Month: December, 2012

365 Days of Constant Learning

I still wasn’t accustomed to sleeping in my apartment in Washington, DC, when I awoke there on New Years Eve one year ago. I had only been there three days and I still hadn’t paid rent because my roommate was still on vacation in Florida. It takes a lot of trust to let a Craigslist stranger move into a shared space unsupervised, but it wasn’t the first time that someone trusted me without a good reason. I have one of those innocent faces that people don’t question, I suppose, but fortunately for her, she would return to find the house cleaner than she had left it. For six months, it was still her house, but my presence ensured two things: An organized pantry and a stack of baseball books of the coffee table.

I planned to sleep the entire day, but my iPhone would not stop buzzing and I knew it was him. I gave him a special ringtone, a nuclear buzz, so that I could identify when he was contacting me so that I could preemptively avoid him. When we were together, the special alert wasn’t necessary given that 94% of messages I received were from him; the final 6% were comprised of messages from friends in Chicago who occasionally remembered that I was not dead, but just in a different time zone and was still reachable by phone. The rest were from my mother and sister and mostly contained dog photos.

He texted often to make sure I was okay (of course I was) and to let me know he was sorry for how he handled the breakup, something that did, in fact, require apologies. I was asleep, but rolled over to rest my head on his chest when he told me that it wasn’t working. The timing was impeccable: Just enough time for me to put on pants, find my contacts, and tie my Pumas to make the ten-minute walk to the train station so that I wouldn’t miss the last train. It gave me no time to argue, but in hindsight, it also spared me the embarrassment of begging.

And now that he’d dumped me, I had the added stress of moving to his neighborhood. I didn’t pick my apartment because it was near him, but mostly because it was affordable and had a fence for Lola, but he dumped me before we reaped the benefits of living near one another. Instead of dinner and evening strolls hand in hand back to my front porch where we’d make-out and watch the stars, I spent the first three months in fear that I would see him at the only grocery store in the neighborhood, which was adjacent to his building. He would be with his new girlfriend, a doe-eyed blonde who is six years younger than me and considerably more attractive. They’d have a basket full of hummus, carrots, and pretentious pomegranate juice and her disheveled hair and the fact that she was wearing one of his sweatshirts were telling signs that she had slept over the night before. He loved her because she liked to talk about things like Paradise Lost, not because she knew anything about it, but because she was assigned to read it in an English course and assumed that circular discussions on Milton were a sign of adulthood. They would drink wine even though they were still young enough to justifiably prefer Capri Suns and analyze 17th century poets between bouts of unprotected sex. They are still together, but if forced, he would admit he was happier drinking bourbon and watching hockey with me.

Last New Years Eve, I ignored his text messages and groggily peeled myself from the borrowed mattress that came with the room I now inhabited. I stumbled into the bathroom of my new place and smacked the wall repeatedly while searching for the light switch. The 87-year-old house lacked insulation and the tiles were freezing, a problem I would later learn isn’t confined to just the cold months. On my fourth shower in the new place, I grimaced at the large chunks of plaster that were peeling from years of moisture exposure around the shower. “Why the hell hadn’t anyone called the landlord?” I wondered as threw my hair into a ponytail, put on my ex-boyfriend’s Capitals sweatshirt, and stumbled the four blocks for coffee, my careless steps suggesting I had too much bourbon the night before.

Armed with an americano, extra-strength Tylenol, and a moleskine notebook, I spent the better part of an hour making a list of everything I resolved to change in 2012.


Resolutions are silly. I’m not sure why turning the calendar is such a motivator for self-improvement, but submitting to the cycle is simplistic and effective. It seems easier to lose weight in January than June and when considering life-changes like cross-country moves and new jobs, the metrics of starting the search and transition on 01/01 seems easier to measure than arbitrarily picking March 25th or June 3rd. And even though I don’t love the idea of holding myself accountable, today I intentionally found the scribbled list from a year ago. I never treated the laundry list as a roadmap for 2012, but I accomplished the majority of pipe dreams I set forth one year ago while hung-over and angry over a breakup.

  • Lose weight. This is on every list I’ve ever created, be it New Years resolutions, goals, or even the grocery list. Giving up soda, alcohol, and skipping dessert for the better part of the year certainly had a positive effect on my waistline.
  • Find a new job in Chicago. By June, I had a new job and was back in the city. I celebrated and violated my first resolution by having Pizza Art Café, Scooters, and bourbon at Finley Dunnes, all in one night.
  • Read more books. This felt pretentious but important. People who resolve to read more books probably have ‘give more money to charity’ or ‘fly to Africa to vaccinate children’ on their lists as well, but I did manage to read more books in 365 days than I did in thousands of day’s prior.
  • Save money; pay bills. If it’s dull to set aside money to pay bills, start a 401(k), and use a Flexible Spending Account, then I turned into a boring son of a bitch this year.
  • See more baseball games. Twelve major-league stadiums, three minor-league stadiums, and two and a half full scorebooks. Definitely the most baseball I’ve seen in one season in person, plus countless evenings on the sofa with Extra Innings on the TV, on the iPad and laptop simultaneously, and numerous Vin Scully bedtimes. This one was the easiest and most fulfilling.

At the time, the silliest thing I wrote was write more, which much like lose weight has worked its way onto any list of self-improvement I’ve made in the last ten years. In the past, it meant more journaling, but in 2012, I thought it just meant keeping this website afloat. But over the course of the year, it meant seizing more baseball writing opportunities and having my work on Over the Monster, The Platoon Advantage, Baseball Prospectus, Baseball Nation and other SB Nation sites, and in the Hall of Nearly Great this year has been incredible. It’s been a lot of work and a continued learning experience, but it’s been a clichéd dream come true to become part of the industry I have long admired. The year started with a jumbled head full of sabermetrically minded thoughts, and it ended at the Winter Meetings as credentialed member of the media. Even if it ends soon, it’s been a landmark year, one in which so many things happened it’ll be easy to remember when recounting happiness on a timeline.

I hit all of the items on my punch list, but this year still hasn’t felt easy. There have been small things like stolen license plates and my beloved MINI Cooper nearly catching fire on the highway leaving me stranded. In that moment, I realized there is nothing lonelier than needing help and having to hire someone because there’s no husband or family to come. I’ve dealt with a sick dog, stuck pickle jars, lost scorebooks, and canceled plans. All inconsequential now, but in the moment, nothing was more flustering.

More substantially, I’ve dealt with an ill mother. There have been hours of tears, but I’m writing this on her sofa and she’s sitting near me. She’s hooked up to her oxygen machine, but smiling because she’s learning to crochet a baby blanket because my sister is expecting. Tonight at dinner, my mom laughed as she told stories about the early years of marriage to my father, as they enter their 32nd year of marriage.  There was delight in her voice as she talked about their plans for 2013 in a way that made me confident she would see all 8765 hours of the year, even though there’s a lot of uncertainty. As much as spending my New Years Eve on a sofa in suburban Michigan isn’t how I planned to start the next chapter, I feel strangely content to be here for the night, knowing I return to Chicago and my own sense of normalcy in the morning.

But the toughest lesson of 2012 has been adjusting behavior, forcing myself to be less public for the sake of self-preservation. Someone told me recently that since I have decided to live my life so candidly that I deserve the pain that it has sometimes created, and sadly, that’s partially true. As much as I’ve enjoyed baseball writing and things for this site, there has been a great deal of abuse from not just readers, but also colleagues in the industry that was unexpected and unwarranted. It’s never been a case of needing to develop tougher skin, but for the benefit of my own sanity and out of respect for others, it’s resulted in some temporary recoiling to reassess things.

The criticism has never been about my writing, but has focused on hyperbolized perceptions of my personal endeavors, which have only been exacerbated by the fact that I’m a single 27-year-old female in an industry full of testosterone. There have been numerous untrue accounts about my personal escapades created by strangers and perpetuated by colleagues framing me as not only promiscuous, but also a home wrecker, neither of which is true. Some assume that my real personal life and their fictionalized accounts are fair game considering I’ve chosen to live publicly, but the substituted reality for their  imaginative fantasies of my life are insulting and a waste of time. It’s a big reason for the limited content on this site specifically in the last six months– it’s admittedly been too painful disspelling rumors to risk creating new ones.  Writing on a public platform has benefits and rewards, but there’s also a nasty side of it that has forced me to question if I’d be better off recoiling and admitting defeat. For now, the benefits of exercising my brain in the pursuit of less bunting and smart lineup construction prevail, but there are days when the conspiracy theories of my love life that are extolled on the Internet and whispered at industry events that I find it hard to envision writing in a public arena forever.


I woke up this morning in an unfamiliar bed, the last day of my week vacation in New York City.  Unlike just one year earlier, I was excited to be awake. There wasn’t the obnoxious buzz of a texting ex-boyfriend, just the quiet buzz of my alarm reminding me that I had an important breakfast to attend before leaving town.

While I can’t discuss the specifics, or even my whereabouts, I can tell you it was better than the coffee and the moleskine of December 31, 2011. At this breakfast, there was laughter and conversation over mushroom omelets and coffee. We talked about books; we talked about baseball. I listened to stories about people I’ll never meet and nodded along as though I had always belonged there.

I hired a car to take me back to LaGuardia and watched the tall buildings of the Manhattan skyline disappear as we reached the toll plaza. The driver shouted into his telephone, reminding his wife that they needed to buy a gift for a birthday party tomorrow, and I closed my eyes to soothe my stomach from the jerky motions of the hired car as it inched towards the terminal. I was sad to leave, but I was energized by the mental list of resolutions and things I want to do in 2013. I’ll tell you all about them after I’ve accomplished them—it’s harder to be embarrassed and criticized retroactively.

Christmas Eve, All That Sparkles

I got Christmas with my family this year, for the first time in two years. Well, not the whole family, as my sister is too busy being married and entertaining her in-laws to return to the Midwest for the holidays this year, but that’s just what happens when people get married—they split holidays and feign interest in people they barely know, just as we do with our own extended families.

There are two absolutes in my family for Christmas: There will be some presents and delights, but those are balanced by awkward moments with relatives that only come around once every few years.

Still, this Christmas was important.

The weekend started with my mother in the hospital, which has been the norm for 2012. While most children would panic over their parents being in the hospital, it’s one of the few times that I actually feel relaxed: At least I know that she has around-the-clock care and access to the medicine and machines that allow her to breathe. It’s terrible, but I find that I get extra hours of sleep when she’s admitted. At least I know I won’t get any phone calls in the middle of the night that way. Well, at least I hope I won’t.

I visited upon arrival and she was in bed #33, the number of many memorable athletes like Jason Varitek, Zdeno Chara, even Nick Swisher, which put me at ease. We gossiped about my love life, nail polish, sports, and life in Chicago while sipping root beer and watching college hoops, our mutual love, in the visitor’s lounge. She sounded good, at least in spirits, as we chatted like we would over a nice dinner. I tried to ignore the fact that she was in a hospital gown and hooked up to machines. I pictured us drinking margaritas instead and it helped a lot.

After five days in the hospital, they let her leave yesterday, which is just as normal as her being admitted in the first place. Once the doctors get her medications stable she’s free to roam the world with those that don’t require 40-pills a day and a constant stream of oxygen from a machine, until she crashes again. Her lungs only work with the perfect combination of steroid medications, oxygen, and rest. As long as that Trinity is in check, she’s fine. In the absence of one, she’s a mess. An absolute mess.

When she got home, she wanted to open presents immediately. I got her a robe since she spends much of her time in pajamas these days, and I was surprised to see a small box with my name on it. Our usual Christmas tradition is just a pile of cash and a shopping spree the day after Christmas, but this year that approach wasn’t feasible—she can’t gallivant around the mall without a wheel chair or Hover-round and I’ll be in New York on vacation before the stores re-open.

I opened the box to find extravagant diamond earrings, the type of extravagance that comes with insurance papers, certification cards, disclaimers, an uncomfortably high volume of stickers, and a price tag higher than my big-city rent. I was elated and uncomfortable. It was the nicest jewelry I had received since the engagement ring I sold on Craigslist after the messiest breakup of my life, but I knew the earrings came with a hidden meaning.

These were the “I might be dying” earrings. I hate to call them that, but I know my mother and her sentimentality well enough to know that this wasn’t just earrings, but the gift that you give your daughters when you’re terrified—when you’re not sure you’ll see them next Christmas. And as much as I tried to smile and appreciate them, my mind immediately wandered to her at the jewelry counter, where she pondered what she’d like her daughters to have in her absence and she settled on timeless diamond earrings that sparkle even in dull light.

I removed the tags and shoved the studs in my ears. I piled my hair up into a loose bun on top of my head so that my lobes and neck were exposed for modeling. When she nodded in approval, I hugged her and rushed to the bathroom, slipping across the hardwood floors of the kitchen as I dashed to admire them myself.

They were not only gorgeous, but also important. They made me feel taller, prettier. They distracted from the scars on my neck that have never healed from surgeries of my own. I kept turning my head to watch them sparkle in the light. My mother intercepted me just outside of the bathroom door to tell me that she wanted to make sure we had something nice because she was so uncertain about her future. I’m not sure when she bought them, but I imagine it was probably somewhere between the most recent hospital visits and talks of being added to the lung transplant list.

We drove four hours to Ohio today. I wore the earrings with a blue polka-dot dress that reminded me of one I refused to wear when I was a child, but loved now as an adult. Lola slept on a blanket of my lap and we watched episodes of Parks and Recreation on the iPad while my folks hummed along with Christmas carols. My dad made a point to tell me that “Same Old Lang Syne” is his favorite Christmas song, just as he does every year when he hears it. I tried to sleep, but every time I did someone had something to say. It was like a sleepover where you think everyone is finally asleep, but finally someone pipes up and sparks the conversation again. It wasn’t a nuisance at all.

After we arrived, I had a list of errands to run before our holiday party started. Two errands in, I swept the bangs out of my eyes and realized one of the earrings was missing. My eyes welled with tears and I started yelling that we had to pull over so I could find it. I plunged my finger between the seat cushions, nearly lost a digit as I traced the seat’s track looking for gold. I moved the floor mats, shook out Lola’s blanket, and all that I could find was the silver earring back that was supposed to lock into place, but had clearly failed.

We checked the grass when we got back to my grandparent’s house, but the ice on the grass and salt on the driveway were just red herrings—the sun sparkled those fucking giant lumps of salt just like diamonds, but every one of them was worthless.

I searched the bathroom. I crawled on my hands and knees on the carpet, as Lola followed me around wagging her tail, thinking I was on the floor to play a game with her. My mother remained calmed, insisted she’d buy me a new set, and I choked back tears as everyone assured me that it was okay, and I assured them that everything was NOT okay. When my grandmother insisted that it must be in the car since we found the back under the seat, I snapped angrily, “IT IS NOT OUT THERE.”

I went into the bathroom and cried quietly. There were too many people in the adjacent room for my typical sobbing and I’d already created enough of a scene by snapping at my grandmother (I later apologized). I checked my sweater and my dress. I shook everything out, but came up empty. I kept thinking that I had been careless with something so sentimental and that fortunately my mother was in the other room for now, but there might come a time when she would not be there and I would have lost something she specifically gave me with explicit instructions: “Remember me, and oh, by the way, don’t lose these.

It was on the floor register in the bathroom. The prevailing theory is that the earring fell out, down the front of the blue polka-dot dress that I adore and rested along my waist, cinched tight by a royal blue belt, but who cares how it got there, because there it was there, resting on a little metal slat just inches from falling into the hot air return, to assuredly be lost forever. I grabbed the earring, threw open the door, and proclaimed sarcastically that it was a Christmas miracle. Of course to everyone, myself included, it felt like a real miracle, but it’s certainly hard for me to show emotion, especially in these types of situations.

I touched up my makeup and joined my family for our holiday with extended family. It was impromptu and didn’t last long. Everyone has families, children, in-laws, and better things to do, but for a few hours I pretended to be interested in stories from cousins proclaiming that their five-year-old is the smartest on the planet, aunts who all need surgery for their sciatica,  and my grandfather, who loves to talk about his time in the Navy.

When it was time to leave, we returned to our hotel. My mother has been asleep for hours already, exhausted by the company and the traveling. I’ve been anxiously sitting in an empty hotel lobby, sipping bourbon from a soda can, feeling the heat from the fireplace, and flipping through the channels on the communal television.

Soon, I’ll tuck myself in, readying for Christmas morning. I’ll wake up, put on a fancy dress even though we are agenda-less, and put in the diamond earrings that my mother gave me. I’ll spend the day embracing my lobes to make sure they are secure and giving some extra attention to my mother. We don’t know how many more Christmases we will have, but we’ll undoubtedly savor the ones we have.


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