The Drop Shot

In honor of the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament returning to New York City this week – one of my all-time favorite sporting events to watch – I thought I’d take this opportunity to post about a significant tennis moment in my life. The “anniversary” of this event is coming up, but it really feels like it only happened yesterday. Unfortunately.

My wife and I have not played tennis since.

The incident if ever recounted, is done so in hushed tones.

The wife and I were playing tennis at least once a week. Never in a competitive way, mind you. We simply went out for an hour or so sticking to the baselines, volleying back and forth.

That is…until “The Drop Shot.”

It was an early weeknight when we took to the court. The temperature was 70F. No wind to speak of. No one playing on the court next to us…although there were a couple of guys playing on the court one removed from where we were, so periodically we had to serve as ball persons for each other’s play. Otherwise, absolutely perfect conditions for twilight tennis on a well-kept, public court.

We were about a half-hour into play when it occurred. Mind you, we always kept score even though our shared goal was to extend points, get some good exercise, and enjoy the outdoors.

My wife, a pretty good field hockey player back in her day, was actually beating me in this particular game. She had just returned my shot from deep in her far corner when I executed “The Drop Shot.”

To this day, my wife insists it was because I was losing and consciously wanted to win the point by hitting my shot to land just over the net. My claim to this day is my competitive mind and muscles simply converged in the moment, and I subconsciously went for a winning shot. It was without a doubt the greatest drop shot I’ve ever hit.

It was also my last.

My wife, reacting to my shortened stroke and immediately setting aside our mutual goal to take things easy, attempted to sprint all the way from the back court in a spectacularly athletic yet predictably futile fashion to reach the ball in time.

Futile intersected with fall.

My wife went down several feet from the net in a full-on, concrete face plant.

I thought she was dead.

Mind you I was gratified to have won the point, but I decided to check on my wife first before retrieving the ball. As I got to her, she was rolling onto her side and making low, unintelligible sounds…which indicated she was, a) alive and, b) able to move.

“You OK? What hurts?

“My hand.”

“Just your hand. Great!”

“Great? No, not great. It hurts. A lot. I think I BROKE it.”

This is when I switched into ultra-positive mode. Knowing my wife as I do, it would be important to assure her she was OK, and that hand of hers would be fine with some rest and TLC. She’s as tough a trooper as I know, but in accident situations with anyone I always feel it is important to deflate any thoughts of potentially more serious injuries. Getting stressed about what may or may be wrong certainly doesn’t make anyone feel any better.

It did seem like her hand did take the brunt of the impact with the court. This was a good thing, because her head was next in line if that hand had not been extended to break her fall. The question now…was the hand actually BROKEN?

I quickly got her to her feet and into our car so, if nothing else, to reassure those guys playing nearby a hearse would indeed not be required. There was some concern on my part they might have seen my wife’s plunge.

I drove her to a Wawa convenience store (one we don’t normally frequent) to get some much-needed ice for her injury. I left her in the car briefly, returning as quickly as I could with an ice-cold drink for her, ice for her hand…and a TV Guide.

“You thought about the TV Guide during THIS?”

“It’s next week’s edition. I got it early!”

Uh-oh. She’s not laughing anymore.

Moments later, as I was getting her cooled down and set-up in a more comfortable position for the drive home, I was trying to adjust the angle of her seat to make her a bit more comfortable…when I almost made her horizontal as the seat control got away from me.

She actually managed a laugh about that, watching me being flustered getting the seat corrected.

Good sign. Laughter really IS the best medicine.

Until the next day of course, when her hand looked like one of those cartoon character balloons in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.

Off to the doctor. Then the hospital. Multiple X-rays. No break. Bad sprain. Two weeks of rest.

Since then…conversations of “The Drop Shot” usually go like this:

“You know you hit that shot on purpose.”

“I did not. I just reacted in the moment. It was simply instinct. You were so far away, and the shot was there for the taking. I never thought you’d actually try to go get it. I didn’t mean to almost kill you.”

“Well, you almost did.”

“Again, I’m sorry. You know, I really thought you were dead for a second there. I’ll never forget that sight. It was awful.”

“I still can’t believe you bought that TV Guide.”

“I got it early!”

“Idiot.”

🎾

 

Picture Courtesy iStock

Sounds Of NFL 2022

The above image is a copy of a newspaper ad for a concert I was fortunate enough to have attended back in 1978. The site of the concert, JFK Stadium, hosted many great artists over the years, including the American portion of Live Aid just seven summers after this event.

When I pulled in the image for this post, I noticed something I didn’t take note of back then. Sanford & Townsend is spelled incorrectly, instead reading as Townsand. Their big hit back then was “Smoke From A Distant Fire.” Perhaps someone was smoking “something” when they made that error. As I recall there was a LOT of smoking the day of the concert…

Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way” is one of my all-time favorite songs. Every time I hear it, I’m transported back in time. Which as we all know, is one of the most magical things about music. Time travel made easy.

On to the Chessboard’s NFL 2022 Power Rankings. The self-imposed rule here was to sum up each team’s outlook in conjunction with a song title off my heavy-rotation playlist. This way you get to see my expectations for each squad, as well as a sampling of my musical leanings.

(If you have any newly-released music you have on “repeat” these days please let me know. I’m always looking to sample sound suggestions…)

Buffalo Bills (1) – “Dynamite” by Taio Cruz. QB Josh Allen’s offense and LB Von Miller’s defense should both be dynamite this season. This should be their year. With regards to their Super Bowl history, the fifth time is the charm for the Bills. Enough said.

Kansas City Chiefs (2) – “Levitating” by Dua Lipa featuring DaBaby. Even without departed WR Tyreek Hill, QB Patrick Mahomes will once again be levitating above and around opposing defenses. The defense…we’ll see. With the Chiefs, that’s always a moving target…sometimes moving in the wrong direction. They are always a rollercoaster ride.

Green Bay Packers (3) – “Feeling Good” by Sofi Tukker. – QB Aaron Rodgers recently opened up about his use of a hallucinogenic drug, which supposedly had him feeling good and playing his very best football. Whatever, Aaron. Whatever. The Packers defense is really good. They do have to replace departed WR Davante Adams, which they should be able to do with a combined effort.

Baltimore Ravens (4) – “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars. QB Lamar Jackson is indeed “smoother than a fresh jar of Skippy,” a lyric from this song. Yet, he must push his offense to score early and often to take more pressure off their D, especially the iffy secondary. The arrival of former Saints S Marcus Williams should help also. The Ravens defense just has to stay out of the trainer’s room this year.

Los Angeles Rams (5) – “Butter” by BTS. QB Matthew Stafford made the big move from Detroit as smooth as butter. WR Cooper Kupp had a season for the ages. And if the team doesn’t have a Super Bowl hangover and stays hungry, they could easily be back defending their crown. WR Allen Robinson arrived from the Bears, with LB Bobby Wagner in from the Seahawks. Two good pieces to add on to an already strong team. Their best move in the post-season…getting DT Aaron Donald to commit to two more seasons.

Los Angeles Chargers (6) – “Sooner Or Later” by The Grass Roots. Every year I think this team is going to take the next step. I often overrate them, and may be doing it again. Sooner or later I’m going to be right. The concern is a more competitive AFC West, but the Chargers defense might be able to rise to the occasion with former Bears LB Khalil Mack and Patriots CB J.C. Jackson. QB Justin Herbert should be better with another year of experience. Hopefully, HC Brandon Staley will also. His uber-aggressiveness last year was silly at times.

Cincinnati Bengals (7) – “Shoot To Thrill” by AC/DC. I always knock the Super Bowl runner-up’s down a few notches. That’s just how I shoot. However, QB Joe Burrow is a thrilling difference-maker with a lot of weapons. (When I saw he had a recent appendectomy, I admittedly started to think “Bengals Super Bowl loser curse” again). If the defense plays like last year, Cincinnati should be in good shape. Hopefully, Burrow will be also.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8) – “Raise Your Glass” by Pink. A toast is in order to QB Tom Brady as he continues his GOAT career. The Buccaneers look solid enough on both sides of the ball to keep him racking up more W’s than L’s. The defense will have to give the offense some time to recalibrate, especially if WR Chris Godwin isn’t fully recovered from last December’s torn ACL. Former Falcons WR Russell Gage is a solid add.

San Francisco 49ers (9) – “Breakout” by Swing Out Sister. QB Trey Lance will have the handcuffs removed and be handed the keys to this 49ers offense. I think his breakout stardom is not far off and if nothing else, just get the ball into WR Deebo Samuel’s hands. In Trey and Deebo I trust. The San Francisco defense looks rock-solid…except perhaps in the secondary.

Indianapolis Colts (10) – “Born To Run” by Bruce Springsteen. RB Jonathan Taylor is as good as anyone at that position, and former Falcons QB Matt Ryan should be handing off quite a bit. It will be a run-first offense for the Colts as it should be. The Indianapolis defense will be more aggressive under new DC Gus Bradley. They were already pretty good to begin with.

Philadelphia Eagles (11) – “Runnin’ Down A Dream” by Tom Petty. If QB Jalen Hurts is running less and throwing accurately, the dream of him being the Eagles franchise quarterback will be realized. Former Titans WR A.J. Brown, WR DeVonta Smith, and TE Dallas Goedert are all ready to make this team pass-heavy…but they will run the ball well if Hurts struggles. Look for the Philadelphia defense to take huge strides led by former Panthers LB Haason Reddick rushing throws, with former Giants CB James Bradberry defending them.

New Orleans Saints (12) – “Starships” by Nicki Minaj. I just happen to think the Superdome looks like a UFO…I just do. Anyway…the Saints defense is the real deal. No issues there. The two offensive questions are, 1) Will RB Alvin Kamara be sidelined by his battery case?…and, 2) Will QB Jameis Winston continue the new-found momentum of throwing to his teammates rather than the other team?

Dallas Cowboys (13) – “Blinding Lights” by The Weeknd. America’s Team always has those bright, blinding lights upon them, and this year certainly is no exception. If QB Dak Prescott is going to elevate the Cowboys to a higher level, WR CeeDee Lamb will need to be a catching machine. The Dallas defense, led by LB Micah Parsons and CB Trevon Diggs, will be just fine thank you. Then again, with HC Mike McCarthy likely being a dead man walking even if they win it all…who the hell knows?

New England Patriots (14) – “When You Were Young” by The Killers. HC Bill Belichick is still chasing trophies after all these years, but he looked old indeed when Buffalo pounded the Patriots defense in last year’s playoffs. QB Mac Jones will continue to improve if he gets to throw the ball more often this season…and he might have to if Bill’s running back by committee stuff doesn’t jell. The New England defense definitely must play like Belichick teams of old.

Denver Broncos (15) – “Better Now” by Collective Soul. QB Russell Wilson is now cookin’ in the Rockies, and he has some weapons at the skill positions making Denver a better squad. He may need to run for his life to get those throws off, but opposing team QB’s will be doing the same against a strong Denver D. The Broncos secondary led by Patrick Surtain II, Ronald Darby, and Justin Simmons is rockie-solid (see what I did there?).

Las Vegas Raiders (16) – “Caught Up In You” by 38 Special. Former Packers WR Davante Adams is the big catch everyone is talking about. It remains to be seen if new HC Josh McDaniels can chart the same success like he did as a coordinator in New England. Former Cardinals DE Chandler Jones will help make opposing QB’s miserable, teaming up with DE Maxx Crosby to provide a stellar pass rush…which the Raiders will need to stay in games.

Minnesota Vikings (17) – “Hot n Cold” by Katy Perry. This team always seems to be operating either very hot or very cold. With new HC Kevin O’Connell’s arrival, his main focus will be to put QB Kirk Cousins in better position to get the ball to WR’s Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, and K.J. Osborn. If the aerial attack clicks, RB Dalvin Cook might just get through a whole year in one piece. The Vikings defense needs to stay healthy this season. They will also need that offense to be hitting on all cylinders.

Detroit Lions (18) – “Year Of The Cat” by Al Stewart. HBO’s current Hard Knocks team certainly looks inspired enough by unorthodox HC Dan Campbell to play like very big cats in 2022. They should definitely score more points as long as QB Jared Goff remains steady, but they will find themselves having to score a lot if the Lions defense doesn’t improve a ton. Rookie DE Aidan Hutchinson certainly is a step in the right direction.

Tennessee Titans (19) – “Breakdown Dead Ahead” by Boz Scaggs. RB Derrick Henry is inevitably gonna breakdown completely from all his usage, and opposing defenses now have even more reason to key on him with WR’s A.J. Brown and Julio Jones gone. QB Ryan Tannehill is on shaky ground, as he always is. The Titans defense will probably keep them in a few games, as will HC Mike Vrabel.

Miami Dolphins (20) – “Rain On Me” by Lady Gaga & Ariana Grande. At some point in every game I see in Miami, it always seems to rain. QB Tua Tagovailoa is from Hawaii, so at least he’s used to the rain. He’ll be getting used to another address if he fails to impress this season with new acquisition WR Tyreek Hill on hand. This franchise had a good HC in Brian Flores but fired him nonetheless…likely because he would not throw games at the direction of shady Owner Stephen Ross, who also managed to lose the Dolphins’ first-round pick next season…so there’s that.

Pittsburgh Steelers (21) – “Out Of The Frying Pan (And Into The Fire)” by Meat Loaf. HC Mike Tomlin stayed with Big Ben Roethlisberger too long… and here we are. RB Najee Harris may be carrying the ball all four downs. LB T.J. Watt will head a Steelers defense that while good, will be under too much pressure if the offense can’t move the ball. Tomlin is a wizard, but I’m not sure he’s gonna work any magic with this team…this season.

Washington Commanders (22) – “Out Of Touch” by Daryl Hall & John Oates. Abusive Owner Dan Snyder doesn’t even deserve to still have a team, which also doesn’t deserve that nickname. This will be the last audition for QB Carson Wentz, but at least he has WR’s Terry McLaurin and rookie Jahan Dotson to throw to. Star DE Chase Young will start the season on the injured list. That’s unfortunate, but the Washington defense should still have some merit if they play like they can…not play like last year’s group.

Arizona Cardinals (23) – “Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac. QB Tyler Murray wants to prepare for games his own way, which apparently is heavy on video games and light on film study. I am totally unimpressed with HC Kliff Kingsbury. WR DeAndre Hopkins will be out for the first six games. The Cardinals defense lost its best pass rusher (DE Chandler Jones) to free agency. Oops.

Carolina Panthers (24) – “Level Of Concern” by twenty one pilots. I still think HC Matt Rhule can coach winning football, but he better have a level of concern about his future in Carolina. We’ll see if the newly-acquired Baker Mayfield can help save his job. Will RB Christian McCaffrey be able to stay on the field? I don’t know, but I drafted him #1 on one of my fantasy teams last year and I still haven’t stopped cursing. The Panthers defense looks to very much be a work-in-progress.

Cleveland Browns (25) – “God Was Never On Your Side” by Motorhead. They went out and acquired QB Deshaun Watson. Everyone deserves a second chance. I strongly believe that. Twenty-four chances? Nope. I have a friend who is a big Cleveland sports fan. He was just getting over their baseball team being renamed the Guardians…and now this. The defense should be fine if they don’t have to stay out on the field all day. We’ll see about the offense, which surely will now be a run-first squad at least for the first half of the season.

Jacksonville Jaguars (26) – “Livin’ On A Prayer” by Bon Jovi. I love new HC Doug Pederson, in no small part because he guided the Eagles to a Super Bowl win. He never should have been fired from here, and I hope he rocks out in J-Ville. That being said, he is living on a prayer down there in Year One. The prayer is QB Trevor Lawrence can become a top-notch signal caller. The Jaguars defensive outlook? Make that two prayers…

New York Jets (27) – “Used To The Darkness” by Des Rocs. This may be the most apt song title of all-time for Jets fans. Their QB is already on the injured list. Do I have to go on? Don’t make me, but I will say they are starting to get some pieces in place for…next year.

Seattle Seahawks (28) – “Long Way Down” by The Goo Goo Dolls. HC Pete Carroll should buckle his seat belt, because it is going to be a l-o-n-g way down for the Seahawks. This will be his last year, whether he wants it to be or not…and he very well may not even finish it.

New York Giants (29) – “Broken” by lovelytheband. Rookie DE Kayvon Thibodeaux already has a sprained MCL, and QB Daniel Jones just revealed he had off-season neck surgery. Um, ok. Toss in whether or not RB Saquon Barkley even makes it through a few games. The Giants appear to be already broken.

Chicago Bears (30) – “Dammit” by blink-182. I think it is safe to say the word “dammit” is in every Bears fan’s vocabulary, and is used quite often at that. QB Justin Fields will be running for his life again this season, which probably gives Chicago the best chance to win games…as long as no one catches up to him.

Houston Texans (31) – “Forget Me Too” by Machine Gun Kelly & Halsey. The Texans hosted the fiasco that became Deshaun Watson. Let’s not forget that. Newly-promoted HC Lovie Smith may have an easy first year if the marching orders are to win as few games as possible.

Atlanta Falcons (32) – “Doom And Gloom” by The Rolling Stones. When QB Matt Ryan flew off to Indianapolis I knew this song title would represent the Falcons this year. This franchise has endured one long Super Bowl runner-up’s hangover, as they have never been the same since they let the Patriots steal Super Bowl LI. That game was in Houston, and I do believe the Texans and the Falcons will be neck-and-neck this year when it comes to losing games.

 

Picture Courtesy Concert Archives

Adapting To Death – Neil Gaiman Brings The Sandman To Netflix

In this age of “social” media, offering a review or opinion of just about anything creative can yield comments and responses supporting your take, but more often than not you’ll also generate opinions which are not only the polar opposite, but served up with a heaping side of snark and venom.

It is also a time that when creative works are adapted into different mediums, that fact alone can inspire an outpouring of fiery anger and hatred.

I find it ironic whenever a baby boomer guy like myself complains about something, we’re designated as “the old man on the porch,” supposedly resistant to change and complaining just for the sake of complaining. Yet, it seems to me people now learn at a very early age to come for and declare war on anyone who doesn’t completely agree with their views…or wants to mess with something they love.

When I was in college, I took a course on Film Criticism. One of the takeaways I still abide by is to not only be tolerant but inquisitive when someone views films/series/plays/books/art differently than I. My feeling is reviews and opinions of creative work are subjective in every way (unless or course the company that employs you also owns the creative property you’re reviewing but I digress). Further, you might actually learn something from differing viewpoints which could lead to your modifying or even changing your thoughts about the work. Finally, creative forms or mediums provide vastly different experiences, even if the subject matter is essentially the same.

I recently saw the movie “Where the Crawdads Sing,” based on a best-selling book by Delia Owens. I never read the novel, but was drawn to seeing the film because of the book’s overwhelming success. For a number of reasons, I did not enjoy the movie. However, in leaving the theatre with my wife I mentioned it probably made for a very good book. While I didn’t like the way it was portrayed on the big screen, I considered what I saw as it might have played out in written form – in other medium – and could see where it might well be a most compelling novel. In fact, my suspicion in the instance of “Where The Crawdads Sing” was and is the filmmakers stayed quite true to those written words…which may be why I felt it wasn’t a very good watch.

I later read reviews which highly praised the movie, but I didn’t feel there were any opinions or observations that altered my feelings about it. Yet, I did do that personal due diligence and seek out positive reviews to see what those folks had taken away from the film, what experiences they had. And in my comments back to those reviewers, I was respectful of their opinions while expressing mine.

The release of the Netflix series “The Sandman” has garnered much reaction on social media over the past couple of weeks. For decades, this distinguished work in the world of comics languished in development hell until its creator, Neil Gaiman, found just the right folks to help bring his adaptation to the screen. Yet, even though Gaiman was fully immersed in developing this project, there were those who began tirades the moment it came out saying the comic is still great, but the TV adaptation is rubbish, and don’t even give it a look. You would have thought they owned the property themselves and hadn’t gotten paid for it. Of course, there were others who absolutely loved the series and they raved about it, heaping over-the-top, God-like praise upon it. Indeed, yet another social media flexing of the extremes had broken out. People these days can’t just calmly state they like or dislike creative work, and sometimes can’t even remain civil when opposite opinions appear.

Fandom on social media seems to me to be fairly toxic most of the time. If you don’t like something someone else does, you’re right and they’re wrong. The actor and comedian Patton Oswalt, who lends his voice to the character Raven in “The Sandman,” had this to say to IndieWire regarding current fan culture:

“This happens with everything, including sports and music. There are fans out there who unfortunately look at everything they love as showing the person how much they love them by hating other things. If I express hatred toward the thing that’s not them, that shows them how much I love them. It’s a sad and ugly way to show how you love things, but unfortunately that’s how a lot of people are being taught and how people are being modeled by our leaders now, which sucks.”

Oswalt also had this to say regarding the priorities of people in our world today versus being opposed against any adaptation of “The Sandman”:

“If you can look out your window and this is what you’re mad about, then you have way bigger pathologies to deal with than I can handle. If you are looking at the headlines and going, “I am planting my flag on the hill of “don’t fuck with The Sandman” well then, you’ve got some really serious problems. You’ll love this show, especially Episode Six, “The Sound of Her Wings,” which is so goddamn beautiful.” (Do hold that thought about Episode Six…I’ll circle back to that in a moment…)

The following is an excerpt from The Nerdist where Michael Walsh wrote about why adaptations are done in the first place:

“Why does anyone bother making or watching adaptations of great stories? If we already love something, why do we need to experience it in a different medium? Especially, when adaptations so often disappoint the people who care about the source material the most. “The Sandman’s” sixth episode, “The Sound of Her Wings,” is why. The Netflix series did more than introduce new fans to the beauty of Neil Gaiman’s Death. “The Sandman” gave old fans new ways to appreciate a beloved character with an episode and performance that exemplifies the best of what adaptations can and should be.”

I thoroughly enjoyed Netflix’s “The Sandman.” I didn’t find it perfect in every way, but to me it’s a very high-quality production. I am only diving into the source material now, but I was already aware there were several significant changes from the comics which were made in bringing this to the screen. Why? Because it’s a completely different medium, designed for a global streaming audience.

And for fans of Gaiman’s original comics, considering they surely knew he was involved in every aspect of this television project, why would they not be thrilled which the fact millions of more folks now get exposure to his stories, his characters?

Since I recently asked readers to give “Evil” a watch, knowing everyone has thousands of entertainment options these days, it’s downright obscene of me so soon thereafter to now suggest you give this series a look if you weren’t otherwise inclined…but before I wrap this up I must give Episode Six of “The Sandman” its due.

It is one of the most moving episodes of television I have ever experienced. It’s about dying and Death, but equal measures of dignity, faith, and hope are baked in as well. Here’s another excerpt from Walsh regarding that particular episode, and how seeing scenes play out is such a different dynamic than reading them:

“Dying doesn’t seem as terrifying when you imagine this Death will be by your side. The act of dying on “The Sandman” – whether in old age doing what you love, or alone in an alleyway far too young – certainly wasn’t horrible, it wasn’t defined by sadness or anger, nor even by the finality of life. Instead, it was about the comfort of holding a hand and the soft sound of wings. And seeing and hearing all of that in “The Sandman” was powerful in a way than reading about them isn’t. Not better or worse, just different. Because while no TV show or movie can ever fully capture every aspect of what makes a book or comic great, live-action adaptations bring elements the written word or a static illustration inherently can’t.”

“The existence of Netflix’s “The Sandman” will never change the existence of Neil Gaiman’s comic book. Nor will Netflix’s Death change how you think about the version you first met on the page. All that’s changed is that we now have two versions of Death to appreciate, each in a different medium that offer elements the other one can’t. The two aren’t competing with each other or for our admiration, either. They complement one another, and in doing each elevates their counterpart. That’s the best you can hope from any adaptation of a great story. That’s the reason adaptations are worth attempting even if they so often disappoint us. When done right, they give us something new to love while reminding us why we loved the original in the first place. And you can’t do that better than “The Sound of Her Wings.”

We all die. We all have our own ideas about the moment life will end. One thought on that subject is offered in “The Sandman,” and it is one worth considering.

In any medium.

 

Picture Courtesy Netflix

Joe Shlabotnik

I love underdogs in sports.

Hell, I even rooted for both the 1988 and 2021 Baltimore Orioles to just win a game when they eventually ended respective losing streaks of 21 and 19 games…even though if they had kept right on losing in either one of those seasons they could have possibly broken the record of the longest losing streak in major league baseball’s modern era…23 games by the Philadelphia Phillies.

I don’t like to see teams get embarrassed because as a fan I know full well what that feels like. I am a product of my environment, living in the suburbs of Philadelphia. All of our professional teams have a long, inglorious history of being quite far removed from championship glory.  Our current ledger looks like this:

Phillies – World Series Champions in 1980 and 2008. (131 seasons)

Eagles – Super Bowl Champions in 2017. NFL Champions in 1948, 1949, and 1960. (89 seasons)

Flyers – Stanley Cup Champions in 1973-74 and 1974-75. (54 seasons)

76ers – NBA Finals Champions in 1954-55 (as the Syracuse Nationals), 1966-67, and 1982-83. (73 seasons)

Which may be why I love Joe Shlabotnik. It’s usually this time of year – in the baseball dog days of August – when I most often think about Joe. For those who have not previously heard of Joe, he is a fictional baseball player featured in Charles M. Schulz’s classic Peanuts comic strip. He was Charlie Brown’s all-time favorite baseball player.

Charlie Brown worked endlessly to hunt down any and all memorabilia associated with Joe Shlabotnik. He once bought 500 one-card packs of baseball cards to try and get one card of Joe’s. While he wasn’t successful, his pal Lucy van Pelt bought only one pack and what-do-you-know…she was the proud owner of a Joe Shlabotnik baseball card. Unfortunately, Lucy then steadfastly refused to trade Joe’s card to Charlie Brown, even though she had no idea who Joe was. Once Charlie Brown exhausted himself trying to entice her to give up Joe’s card…she eventually decided he wasn’t quite as cute as first thought…and tossed the card into the trash.

Charlie Brown also once was under the impression he had a Joe Shlabotnik autographed baseball…which in fact turned out to be a forgery. But, it isn’t just Charlie Brown’s futility trying to get Joe Shlabotnik memorabilia that makes Joe an underdog for us all to root for. It is the “legendary” career of Joe Shlabotnik:

  1. Joe was demoted to the minor leagues after hitting .004 over an entire season. The one hit was a bloop single…with his team comfortably ahead.
  2. Joe once promised to hit a home run in the bottom of the ninth inning. He instead popped out…but circled the bases anyway.
  3. Joe had a knack for making routine fly balls into spectacular catches. He also had a talent for throwing out runners who had fallen between first and second base.
  4. Joe eventually retired as an active player and took a job managing the Waffletown Syrups. He was fired after one game when he called for a squeeze play…with no one on base.

Charlie Brown never got to meet Joe Shlabotnik. He bought tickets to a sports banquet where fans could dine with their favorite athletes…but Joe was the only athlete who didn’t show up. It turned out Joe had marked the wrong event, city AND date on his calendar. Joe was also invited to attend a testimonial dinner for Charlie Brown. He got lost on the way there.

Ironically, this might be one of the best pro sports years we’ve had in a while. The Phillies are competing down the stretch for a wild-card berth. The Eagles should be in the hunt for the post-season. The Sixers should be a lock for their post-season. The Flyers…they will likely have a season similar to the ones Joe Shlabotnik experienced. Not. Good.

In any case, thank you for allowing me to acknowledge Joe as one of my favorite characters in sports. When it feels like the pro athletes representing Philadelphia are performing poorly, I will think of Joe and realize they aren’t that bad.

 

Picture Courtesy United Feature Syndicate

Living In The Moment

I was cleaning off some excess grass from the lawn mower in the front yard a couple days ago when I saw a man and his dog walking on the other side of the street…headed in my direction. They were too far away to say hello, and I was headed back into the garage anyway to get some iced tea I had there.

It had been like mowing on the sun…should have just hired the landscaping crew who came to the door earlier (see above).

While I was in the garage cooling off, as this duo got closer I could hear the man singing to himself (or the dog?). He did not have ear buds or any player device – just him, his dog, and his song.  He was definitely enjoying his walk…this moment. However, his dog was periodically stopping to smell whatever dogs smell off to the sides of sidewalks. What struck me was how the man was singing his tune louder while the dog was walking ahead, but his song’s volume…and its progress…dropped off significantly every time the dog stopped.

I am confident in the brutal heat of the midday sun this man had forecasted to get back home sooner than later, but his dog clearly was operating on a different arrival schedule. I found it amusing how the loudness and pace of his song coincided with the forward movement of his dog. Yet, the man was so patient in ensuring the dog was safe at all times while “off-course,” and didn’t think to continue with either his desired decibel level or lyrical style until his dog was back in line and moving ahead.

I am positive I would never have noticed any of this if I hadn’t been actively trying to be in that moment. Over the last few years, I’m betting you have seen many self-help recommendations for all of us to try to live in the moment. Soak in as much of each day’s blessings as possible when we can find them…be aware of all of the sights, sounds, smells.

It has become a pet project of mine to consciously slow down, breathe, and try to appreciate special moments when I come across them. I don’t want to be as consumed with what is next on the to-do list, or worrying about what might or might not happen in the days ahead. For me, I have written my own healthy prescription to find, acknowledge and appreciate positive moments I come across daily.

Most definitely there are times we can’t possibly live within moments. Life comes at us with velocity, curves, and detours…quite unexpectedly at times. In those circumstances we have to look a bit ahead, look forward. Not just for ourselves, but sometimes for the benefit of others as well.

It was like the dog owner was doing just that, making sure both of them stayed together…living in their moment.

 

Picture Courtesy Universal Studios