“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?

The Decade the Music Died

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We’re a few days away from February 3rd. It’s a day that forever lives in Rock and Roll infamy.

It was on a cold winter’s night precisely sixty years ago – February 3, 1959 – that Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson boarded a Beechcraft Bonanza and found Rock and Roll heaven in a barren cornfield outside of Clear Lake, Iowa.

Much has been written about this, including two film biopics (The Buddy Holly Story in 1978 starring Gary Busey and La Bamba in 1987 starring Lou Diamond Phillips). Perhaps the seminal tribute, though, remains Don McLean’s 1971 hit “American Pie.” It was his song that first used the phrase “the day the music died” to describe the plane crash that took the lives of those young rock stars.

I’m not going to add to the litany of previously published thoughts on “the day the music died.” Rather, I’m going to share with you a conversation I had with a reporter. We sat at a high table in The Menches Brothers Restaurant in Green, Ohio (between Akron and Canton, for those using a GPS). I sipped my Diet Pepsi as the reporter asked me questions about what inspired me to write Hamburger Dreams (my latest book that looks at the evidence refuting and supporting the various hamburger origin stories).

At one point, he asked if I had written any other “food” books. I mentioned A Pizza The Action (albeit it’s more about business than food). Then I added that I had penned a short article on my grandfather’s pizzeria, mapping its beginning to the emergence of Rock and Roll.

That’s when the fun started. Little did I know this reporter, though nearly my age, still Continue Reading “The Decade the Music Died”

Declaration of (Italian) American Independence

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“They all laughed at Christopher Columbus/When he said the world was round…” So begins the lyrics of Ira Gershwin for brother George’s 1937 composition “They All Laughed.” The Gershwins wrote the song for the movie Shall We Dance, starring Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. Frank Sinatra famously included the tune in his masterpiece Trilogy album, where he sings the closing lyrics “Who’s got the last laugh now?” with a knowing wink.

From Christopher Columbus to Frank Sinatra, it’s clear that Italians and Italian-Americans have had a tremendous impact on America. Over the next three weeks, we’ll focus on those names history books seem to have neglected.

Did you know Italian-Americans played a prominent role in the founding of America? For example, three of the first five American warships were named after Italians. These were Continue Reading “Declaration of (Italian) American Independence”

The Secret to Winning: Look for Patterns of Success

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Would you like to know the secret to winning? It’s a system you can easily learn. It works every time. There’s only one trick. I’m guessing you already know what it is.

I’m a Frank Sinatra fan. That means, like any other Sinatra enthusiast, the song “My Way” inspires. (You can read my thoughts on that in “Ruling the World My Way.”) I thank my parents for this, for it was listening to their records that convinced me the Hoboken Hero deserved my attention.

Of course, I was born too late to experience Old Blue Eyes at his vintage best, but I was Continue Reading “The Secret to Winning: Look for Patterns of Success”

Ruling the World My Way

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As I write this, alone, past midnight on June 12/13, 2012, I listen to an endless replay of Coldplay’s Viva La Vida, a tear welling in my eye, as I see my life passing before me.

For a long time, the song that most defined me was Sinatra’s My Way. Not Paul Anka’s My Way, but Frank Sinatra’s. I know it’s a cliché, and I’ve asked my family never to play that song as an homage to life at my wake. I’ve asked that primarily because it’s a cliché, not because it’s not appropriate, or, at least, wasn’t appropriate.

There was something about Sinatra’s defiance that makes his interpretation of Anka’s lyrics so alluring. Even as a high school teenager, I found myself attracted to the song and, in particular, Sinatra’s stiff chinned version. Sure, I liked the eternal optimism of The Impossible Dream, but that tune, without a definitive version, had only the poetry of its Continue Reading “Ruling the World My Way