Month: November, 2011

Off-Season Depression

I am no stranger to off-season depression.

Aside from several months of contentment following the 2004 World Series victory of the Boston Red Sox, the off-season is an opportunity to sit around feeling miserable about myself, wishing there were some sport that could fill the void to the degree baseball does. And while I’m warming to the idea of a winter of watching hockey, it just is not the same.

The internet loses its magic this time of year.

The daily-coverage of baseball is minimal and uninspired. Sure, there might be an interesting study at Baseball Prospectus, the guys over at Over The Monster will make me laugh, but for the most part it is the same thing day after day—discussion of restructuring lineups based solely on speculation, the occasional free agent signing, and Justin Verlander running away with all of the accolades.

Sure, the stove will heat up eventually, but right now it’s lifeless with minimal coals burning. The Red Sox don’t have a manager. They don’t have enough starters. They may or may not have a closer. There are some real questions about whether David Ortiz will re-sign. But at this very moment, all of these prospects of what could be aren’t intriguing to me at all—I like to deal in facts, not the possibilities of what will happen to my beloved.

And perhaps the rumors of Bobby Valentine as manager are depressing me. But it really raises the question: Am I depressed about Bobby Valentine or am I depressed that there are no other candidates in the mix for Red Sox manager that are better than Bobby Valentine?  

And every time I sit down to write this off-season, it comes out like a string of expletives that I cannot control. The White Sox are still saddled with Adam Dunn, Jonathan Papelbon now plays for a team whose fans throw batteries, and my local teams are now the Washington Nationals and the Baltimore Orioles.

There’s nothing bleaker than thinking about a baseball experience where everyone wears business suits with attendance spikes every five days to see Stephen Strasburg pitch. I am now five train stops away from 6 more years of Jayson Werth and his $126MM contract. I will be watching baseball in a ballpark where the away team—regardless of who they are—will draw a bigger crowd than the home team, as one would expect in a city of transplants.

Perhaps the ticket prices, the President’s Race, and those pretzels so artfully shaped like the Washington Curly ‘W’ will make me care about this baseball team—but it’s certainly going to take some heroics well beyond an overpriced outfield Messiah and Doug Slaten—even though he gets a bit of a free pass for his Jimi Hendrix entrance music.

But really, the prospect of unfettered access to a team seems cruel for a baseball fan that was happy spending weekends at US Cellular Field. Even on days when Adam Dunn and Alex Rios did their best Mendoza impressions, I was content to be in a vibrant ballpark of people who loved baseball (except for that one game where these drunk guys kept getting handsy with me and I had to speak with security).

This off-season just seems more depressing because of the other changes that have come along with it.

Am I upset about no longer seeing the White Sox on a weekly basis, or am I upset that I have moved half-way across the country to a land of people who dress as though they could go yachting at any moment?

Do I miss Paul Konerko, or am I missing taquerias on every corner?

I will feel better when the Red Sox have a complete rotation. I will feel better when I know the fate of David Ortiz. I will come to terms with Bobby Valentine as manager if it happens, and I will try and find contentment if the Red Sox overpay for Madson or Capps to step into the closer role.

And in February when pitchers and catchers report, I will do my best to get over all of this depression. Hopefully by that point I will stop comparing my new home with my old one. And perhaps as the winter weather turns to spring I’ll welcome the idea of wearing topsiders and sitting in a nearly empty ballpark in a concrete jungle near a highway overpass cheering for Ryan Zimmerman.

But for now, I get to be grouchy and unsettled and cantankerous…and for the next few months, I can blame it on the absence of baseball regardless of the real reason, and most of you will understand what it feels like.


It is fair to say I enjoy competition.

I knew I liked competing from a young age, but in many ways I internalized competition. As a child athlete, of course I wanted to win games, but overall I think I was more interested in morphing myself into the best athlete I could.

That meant hours in the weight room in high school, even though the guys in there spread rumors that I was a lesbian and said horrible things to my face involving four letter words, I kept going because I had weight-lifting goals that I knew would translate to better performance on the field. Apparently, varsity baseball players find it intimidating when a girl can bench press more than they can.

It also meant Saturdays in a freezing gymnasium in Wisconsin working on catching skills. Setting up a couple feet from the wall on the hard gym floor, while softball and baseball pitchers twice my age hurled fastballs and change ups in my direction. I hated the noise my shin guards made when sliding across the wood floor, just as much as the time I had to spend after practice scrubbing the area behind the plastic home plate to remove all of the scuff marks I had created diving for pitches.If I couldn’t stop the ball with my glove, it would bounce off the wall and come back and hit me. After several fastballs to the back of the head, I became very good at catching things.

And though I am intelligent, all of my academic competitions of my childhood came with keeping my grades above average and staying engaged in the classroom, instead of reading Johnny Bench biographies and issues of Sports Illustrated. My fear for crowds made me an early departure from the spelling bee. I knew how to spell the words, but I was more interested in sitting down in the auditorium than standing on stage.

I never really cared for trophies, nor did I rush home to put every A I got on the refrigerator. I suppose that humble attitude followed me to adulthood, where I am finding there are really two ways to categorize people and their love of competition: the ones who internalize their successes, and those who make everyone around them miserable with their boastful attitude for every achievement.

As an awkward and shy child, who bloomed into an even more awkward and shy adult, I’m a master of internalizing competition.

I put myself through graduate school as some sort of self-competition. The challenge? Finish two degrees in fields that I found interesting, but were extremely challenging beyond my entering skill-set. As someone who was never quite sure that going to college in general was a good idea, it was a bit of a stretch, not to mention I decided to study Finance–which began as another competition: could a severe dyslexic become the master of all things numerical? I’m not sure what happened along the way, but fortunately for my wallet and self-esteem, I found that I do love numbers and spreadsheets. And while I can analyze data with the best of them, if you give me your telephone number orally, I will struggle to write down the numbers in the correct order.

I did finish those degrees–and since I am seemingly finished collecting college degrees like trading cards, I found a job post-graduation. But the job never became an opportunity to beg for congratulations and atta boys. Sure, I mentioned it on Facebook and Twitter. I told some close friends I would be leaving Chicago–but beyond that, I don’t think anyone really knows what I do for a living… not because they are not interested, but because I become a bumbling mess when someone asks me to describe what I do for a living. Not because my work isn’t challenging and interesting, but I got the job and the education for myself–not to impress someone else.

I use my business card holders for baseball cards. I wish I were joking, but when someone asked me for a business card the other day at a coffeeshop, upon seeing my work ID, I reached in my bag, fumbling for the new business card holder that I received as a gift recently, I pulled it out to find it full of 2011 Topps Heritage Cards. I suppose in some situations it’s best to be confident in ones’ abilities and titles–because I don’t think he would believe that I was actually Jon Lester, from Tacoma, Washington with a 3.53 career ERA. Resourcefully I wrote my work email address on his coffee-sleeve. A memorable and awkward experience, which seems to categorize most of my interactions, really.

And for those who know me well, they know that being overweight has always been a struggle. And though I have always been active and focused on being healthy, it wasn’t until last October that I had the support I needed medically  to focus on that. And that meant running daily, at least five miles, even on days when I felt my legs would fall off and I felt like puking. And it meant no longer drinking beer, partaking in Chicago’s deep dish traditions, and no more late night runs to Margie’s for ice cream. And fifty pounds lighter, I feel good about all of the hard work I put in to improve my health. And while I’m slowly working back into a work-out routine after an unexpected back surgery, only a few close friends realize I have been so fixated on improving my well-being…. because sometimes the only person we are competing against are ourselves, Orville Redenbacher, and his friends Ben and Jerry.

For me, in most situations, it’s enough to be proud of myself.

Sometimes there is a propensity, on my lowest and most insecure days, to reach out and seek validation that my decisions are on the right track, but I am struggling in a world where I am surrounded by people who must continually assert how fabulous and wonderful they are.

Have you ever met someone who went to Harvard? While I have a small sample size and as an apsiring statistician I should be warned of making conclusions for such, but it seems that within the first five minutes of conversation, somehow, it’s going to come out that they went to Harvard. Perhaps I mention I like the Red Sox, and they mention that they used to go to games when they could sneak away from their demanding class schedule at Harvard. Or perhaps we are having a conversation about the weather, in which they pipe up about how cold winters can be in Cambridge, on the campus of the university they attended (which by the way is called Harvard). Or even still, maybe it’s in the signature line of the emails they send. Which seems absurd, but I have seen it happen.

What came first? The education or the attitude of competition that they were somehow better than everyone else? (and I’m sure someone reading this is an incredibly humble ivy-league graduate…who wants to leave a comment telling me that not everyone from those schools would respond this way, but then you’d have to mention you went to Harvard, thus furthering my point).

But the art of competitively throwing every achievement in someone’s face can start on any level.

Perhaps you are a really good cook, and insist on sharing your recipes even though no one is listening.

Or maybe you too have lost weight and feel the need to shove your new workout routine and diet down everyone’s throat, when weight-loss is really just as simple as burning more calories than you eat.

And I am sure your toddler is incredibly advanced for his/her age, which is exhibited by the fact that they do something that is so ridiculously cute that you must alert anyone who will listen, because it is important that toddlers are good at things.

And yes… your blog has a lot of unique hits a day, the shampoo you use really does smell better than anyone else’s, and the guys that pass on the streets really are smiling at you because you are the prettiest girl that has walked by all day (not because you have something stuck in your teeth).

It is human nature to want to be good at things. I’d also submit that it is probably human nature to want to share your victories with others, especially when your victories can be weighed against your peers and you can rightfully claim yourself as the most spectacular person to ever be spectacular… but what is it all for?

And in the age of humble brags, blatant brags, and arm sprains for perpetually patting oneself on the back, it is important to remember that the best source of competition comes from within: in those events where the victories are for no one other than yourself.

The next time you get a promotion, your toddler makes exceptional macaroni art, or you finish a marathon you’ve been training months to finish…. do us all a favor: pop the cork on a bottle of champagne, pour yourself a victory glass, and think about what the accomplishment means to you personally, rather than demanding everyone around you to partake in the celebration…. because the person whose life is affected by your wonderfulness is your own, not those around you.

Never Got the Timing Right

I came in second place in a basketball skills challenge in fourth grade. While I don’t remember a lot of the specifics, I still have the plaque that was presented to me by the administrator of the Nike basketball camp in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It’s my first recollection of ever coming in second place at anything sports related that was based on individual skills. I prided myself on being an accurate and precise Center, practicing hundreds of shots a day, including left-handed layups. My dad always told me that if I wanted to be the best basketball player in the leagues, I hard to learn to shoot left handed. And for hours at a time I’d plant my feet firmly on our concrete driveway, and practice with my right hand tucked into my pocket so I couldn’t cheat.

And yet, I came in second.

I had every intention of taking the day off of work on July 23rd, 2009. I requested the day off in the usual way–put it on the shared calendar, emailed my boss to let them know I would be gone that day. And I spent the morning catching up on projects, sipping coffee on my back porch while I stole wifi from my neighbor who always kept the network unprotected. The guy I was dating showed up with lunch, roses, and tickets to that afternoon’s White Sox game (which for future reference, is the fastest way to most girls’ hearts). And just as we approached the train to go to the game, my boss called to say there was a major issue with a client that I needed to return to the office and address. I regrettably sent the boy to the baseball game by himself.

On July 23rd, 2009, Mark Buehrle threw a perfect game…and I missed it.

I am sure everyone has these stories of being a day late and a dollar short, and that mine aren’t unique. I am also sure everyone has stories where things worked out exactly as they should have, or were aided by the mysterious karma of the universe–somehow making things better. But for me, it seems that I have continued to live my life as a series of miscues where I never seem to get the timing right.

I have only told one person I was in love with them in the last three years. It turns out that he loved me as well, but he just loved his fiancee (I didn’t know about her) a little bit more. And had it not been for the fact that she was pregnant with his child, he would have considered leaving her for me (his words, not mine) as though it was some sort of consolation for being wonderful, but just late and infertile to the party.

When I told my boss in Louisville that I was leaving my ex-boyfriend, and subsequently leaving the area, she laughed. Not because the situation was funny, but because that day she has finally been given approval to give me a long anticipated (and much-deserved) promotion.And while I suppose I could have stayed, the truck was already booked, the boxes were packed, and the memories of a city that was the first place that felt like home (partly for a love of the city, and partly for the person I’d lived there with) made it just too unbearable to stay.

Three years later, deciding to leave Chicago never seemed like a mistake. In fact, it was well-calculated, detailed, and things did fall into place with relative ease. The first person that responded to my craigslist ad about my apartment is the person who ultimately rented it. When I asked my parents if I could move in with them while I searched for a new job, I did not even finish my sentence before they both said ‘yes.’

And my going away party happened much like my Chicago experience began–intoxicated, surrounded by friends, and hopeful that the one person I wanted to notice me since I had arrived three years earlier would finally seize the opportunity to feel the same way I did.

But as smooth as the transition out of Chicago was, my duration in Michigan was the complete opposite.

When we unloaded the moving truck, everything was put into the garage. Pillows, furniture, baseball cards: all stacked in boxes, all in the garage. Lola sat in her favorite chair in the garage in near-silent protest as everything was unloaded and haphazardly placed on those wire plastic shelves, growling when anyone would walk closer to her. And while I just took the essentials inside, not knowing how long I would be there, I got that answer very quickly.

The night after I arrived, I went out for drinks with a man who is easily the most interesting and engaging had dated (or met) in a long time, possibly ever. As singles girls are wont to do, I have a long list of things I’d ideally like in a man, because when it is all in the fantasy stages, we have every right, obligation even, to shoot for the moon. This man had all of them, down to the fact that he handed me the remote and told me that he wanted *me* to have it, so I could flip back and forth to both playoffs games. And when he woke me up hours after I had fallen asleep with my head on his shoulder, instead of telling me he was tired and I should leave, he kissed my forehead and said, “Leave? You just got here. Stay awhile. Stay forever, if you’d like.”

And the moment he uttered those words, I knew I would get the job.

The job was exactly what I was looking for in a post-graduate position. It was presented as a job that could use my abilities in analysis and programmatic design on a program that really makes a difference in people’s lives. From the first time I read the job posting, it seemed like an amazing opportunity, one that someone with my experience and education would be lucky to land–and yet, they were contacting me, of all their applicants, for interviews. And while I had been nervous on all of the phone interviews, after the night of bourbon, baseball, and bearded company, I knew there was no reason to be nervous–because timing has a way of offering us glimpses at things we could have, if only the situation were different.

When I told my best friend I had met a boy AND had a job interview, he remarked, “Oh, not only will the company offer you a job, they will make you Vice President.”

In less than a week, I had three phone interviews, a trip to DC to meet with the decision-makers, and an offer letter in hands less than 24 hours later. Sometimes, life is funny.

Even though I accepted the position, I still had a desire to see the guy again. When I texted him to tell him I accepted the offer, he was genuinely happy for me, though expressed his disappointed that I would be leaving so soon (24 days, to be exact) after we had met. Instead of sulking,  we made the best of the situation. And though our busy schedules only allowed us to have four (amazing) dates, we cursed the time we could not spend together because of other obligations, but embraced each moment we could spend together. We had dinner. We stayed up until sunrise talking. I saw his band play at this incredibly tacky college bar, where he embarrassed me in front of everyone by telling them all he thought I was beautiful over the PA system between songs.

And while all of my belongings remain in my parents’ garage, with Lola nearby to guard them until I find a place to live here, I am now living 547 miles away on a leather-sectional in my sister’s living room. There is a real urgency to get settled in Washington, DC, not just because I am living out of rubbermaid containers and sleeping on a sofa in a mid-rise that has fire-alarm issues and too much train noise, but because no matter how difficult timing, missed opportunities, and what-could-have-beens weigh on my mind, embracing the present seems like the only option.

I left earlier in the morning on Saturday to start my drive to DC much earlier than I had originally anticipated, so when he texted to tell me good bye and travel safely, I was already in the mountains of Pennsylvania, trapped in a heavy snow and ice storm. Talk about timing.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 27 other followers