A Damn Good Week

14 03 2015

_DSC0027This had all the makings of a shitty week.

I departed last Monday on a four-day road trip for work, driving south for meetings with six customers in Virginia. As I’ve gotten older, I dread trips like these… three different hotels in three nights, lots of car time and traffic. I don’t sleep well in hotels, and too much crappy restaurant food gets old.

People who don’t travel for business on a regular basis think it is glamorous and fun, and sometimes it can be. And I am grateful for the benefits – hotel points and frequent flier miles. I don’t complain much because I’ve been fortunate to travel all over the world and experience great things. This week was a good one…

Any trip through Virginia gives me the opportunity to visit with an old friend. Mike and I grew up on the same street, but really didn’t become friends until the summer before seventh grade. In those days, young kids didn’t wander far from home, and Mike’s house around the corner might as well have been ten miles away. His home atmosphere was much different from my conservative household, and his family had the perfect combination of cute sisters and a younger brother we could pick on together. So I spent a lot of time there. newspaper_readersCritical to the development of our friendship was our mutual discovery of the girls our age blossoming during that summer. It was a magical time…

We went in separate directions after high school, but remained in contact. I was an usher for his wedding, and he was for mine. We started families within months of each other. When Mike and his family moved to Virginia, they welcomed us for numerous visits. We usually talk on each other’s birthday – much easier for him to remember because his daughter was born on mine. And since his wife and I are Facebook freakazoids, we keep up with all of the family news.

Dinner with Mike this week was great as usual, cranking out multiple laughs and stories. We caught each other up on our kids, Philly sports, and our friends from back in the day. We had a good chuckle that we were both sporting Rite Aid bought 3x reading glasses. And we had a cathartic chat about our childhood friend Pudge, who passed away a couple of months ago.

IMG_2446We also talked about his Mom, who is now experiencing early stages of dementia. Marilyn has been living near Mike in Virginia for years now, and has entered an assisted living community as her condition has grown worse. Growing up, she was like a second Mom to me. She remains someone I admire very much. When we were young, she was very active in the community and city politics. She also worked with mentally challenged adults for many years. Most of all, she was smart and funny, and respected people – including us kids… adult behavior we were not used to in the seventies.

I was fortunate to get some free time the next day for a visit with this wonderful woman. We chatted for an hour about her life today, her family, and the old days back in Philly. She was pretty sharp for most of the conversation, but I could see her struggle a bit staying focused on her thoughts. And she did repeat herself a few times. But she remembered who I was through the entire hour, and I think the conversation made her happy that morning. It did much more for me.

Both of those visits gave me the energy and positive vibes to power through the rest of my grueling trip. It also gave me a lot of stuff to think about, some items to mentally organize… families, friends, neighborhoods, kids, life, mortality, priorities… just to name a few.

My business trip was a success, but the real wins were measured in conversations, smiles and laughs. We all scored well.

It was a damn good week. Can’t wait to do it again.


Death By Replay

5 03 2015

I’m increasingly disturbed by a problem I see in professional sports. I used to think that it was a uniquely American issue, but I’ve seen it internationally as well. And I think it will ultimately ruin our sports.

joyce-galarraga-shaking-handsIn June of 2010, Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga’s bid for a perfect game was ended one out short when first base umpire Jim Joyce incorrectly ruled that Indians batter Jason Donald reached first base safely on a ground ball.

The umpire was tearful and apologetic when he learned of his mistake. The pitcher was forgiving, ironically telling reporters that “nobody’s perfect”. The next day, Galarraga delivered the line-up card to Joyce at home plate, triggering a wonderful moment of class and sportsmanship by both men.

Today, that call would have been challenged with video replay and overturned. Justifiably, Galarraga would have his perfect game. I’m sure that both he and Jim Joyce would be happy with that. But we would have been denied this great story, which is bigger, better and more enduring than any perfect game.

It is a valid argument that plays on the field should be called correctly. But I think that is less important when the quality of the overall product suffers because of play stoppages and general slowing of the game.

For decades, there has been a collision of sports and technology. Advances like high-definition video and digital recording have certainly improved the fan experience, at home and on the massive screens at the stadium. And the amount of sports programming available every day is staggering. Fans of every sport have reaped these benefits.

Confused-Replacement-Referee-21The introduction of video replay has created a sort of dependency by game officials. There is nothing that bothers me more than officials afraid to make a tough call. How many times have two or more referees been left waiting for the other to make a decision? They are afraid of being vilified or, in some cases, losing income through lack of future employment.

Today’s athletes are stronger and quicker, and game plays happen faster than ever before. Game officials cannot keep up with the pace of some sports, and it is blatantly unfair for them to be judged against what is seen by ten different HD, super-slow-motion replays. Even after that, sometimes the pundits can’t agree on the correct call. How can we expect the referee on the field to get it right 100% of the time?

Simply put, we can’t.

refviolenceThe underlying issue is that there is just too much at stake. Millions of dollars hang in the balance on every play – potential advertising, player salaries, corporate sponsorships, etc. Let’s not forget legal and illegal gambling. The amount riding on these outcomes cannot be calculated. Officiating will continue to decline as qualified individuals will not want to expose themselves to that kind of scrutiny, and in some countries… danger.

We may have lost our perspective. This past summer, I was flipping channels and landed on one of the countless preliminary games of the Little League World Series. There was a stoppage of the game for a video replay. In Little League. For 12 year olds. Seriously? At what point does the need to get it exactly right outweigh our capacity to enjoy the game?

I offer no solutions, just concerns.  A method to upgrade officiating must be found, without ruining the sport. It’s a delicate balance. Inaction could be a death knell… when fan bases dwindle as the pace of events become slower, more robotic.

If we remove the human element from sport, we run the danger of removing the humanity. Humans make mistakes. Mistakes are part of life, teachable moments that can lead to truly wondrous events. As a fan of sport, I don’t really care about the dollars involved. But I am certainly in the minority.

Perhaps we need to concern ourselves less about stadium naming rights, and get back to the point where your favorite team winning gave you that one really great thing… bragging rights.