ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE

ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE

During these Days of Awe, I have been inspired to write a little off-topic.  I hope that does not offend too many of you (and if it does, I will atone), but I felt compelled to delve into the personal, even if just for a few hundred/thousand words.

As I have mentioned here before, I am a runner.  I’m no marathoner (although that is on the bucket list), and no one would confuse me with Edwin Moses or Dean Karnazes (kudos to you if you get that reference), but I enjoy a leisurely run a few days a week.  And because I run, I often find myself awake early on a Saturday or Sunday morning with hundreds, if not thousands, of like-minded people racing for a cause.  Whether it is ovarian cancer or multiple sclerosis or for better teen driving habits (strange, but true) or pediatric medical care, I find myself standing in the sun with a bib, a timing chip, and a distance to go.

These races have become so ubiquitous over the past few years that we have begun to see some blow-back.  “Why do I need to scratch a check every time you want an excuse to run 6.2 miles?”, some people ask.  “Why should the traffic patterns in pick your city be totally screwed up because hundreds of people decided to make themselves feel better about being misanthropes the other 51 Saturdays of the year?”, some people complain.  “Just ask me for a donation and save yourself the effort”, I have been told time and again.  And, truth be told, I get it.  But I think that misses the bigger picture.

This past weekend I participated in my favorite charity event of the year: the Nautica Malibu Triathlon.  There are many reasons why I love this race, including:

  • Over 5,000 people wake up well before dawn and trudge to the beach for the honor of jumping into the ocean just as the sun breaks.  If you are lucky – like we were this year – the water is warm and the waves are small.  You don’t always get so lucky.
  • In order to survive this event, you must get in some sort of shape.  So, thousands of people find themselves training for weeks and months to better themselves, and do so for a cause.
  • Each of the past few years, this event has raised over $1,000,000 for Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles.  This year, we collectively raised over $1.3M.  We literally do it for the kids.

In year’s past, I have been blown away by the efforts of all of the competitors in the Nautica.  But this year I saw – and really focused on – something amazing.  As I was slogging up and down the hills of Pacific Coast Highway on my road bike, I came across two paraplegics who were propelling themselves along this 18-mile course using nothing but their upper-body strength on their recumbent bikes.  Outfitted with super-human physical strength, super-human mental strength, and intestinal fortitude for days, these racers pushed themselves to the end.

How can any us complain about a cramp in our calf or a stitch in our side, when these people are willing to push so hard and give so much, just to help others?  This is a double mitzvah: people who have less physically, giving all that they do have, to help others.  Viewed through that prism, my completion of the road race was the equivalent of a walk in the park.

As a society, we have become jaundiced to the pink bats we see every Mother’s  Day, and the blue ribbons we see every Father’s Day, throughout Major League baseball parks.  At this point we find it cute and trite.  However, before we tsk tsk this too much, would it shock you to know that MLB has raised and donated over $40,000,000 from those initiatives?  Small gestures with huge consequences.

About 10 days ago my kids and I ran in the Second Annual (can you call it an “Annual” after only two years?  A bit ambitious at this point, don’t you think?) Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation 5K.  This event raised money for the LADF, which works with middle school students in STEM education, promotes sports activities to create leadership opportunities and character development, and addresses health challenges that prevent children from engaging in school or recreational activities.  They aren’t curing polio, but they are making an impact on the community.  I think that is worthy.

But, more than that, for my $250 donation, I got the joy of seeing my kids (ages 12, 9, 6) run our first family 5K.  I saw the twinkle in their eyes when they put on their bibs, and the nervousness in their knees as we lined up in the shoot, and the pride in their smiles when they crossed the finish line.  And we raised money for a good cause to boot.

So it was that in back-to-back weekends we got to feel good by doing good.  We saw people of all sizes and shapes, all ages and abilities, and they were out there, pushing themselves.

And then Monday morning I show up to the office, a little spring in my step (save for the shin splints), and there was pride in my bearing and a smile on my face (that stanza was cribbed from what? Answer below).  Shortly after I arrive, we learn that one of our colleagues, a very bright, quick-witted, hard-working young man, passed away – he was just 27 years old.  WTF!!  The cause of death is unknown, but it appears to be natural.  No matter; it is a tragedy that cannot be put into words.

Which brings me to my Attitude of Gratitude.  Open the Metro Section of your local newspaper (or click on the link) and you will be bombarded with daily tragedies in your community.   Watch the evening news and you will be hit with mass shootings and massive chaos the world over.  And yet, here we sit, in our comfortable homes, cars, and offices, as all of this unfolds around us.  Not to get too rabbinic, but how often do we take a moment to consider how lucky we are?  How often in our Waze has us getting there when?  Your homework isn’t done why?  We are having dinner with whom?  What do I have to do to get this damn thing to work? lives do we take 5 minutes – heck, 5 seconds – to just breathe in and acknowledge how great we have it.  Do we ever affirmatively have an Attitude of Gratitude?!?

This has become a mantra in our home, as we struggle to raise children who are appreciative of the blessed lives they live (at times it seems that they don’t have a clue).  We repeat this time and again so we don’t raise spoiled brats who have no concept of what something costs, or how other people feel.  Our goal is more than a pedestrian “thank you”; we want this concept to be instilled in our children, and we will beat it into them if we must.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  We can do more to lead by example.

Unfortunately, I have faced many tragedies in my life.  And yet I try – all too often unsuccessfully – to have an Attitude of Gratitude.  Maybe that’s what drives me to sign up for races – even when no friends or family are around.  Maybe it’s my guilty conscience forcing me to push myself to show – even if I don’t verbally articulate – how grateful I am to be alive.  Maybe this is what it takes for me to display my gratitude for having two legs that work and can run 30,000 feet without stopping.  Maybe I am avenging my miserly grandmother when I write a check to a charity that I have never heard of just to get a crappy t-shirt, a flimsy piece of paper and four safety pins, and the chance to join a small community of strangers for less than an hour.  But, by doing so, I am showing my kids – by deed – that I am grateful.  Mother Teresa I am not, but it is something that I can do to express by Attitude of Gratitude.

Please don’t misread this – I take a great deal of pride in my accomplishments.  I believe it was Paul Newman who once asked: “If everybody tells you that you are accomplished but you don’t feel accomplished, then what the fuck good is that?”  I felt pretty damn good when I crossed that finish line Sunday morning; and I will feel great when I finish my next race(s).

But what made me even happier was seeing my kids’ smiling faces.  I have explained to them why I push myself to complete these races, and why players are using pink bats, and wearing blue ribbons.  They are starting to understand that they have it a lot better than most.  They are slowly beginning to display an Attitude of Gratitude for what they have.  The road is long, and the message doesn’t always stick, but like I did in the ocean this past weekend, you keep paddling because the payoff is worth the struggle.

So the next time you honk your horn at an intersection you didn’t expect to be closed at 7am on a Sunday morning; the next time you bemoan a mass email asking that you sponsor or support someone in this or that event; the next time you receive an invitation to participate in a walk for a cause, try to have an Attitude of Gratitude.  It just may change how you react, what you do, what you say, and, most importantly, what you teach!

We have less than two weeks left in the MLB season, and then October Baseball begins.  From what I read, the first few games of the World Series will again be played in support Stand Up to Cancer.  Small deeds, huge outcomes, great Attitude!

PLAY BALL!!

Answer: Casey at the Bat (but you already knew that!)

WHILE YOU WEREN’T WATCHING

WHILE YOU WEREN’T WATCHING

While most of America settled in for their first weekend of football, and others watched the finals of the U.S. Open, and a religious few spent time setting the table for Erev Rosh Hashana, the fine folks of MLB were playing some of the most exciting baseball of the Summer.  Over the past couple of days, there were a few games that you may have missed, games that remind us (a) why we love this sport and (b) why September/October/November baseball cannot be beat.

For your reading pleasure, a brief summary of what happened while you weren’t watching:

Friday: The Orioles were in a tough battle with the Royals.  The O’s founds themselves trailing in every inning, and were down 6-4 going into the bottom of the 8th .  Then they proceeded to hit not one, but two grand slams in a single inning.  Suffice it to say, it was good night for Baltimore, and a not-so-good night for KC.

Saturday: David Ortiz hit homerun numbers 499 and 500 in the same game.  In doing so, he became the second player ever (granted, there are only 27 of them) to do reach that mark in that manner.  Big Papi has given Red Sox fans something to root for this September, and he did so again on Saturday.  The one downside is that he did it at Tropicana Field – the worst venue in all of sports.

Check out the pitchers running in from the bullpen.  That was pretty cool.

Trivia question #1: What other player hit #500 and #501 in the same game?

Trivia question #2: What other historical/landmark hit happened at The Trop?

Sunday (Part One): The Mets go into the top of the 9th inning in Atlanta trailing 7-4.  Eight pitches and two Ks later, they are down to their last out.  Three pitches later they are down to their last strike.  But then Juan Lagares doubles on a 1-2 pitch, and there is life for the Metropolitans.

After a pitching change and a walk, the tying run comes to the plate.  So, what do you think happens?  That’s right, Daniel Murphy hits a 3R dinger into the right field stands to tie the score at 7.  A crushed Braves team walks through the bottom of the ninth, the Amazings score three more in the top of the 10th and win 10-7.

Sunday (Part Two): A few hours later, in Southern California, the Angels are on the verge of sweeping the Astros to climb back into the race for the AL West.  The Halos are leading 3-0 with 2 outs in the top of the 9th.  Huston Street is dealing, and gets ahead of Preston Tucker, 1-2.  Tucker promptly hits a solo homer to right.  No worries, the Angels still lead 3-1.

Street then gets ahead of George Springer, again 1-2.  Springer promptly triples.  Jose Altuve follows with a single to center.  No worries, the Angels still lead 3-2.

The next batter is likely AL Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa, who hits a scorcher up the middle (StatCast shows it having an exit velocity of 110 MPH).  No worries, Taylor Featherstone is there to make a diving grab, and has the option of flipping to second for the force or tossing to first to end the game.  But, when it ain’t your year . . . the ball literally gets stuck in the webbing of your glove – and Featherstone cannot get it out in time to make the play.  That happens maybe once a season – have you ever seen it with two outs in the ninth?

Correa.GIF

But, hope still springs eternal, as the Astros send up light-hitting and injury-prone Jed Lowrie to pinch hit for masher Evan Gattis.  Maybe the Baseball Gods were smiling down on the Angels after all.  Lowrie proceeds to hit a high fly ball to the right field corner.  Two feet to the right, it’s foul; two feet shorter, Calhoun catches it for the third and final out.  But the Baseball Gods were just toying with the Angels, as the ball falls just inside the fair pole and just out of reach of Calhoun.  5-3 Astros.  Game, set, match, and most likely season, over for the team from Los Angeles of Anaheim.

Lowrie.GIF

Monday: While not technically a three-day weekend, many people were off on Monday.  So the craziness continued.

The Yankees were no-hit for 7 innings in St. Pete.  They conjured a hit in the 8th, but nothing came of it.  They were able to get their second hit to lead off the 9th, which was quickly erased by a twin killing.  Brett Gardner walked, and then Alex Rodriguez – of all people – laced a double, driving in the tying run.  How unlikely was that?  Well, that was the first time in his career that A-Rod got a game-tying hit with two outs in the ninth inning or later.

But the madness wasn’t over.  After an intentional walk to Brian McCann, Slade Heathcott (you read that right, and my guess is that, like me, you have no idea who he is) hit the first pitch he has seen in the Majors since May 27th over the left field wall for a 3R dinger.  Two highly unprobable events happened within minutes of each other.  I guess it just wasn’t the Rays weekend.

Those three games may have been enough to fill an hour-long SportsCenter, but the following also happened while Notre Dame’s quarterback was trying to reattach his foot, Jameis Winston was throwing to the wrong team, Tom Coughlin forgot how to coach and Eli Manning forgot how to play football, and Adrian Peterson made an inauspicious return the league:

After scoring 66 runs in their previous 9 games, on Sunday the Red Sox were held scoreless for 12 innings.  And, if you understand anything about baseball, you know that means that the Rays were held scoreless for at least 11.  They both put up goose eggs for 24 half innings, and then the Red Sox scored not one, but two runs in the 13th to win it.

Jonathan Papelbon didn’t blow a single save with the Phillies this season.  He then blew one against the Phillies on Monday.  And because baseball is a great game, he still got the win.

On Monday afternoon, Oakland scored 4 runs in the top of the ninth to tie their game with the White Sox, 7-7.  All that did was prolong the agony for two teams just playing out the string, as the Pale Hose won it anyway, in the 14th.

In a must-win game for the Rangers against the Astros on Monday night, Houston took the lead twice, and Texas got a 2R HR in the 6th and another in the 8th to bring themselves within ½ game of the AL West lead (even though they were 8 games out on August 1st).

And, even though it is just business as usual, it bears mentioning the following:

On Sunday, Zach Greinke threw 8 innings of 3-hit, no-run ball for his 17th win.  His ERA now sits at 1.61.

And on Monday, channeling Sandy Koufax and welcoming in the New Year, Clayton Kershaw threw 7 innings of 3-hit, 1-run ball for his 14th win.  His ERA is now at 2.12 (and just 1.06 since the All-Star break).  Kershaw hasn’t lost in 81 days.

Okay, you may now resume your NFL Fantasy Leagues, your College Football tailgate prep, and your regularly-scheduled programming.

Me, I will be watching how the West was won; if Jake Arrieta can match Greinke and Kerhaw pitch-for-pitch and win-for-win; if the Mets can find any other “Amazing” way to win; if Johnny Cueto will remember that he is Johnny Cueto; and if Mike Trout can do anything to keep Josh Donaldson from winning the AL MVP.  And many, many more things on diamonds around the league.

Have a great week.

PLAY BALL!!

Trivia Question #1 Answer: Albert Pujols

Trivia Question #2 Answer: Wade Boggs’ 3,000th hit

FAULTY MATH

FAULTY MATH

If you have ever coached a Little League game, you are all too well acquainted with pitch counts.  Have a kid throw more than twenty pitches, he can’t go tomorrow.  Ride him for 85, and he is “burned” for the next four days.  Ironically, as a coach, you are often more attuned to the total number rather than the quality of the pitches.  But, make no mistake, you know how many have been thrown (for both your team and theirs).

If you have ever coached in a travel ball tournament, you become locked in to innings limits.  A player touches the rubber and then walks off, it is the equivalent of an inning pitched.  These tournaments set very strict rules about the number of innings in a day and in a weekend.  We know for sure that their heart – if not their brain – is in the right place.

At some point after I stopped playing baseball (did these limits on kids exist before the aughts?), the powers-that-be at the lower levels of baseball made a conscious effort to save our kids’ arms.  Whoever “they” are, they figured out that parents and coaches (often one-in-the-same) could not be trusted to police themselves, so pitch counts began to be blared over PA systems, pitch logs required an attention to detail rarely seen outside of your local H&R Block, and what essentially amounted to affidavits were created for coaches to sign post-game.  League officials decided that there would be no torn UCLs on their watch!

Only time will tell if these safeguards actually worked, as the rules can never account for kids playing on multiple teams in multiple leagues with multiple sets of pitching rules, and for coaches with multiple agendas.  Hell, I know of a 12-year old kid who repeatedly threw more than 120 pitches (yes, you read that correctly) in different outings this past summer, but he was A-OK because he was under the innings limit set by the tournament director.  As Steve Martin once said . . .

So it is clear that we are at least trying to do something for the kids, but what about at the Big League level?  Starting in about 2000, in addition to the “Steroid Era”, baseball found itself dealing with the “Tommy John Epidemic”.  This was not a case of too many soft-throwing lefties descending Walking Dead-style on the league.  Rather, this was a rash of pitchers suffering ulnar collateral ligament damage in their throwing elbows, requiring an hour and a half surgery followed by a year and a half recovery.

Warning!  Gruesome photo to follow:

Blog_TJ_UCL

A less graphic visual of this epidemic is shown below, from 1974-2014:

Blog_TJ_Surgeries

Considering the trend, teams decided they had to do something.  It took nearly a decade, but some precautions were finally implemented; and teams tried to incorporate some of this (in)sanity into their programs.

With the help of (a) the surgeons who perform the vast majority of these surgeries (why is it that we know the names Andrews and ElAttrache?) and (b) more and more data available because of more and more subjects, teams began to create post-surgery regimens for their players.  But, to be clear, there was nothing magnanimous about this; this was done simply to protect the teams’ investments.

However, as is so often the case, great intentions are the victim of poor planning and poor execution.  In an attempt to find something hard and fast to glom on to, teams began setting inning limits for their young pitchers.  (This was done for both pre-op (because, really, doesn’t every pitcher eventually have surgery?) and post-op players.)  Unfortunately, counting innings is, at best, dubious, and at worst, asinine.  There are many flaws with Little League Baseball, but one thing they got right was that they count pitches – not innings.  (See, 12-year old throws multiple hundred plus pitch games but remains under the innings limit.)

Over the past week, Matt Harvey and his “180 innings limit” has been the talk of baseball.  For reasons that are yet to be explained, Harvey’s agent – the indomitable Scott Boras – decided the New York media was the best place to play this all out.  Harvey vacillated, Boras pontificated, the Mets dithered, and the New York newspapers took them all to task.  Everyone came out of this looking worse for the wear (and, by the way, it still isn’t resolved).

But, just for giggles, let’s buy into the concept of innings limits for one minute.  I’m no math major, but if Harvey had truly been on a 180-inning limit from the outset of the season, that feels very much like 30 six-inning starts.  As the season progressed, and it was looking more and more possible that the Mets would play in October, it was well within the Mets’ control to skip four or five starts over the final four months, preserving Harvey – and his innings – for the playoffs.  Again, for reasons unknown, they did not do this.

But, you say, this is a case of first impression and they got caught off guard.  Well, then the Mets aren’t very diligent and Boras isn’t very bright.  Back in 2012, the Washington Nationals’ star/stud young pitcher, Stephen Strasburg (also repped by Boras) was coming off Tommy John surgery and was limited to 160 innings for the season.  The Nats could have restricted his innings per start; they could have skipped him in the rotation every so often throughout the season; hell, they could have “shut him down” for four weeks in July.  They did none of those things.  And, with twenty-four games to go, and the Nats in first-place, Strasburg’s season was over.

The Nationals made the playoffs and lost to the Cardinals in the NLDS.  Do you think having Strasburg in a series that went the distance might have been helpful?  Might better planning have put Washington in a better position to win?  Some might argue . . .

Which brings us back to Harvey, the Mets, and the fallacious concept of innings limits.  On July 4th, Harvey threw 100 pitches against the Dodgers – in 5 innings.  He threw 97 in 8 innings against Colorado on August 11th.  Utilizing the “innings limit” method, the Rockies outing was 60% more taxing on Harvey’s surgically-repaired elbow – even though he threw 3 less pitches.  On what planet does that make sense?  I simply don’t understand this.

What makes this even more frustrating is that teams, managers, and pitching coaches are fixated on pitch counts – on a per game basis.  Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, no one cared how many pitches a pitcher threw in a given game.  Then, in the ‘80s, this became a fascination, with pitchers pulled in the 100-125 range, regardless of their effectiveness.  Don’t get me wrong, I am lot lamenting this ground shift, nor do I want to go back to the days when Nolan Ryan tossed a cool 235 pitches in a 13-inning no decision (!).  I am glad these “ounce of caution” efforts have been put in place, I just wish the brilliant sabermetricians who run the majority of teams these days would extrapolate those numbers over the season to have a better idea of the actual wear and tear their pitchers are suffering.

So here we sit in early September and the Mets are vying for their first playoff birth since 2006.  Matt Harvey has less than 9 innings left until he hits the artificial threshold of 180.  Do we think that will hold for the remainder of the year and on into October?  As Buster Olney correctly pointed out, this is like trying to make a cake for a party and not having enough flour – there just isn’t enough there.

However, despite the gallons of ink that have been spilled on this topic in the past week, despite the hundreds of trees that have been felled to make a case for or against the Mets, Boras, and/or Harvey, despite the thousands of gigabytes that have been utilized to analyze every pitcher in the history of the game who has come back too much/too soon after Tommy John Surgery, I am yet to read a single article, column, or tweet regarding the total number of pitches Harvey has thrown this season.  Am I the only one who finds that odd?

Oh, you are thinking, they don’t keep track of that.  Well, why in the same space of time have I seen and read various reports about the total pitch count this season for Dellin Betances and the entire Cardinals bullpen?  The truth is out there . . . if anyone cared to look.  Well, I did.

It turns out Harvey threw 2,697 pitches in 2013 and has thrown 2,533 this season.  So, by this count, Harvey should have another 164 pitches in the tank.  No one has mentioned that.  To be fair, that is probably only one additional start, but if Harvey is at 180 innings the last weekend of the season and they need him to pitch against the Nationals to secure the division title, that one additional start may become very important.

But let’s take this analysis one step further.  Many medical experts (including those at the American Sports Medicine Institute) claim that innings limits and pitch counts are somewhat irrelevant (for adults).  They state that the vast majority of injuries occur when a pitcher throws “past fatigue”.  So, when a pitcher gets tired, whether that is at 150 innings or 90 pitches, he should be pulled and not allowed back on the mound until the fatigue has passed.  How do you combat fatigue: rest.

So let’s go to the tale of the tape: in 2013, Harvey threw 178 innings, and (as stated above) 2,697 pitches.  He did this in 26 appearances.  However, that season he made 16 starts on four days’ rest and 7 with five days’ rest.  And, this was after he threw a total of 440 innings in the Minors and Majors in 2011 and 2012.  Funny how no one ever mentions those numbers.  But I digress.

This season, after a year and half of rehab to – ostensibly – make his arm stronger (with limited throwing and no MLB game action), Harvey has also made 26 appearances, throwing 171 innings, using 2,533 pitches.  But, and here is the huge BUT, he has only made 10 starts on four days’ rest, 10 on five days’ rest, and 3 with six days’ rest.  In short, he is considerably more rested this season than in 2013 (or, probably, than at any other time since he first picked up a baseball).  He, theoretically, should have less fatigue.  Ergo, he should be in a better position to pitch longer without risk of injury.

I am no expert, just a casual (okay, maybe not so casual) observer of the game, and I have figured this out.  Why can’t Sandy Alderson and the entire Mets organization, why can’t Scott Boras and the 60 employees of Boras Corp., why can’t the entire New York and national media, figure this out.  My head hurts.  This isn’t rocket science; it’s just sports science – and barely that.  People perform better when they have more rest.  The defense rests.

I wish someone in the Tri-State area would read this, stop being emotional, and start being rational.  So, at the end of the day, Matt Harvey can just . . .

PLAY BALL!!