The Quitter

She quit. She packed up her gear, walked out of the dugout, said something to the head coach and walked away from the field, not looking back, leaving behind eight teammates to ask, “What the hell just happened?”

She just quit.

It was the bottom of the fourth inning in a two-run game.

This is the story of Sara. (Not her real name). OK, it is her real name, but I’m not putting a last name or what team she played for, so I’m hiding her anonymity so future potential employers won’t know she’s a quitter who will walk away when it’s time to learn something, or won’t know she’s the worst kind of team player imaginable.

She is … or, well, was … a travel softball player and right away the coaching staff knew there would be some issues.

She was what some people would call soft.

She would ground out, she would pout.

She would strikeout, she would pout.

Because she lacked foot-speed, she got thrown out from right field. Her head was gone for good, at that point.

Sara was part of the team because the team needed her. Due to some early summer-season number issues, which had players on the roster doing internships, working and taking vacations, it was a struggle to field a team, so when somebody suggested a pitcher to the head coach, he welcomed her.

So, too, did the team.

Sara was shy and always stood away from the team. She had to be invited into the team’s inner circle, but by the third tournament of the season she was part of the team, one of three pitchers used in a regular rotation.

She was a slightly below average pitcher, pitching over head against some tough summer competition. She probably threw more balls than strikes. And, she was a really below average hitter.

But softball, like baseball, is a game where you’re going to fail more than you’re going to succeed.

Mentally, she was never able to embrace that, and her negative Nellie attitude was draining on a team that was struggling to find its first win of the summer.

On Sunday, the team was in the thick of a battle in a game it could win.

Then, in the fourth inning, with runners on second and third, Sara — her team’s starting pitcher — stepped to the plate with one out.

It was a defining moment in the game. It proved to be a defining moment in her young life.

The third base coach gave her the suicide squeeze sign — which for those of you who aren’t sports fans is a simple bunt that must be put into play because the runner at third base is racing home at full speed.

The pitcher delivered. The runner at third broke for home with the pitch. Sara swung and missed. Fortunately, the catcher dropped the ball and the runner was able scramble back to third base.

From third base the head coach bellowed, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING? WE’RE SQUEEZING.”

Sara just looked dumbfounded.

“Do it again,” the coach ordered, giving the sign.

Then he added, “We’re squeezing.”

He told Sara. He told the defense. He world the world.

He was calling a suicide squeeze. Again.

The pitcher delivered. The runner at third broke for home with the pitch. Sara swung and missed. Again. Didn’t even pretend she was looking to bunt.

“SARA! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”

The coach was angry. His coaching staff was stunned. She missed the sign twice and missed a verbal instruction that was as obvious as a sun in the sky.

When queried as to what she was thinking, Sara waved her hand at her coach and stepped back into the batter’s box.

The next pitch painted the outside corner. Strike three.

Sara stormed back to the dugout. Behind her teammates, behind her coaching staff, in the back of the dugout, she gathered her belongings and packed up her bag.

When the inning was over, Sara looked over the fence from outside the dugout and told the coach, “I quit.”

Then she walked off away from the field, nothing more than a quitter.

She left her team with eight players to finish out the game, which they lost 4-2.

The coaching staff was angry at Sara. The players were perplexed, but in the long run they all seemed to agree not having her around would be best for the team.

Me?

I was stunned.

If a kid doesn’t enjoy a sport, I understand the decision not to play anymore. But the only reputable way to do it is once the season is over and your commitment has been fulfilled.

I can even understand a kid quitting after a game, though it’s a choice I would never respect or understand.

But to walk away from a team sport  mid-game? Leaving behind eight people who embraced you as a teammate, allowed you to become one of them?

It’s inexcusable.

I could understand the anger coming from the coaching staff, but more than anything I felt sorry for Sara. I felt sad for her and her future.

If she quit a summer softball team because she screwed up something so badly, what else will she quit over the course of the rest of her life?

Every time she failed, she pouted and refused to show any self-confidence, or even a hint at wanting to learn from her failures and grow from it.

The world of sports is full of life lessons. Likewise, many successful lives, without a doubt, can be traced back to the world of sports.

And part of both are parental decisions that help make the difference between success and failure.

Sadly, Sara is a quitter and will likely remain that for the rest of her life.

And that doesn’t make me angry. Instead, it just makes me sad.

 

SUNDAY SERMON: The End Is Near … And This Time Even I Mean It

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This is the end … Beautiful friend … This is the end … My only friend, the end

— The Doors

• • •

I’ve always tried to stay positive when it comes to the downfall of the newspaper industry.

Not anymore. I simply can’t. I see the thing I love the most laying on her deathbed and I know I can’t save her. It’s useless. It’s hopeless. It’s only a matter of time. One morning, I’m going to wake up and I’ll hear the news. She’ll be gone.

Sadly, I’ve seen the light — and there is nothing but darkness staring at me from the future. Sadly, it is our demise coming ever closer with each and every edition that gets printed. There is nothing we can do about it anymore, unless a world-wide Internet virus wipes out computers everywhere, leaving them vanquished, like the cotton gin. Sadly, that’s the only way we’re going to be saved.

I’ve devoted my life to this industry. I’ve worked far too hard for too little pay bringing stories — news, features, portraits — to the people who read my words, and look at my images.

I’ve learned every aspect of the job: Writing, photography, layout, managerial skills — all in hopes it would someday save me and give me an opportunity to advance.

In all likelihood, all the skills and talent in the world will do nothing more than leave me as the last man standing on a sinking ship.

I’ll proudly go down with her.

Our current predicament at the newspaper where I work reminds me a lot of the movie “Titanic” — though neither Jack or Rose appear in the scene of which I am thinking. In other words, Leonardo DiCaprio will not come to save the day.

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A scene from the movie “Titanic”

Toward the end of the movie, there is a scene where a group of musicians play on the deck of the ship in an effort to sooth the passengers, who become more and more panicked as their dire situation becomes more and more obvious. Even the musicians realize it and they stop playing and bid their goodbyes , remarking what an honor it was to play alongside of each other. As they start to walk away, one member starts playing on his own and the others all freeze. Music is their calling and in a poignant moment, they once again join together for one final song as the mighty ship plummets to its fate.

Journalism was my calling. These words are my music and just like Miley Cyrus or Led Zeppelin you might either love me or hate me, but you’ve read me, and I’ve put my all into this profession from day one, when I first walked into the Bangor (Maine) Daily News for the very first time as an 18-year-old sports clerk.

Never did I imagine I’d be where I am today, sitting next to her bedside as she breathes in and out her final shallow breaths.

My newspaper has another round of cuts coming in the near future and it’s not going to be pretty. And, I think, what bothers me the most is while we need to cut costs in order to survive, every time we make those cuts we’re killing ourself a little quicker.

The journalist in me will never understand. Our job is to report the news, but how can we do that with fewer and fewer people and earlier “cost-saving” deadlines?

We can’t.

Thus we die.

The news side, however, is just a small part of this problem.

The other side of the building, where people are supposed to be selling ads, they aren’t doing their job either. Is it their fault?

Not really. Not in this “economy” — which seems to be the fall-back excuse for far too long now.

It’s the economy, stupid, the brilliant political strategist James Carville once claimed.

He was only partially right.

It is also the Internet. One of the greatest inventions of my lifetime is also sapping the life right out of me.

Advertisers and those who sell ads both missed golden opportunities when newspapers first went online. Nobody really knew the reach and the impact the Internet was going to have over the last decade or two.

Much of the Internet is “free” — thus newspapers began doing what they do best, reporting the news via the monitor in front of your face. It was more immediate — when something happened, you didn’t have to wait for the next morning’s paper, or the 6 p.m. news — you could hop on the web, or turn on some cable TV and find out what was happening.

What wasn’t happening, though, was newspapers weren’t making money via the web. We were giving away our content for free and people were scoffing it up more than they were reading the print edition.

People say “nobody reads newspapers anymore” but that is a misnomer.

People might not pick up the ink-stained paper and turn the pages anymore, but every year, newspaper readership is up on the website. I know it’s true on our own website because I have access to our numbers and they are growing every year.

The only numbers that matter, however, are the ones with a dollar sign attached.

And that’s where we’re failing miserably.

One side of the building can blame the other, but we’re all going down together. We can certainly blame Craig and his list — and, while it might get you killed, it will also give you all the free classified advertising in the history of mankind. We can blame the Internet. We can blame our readers for growing up and changing their patterns, and not doing what their parents did. We can blame society for becoming what it is, as well.

There’s plenty of blame to go around, but it doesn’t change the end game.

The love of my live is dying and I’m resigned to just let her go peacefully into that good night. I know 100 different things I would do to try and save her, but each and every one costs money that we don’t have. You need to spend money to make money, but it’s not my money. (Though trust me I’ve spent enough of my own money doing this job to the best of my ability, doing it the right way, not the hand-cuffed way I’m expected to).

The only fear I have: What’s next for me?

This is what I know: The newspaper industry. It is all that I know.

Pardon my ego, but I’m pretty fucking great at it and when it dies, a huge part of me is going to die, as well.

I’ll survive, I’m sure. I’ve been through a lot in my life: Layoffs, firings, quitting jobs. I’ve been “thisclose” to being homeless, living out of a hotel room for X-amount of dollars week, hoping I’d make just enough money delivering pizzas from a car I had to borrow to be able to get dinner that night. I’ve pulled myself up from the depths. I’ve found the strength to bounce back from bouts of drinking too much and doing a few too many feel-good drugs. I’ve been in situations where my future and my life were on the line and I found a way to survive.

So, for now, I do what I can. I’ll just forge ahead until I can’t go forward anymore.

I’ll put my fingers on the computer keyboard and I’ll create my “music” as the ship keeps sinking.

There are a handful of us at the paper who are now resigned to this. We’re going down with the ship because it’s all we know.

The end is near. And we play on.

SUNDAY SERMON — Me, My High Horse and The Music of Our Lives

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

— Abraham Lincoln

• • •

Let’s face it. It’s been a fucked-up week, no?

From the Monday when our world was again shattered by a pair of bombs going off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, to the insane, crazy, not-made-for-TV, Hollywood manhunt that played out in front of our very eyes on Thursday and Friday, the week was full of emotions and confusion, tears turned to cheers, and Boston, for 24 hours following, held a place right above Heaven in the eyes of many.

Don’t get me wrong: I love Boston. Growing up in Maine, Boston was our only real city — sorry Bangor, sorry Portland, you can’t carry a true city’s tax burden — and all my journeys there brought forth nothing but great memories.

But if there is one thing I’ve noticed about every tragedy that has happened in our country, it’s the place where it has happened is brought into our national consciousness as a place that’s so special, it deserves special acclaim.

Pearl Harbor in 1942. Dallas in 1963. Oklahoma City in 1995. New York City in 2001. Boston, last Monday. And, let’s not forget, all those “it can’t happen here” moments from Littleton, Colo., to Newtown, Conn., times ten.

When tragedy happens our thoughts and prayers go out to where it happened, and rightfully so. Yet if there is one thing that has become so obvious through a lifetime of tragedy it is this: One place is no more special than the other, not from sea to shining sea, and that is what truly makes the United States of America so great. The people in New York and Boston have the same exact resolve as people in Littleton and Newtown.

Chicago? Los Angeles? San Francisco? Seattle? They are all major cities just waiting for something to happen and when it does our prayers and positive thoughts will be redirected in their direction because that’s what we do as a country. Your little town? My little town? Both hold the same potential for tragedy to come a calling, tearing apart our fabric of trust with the passing of each and every day.

If anything, all of the madness that has struck our country in my lifetime points to one obvious fact that I think everybody should embrace. No one place is better than another just because of what has happened there. Likewise, no one person is better than another, at least not at the core, because in a way we all are one. Not to sound Michael Jackson corny, but “We Are The World.”

At least that’s how I see things from my high horse.

Just last week I was told to “Get off my high horse” and this proved to be the second time in the last five years those words have been uttered about me — once by a man I respect a lot, the first time by somebody that I don’t.

My reaction was simple and swift: The only reason I’m up on this high horse is so I can look in the eyes of the ego-driven folk who uttered those words about me. One person, for the most part, uses his ego in positive ways that I think actually make things better, even though it can totally rub people the wrong way and, from time to time, almost gets his ass kicked. (Not by me, of course; I’m a liker, not a fighter).

But as I sat on my high horse, looking down on what an embarrassment the world of journalism had become on a national scale through its coverage of Boston’s week, I was reminded that the present day media world isn’t what it once was.

Once upon a time, it was ABC, CBS and NBC vs. the Associated Press and United Press International. Those were our news services and because there were only five of them, going head to head to head (to head to head), they could afford to take their time to make sure they got things right. One source wasn’t good enough. Two was do-able, but the digging rarely stopped there.

Today, our heads spin as we bounce around our cable dial, yearning to get the latest piece of news like we’re waiting for a plot twist in a movie . Even that’s too slow in the year 2013, so we turn to Twitter and Facebook and Reddit and Instagram for live updates and photos of what’s going on out in the world, with nary a concern about if any of it is right.

CNN didn’t intend to report wrong news, but was rushed into it by the thousands of other media outlets — some of whom reported the same news, forcing hundreds of others to be wrong, as well. I’m sure the New York Post didn’t intend to be so wrong by saying a dozen people were killed in the Boston bombing, and then running a photo of two “suspects” that were totally the wrong people. But, there again, they’re the New York Post so who knows that they’re thinking in their tabloid minds.

It’s a different world and we have to get used to it and quit pining for the good old days when we didn’t have to worry about stepping outside of the safety of our homes and dying so tragically, or being worried that our children could go outside and play and won’t be blown up by somebody with a grudge.

Last night, I had the pleasure of taking pictures of the legendary band Fleetwood Mac, a group that’s been around since the late 1960s. They certainly took me back with a couple of their songs, bringing back memories of my younger days when the world was different and seemingly far more innocent. But was it?

Imagine if the Internet had been around when Oswald (or others) pulled the trigger. Would Walter Cronkhite have taken off his glasses, paused so dramatically and told the world the President was dead. Or would the words “The Huffington Post is reporting the president is dead” been sent wirelessly around the world.

Imagine if Kent State students could have Tweeted what was happening on their campus on May 4, 1970.

We live in a different world that, at its core, isn’t all that different because of the people.

Some of us ride around on high horses, thinking they’re better than the common man. Others ride around on a high horse because they have to, as they try to keep up with the people around them. More still, perhaps, ride around on their high horses because the view appears to be better up there.

Right now, though, it doesn’t matter where you’re sitting. The view in 2013 is pretty God damned scary and it doesn’t take a fucked up week like the one just past to remind us of this.

SUNDAY SERMON — Good Morning World; I mean Great World; I Mean Cruel World;

I woke up this morning, slowly shook the cobwebs out of my head and grabbed my iPad; simply to get caught up on everything I had missed for the past eight hours of slumber.

Right away, I came across this video:

It’s great to wake up with a smile on your face, even if a tear of joy is rolling down your cheek and you don’t have to hide behind the lie that something was in your eye.

It wasn’t more than a few moments into my next app when I came across this link:

http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/expecting-parents-killed-brooklyn-car-crash-en-route-hospital-baby-survives-article-1.1278183

I hadn’t been awake for 30 minutes, yet this world that we call home was tugging at my emotions from both ends.

This is Life 101, I suppose It’s always been there: Good news, bad news, happy news, sad news.

Twenty years ago, we mostly came across stories like this when they happened near our hometown. The good, the bad, the ugly — our local newspaper, local television, and local radio stations would fill us in on what was going on. The national news had to be some major shit for us to hear about it.

These days, within 10 minutes of each other,  without even getting out of my bed, I was reading an emotional happy story from El Paso, Texas, and the the tragic death of two parents in a car accident rushing to the hospital to deliver their first baby.

Yes, I suppose, it’s great news that the baby survived. It is a life saved. Yet is also a life that is coming into this world that I’m scared for. Who knows what kind of life this baby is going to grow up to have: The little boy doesn’t have any parents, so we can only hope somebody within his family steps in, does the right things and raises this baby with twice the love he deserves. Otherwise, he could be lost before he is ever found.

What will the world look like as this boy grows up?

If we’re overloaded with information that can carry our emotions and hearts from end of the spectrum to the other without getting out of bed, then what will it be like for this little boy by the time he’s in high school? Or, out of college? Or in his middle 20s? Or — gasp — my age?

I’d have to live to be 97 for that to happen — fat chance, of that, eh? — to know what kind of world this little boy will be enduring.

Maybe he’ll fly his car to work. Maybe he’ll instantly get all Hollywood blockbuster movies digitally ordered into the wall of his living room. Maybe the first Black Woman President will finally get our political house straight and start turning this country around. If it isn’t too late.

But, I’m pretty sure, in another 47 years, there will be a great, moving emotional happy-ending story for that little baby to discover. If could come from anywhere: Bangor, Dover, Springfield (any one of them), Buffalo, Denver, Phoenix, Walla Walla. Then, within minutes, he’ll hear another tear-jerker of a story, this one a tragedy that rips apart the world of just a small group of people. It might be one state over, or across the country. It won’t matter where, because it will all be at his finger tips.

That was life then and now. And so it will be in the future, as well.

You really don’t know what any day is going to deal you.

You just have to make the most of it.

So this Sunday morning I urge you to go live your life and make the most of it.

Just don’t stop and read about it. Your emotions might not be able to handle it.

SUNDAY SERMON — The Gospel According To Me

God help me. Or else, God dammit.

Oh God. And no, I don’t mean the George Burns movie which might very well prove there is a God simply because country singer John Denver wound up with an acting job.

It’s Sunday morning and all over the world people are waking up and getting ready for their weekly (monthly, random, regular) visit to the church of their choice. Catholics, Presbyterians, Jews, Baptists; Christians of all shapes and sizes and denominations, as long as its not an NFL Weekend.

Me? I’ve got Sports Center on the television, some coffee at my side and I’ve got a list of errands I need to do before I go to work. No church for me.

By the way, welcome to my “Sunday Sermon: The Gospel According To Me.”

My topic on this first Sunday: Is there a God?

No answers will be forth-coming because I haven’t a clue. I’d like to think that there is a God and that He is good, but all too often the signals I get are mixed and confusing.

How does a ship, the strongest ever built to sail the Seven Seas, sink, taking with it thousands of innocent people, yet an airplane lands on the Hudson River and all are saved?

How does a person on death’s door, whose body is ravaged by illness, walk out of a hospital and live a productive live when everybody knows they should be dead? How does one person live to be 116, yet another dies within minutes of being born?

How does God, if he’s out there, allow a mad-man to walk into an elementary school so close to my home and kill 20 innocent children?

So,  I suppose, there is a God. Or maybe not. I think. After all, there is just as strong an argument as the idea that God doesn’t exist. Like I said, confusing.

It’s all in the eyes of the jury and, let’s be honest, it would make a helluva reality TV series on one of the news networks: Two lawyers arguing the case and calling witnesses and in the end, you, The World, get to cast your voice. They would come up with some catchy graphics to draw people in. The internet would be abuzz with post-show live chats. It’s a sure-fire hit.

Of course, depending on the network, you’d end up getting three different finishes because you know the — ahem — Fair and Balanced FOX News would have stacked the deck in its favor and would decide that God was indeed real and adds the fact that President Barack Obama is not a true American since he was not born in Hawaii.

Surely, such a show would be the new “American Idol.,” wouldn’t it? And, it would bring the religious argument to the forefront once again. And then in the biggest moment of the show, Ryan Seacrest would give us the answer everybody wants to know … Is there a God? … Right after these messages.

Spirituality, I suppose, is in the eye of the beholder. Some believe, others do not.

Take the good, the things that give you strength when you need it, and embrace it. Leave the bad because, let’s face it, there’s plenty of it out there when it comes to religion.

When I was young, I remember a priest in our area who got busted for stealing church funds. As young and naive as I was, little did I realize this was just dipping the toes into the Lakes of Shame by the Fathers and Brothers and Monks of the world. By the time I grew up, the stories about the collared ones had grown far more heinous, forcing anybody to question a God who would allow his people to do things that were so wrong to children around the world.

People will tell you that God is all about love, yet people who read the same bible can’t seem to agree on two men, or two women, loving one another.

Mixed messages, everywhere you look.

Much of my world is spent in the arenas of sports, where God is as decisive and equally as vicious as any place.

A winning player thanks God, who, of course, made it all possible. Which means what? God hates the losing team because the coach doesn’t go to church, so he makes them lose? Maybe God is tipping off The Pope, telling him who He is going to make win or lose, so the betting can begin and the church can make some big-time money. Maybe, in fact, they can make so much money that The Pope can afford to retire — Holy crap, I think I’m on to something.

Or, maybe not. Like I said, when I really think about it, the whole question confuses me.

Growing up, there were flashes of religion in my head. I remember being taught the prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray to God my soul to keep, and if I die before I wake, I pray for God my soul to take.” I also remember the words “If I die before I wake” scaring the hell out of me. Why would you plant such a seed in a child, that he or she might die in their sleep?

I remember occasionally attending a church down the road, but it never seemed to me the right place to be. I don’t know why, I just never wanted to be there.

I remember being dropped off at a Sunday School — which was run by a church who was later operated by a man of religion that I actually admired a lot — only to find out that he would later throw himself off a bridge, taking his own life, on the same day he was questioned about an improper relationship with a young boy many years ago.

I remember crying my eyes out because I didn’t want to go into that Sunday School, so for the longest time I stood behind the building, or sat on the front step, refusing to go in.

Religion scared me as a child. To this day, I don’t know why. Maybe it was the knowledge that the entire entity was so powerful that it could force me to die in my sleep and take my soul.

Sounds absurd, I know, but I’ve got nothing else.

I was married in a Catholic Church (And, yes, to keep up with this running theme, the Catholic Priest who married The Ex and I was forced out of the church for “minor” misgivings back in the 1970s). And, I’ve attended a rare Midnight Mass or two, with a certain girlfriend or two.

Religion, however, never took.

Instead, I grew up and decided on my own what I believed and what I didn’t. The bible? Great work of fiction with some great morals and great stories. Surprised it hasn’t been optioned into a movie yet. Oh wait, Charlton Heston did do “The Ten Commandments”, didn’t he?

I don’t know if there is a God or not. I hope so, I suppose, because it would be pretty cool if there was. And he’d be a helluva interview for The Heaven Times, when I land that job at the end of my last cold winter.

My first question to Him: “How much money did you and the pope make when the Giants beat the Patriots the year David Tyree made the catch with his helmet?”

May God Bless you all this day, this week, this month and beyond.