Our New York

The lobby clock at the Waldorf-Astoria.

The lobby clock at the Waldorf-Astoria.

New York is the Statue of Liberty. The Circle Line. Washington Square. Greenwich. The West Village. Chinatown. The Empire State Building. MOMA. The Guggenheim. The Upper West Side. Central Park.

We did none of that.

Our plans were fluid. We knew where we would stay, knew what day we would arrive. There was a reservation for dinner, a date at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, tickets to a show.

A loose itinerary for the rest of the weekend. We had ideas, certainly. We had hope. We made it there on our 10th anniversary. We could make it anywhere.

It rained. Did we care?

We had an umbrella, which I left under a table at a bar called Peacock Alley. We drank chocolatinis and ate truffled fries.

Fourteen-year-old dancer by Degas at the Met.

Fourteen-year-old dancer by Degas at the Met.

A decade of life together. At the beginning, 10 years ago, this is what we knew: We knew where we would wed, knew what day we would be married. There was a Las Vegas honeymoon, a date in a helicopter for a champagne brunch at the Grand Canyon, tickets to a show. After that …

A loose itinerary for the rest of our lives. We had ideas. We had hope. We made it to our 10th anniversary.

New York. Why New York?

Because the city was mine, and it was hers, but it had never been ours.

It is ours now.

The loose itinerary allowed our imaginations to play. The boys were home and well-attended. This was our time. Time to discover and rediscover.

Time. That was one thing I had forgotten about New York. It is an island floating loose on the stream of time. This place, this metropolis of memory, took us back a decade. We were at the beginning, back in 2004 on our wedding night.

Freedom Tower.

Freedom Tower.

The loose itinerary of our life together still hovered out there, unformed, unknown, unknowable, inconceivable to us.

Had we known …

We did not know, though, and when we were caught in the rain without an umbrella we improvised. The walk from the Gershwin Theater to the Waldorf-Astoria is seven blocks, farther in heels. Farther still in the pouring rain at midnight, but New York is New York. There is always a gift shop nearby offering to sell you a $2 umbrella for $17.50.

It rained. At Grand Central Terminal, we ate hot soup and watched the stars. At the Met, I lost the docent, the tour group, my wife and myself. Through the Italian masters I wandered, past the Degas, the Seurat, the Van Gogh, the Rembrandts, the Monets, the Tiffany glass windows. I found her among the mounted knights in their armor.

The sun came out and we walked the streets of New York together.

It is ours now.

New York is the Upper East Side. The Met. Times Square. Wicked. Rockefeller Center. St. Patrick’s Cathedral, masked by scaffolding, inside and out. Bryant Park in the rain and in the Sunday morning sunshine. The Public Library. O’Casey’s Irish bar. Chelsea Market. The High Line. St. Paul’s Chapel. The Freedom Tower. Zuccotti Park. The Stock Exchange. Federal Hall. Stone Street. The Brooklyn Bridge from the South Street Sea Port. Little Italy. The 6 train. The 35th floor of the Waldorf Towers, where presidents and monarchs spend their nights in New York.

The original Winnie the Pooh, on display at the NYC Public Library on 42nd Street.

The original Winnie the Pooh, on display at the NYC Public Library on 42nd Street.

Our loose itinerary revealed to us the pew where George Washington prayed on the day he was inaugurated. It threw into our path the original stuffed animals that A.A. Milne gifted to his son, Christopher, and later immortalized as Winnie the Pooh and friends. With no tyrannical to-do list holding us hostage, we lingered at the Ground Zero memorial pools, tracing the engraved names of the dead in reverence. It was sublime.

We did all of that, unfettered by an agenda, free to actually see it, to let it wash over us and to appreciate the city and each other. We gave ourselves the gift of room to breathe in New York, and the city helped us remember who we were.

And as we remembered, we floated on the island in its stream back to a time before our hopeful itinerary of our life together hardened into the immovable facts of shared history.

For a time, it all fell away. There was just us, and just New York, and it was ours.

 

The southern tip of the High Line park in New York.

The southern tip of the High Line park in New York.

 

If Only Integrity, Sportsmanship and Character Did Not Count in Hall of Fame Voting

BBWAA

A BBWAA Lifetime Honorary membership card, along with the envelopes for the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot.

I care about the Baseball Writers Association of America. I care deeply about the Hall of Fame vote I earned as an active member of that organization from 1999-2009. When my active membership lapsed after I was laid off from the newspaper where I worked for 16 years, I cared enough to pay the fee that ensured I would remain a lifetime honorary member.

The gold card that comes with honorary membership does more than allow me entry into any Major League ballpark in the country. It is my final tangible link to a 24-year sportswriting career that ended in 2010. It wasn’t entirely my choice to end that sportswriting career, but it’s over and I’ve moved on.

Mostly.

Every December I anticipate the arrival of the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot in the mail. Not in my e-mail inbox; in the mailbox that sits under a tree in my front yard next to my driveway. It comes in a distinctive manila envelope, stuffed in there along with a stamped return envelope, biographical information on each of the candidates, a letter from National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum President Jeff Idelson, and the BBWAA Rules for Election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

I’ll vote for the sixth time this year. Every December, I fax off my ballot to the BBWAA because I want to keep the actual paper it’s on. I sort of envision my kids’ kids holding it one day and talking about how their grandfather contributed, if only in a small way, to baseball history.

So, it means something to me. I covered the game long enough to earn that vote, and I actually got into sportswriting hoping to one day become a Hall of Fame voter. I consider it an honor and an important responsibility.

Now, I am aware that the system as it exists is flawed. It never was perfect, but the Steroid Era threw everything into disarray. The inherent subjectivity of the process practically guaranteed chaos as the list grew to include Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and others whose candidacies have been tainted by suspicion (or hard evidence, in Palmeiro’s case).

I wrote pretty extensively about my feelings on the process last year. I ended up voting for seven players, none of whom were elected (we are allowed to vote for as many as 10). In fact, as you might recall, no one was elected by the writers.

Here are the players I voted for last year:

This year’s ballot includes Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas. I’m not saying that’s how I’ll vote, mind you. I’m simply pointing out that those three players are, frankly, Hall of Fame locks.

Where does that leave the likes of Bonds, Clemens, et al? Off my ballot, at least for now. As I’ve written before, it all comes down to Rule 5 of the BBWAA Rules for Election:

“Voting shall be based upon a player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”

I boldface the salient words – integrity, sportsmanship, character – because voting for the Hall of Fame would be a much different proposition without them. Those words transform an already subjective process into a guessing game. A game that I and 600 or so of my fellow voters are compelled to play every December.

The game reached a new level of absurdity this year when Deadspin announced that it would “buy” a BBWAA voter’s ballot and allow its readers to make the selections. I don’t blame Deadspin, which is just doing what it does. I honestly don’t even blame the anonymous voter who allegedly has sold his or her ballot to Deadspin. Just because I take the honor and responsibility seriously, it doesn’t mean the other 600 or so voters are obligated to do so. That person has his or her reasons, and I hope he or she spends the money well. (Might I suggest a donation to one of baseball’s most famous charities, the Jimmy Fund? Or the Children’s Cancer Center? Or anywhere else but the sell-out voter’s bank account? Because hey … it’s Christmas.)

That voter – or soon-to-be former voter, once his or her name becomes public – is no more absurd than the voters who decided Joe DiMaggio – Joe DiMaggio! – was not a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Or that Gaylord Perry, an admitted spit-ball pitcher, was somehow more worthy of election than others despite his transgressions.

Or the voters – like me – who take it upon themselves to act as gatekeepers in the face of rampant steroid use in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

There is a simple solution, you know.

Change the rules for election. To be precise, eliminate three words.

Integrity.

Sportsmanship.

Character.

Eliminate those stipulations, and we’re back to the numbers.

Then it would be like the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which explicitly prohibits the much smaller pool of voters from considering the off-field actions of players.

I can acknowledge right now that my ballot would look a lot different if not for the current wording of Rule 5. Bonds, Clemens and Palmeiro absolutely would have earned my vote. McGwire and Sosa might have, as well.

Those three words are there, though. And that means another year of hand-wringing, wondering, speculating. It means watching one of my fellow voters help push the whole thing to a new level of absurdity by selling it to a satirical sports website whose editors are in the business of exposing absurdity in sports – something they do quite well.

As for me, I will continue to take it as seriously as I always have. It means something, this signature honor bestowed only upon long-time baseball writers. It means I’m still part of the game in a small but meaningful way.

And it means I still have a voice in a complicated conversation that I care about a great deal, a conversation that I’m pretty sure is just getting started.

Cape Cod Days

Cape Cod 2006

Jay’s first trip to Cape Cod in 2006.

We’ll head back to Cape Cod for the fifth time as a family in a couple of weeks. Before we started going there (almost) every summer, I thought of Cape Cod as this exotic place. It was the Kennedys and lobster, sailing and lobster, summer theater and lobster, golf and lobster, lobster and lobster. There was also a deep link in history between my family and the Cape, but more about that curious connection in a minute.

The first time I went to Cape Cod with my wife was for her sister’s wedding in 2005. It took place at this incredible seaside resort built around two Gilded Age mansions perched on a bluff over the Atlantic. You would think that breath-taking setting would reinforce my pre-visit perception of Cape Cod. But I think in this respect, Cape Cod is like any other place you hear or read about a lot and mentally slot into a “mind’s eye” view. What you leave out in your imaginary vision of a place is what I call the street-level view. It’s like that in Las Vegas, where you imagine a never-ending line of magnificent casino resorts glittering in the desert, only to forget the space in between, where you’ll find nameless souvenir shops, outdoor bars, Walgreen’s, the McDonald’s, M&M’s World, 7-11, and the stream of people who wander up and down the sidewalks of Las Vegas Boulevard all day and night.

Cape Cod Light

THIS is how I always envisioned Cape Cod.

The street-level view at Cape Cod is defined by the forested stretch of Route 6, the main artery that runs the length of the Cape from Bourne to Provincetown. There is nothing remotely exotic about most of Route 6, also known as the Mid-Cape Highway. My first impression of Cape Cod was shaped by that drab drive along Route 6. I was expecting Cape Cod-style clapboard cottages, sweeping beachfront vistas, yacht slips and mansions. Instead, I saw trees. An apparently endless mass of trees to left and right for mile after mile after mile. Oh, but what those trees concealed. It turned out to be far more exhilarating than I imagined – and I can imagine some pretty exhilarating stuff.

So, we go back now just about every year. Jay was 8 months old the first time, and he tried to crawl up the beach to Boston. He didn’t quite make it.

First Encounter Beach

View of First Encounter Beach from the cottage.

MomScribe spent most of the summers of her youth at Cape Cod. It was just what her family did. When school got out, they shipped out of Westford, Mass., and settled down in the cottage in Eastham, situated about a quarter of a mile down-Cape from First Encounter Beach on the shore of Cape Cod Bay. They stayed for weeks, living the Cape life, working on their tans and appreciating the sunsets. The girls worked at an ice cream shop, or at Arnold’s – a well-known seafood, ice cream, and mini-golf spot along Route 6 between Eastham and Wellfleet. When it was time to go back to school, the family packed up and shipped north again. But the summers were spent on First Encounter Beach, where my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather was among 20 passengers and crew members of the Mayflower to conduct a (bloodless) battle with Cape Cod’s Native Americans. His name was Stephen Hopkins, and he was a part of the third on-shore expedition that issued forth from the Mayflower as the future inhabitants of Plymouth Colony searched for a place to put down stakes. Others more famous than my 10G-grandfather were also there, including William Bradford and Myles Standish. Hopkins was included, we have decided, because he had been to the Jamestown settlement a decade earlier and was (ostensibly) familiar with the native inhabitants.

‘Stephen Hopkins’ at Plimoth Plantation.

In any case, the spot where Hopkins and the rest of the Mayflower force fired muskets and stood among the falling arrows of the Nauset Indians was named First Encounter Beach and would one day become the summer-time playground of my future wife. It is entirely fitting that a descendant of one of those intrepid Mayflower passengers should journey there with his family every summer for a week of eating lobster rolls, exploring the tidal pools, building sand castles and searching for the perfect Cape Cod cocktail (I favor a simple concoction of Captain Morgan and ginger ale).

There is another historical connection between my family and Eastham. Among the Plymouth settlers who left for the Outer Cape in the mid-1640s was Nicholas Snow, who came over a few years after the Mayflower and married Stephen’s daughter Constance Hopkins. Nicholas and Constance helped found Eastham, which was incorporated in 1651. Giles Hopkins, one of Stephen’s sons, also came along. The three of them are buried and memorialized now at the Cove Burial Ground on Route 6, located just north of the Orleans Rotary. Constance and Nicholas were my 9G-grandparents.

Constance Hopkins’ memorial at the Cove Burial Ground.

I took a photo of Constance’s headstone at the Cove Burial Ground on a Tuesday in August of 2007. The next day, MomScribe and I took a quick trip to pick up her grandmother in Connecticut. On the way, at my insistence, we stopped at Plimoth Plantation, the amazing living museum based on the original Plymouth Colony. There is a colonial village recreated in great detail from period maps, and it is “inhabited” by actors playing the roles of the colonists who would have been there in 1627. Of course, the first thing I wanted to see was the Stephen Hopkins house. We found it, and sure enough, there was a portly gent with a beard holding forth on a log chair across the dusty road from the Hopkins house. It was the faux Hopkins, who was something of a character in life, and we listened for a minute to the man portraying my 10G-grandfather before we ducked into the very small hut that served as their family dwelling.

Constance Hopkins, Plimoth Plantation

‘Constance Hopkins’ at Plimoth Plantation.

Inside, we found a young woman in period dress. It was Constance. I added her picture to the one already on my camera of her grave stone. The actors couldn’t break character, so it would’ve done no good to tell her of the strange circumstance of visiting her final resting place the day before. I don’t know if it would’ve meant anything to her, anyway. It meant a lot to me, though. It was one of those moments only Cape Cod could give me. I think about Constance every time I pass the Cove Burial Ground. That’s a big part of my street-level view of Cape Cod now, that surreal brush with the living past. I can’t wait to experience that again in a couple of weeks with MomScribe and the boys.

This time, when we cross the Sagamore Bridge (or the Bourne Bridge, whichever seems quicker at the time) and jump onto the Mid-Cape Highway, I’ll see those thick trees again. But I’ll also see the sunsets, and I’ll feel the breeze off Cape Cod Bay, and I’ll smell the fresh fish and burgers and hotdogs and veggies on the grill. I’ll taste that first cool sip of Captain-and-ginger ale, and I’ll hear the soft waves rolling in off the bay at high tide. I’ll think of the boys running and laughing along the beach, and I’ll remember all the days we’ve spent there already, and smile at the thought of all the Cape Cod days to come.

Cape Cod Sunset

Cape Cod sunset at low tide.

Cap Cod Baby

Jay almost made it to Boston. Almost.

Parenting: Our Political Common Ground

So much divides us.

Politics divides us. Religion divides us. Money divides us. Ethnicity divides us. Geography divides us. Social mores divide us. Ignorance divides us.

Fear divides us.

More than ever in my lifetime, it seems that we are defined by what we oppose, by our juxtaposition against – and unassailable, irrational anger at – the “other.”

We see it on our cable news networks. We read it on our bumper stickers. We hear it on our radios.

If you’ve ever had the misfortune of reading the on-line reader comments attached to almost any story on almost any news website, you no doubt felt like your brain was dragged through a virtual pit of slime. Such vitriol is deeply disturbing. It leaves me feeling like we live in a banana republic, populated by hate-filled ignoramuses. So much of the language seems geared toward the denigration and dehumanization of the “other.”

It makes me angry. Then it makes me sad. Then … I’m a little afraid for my kids.

This is the world we live in. It’s a world that seems to mock my morning ritual reminder to our sons: Be good, be nice, be you, have fun.

Voices of reason are ignored. The appalling becomes commonplace. The outrageous, humdrum. Even many of those who once populated society’s fringes no longer are weird enough to attract attention. The only way to be heard is to lunge further away from the middle, then point accusingly back at the “other” as the cause of it all.

I’m not here to draw a moral equivalency among all of these emotionally charged fragments of society. Of course I come to the table with my own set of beliefs, shaped by my experience and my visceral response to life.

I lean toward empathy, but I’m not above outrage.

I’m surrounded by conservative thinkers. I live in one of the reddest zip codes in the state of Florida. My brother would love to see Sarah Palin on the ballot. My uncle ran for county commission in North Carolina on a Tea Party platform. My dad believes the Federal Reserve should never have come into being. I don’t claim to understand their political views, or how they were derived. I love my family and I love my neighborhood, though, and only occasionally have I ever gotten into so much as a heated conversation with any of them about politics.* I’ve certainly never been politically active (as a lifelong journalist, that’s not on the agenda), even though I do feel strongly about most issues.

*I did feel compelled to correct one truly nice and utterly misguided fellow, who swore that our suburban neighborhood of about 600 homes was dotted with potential terrorist sleeper cells and said, in a very matter-of-fact way, that “everyone knows Obama is a Muslim.” This gentleman, who that day tried unsuccessfully to convince me to watch a Fox News documentary about terrorist sleeper cells in America, no longer lives in the neighborhood. I believe he stopped paying his mortgage and was asked politely by the bank to vacate the premises.

I’m also not one of those who contributes to the irrationality of our discourse by claiming we are as divided as we’ve ever been as a nation. I mean, come on. Anyone who believes that it’s never been this bad need only read up on the ‘60s – the 1860s and the 1960s – to understand that it has been much, much worse in this country.

Yet, something’s not right. I can’t put my finger on it. I’ll leave it to Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne in his new book, Our Divided Political Heart, to lay out the history of how we got to this point. Instead of conducting a detailed survey into the sociological reasons for our unease, I’d rather dream.

I dream of a day when our differences no longer define us. I’m not naive enough to even dream that our differences would evaporate in a sudden surge of national goodwill. But rather than let those differences dictate irreparable fragmentation, it would be nice if we could acknowledge those differences in a rational way and search for real solutions. To do that, though, we’ll have to set aside the anger and fear. We’ll have to identify, acknowledge and firmly assign to the back shelves of history those who would espouse the outrageous and appalling.

How? How do we do that?

We embrace what we have in common.

From my perspective as the father of two young boys, I can almost always find common ground with my fellow parents.

Mitt and Ann Romney have Tagg, Matt, Josh, Ben and Craig.

Barack and Michelle Obama have Malia and Sasha.

MomScribe and I have our Bird and Mouse.

We all know what it was like to bring our children into the world. We all have experienced the awesome sense of responsibility that comes with parenthood. We all want what’s best for our kids. We all hope this nation, and this world, is a place where our kids can thrive and live the lives they choose to live with dignity and purpose.

Yes, politics, religion, money, geography, ethnicity, ignorance and social mores divide us. Parenthood doesn’t necessarily change that. What it does, though, is give us a palpable set of shared reference points. Parenthood crystallizes – or should crystallize – our priorities.

I’m absolutely aware that even the definition of parenthood is an emotionally charged political issue these days. I’m not saying an adoptive same-sex couple of dads in Massachusetts have experienced precisely what MomScribe and I have experienced, or that the evangelical Christian mother and father of 12 in Wyoming would, could or should bring up their kids the way we are bringing up ours. Nor am I saying that becoming a parent makes someone a good person capable of rational thought. There are outliers in every group. For example, I fear for the children who attend Westboro Baptist Church, whose elders clearly occupy what passes for the political and religious fringe at this stage in our history. Nor am I saying that politicians should use their children as a political poultice to artificially smooth over their differences. The world is cynical enough without some disingenuous candidate using his or her children as a political prop.

What I am saying is that there is so much that threatens to tear us apart as a society, but there are things we share, too, and it is important to remember that. I share the state of parenthood with millions, and I’d like to think the overwhelming majority of parents in this country want what’s right for their kids.

So, yeah. I think it would be much more difficult to dehumanize the “other” if parents everywhere, of every political persuasion, of every ethnicity, of every religion, of every tax bracket, really thought about what it means to love and raise a child or children – and remembered that even the “other,” at a deep, foundational level, shares that feeling.

I love my kids. Don’t you love yours? OK, then. Let’s talk.