A New Open Letter to LeBron James

I am very excited to have been invited to contribute to The Florida Post, a new writing endeavor launched by my friend, the ever-so-talented Jonathan C. Mitchell. Since the site is, “dedicated to all of the major Sports Teams, Culture, Entertainment, and anything in relation to the great Sunshine State,” I figured I’d make my first post a topic about which no one seems to be talking. <yeah, right>

Here is my open letter to LeBron James.

 

 

Also, be sure to follow The Florida Post on Twitter.

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Championship Memories

October 26, 1997. Game 7 of the World Series. Marlins and Indians tied in the bottom of the 11th inning. Edgar Renteria at the plate, and he bloops a single over the glove of pitcher Charles Nagy and through the Indians’ infield. Craig Counsell trots home from third scoring the Series clinching run, and I start screaming like a mad man. Standing alone in my apartment, I race into the bedroom where my fiancé was sleeping. I wake her up with my yelling and incoherent blabbering. It would be three days before she speaks to me again.

October 25, 2003. Game 6 of the World Series. Josh Beckett on the mound for the Marlins, pitching on only three days’ rest, and trying to close out the series – on the road – against the vaulted Yankees. I’m once again standing alone in the family room of my house; pacing, sweating, praying. I’ve long since devoured my finger nails. My heart is racing at 120 beats per minute. Jorge Posada stabs at a pitch, making contact, and sending the ball dribbling up the first base line. Charging from the mound, Beckett scoops up the ball, tags Posada, and the Marlins are once again World Series champions. It would take me four days to get my voice back.

June 20, 2006. Game 6 of the NBA Finals. Dallas Maverick Jason Terry misses what would have been a game-tying three point shot, and the Miami heat hold on to win the game and their first ever NBA Championship. Standing alone in my apartment, I once again go into crazy person mode, and hope my neighbors don’t call the police because of all the yelling and screaming.

I remember vividly where I was for each of the recent championship-clinching moments for my beloved South Florida sports franchises. They are memories that are emblazoned into my brain; mental tattoos I will carry with me forever.

The same applies to other key sports moments I witnessed in my lifetime.

I remember jumping up and down with my dad in our living room as Kirk Gibson hit his majestic and legendary homerun to win Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. I remember yelling gibberish at the TV as I watched Marcus Allen weave his way through the Redskins’ defense in Super Bowl XVIII on his way to a 74 yard touchdown run. I even remember crying both a year before and a year later as I watched my Dolphins fail in Super Bowls XVII and XIX, respectively. The images of John Riggins plowing over Don McNeal and Roger Craig high-stepping into the end zone still haunt me as a sports fan.

But I recall more distinctly sharing those moments with my dad and other family members. I remember the laughing, the screaming, the cheering, and yes, the crying. I remember the euphoria and the sorrow those moments brought, but more so the fact I was able to share those emotions with the people I loved.

With the recent championships of both the Marlins and the Heat, however, what I specifically remember is that I was alone as I watched them happen. It was just me and my sports psychosis. The moments are still very memorable, but they don’t exactly rank with the memories from my childhood, where the smile on my dad’s face was outdone only by the smile on my face. Those moments were special, snapshots in time dipped in magic and sealed forever in that happy place that is the corner of my heart.

June 21, 2012. Game 5 of the NBA Finals. There was no drama. There was no suspense. For the better part of the 4th quarter, the Miami Heat held a twenty point lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder. The only things that were shocking were how dominating the Heat played to win their fourth consecutive game of the Finals, and Mike Miller’s lights out performance from 3-point range.

But one thing was spectacular as the clock ran down to zeroes and the Heat put a bow on their championship run. I watched the whole game with my daughter sitting right beside me. She laughed at my quirky mannerisms and ignored my sports Turrets as I yelled at the TV. She asked me why I spent so much time tweeting during the game. She indulged me as I felt the need to highlight and explain the nuances of the plays we’d just witnessed.

Yet through it all, we took in the historic moment together. I was able to watch her excitement build as the game progressed, as her eyes exploded open with every laser beam pass and gravity-defying dunk. I relished the sound of her pre-teen voice as she’d marvel, “that was awesome” or “that guy’s on fire.” She was less cheerleader and more a student of the game, but a fan nonetheless who was thrilled to see her dad’s favorite basketball team win it all. It would officially become her favorite basketball team that evening as well.

And as we took in the post-game festivities and watched LeBron James hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy in poetic celebration, I noticed the only thing bigger than the smile on my face was the smile on the face of my daughter. I hope she, too, will carry that mental tattoo with her forever.

148/365 Rising Up

Today, my daughter’s soccer team took on one of the top-ranked U13 Girls teams in the state of Florida. The Sunrise Sting had not allowed a goal in the Disney Memorial Day Soccer Shootout tournament, and there was a lot of chatter about our girls facing such competition, especially since they’ve been playing 11 v 11 for only a couple of months.

I think I speak for all the parents of our club when I say I could not be more proud of the level of effort our girls displayed on the pitch. The competition was fast, the opposing girls were fierce, and the intensity was a notch above anything else they’d previously experienced.

And they rose up to the occasion.

Thanks to an aggressive attack on the net, our Flames were awarded a direct kick following the opposing goalie taking out one of our forwards as she broke away with the ball. The set piece allowed for another one of our girls to float the kick over the opponent’s wall, and sneak the ball just under the crossbar in the top corner of the goal. It was the only score they’d need as both Natalie and her goalie partner Jannae pitched a shutout.

The 1-0 victory secured a 3-0 record in their bracket, and a #1 seed in the semi-finals.

The reward? More nail-biting, anxiety, and increased blood pressure for me on Monday morning.

105/365 12 Hour Day

8:00 AM : Out the door

8:25 AM : Arrive at WCAA complex and help set up courts for basketball games

9:00 AM : Danny’s basketball game

10:15 AM: Pack up chairs, gear, etc.

10:30 AM : Grab a bite, run a quick errand, fill up the truck

11:45 AM : Arrive at Brandon soccer facility for game 1 of Natalie’s soccer tournament

1:00 PM : Natalie’s soccer game

2:30 PM : Grab another bite in between games

4:00 PM : Return to soccer facility for game 2 of Natalie’s tournament

5:00 PM : Natalie’s soccer game

6:30 PM : Pack up chairs, cooler, gear, etc.

6:45 PM : Arrive at friend’s house to deliver some furniture (we’d been lugging it around in the back of my truck all day)

7:30 PM : Get in the car to head home

7:50 PM : Stop by drive thru to pick up some shakes as a sweet-treat to end the day.

8:00 PM : Pull into the driveway. Another typical Saturday in the books.

 

Much Ado About Guillen

There’s been a big hullabaloo surrounding the comments made by Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen in a recent Time Magazine piece . The article begins with a direct quote from Guillen. “I love Fidel.” The maelstrom of reaction that followed was to be expected.

In a market where political passion and hatred of Castro rages greater than a category 5 hurricane, Ozzie’s comments were incredibly careless and irresponsible. Add to that the fact Ozzie is a public sports figure who works in an environment of 24-hour news cycles and public relations management, his quote was downright stupid. Never mind the fact the Time Magazine article went on to explain how Guillen pondered his comment and amended it to, “I respect Fidel” (in the context of him still being alive after all these years), it was, in the end, the mother of all brain farts.

There is one aspect of me that applauds Ozzie for being – as he always has been – brutally honest. There was no malice intended with his comment. There was no hidden agenda or point to prove. He was asked a question about a topic and he answered it. That being said, Ozzie’s honesty pales in comparison to the sheer stupidity he displayed. Whereas most people in Miami want to file this under “Ozzie is a communist sympathizer” and want him gone as Marlins Manager, I think it more properly belongs in the category of “Ozzie is a moron who knows better.”

Of all the things to say and of all the markets in which to say it, that you love – or respect or admire or ANY other positive comment – Castro is categorically and undeniably the wrong thing to say. And given Ozzie’s contrite and public apology, one that was visibly different from other sports apologies we’ve become accustomed to seeing, it’s clear he understands how stupid he was, too.

In 2009, Bob Griese, of ABC Sports and Miami Dolphins fame, got into trouble for making a tongue-in-cheek comment about NASCAR driver Juan Pablo Montoya. I said then as I say now; it was not a racist comment but rather a stupid comment. Ozzie Guillen’s faux pas falls under the same category. The difference, however, is that his verbal diarrhea has been amplified by a million because of his current role as Miami Marlins manager. The fan base of the Marlins is mostly Hispanic, and of those Hispanic fans, the largest percentage is Cuban or of Cuban decent. The stadium in which the Marlins play is situated in a part of Miami known as Little Havana, so the fact Ozzie didn’t catch himself as he was shedding praise to Fidel Castro is what I find truly shocking. To me, what makes me shake my head at all this is not the words he said, but the lack of filter he applied when saying them.

And that is what separates me from others, including family members of mine, who’ve been vocal during this fiasco. I respect their strong position against Ozzie and his comments. I don’t agree with some of their subsequent views as a result of this incident (Ozzie supports communist leaders, Ozzie’s apology was cowardly, Ozzie should be fired), but I understand why they feel that way. My uncle was incarcerated for non-violently protesting the Castro regime. My grandparents did not join the rest of their children in fleeing Cuba in the early 60’s so as to stay behind and wait for the release of my uncle. That pain and anger is still very real and very current to my family, and anything that even remotely smacks of support for the murderer that is Fidel Castro is unacceptable. I get that.

Yet at the end of the day, what made Ozzie Guillen qualified to be manager of the Marlins when he was hired last winter still makes him qualified to be their manager today. And at the end of the day, Ozzie Guillen being an employee of the Marlins – or not – will do nothing to change the fact Fidel and Rafael Castro are still in power in Cuba.

I am not of the mindset that public figures should lose their jobs for brain fart comments. People make mistakes and I think the punishment of public shame and ridicule should suffice when the idiot in all of us decides to make an appearance.

I like Ozzie. I think he’s a dynamic character that brings attention to both the Marlins and Major League Baseball in much the same way Earl Weaver did with the Orioles, Tommy Lasorda did with the Dodgers, and Lou Pinella did with the Yankees/Cubs/Devil Rays. He deserves the suspension he received from the Marlins as well as the pounding he’s taken (and will continue to take) from the media and fans. Still, I look forward to watching him manage this season, and as a fan, I am excited about having him as skipper of the new-look Marlins.

What he said was stupid, but when looked at through a prism of non-Miami cultural bias, what he said is really not that big of a deal.

Sports Evolution

My wife likes to laugh at me. I apparently give her lots of reasons to. Specifically, however, she still finds it incredulous I attended a high school with no football program. To her, having attended high school in the deep South, where before you worship from the pews on Sundays, you do so from the stands on Saturdays and Friday nights, having no high school football was the equivalent of being stranded on a deserted island. How in the world did I ever survive?

That’s not to say my high school didn’t have a sports program. We did. Although basketball was our ‘premier’ sport, I chose to take part in Cross Country, Soccer, and Track. For what’s it’s worth, I was pretty good …. well, as good as you can get in a small, Catholic, 2A school. (I was told I held the school record in the mile run, but I never exactly believed how verifiable our athletic archives were. Still, I used that line on freshman girls A LOT!)

With a student body of just over 500, and coupled with a boy to girl ratio of about 1:4, our athletic program was – to put it kindly – sufficient. There were no tryouts. If you showed up, you were on the team. I remember a track meet against our rival high school Belen Jesuit Prep. Belen is an all-boys school, and they had more boys on their track team than I think we had in all our school. They filled three buses and a van, and every heat was five blue tank tops running against one white one.

So flash forward to this evening as I am watching my daughter’s middle school soccer team open up its season. My daughter’s school has 1800 students. No, that’s not a typo. No, that’s not an extra zero. 1800 students. There are more students in her grade level than were in my entire high school.

My daughter had to try out for the team, and there were cuts. Consequently, there were tears. And as I watched my daughter ride the bench for an hour as the second-string goalie, it was a little tough to not shed a few tears myself. It was hard for me not because my daughter didn’t play. She’s the starting keeper for her competitive team, and her taking a background role on a sports team is good, character building experience. Rather, it was hard on me because I couldn’t relate. I don’t know what it’s like to be a part of an organized athletic program like that. I don’t know what it’s like to have more than five people in the stands. Even in college, I walked onto the track team and it was as if I was doing them a favor just by showing up.

It’s said a lot of parents relive their glory days through the sporting exploits of their children. I am not sure that will be the case for me given the comparisons of programs and environment are as different as modern civilization and a deserted island.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to spell out H-E-L-P with these fallen palm trees.