Tuesday, February 25, 2014

It's almost Baseball Time

There's a bit of good news on the horizon: pitchers and catchers are reporting to spring training camps around the country. That means only one thing: the season opener is not too far behind. And if baseball is not far off, that means the cold, snow, ice, flooding and dark days of winter will soon be gone as well.

Baseball not only signals the start of warmer weather, it's the beginning of another year of traditions.

Many of us grew up with memories of sharing at least one major league baseball game with a friend or family member. Often it was our dads who would accompany us to the game.

Upon entering the confines of the stadium, we knew immediately this was the real deal. No longer were we listening to the game on the radio or watching it at home -- we were now part of the show.

Moving through the fan-packed stadium to our seat was an adventure in itself. Passing by open-air corridors leading out to the bleachers, we caught our first glimpse of outfield green. Inside the vending area, we could smell hot dogs, burgers and brats before we even got near the concession stand. As we pressed on, we dodged kids waving pennants, souvenir salesmen making change, and small contingents of fans, a few sporting caps and jerseys for the opposition. Pushing forward, our seats beckoned: calling for us to join the enthusiastic throng. And once we sat down, no king's throne ever looked better.

Some of us were fortunate enough to have a scorecard as well as someone to explain how to record the game. Later in life we found this card to be a vivid reminder of the game, and something we could pull out from time to time to recall that glorious day. Our pencil marks and scribbles taking on, over the years, a special significance unbeknownst to us at the time.

And what about those ballpark hot dogs? The mustard, relish, onions, the freshness of the bun, and that simmering dog -- all conspired to create something that was pure magic. Lop on top of that peanuts in a shell, a bag of popcorn, a box of Cracker Jack, and a soda, and you have all the nourishment a young boy needs to grow big and strong.

Like days gone by, kids today savor their first game at a major league stadium too; sadly, however, not every child gets to enjoy this experience.

To remedy this potential deficiency among today's youth, I suggest you start with your own family and then branch out. After deciding on a game to attend, get your son to invite a friend of his to go with you. If your son -- or daughter -- can't come up with somebody, then ask around. Maybe there's a single-mom whose son would love to attend but has no dad to take him. Maybe you and another dad or two can purchase a few seats and offer them to the local boys club. Then, if you're really game, you can accompany those kids to the park.

Major league baseball games ... there's nothing like them under the sun. As the spring opener draws nearer, think about how you, along with your kids and maybe a youngster or two who might not get the chance to attend, can tap into the glory of America's favorite pastime.

It's an easy and fun way to create memories that last a lifetime!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

National Pride

The Olympic Games have been a source of never-ending drama, upsets and excitement, as athletes from around the world compete for personal victories and national pride. Nothing seems quite as impressive as the parade of nations in the opening ceremony, with each nation recognized as its athletes emerge onto the world stage. Impressive were the nations bringing many athletes and inspiring were the countries represented with only one or two members. I was impressed with the pride each flag bearer displayed as he or she marched around the stadium.

I have been following the events. So far I have been impressed with the gold medal win of Tina Maze of Slovenia, the ice dance gold medal for USA skaters Meryl Davis and Charlie White, and the grit of the Jamaican two-man bobsled team. I also enjoy hearing the crowd send up cheers for its country's athlete. No matter what the odds may be, the country embraces its representatives as the athlete competes for his or her nation.

I enjoy watching people take pride in their nation.

Recently, I was struck by a conversation I had at an airport with a Canadian; he was visiting the United States and was now returning home.

I congratulated him on the win of the Canadian women's hockey team over the U.S. team. He beamed with pride and thanked me for the compliment. He then went on to compliment the United States.

He mentioned how impressed he was in his visit to the United States to see how many Americans took pride in their nation. He referenced the U.S. success in the Olympics, but he was especially moved to see the number of U.S. flags being flown everywhere. He said, "It's inspiring to see how many people show their national pride by flying the flag."

Men, sometimes we need to hear from someone on the outside. I thank you all for showing your national pride, and I encourage you all to continue showing that pride. Further, I would suggest not only showing your pride, but passing it along to those of the next generation.

Sometimes we forget how great our country is.

Sometimes we forget the sense of pride we inherited from those before us.


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Of Beards and Bacon

The other day I was walking thorough Sears, looking for a snow blower, when it hit me: just about every guy in the store was sporting a beard. I then proceeded to the Home Depot in my snow blower search and found the vast majority of men had beards there too. Turning on the TV that evening bore out what I have suspected for awhile now: facial hair on men is in style.

Being a man who easily succumbs to peer pressure I, too, have now entered the ranks of men with beards.

I know I don't speak for everyone, but having a beard has its advantages. For one thing, I have more time in the morning for meaningful conversation with the family, as I don't have to shave. Also, the cold weather doesn't bother me as much and, surprising to me, I've even developed a slight swagger to my walk.

Naturally, there are a few downsides: the itching, the trimming, and the need to remember to brush out the occasional crumb, but all that is a small price to pay for being a manly man.

I've also noticed something else, and this is important. It seems certain segments of society today dictate that to be a man one must eat lots of bacon. (Then again, this might just be my own thinking here.) For instance, the mushrooming of bacon-related products and concoctions makes it hard to keep up with the latest inventions. Case in point: not too long ago I experienced bacon-topped corn bread with jalapenos, and I must admit it was very good.

I also found bacon-shaped earrings for that special gal in my life. Call me "old fashioned," but my little lady won't have to do without much longer.

But does eating bacon and having a beard really make the man?

It's my opinion it's not what goes into our bodies or the amount of hair on our chin that defines us as men; rather, it's how we live, act and lead.

For me a real man is one who protects the weak, cherishes those he loves, honors his commitments, takes care of his business, and owns up to his actions. For me the mark of a man is one who is strong in his faith, leads his family wisely, and does what he says he will do.

Beards, bacon and other such things will come and go, but for me they're short-lived fads. Genuine manliness comes from the inside where our character is forged.

The women in our lives know this too, but that doesn't mean they don't appreciate life's little niceties.

Excuse me now while I try to find a matching pork rind choker for my wife's earrings. She's going to be so thrilled come Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Take a Risk

Remember when you were young? It wasn't that long ago, right? When we were kids it seems we didn't think twice about taking a risk. We rode our bikes with "no hands." We scaled rocks, jumped ramps, waded creeks, swung ropes, climbed trees, and courted death-defying danger with every mad dash across the street, throwing all caution to the wind in the meantime. For all the risks we took, most of them provided times of excitement, thrill and exhilaration; a few gave us a skinned knee or a bruised bone.

Even when we were hurt, we usually got right back up and started all over again.
Those times when we kept at it in spite of the skinned knee bore fruit later on, especially as we understood we should not be afraid of taking risks, even though some might have consequences.

Now, lest one get the idea we were completely foolhardy with our venturing into the unknown, we did learn to weigh the pros and cons. Considering the odds, however, is not to be paralyzed when facing something risky or unknown. There may be a chance of failure, maybe even a great chance of failure, but that doesn't mean the effort isn't worth the attempt. After all, sometimes a skinned knee -- or, for an adult, a bruised ego -- is a small price to pay for the gains to be made.

The problem is there are many voices in the world today that would render us ineffective ("neutered" might be a better word), if we let them get to us. As we assess possible outcomes for ourselves -- and our kids -- trying to minimize danger and risk-taking, sometimes we get dangerously close to becoming mere spectators and not players in this great game of life.

Sure, good sense and a question or two about the venture under consideration is always a prudent move. But when the queries have been made, the outcomes weighed, and the time investment seems to make sense, shouldn't we then forge ahead?

After all, it's feasible that conventional wisdom would dictate no one should get married, start a business, or write a novel, since countless marriages, business start-ups, and novels fail.

That being said, the skinned knees in my past have taught me that sometimes a risk is worth the effort.

To that end, I will let my children fall on their own, fail at a school project, and break-up with their "all-time love."

It may be hard not to intervene sometimes, but it is my opinion they will be better adults for it.