Focus on Your Home Game

“Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all.  Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me.  And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff.  What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them.  That’s all I do all day.  I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all.  I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.”

~J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye, spoken by the character Holden Caulfield

There was a time… and I remember it very fondly, like it was yesterday. I was eleven years old and it was October. It was October 25th, 1986 to be exact. I was sitting near the foot of my mother’s bed watching the final inning of the 1986 World Series. 1986 was the year that I pretty much established my identity and who I was going to be as a kid (and to some degree… as a man). That was the year I decided that I liked sports. It was also the year that I “decided” (discovered is probably a more appropriate word) that I liked girls. My best friend Justin had always played baseball, but I was never really into until that year. I went my first 10 years without playing any organized sport until that summer when I attended my first baseball camp. I spent two weeks on a college campus with a bunch of other 10-14 year old boys doing nothing but playing and talking baseball. My favorite teams back then were the Mets, Giants, Devils, and Knicks. It’s a whole other story of how I chose those over the other local teams (I’m from North Jersey) and why I don’t like ANY of those teams today… but I digress.

That night, I had moved from the living room to my Mom’s room to watch the end of the Series in which I believed my Mets were about to lose to the Boston Red Sox. When Wally Backman and then Keith Hernandez both flied out VERY quickly to start the bottom of the 10th inning, it seemed a done deal. My Mom tried to comfort me by telling me, “It’s OK. Sometimes the better team just doesn’t perform the best. They’ll be back next year”.

Then, Gary Carter singled and so did Kevin Mitchell and Ray Knight. Calvin Schiraldi, Mookie Wilson and Bill Buckner made history shortly afterwards, and the rest, as they say IS history.

The Mets won that memorable game that night and the World Series two days later. If I had decided that I liked sports that year. Then after Game 6 and 7, which was followed by the New York Giants destroying everything in their path on their way to winning Super Bowl XXI 3 months later, then NOW I was in LOVE with sports. Sports and Lynn Ganek was pretty much what made my day, every day.

I advanced very quickly in my habit and love of sports. Being from New Jersey, there was no real passion for College Football, so I dabbled in Syracuse and Notre Dame (they were on TV every weekend!!), but really was infatuated with two teams from the south. The Miami Hurricanes seemed to just be the coolest team in the world to me. The crushed everyone and seemed to have a great time doing it. Eventually, I also came to learn of the coach at Duke University. I hadn’t heard of him before then, but he was the coach of Dave Brown, a quarterback the Giants would pick in the first round to be the heir apparent to Phil Simms. That coach would eventually leave Duke and take a job at the University of Florida. He was fun to watch… he hooped and hollered and threw his visor around and he created the “Fun N Gun” offense and he had a kick ass quarterback named Shane Matthews. That coach’s name was Steve Spurrier and he made me love offense.

I made heroes out of all these guys. I loved to watch them play and I’d always assumed they loved to play the game as well. The list goes on… Lawrence Taylor, Mark Bavaro, Al Toon, Dale Murphy, Ken Griffey, Sr., Darryl Strawberry, Doc Gooden, Don Mattingly, Patrick Ewing. They were gods to me. That’s where everything went wrong.

I wish I could go back to those days as a child. I was innocent then. I’ve even carried much of that innocence and naiveté into my adulthood. But in the past 18 months, what innocence I still had is now gone.

You see, there is no explanation as to why a father would “shop” his son’s football skills around to different schools and eventually make him choose one over another because, “the money was just too much”. There are even less explanations as to why he never really got in trouble for that. And then, I’m even more confused as to why the fans from the school he used to play for hate him SO much. It’s weird. I don’t think MY Dad would ever do that… but I had 5 carries for 14 yards, 1 reception and 17 tackles in high school (most of those on special teams) and batted .167 in college, so he never had to make a choice like that. So what do I know.

As a kid, my Dad sold cars for a number of years. He worked 8:30am – 9:00pm 6 days a week. He would drop me off at school in the morning and I wouldn’t see him again until late. Typically, I’d go to baseball or football practice and he’s pick me up from Justin’s house after work. I can only imagine how crazy it would be to have a Dad that worked from 5:30am til 10pm or later. So if that job was detrimental to his health and had to quit, I’d be very confused as to why people would be asking him to go sell cars somewhere else… even if he did buy a car there once when he was in grad school. I understand he was good at his job and everybody looked at him like he was a hero… but he’s my hero too.

When I was growing up, heroes had villains. Patrick Ewing had Michael Jordan. The Yanks had the Sawks. Superman had Lex Luthor. The Canes had the rest of College Football. But, what 11 year old me would not understand is why a fan would poison some trees on their rivals’ campus. Those trees never made a tackle or scored a single touchdown.

If I was a kid, and somebody were to take advantage of me in the most terrible way imaginable, and somebody saw it, I would think they’d tell somebody who could help me. After all, I’m a kid and the adults are the ones who are supposed to take care of me. I didn’t ask for that. As a matter of fact, if someone saw me being hurt, I would hope they would stop what they were doing and help me right away. I mean… every Saturday these guys go out in front of 100,000 people who cheer for them like gods and heroes. Why wouldn’t you come and be a hero for me?!

I write this framed in the recent clusterfuck at Penn State and after having watched War Eagle/Roll Tide on ESPN the other night. It has become apparent that as a society, we need to majorly re-adjust our priorities. And when I say society, I don’t mean all Americans, I mean us as a sub-society of sports fans. We tease and make fun of “Soccer Hooligans”, but I dare to wonder out loud if we’re really that different. We build these huge cathedrals, complete with High Definition large screen scoreboards and charge people an arm and a leg to come watch these athletes compete and then we, as Mike Wilbon would say, “God them up” to the point where they are untouchable or we do completely absurd things in the name of your team or the University.

One thing I know for certain… If you treat a man as if he is a God, he will be 100% certain to disappoint you. While I will reserve my official thoughts and feeling on the Penn State situation and Joe Pa’s role in it all until there are more facts out there and we’re all more informed, I know that something despicable has happened and a great number of adults and people who consider themselves to be heroes, and someone to be looked up to dropped the ball. This wasn’t just one mistake… this was about 3,200 mistakes. One representing every day since 2002 that nobody said or did anything.

Ladies and Gentlemen, THIS is why you don’t build statues of people while they are alive. What if USC was in the statue making business and they had Heisman statues of OJ Simpson and Reggie Bush? Can’t seem to get those sold on Craigslist now, can you? And as much as I appreciate the accomplishments of Steve Spurrier, Danny Wuerffel, and Tim Tebow, I disagreed with the building of their statues when it happened, and I disagree with them now.

Perhaps I’m jaded now because I waited so long for my innocence to be lost.

In the Tom Cruise movie, Vanilla Sky, he quotes his characters father as saying, “The answer to 99 out of 100 questions is always the same son: Money”. I can’t help but hear that line every time a school is discussed in transferring to a conference that makes no sense whatsoever. Texas A&M and Mizzou in the SEC? Boise State or TCU to the Big East? Then I think about it and it doesn’t have to make sense if it makes CENTS (as in dollars and…). The NCAA money grab is in full swing now and Syracuse being in the same conference as Clemson is just going to have to become comfortable for everyone.

The heroes of my youth have always let me down. It’s because the hero that I should have picked, but didn’t realize it until much later, was the guy who picked me up at 9:30 every night.

Go back to the top of this post and read the names of the players that I recall playing in just the final inning of that Game 6, as well as my favorites: Wally Backman just has an array of issues; legal and financial. Keith Hernandez and Kevin Mitchell each have a history with drugs, and we all know about Strawberry, Gooden, and LT. They did all the drug in New York City in the 80’s. Patrick Ewing had the Atlanta Gold Club issues. Even now as an adult, Brett Favre was my favorite football player of all-time and on cue, he’s texting pictures of his junk. It’s a mess.

I use that excerpt from The Catcher in the Rye because I’ve found out I’m about to be a father for the first time. I’m going to spend a number of years freaking out and trying to protect my kid(s) from stuff I will probably never be able to protect them from. My parents couldn’t stop me from loving Lawrence Taylor. They couldn’t keep me from rooting for Straw and Doc. And they certainly didn’t know what to tell me about integrity when I found out the Miami Hurricanes were cheating. I simply moved on to the next hero. I moved on to Jeter. I moved on to the Gators. I moved on to Shaq. I moved on to Favre… and then to not having a favorite football player. I suppose it’s Percy Harvin or Louis Murphy. Of course I know none of those guys are perfect either. They are/were great athletes. Anything else is a bonus.

In Catcher, Holden wants to protect all the children from falling off the edge. I’d certainly like to do that for my own child, but for all of the kids out there. I just want to keep them from going overboard. It starts with picking the right hero. Those kids involved in this Penn State mess who were about the same age as I was when I fell in love with sports and girls probably loved the Nittany Lions and were thrilled to go to their camps and be on campus and in the locker rooms. I wish I could save them from the edge.

I will most likely never have 100,000 people cheering for me in an open air stadium. I know this about myself and what I do for a living. My goal right now, is to get one person cheering for me and while I will of course dress them from head to toe in Orange and Blue… but will constantly remind them that their mother is a remarkable woman and just as worthy of their time and praise as Sharrif Floyd or Bradley Beal, or Cheyenne Coyle. I will not name them Bear Bryant, Crimson Tide or Ally Bama for goodness sake (This is no knock on my boy and Bourbon Meyer co-founder Paul who’s son is named Donovan. It’s a bad ass name and it’s not the same and I KNOW how he’s raising his kids!).

Yes, I’d like to keep all the kids off the edge. For now, I’ll get ready to focus on one. Please don’t take this solely as parenting advice from a dude without a kid yet, but I suggest we all start reigning ours in a bit. We can start with that painted maniac in the mirror.

Would love your feedback on my rant: Tweet me at @ScottEFranchise 

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3 Responses to Focus on Your Home Game

  1. Merridith says:

    Thanks Scott. We need more dads-in-waiting like you.

  2. Lisa says:

    Well said, Scott. My son was 5 when I had to explain much more than I wanted to because Magic Johnson had just announced that he had HIV. My son’s room was decorated with Orlando Magic colors and paraphernalia. That is, until Shaq and Penny left. (After that we settled into Orange and Blue and all things Gator. He will soon be the 3rd generation to graduate from UF.) Sometimes it seems to be a fine line between hero worship, and healthy fan appreciation. I knew my son had recognized that line when I overhead part of his conversaton with a friend. He was asked about a particular professional athlete, and he answered “I respect him as an athlete, but not as a person.” It was one of those rare parent moments (that you will learn to treasure) when you realize your kids were listening/watching, and they really do get it.

  3. Scott, your analogy of catching all the kids before they fall is outstanding. Just imagine if every person on the planet committed to just one kid; to watch ever so carefully as that….the world would be beautifully and forever changed.
    Something dreadful and dark can indeed happen when we as society elevate ordinary humans to extraordinarily high towers. They do not seem to remember how to exit back down, NO MATTER WHAT!
    Your Dad was the hero and he knows . Look who he raised! I may be slightly biased since you will be that special Daddy who will protect my daughter, and catch my grandchild. But, one thing I know for sure, amongst all that GATOR pride, I shall never have to worry about their provision, protection or value systems. That is one content feeling for which I am very thankful to God for, in one often warped world!

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