The Crack of the Bat

As the wind chill makes it feel like the 20s and below, it’s the glow of sunshine that reminds me of a sign of spring: pitchers Clearwater3and catchers report to Clearwater, Florida. The 2013 season rises anew with hopes of good health and lots of ‘Ws’ to cheer about.

Baseball is a fickle game; success comes down to the health of your best pitcher or slugger. Every team balances that hope against the odds. During the Phillies best year in decades, 2008, I went to spring training on vacation; my son got to be bat boy for a day; I got to announce the pre-game show and line up on Mother’s Day and then the amazing season that followed happened mainly because – nearly every key player was healthy. It was a dream come true. Boys and girls, including my Clearwater_20080325_47son,  grew up knowing the Phillies only as winners. It seems the struggles began after the last of the confetti was cleaned up from the World Series parade in 2008.

This year, the roster includes the key – but aging- players we’ve come to depend on: Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz. Already, we know Chooch is out for 25 games for the Adderall suspension. That leaves the team depending on Eric Kratz.

We know there are questions surrounding the health of Howard, Utley and Roy Halladay’s shoulder – not to mention Michael Stutes and his shoulder. While the warmth of Clearwater can be therapeutic, all that can be a waste when it comes to playing baseball in  Philadelphia in April.

Almost like a marriage, I am a Phillies fan in good times and bad. Just like a marriage, you enjoy the game more when things are going your way – but it’s a joy to see the boys of summer back in action. Spring is coming here in the cold north – but summer begins today in Clearwater. Go Phils!

Another year, another ball game

This time about a year ago, the Phillies were clinching the NL East Championship and heading to the playoffs. While we were ready to believe 2008 was the year, the tension at every game in the playoffs all the way to the World Series was intense. People were constantly asking, “Do you think they’re going to do it?” I never gave an answer. I felt the jinx would be on if we exuded too much confidence. It was indeed a beautiful thing to see the Phils knock out the Brewers then the Dodgers. But the rain that delayed game 3 until a 9:45 start because of constant rain was worse than the pain of a root canal.

We finally make our way into the park for WS Game 3, 2008

We finally make our way into the park for WS Game 3, 2008

There was no anticipation greater than game 5 which took three days to complete because of more rain. Then we reveled in the Halloween day victory parade bringing millions to the streets of center city Philadelphia and the victory celebration inside that gorgeous ballpark which was just so surreal. OK folks: BEEN THERE; DONE THAT.

Now, the sports fear in me is deep. I have not allowed myself (until now) to think about the post season. I received my tickets this past week. I noted the seat locations; marked my calendar and put them away. I have little doubt the Phils will be at least division champions. But this is a much different season. The mastery of skipper Charlie Manuel getting through the many pitching dilemmas and matching up middle relievers with possible set-up guys and closers has to have been part of the reason Charlie dropped major pounds this season. The Brad Lidge dilemma is trying. There is so much in a closer’s head, I can’t even fathom the psychiatry behind it. One day you’re a hero, the next day you’re a bum. While there’s no doubt the pitching staff has given us fans more gray hairs, we are still cheering. PhilliesJuly_20090722_09Even now, while I begin to look at baseball in October and be sure I have my calendar clear to go the games I have tickets for or watch on television, I am afraid. Mostly I’m afraid that if the Phils don’t repeat, the criticism by those fly-by-night fans who only cheer for the Phils when they’re winning, will think they knew best. I always fear for the players who will not return. I never like change, but to see players go off to another team or worse yet released, pains me. I’m a loyal Phillies fan. I will cheer until the final out this season, whenever that happens. Let’s give them some of that Phanatic karma and know that every season, these guys under Charlie Manuel, have been playing their hearts out most days and that is why we believe in the 2008 champions.

Why this summer is different from all other summers.

 We’re seeing and hearing words including “staycation” and “vacation stimulus” when it comes to the summer of 2009.  For the lucky people NOT affected by the economy, there may be that trip to Italy or a cruise to Alaska. They should find terrific bargains, a real bonus given their prosperous circumstances. The FEAR that has enveloped many others who are still hanging on to their jobs or are fairly certain they’ll survive any cutbacks, has led to a more austere rest period this summer. The vacations are shorter, not as far, not as grand and this can be a very good thing.
Adam & camp friends 2008

Adam & camp friends 2008

Several weeks ago, we had to deliver the unpopular decision to our son, that summer camp in New Hampshire would have to be cut in half. The cost has risen steadily every year since he started going to the overnight camp six years ago. This year was no different, but the change in my job status gave us pause on spending such a huge sum of money. Of course, Adam was devastated. He’s made incredible bonds with these kids for six years and didn’t want his time cut back. We also cut our planned two-week stay at a small, rented house in New Hampshire in August, in half. It’s all good. Here’s why:

I’m realizing there were so many things I took for granted.  Believe me, it was nice to not think too much about the bottom line when it came to everyday purchases, but living just a little bit smaller has led to more family meals at home (not that we ate out that much anyway), as well as a true appreciation for the days and evenings we go out with friends, family and to the Phillies games. I had paid for our Phillies tickets weeks before I lost my job, so I just looked at that money as “outta here,” (as the late Harry Kalas would say). The games are my night or day out. Maybe we eat in before going to the game instead of spending $30 or $40 on dinner. There are treats at the game. Perhaps ice cream or cotton candy for my son, but no extras. I bring soft pretzels and peanuts. And that’s OK. Nothing can spoil the joy I get from watching my boys of summer scratch and claw for every win.

My Neighbor Joanne on her birthday at the ballpark

My Neighbor Joanne on her birthday at the ballpark

Having this time to revamp, redefine and revisit WHO I am is probably a good thing. I see the faces of people and read the stories of desperate people taking desperate measures and it melts my heart. Losing your home, your job, your car, your friends and more is a burden no one should have to bear. But we survivors are resilient. I’m learning every day that sun comes up, that I have a calling to find another path and another way to serve. Don’t get me wrong: I adored working in radio news. I’m a news junkie and always will be. But I always thought about what else I could do. Now, I’m just beginning to find out as What’s Next Productions gets underway. There is so much to do. I’ll trip a bunch of times, I’m sure, but in the end, it’s all about how my years in journalism can help small and mid-sized businesses, non-profit groups and others find ways to raise their profile in the public eye.

Finally, spending time at home has made me realize how lucky I am to HAVE this home. We worked hard to get here. Fortunately, we bought our place some time ago and have about 11 years left on the mortgage. My vegetable garden is sprouting; I’m getting more time to week the flower beds and I love watching the many varieties of birds at our feeders in the yard. (Now if the piles to file in my office would just disappear, things would be even more fabulous.) We joined the neighborhood swim club again, so it’ll be nice to have a place to chill out that is just a short walk away.

For people who need to find some peace this summer, rediscover what is right in your own back yard: the historic sites that are just a short drive away; a nearby lake, the beach; neighborhood garage sales on the weekend; an evening with the nieghbors playing board games or just talking over adult beverages. The list is endless.  Find happiness amid these tough times, because it is a prescription for success in getting through this. You will find your new normal.