Sunday, October 6, 2019

The Autumn Wind

The Autumn Wind is a pirate
Blustering in from sea,
With a rollicking song, he sweeps along,
Swaggering boisterously.
His face is weather beaten.
He wears a hooded sash,
With a silver hat about his head,
And a bristling black mustache.
He growls as he storms the country,
A villain big and bold.
And the trees all shake and quiver and quake,
As he robs them of their gold.
The Autumn Wind is a raider,
Pillaging just for fun.
He'll knock you 'round and upside down,
And laugh when he's conquered and won.
I was going to again lead off this post with a disclaimer/apology regarding the fact that there was yet again a sizable gap of time between posts, but I think that the crux of the narrative itself will be more than sufficient. As noted the first time in which the rhythm of these postings was disrupted, concentration levels and energy are key for me when it comes to being able to be locked into writing, particularly since my writing style is rather averse to doing things piecemeal. When it comes specifically to this blog, it certainly has not been for lack of interest or oversight, as I have often thought about the planned construct of future topics and have consistently read others' works. It is also not due to a deficit of topics, as I have a lengthy list from which to draw and received two really amazing trade packages from other bloggers that I am eager to display - both as a thank you to those who took the time to find/send me cool stuff as well as the likelihood that many who read this site will also enjoy seeing the contents of these packages.
Over the last few weeks, however, it has been a major struggle to find the groove necessary in order to sit down and pen anything that I would consider to be worthwhile in terms of depth and/or length. This is due to a multitude of dynamics, none of which can necessarily be pinned down as being *the* cause for any issues that I have experienced. The outset of a new school year has certain brought with it more commitments and obligations than did the summer - this despite the fact that I have not even done any subbing at the schools thus far. I help run the local rec basketball leagues for high schoolers, which is a very fun affair on the whole, yet also includes a lot of small responsibilities and events that can add up as minor stressors often do. Similarly, this has been a year in which small injuries, illnesses, and irritations have almost comically popped up one after another. In addition to a nagging nasal issue that I have had since January (first diagnosed as sinusitis, then allergies, now currently ¯\_(ツ)_/¯), I have experienced a ton of short-term muscle pulls, allergic reactions, anxiety spikes, and other concerns that would go away just in time for the next one to arrive. Again, I feel as though I cannot really complain given that most of these ailments did not have much staying power, thereby paling in comparison to the issues experienced by those who live with chronic pain. It has merely been consistently obnoxious to see the cliché of "it is always something" play out with such regularity.
1991 Pro Set Premium
Howie Long
More than anything, though, the issue that causes hiatuses such as these or delays in completing certain open-ended tasks is tied to sleep. To the best of my recollection, I slept pretty well prior to the advent of my concussions, but that dynamic has gradually worsened as time has progressed. I have been prescribed a myriad of sleep aids and tried various dosage amounts of melatonin, most of which initially worked at helping me fall asleep, failed to permit me to consistently sleep through the night, and swiftly lost their level of efficacy very quickly. I have played around with so many other variables in an effort to find that ideal zone that will facilitate quality sleep, yet it often remains elusive. There are times in which it is easier for me to sleep when the temperature is cool and I bundle up in blankets, other times it is preferable for the temperature to be warm and cooling down eases me into sleep. The very same day, neither thing could be true and I lie awake for hours despite feeling exhausted. It is perplexing.
The two variables that do consistently help facilitate sleep, though, are finding a way to block out as much light as possible and having some manner of ambient noise. The latter is easy in the spring and summer months, as I can simply turn on a fan to both cool off the room and serve as a blocker of the many individual noises that can serve as distractions as I try to put my mind to rest. In the northeast, however, this week brought with it the reality that autumn is indeed here, as temperatures dropped nearly 30 degrees from Wednesday to Thursday and, save for a minor push back into the 70s tomorrow, it looks as though cooler weather will be here to stay. As such, keeping a fan on as temperatures dip into the low 50s/high 40s at night becomes both impractical and unwise. Finding an alternative, however, has been surprisingly difficult. After my grandfather's passing, I inherited his white noise machine, only to discover that all of the supposedly distinct sounds that it made hit my ears like a jackhammer blasting into concrete - even when played at the lowest setting and muffled under a pile of clothes. Other efforts at playing artificial background noise have proven similarly fruitless, which tends to lead to many long, restless nights in the winter.
This week did, however, remind me of just how restful my sleep can be when the natural ambient noise is conducive to creating a positive sleep rhythm. The aforementioned temperature drop mid-week was due to what felt like the first lengthy rain storm that we have had here in quite a while, one that was accompanied by a whistling wind that, at least to me, is distinctly found in the fall. While I also love to sleep during summer's thunderstorms, they are characterized more by power and force than anything else, with this past summer's storms often being fairly short-lived. In contrast, while the autumn wind can certainly create a feeling of rawness for those who meet it head-on, I love the manner in which its interplay with the rain creates a strangely restful milieu. I slept pretty well for parts of Thursday and again as it rained today, finally providing enough focus to get back to some of the things that have fallen through the cracks. The autumn wind may well be a raider, but it was also my friend this week.
Although I no longer watch or support the NFL given the many, many reasons that it has provided as evidence that it values money and power over humanity (I also fully acknowledge that the other professional sports leagues, including the NCAA, are guilty of many similar issues), it would be wrong to pretend as though it did not also bring some positive things into my life. Fairly close to the top of the list would have to be the early works of NFL Films, whose on-field camera work, pointed narrative voice-overs by John Facenda, and inclusion of orchestral music composed by Sam Spence were truly remarkable to experience even several decades after their initial airings. While most TV broadcasts of sports contests in the 1960s and 1970s were shot from oft-grainy fixed camera angles well above the fields of play, with perhaps a quick and jarring cut to an on-field/on-court angle, NFL Films showcased game action in ways that had never before been available to viewers. Between zoomed shots of the actions courtesy of a litany of field level cameramen and clips of coaches/players reacting on the sidelines, the Sabol family was able to collect copious amounts of footage that was then painstakingly edited into the sports equivalent of works of art.
While I would love to take credit for the poem at the outset of this post, the Wiki link notes that it was inspired by a poem by Mary Jane Carr, with Steve Sabol's adapted version then read by the aforementioned Facenda. I listened the the NFL Films soundtrack on loop many times over the years, with there being too many tracks to list as recommendations. However, "The Autumn Wind" was always my favorite for the manner in which it interwove clever writing with Facenda's powerful reading style prior to segueing into a track that builds momentum at almost the perfect pace. The finished product laid over video is what I would consider to be art in the manner that its were painstakingly pieced together so as to form a cohesive and heavily layered whole. It seems fitting to make note of this level of effort this week in particular, as it has been one in which another iconic sports entity from years past, Sports Illustrated, was purchased and subsequently gutted by one of the far too many soulless corporate raider types that overpopulate our society.
Similarly, the NFL now fully owns NFL Films, with the output definitely paling in comparison to what was produced during the company's time in the Sabols' care. This was not necessarily as malevolent as case as SI's demise given that the NFL did not wantonly lay off copious amounts of staff and lie about wanting to increase quality of writing via turning a respectable publication into a content mill staffed by underpaid freelancers in the fashion that the ghouls who purchased SI have done. However, it does feel fair to lament in some fashion an era that does not care terribly much about quality as long as short-term quantity yields enough profit to enrich those in charge while cutting the jobs of those whose hard work produced results far more substantive and memorable than a Top Ten list. Unfortunately, you can find plenty of those in NFL Films' current output and will surely be able to view similar content at SI if its new owners consider that result to be preferable to providing its employees health care. As Ray Ratto ably notes in one of the links above, the type of brilliance and artistry once found in outlets like SI and NFL Films still exists; it will just take time and effort to locate these efforts so that they can be properly appreciated. Nonetheless, it would also be nice if those who took over venerated institutions actually appreciated these qualities, too, rather than behaving more like a swarm of locusts that strip resources to the ground before moving on without a second thought to the destruction left in their wake.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

The Tao of Greinke (plus a trade with Matt/Sport Card Collectors)

At one point last year, I looked to share with several people a link that would help explain how Zack Greinke had quietly worked his way up to effectively being my current favorite major league player. Aside from being a masterful hurler and a skilled hitter (sometimes not even needing the "for a pitcher" caveat), Greinke, I explained, was also one of the funniest athletes that I can recall. This link, cleverly entitled "The Tao of Greinke," was a collection of Zack's quotes from around the time of his breakout 2009 season in Kansas City that saw the right-hander handle all of the best teams in the American League and net the Cy Young Award despite pitching for a moribund 65-97 Royals squad.
2014 Topps (Mini Pink) - Zack Greinke

Posting 10 WAR, as the righty did in 2009, is a difficult feat for any player not named Mike Trout, one that was made all the more impressive when one grasps that Greinke's career nearly ended several years prior. Despite reaching the majors in 2004 and excelling at the sport's highest level at just 20 years of age, Greinke left the Royals during the 2006 season and noted that he, similar to Ryan Jaroncyk from one of my previous posts, did not expect to return to the game. Greinke would later be diagnosed with depression and social anxiety disorder, diagnoses that were certainly odd to see publicly recognized given the stigma inherent to admitting "weakness" that permeates the toxic aspects of sports culture. Understanding and accepting concerns regarding mental health have often been major shortcomings at all levels of society, particularly in the arena of sports. It is odd to consider why there tends to be such reticence to empathize with the struggles that are faced by professional athletes even if we cannot innately sympathize with being able to easily throw a ball 95 mph or club homeruns into the upper deck, as the basic idea that people are still people should - in theory - take precedence over perceived status differences. Unfortunately, that is often not the case, with the concerns of the "haves" frequently being dismissed under the fallacious notion that they are illegitimate given that athletes, celebrities, et al. 'have millions of reasons to not be depressed.'

Fortunately, the Royals appeared to have both respected Greinke's medical issues and offered enough support that the 22-year-old was able to return to the diamond at the conclusion of the 2006 season. Having also suffered from (then undiagnosed) depression and social anxiety, I saw a lot of myself in Greinke and that continued when Zack was a frequent figure profiled by writer Joe Posnanski. Whether struggling or dominating, Greinke always seemed to be himself and had a very blunt, honest style of answering questions. This was never more evident than in one of the quotes featured in the link mentioned at the outset of the piece, one that has unfortunately been deleted with the quote in question being one that I cannot find elsewhere on the internet. To paraphrase to the best of my recollection, a reporter noted that while they understood that Greinke did not like to be the center of attention, surely having a lot people congratulate him on his success in 2009 must be extremely gratifying.

Greinke's reply? 'No, it's actually kind of annoying,' a sentiment that he has effectively reiterated when noting that the "hassle" that comes with throwing a no-hitter would be more frustrating than would the feat itself being enjoyable. I found both of these statements to be hilarious - but most certainly think that I am in the minority in this regard.


What makes something funny is one of those eternal questions that, even with the acknowledgment of the subjectivity inherent to humor, has likely been attempted to be answered for ages. I certainly cannot define my own humor, as I have laughed at and told jokes that are many combinations of simple, crude, complex, and intellectual. Sometimes it was the punchline that was funny; on other occasions, it was the reaction by others and the subversion of expectations that was entertaining. This subversion of expectations, along with the incongruity between statements/questions and responses, often play key roles in when I find something to be humorous, as is the case with the paraphrased quotes above.

A few years back, a prompt on Twitter or something of the like asked users what was the funniest thing that they ever said. In thinking back, none of the "jokes" that came to mind were things that one would use in a stand-up set, although I have surely told several that could hopefully be described as being somewhat clever. Rather, the two "humorous" statements that readily came to mind were both along the lines of the quotes that Greinke has made - earnest statements that others can and did take in a different manner than intended due to different perspectives. The second of these two responses requires a lot of backstory lead-up and could still be grossly misinterpreted even after the necessary framing of the situation, so I will leave it for another time.

The first of the two responses, however, came following my sixth grade year in school, one in which I missed nearly the entirety of the fourth marking period due to horrendous recurring stomach pains that would result in a myriad of doctor's visits and multiple invasive procedures. Remarkably, not once do I ever recall my medical doctors or counselors at school raise the possibility of anxiety and/or stress causing even a portion of these issues, a fact made all the more remarkable by it often being the first guess of people to whom I have since relayed the story.

As such, I spent part of my summer back at the middle school in various pressure-inducing meetings with various school counselors and administrators who had not shown terribly much concern with my well-being when my total number of absences was rapidly ascending. I recall one particular meeting with a school psychologist in which I was asked a battery of questions that greatly bothered me due to their (intentional?) vagueness, as I tend to have issues with queries that are not specific as to what is being asked and what type of answer the questioner is hoping to receive, with that only being compounded by the concept of theory of mind. These problematic aspects all came together in the form of the question, "what do other people think of you?" My response was that I was not other people and that it was they who should probably be asked that question.

To say that this caused the meeting to grind to a screeching halt would be a massive understatement. Despite the fact that I was reserved and effectively intimidated for the majority of the assessment, the psychologist accused me of being a smart-ass who was screwing around, which then colored her reports to other members of the administration that I saw. At one point, her recommendation was for me to be held back a year, which seemed to be based out of spite more than anything else. Fortunately, a new school counselor was also involved in the assessment process and dismissed this idea as being ludicrous, as she noted that my history of academic success and the manner in which I had handled the battery of IQ-type tests (legitimize their relevance however you wish) indicated that this was not an academic concern. The situation would ultimately be resolved with me moving on to seventh grade, although that was effectively where it was ended, as no future support or follow-ups were required, let alone offered.

The reaction of the school psychologist still makes me laugh much for the same reason that Greinke's statements do. Neither what I said nor what Zack relayed to reporters was meant to be a joke. Rather, they were statements meant in earnest that could apparently be received in a different fashion when viewed with a different perspective. Because of that, I find humor in them and an appreciation for similar lines that can prove to be entertaining in somewhat unexpected fashion - regardless of original, non-humorous intent.


I recently completed yet another trade, this one with Matt from Sport Card Collectors, to whom I reached out after seeing that I could offer help when it came to several of his set needs from the 1990s. Making things all the better, Matt's want list focused largely around football sets and I am more than interested in trading many of my football cards given that I do not actively support the sport anymore. A trade offer was quickly accepted and I was thankful to see that what I sent out proved to be helpful to many of the sets that Matt is aiming to complete.

After making its way toward Connecticut in good time, the package that Matt sent in return disappeared from tracking for several days. Where did it go? The smart money is clearly on the Springfield Mystery Spot, particularly given that it was devoid of cards of Ozzie Smith when it did arrive. ;) Fortunately, despite the mysterious journey on which the postal service took said package, it did indeed come last week and I was blown away by its contents. Given that I have bought very little in the way of new releases in recent years, my collection probably skews older than that of most who blog about cards. Matt helped bolster my collections of more recent players in a big way, including that of Greinke, who was tied with Tim Lincecum for the player most represented in the deal with 12 cards apiece. Shin-Soo Choo (6), Jacob deGrom (11), Bob Feller (6), and Scott Kazmir (5) were all also widely included, with most of the cards being inserts and/or serial-numbered editions from brands that I would have never bought.

Pictured directly above are the stacks of cards from those six players including some of my favorites from each. I was particularly enthused to get both the regular and parallel editions of the very cool 2018 Stadium Club card of Choo that was shot with a fish-eye lens, multiple colorful parallels of Greinke (including the one at the outset of the post numbered to 25), and a couple of framed Gypsy Queen parallel cards of Kazmir that I did not know existed. The Lincecum featured atop his stack amused me greatly given that it celebrates the future Cy Young winner losing a game and details a poor start that he made, which strikes me as a funny thing to celebrate.

Other fun highlights included:

- Four cards of Michael Conforto, including the one pictured that features the New York Mets' homerun apple rising out of the hat. I have not been to Citi Field due in large part to not wanting to give the Wilpons any money, so it is heartening to see that this key part of Shea Stadium was carried over to the new park.

- Both a multiple-exposure photo and a fun disc of Jim Abbott, with the latter being reminiscent of the kind that I would get at the bottom of my Slurpee cups during Sunday trips to 7-Eleven when I was young.

- A rare HoJo in the wild has been spotted! Despite posting a trio of 30/30 seasons for the Mets from 1987-91, Howard Johnson often seems to have been a forgotten star on those stellar clubs. While it was definitely cool to add a card from his final strong campaign, it was also neat to see the deckled edge mini from 2014 which hopefully means that Johnson is not totally out of the minds of fans.

- The Jackie Robinson insert from Stadium Club is very pretty. That is all.

- Perhaps the funniest part of the trade (Mystery Spot aside) and definitely the most ironic is the fact that a big part of my motivation was to move out football cards, yet two of the coolest cards that I got in return were of football players. Prior to my previously-blogged-about trade with Chris, I did not have any cards of Colin Kaepernick or Eric Reid in my collection. While some claim to have stopped watching football due to the protest efforts led by the former 49ers teammates, I always supported their efforts to use their voices and platforms to bring attention to issues of racial inequality that continue to plague the country. The willful misinterpretation of these protests and the subsequent blackballing of Kaepernick cemented my decision to no longer support the sport, particularly given that Kaepernick has proven to be a person who more than backed up his pledges to charity and who has been demonized by those acting in bad faith.

As such, it is probably funny to be excited to get a jersey card or autograph from a football release, but that was the case when Matt's package arrived. Included in one of the above images below the Kaepernick jersey and Reid autograph from this trade are the mini Allen & Ginter replicas that came in my trade with Chris (including the Kaepernick that I mentioned in the post). These cards were so expertly crafted that it was not until Chris left a comment indicating that they were created by his friend, Ryan, that I became aware that they were not actually from A&G's release itself, so I wanted to make sure that they were properly recognized in a future post. Thanks again, Matt, for an awesome trade and to everyone with whom I have traded thus far for their amazing generosity! I have done my best to offer proper attribution on my individual trade pages and would certainly love to continue making swaps - particularly if anyone is interested in acquiring some football cards. ;)

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Advocating for Silliness (plus a trade with Chris/Nachos Grande)

As I started this post, our new upstairs neighbors' children were heading out the door, backpacks in tow as they went to meet the bus for the first day of school. Just like that, summer - or at least the portion of the year that is unofficially recognized as summer - is apparently done. While I have coached and tutored for a long time, the previous school year was the first in which I worked in a substitute teaching and paraprofessional role, in part to gain additional perspective as to what I may or may not want to do professionally on a long-term basis. A major positive aspect of being a substitute on a district-wide basis is having the opportunity to effectively pick your schedule and assignments. Given that I have sleep issues that can make waking up early on a consistent basis problematic and have been battling a sinus infection for eight months now, having the opportunity to eschew morning assignments at the high school (which starts at 7:25 AM) or outdoor supervisory work on bitter cold days that would have made me then feel ill for a week was a crucial bit of flexibility that is not available when one is working full-time at a given school.
2004 Topps Bazooka Adventure Relics
Edgardo Alfonzo

Having worked primarily with kids who are in fifth grade and up for most of the time that I have been coaching/tutoring, I was also keen on seeing different perspectives and environments. My personal experiences during school varied greatly as I rose through the grades, with the changes in social dynamics turning what was a fun time in elementary school into often stress-inducing ordeals in middle/high school in which the bell to end classes was the world's most welcome sound. Save for having to endure one riled-up tenth grade history class, I was fortunately able to avoid much in the way of exposure to situations that took me back to the negative experiences that I had in school, although it was impossible to not take note of how very different things were at the various levels.

Particularly as a daily substitute, filling in for classes on the middle school and high school levels was often akin to babysitting. All of the students' assignments were uploaded to sites accessible via their personal laptop computers and only once did I have to answer questions as to how to analyze a given portion of an assignment. Past that, my time was largely spent giving permission for students to use the bathroom, retrieve items from their lockers, and check in with other teachers, while once again counting down the minutes until the bell rang. I suppose that it is certainly better to be doing so out of boredom than being stressed in the manner that I often was while growing up, yet it was still not a compelling environment in which to spend one's time. In contrast, there always seemed to be something happening in most of the elementary school classes in which I substituted. The pair of week-long stints that I took with a pair of kindergarten classes were most certainly the most enjoyable experiences from my first year of substituting, as they gave both me and the students to build relationships and develop routines that allowed the day to flow. Even single-day assignments with older grades in elementary schools offered the potential to provide instruction, which was certainly more fulfilling than effectively playing bathroom gatekeeper. What was also intriguing was that even as the students got older, they still maintained a level of silliness and excitement even as social dynamics changed and attempts to seem "cool" emerged.


During my brief assignments at the various schools prior to baseball season, I received a pair of drawings from kindergarten students. One was a picture of me drawn by a boy in a class where I had spent a full week, with the student attempting to include as many details as possible, including the computer-generated stick-on name tag that I had to wear every day. This boy's older brothers happened to play Majors in the spring, with the boy making sure to come over, say hi, and let me know what the class had been up to on the occasions in which the team that I coached faced his brothers' squad. He and his entire class were outstanding and the students all definitely loved to be creative when afforded the chance.

The other drawing that I received came from a girl in a very rambunctious kindergarten class at another school, one in which keeping an eye on everything that tended to transpire in even the shortest span of time felt like a ten-person job. This student said that she wanted me to remember the day, so she drew an array of purple flowers of various length. When I asked why purple flowers, which were not featured in any of the activities that the class had attempted and were definitely not yet in bloom with snow still on the ground, her reply was that it was silly and she liked them. They were silly and I, too, liked them.

As alluded to earlier, one can observe the manner in which social dynamics start to change as one bounces between grade levels, with the third and fourth grade classes for which I subbed definitely showing the signs of social stratification. Something that amused me about one particular assignment was the manner in which one of the boys in class took great pains to note that he was an amazing athlete and most certainly far more mature than the rest of his classmates. About what was this worldly nine-year-old writing for his current classroom project? A presentation on why puppies are cute.

Bringing up this story is not intended to embarrass this student; after all, my third grade teacher encouraged us to write short stories and nearly all of mine centered around adventures featuring the classroom hamster (Daisy), another student's anthropomorphic Koosh ball (Scopes), or both. Rather, I want to celebrate the fact that even the "cool" kids in elementary school are still writing about how animals are cute and other ideas that are deemed to be silly in a positive fashion, yet are often derided when students get just a little bit older. I used to draw a lot and briefly created cartoons with my friend, Chris, yet we kept them largely private after other middle school students mocked our efforts. The same was true for another classmate who was really into anime, as his drawings and interest were often the subject of ridicule for no reason other than kids trying to demonstrate power via mockery.

For some reason, continuing to like things in adolescence and adulthood that one did when young is often deemed to be "immature," with the concept of silliness becoming a negative rather than a positive. There is a sense of irony when this notion was applied to things like animation, as it was totally cool to watch The Simpsons, but silly or pointless to enjoy anime or Disney films. The feeling that one should be obligated to "grow out" of things is one that has simply not ever fully made sense to me, although I was also always multiple steps behind most peers in terms of social dynamics and struggled to glean the point of most trends, so that was likely to always be the case. However, if someone likes something that brings them joy - however "silly" it may be - and it is in no way harmful to others, shouldn't that be celebrated rather than shamed? The elementary school kids that I taught lit up when given the opportunity to draw creative pictures or talk about their cats. The same was true for my summer 19-U team, which occasionally spent batting practice claiming that they were the San Diego Padres' infield of Hosmer/Kinsler/Machado/Tatis. Why were a bunch of Varsity-level players and college students pretending that they were players on a major league team that plays clear across the country? Who knows, but it was silly and fun and funny and great.


When initially starting this blog, I reached out to Chris from Nachos Grande, as he was reprising his "Better Know a Blogger" series that provided some background information on many of the individuals whose sites I had read for a while. Similar to my reticence to reach out to Tom, it took a bit of self-encouragement for me to get the gumption to ask if I, someone whose had barely established this current blog, could participate in the series. Thankfully, Chris, like pretty much all of the other bloggers with whom I have engaged, was extremely welcoming and noted that letting someone introduce themselves to the online community was something for which he had hoped that the series could do. I think that the ensuing interview went pretty well, too, and I appreciated the kind comments at the end.

Shortly afterwards, I contacted Chris about setting up a potential trade, as I had quite a few cards that he needed for a variety of set builds and other collections that he was assembling. A swap was quickly okayed and it was once again fun to see just how many cards I could find that would hopefully be of help. Chris' return package arrived earlier this week and most definitely fits this blog post's theme of silliness being awesome, beginning with the neat blog sticker that was included in which Nachos Grande is preceded by the tagline "Baseball and Cards at their cheesiest."

Chris noted that he was not able to find a lot of individual cards of players that I collect, which is not a surprise given that I have fewer current "favorite" players, particularly major stars, than most folks seem to (I have added a secondary list to my trade page of players that I like, but may not wind up actively collecting). However, in addition to the cards that he was able to find, Chris included a variety of packs that he hoped that I would enjoy opening and that was certainly the case. Between the bevy of illustrated cards (none of which I previously had), multiple Scottie Pippen cards, a Dream Team era Michael Jordan, and rookie cards of notable players like Carlos Carrasco, Randy Johnson, and Rafael Palmeiro, there was a lot of fun stuff to be found. I found the art card featuring Manute Bol to be particularly silly, as the expression on his face and pose are certainly a departure from many of the illustrated cards that one saw at the time. Given that Bol stood 7'7" and sports card are typically 2.5" x 3.5", it feels like poor Manute is being crammed inside a box that is far too small (similar to when he was forced to sit on courtside seats that were too short for his frame).

Included in the individual cards that Chris was able to find was my first card of Colin Kaepernick, one in which he is depicted wearing a San Francisco Giants cap rather than anything related to football. That is pretty silly. However, nothing matches the silliness of the very shiny Edgardo Alfonzo jersey card that is pictured at the outset of this post. Coming from Topps' partnership with Bazooka, it is probably to be expected that inserts would be fairly offbeat and this certainly fits the bill. Between the cartoon body, the description of a performance from when Alfonzo was a Met (rather than a Giant, with whom he is pictured), and the fact that Alfonzo's facial expression does not match the level of excitement indicated by the quip within his cartoon text bubble, everything about the card is silly. And great. Thanks again for the trade, Chris!

Monday, August 26, 2019

Was Knowing Your Weakness What Made You Strong?

Having started following baseball just as the New York Mets' run of excellence from the 1980s was winding down, I stepped into a fandom that saw my favorite team go from a major contender in 1990 to sub-.500 in the 1991 and 1992 seasons to not even winning 60 games in 1993. The lattermost of those clubs were comprised of many of the individuals who were featured in The Worst Team Money Could Buy, a book that chronicled the many layers of dysfunction that led to a team loaded with major talent floundering in ways that often strained credulity. While the "Bonilla-era" Mets teams were and still are deemed to have been laughing stocks, I still consider their efforts to remain a major contender admirable from a fan's perspective. Given that the majority of Major League Baseball teams are among the far too many entities in our current culture that most often operate from a viewpoint solely focused on extracting as much profit as possible, it has become increasingly common to see clubs with more than ample means eschew acquiring potentially valuable players who could increase their chance of winning. "Payroll flexibility" has become to sports what "trickle-down economics" is to politics and economics - a nice carrot to dangle in front of the masses that makes it seem like things will be done to make their experiences/lives better, only for money to remain firmly in the pockets of the obscenely wealthy.
1995 Topps Traded - Ryan Jaroncyk

To that end, with the careers of Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez winding down, Darryl Strawberry leaving for Los Angeles, and other key components of the team's successes in the 1980s heading elsewhere, there was not much more for which a fan could ask than for a team of means to use it in an attempt to retool the squad by acquiring a bevy of former all-stars - most of whom were coming off of successful seasons. Unfortunately, as noted, these efforts failed in a blaze of ignominy, leading the Mets to finally face the reality of having to rebuild. While seeing a run of perennial contention (or at least expected contention) come to an end stings, there is also an allure to the opportunity to create a new team from relative scratch. The mid-1990s Mets' path to potential future success looked to be as bright as it could be in spite of the major league squad's consistent struggles. Most notably, the trio of young hurlers dubbed "Generation K" (Jason Isringhausen, Bill Pulsipher, and Paul Wilson) were likened to the Atlanta Braves dominant starting rotation, Rico Brogna and Jeff Kent flashed the potential of being long-term mainstays in the middle of the order, and Cuban signee Rey Ordoñez garnered comparisons to legendary shortstop Ozzie Smith (unfortunately, while Ordoñez's glove was great, his offense never came close to improving in the manner that Ozzie's did).

As is often the case with multi-year plans, most of those aforementioned expectations were not necessarily met, although major strides made by others like Edgardo Alfonzo and Todd Hundley would help power the team back into contention at the end of the decade. Another player expected to be in the mix by that point was the team's top draft pick in 1995, high school shortstop Ryan Jaroncyk. Although pretty much any highly-regarded player will pique the interest of a young fan, I recall nothing but effusive praise for Jaroncyk's ability and potential when reading baseball magazines, a sentiment echoed within this 2017 piece from Sports Illustrated. It certainly sounded as though Jaroncyk was destined for stardom, which scouts and team executives continued to believe even as the young shortstop struggled to excel in his first few professional seasons.

Ryan Jaroncyk, of course, did not become a star in the major leagues. Not only did he not play at the sport's highest level, he did not reach AA ball. Due in large part to having been pushed to succeed in an unhealthy fashion by his overbearing father and not fitting in with the majority of his teammates, Jaroncyk's love for the sport of baseball quickly eroded, leading to an abrupt retirement when he was just 20 years old. As the SI piece outlines, Jaroncyk attempted to make this known to team executives, but it really feels as though his efforts were not taken seriously or believed until Jaroncyk indeed made good on his desire to discard all of his baseball equipment. As a baseball-obsessed 13-year-old, I was similarly stunned. After all, how could someone so awesomely skilled and lucky to play for the best team in the world ever want to stop playing? I was never upset at Jaroncyk; rather, I simply did not yet possess the perspective to understand his viewpoint.


I am really not sure why many of the reactions from Andrew Luck's abrupt retirement on Saturday night bothered me so much, other than that it feels like an all too familiar tale in which society's expectations of people manage to include everything aside from consideration of an individual's needs. I stopped watching the NFL several years ago for a myriad of reasons, which will no doubt become the crux of a future post, although Luck's entry into the NFL preceded that date. While the NFL is a den of toxic masculinity, Luck seemed to be a welcome respite from the often harsh culture that permeates the sport, as he often seemed to actively steer interviews toward his outside interests. This led to interesting discussions on topics such as architecture and classic literature, with the former being Luck's major at Stanford and one that most college coaches would have likely pushed him to eschew in favor of a less-taxing courseload had Luck's father, Oliver, not been a major figure in the college sports landscape.

Although the dynamic is most prominent in the NFL among the major professional sports, it is a common aspect of American life to define a person by their work and expect that to be where their focus most often lies. Aside from that constant dedication at the expense of actual healthy life-work balance, having independent thoughts and utilizing that skill is quizzically considered to be a weakness in an athlete/employee rather than a strength. Current Boston Celtics star Jaylen Brown was anonymously criticized in the lead-up to the 2016 NBA Draft. "For what?," you might ask. For being "so smart" and "questioning authority" in the form of *gasp* asking questions of his coaches so as to understand why certain strategies or decisions were made. While the executive cited in the linked piece claims to not have considered Brown's curiosity to be a bad thing, Benjen Stark's quote (attributed to Ned) about "nothing that someone says before the word "but" really counts" would seem to hold true given that the slagging of Brown's inquisitiveness continued unabated after the weak denial.

To a lesser degree, Luck's outside interests were held against him within certain NFL circles and his ridiculous critics have made their presence known when given an opportunity. There is a certain irony to claiming that Luck lacked dedication to both the sport and his team, particularly given the lengths to which he went to continue playing even after suffering through a litany of injuries so brutal that even one would be life-defining to most people. With the season on the horizon and Luck having worked hard to again rehabilitate from injury, Occam's Razor should lead one to take Luck at his word that the mental and physical toll that playing the sport had taken was indeed too much to bear.

And yet rather than demonstrate any semblance of empathy or sympathy, there still remains too many people who will jump to decry anyone's decision to perform self-care as being an act of weakness. This was first evidenced by the news-breaking tweet that termed Luck as having 'checked out,' a dogwhistle term designed to frame the call as an act of desertion rather than necessity. Former quarterback Steve Beuerlein added to the pile of ironic messages by noting that he underwent 19 surgeries over the course of his career, an effort to minimize the personal pain that Luck has endured rather than considering his experience to be a fate that Luck and others should want to avoid. Noted terrible human Dan Dakich attempted to post a bingo by calling out Luck's supposed lack of toughness while also unnecessarily touting the virtues of cops and calling out the quarterback's salary compared to that of "ordinary people" (as though that denies Luck or anyone else the right to make personal decisions). Again, this all comes back to wanting to portray athletes as being weak when they do anything other than run headlong into a wall over and over without having the temerity to ask why. The fact that the Indianapolis Colts are left without a legitimate signalcaller so close to the start of the season is, in a vacuum, certainly less than ideal. That, however, is completely different discussion than whether Andrew Luck has a right to determine whether what his life should be, yet there is a reason why the former is being used to override consideration of the latter.


I have coached with/for several coaches who, if they had their way, would have preferred for their players to have nothing in the way of outside interests, with several actually attempting to dissuade (to put it nicely) kids from playing other sports and signing up for activities. To these coaches, baseball - more specifically our baseball teams - was of greater importance than any of this supposed external noise. The fact that these coaches played other sports when they were young was often totally ignored, as pushing players to solely focus on the team for which the coaches were then in charge took precedence over what the kids wanted to do with their lives and time. This type of pressure is difficult for anyone, let alone minors who desperately want to impress and often pay fealty to authority, which led to many kids bypassing activities that might have brought them more enjoyment than did additional rounds of indoor batting practice during the winter. Along these lines, it was hardly uncommon to see players not want to be a part of the uncaring and sometimes toxic sports cultures that I have had the misfortune of observing. Almost to the number, these players would be termed as "not being able to hack it," yet another euphemism for alleged mental weakness.

It is hard to define why the choices made by the likes of Jaroncyk, Luck, Brown, and the youth players are often framed as instances of "weakness" past the fact that control over other people is important to the retention of power and people having a difficult time in rationalizing that others can have priorities that differ from their own interests. For me, these actions are not ones of weakness, but of courage and strength. It is hard to feel like you are letting others down, to stand up to authority when it applies pressure, to value your spiritual well-being over money or perceived glory. There have certainly been times in which I have made a tough call to recognize that I was not emotionally or physically able handle certain tasks, as well as far more occasions in which I have done what many want Luck to do and sucked it up to my own detriment. Growing up in a sports and societal structure that is centered around owing something to groups/teams, it is hard to divorce those feelings of obligation from the processes used to recognize what will actually be best for oneself.

I can guarantee that Ryan Jaroncyk did not want to retire in the middle of his team's season, that Luck wanted no part of making his club feel like it was left holding the bag days before their season starts, and that the kids I know had hoped to keep playing a sport that they loved until placed in an unhealthy situation. That these individuals and anyone else who faces a similar situation are able to recognize that what they needed was to no longer be a part of such harmful cultures and took steps to care about their well-being is not weakness - it is a strength.

Monday, August 19, 2019

We're Going to the Little League World Series? Not So Fast.

Following an extremely difficult 11-year-old season in 1994 - one that went along with the year in general being an absolute disaster for me almost from start to finish thanks primarily to health reasons - one of my main hopes in my final season of Little League eligibility was to make it on the 12-year-old District All-Star Team. Even though our league in Ridgefield was still relatively small in the mid-90s, competition for the two all-star squads was always fierce given that baseball was still the primary spring sport at that time and state tournaments had not expanded to include an 11-U level. The local paper used to make a big deal out of player selections, running an annual feature with a head shot and brief blurb about each kid, and I really wanted to be in that issue. Since I was small of stature and had the kind of skillset that tends to be overlooked at all levels of baseball (high OBP without power, slick fielding without a rocket arm, smart baserunning without blazing speed), it was hardly a given that I would be selected.
2003 Upper Deck Vintage
Sean Burroughs

With only one player from each team making it from player voting and our squad having a clear-cut top player, Erik, it was clear that he would deservedly get the nod. That left my fate in the hands of the league's coaches, which would have normally filled me with a good amount of confidence - until my team's coach started to bench all of our club's 12-year-olds for portions of the final handful of games in an effort to "develop" the younger players for next year. Given that the drafted players who were exclusively friends of our coach's son helped the club again miss the playoffs in 1996 after being the primary reason that our team was largely noncompetitive in 1995, it definitely seems like burning the final Little League games of our small number of 12s was totally worth it. I felt particularly bad for Erik, who had been on the team for three years and whose father was our one coach who made a real effort to provide instruction, as he did not deserve to be sitting on the bench for anyone after carrying the team and maturing a great deal over the course of the season.

Fortunately, my fears that other coaches would view our team's bizarre substitution patterns as indictments against our players proved to be unnecessary, as I was elated to get the phone call that I had been selected for the National League All-Star Team. Within a few days, I, along with my mom and the rest of the parents/players from the league's two all-star squads, met at the town's community center for the submission of documentation and a briefing on the tournament itself. For those who are unfamiliar, the Little League World Series proper is the culmination of 12-U tournaments around the world that begin on the district level. In order to reach the LLWS at that point, our team would have had to outlast somewhere between 12 and 16 other teams in the District 1 tourney, win a five-team round robin tournament in Section 1, win a best-of-three state championship series, and then come out ahead of 11 other state championships in the East Regionals (there are now two separate regions in the northeast, with Connecticut's representative competing against five other state champs in the New England Regional).

Despite this being an incredibly daunting path, what I recall being the crux of the discussion at this meeting was how things were going to handled when one of our two teams reached the LLWS later that summer. No joke, multiple minutes were spent regaling the players with the plethora of on-site food options available to kids on the LLWS teams, with the claim that there is a kitchen on-call for players at all hours of the night a la the White House [spoiler: there is not] leading to a bevy of follow-up questions in which kids wanted to know exactly what flavors of ice cream were available and if they could ask for twenty tacos. This focus on literally everything except baseball proved to be incredibly appropriate for what was to come in the tournament itself. Our team tallied maybe five hits over two games, scored one run, and were swiftly eliminated. We were not going to the Little League World Series.


It is definitely fair to say that a primary reason that I got into coaching was in hopes of amending the mistakes that I viewed many of my own coaches as having made and I am not sure if I was ever on a team as ill-equipped to play on a high level as was my 12-year-old District team. The unfortunate aspect of this dynamic was that I truly enjoyed our head coach, Fran, as a person. Fran had a zeal for the game and used a wide array of colorful phrases that I had never previously heard, comments made all the more entertaining when uttered in his thick accent. "No balloons, kiddo!" following any looping throw made during outfield practice became one of my favorite go-to references for quite a while. When I umpired Majors games in the years that followed, Fran was always very nice to me and was one of the few coaches who did not try to actively take advantage of youth umpires, a fact for which I always respected him.

However, while Fran was terrific at entertaining us, he and his main assistant, Mike, did not do much in the way of worthwhile instruction. Their regular season team, NAPA, was a veritable wrecking machine that easily led the league in homeruns and was the lone club against which my team was not competitive. Most expected them to cruise to the title, only for NAPA to be swept in the town championship series by a Lions squad that my rather ungood team had twice taken to extra innings (and beat in a 12-inning game). While NAPA provided three of the most talented members of our all-star team, it quickly became apparent why that team had fallen short against a team largely devoid of imposing players, yet strong in baseball IQ and execution. It was not rare to have arguments between players pop up at practice, which quickly served to divide the team and very little was ever said to the kids who took delight in mocking the ability of their teammates. Over the course of the next two weeks, which included daily practices in the summer heat, we did take a single round of batting practice against a live arm. No coach-thrown BP, no scrimmages in which our pitchers faced live hitters. Not one live pitch was thrown to a hitter until our tournament opener against Wilton, which seemed like a less than ideal strategy.

In place of actual BP, our coaches cranked up pitching machines to extreme velocities and pumped balls toward the plate in what they claimed was to simulate the higher velocity that we were to see in the tournament. These machines merely shot balls out of a slot rather than throwing them with mechanical arms, which was a dynamic that was always truly disorienting for me - particularly given that the balls tended to jam and shoot out late, destroying any semblance of rhythm one would have as a hitter. To no surprise, I hit poorly in practices and soon found myself sharing the second base position with a player who was a lesser fielder, but was good at hitting off of pitching machines. Frustrated in having his role as a team's third coach become the lone real instructor for the second straight season, Erik's dad began to stay after practices to throw live BP to the two of us, which I truly appreciated.

Unfortunately, that was not nearly enough to prevent our stint in the tournament from being an extremely short one. After ostensibly having been prepared to hit gas, we opened play at home against neighboring Wilton by running into a junkball-tossing redheaded kid who had our team off-balance all day long. The lone run that we tallied came on an ill-advised double steal with runners on the corners and our team down 3-0, as the throw through to second was momentarily bobbled, allowing our slowest player to score from third on a play that could have resulted in two outs. Strong pitching kept the score 3-1, but we looked like a team that had never seen a curveball. Mostly because we had not.

As fortune would have it, our opponent in the loser's bracket was Ridgefield American, which had fallen in a tough battle against a loaded Springdale squad. Knowing that my good friend, Tully, was starting and threw a higher percentage of curves than any LL pitcher I have still ever seen, I cautiously asked Coach Mike if we would be working on that in practice. He dismissed that request and the results spoke for themselves. Tully absolutely worked us, allowing only two hits in a dominant complete game shutout effort. The most glaring evidence of our team's lack of preparedness than the fact that he threw our catcher and cleanup hitter nine curveballs over the course of three at bats, garnering nine swinging strikes and three strikeouts for his effort. Our pitching was once again more than good enough to win a normal game, yet not quite enough to overcome receiving no offensive support. I played two innings at second base in the 2-0 defeat and either five or six innings in the field over the course of the pair of contests, not getting to bat a single time. Even worse than that was the fact that several players on the team did not even see the field in the game against the other Ridgefield team. LL did not have a mandatory play rule and our coaches used that allowance to prevent multiple kids from getting to actually play in what turned out to be their final Little League game, which felt wrong to me at the time and is unconscionable now. Rubbing extra salt into the wound was that we learned when turning in our jerseys that the league's order of traditional commemorative team t-shirts had been delayed until after the start of the Districts, so, with our team having been knocked out the day before the order was to be sent, they were not going to bother getting us t-shirts. It was a fitting end, I suppose.


In the many years that I have coached on the District level and observed teams from the outside when not coaching the 12s, it is often fairly clear as to which teams will overachieve and which will struggle. Of course, talent plays a huge role, particularly the further down the levels one goes given the manner in which the individual gaps between talent levels can be. An untouchable pitcher or unretirable batter can carry a flawed squad a decent way simply by brute force. However, talent alone is not nearly enough. Some of our league's most talented teams have not even reached the District title game, let alone won the crown. I have personally coached teams of moderate talent that were filled with kids who loved coming to practice and being on a team together, with those squads invariably exceeding expectations that one might have based solely on playing ability. Similarly, teams with personality dynamics similar to those from my 12-year-old season often falter in ways similar to those that mine did. Coaching can patch some of these issues, but not all of them, especially in a very short span of time. The reverse holds true, as well.

We as a league were fortunate to have a rather strong run of success in the 2000s, including four consecutive years in which one of the two Ridgefield teams won the District title, two of which I helped coach. This success was due in massive part to the approach by the players, the vast majority of which would have lived at the field if permitted to do so. Little League, like most sports organizations nationwide, has seen its enrollment numbers dwindle in recent years, with our league moving to a single charter in 2014. The push for travel teams crept in and took hold, making summer teams and teams themselves (rather than individual statistics) much more of an afterthought. While our District teams have done decently since the shift, there is definitely an observable difference in the overall dynamic that exists around youth baseball on the whole. In 2017, a very talented squad became RLL's sixth 12-U team to win the Districts, yet joined the two clubs that I coached and the other three Ridgefield District champions in falling in Sectionals. As such, our league is still seeking its first trip to Williamsport, making one wonder if learning about how to order ice cream at 2:00 AM will ever prove to have utility. ;)

Friday, August 16, 2019

Roopers, My Purpose (2002-2019)

* Disclaimer: This post is quite long and was emotionally-draining for me to write, making it a stark departure from the previous post. I get it if emotional stories about animals can be tough for some to read, making it totally fine if this type of post is not for you. I thank you in advance for your understanding.*


I think that it is fair to say the entire college process has always eluded me in terms of both pragmatics and experience. While it feels as though many kids that I currently coach are prepped for their collegiate experiences from the moment that they reach middle school (hyperbole, but not by much), it never really came up as much of a conversation piece in any facet of my life when I was in high school and my view of the collegiate process was simplistic bordering on naive. I enjoyed sports - particularly talking about sports - and many individuals in broadcast media attended St. John's University, which also happened to be my favorite college basketball team. Therefore, I was going to go to SJU. Details? What details?
Roopers in her bed

Unfortunately, my college counselor was of no help in breaking down the realities of what was actually required when it came to finding a school, as her primary pitch for UConn fell on deaf ears (public schools in Connecticut were incentivized to keep students in state) and literally all that she did in the remainder of our meeting was dig an outdated brochure for St. John's out of a bin. It was not until later that I learned of the relative urgency of completing the SAT, which I effectively took blind and posted a score that was good enough to merit acceptance into all of the schools to which I applied. I did not wind up even applying to SJU due to learning about its relative lack of on-campus housing, nor did I go to the likes of North Carolina or George Washington despite being accepted. Instead, I opted to stay close to home at Western Connecticut State University, with the plan being to reevaluate options in the future with the benefit of insight from experience.

While I know many people who have had very positive experiences at WCSU, my freshman year would not be included in that number. I have previously mentioned how several of my professors were utterly uncaring in the wake of the severe concussion that I suffered, with the lone individual to demonstrate any semblance of empathy being my Calculus professor - a very kind man who was often the victim of abuse by students who mocked the manner in which his native language of Chinese affected the way that he said certain words. Most of the students in my courses were utterly disengaged and in-class discussions were behind rare, which was a major culture shock after having come from a high school with a strong academic bent. I dropped out after just one semester filled with uncharacteristically mediocre grades, partly the result of being penalized for work that I physically could not complete while bed-ridden and partly due to not wanting to exert effort in an environment that would not reciprocate. While I mostly worked and coached for the next few years, I still wanted to go back to school and made plans to transfer to Marist College at the advice of multiple friends who were currently in attendance there. It was a disaster.

Marist's policy of not permitting people to request roommates, coupled with my relatively late transfer date, resulted in me being placed in a townhouse just off-campus, one that was ostensibly only to house seven people and yet always seemed to be filled with at least twice as many. While the other guys were pleasant enough (the one not-so-pleasant individual said that I was an idiot for thinking that Kelly Clarkson would win American Idol - his misogyny was in no way subtle), this was effectively a frat house for them and that type of environment was in no way conducive to my health in any form or fashion. As literally the only person in the house with faulty cable and internet connections, I had to endure the discomfort of the beer-bottle-riddled common room to see highlights of the Oakland Athletics setting the American League record of 20 consecutive wins and the lowlights from the United States Men's Basketball Team's lackluster performance in the World Championship. I spent most of my time either trying in vain to sleep, reading multiple full books well before they were assigned for courses, and sitting in the school's computer lab desperately wanting to be anywhere else. The day before I had to commit to staying or leaving for the purpose of tuition payment, I set up a meeting with my adviser and anxiously paced the halls for nearly an hour before the meeting. Once inside her room, I pretty much let loose with everything that had transpired and emotionally broke down, to the point that she termed the experience to have been traumatizing for me. She was right.


Trauma is one of those terms that can get thrown back at someone in a hurry, usually in bad faith and in a manner laden with logical fallacies. Litigating, ranking, and comparing various forms of trauma does little good other than making the person offering the evaluation demonstrate their true intent of being a belittling jerk. Yes, people who watched others die in front of them quite likely had far more serious traumatic episodes than did I. Well, guess that means that any internal and external pain that I feel is totally invalid - thanks, friend! While I am now surrounded by people who understand the fallacious nature of that line of thinking, this was not the case at the time and I actively hid from view my experiences due to the outright uncaring feedback that I received from others.
2003 Topps - Oakland A's
(Season Highlights)

I was able to return to WestConn for the fall semester in 2002 and had much better professors, although the level of disinterest from the majority of the other students was still a major turn-off. Although I was previously told that jobs at my previous employers would be available if I was ever to want to return, changes in ownership scuttled my attempt to go back to working at the deli, while the reason that I was given for not being able to get hours at the batting cage in town still baffles me to this day. I interviewed at and tried out working for several other places, only to have major anxiety spikes during those experiences prior to becoming physically ill whenever I returned home. In many ways, I felt like a failure. After all, millions of people go off to school and/or go to work every day, yet I could not manage much outside of my meager comfort zone.


At some point in late September of 2002, my mom called home to ask me to prepare food, water, and a bed for a kitten that she was bringing home from work. Given that my mom was the assistant manager at a school bus company, that was hardly the place from which one might expect to adopt a cat. The tale was just as bizarre as one might think, as apparently some individual had accessed the bus yard overnight and placed a box of kittens inside the back of one of the buses. Unfortunately, mere moments after my mom was called upon to help collect the cats, the driver quizzically opened the back door of the back, which led the frightened kittens to see an opportunity to escape. Even more unfortunately, one of the group that broke free was struck and killed by an unsuspecting driver, while the rest escaped into a wooded area. My mom was able to catch one of the kittens, though, and Paroopers (Roopers) has lived here ever since.

Roopers was by far the smallest cat that I had ever seen, one whose ears seemed to be four times the size of the rest of her body. She eventually grew into them and they are now only twice as large as her body. ;) Nearly all black in color save for a white spot on her chest and the occasional white whisker(s), Roopers got her name for the manner in which her purring would be interspersed by sounds similar to coos. Given how exceptionally small Roopers was and the fact that we did not know how our adult cats would react to having a kitten join the fray (as it turned out, they were all fine to the point of near apathy), my daytime job would often be to consistently keep tabs on Roopers to make sure that she did not get into trouble. She proved quite adept at escaping from the box in which all of her sleeping materials were kept, but soon demonstrated signs of extreme distress when unexpected noises or presences emerged. Even though she slept in my mom's bed for years, there was an extremely long time in which I was the only person who could approach Roopers without her running for cover. When comfortable, she was playful and loved to track down toy mice, often bringing them back as part of a rare feline version of fetch. However, the anxiety and trauma that she had suffered was profound. I do not remember the last time in which she voluntarily went downstairs at our apartment in Bethel and her interactions with any person or cat save for me and my mom were effectively nonexistent. I was there for her, though, and she was there for me - until one day she wasn't.


Given how often Roopers was in hiding, it took a considerable amount of time for us to notice that she had not been out to eat or drink anything from her bowls. A thorough search of the many places in which Roopers could have hidden came up empty, leaving us with the only other possible solution - that she had somehow fallen out of my sisters' bedroom window. While that sounds implausible, one of our other cats, Midgee, has twice fallen out of windows, there was neither a fan nor a screen in my sisters' window that day, and our younger cats were not always kind to Roopers. It was not until several days later in which I spotted Roopers cautiously emerging from the neighbor's garage that those suspicions were confirmed, which then led to the conundrum of how to catch a cat who is afraid of nearly everything. We began to set out food and water, Roopers ate and drank only to sprint away the moment that noise was made. The head-on approach nearly worked, as my mom caught Roopers on one occasion, only to have her hand be bitten hard - the lone time that I ever recall Roopers biting anyone, even in a playful fashion.

It felt again as though my purpose was to help Roopers, this time in overcoming her fully legitimate fears to return home. I spent a great amount of time in our back porch area talking to Roopers in the calm manner in which we always interacted, to the point that she would not run if I came outside while she was eating. I could not get quite close enough to nab her, which probably would not have been a wise idea anyway, but she eventually began to feel comfortable coming on our porch after initially keeping her distance. A properly-situated laundry basket placed against our screen door served as the perfect place for a food bowl, where Roopers ate as I yet again kept her calm and around which my mom crept to help tip the basket inside the door. Roopers was back after we had worried that she might be gone for good, although I am not sure if she again left the bedroom before we moved to Danbury.


The apartment in Danbury is much smaller than the one in Bethel, which unfortunately made hiding from people and cats alike that much harder for Roopers. While I loved Püß, one of the two cats who we got as kittens in 2004, his mission in life was seemingly to chase Roopers back into hiding whenever she poked her head out of a room (and might have been the reason behind her fall from the window), which only served to worsen her anxiety. As brutal as Püß's unexpected passing in 2017 was, the closest thing to a positive to come from it was that it allowed Roopers to actually socialize. For the first time since her initial days in Bethel, Roopers was fine with going into any room without much in the way of worry and was finally comfortable being petted by someone other than me. She seemed happier and was actually able to do things fairly freely, which was heartening to see. While the joke the Roopers was "just a baby" largely alluded to her size, Roopers remained extremely spry and alert up through July, which was quite remarkable given that she was right around 17 years of age.
Roopers looking at the camera

Unfortunately, what followed was a script that has become all too common in recent years. I will spare you the details, but Roopers' condition deteriorated in rapid fashion much as it had with Larry, Püß, and Midgee before her, to the point that she was barely able to function. Perhaps defying the odds, we had a group of five cats together from the summer of 2007 through the end of 2016. In the span of around 20 months, four have passed away. Three of them were of the age that it was hardly unexpected in a vacuum, but the idea that 17 years of age is "old" is still tough pill to swallow given that a human of the same age cannot so much as purchase a lottery ticket. The decision was made to put Roopers to sleep this morning, one that was equal parts devastating and relief given the knowledge that she would no longer be in considerable pain. Between last night and today, I comforted her as much as I could before having to say a final goodbye. It may feel silly to say about a cat, but Roopers gave me a purpose when things were really bad and I want to think that I was able to be the kind of friend that she needed in what was a life filled with traumas. She was definitely that for me.