Why The Things That Don’t Matter Really Do Matter

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Cars packed all the parking lots in and around the baseball fields, spilling over into the lots surrounding Ye Mendon Tavern and the Old Bean Mill. Even more impressively, they nearly filled the lower parking lot by St. Catherine’s Church.

It’s been a long time since the diamonds were this active. Perhaps it’s a sign that either the pandemic has moved behind or we simply have decided to live with it. Whatever the case, it’s good to see at least some sense of a return to normal.

Betsy & I witnessed all these as we arrived at our scheduled sitting for the St. Catherine’s Parish Directory pictures. As we got out of the car, we heard the distant murmur of the parents and kids cheering on their favorite ballplayers.

Suddenly, the unmistakable sharp clang of aluminum against ball rang out. As it echoed throughout the lowlands of the 100-year flood plain girding Irondequoit Creek, an excited cheerful roar quickly rose.

As we walked towards Legacy Hall (nee, “The Connecting Wing), a rush of memories swiftly appeared in my thoughts. How many times had Betsy and I been on those very same fields rooting on our children? And what did we tell them every time their team came up short on runs (even when the score didn’t matter)?

We’d tell them (even when the score did matter), “You have your whole life ahead of you and, in the grand scheme of things, what happened today won’t matter.”

And it didn’t.

But it does.

As those long ago memories filled my head, they took me back to a more relaxing time. At least how I remember it now.

Those dewy mornings, sunny afternoons, and early evenings filled with threatening skies bring a smile to my face. Despite serving as coach, the outcome of the games never bothered me, including the year our team won it all. No, it was all about the fun, the companionship, and building an inventory of happy experiences that could be called up anytime we needed a smile.

Indeed, fun was one of the handful of rules we lived by that winning season, (see “5 Tactics of a Winning Little League Coach,” Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel, April 26, 2018). Winning happens when you’re busy having fun. You’re laughing too hard to worry, and worry is the quickest route to mistakes and disappointment.

Now, here’s the really funny thing. Back then, I was so focused on making sure the kids didn’t get upset when they lost (we lost half our games that season), that I convinced myself none of it mattered. And with each passing year, it mattered less and less. Life presented more important memories, and baseball faded away like an old picture.

Then we got out of the car and the crack of the bat woke up those old photographs within my head. The friends. The family. Watching a new generation emerge from naïve innocence to stalwart leaders. All that crossed my mind.

That it occurred within a day of Ray Liotta’s passing made it all the more poignant. While the headlines all led with his powerful performance in Goodfellas, my mind kept a soft focus on his portrayal of Shoeless Joe Jackson in Field of Dreams.

Like The Natural, Field of Dreams stands out as one of the best baseball movies. Despite the backdrop, they’re not at all about the game because the game doesn’t matter. They’re about the part of what doesn’t matter that does matter.

What matters? Helping demonstrate to the next generation how to make moral and ethical decisions matters. If this sounds too highfalutin for baseball or any other game, consider this: How many times have you gotten upset when someone cheats to win?

And ‘cheating’ isn’t limited to simply breaking the rules. It includes staying within the bounds of honor and of unwritten rules. It’s good sportsmanship. It’s not being a sore loser. It’s not acting like a sore winner. That’s ethics. That’s morality. That matters.

On the more casual side, friends matter. Think of all the friendships that you create, develop, and cement over the course of several seasons on the grassy diamonds. Some of those friendships slowly disappear once the kids graduate and people move on. Others grow beyond the kids that inspired them. These matter, both in terms of memory as well as your current social vibrancy.

Finally, there’s family. Nothing matters more than family. Don’t you think it’s more than a coincidence that the father/son relationship lies at the heart of both Field of Dreams and The Natural? Both movies appear to be about the game and its players, but when you get right down to it, they each end with a father and a son playing catch with a baseball.

There’s a certain Americana – a certain masculine ideal – in that image. Mothers want their husbands to nourish a strong relationship with their sons. Daughters treasure the relationships they have with their fathers, but they’re strengthened knowing there’s also a strong bond between their brothers and their fathers.

In total, youth baseball isn’t about baseball at all. Baseball is merely a metaphor. You might also see it as a tool, as a means to get to an end. And that end isn’t developing your skills for the game, it’s about developing the bonds within the family and within the community.

If your experience succeeds at this, the investment of time you’ve made on those fields of dreams will pay dividends later and forever.

You’ll know whenever you hear that distinct ding of metal on cowhide leather. It’ll take you back and you’ll add your distant voice to the excited roar of the crowd.

And, in the end, you’ll finally know why what doesn’t matter really matters.

Carl Foss (1927-2018): Remembrance of a True Community Ideal

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Communities are not defined by mere words and platitudes of the chattering class. Though they endure through the dedication of their residents, communities only attain lasting permanence through tangible structures. These include both physical and philosophical constructs people can rally around. They are forged by the grand ideas from the active minds of singular individuals. Carl Foss was one of those individuals. He thought big, achieved big, and left us all with a better community. He represents an ideal we should all strive for.

The following is a personal remembrance. As such, it reflects only my feelings, limited as they are, on the impact this great man had on his community.

I don’t remember the first time I met Carl Foss. I do remember his reputation preceded our actually meeting. It was the late 1980s. I was just getting involved in the Town of Mendon. Jack Leckie, then Town Supervisor, told me I should get to know Carl Foss. At the time, Carl was the Chairman of the Zoning Board. I had zero interest in Zoning, but I had heard Carl was quite knowledgeable about the subject – and he took it quite seriously.

Again, I don’t remember when I first met him, but I do remember I was immediately Continue Reading “Carl Foss (1927-2018): Remembrance of a True Community Ideal”

Life is a (Small Town) Carnival

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Like any kid growing up in the snowbelt otherwise known as Blasdell, I looked forward to three things each summer. The beginning of summer would signal going to IMG_0016_Mendon_Carnival_Twilight_300Fantasy Island to celebrate a good report card, ride the steamboat and watch the live shootouts. The end of summer meant going to the Erie County Fair to see the vast array of other-worldly side shows on the Midway, the acrid smell of burnt oil and rubber at the demolition derby and the taste of my grandfather’s sumptuous pizza. Sandwiched in between, both chronologically and geographically was the Big Tree Fireman’s Carnival. I think it was actually called the Big Tree Firemen’s Annual Field Days. But for kids (and headline writers short on space) it was the Big Tree Carnival.

Here’s the real difference between Fantasy Island, the Erie County Fair and the Big Tree Continue Reading “Life is a (Small Town) Carnival”

Fill Out The Old Mendon Cobblestone Firehouse Survey!!!

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[This Commentary originally appeared in the November 22, 1990 issue of The Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel.]

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(N.B.: The author is a member of the Old Mendon Cobblestone Firehouse Community Task Force and gratefully thanks everyone in the Mendon Fire District for completing their survey.)

By now, many of the households in the Mendon Fire District should have received their Old Mendon Cobblestone Firehouse Community Opinion Survey. Being only one page in length and with return postage provided, it’s very simple to fill out. In addition, it’s very Continue Reading “Fill Out The Old Mendon Cobblestone Firehouse Survey!!!”