A true All-Star

Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game is normally appointment viewing for me. It’s the only All-Star Game in major professional sports during which the best players in the game actually play their hardest and (usually) put on a good show.

Last Friday afternoon, I’d decided that for the first time in a while, I was not going to watch the midsummer classic. I entered into my own personal boycott of the event after learning that Mike Moustakas of the Kansas City Royals had won the final player vote to be included on the roster. In doing so, he beat out Twins second baseman Brian Dozier.

In a normal year, this might not have bothered me quite so much. The fact is, Moustakas had a pretty darn good first half of the season, making his inclusion among the American League All-Stars justified. But, although I fully admit to being bias on the matter, Dozier shouldn’t have been on the final player ballot in the first place. He should have been chosen as a reserve from the start.

Dozier — who entered the All-Star break second in the AL in at-bats (347) and runs scored (67), third in doubles (26), tied for seventh in home runs (19) and in the top 20 of nearly every other category — being left out was the last straw. The Royals fans had forced a seventh Royal onto the All-Star roster and I wasn’t going to stand for it.

Dozier was the MVP of a team that had the second-best record in the league AND had better numbers than “Moose” in all but three categories (strikeouts, batting average and on-base percentage) while playing in 10 more games and collecting 47 more at-bats. When it was announced Moustakas and St. Louis pitcher Carlos Martinez both won, I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone in Missouri works or if they all have the free time on a weekday to just sit around and vote all day long.

What bothered me more about Dozier not getting on the team is that he seems like a genuinely good guy. Back in January when he was part of the Twins Caravan group that stopped in Worthington, he got “in trouble” with the team’s media relations people because he wasn’t where he needed to be because he was signing autographs for fans. In my brief conversation with him (sorry for the name-drop), I would say he was definitely the most polite and down-to-earth high-profile person that I’ve interviewed.

In protest, I wasn’t going to watch the game.

That very night, he continued to put the team on his back by hitting a walk-off, three-run homer to complete an improbable comeback win over division rival Detroit. Saturday, it was announced that he was going to be on the team after all as a replacement for injured Toronto slugger Jose Bautista.

I could watch the game again!

Tuesday night, Dozier got into the game in the eighth inning as a pinch-hitter against Pittsburgh Pirates reliever Mark Melancon. In his first All-Star Game at-bat, all he did was blast a solo home run to center that extended the American League’s lead to 6-2.

Dozier’s All-Star experience was a good reminder that, despite the steroid and abuse scandals, many professional athletes are still good guys. After Dozier lost the final fan vote, he filmed a 30-second video thanking the fans who supported him. When he hit his homer in the game, he wore a big smile as he rounded the bases. Throughout his career, he’s played hard, the way it’s meant to be played, with class and youthful enthusiasm.

It would be hard not to cheer for a guy like that.

The Great Striper Hunt

First of all, I want to wish everyone a Happy Shark Week. It came a month early this year. What could be better than that?

Speaking of fish, I was able to get out for a rare fishing expedition a couple weeks ago while on vacation. Although I’ve always enjoyed fishing, it’s something I never do nearly as much as I’d like. I haven’t even bothered buying a Minnesota Fishing License in about three or four years because the last time I did, I only made it out two or three times.

So, needless to say, when me, my dad, my sister and two of my cousins’ husbands set out on Lake Cumberland in south-central Kentucky a couple weeks ago, it had been a while since I’d dropped a line.

I’m not sure how a true fisherman would classify this particular trip. We weren’t exactly out on our own. The five of us pooled our money to hire a guide who took us out on the 65,000-acre lake. He picked us up at the boat landing near my aunt and uncle’s house at 5:30 a.m. (a time that is practically cruel for a night-owl such as myself) and took us out to a prime spot.

This particular guide service specializes in fishing for striped bass (hence the name, “Striper Time”). This was the third time I’ve been out with the service and, while we’ve always had luck, this year’s trip was without question the most fruitful.

We reached our spot at about 6 a.m. and our guide, Mark, proceeded to drop a total of 11 lines in the water. Within about five minutes of him doing so, we had a bite. As the one sitting nearest to the hit, I quickly grabbed the rod and began to reel. After a tough battle between man and aquatic beast, I had the fish close enough to the boat for our guide to scoop him up in the net.

He took out the hook and plopped the fish down on a long ruler to find it measured about 24 inches, just big enough to keep. (The minimum is 22.) I’d barely caught my breath from the first one (seriously, it’s more of a workout than you think. Even the ones that aren’t big enough to keep can really fight!) when another line near me dropped. I grabbed it and managed to wrangle a 26-incher. Less than a half-hour in and I already had two keepers. I couldn’t complain about those odds.

The limit on stripers is two per person. Despite it being the largest group I’d ever gone out with, by about 11 a.m. we had our limit (10). That didn’t even include the catfish my cousin’s husband, Anwar, brought in.

With 11 keepers in tow, we headed back to the boat landing. There our guide cleaned and fileted all of them, packaged them up nice in Ziploc bags and sent us on our way. The next night, all 15 us (including four young kids) enjoyed a big fish fry during which we only cooked roughly half of our catch.

The Great Striper Hunt of 2015 was a success.

(Left to right): Bill Hacker, Molly Hacker, Zach Hacker, Curtiss Herd and Anwar Allen get their photo taken with the 10 striped bass they caught on Lake Cumberland in Kentucky.

(Left to right): Bill Hacker, Molly Hacker, Zach Hacker, Curtiss Herd and Anwar Allen get their photo taken with the 10 striped bass they caught on Lake Cumberland in Kentucky.

What’s my age again?

I know that I’m still relatively young compared to a majority of people on this planet. Still, I’ve began to notice my age a little more lately.

Though I’m yet to find my first gray hair (he typed with one hand while ferociously knocking on his wooden desk), I’ve noticed a few tell-tale signs that the big 3-0 is fast approaching.

First of all, the heat is getting to me more than it did even a couple years ago. I’ve written before that I’m not a fan of hot weather as high temperatures are especially difficult on larger members of the species such as myself. Though I’ve never liked the heat, just in the past couple years I’ve found myself feeling more and more uncomfortable when the mercury rises. Tuesday was a stark reminder, lest I’d forgotten.

I’ve also found little injuries, simple nicks and pulls that I would have barely noticed a few years ago, are a bit more nagging. While visiting my parents this past weekend, my flip-flop caught the rope they use to tie up their dog and I took a little tumble after slipping and sliding in the wet grass. Four days later, my knee still stiffens after just a couple minutes of inactivity.

Perhaps the most telling sign, however, has been where I’ve turned for entertainment.

I’m really not that far removed from college, the days where my idea of fun was a night downtown getting my more than my money’s worth on whatever the drink special was that evening. Now, while I certainly don’t mind a night out every now and then, the ones I enjoy involve a much more subdued atmosphere. Rather than go to bar with blaring music and people packed in like sardines, I’d rather find a quiet place to chat with good friends, have a couple drinks (taste and quality now over-ruling whatever’s the cheapest) with music playing just loud enough to hear in the background.

Even the movies I choose to watch feel like they’re geared towards an older audience. Ten, even five years ago, if a movie wasn’t laugh-out-loud-funny or basically one long explosion with a couple lines of cheesy dialogue peppered in, I had no interest. Again, I still like those kinds of shows if I’m in the right mood, but my horizons have gotten quite a bit wider.

Now, when I pull up Netflix on my computer, most of the time my first search is for a documentary. My 17-year-old self would slap me for the very thought of getting pleasure out of learning. Between that and the fact that I (voluntarily) watch both the national and local news almost every night, it’s safe to say that my preferences in passing free time are much more like my parents, even my grandparents, than my own from just a few years ago.

I certainly don’t see my choices in entertainment as a bad thing, but I can’t help but wonder when I got so old.

A whole new outlook

A little more than a year ago, I wrote about the Minnesota Twins playing with my emotions.

At the time – May 21, 2014 – they were 22-21, much better than what I anticipated. Unfortunately, my favorite team did what I expected them to do and fell back to earth, finishing the season with a 70-92 record. It was the fourth season in a row they’d lost more than 90 games.

I had guarded optimism heading into the 2015 season. We signed a solid starting pitcher in Ervin Santana and there were a few young players like Brian Dozier, Danny Santana and Trevor Plouffe who seemed to be coming into their own. And, heck, having Torii Hunter back certainly wasn’t going to hurt.

That quickly crashed into my typical cynic outlook on my teams. Ervin Santana was suspended 80 games to begin the season after testing positive for performance enhancing drugs. Then the Twins started the spring with an abysmal 1-6 start that might have been the worst week I’ve seen out of them in more than 20 years as a fan. (That includes some of the awful teams we had in the late-90s.)

But, here we are again. It’s late May and the Twins are looking, dare I say, good.

Since that awful start, they are 26-12 (and, as I type this, have a 6-4 lead over Boston in the seventh inning.) Their starting pitching staff has a respectable combined ERA of 3.95 (even Ricky Nolasco has looked good!) and the bullpen, which was atrocious the first week of the season, has been fairly solid. While the starting lineup doesn’t feature any standout hitters in the traditional sense, it seems each player is capable of getting the big hit when needed.

What makes this year different than last is that I don’t really think it’s a mirage. No, I don’t expect the Twins to continue on this torrid pace and win 98 games, but I do think they’ll be competitive all season. There will be another rough patch or two and I’m not quite ready to proclaim them playoff contenders, but this just feels more like the good teams we had in the 00s than the ones of the past few years.

Even Homer’s excited. He asks me to leave the TV on when I go to work at night so he can watch the game. (And he has a very discerning eye for quality baseball.)

I’m interested to see how this all plays out. Entering play Wednesday, the Twins were only a game behind Kansas City for the lead in the American League Central which, in my opinion, is the best division in baseball this year. Even after the Royals went to the World Series last year, I think they’ve overachieved a bit so far this year. Meanwhile, third-place Detroit has underachieved a bit as I still think it is the best team in the division. The Twins are the wild card in the whole situation.

The Twins have done everything without the services of arguably their most established starting pitcher (Santana.) There is still a lot of baseball to be played and all sorts of things could (and likely will) happen between now and September. But if they keep playing this way, the Twins could find themselves in the thick of the playoff chase. Hey, crazier things have happened.

NFL drops the ball…again

The NFL proved once again Monday that it has no clue what it’s doing when it comes to disciplining its players.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was suspended four games for his role in the (cringingly-dubbed) Deflategate scandal. The team was also fined $1 million and stripped of two draft picks, including a first round selection in 2016. For anyone not familiar with the situation, in January’s AFC Championship Game, the Patriots used footballs that were under-inflated in accordance to league rules. This makes the ball easier to grip and therefore, easier to throw and catch.

At the time, it was alleged Brady ordered team equipment personnel to deflate the footballs to his liking after the game officials had inspected them. In the press conferences that followed (in the week before the Super Bowl I must add) Brady denied having ever done anything of the sort. Last week, a 243-page report came out that stated it was “more probable than not that Tom Brady was at least generally aware” that air was released from the game balls.

Well, I don’t know about you guys, but the investigator certainly sounds pretty sure of himself to me. (This is where a sarcasm font would come in handy.)

The supposed “smoking gun” that said Brady was a cheater were some text messages exchanged between Patriots locker room attendant Jim McNally and equipment assistant John Jastremski. In the conversation from October 2014, McNally refers to himself as “the deflator.” The two talk about “Tom” “taking care” of them (giving them shoes, autographed balls, etc.) for helping out.

Again, at his press conference in January after the story broke, Brady denied ever asking for the footballs to be deflated.

Now to my point. I don’t doubt that Brady acted outside the rules to try to get a leg up and then lied about it. As a man, I think less of him because of it. That said, I completely disagree with his suspension. In fact, I don’t think he should have been suspended at all.

The truth is, this “evidence” against him is completely circumstantial. Never does it say he instructed his minions to deflate the football to a level outside of the rules. He may have asked them to take some air out, but who’s to say they didn’t mess up and just take too much out? That’s probably not what happened, but I don’t believe you can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that it didn’t given the evidence presented.

In fact, I’ve seen nothing that convinces me that Brady knowingly broke the rules. Given the vague language in the Wells Report (“more than not” and “at least generally aware”), I don’t know how anyone could be sure enough to justify any suspension, let alone a quarter of the season.

To put this in perspective, one incident comes to mind when a guy wasn’t proven guilty but discipline was rendered by the league anyway.

In 2010, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was accused of sexually assaulting a Georgia college student. It was the second time he’d been accused of sexual misconduct since joining the NFL. He ended up not being charged by the state of Georgia and was never in any legal trouble over the issue. The league still suspended him six games under its personal-conduct policy. That suspension was later reduced to four games.

In my mind, you have two cases that both involve someone allegedly doing something they shouldn’t but there just isn’t enough evidence to say definitively that they are guilty. One of them is a felony under federal law, the other is the football equivalent to a pitcher using an emery board to scuff up a baseball. While I would argue Roethlisberger probably wasn’t punished enough (at least in an actual courtroom), suspending Brady the same amount of time seems absolutely ludicrous to me.

Furthermore, just this past December, the NFL adopted a new policy on domestic abuse. The suspension for a first offense is six games. Suppose for a second Brady SHOULD be suspended. Is a 350-pound Hulk beating up a woman or a child seriously only two games more serious of a violation that letting a little air out of the footballs?  I certainly don’t think so.

I realize the NFL is attempting to make an example out of Brady. But, in the process, it’s only making itself look that much more clueless.

Get busy living

I’ve been thinking about death a lot lately.

I know that sounds like an awfully morbid thing for a relatively healthy 29-year-old to dwell on. But it seems to be all around me lately. In the time that’s passed since I lost someone close to me on March 4, it seems like just about every week a friend, a family member or a coworker has been mourning a loved one.

This is certainly not the first time in my life I’ve been impacted by death. While I’ve been extremely lucky in that most of my close family members are still with us (I still have five living grandparents, both of my parents, my sister, all of my aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.) I lost a close friend for the first time when I was 18 and have grieved for a couple others since. It’s never an easy process.

I believe it’s human nature to think about our own mortality when someone we or someone close to us is impacted by death. But that can be a good thing, depending on how we look at it. While I think it’s unhealthy to consciously worry about our own demise, acknowledging it and understanding that – hopefully in the very distant future – we too will die can enrich our lives.

One of my favorite quotes has always been when Kirby Puckett – who is and probably always will be my all-time favorite athlete – said “Enjoy today, because tomorrow is promised to no one.” That train of thought has felt particularly important to me during these past couple of months.

A little more than a week ago, my dad and I were talking on the phone when he mentioned that he and my mom were thinking about taking a trip with my aunt, uncle and cousins. It’s not a cheap vacation and the cost was something to consider, but ultimately they decided to go because, as my dad put it, “with all that’s been going on, you just never know if we’ll get another chance.”

I want to follow their lead, so I’m putting it in writing and making it public in hopes that it will force me to follow through.

I have quite a bit of unused vacation time and I intend to use it this summer when the local sports schedule isn’t as busy. I want to take a trip to somewhere I’ve never been before. Where, when and with whom I’m not sure yet, but I’m going to begin making it a priority to get those things figured out. But that’s certainly not all.

I’m going make it a point to reconnect with old friends and spend more time with the people who are important in my life. I’m going to take the time to do things I enjoy on a more regular basis and maybe even try to pick up a new hobby or two. I’m going to try to put down the phone or turn off the TV and computer to be more present when I’m around other people. I’m going to attempt to be less cynical, slower to anger or get frustrated and try being a little more patient.

On the surface, this doesn’t look like that ambitious of a list. I feel like most of those things should be easy, but the busyness of life seems to get in the way before we even realize. If that weren’t the case, aspirations like the ones above wouldn’t be necessary.

I know the idea of living life to the fullest is far from being a new one, but it seems that no matter how wonderful and simple of a concept it may be, it’s pretty difficult to put into practice. I’m only 29 and I hope that means I still have many years in front of me, but tomorrow hasn’t been promised to me. It’s time to act like it.

Before 42

If you happened to turn on a Major League Baseball game on Wednesday, you probably noticed every player, coach and even umpire involved in every game was wearing the number 42.

On April 15, 1997, the entire league retired number 42 in honor of former Brooklyn Dodgers star Jackie Robinson who — as you don’t have to be a big baseball fan to know — broke the color barrier that kept African-Americans out of the league. He made his Major League debut on April 15, 1947. Each year since 1997, on April 15, the entire league wears his number to honor a man who is quite possibly the most influential man in the history of American sports.

At a time when Jim Crow laws were still in full effect, Robinson faced hatred, bigotry and ignorance at every turn. Even more impressive than his Hall of Fame career was the class and perseverance he showed in the face of such treatment. Robinson is one of the few athletes who is as or more important culturally than he is in the world of sports. Honoring him with a retired number and a day in his honor is one of the best traditions Major League Baseball has.

But many people know the story of Jackie Robinson, so that’s not what this blog post is about. While he deserves every honor that has ever been bestowed upon him, there is one big mistake many people make when discussing him. Often times he’s referred to as “the first black player in the major leagues.” That actually isn’t true.

More than 60 years before Robinson stepped into the batter’s box at Ebbets Field, there was a man who doesn’t get recognized nearly as much as he should. The man’s name was Fleetwood Moses Walker and though his name is not widely known for anyone who isn’t as baseball-obsessed as myself, by most accounts he was the first black player in the major leagues. (To be fair, there are some who believe that distinction belongs to William Edward White. Sports records from the 19th century are often muddy at best.)

Walker, who was born in Ohio nine years before the end of the Civil War, made his major league debut on May 1, 1884, with the Toledo Blue Stockings of the American Association. (At the time, the major leagues were the American Association and the National League.) He was a catcher for the Blue Stockings who played in — somewhat ironically — 42 games in 1884, amassing a career batting average of .263 and scored 23 runs. He certainly didn’t have the Hall of Fame career that Robinson did, but he faced an equal amount of adversity.

According to Walker’s Wikipedia page (I know, I know. But I trust this one), star pitcher and teammate Tommy Mullane said Walker “was the best catcher I ever worked with, but I disliked a Negro and whenever I had to pitch to him I used to pitch anything I wanted without looking at his signals.” This, of course, made Walker look bad because of the number of passed balls he allowed when Mullane was on the mound. It also resulted in a number of injuries for Walker.

Toledo’s team folded after that season, and though he played in the minor leagues until August 1889 — facing more and more hatred along the way — he never played in the majors again. It was in that month when Walker was forced out of professional baseball because, in light of pressure from people within the league, a “gentlemen’s agreement” was made between team owners that no team would sign another black player.

With that agreement, the color barrier in U.S. professional sports was created. It wasn’t broken until Robinson came along nearly 60 years later, ensuring no player would be forced away from the game as Walker was in 1889.

Writers’ block

For some reason, I’m at a bit of a loss for words.
Not that I’ve got something in particular cluttering my mind, keeping me from focusing on one particular topic to write about. I believe I’ve just got a good old-fashioned writers’ block.
All morning I was trying to come up with something good. Naturally, the first thing that came to mind was today’s Opening Day of Major League Baseball.
For a while, I planned to write about my beloved Minnesota Twins. I was excited for first pitch all morning. But by the third inning of Monday’s opening game against the Detroit Tigers, the Twins had gone 9-up, 9-down and were trailing 3-0. I was already counting down the days until Kickoff Sunday in the NFL. (It’s 160, by the way.) I decided I’d spare you the cynicism.
Keeping in line with sports, I thought I could write about the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship game. That wasn’t going to work because by the time most of you read this in Tuesday’s paper the game will have already ended. Also, I’m only a passive Gophers fan (they’re not my favorite team, but I don’t dislike them either so I’ll root for them in MOST situations). While I don’t like Wisconsin (after all, it’s where Green Bay is situated), I probably don’t share the same hatred for them as most Minnesota fans. So, I suppose I’ll try not to make any enemies.
I could talk about the fact that after about four or five years off, I’ve been sucked back into the world of fantasy baseball. As I’ve said before in this space, fantasy football is practically an obsession for me. I played fantasy baseball for about eight years but, when the league I was in every year disbanded a few years ago, I decided not to seek out another place to play. Not that I don’t enjoy fantasy baseball; I most certainly do. It just takes a lot more attention than football does, but I thought now that I have a smartphone keeping up with my team on a daily basis should be a much simpler task. I really don’t have much more to say about that then what I’ve written in this paragraph, though, so I guess that’s out.
For a brief moment I thought about stepping outside the world of sports and sharing my thoughts on something going on in current events. But, there really isn’t anything I could say that hasn’t already been written ad nauseam. So, nah.
Finally, I thought I could write some kind of amateur review on a movie or TV show I’ve seen lately. I’ve been watching (and thoroughly enjoying) the “Breaking Bad” spinoff “Better Call Saul,” and I just saw the movie “Interstellar” this weekend. Then again, those hardly feel like topics I’m qualified to write on at length without simply giving a recap.
In other words, my mind has gone blank. I guess this will have to do.

Something for everyone

I know that many of you who frequent these pages probably aren’t the biggest sports fans. And that’s okay. After all, nobody’s perfect.

Seeing as this blog appears in a spot on the website and in the “A Section” in print, areas that aren’t solely dedicated to sports, I try to mix it up. While this is the ‘Sports Hack,’ I try to keep some variety in the topics I blog about to (hopefully) write stuff that everyone can enjoy.

In that respect, I guess you could say the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament has been the ‘Sports Hack’ of major sporting events.

The tournament, March Madness, whatever you prefer to call it, really is one of those rare sporting events that I feel like fans and non-fans alike can truly get into.

Of course, from the fan’s side the connection is simple. It starts with 68 of the best college basketball teams in the country and, over the course of three weeks, gets whittled down to just one national champion. Each year it produces perhaps the highest-quality basketball in the world that never falls short of drama with buzzer-beaters, big upsets and close contests.

Even if basketball (or sports in general) isn’t your thing, I think it’s something that would be easy to get excited about.

First of all, who doesn’t fill out a bracket? Right there you have a rooting interest in each game. (At least for every game in the Round of 64, anyway). The beauty of bracket contests is that anybody can win. It might seem like someone who closely follows college basketball would have a leg up, but that’s not really the case at all. With all of the upsets that happen throughout the tournament, even someone who has never watched a game in their life truly has a chance to do well in a bracket pool.

Secondly, each year a few story lines emerge that I think even non-fans can appreciate. This year, I particularly enjoyed watching No. 14-seed Georgia State, who pulled a huge upset in the first round by defeating No. 3 Baylor.

The Panthers play in the tiny Sun Belt Conference and received an automatic bid to the tournament by winning their conference. Their head coach, Ron Hunter, tore his Achilles tendon during the on-court celebration following the Sun Belt title game. He spent the duration of the NCAA Tournament run getting around with one leg up on a rolling chair. Adding to that is the fact that the team’s best player is his son, R.J. Watching the proud papa pour out his emotions after GSU was beaten out of the tournament made for a pretty great human moment to which I think anyone could relate.

One last story I enjoyed over the weekend was the Wisconsin players’ fascination with the NCAA stenographer, who is tasked at transcribing all of the press conferences related to the tournament.

Following their win on Friday night, a few of the Badgers noticed the stenographer and, after their press conference, asked her to demonstrate how it worked. A video on Vine showed three players huddled around her and reacting like gleeful little kids when she allows them to touch the machine and it enters one of their names. The next day, when sophomore guard Nigel Hayes returned for another press conference leading up to Wisconsin’s game against Oregon, he was asked a typical question to get the presser started.

He opened his response by saying, “Before I answer that question, I would like to say a few words: cattywampus, onomatopoeia and antidisestablishmentarianism.” That opening line was accompanied by a playful grin directed at the stenographer. (He later congratulated her on a job well-done in a tweet.)

Obviously this story doesn’t have anything to do with the games themselves and will probably never even qualify as a footnote when this year’s tournament is recalled in the future. But I think it shows that these players, while being cheered on in packed arenas and watched by millions more on television, are still basically just kids. Though I don’t know if I could bring myself to root for the Badgers, seeing this playful, human side of them is a breath of fresh air.

Heck, if I was a non-fan who hadn’t been conditioned to dislike the Badgers, I might even have a new team to cheer for.

Bowling for comfort

I’ve said before in this blog that I tend to be a little competitive.

OK, a lot competitive.

I’m the guy that probably drove all of my classmates crazy in gym class because every basketball, flag football or volleyball game was treated like the fate of the world depended on my team winning. Ask my family about “The Mini-Golf Incident” and you’re bound to get some eyerolls, along with some stories that aren’t embellished nearly as much as they should be. (Though I will probably claim they are.)

I keep score at everything and probably always will. The notion of coming in second-best (God forbid further down the line) has never sat well with me, so even in “friendly competition” there is a part of me that is seething if I’m not performing to my expectations.

Perhaps I was just too worn out from what had been a rough last few days, but Saturday, I allowed myself to just have fun. Believe it or not, I actually kind of liked it.

As I said, it hadn’t been a good week. Monday I came down with a sore throat accompanied by one of the worst colds I can remember having in quite a while. Then, on Wednesday, things got much worse. I learned that Carol Reese had died after a 19-month-long battle with pancreatic cancer. Carol was my best friend since the second grade’s mom, one of my mom’s closest friends and I would say without a doubt the most universally liked person I’ve ever known. (That is really not even the tip of the iceberg, but I could never find enough ink space to list everything that made this woman wonderful.) My friend and I practically grew up at each other’s houses and I’ve always viewed his family as an extension of my own. The news hit me hard.

I spent Friday and Saturday in my hometown so I could attend the visitation and the funeral. My aunt, uncle and cousin from Texas also happened to be in town for the weekend, so Saturday afternoon we got together with the family for dinner. By the time Saturday night rolled around, I was drained. But a few of my friends from high school — some of whom still live in the area and some who came back for the funeral — got in touch with me and asked if I’d like to go bowling.

Admittedly, there was part of me that didn’t want to go. I was tired, getting over being sick and I know that doing anything competitive can sometimes bring out the ugliest parts of me. I didn’t want to risk that happening since I was already in an emotional state. But, it had been a while since I’d seen many of these guys and I didn’t know how long it would be until I did again. So, I ultimately decided to go.

I’m glad I did.

As I said, I don’t know if my mind was just too exhausted from the past few days to really care or what, but I didn’t mind that my scores were much lower than I’d like to see them. I was able to laugh and converse with old friends and just have a good time.

To prove just how non-competitive I was, at one point my friend Derek Kruckeberg — who I promised I’d mention by name — and I were bowling side-by-side in our two lanes. I had already rolled my first ball and knocked eight pins down. About to roll his first ball, he bet me that he’d do better in that particular frame than I would, even spotting me the eight pins I already had. I took the bet and felt pretty confident when his first roll dropped into the gutter, but worried a bit when my attempt at a spare was way off the mark. All he did after that was pick up a 10-pin spare to beat me. Normally, such a turn in events would leave me frustrated and probably sulking for the remainder of the night. Saturday, I laughed it off.

While I don’t think my competitive nature will be going away any time soon, there was something cathartic that night about not concerning myself with the score. Who knew sports could be fun even when winning isn’t the object?