“Can I Do This?”

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Just under two minutes away from the fields, the car’s audio system thundered that ever-familiar “Thud– Thud–CLAP!” bass beat. I knew what it was. The kids didn’t. I could use this. They needed it.

All I said to them was, “Boys, listen to this. It’s an omen.” It’s good to have been an AM disc jockey (back in the days when they used to play music).

“Thud– Thud–CLAP!”

“Thud– Thud–CLAP!”

“Thud– Thud–CLAP!”

It captivated the boys. They couldn’t turn away from its allure. The a cappella voices meant nothing to them. Just the “Thud– Thud–CLAP!” “Thud– Thud–CLAP!” “Thud– Thud–CLAP!”

At 1:29 into the song the instrumental crescendo began to fulfill the band’s promise of “We Will Rock You.”

That’s when we pulled into the parking lot, speakers blaring with blazing guitar. The boys were raring to go. For a moment, they had forgotten the butterflies in their stomachs.

At 2:01 the guitar abruptly stopped, deflating the boys’ buoyancy. They lurched to exit the car. Outside the vehicle, the rest of the team approached.

With the twinkle of experience – and inner confidence – I turned the volume up, rolled down the car windows, and told them all, “No, this is the part I wanted you to listen to. It’s for us.” I signaled the other boys to huddle close to the car.

They willingly obeyed, without knowing why. By this late in the season, though, they had grown to trust my eccentricities.

So they gathered.

It started slow. The lyrics pushed them to the edge of sad.

Then at 2:26 it started to grow. That now-famous refrain made them glad.

“We are the champions. No time for losers. We are the champions… of the world!”

Then they understood the meaning – and purpose – of those sad lyrics leading up to that inspiring chorus.

“We are the champions, my friends. And we’ll keeping on fighting to the end.”

Like Sinatra’s rendition of “My Way” to an earlier generation (albeit with considerably less poignancy), “We are the Champions” couldn’t help but inspire this new generation to rise to great heights.

Of course, in my role as coach, “My Way” may have been the appropriate reference. For these boys, though, we’d have to pick another popular song from that era: “The Impossible Dream.” After all, wasn’t that the theme of the 1967 Boston Red Sox?

Like Queen’s classic, the Man of La Mancha sings of a higher duty that forges our destiny no matter the obstacles. Our season had certainly seen its share of losing, its litany of unbeatable foes we had to fight.

But we had made it. It was championship day. And, for the first time, we weren’t spectators. We were in the game. We had done the impossible. We had battled back from a nearly winless first half of the season. No unbearable sorrow could stop these boys from their quest.

“What is sickness
to the body of a knight-errant!?
What matter wounds!?
For each time he falls
he will rise again
and whoa to the wicked!”

Along the way, the boys had learned to reach their unreachable star. They had a dream – dare I say an “impossible” dream. They discovered how to achieve it. Above that, they embraced the joy of realizing it wasn’t handed to them. It wasn’t a mere participation trophy. They earned it.

More important, they learned to have fun at the same time.

And I had fun, too.

This unsought-for job had placed me in a magnificent laboratory. I knew nothing of baseball. Maybe, just maybe, I knew something about people. Did I? The season granted me the opportunity to find the answer to that quite personal question. (It did, see “5 Tactics of a Winning Little League Coach,” Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel, April 26, 2018).

But this isn’t about me, it’s about a dozen or so nine-year-old boys. Playing in that championship game thrust them into a limelight they thought they always wanted. For the first time in their young lives, they were about to find out the answer to their own personal question: “Can I do this?”

It’s a question that ultimately confronts each of us. Some of us ask it the very first day we step into our Kindergarten class. Some don’t ask it until we land our first job. Some ask it continually.

Despite all that happened earlier in the season, all the ups (and the few downs), all the joy, all the laughter, experience had taught me (and every restaurateur that provides after-dinner mints) it is the last taste that lingers. My role demanded that I do all in my power to insure the team ended its season on a minty-fresh note.

In the week leading up to the championship game, I saw the boys lose a little bit of that happy-go-lucky disposition carefully cultivated over the course of the ten-game season. The freshness of the new born spring had given way to the arid harshness of the looming summer.

Worse, as their psyche slowly oozed air, the confidence of our opponents gradually grew.

You might think this odd. We had beaten them twice before during the regular season. They were the only team not to have beaten us. To this, they countered “third time’s the charm.” Our boys began to believe this. The fact our opponent had the second-best record and we we managed a meager .500 didn’t help.

“Can I do this?”

This heavy burden hung over the heads of the boys as we drove to the ball field that morning. All eyes would be on them in the marque game. The reality of that sank in.

“Can I do this?”

Seeking to rid us of this dark cloud, as if by some divine intervention, the radio began to resound with “Thud – Thud – CLAP!” My DJ knowledge aside, upon hearing the intro to Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” years of locker room experience had trained my ears to expect the second song of that medley: “We are the Champions.” Of course, not every airplay respected this pairing.

“Can I do this?”

When I told the boys “Listen to this, it’s an omen” I was gambling the radio would keep the twosome together. As we pulled into the parking lot, we faced the moment of truth.

“Can I do this?”

I doubled down. “It’s for us.” The radio – Queen – was speaking to us, to our team. It would provide the answer to the question – the quest – the boys had.

“Can I do this?”

That year, those boys, their team, didn’t have “The Impossible Dream.” They had “We are the Champions.”

And that was a good thing.

In 1967, after dramatically coming from behind to win the pennant on the last day of the season, the Red Sox lost to St. Louis in the World Series.

On that June Saturday morning in 2006, our boys won their Championship.

For that one day, that one season, they were champions.

The mint doesn’t get any fresher than that.

Can you do it? Why not achieve your impossible dream?

Mechanical or Intuitive: Which Approach Works Best for You? – A Real-World Lesson (Part II)

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The Conclusion of: “Style or Substance? A Real-World Lesson – A Real-World Lesson (Part I)

“Yes, you may hit the right notes more often than Chris,” she began, “but your intuitive desire to physically search for the perfect note interferes with the broader tempo of the entire piece. Chris is mechanical. To him, keeping that tempo is more important than finding the perfect pitch. The concertmaster’s job is to lead the entire orchestra in maintaining this tempo.”

The answer shocked me. I never thought of myself as a mere machine. But there it was. The teacher had just said so. I was mechanical, not intuitive.

This didn’t sound right. How could a machine find the joy in playing the way I did? Wasn’t a machine dispassionate? Doesn’t a machine work precisely because it has Continue Reading “Mechanical or Intuitive: Which Approach Works Best for You? – A Real-World Lesson (Part II)”

Style or Substance? A Real-World Lesson (Part I)

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I never had someone so mad at me. And for no reason. We were both in tenth grade. Except for orchestra, we shared no other classes. We did share an Italian-American heritage. And she was mad in a way only an Italian-American can get mad. I’d seen it all before. In my extended family. In my neighborhood. In the dark alleys of the most obscure hallways within the school.

I just didn’t get it. I didn’t even know what a concertmaster was. Yet, there I was. Her, me, and the violin teacher.

But I get ahead of myself. Let’s go back to the beginning of the story…Continue Reading “Style or Substance? A Real-World Lesson (Part I)”

That Time I Discovered “Idle Time” Doesn’t Really Exist

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A well-known academic who researches retirement policy recently referred to me as “the indefatigable Chris Carosa” in an article she wrote for Forbes. In case you were wondering, the dictionary defines “indefatigable” as “incapable of being tired out; not yielding to fatigue; untiring.” If she only knew the half of it.

I got one of those stomach bugs a couple of weeks ago. You know the kind I mean. They come from nowhere and lay you flat for a good twenty-four hours or so. In the interim, you don’t want to eat anything, you don’t want to drink anything – plain and simple you don’t want to do anything.

Except sleep.

And sleep I did. Pang in my gut notwithstanding.

Well, I didn’t quite sleep. It was more like floating in and out of consciousness. (C’mon, we’ve all been there, so you know what I mean.)

Funny thing when I fall under the weather like this. Physically, I’m beat. Can’t move. Don’t want to move. Just want to lay there in a quasi-vegetative state.

Only not really. Because as weak as my body feels, my mind is buzzing like a busy bee. A busy bee trapped in a hive that it finds quite confining.

As my body lay idle, my mind began exploring strange new mental states. It suddenly dawned on me. All this idleness took me away from my routine.

But what exactly was that routine. Sure, there was the routine of work. Yes, work wasn’t getting done, but would prove to be no big deal. (By some miracle, I had entered this Continue Reading “That Time I Discovered “Idle Time” Doesn’t Really Exist”

Confessions of a Numbers Guy

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Admit it. How many of you read the headline and immediately thought of running the rackets? Tsk, tsk. Too many late-night gangster movies watched on AMC for you!

No, this numbers guy has nothing to do with gambling. I’m not worried about some random fed chasing me down on some random RICO charge. These numbers deal with only one thing: math in its various (legal) applied forms.

My high school teachers knew me better than I knew myself. For four years I paraded from class to class singing the hosannas of science. In science class I asked the toughest questions (especially in physics). In social studies class I trumpeted the scientists during the Age of Enlightenment. In English class I rebelled – even to the point of denying any Continue Reading “Confessions of a Numbers Guy”

The Stuff of Dreams…

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These are not the dreams you have in the daylight. The kind of dreams you have for your children, your career, your life.

No. These are the dreams you have at night. When nobody’s watching. Not even you.

We all dream of the places we’ve been, the faces we remember, and the events we’ve lived. Sometimes we dream of what was. Sometimes we dream of what might have been. Sometimes, well sometimes we just don’t know what we’re dreaming of.

Dreams can be a time machine. Dreams can be a soul machine. Dreams can be a wish machine. That dreams are a machine attest to these two undeniable facts pertaining to Continue Reading “The Stuff of Dreams…”

After the Fall

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I grew up with concrete driveways. That’s what happens when your father and your grandfather were professional masons. I hated those concrete driveways in the winter. All my friends had blacktop driveways. Blacktop driveways retain heat better. When the snow falls on blacktop driveways, it melts (at least at first), making shoveling easier. When it falls on concrete driveways, it doesn’t melt. Try shoveling that. I vowed my house would have an asphalt driveway.

Of course, in those freak lake effect events, the snow accumulates quickly. Especially when it’s cold. Even blacktop driveways can’t help you with the shoveling.

That’s not the only way blacktop driveways can disappoint you.

Asphalt – the material of which blacktop driveways consist – tends to be more flexible than Continue Reading “After the Fall”

50 Years Ago When the Earth First Rose

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It was the first time I flew in a plane. It was the first time I skipped school. It was the first time we took a “real” family vacation.

It would be the first time we wouldn’t be home for Christmas. It would be the first time we’d be having Christmas with no snow. It would be the first time a young astronomy enthusiast would discover his own Christmas “Stars.”

December 1968. California still had a sparkle of promise. When all those who defined cool were still busying themselves leaving on the last train for the coast.

We weren’t leaving. We were just visiting. Courtesy of American Airlines. The excitement derived from all those firsts overshadowed the fact we wouldn’t be spending the Holy Day with the extended family we grew up with. On the other hand, my father no doubt looked Continue Reading “50 Years Ago When the Earth First Rose”

George and Me

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Bush turned to me and said, “C’mon, let’s put our arms around each other to show everyone we’re friends.”

You may not remember this. Leonard Zelig was the kind of ordinary everyday man who  you’d expect to live an ordinary everyday life. Somehow, though, he managed to find himself regularly appearing with extraordinary celebrated people during extraordinary celebrated events. Leonard Zelig isn’t a real person. Never was. Yet Woody Allen’s brilliant 1983 mockumentary Zelig left theater-goers thinking he was.

It seems like we all have our Leonard Zelig moments. We live each ordinary day in an ordinary way. Then, fate brings us face-to-face with extraordinary people in extraordinary times. Think about the times you’ve found yourself at the same shop with a movie or TV star – someone who seems so distant because our only connection to them is through some unapproachable media context. When we’re young, that can be a very exciting thing. As we age, we come to understand those distant stars are no different than us.

Like you, I’ve had my fair share of close encounters. Like the time I rode the train seated across from Pearl Bailey. (Don’t remember her? Read “My Lunch with Pearl Bailey,” Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel, September 13, 1990, to find out more about the incident and the subject.) I always tried my best to be polite and respect the person as a person. (Except in the case of John Dean, who, while having dinner with him, I bluntly said, “You Continue Reading “George and Me”

First Man – A Titanic Odyssey of The Right Stuff

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What could be more fitting that, on the heels of the month where we celebrate the incredible voyage of Christopher Columbus, I feel compelled to share my thoughts on the movie First Man. The film depicts the life of Neil Armstrong and culminates in his historic voyage to the moon, a feat of exploration that, at the time and even today, has been compared with Columbus for its historical significance.

Imagine combining 2001: A Space Odyssey with The Right Stuff, then throwing in a pinch of Titanic at the end. That describes First Man.

First things first. Speaking of 2001, there’s a joke going around that Stanley Kubrik allowed Continue Reading “First Man – A Titanic Odyssey of The Right Stuff”