Friday, December 14, 2012

Picking Up the Pieces

              Getting back to the swing of things is not exactly and easy process, but it is a necessity. This morning I got a text from my boss at Just Sports had two tickets to tonight’s Portland Trailblazers game versus the San Antonio Spurs if I wanted to use them. Having not been to a Blazers game in about fours years, I happily accepted them. About an hour later he informed me that the Clackamas Town Center mall was allowing managers back into their stores to make the necessary arrangements for our stores as the doors would be opening for business once again, just two days after the horrific shooting which took place on December 11. I was all ready scheduled to work from 2-10:30, so I was asked to go in to take care of closing the registers, clean and put out as much new product as possible. This also gave me a chance to occupy myself for the day until the game started at 7:30.

Always being the kind of person who prefers to work while I have a lot on my mind, I accepted. I called ahead to the mall with the phone number my boss provided to figure out where I needed to and how long I had. The person on the other end told me the only access point was the entrance next to the movie theater, which connected to the food court where the shooting took place. One of my co-workers, Adam, was also scheduled to work and agreed to give me a hand, as he lives only a few blocks from the mall. I texted ahead and let him know I would be there in about 35-40 minutes since I’m currently crashing with my parents in west Portland for a bit until I conclude my studies at the University of Oregon starting January 7. I stopped and got a half tank of gas and a Dr. Pepper on my way, which held me up an extra 10 minutes. The air was especially frigid and I felt a little bad pulling up to the entrance of the parking lot with him waiting for me outside. He hopped in the car as a security official stopped me to state my business. I pointed at my name tag and he left us on our way. Adam and I swapped stories for a bit as we walked to the doors, discussing some of the details from Tuesday, like how the shooter had dropped four magazines of ammunition as he trekked the same path we were making into the mall. When we got inside an unusual silence and stillness greeted us. Usually at 2:20 PM the mall is a hot bed of activity, especially during the holidays. Only when I close at night is it ever dark and quiet. We both commented on this. Four tables were set up about 25 feet from the doors and a security official had us sign in and take lanyards with our store name printed on this inside. Something that we had to wear the entire time we were there for security purposes. None of these requests bothered us in the slightest. After I threw my lanyard over my head and affixed it to my chest, we headed in, across the path in which the shooter had done as well. 

 Members of the police and mall management were talking and inspecting amongst themselves, trying to make sure that everything was back to presentable shape. Adam and I kept our voices down, not to alert anyone, as all we talked about was the shooting. As we walked side by side we looked around to see if there was anything out of place. The first thing we noticed were fragments of the floor that had been chipped out due to bullets ricocheting off the surface. As we approached the members of authority we kept quiet until we got down to the bottom of the escalator, down to our store roughly 200 yards away.

The lights were still on as I hadn’t had any time to turn them, nor the radio off when I was briefly allowed back in by police an hour after I had been extracted from the store. The radio was playing a commercial for a car dealership and we both chuckled at the fact that the radio was still on. I walked along the left side of the store and saw that the Portland Timbers shirts that I was in the process of hanging were still strewn about the floor. 

As we both went behind the counter we retraced what we were both doing at the point in time when the shooting had started. Adam was ringing up a customer for a Patrick Willis youth-sized San Francisco 49ers jersey. He told me the customer was in the process of handing him his credit card to pay when everything went awry. Just then “Jingle Bell Rock” by Bobby Helms kicked on the radio. We both thought that this was a randomly odd choice as it was the opening song to the film “Lethal Weapon.” After a bit more dialogue we got down to business. He added sensor tags to all of the new jerseys we had received and hung, while I closed down both registers and worked on the sales report from Tuesday. We talked as we worked. Relaying what we had both done. He recalled when I told a guy standing by the door to “get the fuck inside!” We both laughed at that. We both knew we shouldn’t, but for some reason it was the only emotional response we could muster. As I closed the second register Adam rolled into another thought. One that literally made me stop in my tracks.

To tell the rest, I have to go back to Sunday (December 9). The store opened an hour early (10 AM) and closed an hour later (7 PM) due to holiday hours taking effect. My shift was from 1030-830, a long day, but necessary to be able to restock, clean, close the registers, as well as log the weekly sales report. About 15 minutes into my shift I helped a small family looking for Pittsburgh Steelers gear. I had been working off and on for Just Sports since the summer of 2000. This holiday was the first time I had worn the name tag and polo shirt since April of 2007, where I resigned as store manager the location in Woodburn, OR to begin my time in the journalism program at the U of O. In all the years I worked for the company I learned a lot of patterns in the way people shop. Some people are fans of teams because they hail from that, or near the city in which their team reside. Some like the logos and colors. Some shop for others. Either way, I always have a series of questions to ask to learn, not only more about the customer, but to also possibly interest them in more product of that team. Journalistic instincts at work. In this case the husband was from Pittsburgh, a city I had the pleasure of enjoying for a few days in late August. The wife was somewhat disinterested in the conversation, but the husband was all about it as he held the couple’s son in his arms. PNC Park came up, and we both bounced off stories of our times there. He also regaled me with stories of Barry Bonds playing at Three Rivers Stadium and the Neil O’Donnell era of Steelers football. When the couple was ready to check out I walked them to the counter with product in hand and cashed them out. In the mean time, Adam was helping a kid over at the opposite end of the hat wall with some of our MLB AC caps. The chatter between the husband and I continued until our goodbyes. At this time Adam had brought the kid up to the counter and was ringing him up for a Cooperstown Collection Pittsburgh Pirates hat. I thought this to be way too coincidental so I asked him, like the previous family, if he was from Pittsburgh. He said no with a sheepish smile, but informed me that he was a bit of a Pirates fan and that he had always liked the colors and the “P” logo because he lives in Portland. After Adam rung him up I walked out from behind the counter and we swapped Pirates baseball-related stores. He was wearing jeans and a camouflage jacket, and was all ready wearing the black game style Pirates hat. I told him about my time at PNC Park and he told me he always wanted to go there. I encouraged him to. Like anyone else I meet and swap baseball stories with, I always tell them to never let something get in the way of what they want to do. (This was a common theme I had with people on Twitter and in person who said I was living the “baseball dream life.” I never looked at it that way. I always look at it as something I’ve always wanted to do and had the means to attain.) We said our goodbyes, both with smiles on our faces. It wasn’t until today that Adam informed me that the kid was Jacob Tyler Roberts, the shooter who killed two and wounded six others before taking his own life.

I was absolutely flabbergasted. My emotional response level rose a bit. Adam and I both went back and forth with comments like, “I can’t believe it was him” and “he was such a nice guy.” The rest of the time we were there we kept coming back to the complete state of shock we were in that we had talked to this kid two days prior to the shooting and that we both thought he was a decent kid. After reading some the articles about him and his interests, a lot of other people had come to the same conclusions.

When we finished up and clocked out to head to the Blazers game we walked back the same way we came in to drop off our name badges and out to my car. Once again we noticed the chips in the tile. We stepped out into the Portland night, which had dropped in temperature to roughly 36 degrees with a slight wind, making it feel much colder. We got into my car and I turned my ignition switch over. Nothing. I checked my headlights, and sure enough, I had left them on. Adam ran off to flag down a security official to see if they could give us a jump. I had the cables in my trunk so I pulled them out and waited. While Adam was gone my mind wandered back to when I was in seventh grade at Fruitvale Jr. High School.

I had befriended an “odd” kid named Sterling Kelly. I put the odd in quotation marks because it’s a very ambiguous term that he was labeled like a lot of other kids we all went to school with. He was a year ahead of me, but we shared the same PE class. He reminded me of Danzig from The Misfits. He had long black hair, stubble on his face, a gap in his front teeth, pale skin and he was a bit of a goof ball. He was extremely athletics, but never took sports too serious. Starting at a new school, with new kids was incredibly tough, but he never judged me or gave me too hard of a time for being the underclassmen. We were always on the same team together, and I’ll never forget the black shirt, bright yellow sweat pants and black Keds I used to see him rock for every class. After the school year ended he moved on to high school. It would be an additional year before I ever saw him again. We attended the same high school, Centennial in Bakersfield, CA, but we never had the same classes. He took advanced studies courses, all of which I had no desire of taking. We would see each other every now and then at Starbucks after school. One of the last times I remember seeing him he was dressed in a cow suit for Halloween when I was a sophomore, complete with a rubber utter that another friend would suck on like in a Tom Green sketch. He graduated a year early was set to attend college from what I remember. Some time during my junior year I was sitting in Mr. Fowler’s third period English class, goofing around as I tended to do when one of the office aides came into the room and handed Fowler a note.

“Oh my God!” I remember him yelling.
“What?” we all replied.
“One of my former students committed suicide this morning,” he responded.
Instinctually, someone else in the class asked who it was; common thing to ask whether we know the person or not. He then replied, “Oh… his name is Sterling Kelly, I…”
Before he continued with his next comment I had rushed out of the room with tears all ready pouring down my face. It wasn’t until the end of the period that I returned to grab my bag and apologize for rushing out. He sat me down and asked if I knew him. I told my story of how we did. He chuckled a little bit as I went into detail on some of the stories I had. He then said that I reminded him of Sterling: intelligent but a bit rambunctious. I laughed, and agreed as I wiped the tears away. I asked him if he knew how Sterling died. I’m still not sure why I asked, nor why he told me, but he said, “Someone found him in a field and he had taken a shotgun to his face.” Even though I didn’t see it, knowing the kid, I could picture it.

A month later, Columbine happened.

In the wake of all of these tragedies I can’t help but think of the impact its had, and will have on the rest of my life. Granted, I didn’t know the kids who shot up Columbine; however, had I gone to school with them, I would have tried. We as humans, in all of our infinite wisdom, like to make assumptions about others without trying to understand what they’re going through. When I lost my friend Sterling, I didn’t have a clue he was capable, nor had a reason to do something of that nature. He was always happy around me. The same thing could be said about Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, and the same can be said about Jacob Roberts. In the five or so minutes I had an encounter with him, I thought he was a pleasant kid, much like the friends and family he had. It pains when someone feels the need to harm others so violently, let alone themselves. Everyone I meet, or talk to, I try to establish a personal connection; one that hopefully lasts beyond our encounter. I’m a very empathetic guy, always trying to keep things on the bright and am always there to be that person you can tell anything to. I always feel like a lot of most horrible things in life could have been prevented if there was someone for the cause to rely on or talk to.

I’ve had my fair share of demons come and go. I’ve even had my fair share of attempts at ending my own life. I don’t despise Roberts for what he did. I just wish he had someone to help him. I wish I could have done something.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Unexpected Events

             I wrote this last night. I was having a difficult time sleeping so I figured it would be best to get my thoughts out.

             The day started off so well. Like every day when I arrived back into Portland I woken up by the familiar sound of my dog Tuaca barging through my bedroom door to jump up on the bed to give my face a good lick. After wiping the slobber from my face I threw on my MLB Fan Cave sweater which was lying at the foot of my bed. Despite it raining the previous night, it was especially cold as I headed into the kitchen to destroy a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch as Tuaca sat patiently, waiting to see if I would give her some. My parents had all ready gone to work and it was one of the first times since I temporarily moved back in that my mother didn’t wake me up before she left. At the time I really didn’t think much of it, so I carried on my day.

            The internet connection in my bedroom had been a bit shoddy for the last couple of days so I took my Samsung Galaxy Note and computer into the living room for a better reception. Over the last couple of weeks since the Major League Baseball season ended I have been posting photos from my time in New York, during my Fan Cave days, to Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, as I have left them sitting in my memory without sharing. There has been no consistent pattern to my posts, rather just a scroll and point sort of system like blindly finding a phone number in a phone book to crank call. I came upon the photos from when Baltimore Orioles stars Adam Jones and Robert Andino had stopped by for their “Puttin’ Birds on Things” sketch, which is still arguably one of the funniest things produced and put on the Fan Cave Web site. The first one I post was of Jones and Andino walking through the streets with a giant Oriole logo as the production crew rolled behind. One of the more amusing things about this shoot is that I was the only Cave Dweller allowed to be out for their shenanigans as Jones had asked me to come along since I was wearing Orioles gear. The second photo I posted was a shot of the three of us which I had taken for my friend Scott Landis, an avid Orioles fan, for his birthday which was a month away from that date. When I posted I was being rather goofy and said something to the tune of, .@SimplyAJ10, Andino and me. Clearly the best looking guys in the @MLBFanCave. 

            It was a bit of a joke as I was rather brutish looking at the time. What I didn’t expect was for Jones to not only retweet the photo, but to start following me on Twitter. I was pretty shocked. We chatted for a little bit about Andino being traded to Seattle and I assured him I would look after him. He thanked me and said he was one of the best teammates he had had. With good things in the bag, I got ready for my 9 hour shift at Just Sports at the Clackamas Town Center Mall with a little bit jollier step in my walk.

            I arrived about 15 minutes early and checked my online activity on my phone at the Starbucks at the southwestern side of the mall, as that was the best spot for me to get internet access. Before I left my house I had posted my 4-step New Era photo of me taking of the stickers, creasing the bill and marking the hat with jersey numbers for one of my newer Orioles hats. I had gotten a few likes, which I was satisfied with and headed in a little early to see if any new freight had come in. There had, but only about 4 new boxes, nothing terrible. I clocked in and dove in to try and get caught up on the previous freight. We had gotten in a load of NFL, Oregon Ducks and NBA jersey restock as well as a lot of popular sweatshirts. My co-assistant manager Clayton and I stuck to the freight whilst the other employees: Adam, Connor, Justin and Kevin helped the customers. Every now-and-then I popped out onto the floor to help someone, but for the most part I stuck to getting the product out. I had quickly knocked out one of the boxes. Since a lot of the product required sensor tags, I first put out all of the stuff that didn’t need them: Portland Timbers gear. We had about 5 adult and youth jersey to throw on our 50% off rounder so I finessed them in, along with about 7 hooded sweatshirts. I walked back to grab the last two shirts when I heard a loud bang.

            I have heard in moments like this that time stands still. A few of the customers around me and I exchanged glances and all had puzzled looks. Somewhere in a matter of a fraction of a second we all came to the conclusion, mentally at least, that the sound was probably a large box that had fallen to the ground and made the commotion. As I turn to hang up the last two shirts it started… BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG!!! Having fired off an array of hand guns, assault rifles and sniper ripples with my stepfather, I knew what I was hearing. Everyone in the store, roughly 12 people including myself, had stopped in their tracks. I on the other hand sprinted to the door to close and lock them. I remember yelling, “Get out!” to everyone as I ran, but still no one moved. I saw dozens of people running eastward as I got to the door and told and grabbed as many people as I could into the store before no one else was within my grasp. I closed the doors, hit the deck and locked the massive glass doors as quickly as I could. One kid in particular was standing next to me doing nothing. I yelled, “Get the fuck to the back of the store!” He froze. I then pushed and yelled at everyone else to go out the back door. Clayton and the rest of my co-workers to notice and began rushing everyone out. I had never been in a situation like this before, by a sense of leadership overcame me. As soon as I saw everyone clear out the back I quickly closed the door completely and ducked behind the sales counter, waiting to see if anyone would walk by. After a few moments I walked toward the front to see if there was anyone else out there. Sure enough there were patrons casually walking through the mall on their cell phones. I unlocked one of the doors and called for them to come in. Once they cleared the threshold I locked it again, explained what had happened and got them out. I then moved back to the counter area and got on twitter to post that there had been a shooting. I’m still not sure why, but I momentarily went back about my business as the phone rang from other stores in our company looking for product. I told them all that there had been a shooting and their attitude quickly changed, making sure I was OK. I said yes, asked what they were looking for and gave them an answer. In between calls I continued to tweet what I was seeing.

            Clayton and Adam had started texting me, asking if I was still inside. I told them yes and that I was waiting. At this time they informed that the police had arrived and surrounded the building. When I read that I knew I couldn’t just walk out into safety. Looking the way I do, with my beard and all, I would be greeted by local law enforcement with all guns on me, ready to be taken into custody to be questioned. Obviously I had no involvement, but they don’t know that. I continued to stay behind the counter and kept tweeting. For some reason I took to trying to be a bit more humorous for a few. I remembered reading about Brett Lawrie being in a mall when a shooting had broken out and so I sent out a tweet to the tune of, “I feel a lot like Brett Lawrie right now.” After that I sent, “I'm glad I have shoes on. Last thing I need is broken glass and bare feet like John MacLaine,” an obvious Die Hard reference. Almost immediately after that tweet SWAT had taken siege. I saw three teams of three stroll by the front of the store, all armed with AR-15 rifles and full body gear. After they passed I hit the floor and crept my way across to the front to snap some photos. 

              I finally saw a sheriff’s deputy across the way and signaled to him that I was trapped inside. He motioned for me to get back, so I did. Ben Lacy, a producer at KGW in Portland, and fellow Oregon alum, hit me up on Twitter and asked if they could do a live interview. I sent him a DM with my number and said yes. Five minutes later I was live on the air, taking the reporter step by step as to what had happened. A few minutes in, the police had arrived at the door and motioned for me. The glass isn’t soundproof, so they told me to unlock the door and be ready to stay low and move out. I had forgotten my Note and jacket, but didn’t care. I wanted to get out. As soon as I got the green light, I cleared out. I looked back and noticed that there were six totally officers, all armed to the teeth with .45s, shotguns and rifles. I booked a sharp right and headed out.

            Now, at the time when I made my exit I thought I had an officer tailing behind me as an escort. I didn’t. As soon as I cleared the threshold of the door I was “greeted” by five officers with shotguns and assault rifles all pointed at me.

            “Get your hands up!” I heard someone yell.
            I complied.
            “Get on your knees and drop the phone!” I heard.
            I did
            “Slowly lay down and cross your legs!”
As soon as I did I felt my Orioles hat slip down over my face, but I remained motionless. The last thing I wanted was a bullet entering any part of my body. One of the deputies came around and slapped handcuffs on me, pulled me up and walked me to the left for questioning. I stood up straight and answered everything he asked: Name, business at the mall, etc. He then got on his intercom and asked for a description of the suspect, which luckily I didn’t fit. As I stood there shivering in khaki and pants and a polo shirt in the cold more people began exiting… all of which glared at me as they passed as if I was the shooter. I didn’t let it bother me. I turned my head to the left to get a look at the deputy and listen in on the responses he was getting. He was almost a foot shorter than me with short grey hair and an amazing salt and pepper mustache and glasses. He then slipped his business card into my pocket and told me to call if I had any information to give as he unlocked the steel bracelets. He pointed me toward the left of the parking lot and told me to get out that way. I did what he asked and walked away… for a bit. Around this time I was getting texts and calls from a lot of people making sure I was safe. Since my Note was still inside the store I couldn’t get on Twitter to let everyone know I had made it out. I texted everyone I knew who had Twitter to let them know and to let others know I was fine. Unfortunately, most of the people that I knew who had large followings on Twitter are all on the East Coast. Not until the end of the night did it dawn on me that they had no idea what was going on. Therefore, I got a lot of confused texts back. My friend Kat in Boston, who works for NECN, called me up; made sure I was doing fine and asked if I would do an interview.

Kat and I went to the University of Oregon together and I crashed at her place in Boston during my second trip there over the summer during my MLB stadium tour. I said I’d be more than happy to. As we chatted on the phone I noticed more people leaving the mall… I then hatched a plan. I really wanted my Note back so I could get back on Twitter to give updates so I asked the deputy at the door if he could escort me back to the store so I could lock it up, which is actually true. He said yes and took me back. About halfway there he asked another deputy, the one who handcuffed and questioned me, to take me the rest of the way. He jokingly said yes and followed me in. I quickly ran in and grabbed my jacket, cigarettes, Note and locked the door on my way out. It was during this time that I noticed tables, chairs and product from stores strewn about the walkway of the mall.

 It was a rather eerie feeling, but for some reason I was still calm. I half sprinted back to the original doorway I had exited the mall and passed by a girl crying hysterically and talking to two officers as she had witnessed the shooting. I didn’t gather much as I wanted to get back outside. Once again, as I cleared the door way the same officer was about to yell at me to get down, but realized I was the same guy as before. A slight moment passed and he told me to be on my way. I called Kat back and did the interview with one of their reports and walked across the road where I knew there was a Starbucks with Wi-Fi. I sat down and typed away. Giving updates on Facebook and Twitter what I knew, and what I had overheard. It also gave me time to call my parents and assure everyone that I was safe.

Over the next hour or so I did interviews with KATU in Portland, NECN live in air, the Jeff Sammut Show in Toronto and even Good Morning America. I posted photos and got hit up by FOX and CNN for permission to run the photos and do more interviews. It was a weird feeling. Despite going to the U of O for journalism, I had always wanted to do sports. This was way more important and I gave my clearance on everything as it is my responsibility to relay the information.

Around 5:45 PM PST, over two hours since the shooting had started; I finally got in my car and headed home. Mentally I was burnt out and just wanted to get back into the familiar. Traffic was pretty ridiculous and I called ahead to my mom to let her know. With nothing but the steering in my hands and my thoughts, my brain drifted back to when I was 14-years-old, living in Bakersfield, California. (This part of the story I have never told anyone)

I can’t really remember the date, but I do remember it was spring. I was with a few of my friends at his parents’ house, a few blocks from Centennial High School where we all attended. We had been sitting around, watching TV and gabbing about usual high schooler things. Around 4:30 his older brother walked into the house and sat down with us. As he sat down he pulled out a bad of marijuana and his .45 from the waistband of the back of his pants. What I didn’t know and everyone else did was that he was a drug dealer. At that time I really didn’t like guns too much so I sat away from everyone else as they talked about it and wanted to see it. After about five minutes of that nonsense I had to pee so I got up and went down the hall and around a left turn corner to go. I finished, washed my hands and walked out. As I was about to bank right back into their living room the gun fired. I didn’t realize it at first until I turned my head to the right and noticed the gun pointing at my face. I then turned me head quickly left and noticed a bullet hole in the wall. The bullet had whizzed about 7 inches from my face and by the grace of God had missed. Everyone in the living room froze, except for my friend’s brother who quickly snatched the gun out of the hand of the kid who had fired it. Despite the clip being out of the gun, my friend’s brother forgot to take the one in the chamber out before he handed it off to let the younglings play with it. The last thing I remember was yelling at everyone, crying and running home. I didn’t tell my parents and I stopped talking to the kid who had pulled the trigger for years. That, realistically, is the closest I had ever come to dying as a result of gun-related means.

Throughout my day I had been calm and collective. The shooting at the mall took place about 200 yards away from me, yet I still went into protective mode over everyone else. Perhaps the trauma from my youth made me less scared? I’ll never really know. After seeing my parents, having dinner with them and watching “North by Northwest” with them, the gravity of today’s events didn’t hit me until they went to bed.

What happened when I was a kid was in isolated incident, but what happened today took place on a much larger scale. Three people are dead, including the shooter. Thousands of people will be affected by this for the rest of their lives. As terrible as things got, I am forever grateful that I was there to have a clear head and to help people get to safety. Hero is a word I’ve heard a few times since. Thrown around casually as we do with our sports icons, but I certainly don’t feel like one. I just did what needed to be done. I can only hope that others do the same in a similar situation.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Beardman Giveth... Part 2

            An article was posted on the Fan Cave Web site this last week in regard to the “Fan Cave Bump” for all of the guys who made the All-Star game simply by visiting the Fan Cave. I had to really reflect upon the list of guys who made the roster and the first thing that popped into my head was, “well that’s bullshit.” Not necessarily because of the fact that it was written, but because the list of guys have been some of the top vote getters over the last few years. How about looking at the list of guys who came in and didn’t make the All-Star squad? I could have done that, but I did one better. I assure you that all of this is true, and I find it just as weird as some of you will. So let’s start at the beginning…

             Back in April, one of the friends of the MLB Fan Cave, Bryan Mapes, came up with an interesting term for whenever a player visits and has extremely productive outings for the rest of the season. His term: The Fan Cave Bump. A hashtag on Twitter later followed: #FanCaveBump. Now, if you go on the Web site and look at the list of talent that rolled through and compare the numbers, you’ll find that it was a very hit-or-miss type of phenomenon. One of which I never really bought into… until I started really putting things together. I’m not really sure why it took so long to come to the realization of this pattern (I’m not an arrogant prick for starters). After going back down the list myself one night and really reflecting upon the time we shared with the players, the one’s that always did well were the one’s that touched and/or fondled my beard.

            Like I said before, I’m not an arrogant prick, but I can see where one would think that. All I ask is that you read through this list and come up with your own conclusion afterward. But I warn you, you’re about to have your mind blown! ;)

            April 10- Washington Nationals pitchers Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler stopped by. Detwiler was making his season debut and kept to himself a bit during the visit. I don’t blame him. He probably had a lot on his mind. However, Gio and Jackson played around and filmed a skit with the production crew. It was during the tour of the Fan Cave; however, when Gio did the unthinkable. See, most people look at the beard and think it’s fake. He was one of those people. He gave it a brief tug, we laughed and not much was exchanged after that. Before his visit Gio gave up 4 runs in 3.2 innings, struck out 6 and walked 3. His ERA was 9.82 and his record was 0-0. Since that day, Gio has gone 12-3 with a 2.92 ERA and 118 punch outs which put him in the top 3 for the NL Cy Young. A little too early in the season to call that? Maybe, but let’s move on.

            April 16- Jon “Bones” Jones stopped by to hang out and film a sketch with us. Jones was all smiles, except when he needed to be. That man can summon up a level of darkness and project it out without even trying. If babies were present, they would have cried. The segment I was in took place in the basement in which Jones was coming out of the bathroom and I told him to watch the games no matter where he goes. I think it took us 5 or 6 takes, mostly for different angles, but in between 2 of the takes Jones grabbed my beard. I’m assuming for luck, but it could have also been to mess with me as mine was way more glorious than his at the time. Jealousy! Anyway, we wrapped up and he left, only to have his UFC Light Heavyweight title defense against Rashad Evans that Saturday. Moving ahead, Jones kicked a moderate amount of piss out of Evans and retained his belt.

            April 27- Detroit Tigers stars Miguel Cabrera and Collin Balester rolled in to shoot a Telenovela. In between takes Balester and I got acquainted and exchanged beard related stories as he was growing a massive, red facial sweater similar to Erik the Red’s in the movie Willow. (Note: I did actually tell him that). But, as bearded men know, you never cross the streams. Cabrera, on the other hand, dove in while we were all taking a group photo without asking. Cabrera is a large man, mind you, so it was hard to say no, but, the proof is in the pudding: His AVG. jumped from .290 to .324 while clobbering 13 more home runs and tallying 58 RBI.

            May 3- RA Dickey and his family came in for a brief moment before he headed out with the production crew to meet up with some of the best wiffle ball pitchers the city of New York had to offer. Unlike my encounter with Balester, Dickey didn’t think much of crossing the streams. He took a brief swipe at my beard and commented on the luster of it. I then showed Dickey the finer points of screaming, “GOT HEEEEEM!!!” Before his visit Dickey was 3-1 with a 4.45 ERA and 28 strikeouts. Since the beard touch Dickey has gone 9-0, struck out 95, lowered his ERA to 2.40 and almost threw back to back 1-hitters (first time since Dave Stieb in 1988). At the rate he’s going, dude pal will more than likely compete hard for the NL Cy Young.

            May 5- Cinco de Mayo!!! Not much was supposed to happen that day other than just watching games; however, we did receive a tip that JJ Putz and Patrick Corbin would be stopping back by the Cave that evening after their game against the Mets. Not only did this come true, they also brought Willie “The Igniter” Bloomquist and Aaron Hill with them. Hill and I in the few moments we had together hit it off real well. He and I grew up a little over an hour away from each other; he in Visalia, me in Bakersfield. He talked a little about that, and a little about the Coliseum situation when he found out I was an A’s fan. At the time when he came in he was batting .242 with 4 home runs and 12 RBI. As our conversation wrapped up and he was on his way out he asked if my beard was real and took a small tug. In the process of him reaching out I was trying to say yes, but alas, he found out himself. We said our goodbyes and the gang trickled out. Now, this is probably one of the more interesting/significant changes to a player who grappled with the beard. Hill is now batting .300 with 11 home runs and 40 RBI, plus he racked up 70 more hits at the break. I think that’s it… oh wait!!! That’s right, he hit for the cycle twice in 11 days becoming the only the third person in MLB history (Babe Herman and John Reilly) to do so. Wild!!!

            May 14- Milwaukee Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy fielded some question with the other Cave Dwellers and me. Throughout our chatting and goofing around, Lucroy gained a massive fondness for my beard. He had some pretty sweet growth going for himself, but the man seriously had a “man crush” on mine. Toward the end of his visit I asked to snag a photo with him, at which he happily did so. As you can see in the photo below, Lucroy got himself a huge handful of beard. At this moment I should also point out that it’s his right hand that he’s scavenging with. Prior to his visit, Lucroy was hitting a respectable .323, which is awesome for a catcher, and 2 home runs to boot. Since that visit; however, he bumped it up to .345 with 3 more home runs and an additional 14 RBI. The man was straight money… until tragedy struck. Lucroy ended up breaking the same hand in which he got a ferocious handful of awesomeness. The unfortunate moral here? A little goes a long way. You generally don’t need more than a handful.

            May 17- Time will tell on this one, but bear with me. As part of the Fan Cave Concert Series, we were lucky to have The Voice’s season 2 winner Jermaine Paul stop by and croon a bit for us. After belting out some great songs, Paul came to the back to chat with us. I was the second in line to shake his hand and congratulate him on a great show when… he immediately grabbed my beard and started to braid it. I felt a bit like a turtle on its back, not knowing quite what to do. Not to be rude, I just let him go to work. Now, I say time will tell because he’s in the midst of cutting his first album since his victory on The Voice. I suppose we’ll have to wait and see how the album does in sales to really call this one. I’m setting the line at double platinum.

            May 18- The Cave was honored to have Jay Bruce, Drew Stubbs and Brandon Phillips stop by. Phillips stayed for a shorter than the others, but I quickly learned that he is an incredibly cool dude who developed a small fondness for my beard. We only had a few moments of chatter together, but at the end of it, like Aaron Hill, he asked if it was real and gave it a small tug and had a good laugh. At the time when he rolled in he was hitting .252 with 2 home runs and 13 RBI. Not exactly the numbers we’re used to seeing. Since the tug Phillips has boosted his BA by 28 points, popped 8 more home runs and 35 RBI; which is a much needed jump for a guy who hits in the cleanup spot.

            May 21- Kansas City Royals Hall of Famer George Brett stopped by and chatted it up with Time magazine writer Joel Stein on the topic of manliness. I’m actually not joking. After all was said and done I had asked George if he wouldn’t mind helping me with a video about a Babe Ruth jersey which sold for $4.5 million. His response, “Yah, let’s fuckin’ do it.” We got upstairs, cranked it out and during the filming he talked about how much my beard might be worth and gave it a good tug. Obviously his career can’t really get any better. The Hall of Fame pretty much sealed it a long time ago, but, the man is an avid golfer. My guess, within the next year he’ll nail at least 2 hole-in-one shots. Yah, it seems minimal, but what else is there for the man to really do? He’s all ready won at life!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Beardman Cometh... Part 1

I realize that I’m still 2 days away from the actual date, but just bear with me on this one.

             A year has come and gone since my friend and co-worker Emily Wasson (pictured below) put me up to the challenge. The challenge? Grow my beard out like Brian Wilson. It was kind of a funny way the whole thing came about as we were both working at Max’s Tavern that day. 

  There wasn’t really anything else to watch sports wise, but most importantly, I wasn’t going to let anyone else watch anything else on the TVs. It was the All-Star game!!! One of the few days I volunteered to work in the afternoon because I didn’t have cable at my house. What can I say? I’m honest. Anyway, as they were announcing the lineups Emily looked up as I did when they rattled off Brian Wilson’s name. If you remember, he looked into the camera and gave a little finger tip of the cap. Upon seeing this Emily told me that I need to grow my beard out like his. Well, my natural beard color is a brownish red, with a lot of grey mixed in there. I said that I would have looked like a crack dealer (which I still think I do). She dared me to at least do it through Halloween to see how long I could get it. I accepted her challenge and the rest as they say, is history. Well, not quite. The tale of the beard goes back further than that, so I’ll have to break it up a bit.

Memorial Day 2008

            I’ve done a lot of stupid shit in my days, but nothing was more devastating to my health than the events that took place over Memorial Day weekend in 2008. A bunch of friends and I got together for the “Great American Keg Race” at a house not too far from where I lived in Eugene. There were about 50 of us that split into teams of 2, using the old-school recess captain’s selection format. The goal of this competition was for each team to completely finish a keg of beer. The winners get bragging right for a year. However, this year we upped the ante and got 2 kegs per team of sweet, delicious Natural Light. The two captains were my friends Mike Peth and Alex Corbin (banana suit above) and Mike had the first pick. I don’t remember who each took with their first round pick, but I do remember that I was the 3rd overall selection by Mike (red team). After all the teams were chosen, the drinking began. For those of you who have never done anything this crazy, the only thing to keep in mind is to drink. You can play beer pong, chug it, flip cup, it doesn’t matter. Just drink. Several hours passed and many red Dixie cups of Natty Light were consumed. By the end of it all, no one really knew who won, but a large shouting match broke out (of course) and a large cake fight occurred as well. The one thing we did know is that I was the MVP having consumed 27 full cups. I didn’t barf or anything and how I got home is still a bit of a haze. The next day I had a blazing headache (Shocker!!!), but had a little bit of a stomach ache. Over the next few days my stomach ache grew worse.(The photo above also shows what I looked like that day)

            I had 2 jobs at the time and ended up having to go home sick several times because I couldn’t stop throwing up or going to the bathroom. It sucked. A few days ended up stretching into weeks and I lost an average of 2 pounds a day for roughly 3 weeks. I ended up going to the hospital 3 times before anyone could figure out what was wrong with me. Turns out I had somehow contracted giardia. Giardia is what people get in third world counties when they drink contaminated water. Well, I was in Eugene which has been noted for having some of the cleanest drinking water in the country. Regardless, I was dying, and fast. During that stretch I stopped eating, showering and shaving. All I could drink was water or Gatorade. Luckily, I pulled through. A week’s worth of anti-biotics cleared up all the parasites I had in my intestines. Unfortunately, due to how long it took effect, I will have issues for the rest of my life. All in all, I lost 37 pounds in a short period of time. For proof, look at the after photo below.
          From then on, I have yet to shave my beard off. I did some maintenance work from time to time, but I NEVER let it go beyond a professional look. That is, until Emily gave me the dare. Months went by and it continued to grow. Day after day I had to look into the mirror at the ridiculousness that inhabited my face. And believe me; I didn’t really like what I saw. The craziest part of this process was the amount of people who grew to love it. Even before I dyed it black people got on the, “It’s Brian Wilson!” train, which I heard, and still hear 15-16 times a day. The even weirder part about all of this is the amount of women who came up and asked if they could touch. I’d say yes, but for a fee. I never really asked for anything, I just said a fee. One girl said I could touch her boobs for a fair trade. Needless to say, I didn’t say no to that. From that day forth any woman who asked to touch my beard had to let me touch their boobs. The sad reality of this… it worked almost every time. 25/27 to be exact (Is it really a surprise I know the exact number? I mean, I know baseball stats forwards and backwards). And before you call me anything harsh for setting that as a price, how do you think I feel about when people ask to touch my beard? But… the beard grew on: through Halloween (as seen below). 

 Through the Oregon football season. (This photo was from the PAC-12 Championship game and appeared in the College Super Fans collection in Sports Illustrated) I'm dressed as Randy "Macho Man" Savage.

  through a few more tattoos (This is torn from the pages of the January issue of Inked Junkie from their collection from the Portland Tattoo Convention in September of 2011. This is in the glass case of High Priestess in Eugene, OR)

            I had vowed to trim it down as soon as I got kicked out, and almost did it as soon as I was given my walking papers. Truth be told, I’ve never really been that big of a fan of my beard. As I mentioned earlier, I like keeping it professional looking, but with the amount of positive responses I’ve gotten about it, it made it hard to pick up a pair of clippers to tame this beast. The main reason why I will not shave my beard is because it’s a reminder of the keg race disaster that fell upon me. Since that time I curbed my drinking. I don’t do it as often, and I’ve pretty much cut liquor out of the equation all together as my body still has constant difficulty processing beer. As of now, I’m giving it until the end of the season, much the same goes for my hair. As my beard grows, so does my hair and vice-versa. But then again, I’m growing my hair to donate it to Locks for Love. To my knowledge there still isn’t a place to donate beards to. Shame.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Legend of Shakabrodie

            It’s weird to think that it’s been 12 years since I really gave much thought to this. I’ve been using the name so casually for almost everything I do that I never would have expected it to be my moniker.

            It was April of 2000 when I was brought back for my second and final season as the bat boy for the Bakersfield Blaze. (For those who don’t know, the Blaze was an affiliate of the Giants at the time, and a few notables from that roster include: Carlos Valderrama, Guillermo Rodriguez, Cody Ransom and Joe Nathan.) However, with the new season, came a lot of fresh faces and a lot of attitudes to back them up. The most notable coming from a kid named Fletcher Lee.

            Now, the thing about Fletcher Lee is that he was a bit strange. I don’t mean that in a bad way, just in the same sense that most people find me a bit strange at times. Fletch, as I called him, was born and raised in Hawaii and unfortunately never made it beyond Bakersfield as a pitcher. But for the time he was there, he made everyone laugh by talking like John Wayne, prancing around like a ballerina, and he would routinely prank the other players. From what I recall, the one thing he had going for him was that he was a family friend of then manager Lenn Sakata, as they were both from Honolulu. One thing that I will never forget about Sakata is that he is the answer to a very important trivia question: “Who was the shortstop for the Orioles when Cal Ripken, Jr. started his consecutive games played streak?” Anyway, Fletch was one of the new pitchers that year and clearly one of the few guys who had no idea who I was the first time I walked into the clubhouse that year.
            “Who the fuck is this kid!?” he yelled, as I was clearly the youngest person there.
            “I’m the bat boy. Who the fuck are you?” I replied.
            Only the few guys who returned from last season really laughed at my retort, as they all learned a lot about me and the way I interact with people from the previous season. Despite their age and talent, I never let any of the players or managers push me around or think they were better than me. (Notable others I told to fuck off and/or gave the finger to: Keith Comstock (jokingly), Eric Byrnes (jokingly), Robby Thompson (jokingly), Adam Piatt and my favorite, Bobby Bonds (definitely not jokingly).) 
Fletch just kind of stood there for a moment and stared me down as I went to my locker. As I put my stuff away, he slapped me on the ass and walked into the shower. Kind of an odd start to our relationship, I know, but with me, a lot of encounters start like that.
            To really understand the rest of the story, please take a moment to really analyze the photo below.

            Yes, that’s me with the spiky, blonde hair. And yes, I thought it looked awesome at the time. Moving on… I was an avid surfer back then. Fletch, as it turned out, was as well. I mean, yah, he’s Hawaiian, but I usually don’t stereotype. Anyway, once he found out I was he took a bit of a shine toward me. We’d talk about awesome spots to go to on the coast and I’d always bring him photos when they got back from a trip on the road as I didn’t travel with the team. Toward the end of May Fletch started doing something more regularly when I walked into the clubhouse. As I stepped in, he’d jump on the bench in front of his locker, crouch and say, “Shaka bro” to me with his right hand in the form of shaka (hang loose). He even did on a random night after a game when we both happened to be at a Food 4 Less across from Sam Lynn Ballpark. Everyday for a little over a month he would do that, everyday until the middle of June when I got to the stadium early. Fletch had just been released by the Giants and only a few of us were there when he received the news.
            This wasn’t the first time I had seen or known anyone to get demoted, called up or even cut, but it was one of the few that I will never forget. Sakata was trying to console him, to let him know everything was going to get better and that he was going to catch on with another team. Fletch was in tears, which ultimately made me well up a bit, and a few of the other pitchers gave him hugs and well wishes. I then went over to him, gave him a hug and said my goodbye… at which he then jokingly told me to fuck off and get some work done. That was the last time I ever saw him, and the last time he played professional baseball.

            The “Brodie” part of the story is a bit shorter and confusing to me. That same year, when all the bleached hair grew out and was cut off, a few of my high school chums said I looked like Jason Lee, the actor/professional skateboarder. Specifically, they said I looked like his character from Mallrats, Brodie. At the time I didn’t see much of a connection; however, nowadays I kind of do. But I’ll let you be the judge.

            Since those days I’ve combined the two nicknames I had bestowed upon me and made them join forces for the ultimate badass user name ever! No… the main reason I started it was as a tribute to Fletch. As I got older I got lazy and decided to use Shakabrodie for everything. To be honest, I never would have expected so many people to take a shine to it. I thought I was just being silly and paying tribute to an old friend.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Reflections of Arizona

This is the blog post I submitted at the end of our Spring Training experience for the MLB Fan Cave. We had a 750 word limit. My original draft was about 1500 words. This is the condensed version.

The last two days have been my first visit back to Phoenix since the unfortunate loss the University of Oregon suffered in the BCS National Championship back in January of 2011. My previous trip was extremely prosperous in that I made over $4,000 selling the t-shirts my best friend Samuel Spencer, a clothing designer for Nike, and I had made in reaction to the alleged bribery scandal surrounding Cameron Newton during his championship run at Auburn University. While this opening doesn’t seem to make much sense in regard to baseball, had it not been for that ingenious idea, I would not be writing this piece right now. The money I made selling the t-shirts served as the payment for the Major League Baseball tattoos I started getting back in May of this last year. And without those tattoos, well, I probably wouldn’t be writing this piece you’re reading.

            The last two weeks have proven to be a whirlwind of mixed emotions, all of which have resulted in the most exhilarating experience of my life. Now I know I’ve talked quite a bit about being taken seriously as a journalist, but after really analyzing what I said, I’ve come to the conclusion that what came out of my mouth was wrong. The obstacle I wanted to overcome was not being all about my tattoos.

            In the days that led up to my journey to Phoenix I was beyond scared. My body was literally shaking in a similar fashion to when I was having light seizures after sustaining a concussion back in 2000 when I had accidentally walked in the on-deck circle that was occupied by Esteban German during my time as a bat boy for the Bakersfield Blaze. That day I learned how hard an eventual Major Leaguer could swing a bat as I took a shot right in the chin. While I thought my biggest fear was going to come as a result of a failed pitch, the real drama that was building up had come as result of my fear that everyone would think I was a “crazy person” based on my audition video which, not only got me a spot in the Top 50 and 30, but which spread across the internet like a wildfire after my television interview with KVAL in Eugene. When the day of the flight came, I knew I had to really impress everyone, bust most importantly be myself.

            From the night when I arrived in Phoenix through the flurry of handshakes and smiles I received from the executives of Major League Baseball, I felt the fear drip away from my body. Through the pitch and the MLB IQ match, I never felt safer. Not safe in the sense that I had nothing to worry about, but safe in the sense that I felt like I was amongst good company. Despite all of the hard work that my competitors and I displayed on both days of the competition, I never for a second felt and anything negative. The word competitor became lost on me and was replaced with the word friend. Not in a long time have I felt so welcomed, so encouraged in and out of the spectrum of the competition. Encouragement I reflected back upon everyone else I interacted with.

The support that I have received from my friends and family, but equally from the 29 other Fan Cave members and the executives of Major League Baseball has been overwhelming. Not to mention how much of a thrill it was to meet, greet and interview a few of my favorite players: Eric Byrnes, Ryan Roberts and Luis Gonzales. It’s not every day that a person is given the opportunity to come close to their dreams, and I did everything in my power to not let anyone down, including myself. The MLB Fan Cave experience will never be lost on me. The memories, friends and connections I made during this time have been a reward so great that it’s hard to put into words. The experience of being able to move to New York as finalist for the Fan Cave would truly be an honor, and something that I know will be bring me tears of joy. Just because I may or may not get a phone call does not mean that campaigning will end.

If selected, I will work my fingers to the bone to promote the game in an alternative, yet positive light. If not, I will continue to support the game that I love and cheer on with my new friends. The thing I’ve learned most is that the unconditional love I have for the game will never quit, just as the game will never quit on me.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Kid

 Thursday, February 16: I was nothing but smiles during my interview with the Register Guard. A former classmate of mine, Adeline Bash, was doing a great job, asking all of the right questions without me having to drop in bits of information that “I” wanted to get across. We covered a variety of topics ranging from my childhood, through my high school years as a bat boy for a Minor League team, and on up until the point when I decided to get my baseball tattoos. We were just about to wrap everything up when I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket. I pulled it out and looked to see if it was a call or a text. It was a text. I set the phone on the table and picked up where I had left off; telling a story about how I started my hat collection.

Twenty minutes had passed since I received that text. At the time I didn’t think much of it. I figured it was just a friend asking me how things were going in my MLB Fan Cave campaign. Adeline and I completed the interview a little after 3. We caught up a little bit on how things were going in our lives and both of us felt that our lives were going in the direction we wanted. We said our good-byes and we parted ways. A ripple of excitement passed through me as the next day the Guard would be publishing the story. The amount of publicity that I had been receiving was more than expected. Everyday, it seemed, I had more interviews lined up. I was being complimented by my friends and family who were giving me unconditional support. But more importantly, I was feeling wonderful about all of the hard work I had put in to help get the word out about my campaign. Having a free moment I decided to check my messages to see what I had missed during my interview. My inbox had one unread message which came from my friend Ryan Moore up in Portland. I hit “OK” and all that it read was, “Gary Carter has caught his last game.”

My attitude quickly changed. I didn’t want to believe what was being implied on my phone so I rushed out of my seat and got to the nearest TV. Sure enough, my suspicions and fears had been answered. I slowly, but casually turned and walked out of Max’s Tavern and into the February rain that had been falling for the last week and a half. A cavalcade of emotions ran through my heart, but finally landed on sadness. The rain helped mask the tears that began streaming down my face as I walked home and into the baseball haven that is my bedroom. Exhausted and depressed, I collapsed on my bed and broke down. Gary Carter, the man who inspired my love of baseball was now dead.

October 25, 1986: My entire family was watching Game 6 of the 1986 World Series in the family room of our two-story house in Stockton, California. I was three-years-old at the time, and doing my best to keep reverent while everyone else was watching the game. I didn’t have a strong understanding of things, but I could understand the concept of outs and hits pretty well. As the bottom of the 10th inning started up, I really began to understand the emotions and the heartbreak of baseball.

Red Sox pitcher Calvin Schiraldi easily took care of Mets Wally Backman and Keith Hernandez by forcing them to pop out. My mother was on the edge of her seat, being the big Red Sox fan that she is. Red Sox nation was set to celebrate their first World Series title since in 1918. That is, until the Kid stepped up to the plate. This was the at-bat that changed everything I knew about baseball, and to some Red Sox fans, it was the at-bat that kept the “Curse of the Bambino” alive as well. Carter laced a line single into left field after working the count to 2-1, but all of this after legendary Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully had all ready labeled Marty Barrett of the Red Sox as the Miller Lite Player of the Game. With Carter on first, up came Kevin Mitchell, who singled Carter to second base. Then, it was Ray Knight who roped a shot into center field, deep enough for Carter to hustle his way around third to score. We all know the rest: wild pitch scores the tying run in Mitchell, Mookie Wilson Bill Bucknered Bill Buckner and Knight scored the winning run as Carter leaps from the dugout in full catchers gear to greet his teammate. Not a bad game to be your first memory of baseball. There were a few things that I took away from that game at such a young age: Gary Carter was the happiest guy in the world,  my love of baseball was born, Gary Carter caused the Red Sox to lose by starting the rally and the Red Sox were a terrible team. Obviously, my interpretation of those events has changed, as have my opinions slightly. Gary Carter in that moment defined what it means to be not only a clutch player, but a great leader. Carter could have easily faltered to Schiraldi with his back against the wall after seeing his teammates log two outs quickly, but from everything I gathered from Carter’s time in the majors, backing down was not an option.

I never got to see Carter play in the early days of the Montreal Expos franchise, but I did catch one game of his at Candlestick Park when he was with the Giants. Even at the end of his career, Carter lived up to his nickname, Kid. Every play he was involved in he handled with pristine and dedication to his craft. Very few people grow up to do the thing they love, but more importantly, even fewer people continue to play with the same tenacity throughout their entire career. Even as a kid I could see how much Carter loved the game. Like me, baseball never did him wrong, and in return he never let the game down.

Carter made the Hall of Fame in 2003. He was the first Expo to get elected. I was 20-years-old at the time and too strapped for cash to make it out, but I did enjoy his speech later that night on Sportscenter. The quote that caught me the most was when he said, “I have always been a fan of the game first, and a ballplayer second. Maybe that’s why I had the love and passion for this great game so much.”

Not since the first time when I heard Alan Page’s NFL Hall of Fame speech on the values of education had I been so inspired. Carter worked as hard as he could, day in and day out, and with the values he learned on the ball field he incorporated them into his personal life. In 2005, when I was working as a store manager at Just Sports in Woodburn, Oregon, I met man who was just as big of a baseball fan as I am. We chatted non-stop about the early days of the Yankees, the dominance of the Oakland A’s and the Cincinnati Reds in the 1970s and how the game has evolved into modern times. Lastly, we talked about Gary Carter. He and I were both fans of his, and he told me that he was able to go out to Cooperstown to watch Carter get inducted into the Hall of Fame. Needless to say, I was a bit jealous, but happy that he had the chance to take on that journey. He and I gabbed for about an hour and he ended the conversation by saying he was going to bring me something the next time he was in town. I told him he didn’t have to do that, but he insisted that I would appreciate it. I unfortunately wasn’t at work when he rolled through Woodburn, but my co-worker and friend Matt Bressler told me he had dropped by and left something for me when I next worked. I look underneath the computer and sitting there was an inaugural button commemorating Carter’s election. It had been a long time since someone did something so small, yet so powerful for me outside of my circle of friends and family. The small token, today especially, was one of the greatest gifts I could have ever received.

When Carter was first diagnosed with a brain tumor, I couldn’t believe it. How could someone who has done so much good be inflicted with such a travesty? He fought hard and pulled through after rounds of chemotherapy, but not too long later, he was diagnosed again. This time, the cancer had multiplied and he was given a short expectancy. I remember reading about it and I hit up Facebook to vent my feelings, “Gary Carter was diagnosed a second time with brain tumors. Hearing this news is the same as if someone told me that Superman was dying.” My eyes welled up as I typed away, not knowing if my hero was going to pull through. A few weeks ago I had the privilege of watching the MLB Writer’s Awards in which Carter’s daughter Kimmy gave a wonderful speech about her father as she accepted an award in his behalf. In the weeks that followed Carter passed away.

It’s hard now to write this and think of jovial smile that Carter had on his face every time he stepped on the field. There are very few people in this world that I try to emulate based on their character, but Carter is certainly one I’m proud to share. A week before his passing I purchased a photo print from the Chicago Tribune which featured Carter with his arms above his head and the iconic smile stretching ear to ear as he hit a game-winning home run against the Cardinals in his debut game for the Mets back in 1985. Like all of tokens and keepsakes I have collected over the years, I will cherish it just as much.

Gary Carter was more than a baseball player. He was a teammate, a humanitarian, a husband and a father. Although I never had the honor of meeting him in person, I am proud to say that he was truly a king among men, and an inspiration to everyone.