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Zealots and Trolls

DT at CWS tunner

Sports fans are an interesting breed.

On one hand you have, of course, the “fanatic” or “zealot”, whom The Free Dictionary defines as “a person marked or motivated by an extreme, unreasoning enthusiasm.” The opposite of a fanatic, according to Yahoo! Answers, is the “troll.” A troll or “hater” as they are often referred, is someone who opposes what you think.

Things can get real interesting when a zealot and troll sit next to each other in the stands.

I’ve just returned from Omaha, Nebraska, where I had the thrill of watching my son compete in the 2015 College World Series. David was six-years-old when he first told me he dreamed of playing in Omaha. Seeing his dream (and mine) come true was a beautiful, amazing experience.

As our team took the field, I was talking with another dad who was also experiencing dreams coming true. “There are over 300 Division 1 baseball teams,” he explained quite excited, “which means with 35-man rosters, there are roughly 10,500 student athletes playing baseball.” I nodded my head in agreement giving him the impression I was able to multiply large numbers in my head.

“Eight teams get to Omaha,” he continued, “meaning out of 10,500, less than 300 kids get to experience this.” Once again I nodded confidently in agreement. But then he asked, “Do you know what percentage that is?” He then just looked at me and waited as if my brain was somehow capable of figuring out his complex mathematical equation.

He must have noticed the blood rushing out of my head as I was trying to do math and mercifully volunteered the answer: “Roughly 2.6 percent.” “Yes, that sounds about right,” I said, stomping my foot trying to get the blood flowing back to my brain. “Think about it,” he insisted, less than 3% of all college baseball players ever get here. This is amazingly special.”

Despite my horrible math skills, I’ve thought a lot about that brief conversation. It was indeed “amazingly special” to get to Omaha. And when you consider the winner of the College World Series represents fewer than half of one percent (0.33%) of all division one baseball players (I figured that out all by myself), you realize how truly incredible it is to win this, or any other championship.

Which brings me back to the fanatics and trolls. You see, most are so focused on the win or the loss, they never take into consideration the incredible journey the athlete must take just to get into a position to win or lose. All that matters is for “their” team to finish in that very elusive half of one percent.

My wife and kids have urged me to not look at social media – the playground for zealots and trolls. For the most part, I have complied. But sometimes, I just have to look. And so it was after our team lost I ignored the warning bells and viewed a few social media posts.

And there they were. The zealots and trolls filling page after page with their unbridled vitriol. The fanatics chimed in on all the mistakes made which lost “us” the championship and the trolls basically suggested blind lame dogs would have beaten “our” team.

“It’s okay,” as my son has said to me more than once. “It doesn’t matter what they say or think.” In fact, like most athletes, he seems to have a basic understanding of the zealots and trolls. “They’re just fans,” he says a bit matter-of-fact. “They cheer and they boo. But they don’t understand.”

Then he looked at me and said, “But you understand, Dad.”

Indeed I do. I know all about the countless hours he spends to hone his skills when no one is looking. I know about his terrible disappointment after a poor performance and his heartbreak with a loss. I understand how hard he has worked to fight back from injuries and overcome way too many surgeries and hospital stays. And I certainly know all the sacrifices we have made as a family to help him get where he is today. Yes, I do understand.

So go ahead with your cheers and boos all you zealots and trolls. We understand.

Ese es mi hijo!

David HR swing

I’ve been yelling, “Ese es mi hijo” from the stands now for 16 years. It simply means, “That’s my boy,” and you hear it yelled out a lot here in Miami. For some reason, my hispanic friends think it’s funny when I yell it out.

I learned my Spanish baseball vocabulary at a popular baseball park here in Dade County called “Tamiami.” Against the well-meaning advice of many kind and gentle baseball-parent friends, David started playing there when he was nine years old. We were warned the conditions there could be a little rough. And just to prove the point, our very first game was complete with a resounding victory — and a fist fight — between the coach’s wives.

But it was at Tamiami my son, David, really learned the game of baseball. I can still hear some of the heavy Spanish accents from coaches as they taught the boys how to play. Baseball wasn’t just a game; it was a passion.

We sent 9-year-old David on a month-long baseball trip from Miami to Texas that year under the care of another couple. We never worried once knowing he would be the most well treated and cared for kid on the entire trip. Hispanics take family very seriously and David was their adopted gringo son. Not only that, but by the time the trip was over, David knew all Celia Cruz’s songs by heart.

Now David plays for the University of Miami. Not surprisingly, one of his teammates was on his Tamiami team. Several others play for different Division One teams while at least one other is already playing professional ball. Today, David was named one of sixty players to make the Golden Spikes Watch List. The trophy, which is awarded in June, is given to the athlete the panel considers the best amateur baseball player in the country. It’s a nice list to be on.

So once again, here I am in the stands yelling, “Ese es mi hijo!” And I couldn’t be more proud. God is good!

Back in the game 53 days after major surgery

The University of Miami’s final regular baseball series was agains the University of North Carolina May 16 & 17, 2014. The series included a 16 inning first game of the double header. Miami won the series to take first place in the ACC.

The series also featured my son, David, and his return after missing 32 games due to Venous Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. He was hospitalized on March 19th, had six hour surgery on March 24 (including having a rib removed), and returned to action on May 16th. A remarkable return just 53 days after major surgery.

David said, “Having a little rib removed isn’t going to keep me out of the game.” Amazing! God is good, all the time.

National Signing Day: A Father’s Lesson

February 1st is “National Signing Day.”  It is the first day in which a high school senior can sign a binding Letter of Intent to play football in college. After months and sometimes years of recruiting, the hype and drama culminate on this special day as millions of deeply devoted college football fans tune in to learn which athletes have officially committed to their favorite school.

To be honest, I haven’t paid a whole lot of attention to National Signing Day in years past.  But I certainly have this year.  You see, my youngest son is part of the hype and drama. CBS Sports (MaxPreps) lists him as one of the top pro-style quarterbacks in the nation.  He is also projected as a high draft pick in the Major League Baseball draft this June.  But first, on February 1st, he will excitedly sign his letter of intent to play football and baseball at what we affectionately call, “The U.”  This is very good news for me. Half my wardrobe has the “U” on it.

To both my wife and son’s chagrin, however, it appears I have gotten caught up in all the hype.  There are at least a dozen or so fan-based websites devoted to University of Miami athletics and dozens more dealing with the MLB draft.  Few articles or discussion boards where my son is mentioned go by without coming to my attention.  And while the vast majority of articles and comments are very positive, a tiny few are negative. And what is a father to do when uninformed nincompoops make disparaging remarks about his son?

Well, in the way of a confession, I’ll admit that I have cleverly disguised my name and relationship to my son and have responded in anonymity to a few of the comments made by knuckle-headed bloggers and fans.  Using my highly developed skills in sarcasm and derision, I not only put those misanthropes in their places, but questioned their very intelligence for even thinking something negative about my son.

Then, and this is where I blew it, I proudly showed my wife and son some of the blog posts and comments (without revealing my cleverly disguised message-board name). I was confident they would be pleased how a total stranger was coming to his defense

To my great surprise, however, they were both able to instantly determine each one of my blog-post replies despite my cleverly disguised name.  Then, after reading my acrid comments, they would turn and look at me with an eye-narrowing “what is wrong with you?” glare.  “What?” I answered, trying in vain to look innocent.

After a brief discussion where various degrees of my intelligence were questioned, a beautiful moment took place, one I will long cherish.  My son put his hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eyes and with an assuring and loving smile said, “It’s ok, Dad.  I can take it.”

It’s a beautiful thing to see your child grow up with steely fortitude ready to face a hostile world.  It’s that much more amazing to realize they are willing to step into the brutal world of college football where one can turn from hero to goat in an instant.  I have watched in admiration as Jacory Harris, the University of Miami quarterback these past years, has skillfully and graciously managed such a hostile environment.  “It comes with the territory,” is the common view.

And now a new wave of aspiring athletes will face the glaring spotlights and the roar of cheering or jeering fans.  As a Dad, I can’t imagine ever overcoming the sense that I have to protect and defend my children. There are, after all, a few loud cynics out there who like to drag as many people as they can down their sad and lonely road.  But for now, with ample threats from my wife and son, I have retired my clever pseudonyms.  And when I feel that desire to set another pundit in his place, I’ll remember that assuring smile, “It’s ok, Dad. I can take it.”

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