Monday, August 3, 2015

A Final Lap

Cav & Me (1984)

"Everything dies baby, that's a fact
And maybe everything that dies someday comes back" 
 - Bruce Springsteen (Atlantic City)

      At the end of his High Hopes concert tour last year, 65-year old Bruce Springsteen told an audience in Kilkenny, Ireland:
The older you get, the more it means.”
     When Justin invited me to rejoin the Westfield Cranx lacrosse team after playing elsewhere the previous two years, the thought of returning had to that point never entered my mind. But after he put it out there, nothing made more sense to me.

     We started this thing 31 years ago. Cav, Flynner and I wanted to continue playing after our respective spring college seasons had ended. So what started as a six-team league of unmatched uniform jerseys and bucket helmets, gradually became an elite 14-team league of perennial talent and competition (and 21st century fashion flash and equipment). Cav and Flynner still debate today as to which one of them came up with our famously named “Cranx”.  But what isn't in any doubt is that what we started in 1984 was a franchise that has long outlasted, outclassed, and outmatched any program that has tried to overtake it.  The only remaining team from that inaugural year continuously has been without equal when it comes to success and tradition.

Monday, August 4, 2014

E Street Lacrosse

     "Sure. We need somebody to be our waterboy."  That was the texted message I received back from Jared after I had inquired about joining his summer lacrosse team a season ago.  Ten years earlier, when I was Jared's high school JV coach, a similar derogatory comment would have cost him about a thousand windsprints and possibly a choked larynx.  But now, Jared was a recent college All-American and the coach of the Wilbraham Zebras lacrosse team.  I was a 47 year old once-upon-a-time decent player, but now dependent upon a knee brace, ankle tape, and mega-doses of Advil and Icy-Hot just to survive a few shifts per game.  Plus, for the first time in 30 years, I was a rookie.
     After 28 seasons of playing summer lax with the Westfield Cranx team, the need for a change in venue and the chance to play with a new group of players became unavoidable.  As great as the Cranx franchise was, and as much as I loved playing with truly awesome guys and many lifelong friends over the years, looking for a new playing experience was something that simply became inevitable.
     It'll be just like what Bruce Springsteen did, I told myself.  Just another little experience about my life I can compare to my hero, I thought...besides the whole rockstar/millionaire/world famous thing, of course.  When Bruce went on the road for the 1993 Lucky Town/Human Touch tour, he did so without the E Street Band.  Instead, a new group of audition-picked musicians took their place; Bruce's need for a fresh approach fueled his decision making:
          "You can get to a place where you start to replay the ritual and nostalgia creeps in" he explained. "I decided it was time to mix it up.  I just had to cut it loose a little bit so I could have something new to bring to the table."

Sunday, November 24, 2013

James Maddock's "Better On My Own"


    The multi-talented musician James Maddock performed in Old Saybrook, CT on November 22.  As always, James played and sung masterfully and emotionally to an appreciative crowd that filled the Katharine Hepburn Arts Center.  Telling James afterward about the music video I had just finished that day using his song "Better On My Own", his enthusiastic response he repeated often the rest of the evening: "I can't wait to see it!"

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Father's Day (June 16)

John S. Funaro (1923 - June 16, 1999)
     Probably what I love most about Bruce Springsteen's music is the songwriting craft of his lyrics.  Nobody paints a more vivid and detailed picture in your listening mind than Bruce does.  Whether those picture frames form a short one-act play or string themselves into a full feature film, Springsteen packs more intimately visual imagery into one song than most songwriters do on an entire album.  Equally as affecting is how he is also able to let the listener fill in his own blanks to the stories he tells, allowing for an autobiographical, and usually more meaningful experience and reaction to the songs.

     When it comes to music videos, Bruce only rarely (compared to the vast amount of songs in his catalog) makes them.  My guess is that he's keenly aware that most of his songs become personal to his fans in this autobiographical way.  And I'm sure he doesn't want his songs detracting from that interpersonal connection by showing just his interpretations of them.  Aside from the conspicuously forbidden lust video "I'm On Fire", Bruce's videos usually involve him singing with his guitar, and simply a myriad of atmospheric backgrounds.  Instead of visuals he lets his lyrics take care of the cinematography.

     When I made my own video to the song "When I'm Gone", I didn't have the luxury of letting my songwriting do the talking for me.  So instead, I used Brian Vander Ark's beautifully written lyrics and music and made them my own in my mind's eye.  Taking a page out of the same playbook Springsteen follows, Vander Ark allows the listener to extract his own personalized interpretation to the song.  And like so many of Bruce's songs, "Brilliant Disguise", "My Beautiful Reward", "The Promise" to name just a few, "When I'm Gone" became not just the artist's thoughts, but mine as well.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Go Badgers! (I think)

     As far as moral dilemmas go, I could probably come up with a few hundred others I've encountered in my lifetime that carried a weight a hundred times heavier than this one.  So, at least my preface is on the record.  That said, here's the inner turmoil festering inside of me:  I don't know who I should root for in this year's NCAA basketball tournament.

     When Coach Knight's teams were in the NCAA's, there was never a question about it.  Indiana it was, all the way!  From IU's national championship team in 1987 to their awful first round loss to Richmond in '89 (which I blame for the four car accident I caused the next day).  From my month long depression over the '92 Final Four loss to the devastating injury to Alan Henderson in '93, which almost certainly is the reason why Coach Knight has three national championships instead of four.  From the '80's to 2000, March meant the Indiana Hoosiers.  Every other team be damned. 
     Ditto for Texas Tech. Through five NCAA appearances and with underwhelming talent, it was "Guns Up" for the Red Raiders all the way.  If I had a son who played for a school competing against one of Knight's team, it would be a no-brainer.  I'd root for the General.  If my kid wasn't good enough to play for Coach Knight, then that's his fault.  My loyalty came first to Knight.  My son came afterward.

     But since Coach Knight's retirement five years ago, the next best team I enjoyed most has been Wisconsin, and I've followed and rooted for them ever since.  I consider UW my de facto favorite, and the team I've most wanted to cut down the championship nets. But the way this year's bracket is set up, it's brought me some unprecedented problems.  Hence my dilemma...

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Basket Blame

      I hadn't laughed that hard all season long.  And with the comical cast of characters on this year's basketball team, that's certainly saying a lot.  We may not have the smartest or most talented group of players ever comprised on a high school team, but we probably could compete as one of the funniest.

     There's Zack, whose impersonations are limited to just two, but are spot on.  If you closed your eyes, you'd think Chewbaca was bellowing at you.  Or that you were being ordered to get into the chopper by Arnold Schwarzenegger.
     Kevin's usually good for a few laughs a day, from flexing his non-existent muscles to shouting out "Shooter!" before launching his own jumpshot, which usually results in one of two things: either hitting nothing but air or almost breaking the backboard.
     And then we have Josh, who persistently tries everyday to dunk the ball, but looks more like a 5-year boy reaching to catch a seagull flying by on the beach.  He'll never come close to getting it, but that doesn't stop him from trying.  Which leaves all onlookers laughing out loud.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Price of Expression

     I'm no fan of Tim Tebow.  Never have been.  And it has nothing to do with his football abilities.  Whether he should or shouldn't get more of a chance to prove he can quarterback in the NFL, I don't have an opinion on.  I'll defer to the New York Jets coaching staff and any other team that may be interested in acquiring him, seeing that I'm as qualified at assessing football talent as I am at figuring out the goings-on inside a woman's head.  What seems simplistic is often anything but inside the XX chromosomal make-up of the female brain and vice versa.
     My less than favorable opinion of Tebow stems from his religious beliefs.  Not for what they are but for how he chooses to express them.  I don't think anybody questions the sincerity and conviction of Tim's christian beliefs.  From what we've learned about Tebow, he's devout in his faith and his charitable and missionary work is quite commendable.
     In work and deed, I admire him.  When it comes to his spoken word however, not so much.  Anytime a camera or a microphone is upon Tebow for strictly football reasons, he will always use it as an opportunity to evangelize.  A question about the game?  Tebow will first respond by thanking his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Want to give God some free advertising?  Paste eye-black stickers on your face with biblical scripture passage numbers written on them.  Want millions to watch you repeatedly pray to the Almighty?  Strike a genuflecting pose on the football field sideline.  And even though there's nothing new or unique about said pose, trademark "Tebowing" as your own.  God bless America and its copyright ownership laws.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

'Twas A Night In October

(Scroll to the bottom for the complete picture storybook)
'Twas a night in October When The Boss would come play
   To Hartford, Connecticut Cindy and I made our way...

We left around 2 on a warm autumn day
   And took 91-South singing Bruce all the way
It doesn't get any better for Cindy and me
   Than a Bruce Springsteen concert, and the pit, hopefully

The XL Center was tonight's concert setting
   We wanted pit tickets, we were hoping, we were betting
We got there by 3, good timing we thought
   But Cindy had forgotten the band-aids she brought

So back to the car she goes while I wait
   She's a pain in the neck, but still the best Springsteen date
We'll sing, dance, and cheer tonight, when our hero appears
   Like we've done many times over the last ten years...

Sunday, October 14, 2012

James Maddock vs. Bruce Springsteen

      In the world of Bruce Springsteen fandom, of which I am an exclusive member, I'm about to speak blasphemy. Here goes: I recently had a concert experience that I enjoyed as much as, if not more than, a Springsteen show. There it is, I said it. And I'm sticking to it.
     Now compared to the JFK assassination conspiracy, and Pluto not being a planet after all, this declaration is not much of a great, historical revelation. But for the five or six friends and family members who read this incredibly unpopular blog, that statement I'm sure comes as quite a shock. If Jesus Christ is the savior of my soul, then Bruce Springsteen certainly is runner-up.
     Two weeks ago, a slightly lesser known and much more under-appreciated songwriter and musician named James Maddock left me with the same feeling I get upon leaving a Springsteen show: A high no drug could duplicate, a soul-stirring warmth no religious sermon could top, and a refreshing, optimistic perspective on life so desperately needed for a lonely and boring middle-aged man living an existence of banality between Boss concerts and basketball seasons.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

A Mother's Day Wish

     Mom knows as well as anybody, what are without a doubt my two biggest passions. One, of course, is basketball.  Ever since I was six years old, not a day has gone by where I wasn't either playing basketball, watching basketball, coaching basketball, or thinking basketball.  As a kid, I'd willingly shovel the driveway during the winter, not for Dad, not our driveway, but the driveway next door, because they had a basketball hoop where I could shoot when I was finished.  Though my childhood NBA dreams faded quickly, I still played through high school, and later became a Park & Rec, and then a high school coach.
     Through it all, Mom was there every step of the way.  Driving me to practice and to games for twelve years.  Cheering for me when I led my 3rd grade T-Bird team averaging 4 points per game, up to when I was lucky getting 4 minutes of playing time per game on the high school varsity.  Dad was there supporting me as well, but in a different way:  In an analytical, constructive way--in a way where I use that perspective as a coach today.  But Mom, she was my stability, the one I could always count on as my number one fan, whether it was with a ride when I needed one or by collecting write-ups from the sports page when my name was in it. Or by not making an issue over my late night drunkenness the night I quit the varsity team my senior year, when under any other circumstance I would have been severely punished and grounded "indefinitely".  At 46 now, nothing has changed.  She's still my #1 fan, even if she doesn't like me as much now that I'm a loud and temperamental coach, and not that quiet and shy six year playing Biddy Basketball.  

Monday, March 12, 2012

Bruce Springsteen's "Rocky Ground"

     The greatest rock musician and songwriter of all time has once again proven himself worthy of that distinction with an incredible combination of rock, soul, gospel, and lyrical brilliance on his new album, Wrecking Ball.  Throughout a career spanning five decades, Bruce Springsteen has repeatedly invoked religious, biblical, and Catholic imagery in his music.  "I'm stuck, it's a part of me, it's there for good" Bruce has often quipped about his Catholic upbringing and its influence upon him (for better and worse) before introducing the song "Jesus Was An Only Son" in concert.

     More often, Bruce will let his lyrical theater speak on its own spiritual merit, from "The Promised Land" to "Adam Raised A Cain" to the the majority of songs on albums Tunnel of Love and The Rising.  To know Springsteen music is to know the ethereal.  
     His new song "Rocky Ground" is another high in Bruce's catalog of both the reverence and irreverence of the spiritual and cultural issues of today and of all of history.  The gospel teachings of the Parable of the Sower proves itself as powerful today as it ever was.  And with subtlety, elegance, and a poetic call for spiritual introspection, Bruce shares with us another gem.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Art of Dan

     It's now official. I've become my father. This is no surprise—our comparable personality traits and mannerisms have been quite obvious for a long time. But it was only recently that the apple fell directly under the tree at the exact same time that the chip came off the old block.

     It happened at the end of basketball practice. The team huddled for a customary cheer and some motivational words from one of the team captains. Far from garrulous and certainly not the most poetic, Lance offered up a hodgepodge of bland and uninspiring words:
      “Okay, guys...good practice today...Umm...Hmm...Let's see...Um...Okay, 'Brotherhood' on three, ready...One, two, three...” (all together) 'Brotherhood' the team mumbles out of sync.
      The team breaks their huddle and I can't let them go without voicing my displeasure over Lance's mundane choice of words.
      “That was just awful” I say as the guys make their way to the locker room. “Worse than awful. For tomorrow you better make sure you give me something a helluva lot better than that. Give me something from Sun Tzu.”
At that Dan turns and mutters partially toward me and partially under his disgruntled breath, “Why's it always gotta be from Sun Tzu?” Instantly irritated by Dan's petulance I snapped backed loudly, “Because I said so!” My glare followed Dan as he left the gym. Him shaking his head and me wanting to wring the neck attached to it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Lesson From Coach K

     As Mike Krzyzewski looks to surpass Bob Knight in becoming the all-time winningest coach in NCAA history, I'll be watching along with most every other college basketball fan in the country.
     I'm certainly not the only basketball coach who has devoured just about anything and everything having the name "Coach K" on it:  biographies, articles, his own books and videotapes.  I still have Duke playbook manuals having a Smith-Corona font and picture illustrations of a rail-thin Johnny Dawkins and Jay Bilas with a full head of thick hair, both wearing those classic short shorts of the '80s.  When I watch Coach K's teams play, I always have my notebook at arm's length in case I need to jot something down I haven't seen Duke do over the last two decades.  I mean, it doesn't take a genius IQ to figure out that the soon-to-be 903 win coach probably has a pretty good grasp on the game of basketball.  Especially when said coach has learned a thing or two from his own college coach, a guy with a mere 902 wins.  A guy named Knight.
     If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then theft is shameless adulation.  I've stolen Krzyzewski's principles on denial defense, his modified motion offense, a number of baseline out-of-bounds plays, and countless other basketball ideas.  I've even found myself personalizing his own sideline posture from time to time-- the way he sits, the way he gestures.  But of all the things I've learned about the game from observing one of the best at his craft, what I've learned from Coach K that has been most important to me is something having nothing to do with basketball.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sneakers, September, and Springsteen

     Before every young basketball player wanted to be like Mike, I wanted to be like Dan.  Back in the '70's when Nike and Converse were the popular sneakers of choice for most basketball players around town, Danny Trant was the only one I could see who was wearing adidas.  And if the best basketball player around was going to buck the popular trend, then so was I.  To this day, adidas remains my sneaker of choice.  And to this day, each time I pick up a new pair of adidas, images of Danny tearing up the court in those white sneakers with the three red stripes flood my mind.
     September has always been one of those defining months of the calender year.  It lets us know that the summer days are coming to an end and our vacationing days are over for awhile.  September tells us that school is back in session and trips to the beach are long gone until next year.  Whether it's you as a teenager or as a parent, early mornings bring with it the traffic of school buses and cooler temperatures.  And at the risk of exposing myself as someone who has watched a "chick-flick" or two over the years, I can't help but feel similar to Tom Hanks' character in You've Got Mail when he says that still, as an adult, "the fall makes me want to go out and buy school supplies."

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Bronx Slap Shot

     After a recent lacrosse game, I was chided by teammates Ben McCarthy and Andy Liptak when I admitted that I had never seen the movie Slap Shot. At least not from start to finish, and only in a version edited for television.
     The reaction from my two friends ranged from disbelief to palpable indignation.
      "Are you kidding me? What's wrong with You?!" Ben says.
      "What are you, some kind of fascist, sacrilegious, anti-American, troglodyte (or words to that effect)?" Lippy asks.
     The topic came up during discussions on everyday things, like nuclear physics and the role of cultural differences upon modern global ethics. 

     "I've got a lot of talent" Ben says to me. "And I'm not talking about lacrosse, either. You have no idea the talents I possess." I nodded in a "I don't doubt it" fashion, and asked if he had ever seen the movie A Bronx Tale. Both he and Lippy said no, and now I'm the one making accusations of fascism and sacrilege. I explain how Ben's comments reminded me of the theme behind this classic movie's repeated mantra, Robert Deniro claiming "The saddest thing in life is wasted talent".

Monday, July 11, 2011

What the F*#@!?

      I believe that there is an inverse correlation between the use of profanity and level of intelligence.  The more frequent someone curses while speaking, chances are that the lower their I.Q. is.  Of course I have zero empirical evidence to support my hypothesis on this claim, other than only a few decades worth of personal observation.  Nonetheless, my experience and keen Seinfeld-like sociological perception says that all signs point to yes.
    It's been said that "profanity is the common crutch of the conversational cripple", and I tend to agree.  There are few things more vexatious to me than overhearing a conversation between two or more people who have trouble conjugating the verb to be, but have no trouble liberally using the F-word as a noun, verb, adjective, and dangling participle.  This style of dialogue and the use of what I call "conversational profanity", is about as revealing about the participants as admiring the Kardashian sisters or cast members of The Jersey Shore.  There's no rational or intelligent justification for it, and it more than likely proves that the subject at hand prefers reading People magazine over Time or Newsweek.

Friday, June 17, 2011

There's No "I" In Nowitzki

A funny thing happened on the way to the NBA championship title.  The less athletic and less talented team walked away with the Larry O'Brien Trophy.  Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki and a supporting cast of past-their-prime players outplayed, outcompeted, and outclassed the overhyped and overconfident Lebron James and the Miami Heat.
     The win for the Mavs epitomized the adage that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and that disciplined play, teamwork, and fundamentals will usually outlast showtime and showboating.  Or in this case, the self-proclaimed "King" James and "The Big Three".
     Beyond the on-court differences in strategy and personel between the two teams, what I found quite interesting was the post game press conferences afterward.  A few sample quotes:
     Nowitzki: "This is a win for team basketball.  This is a win for playing as a team on both ends of the floor.  For sharing and passing the ball.  We worked so hard and for so long.  The team had an unbelievable ride.  No one can take this away from us."
     James: "I was able to do things the last two seriesI won two more games than I did in '07.  And hopefully next time I get here I'll win two more games than I did in '11."

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Few (Less) Good Men

     In the movie A Few Good Men, Jack Nicholson's portrayal of Colonel Nathan Jessup earned him a well-deserved Oscar nomination.  It also earned him the honor of having spoken one of the most popular lines in cinematic history: "You can't handle the truth!" the cantankerous Marine commander spouted at the interrogating questions posed to him by the prosecuting attorney during that famous courtroom scene.  The American Film Institute ranks the quote at #29 in their list of  all-time Top 100 most memorable movie quotes.

     But it's Jessup's explanation of why "you can't handle the truth" that speaks volumes about many factions of American society today where vast differences of philosophy can only be understood by those who have experienced those differences first hand.  Although tragically wrong in his decision making that led to the death of a marine under his command, Jessup offers this education to the young lawyer about what life and death combat is all about:

Saturday, October 31, 2009

You can take Jimmy Chitwood

     In the movie Hoosiers, Hickory High’s basketball team had only eight members on it. “I thought everyone in Indiana played basketball” its coach Norman Dale inquired upon meeting the team for the first time. One of the players answered that a school with only 64 boys in the whole student body in a town where farming is a necessary priority, leaves very few players available.
     Even if you’ve seen Hoosiers several times, you’d be hard-pressed to remember the names of most of those players, including the one who quickly established to Coach Dale and the viewing audience the all-encompassing theme of the movie: Against all odds…the Cinderella story…David vs. Goliath.

     A commonality among most of the best films ever made is how the theme of the movie carries the story, and its characters, though essential, make up the background setting that propel that theme, not the other way around.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Responsibility of a Coach

     When Bill Parcells was a 23 yr. old first year assistant coach at Hastings College, he spent an entire week of practice teaching one of his safeties a specific move and strategy in stopping their upcoming opponent’s most effective play. When the Saturday game came and his young player failed at the task at hand, allowing a touchdown on that exact play, Parcells lit into him on the sidelines, on and on, in front of everyone. Noticing the tirade, head coach Dean Pryor told Parcells that that was enough. “But we worked on that play all week” Parcells barked. “Well, you didn’t work on it enough because they scored” the head coach replied. Parcells got the point, and he has never forgotten it.

     As coaches, we sometimes fail to see our own coaching deficiencies while only seeing the deficiencies and mistakes of our players. Probably more than in a lot of other sports, in lacrosse, there seems to be more than enough player failure to go around. Especially if you’re a former player yourself, or if you coach in a youth program or an inexperienced high school or college program. And more often than not, unlike baseball, basketball, football, or soccer, lacrosse lends itself to being more of a challenge to coach, given the popularity and exposure these other sports have in comparison.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Victory Favors the Team Making the Fewest Mistakes

     (Written: June 2007)
     Hall of Fame basketball coach Bob Knight has had a sign in his team’s locker room since he began coaching at Army in the 1960’s and that sign is still present in his Texas Tech locker room in 2007. It simply reads: Victory Favors the Team That Makes the Fewest Mistakes.
     You won't hear any disparaging remarks coming from me when the subject of Coach Knight is brought up. What I’ve learned from Knight about not only basketball and competition, but about character and integrity, I could talk about for hours. But as a coach and player, there are no words in my opinion, that say more about being able to compete in any team sport, better than these nine words.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

How I See Bob Knight

     (Written September, 2000)
     No one will ever accuse me of being unbiased when the topic of Bob Knight comes up. I have been a devout fan of Coach Knight and Indiana basketball for many years, and despite all the criticism he has received over the last three decades, my opinion of him will always be a positive one. You see, unlike the majority of Knight's critics, whose opinions are based primarily on only the negative accounts of his behavior (many of which have been inaccurately portrayed through the years), the mass of Knight supporters will always see much, much more than that.

     We see Bob Knight the coach, the educator. We see a guy who is highly principled, honest, loyal, caring, and generous. We see him this way because we've talked to him. We've talked and heard from his former players and other coaches. We've been to his practices. We've seen him and heard of him performing countless acts of kindness and charity on a public and personal level over the years, most of which have gone unnoticed. We've seen him mold teenagers and twenty-year olds into successful men to be admired. And we see him this way, because we've taken the time and put a little effort into learning more about the man from reliable sources. Sources and people that actually know him. Sources other than Sportscenter and self-righteous sportswriters, who seem only interested in sensationalized soundbites and videoclips.

Coach Knight Resigns

     (Written February 5, 2008 5:47 a.m.)
     For the first time in 14 years of coaching high school basketball, I implemented a zone defense tonight. We put it in yesterday. "Has hell frozen over?" one of my players asked. "What if Coach Knight finds out?" another one asks. That one made me laugh.
     Walking to my car after another loss, I asked myself, "Would Coach Knight be disappointed in me?" We are just too slow, too unathletic to play man all game, I tried to rationalize. It didn't help. I worried WWCKT (What Would Coach Knight Think?)

       I got in my car, tuned in to Sportstalk. At 9:04pm I heard the news that Coach Knight had resigned. My body went numb. I got light-headed. I had to pull over. Hell just now had frozen over.