, I have a couple of issues working against me.  First, I can’t stop.  I can however that means I either run into another player or the boards.  On multiple occasions other people stopped me.  In fact on one occasion an opposition player stopped me dead in my tracks.  From what I understood, this was supposed to be a no-hitting game and I was completely blindsided on my way to the puck.  I guess I should have watched where I was going.  That was my second shift on the ice.  Welcome to hockey dummy!

The rest of the game was a complete and utter failure.  Legs like jelly.  Body felt crushed.  Mind was numb.  He got me good.  He never left his skates – it felt like it took minutes for me to get up before I could try to follow the puck back up ice. I had to hurry back to the bench because I couldn’t breathe.  Damn nice hit dude.

So I get what a clean hit can do.  Check that off my list.

But I can’t really skate either.  Skating backwards and I fall face first onto my helmet.  It’s a damn good thing I had a helmet.  My eggs would be scrambled.

After talking to one of the other rookies he said he had the greatest time playing in the game.  Hell, I never saw the puck in the game except when I dumped it into the zone on after a face-off.  When the game went to a shootout after regulation they put out some of the rookies to take penalties except this rookie was left staring at the ice when he wasn’t picked.  Queue the days of pickup basketball.  Last man standing.  “We don’t want that kid – you take him!”  Same in that game of hockey too.  It seems fortunate I showed up.

I mean this was a for fun game where the rookies were supposed to experience things?  I hadn’t seen the puck except to dump it in and you can’t give me a chance?  I guess sometimes it’s stuff like that that sours your opinion about something.  I know it really made me mad that night.  Maybe not mad – I was trying to get over the insanity of the hitting to get worked up over the penalty.  But damn give me a chance.

Part of my problem is I don’t really know where to be on the ice.  Not that I don’t understand the positions, because trust me, I’ve studied and I’ve watched to the point that I get it.  I know left wing, right wing, center, defense and goalie.  I know all that.  I’ve been through the breakout drills and I know I’ve watched the defenseman battling in front of the goalie to stop the play.  I’ve done some of that.  But at the same point I don’t want to let my team down.  On the flip side, I can’t score, I can’t skate and I’m not beating anyone down the ice.  So I’m not contributing there.  It just makes me wonder.  Where do I go?

I keep wondering if I’m really having fun but I keep going out there.  I got a friend to take a video of me skating and I’ve watched it over and over.  I thought about my mindset at the time.  I felt like I was slipping but I don’t see that in the film.  I see myself skating.  Not just skating I see myself as an improved player from the one who would have slipped and fallen stepping through the Zamboni doors.  A level up from the guy who felt like it was an achievement to skate in the “big end” during Learn To Skate.  You can bet those days are gone.

But is it fun?  I don’t know.  It’s really hard to tell anymore.  I spend so much time when I’m out there analyzing and over analyzing my performance that it almost becomes insane anymore.  It’s hard to not be so damn analytical.  It’s hard to stop telling myself that missing the puck in front of the net was a terrible mistake.  I can’t stop that running commentary.  I have a color commentator in my head all the time.  It’s my voice and it’s always saying I’m doing something wrong.  On top of all that there’s always the feeling that someone else is going to tell me I’m doing it wrong too.

It’s why I wonder if I wasn’t meant to coach sports rather than play them.  As I’ve gotten older I’ve seen the writing on the wall.  The same wall I run into every time I try to play.  Score a goal.  Yeah that’s a good joke.  Stop a goal.  Nah.  So where do I go?  I get the concepts.  I know what I want to do.  Everyone says “you broke so many barriers to get out there with these kids who have skated for longer than you have.”  “As you get older your body takes longer to learn things.”

As an analytical person I get that.  As a driven person I don’t accept it.  I don’t accept the failure even though I curse myself for the falls, the mistakes and the errant steps.  I know it’s a learning process but show me the test results.  Yes I saw the video, but I’m not able to put it up against anyone and say “I can actually go out there and play in a league.”  No one is beating down my door to ask me to play.  Here I am once again, the last kid picked – or the kid not picked at all.  I really wish someone would just pick me.

Aching To Play – Or Just Aching?

When you think of pain, what do you think of?  Probably physical pain.  There are two other types which come to my mind instantly – mental and emotional pain.  However, all three kinds of pain can weigh heavy on the mind of an athlete.

I think back to when I was the skinny-as-a-rail kid in high school with no jump shot and no handle who thought that his 5″10′ 140 lbs frame would carry him all the way to the NBA.  Good luck with that.  I was proud of the fact that I could box out a man and grab a rebound, I could put that board back in the basket and I could pass.  I was a decent defender too.  Not great. But above all else – I was able to push myself through the pain.  I could tell myself that even though I had limitations I could go out and play.  Even if I sprained my ankle (which I did constantly), I should just lace my shoes tighter and get back out there.

Reality came sinking down not too long after like a lead balloon.  Recreational after-school basketball is only so competitive.  When it comes to trying out for your high school hoops team guys start to laugh at you when you sign up year after year and you never show up.

However, I started to accept that I had those limitations that I just couldn’t overcome and that dream of basketball was only just make-believe.  Even in the back of mind from when it first started I knew it wasn’t real.  I was always the last kid picked, so how was the short tiny kid suddenly going to turn into pro ball material much less high school team material? Funny thing – I never did.

Years passed and I took a sports psychology course only to realize that all along I’d been analyzing myself from the time I could play a game.  Any game.  Every move I made, every decision and even every time I decided not to tryout.  I wasn’t being an athlete anymore, I was taking that role away from myself before I had the chance.  My mind was telling my body that it couldn’t do anything and my body was agreeing without putting up a fight.

Sports psychology also taught me that for years I had been able to dig deep during those basketball games because there was a goal I wanted to attain.  In the lead up to the final let down, my mind would convince my body to go so far to the point that I could get physically hurt.  If I was to get close enough to emotional damage though, my mind would shut down the process.  I could dig and dig but at some point I would drop the shovel out of fear.

As I near forty years old and I learn to play ice hockey I’m struggling with that same set of limitations.  This time I have the added burden of age to go along with the pain.  Things that didn’t hurt at all or for very long – now take the wind out of me.  I can tell my body to keep digging but it feels like I’m digging in concrete and I’m just hearing the clang of metal on stone.

Reaching for the puck and I’m trying to skate.


Trying to make a pass.


The frustration sets in.  I’m mad at my body, I’m upset at myself and I’m bothered.  At least when I played basketball there was something to be proud of.  I could make a good pass or rebound.  Now – well hell – everyone is skating past me like I am pulling a Zamboni.  Everyone is skating around me like I’m seeing the puck for the first time. Everyone is coming to MY side of the ice.  Pick on that guy, he’s terrible.  Hey, I get it.  I’d pick on me too.  That doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it.  In fact I’m downright pissed, angry, sad, frustrated and don’t know what to do about it.

My stick handling leaves so much to be desired.  I can’t stop so I’m constantly running into people and instead of my ankles taking a beating it’s my ribs.  I damn sure know what it’s like to get the wind knocked out of you and get back up.  I respect the hell out of those guys in hockey that get hit,  get back up and find their way back to the bench with an injury.  Trust me – it’s not easy.  I can’t shoot.  I can’t defend.  Oh screw it – I can’t play hockey.  There I said it.  It’s out there.  Even newer guys than me can play.  Good for them, I’m glad they are more talented than me.  Many of them are really good.  Hell they are all good.

I’m juggling that emotional, mental, physical pain when it comes to hockey.  It makes me wonder if it’s right for me or if I’m right for it?  Is it me questioning myself too much?  I love the game – but damn you got to have a goal to try to attain.  What’s mine?  To be proud of something?  When every week you switch strategy between laughing at yourself or being pissed at yourself to flat-out trying to enjoy hockey and you feel like you peaked months ago – where do you go?

I know I’ll never be more than a rec league guy – in any sport.  But I’m not even sure I’ll be a rec league guy in hockey.  I don’t know if I can be good enough not to let myself down much less a team.  I struggle just to keep the momentum going in skills drills.  Wow – confidence, pain, heartache, struggle, emotion – there’s hockey for you in a nutshell.  Is it a crazy dream to want to learn how to play this game?


Teamwork – What A Concept !?!

Hockey is a beautiful and delightful game when it is played like it is meant to be played. When a team passes a puck around the ice as a unit.

It’s no different in any other sport.  A running back doesn’t gain yardage in football without the offensive line in front of him.  Do you think that Marcus Allen would have won the Heisman Trophy without a great line in front of him at the University of Southern California?

A basketball team needs to be able to spread the floor to find the open man.  Phil Jackson’s triangle offense wasn’t complicated – it was about passing from one guy to the other to get someone a clear look at the basket.  Most of the time the guy with the clear look at the basket was one of the greatest players of all time, Michael Jordan.  When you give him that much time he’s able to bury a shot.

In baseball it takes a shortstop and a second baseman to efficiently turn a double play.  If the shortstop tries to take the ball on their own, it’s going to be difficult to get the out at first.  Watch Ozzie Smith flip the ball to second and see the St Louis Cardinals turn two.  As great a shortstop as Smith was, he didn’t try to do it all on his own.

Those two-on-one plays in hockey where the offense makes a great pass to score the goal – it’s all because of teamwork.  Working with those around you makes your play better.  Those that figure that out are the ones that go far.  Wayne Gretzky knew how to make those around him better which in turn made him better.  Mark Messier made those on the New York Rangers team better on the way to the Stanley Cup.

Current Stanley Cup holder Sidney Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins were filled with guys that played for each other.  Penguins coach Mike Sullivan preached teamwork until he was blue in the face and filled the bench with guys that most pundits would say might not belong in the National Hockey League.  These were men that might be labeled “character guys” but in reality are “team players.”  Watching that team compete for EACH OTHER in the playoffs it was clear that they knew what it took to win.  It’s not always about the skill on the ice.  It’s not always about the size of the contracts on the team.  It’s about the heart, the desire and the guys that want to pass and play for each other.

There have been many guys drafted or signed that have had loads of talent but lacked the ability to comprehend what the rest of the skaters on the ice were there for.  Alexandre Daigle and Patrik Stefan come to mind as number one draft picks but sure there are others.

There will always be others.  The slick skating forwards who can skate around the offensive zone with the puck not looking to pass.  The ones who think it is funny to zing a shot past someone’s head and not bother to say anything it.  Teams are like a family and if a family is full of malcontents, the family becomes dysfunctional and will turn on itself.  It will gang up on itself and want to fight itself.

Players can be told to pass and be told that they need to look out for others – but if they don’t have the ability to care it can be a pointless venture.  It’s amazing that some can step on the ice not looking to pass or not be courteous- but then again teamwork isn’t something that can be taught. Teamwork has to come from within.  Maybe one day they’ll understand – but it will be too late and by then it will have all passed them by.

Focusing On The Game

I remember when I first gingerly put my skate blade down on the ice with the other men and women at the Rev for hockey.  My mind was racing millions of miles an hour trying to keep up with everyone around me trying not to get hit by an errant puck and at the same time doing my best to stay upright.  It was a huge challenge for me being the new kid.  I felt just like I did when I was younger moving from school to school and trying to fit in.  I knew a couple of people by name but I didn’t know anyone enough to feel comfortable.


When the hockey started I wasn’t prepared.  The skating was more than I prepared myself for.  To say I was out of shape would be an understatement.  Fifteen minutes into an hour’s worth of hockey I was drenched head to toe.  Who knew that hockey equipment weighed this much?  Pick up a pair of elbow pads and they feel so light.  Those shin guards don’t seem to weigh anything.  But after I throw everything on including skates and get out there – couch potato and all – it’s kicking my butt.  Sweat dripping from my helmet you skate red line to red line chasing down a puck.  My throat is screaming for water.  My legs are screaming for forgiveness.  My head is telling me to quit.  However, my heart is telling me I’ve waited way too long to play this game to give up now.


Jump ahead two months and I feel like that rookie that’s been accepted with the seasoned vet.  I’ve found some good friends and know there are nice people out on the ice.  I’m not afraid to skate out on the ice as much, though that first step through the rink doors always gives me a bit of hesitation even now – though I never try to show anyone that.  Getting through an hour of hockey doesn’t leave me begging for a rest anymore.  Yes, I have to take some water now and then, but I can manage my legs and throat better.  Sure I sweat, but not like I did.  I fight my expectations every week and you fight my belief in myself – but that comes and goes.  “Not everyone get to skate” I keep reminding myself, “this is what I’ve always wanted to do.”  I just wish I could improve more than what I do.


Then on one of those hockey days I meet a new guy.  Played roller hockey just like me.  Wide eyed and a little bushy-tailed he jumps on the ice with a little hesitation.  But I give him knowledge that no one else gave me before I took to the frozen rink.  “Don’t be intimidated, don’t let yourself bring yourself down, enjoy it, use your stick to get up, don’t be afraid to fall, laugh off a fall, and bring water.”  I see flashes of hockey brilliance in the new guy and I see him get it.  I realize it wasn’t too long ago I were that new guy.  I was the guy that fell every time that I tried to skate – to be fair, I do my share of falling.  I just want to pass along what I can to help however I can.  I know how hard it is to step onto the ice and feel like I’m outmatched or overwhelmed.  I don’t want anyone else to feel that way.  I may not be the most talented person to learn from but hopefully whatever I have been through can help someone else to focus on their game not their concerns.

Messi’s Tax Case Proves We Need To Support Our Local Minor League Teams

Lionel Messi was sentenced to a jail sentence of 21 months in Spanish prison on July 6, 2016, although it is unlikely he will ever step foot behind bars.  It’s not what you are thinking though.  I know when I first saw that he would not be jailed, I thought it was because he was the superhuman Barcelona and Argentine football star who was getting away with it because of his prestige.  Spanish law says that if you are sentenced to a prison sentence of under two years for a tax crime you can serve that time through probation.  Voila!

According to Forbes magazine, Messi makes $81.4 million dollars a year.  He has been an endorser for Pepsi, Adidas, Proctor and Gamble and Banco Sabadell – a Spanish bank – just to name a few.  The Spanish tax court claims that he avoided paying taxes from 2007 to 2009 on some endorsements by having his father, Jorge, who he claims he let handle his money, set up shell companies in the U.K. and Switzerland as well as dumping money in Belize and Uruguay.

Sadly this case of tax fraud has been dragging through the courts since 2013 when the courts first decided to charge Jorge.  In 2014, the courts decided to step up against Messi by telling him that even though he claims he didn’t know he had to pay taxes because he didn’t understand the Spanish system that even when you go to school you understand you have to pay taxes.  The Messi duo did pay $10 million in taxes on endorsements in 2010 and 2011 and penalties on the back taxes.

What bothers me the most, is that this seems like another example of someone who is making millions of dollars trying to evade the system.  How can he use the excuse that he’s not from Spain so he doesn’t know he has to pay taxes?  Or that he let someone else handle his finances?  In February 2016, Javier Mascherano, another Barcelona player, was given a one year sentence for not paying his taxes.  His legal team didn’t want to pay $312,000 for overdue taxes.  I mean really?

Just the other day Andrew Luck, quarterback of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, signed a contract, 6 years-$140 million, which guarantees him $87 million no matter what.  He received $47 million of that as soon as the ink dried on his signature.  From July 1 to July 4, NBA free agents signed contracts around $3 billion dollars, you read that right, $3 billion dollars.  Guys who fill out the bench are getting paid millions – Cole Aldrich signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves for $22 million over 3 years.  He averaged 5.5 points and 4.8 rebounds through 60 games for the LA Clippers last season.  Can you imagine?

Comedian John Oliver recently made a mockery of the New York Yankees and their Legends Suite tickets behind home plate on his HBO television show “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver.”  For the opening week of baseball season he gave away two tickets to the fan who would go to the game and act the craziest.  These seats in the Legends Suites and Champions Suite that make up the lower section near the field cost upwards of $1,600 a game face value.  If you watch a regular season game in the middle of the season you will see these seats empty because average fans can’t afford these seats.  Tickets on the field at Rogers Centre in Toronto, putting you as close to the action as you can get, are $297 according to the Blue Jays website.  That’s a huge gap in cost.  It may be affordable for someone who wants to experience baseball, not that it’s cheap.

Many fans have been priced out of the professional sports experience altogether between the ticket cost, food cost, parking cost and souvenir cost.  With the amount of money that is going into salaries it makes sense why many choose to sit at home and watch it on television.  The best seat is at home right?

Although if you give it a chance, you may find going to a minor league game can be the best place to be.  The New York Yankees AAA minor league team the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders tickets are anywhere from $10-$15.  The park is small, 10,000 people capacity, and the stars of the future play there as well as Yankees who are rehabbing on the way back to the majors.

The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins experience is similar, they play in a 8,300 capacity arena and the tickets can be anywhere near $30 a ticket.  It is a small arena and you are right near the action, plus there were a ton of the young Pens who won the Stanley Cup that spent time in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

It’s hard to be a sports fan and feel sorry for guys like Messi, I know I don’t.  It’s strange to see guys that barely average 5 points a game get over $20 million dollars considering the era I grew up in.  In 1997, Dee Brown was the highest earner on the Boston Celtics at $3.5 million dollars.  Aldrich’s contract would put him in the Top 20 of NBA contracts in 1997.

It’s tough to see a guy get $87 million guaranteed and not wonder where all this money is coming from.  That money is all coming from the fans who buy shirts, hats and video games.  We can also choose to support our local clubs, the ones that we can afford to go see.  The ones that don’t get the national attention but are the ones that we should be giving our attention.  The ones that put back into our local economies with jobs, donations and community programs.  It’s time to start choosing wisely.