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?

Grown-ups?

“Baseball was made for kids, and grown-ups only screw it up.”

In light of recent events, those words from Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Bob Lemon may be particularly prophetic now more than ever. And that isn’t exclusive to baseball; it’s sports in general.

Two events involving youth athletics have caught my attention recently. First, on Feb. 11, the Jackie Robinson West Little League team from Chicago that won the national title last season was stripped of its championship because team officials (Apparently Little League teams have those now) knowingly played kids from outside of the team’s residential boundaries. Then, just this week, a story out of Tennessee about made me sick.

In case you missed that last one, here’s what happened: Saturday, the varsity girls basketball teams from Riverdale and Smyrna high schools met in a district playoff game. Because of how the bracket was set up, the winner of that game would advance to play the No. 1-ranked team in the state. It must be a double-elimination tournament, because the team that lost was set to play a much more “beatable” opponent in the next round. As such, the coaches from both schools allegedly instructed their players to lose.

Let me say that again: The coaches (allegedly) INSTRUCTED their players TO LOSE!!!!

Are you kidding me?

According to The Tennessean, a referee from the game filed a report with the Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association noting that Riverdale “intentionally missed 12-of-16 free throws” and Smyrna “wouldn’t get the ball across the half-court line to get a 10-second count or to make us call an over and back violation intentionally.” Apparently it got so bad that at one point a girl from Riverdale stood in the lane and actually signaled to the official to call a 3-second violation on her.

As a result, both schools have been placed on restrictive probation for the remainder of this school year and probation for the 2015-16 school year by the TSSAA.

First of all, I’m not going to say the student-athletes are void of all guilt. They still bought into what their coaches were asking them to do and made fools of themselves and their schools in the process. Perhaps I’m just more competitive than most, but I can’t think of any scenario in which I would intentionally lose anything. In the words of Herm Edwards, “You play to win the game!”

That said, what are these coaches thinking? What kind of messages are they sending to these girls?

Sports at an amateur level are supposed to teach you about, among other things, overcoming adversity and trying your best no matter how long the odds are. Essentially these coaches not only taught the girls to “always take the path of least resistance” and that going at something half-hearted is OK because it might just work out in the end, but also told them they weren’t good enough to beat the team that awaited the winner. I don’t know these two teams. Maybe they weren’t. But athletes at all levels overcome unspeakable odds every day, but only if they have the right attitude. The coaches robbed them of what I would call a pretty great opportunity.

The girls on these basketball teams, as ill-advised as they were, were just following instructions of their coaches. That’s something else sports are supposed to teach you; to take instruction and work as a team. Now they and their schools are paying for the idiotic actions of adults that are supposed to be mentoring them.

Back to the Jackie Robinson West Little League team. The kids on that squad were an inspiration last summer. They were a group of kids from an impoverished part of Chicago who played with class and great skill to achieve great things. But, because of some poor choices made by the adults they were entrusted with, those accomplishments have been wiped away.

I realize these are two pretty extreme examples. There are great, well-meaning adults involved in youth athletics all over the world. Those people deserve more praise than they get. But to those who put their own interests in front of the kids, it’s time to get out of the way. You’ll only screw things up.

Getting into the spirit

I’ve decided that Valentine’s Day should be a “holiday” only for people under the age of 13.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those single people who dreads Feb. 14 like the plague. I think it’s kind of a silly holiday created to sell flowers, chocolate and teddy bears, but for those who get into it; more power to you. I think I’d feel the same way even if I were in a relationship.

I say it should be reserved for kids because it was just a much simpler and, frankly, more exciting holiday back in elementary.

At my school, we always made Valentine boxes in the days leading up to the big day. When Feb. 14 rolled around, we got to spend the whole afternoon doing fun stuff.

Typically, we exchanged Valentine cards with the entire class (often times these included candy, which was an obvious plus.) It was always fun picking out which Valentine cards I wanted to give out in a certain year. The choices were plenty. You could go with Michael Jordan themed cards that said things like, “Valentine, you’re a slam dunk!” or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cards with phrases like “Cowabunga, Valentine!” accompanied by a picture of my cartoon heroes eating pizza. What’s not to love?

After we opened the cards from our classmates, we usually spent the afternoon watching a movie and eating our candy. Even now that sounds like a pretty great way to spend the day.

I realize that, as an adult, the day is supposed to be a day to show the person we love – our “Valentine” – how much they mean to us. It’s a nice thought to have a day set aside for such displays. That said, I feel like most couples would know how their significant other feels about them even if they didn’t receive a heart-shaped box of chocolates on Feb. 14.

I’m not a total Scrooge, though. I’ve even come up with a great way to get into the spirit of the holiday as a single person. (No, I’m not going to go around referring to it as “Singles Awareness Day” or wearing all black in some sort of silent protest.)

What better symbol of Valentine’s Day is there than Cupid? This year, I decided I should bring that character to life.

Now, most of the images we get of Cupid are of a winged baby. Who ever said it has to be a baby? I think an adult man with a beard could play the part just fine. So, in celebration, I’ve decided exactly what I’m going to do.

You might even see me spreading my Valentine’s Day cheer. I’ll be the guy running around town in a diaper shooting a bow and arrow.

Super hyperbole

By the time you read this in Monday’s paper, the Super Bowl will have already happened. Either the Seattle Seahawks or the New England Patriots will have hoisted the Lombardi Trophy and someone will have proclaimed they’re “Going to Disney World.” (And, in light of recent events, be thankful it’s Disney World rather than Disneyland.)

Every year, I look forward to Super Bowl Sunday. As a big fan of the NFL, what’s not to love about the two best teams playing on the biggest stage in American sports? Even though my team, the Vikings, hasn’t played in the big game during my lifetime, it’s always an exciting time.

That said, the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl might be my least favorite time of the season, and it has nothing to do with anticipation.

Every year it just seems the national media has too much time on its hands and, with the Super Bowl on the forefront of most fans’ minds, goes crazy on some irrelevant storyline. This year might be the worst yet.

It started a day after the conference championship games with the start of “Deflategate.” (Seriously, can we stop referring to every controversy as “whatever –gate?”) For anyone unfamiliar with the story (which I’d find difficult to believe considering the national news led with it a couple days last week), the story is that 11 of the 12 footballs the Patriots used in the AFC championship game were under-inflated.

By league rules, the football must be inflated to 13-15 pounds per square inch. Upon testing, those being used by New England were only 11 PSI. If the Patriots did this on purpose, it’s cheating. That is a big deal to football fans. That said, this DOMINATED the daily sports news cycle for a week. It definitely wasn’t THAT big of a deal. Frankly, I was sick of hearing about it by day two.

The story finally changed on Tuesday when Seahawks star running back Marshawn Lynch, known for his aversion to the media, didn’t answer any questions at Super Bowl Media Day. League rules state that players and coaches have to make themselves available to the media. Lynch has been fined for violating this rule on more than one occasion. The guy just doesn’t like speaking publicly.

In a show of his disdain for the rule, Lynch showed up for his required five-minute media session Tuesday. Rather than answer questions, he responded to each with, “I’m just here so I won’t get fined.” At the end of his five minutes he said “Time” and walked away from the podium. The following day, he responded to each question with “You know why I’m here.”

This had members of the national media debating all week about Lynch’s “responsibility to the fans.” Some said his performance was “unprofessional” or “disrespectful to fans.” Are they right? Maybe. I understand the argument that it’s “part of the job” whether he likes it or not. It certainly wasn’t a surprise, though. He hasn’t really talked to the media except for rare, one-on-one occasions during his entire career.

That story finally died down Friday when league commissioner Roger Goodell gave his annual “State of the League” address. In my opinion, he managed to say less in 45 minutes than Lynch did in his three appearances during the week. But, he talked so we could move onto a new story.

Anyway, in a (very) roundabout way, I’m just saying all of these stories were needlessly beaten into the ground. I realize there needs to be a narrative established so non-football fans might take interest in the largest TV event of the year. But, as a football fan, I don’t need that.

Now that those two weeks are finally almost over (I’m writing this on Saturday), I’m looking forward to watching some football.

When imperfection is perfect

Thursday I went through my typical routine when I know that I have blog coming up.

I checked the marker board in our newsroom to see what day my next installment was due. As usual, my first thought was, “Hmmmm…. what can I write about?” It’s a question I wrestle with every week and a half or so but, for whatever reason, whenever I actively try to generate ideas, my mind goes blank.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy the blogging (and column-writing) portion of my job. Sports writing can be pretty straight-forward sometimes. With day-to-day game coverage, you watch the game, try to pick out something interesting about it and — using that as your angle — tell the story of what happened. Blogging allows us to be a little more creative and inject our own thoughts and ideas into our writing.

The problem, for me anyway, is that I have been working as a journalist for nearly eight years now. My brain has been hard-wired to keep myself and my opinions OUT of the story. Although I have been writing blogs and columns for nearly as long, I still don’t have nearly as much practice at it as I do reporting.

As I’ve said before, as journalists (writers, reporters, ink-stained wretches; whatever you prefer to call us) we tend to be our own harshest critics. For some reason, I find myself being especially critical of myself on blogs and columns. Even when I’m generally happy with the way it turned out, there’s always something I find that I wish I would have said differently, something else I should have included, etc.

Lately, I’ve been making a point to read more columns and blogs. It’s something I did a lot of when I was a wide-eyed 22-year-old fresh out of college, but have done less and less for some reason. I try to read all of our staff blogs here at the Daily Globe and, aside from that, I have primarily read things written for other newspapers or websites.

Over the weekend, I was cruising around on social media and with a few random clicks, I stumbled upon a blog written by one of my best friends. I’ve known this guy since elementary school and have kept in fairly regular contact with him even though we’ve, at times, essentially lived on opposite ends of the country. I had no idea he had a blog.

I was intrigued. He is currently enrolled in the Experience Institute in Chicago. The blog is attached to its website and contains writing about his experiences and what he’s been learning during his time with the institute. I would describe it as a sort of discussion on self-discovery (mostly in regards to careers and the like) while also dispensing some pretty valuable advice. The guy is incredibly smart.

To my knowledge, he had no prior experience in writing aside from the typical assignments in college and high school. I was very impressed by how good his blogging was. Each entry was insightful, thought-provoking and entertaining. I sent him a text message Sunday night telling him I’d been reading his stuff and how much I liked it. He said that blogging, and writing in general, is still a skill he’s working on.

We exchanged messages back-and-forth for a while, first discussing blogs and eventually moving onto other things. But, what I got out of the conversation, is that even someone who, to be honest, surprised me a little bit by his blogging ability, said it was still a work in progress.

My friend isn’t a journalist and blogging is something he really just does on the side. With no background in writing, he has no reason to be critical of himself, yet his ability still isn’t exactly where he’d like to see it.

One of his messages read, “Just takes practice, like anything else” in regards to his own writing. Whether you’re a (somewhat) seasoned journalist or writing for the first time, practice probably won’t make perfect (at least in our own minds.) In this case, I now realize that’s a good thing.

No time for tanking

Vikings’ losses have put me in a bad mood for about as long as I can remember. But Sunday afternoon, I was feeling extra salty.
Not only did they blow a decent lead and lose a game they should have won for the second week in a row, but a conversation among fans that I absolutely detest started popping up on social media. It happens every time the team is bad (you’d think I’d be getting used to it in light of recent years). Inevitably, people who call themselves Vikings fans start saying they want the team to lose to “get a better draft pick.”
After Sunday’s choke job, I saw people on Twitter celebrating the fact that we’d lost and suggesting we should lose this week against the Bears to move up a couple spots. Apparently people have visions of Amari Cooper dancing in their heads this Christmas. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist). Every time I hear or read these types of comments, it gets my blood boiling.
Yes, I would love to see Cooper — a wide receiver from Alabama — wearing purple next year. I think he’s going to be a great NFL player. But, when it comes to the draft, there is no such thing as a guarantee. It’s all speculation. That is why I think tanking to move up a couple spots or rooting against your team is just plain stupid.
The most obvious example might be the 1998 NFL Draft. It seems funny now, but at the time there was a legitimate debate between folks who claim to be experts on whether the Indianapolis Colts should select Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf with the first overall pick. The general consensus at the time was that they were both bound to be studs in the NFL. Sixteen years later, one might be the greatest quarterback of all time but the other has a rap sheet that is much more decorated than his short-lived career. (That same year, Minnesota drafted Randy Moss at No. 21. That worked out OK.)
If the season were to end right now, the Vikings would be picking eighth. A loss Sunday could move them up no further than seventh. A win could push them all the way back to No. 14. The difference in those spots isn’t worth being legitimately upset with your team for winning. (I heard people call into KFAN and blast the Vikings for beating Washington in Week 16 of 2011, moving us down from No. 2 to No. 4.)
Right now, with the 2014 season almost over, perhaps the most impactful rookie has been Dallas Cowboys offensive tackle Zack Martin. He was selected 16th overall and was the fourth player taken at his position alone. He’s been much more successful than the three that went before him. Rookie Odell Beckham Jr. of the New York Giants was the third wide receiver taken at No. 12 overall. He might become the biggest star taken last May.
On the defensive side of the ball, St. Louis Rams tackle Aaron Donald is the frontrunner for Defensive Rookie of the Year. He was taken 13th overall. If it isn’t him, it should be linebacker CJ Mosley of Baltimore, who was selected 17th. Notice, however, that No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney isn’t on that list. (He was hampered by injuries all season, so he could still pan out. But he could forever be plagued by injuries like one-time NBA “sure thing” Greg Oden.)
All I’m saying is this: the likelihood of drafting a future star seems just as high at No. 7 overall as it does No. 14. Cheering against your team for draft position seems completely preposterous to me.

Feeling the Christmas struggle

There are plenty of good things to say about the Christmas season. The gathering of families and friends, the lights and music and, of course, the general air of cheer and happiness most people have this time of year; it’s all enough to put me in a good mood.

You’ll notice, however, in that list I didn’t include anything about gifts. That wasn’t an accident.

Don’t get me wrong. There are few better feelings than finding that “perfect” gift for someone. On the other side of it, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who sincerely doesn’t enjoy receiving presents. My problem is, when it comes to the whole gift thing (either side) I’m just simply not good at it.

I’m not good at gift-giving. At all. I know people always say “it’s the thought that counts” and I hope that’s the truth, because most of the time my confidence that I’ve actually found a good gift is pretty low. That always leads to me stressing out over what I should get certain people on my list.

A lot of times, not having a clue what to get usually results in a trip to one of my least favorite places on the planet: the mall. I don’t dislike any one mall in particular. It’s all of them. Shopping is definitely not my thing so wandering aimlessly from store to store not really knowing what exactly it is that I’m looking for usually leads to a great deal of frustration.

I tend to overthink things, so I hate “settling” on a gift for someone. I want it to be thoughtful, practical or at least a source of good entertainment. Even looking for a $2 “Secret Santa” gift had me at the store for much longer than I’ll publicly admit before I finally gave up and “settled” on something.

Perhaps some of my troubles in finding good gifts come from the fact that I’ve got to be a pretty annoying person to buy for myself.

I’ve never been the type of guy who wants a whole lot of “stuff.” When I have a little extra spending money, I’m much more prone to spend it on experiences rather than some sort of tangible item. I’d rather take a trip, buy tickets to a ballgame or concert or even just go out for a nice meal than just buy something for myself.

Each year, I dread getting the inevitable request for a Christmas list. It isn’t that I don’t want anything, but most of the things I can think of are usually expensive, big-ticket items that I really can’t afford to buy myself. Because of that, asking other people to get it for me always makes me feel a little guilty, if not even a little selfish.

Still, somehow the people who buy me gifts manage to come up with great ideas and I’m yet to be disappointed. Perhaps the same lightning bolt of inspiration that seems to hit them will find me in the coming days. In the meantime, I’ve got some shopping to do.