On Teachers and Hard Work

July 9, 2013

Writing around these parts has been sporadic because of my new venture into the world of baseball analysis.  In a way it’s been nice to explore writing in a more analytic fashion (most of the time).

Still, every now-and-then I build up enough information in my mental filing cabinets and feel like I need to organize it.  From this concept, Ramble On was born.

But I digress. (As I often do.)

The other week before school let out I was talking to some of my colleagues about who their greatest educational influences were as students.  Some had mentioned teachers that showed compassion.  Some mentioned teachers that were strict and consistent.  Some mentioned teachers that made them think differently about something for the first time.  When I was posed the same question, however, I had to stop and think.

I was provided a quality education in rural Northwestern Pennsylvania; I truly believe that.  From kindergarten to undergrad, I’ve interacted with some of the most influential people in my life, let alone my learning process.  In some instances I took full advantage of the education that was being provided to me, but other times I didn’t.  So as I was pondering that heavy question, I wondered what made the excellent teachers stand out.  Why did I work extra hard for some teachers, but not for others?

And then I thought about my own teaching style and the students that seem to take away the most from me as an educator.  When I put together my educational career as a student with my teaching career, I suddenly felt like I painted a very clear portrait of the people who influenced me as a student.  I learned the most and gave the most to the educators who connected to me through language.  To this day, I still enjoy nothing more than sitting in a lecture or meeting and hearing someone say something profound enough to catch my attention.  That’s what I crave in conversation as well.

Say something smart enough or clever enough or different enough to pique my interest.  Make me interested in you and what you have to say and that’s when I’ll thrive as a student.

To this day, there are still things that I vividly remember teachers saying that have remained with me since elementary school.

My earliest such memory was in third grade.  Students were ability grouped for reading so that all of the high-achieving readers were in one class, the on pace readers were in another, and the below grade level readers in another.  I’m not, and never have been, a naturally brilliant person, so I found myself in the middle group of readers.  While it was never explicitly stated, in third grade it didn’t take more than a few days to figure the system out.  So there I sat in Mrs. Brown’s classroom reading ‘The Boxcar Children’ while the students in Mr. Seger’s class were tackling Laura Ingalls Wilder’s ‘Little House’ series.

I remember writing a summary of ‘The Boxcar Children’ and at the end, to close my summary, writing, ‘But I bet it’s not as good as “Little House on the Prarie.”‘

Eventually my passive-aggressive attempts to try and get myself moved up to the top reading group turned into flat out asking if I could change classes for reading.  After a few times pestering Mrs. Brown, I was eventually allowed to go to Mr. Seger’s class where I sat down with the man himself and read from the ‘Little House’ book they were reading in class.  It was the first real job interview or audition I had for anything.  As I walked into the room, I felt just as nervous as I did before a Little League baseball game.  The butterflies were fluttering as I sat down at the tiny rectangular table in the corner of his room and stared at ‘The Little House on the Prarie’.

At that instant, the book looked gargantuan.  Those butterflies turned into a sense of panic as I thumbed to the page he requested.

I remember struggling through reading the few pages that I was asked to read.  Not terribly, but enough that I knew, as a third grader, that I didn’t sound impressive as a reader.  I suddenly felt like that classroom was out of my league.  When I closed the book at the end, I was nearly in tears.  Mr. Seger looked right at me and asked me how I thought I did.  To save face I sheepishly said I thought I did okay.  Then he told me something that, to this day, nearly 22 years later, I still appreciate as a thirty year old man.

He said he knew the books they were reading in his class were going to be challenging for me.  But he told me if I was willing to work hard, try my best, and get all of my assignments finished, he would add me to his reading class.

To this day, whenever I feel like I’m up against someone or something, even if they seem like the best of the best, I recall that moment with Mr. Seger when I may have been in a bit over my head.  I remember the hard work that I put in to earn my spot in his classroom.  It was the first time I enjoyed reading after school at home because I felt like I had a purpose.  All because of a simple conversation; a simple lesson.  Mr. Seger taught me that hard work could pay off.


An Ode to Roommates and Solitude

June 27, 2013

Last summer my longtime roommate told me that he was planning on taking the plunge with his girlfriend and getting an apartment together.  I mentally prepared myself from that point forward for my baby bird to spread his wings and fly.  However, circumstances didn’t lend themselves to the move happening immediately and Dan and I continued our cohabitation, happily splitting bills, the dishes, and trash.  I put the concept of losing a roommate on the backburner and lived my life to the fullest; skydiving, bull fighting, and curling to my heart’s content.  A few weeks after that, the topic was breached yet again.  This time it was a firm reality and the date was set.  Dan would be moving out at the end of November.

A few weeks after that, while eating some of the best chicken wings the Northwestern Pennsylvania region has to offer, I mentioned how, for the first time in my life, I would be living completely independent of a roommate.  I was going rogue.

Sarah Palin Rogue

My life from that day forward.

In the middle of one of his chicken wings, my brother pointed out that I just turned 30.

It was odd thinking of that; three decades of life.  The oddity was highlighted by a thought that popped into my head as well.  By the time my dad was my age, he already had three kids.

I enjoy my freedom too much to hamstring my lifestyle with the burden of children at the moment.  However, one thing I’ve learned about myself since my roommate’s departure is that I enjoy cohabitating.  I’m really not too fond of living alone. Growing up with brothers, I’ve found that having someone close to me is a part of my personality.   I grew up accustomed to having someone to watch TV with, play video games, or go outside and do something.  And really, for as long as I can remember, I’ve always had a tight group of friends and I’ve always kept them close to me, through proximity or communication, if they happened to live at a distance.

Now I know that causation doesn’t necessarily mean correlation, but over the last few months, I’ve noticed a change in my personality.  I don’t know if anyone else has because I haven’t bothered to ask, but I feel that since living on my own, I’ve become much quieter and way more introspective.  This may or may not be a bad thing.  I guess it’s probably good to be more self aware and evaluate one’s life in solitude for a period of time, a la Henry David Thoreau.

Hopefully I don’t contract tuberculosis and die, however, because no one will be here to help.

So on with life I will go, learning how to navigate the waters of bachelorhood in solitude.

Agere sequitur credere.

I’ve learned to like the sound of my own voice.

March 4, 2013

I’m sure there were times when some of you who are old enough to remember answering machines had the awful experience of hearing your voice for the first time.  Everyone’s responses to this even are pretty much the same: “That’s what I sound like?  I sound awful.”

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve started a website with some of my close friends with whom I spent time coaching baseball with over the past few years.  Throughout our discussions it was obvious how much we all shared a passion for baseball, so when I brought the idea up to them about starting a website that covers baseball in the tri-state area, their responses were both an immediate yes. (And my one friend Jason who joined in on the venture had said that he had been thinking about a similar idea himself.)

One branch of our coverage that we’re going to provide is going to be a podcast that, as of now, we’re producing weekly.  The first time I put on a pair of headphones and sat down to talk into the microphone, I was stunned to hear my own voice.  And then I was mildly annoyed by it.

However, over the last few weeks as I’ve gotten better with the podcasting thing, I’ve learned to enjoy my voice a little more. I’m excited to continue to work on developing unique baseball commentary and coverage throughout 2013.
And hopefully I won’t hate the sound of my own voice by the end of it.

Tri-State of Mind Baseball

February 18, 2013

I’ve finally found a way to blend my enjoyment from writing with my unnatural obsession with baseball.  Along with two close friends who live in the area, we founded Tri-State of Mind Baseball, a website which is going to cover and emphasize coverage of baseball in the Ohio-Pennsylvania-New York area.

Baseball coverage Ohio-Pennsylvania-New York

Bringing you the best of baseball in the Tri-State Area!

Not only are the Pirates, Indians, and Reds Major League Baseball teams in the area, but there are also dozens of minor league teams in the area as well.  If you visit tsmbaseball.com, you can see a list of Major League Teams as well as some minor league affiliates in the area in one of the menus on the right.

We’ve also started recording weekly podcasts, discussing topical news with baseball in the region, pop culture in baseball, and in our second episode, we even featured a musical guest from the area, Tyler James.

Overall, this has been a great venture.  You learn a lot about yourself when you put yourself out there like this.  I think it’s needless to say I’m probably going to focus a lot of my writing and creativity over at tsmbaseball, but it’ll be nice to have this as a creative outlet for when I want to write about something not baseball related.

So if you have some time and are interested in baseball, it’s definitely worth stopping by!  Hope to hear from you soon.

2012 Literature

January 2, 2013

In no particular order, here are the books I tackled during my leisure time in 2012.  There were also quite a few boring text books that I didn’t include.  I didn’t include a little review and/or synopsis because I’m lazy.  I enjoyed most of the books I read this year, especially the new Dark Tower story that Stephen King released.  It made my heart happy to continue the tale of Roland of Gilead.

So without further delay, here they are in no particular order.

Magical Thinking by Augusten Burroughs

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King

World War Z by Max Brooks

Death to the BCS by Jeff Passan

The Sportswriter by Richard Ford

Black Hats by Patrick Culhane

Gun, With Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem

Working at the Ballpark: The Fascinating Lives of Baseball People from Peanut Vendors and Broadcasters to Players and Managers by Tom Jones

Carte Blanche by Jeffery Deaver

On Life: An Update

November 29, 2012

I’ve written about my general sense of dissatisfaction and unease about life previously.  It’s not a particularly cheery or inspirational outlook, but it’s mine, so I own it.  It’s brought me to the point where I am now; a teacher, coach, Master’s student, and nattily dressed sophisticate.  All things considered, I should probably feel a lot more content about life than I do.  I have a great job, summers off to travel and live life at my leisure and boyish charm and good looks that drive women wild.

This is how I imagine myself in my head.

If you would’ve told me in 2001 I’d be teaching in my hometown, I probably would’ve thought that was the cat’s pajamas.  However, in 2001 I also thought ‘Idle Hands’ was a great movie, so maybe I had yet to develop a suitable sense of perspective on anything.

Idle Hands

The hotness of Jessica Alba can’t make up for… well, everything else this film lacks.

Someone once asked me if this unease was because I thought there was always something better out there for me.  If I was worried that if I settled with something that I’d be supremely unhappy because there’d always be something else I wanted or at least the potential to want something else that I didn’t have.  After chewing on that for a few days, I came to the conclusion that I do think some of that may be true.  It’s a big world out there and I haven’t explored a lot of it, so how can I really know what I want?

There are times where I look at the people around me and ask myself that question about them.  How can someone buy a house or take a job there?  What an awful way to live; trapped in a place because you bought a house.  But in that same respect, I’m envious of those people.  Those people who have enough confidence to say, ‘This is what I want and I know that for a fact.’

It’s a brazen thing to say with confidence that you want to make a commitment to something, whether it be a house, a car, a relationship, or the like.  I know what my perspective on things is and I know there are more people out there who probably share similar feelings, which makes me wonder how so many people end up with houses that they hate or in relationships that end in divorce.  I get people change; I totally understand that.  I’m a completely different person than I was five years ago.  But then the only conclusion I can draw about people who rush into those early commitments is that they truly have little perspective on the decisions that they’re making.

For example, when I moved back to Pennsylvania from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, I had the means relative to the cost of living in the area where I moved to buy a house immediately.  However, after four years, I still balk at the idea of permanently owning something because how am I to know what opportunities might present themselves to me in the coming weeks, months, or years?  What if I were offered a dream job, like, I don’t know, watching baseball in a state of the art Fan Cave in downtown New York City?  If I had to pass up on the opportunity of a lifetime like that because I was worried about a mortgage payment… well, that’s probably the most cruel and unfair thing I could imagine doing to myself.

All things considered, I definitely think I’m going through life the right way.  I haven’t rushed into any life altering decisions, sans a car payment and student loans.  If I needed to uproot myself to go pursue something elsewhere, I haven’t hamstrung myself at all.  And I suppose that would be the best advice I could give to a younger person with a lot of their life ahead of them still: don’t rush life.  It’s going to come at you plenty fast enough once it gets going.  Go find out what kind of things you enjoy.  Find a lifestyle that fits you, then figure out how all of the other stuff fits into your life.  If a house fits in your lifestyle, sure, it makes sense to purchase one.  If not, renting is a hell of a lot easier than owning.  If cohabitating with someone else for the rest of your natural life tickles your fancy, maybe battening the hatches and getting hitched is something worthwhile to pursue.  If not, why not keep dating and enjoy your time together?

At thirty I don’t have all the answers.  However, in my advancing age, I feel like I’m definitely learning a lot more about what the questions are.  That to me, has been one of the biggest keys to being happy.

Take your time.  There’s plenty of time to settle down later on life.  For now, just enjoy the ride.

Baseball is a cruel, yet beautiful game

October 7, 2012

Baseball will humble you.  If you’re a player or a coach at any level, you can’t ever forget that.  No matter how comfortable you may become with your situation on the diamond, you can never forget that.  Never, ever forget that. The second you forget that is the second that it happens.  You can have all the talent in the world, and baseball will find a way to let you know that you don’t really know anything about the game.  Ryan Braun could be the best player in baseball right now.  This offseason, the game knocked him down a peg or two.  Chuck Knoblauch, a 4-time All-Star, developed a nearly paralyzing case of the yips towards the end of his career in New York.  After one of the most hyped starts to a baseball career, Stephen Strasburg’s elbow exploded, prompting a year-long recovery.

Three Baseball Stars

Teenagers, take note.  You’re not invincible.

One of the most deflating experiences is experienced by every player fairly regularly.  Standing in the batter’s box after a strikeout, that 4 x 6 rectangle quickly transforms into one of the loneliest places on earth.  There’s nowhere to hide; you’ve been bested in a one-on-one showdown and have to walk back to the dugout by yourself with no one there to pat you on the butt and tell you it’s going to be okay, other than the guy on deck who is probably anxiously awaiting his chance to tempt fate and look to drive a hanging curve into the left center gap. But for every cruel experience baseball appropriates, there’s beauty in it.  On the way back to the dugout, you should be thinking about how that pitcher got you out.  When you’re sitting on the bench before you head back out into the field, you should be thinking about what you’re going to do the next time you’re faced with a 2 – 2 breaking ball.  And then, the next time you’re up at bat, you should jump on a fastball early in the count and smile when you dust your self off at second base after ripping a ball into the gap.

I coach varsity baseball and at times I think it can be the most poetic job on the planet.  I get to deliver cliché phrases that most of the young men I coach are hearing for the first time. “You don’t know anything about baseball until you realize you don’t know anything about baseball.”

“If you’re not doing it on offense, do it on defense.  If you’re not doing it on defense, do it on offense.  If you’re not doing it on either, pick someone else up.”

“It’s the work you put in when no one’s watching that makes a difference.”  I love it.  I’m a walking truism for three or four months out of the year and, quite frankly, that’s not long enough for me.

Like all things in life, baseball is about growth.  I tell people all the time, whether it be other coaches, fans, or the players themselves, if you measure your success in wins and losses, you’re going to be upset a lot of the time.  If you measure how much you’ve grown as a player since you started playing, and you see progress, that’s where real successes are developed.

Baseball is one of the greatest metaphors for life.  Every success is built from failure.  Every failure should be a teachable moment.  It’s an ever-evolving process.  And that, to me, is where I find the most enjoyment in baseball.