Friday, June 29, 2007

When your hero turns out to be your friend

This week, ESPN Sportscenter has been presenting a series of Make A Wish stories, in which sick or -- in the worst cases -- dying kids are granted a wish to meet some sports star.

OK, I get that ESPN and Disney probably has motives that extend beyond plowing some of their mammoth profits into doing something decent, but the fact is they did something decent and if that's what it takes for more decency in the world, then that's what it takes.

Put that aside for a moment, though, and you're left with very gifted athletes -- very, very rich athletes -- doing something decent too.

This morning's segment was with New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees. (Watch) Over on the right side of the page you'll see links to the other segments this week.

Here's a box of Kleenex.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Flash! You're interesting

We have been talking in the newsroom the last few days about the way we cover stories. I can't go into the particulars, but part of it is based on this concept of Public Insight Journalism, and part of it is based on an idea MPR's news bosses have for me to give up the online editing gig, and go write about what I see; more or less.

One of the problems that's been keeping me up at night is I can't think of a way to cover things in the way that's been described.

Here's how I'd do it and, trust me, I'm not stealing this idea. Throw a dart at a map, go to the town, let the phone book fall open, pick a name, do a story.

Why? Because I've always felt that if you give me 6 questions, I'll find something interesting about you that others will find interesting too.

Almost without exception, people think they are not "newsworthy." Almost without exception, they are wrong.

What kind of story would I like to do before I die? This kind.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A picture from the past

It's been said that a picture is worth a thousand words, but I think the best picture is the one that leaves you speechless.

This is a picture I've had folded up and in my wallet since 1991, and I have no idea who any of the people are. Now, 16 years later, I'm trying to find out.

This is the family of a dead American soldier from the first Persian Gulf war. I cut it out and stuck it in my wallet for a number of reasons.

For one, my kids were still small and I anticipated they'd go through the phase of glorifying war and I thought it would be a good reminder that the war movies on TV are relatively antiseptic portrayals of the real thing.

I had no interest in giving them my political thoughts on war -- I'm not sure what they are myself -- just that there can be no argument that in a war, there are usually families like this.

The other reason I cut it out is because that was a quick war, the war that would usher in a "new world order," and it didn't cost much -- only 147 American soldiers, a quarter of whom were killed by friendly fire. This was referred to as "minimal casualties," a phrase the media and politicians used, but one that I detested. I also thought the "minimal" casualties would turn us into a country with unrealistic expectations of war where casualties are concerned.

Minimal? Look at the faces.

I don't believe I ever had cause to pull the picture out of my wallet to show either of my sons. I pulled it out once in a news meeting to try to convince other editors in the mid '90s to do a story on our country's bravado and attitude toward war. But they looked at it, passed it along, and then made their assignments for stories about the corn crop and the State Fair instead.

And now I've pulled it out again, because I want to find these people. I want to find out who they are, where they're from, and what has become of them on the day when -- their faces said -- they looked at their past, and wondered about their future.

I need to hear a thousand words.

(Update 5/24/13) - I found them a few years ago. I've written about it here.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Why the sun rose today

It is a gorgeous morning in Minnesota, its beauty enhanced by the fact that most of its populace is still asleep. The cardinal is singing, the lawn and trees are a vibrant green from a week of rain a week ago, the sky is a deep blue, my coffee is the finest wine I've ever made and from my observation point -- the backyard deck -- I see that God has a wry sense of humor to give us such a glorious day on the darkest day for some people.

Bob Reha, a reporter for many years at Minnesota Public Radio died yesterday after a battle with leukemia that consumed not only him, but a large legion of my colleagues who did everything that music, food and silent auctions can accomplish in such cases. I did not know Bob very well. We'd occasionally exchange stories about the Cardinals -- the baseball kind -- on his rare trips to St. Paul, but that was about it.

Last night my wife's best friend called to say her mother has gone into hospice.

These are difficult times for the baby-boom generation, a generation that has never been anywhere near as gifted at handling difficult times. Our parents, and our friends, are passing on to another stop on their journey and we have never been particularly good travelers.

And God keeps giving us glorious mornings. Funny stuff.

I have wrestled over the years, like many others, on the meaning of faith -- not as practiced by the show-it-alls on Sunday morning, but by people like me. The un chosen; the people who haven't been absorbed by the religous groups who have intentionally hijacked good religion with bad politics.

I am not a regular church-goer. I am a believer. I have never felt that I needed church to have a relationship with God. Why do I need a middleman? If you believe the Bible, God gave us 10 simple directions. Church? It's a nice social occasion, but what don't you get about 10 simple directions?

At deaths, we mourn the living, it seems to me. We are unhappy because we don't get to walk with the departed anymore. There's nothing wrong with that, but if one is truly faithful, how does one feel anything but awe for a person who, in this case, spent a career seeking out stories, who yesterday got the biggest one of all -- the answer to what it all means?

I often wonder whether the sadness surrounding death is a rare peek into the doubt we have about the existence of God.

And yet the grass and trees are green, the cardinal is singing, the sky is a deep blue, there is a universal concept of time that applies to everything, and it is utterly illogical to conclude that it's all accidental.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Three and done

The word "sucks" was invented to honor the Cleveland Indians teams in the 1970s. That's a little-known fact you're free to use at your next cocktail party to impress your guests. No charge.

The Indians put in another lackluster performance on our last day in town, losing to Detroit by a score of... well, I don't really know the score because we left after another failed rally in the 8th so that we could get at the airport in time. I still think it's interesting that you can be sitting in a baseball stadium in Cleveland watching a ballgame at 5, and be back on your living room couch by 9:30.

So... to what do we attribute this weekend's disaster? The '70s. The same thing we blame everthing else on. And with good reasons. The '70s were certainly the worst decade of my life and I'd have to say disco just barely passes the Nixon administration at one end of the decade and the Carter years at the other for top spot.

For reasons I don't completely -- or even incompletely, that implies some level of understanding -- understand, the Indiand declared this '70s weekend, honoring disco and wearing the same type of uniforms they wore in the '70s; the kind they lost massive numbers of games in.

But for an editor, it gets worse. See the problem here on the scoreboard?

70's weekend? Ummm, no. that's the possessive and this weekend -- try as this team might -- belongs to the, umm, '00s. The proper spelling would be '70s weekend.

I just can't get away from being an editor.

We got to the park early today, about a half hour early. And where on earth was everyone? Maybe this is a true recreation of attendance at a Cleveland Indians ballgame in the '70s.

See that person in the middle? Let's zoom in and see if we figure out who that is.

Oh, right, I forgot, only on "24" can they enhance a satellite photo to zoom in on a person;s hand to determine whether there are 3 -- or is it 4 -- grains of a particular soil under someone's fingernail -- and display it as the concept of digital resolution is for losers.

Anyway, that's Patrick. They were fine seats too, right behind home.

Happy Birthday, Patrick! 19 years old today.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

My kingdom for a bullpen

Tonight's Indians game didn't have the Patrick luck. Pity. But I've learned over the years when you pitch poorly and make three errors in an inning to a good team, you're probably going to lose. It's particularly painful when your team takes 4 hours to show its, on this night, ineptitude.

Of course, we visited our 'brick' first and then Patrick tried his hand at seeing how fast he can throw a baseball.

He can throw it 54 mph.

The Cavaliers were playing the Detroit Pistons next door to the Jake for the right to go to the NBA Finals. There were large screens set up on the plaza and a huge crowd was there.

We watched for awhile but with the Cavs leading late, we decided to head back to the hotel in case any "spats" broke out between Detroit and Cleveland fans. Strolling back we saw a couple of Indians ballplayers leaving the park.

Early rising for us tomorrow. We'll check out, head across the street for a day game then come back, pick up our luggage and head to the airport and home.

Why life is fun

Back when I was a young buck without a pickup truck -- that would be around 1971 -- my favorite song was "American Pie" by Don McLean, which was his ode to Buddy Holly. I was 17 then.

Fast forward to, I'd guess, 1998. Along with my regular day job, I'd get up each morning around 3 a.m. to deliver papers, to raise money to buy the first components of this airplane I ended up building. Occasionally, one of the kids wanted to go with me, and I'd usually give them the day's cash because it was fun to have them with me.

I remember the feeling one day when I'd parked the car and was walking from house to house on one side of the street and Patrick -- or maybe Sean, but I think it was Patrick -- was doing the other side of the street. It was early, people were asleep, it was dark and from down the street I could hear a kid singing...

Bye, bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levy but the levy was dry.

I remember thinking, "wow, that's really weird.

I had the same feeling today visiting the Rock n'Roll Hall of Fame because there were quite a few -- let's call them -- "older" people and their grown children. For them, music serves the same purpose baseball always has for me.

We sat in a theater watching George Harrison's Concert for Bangladesh. Patrick knew the songs, but not necessarily the artists. Close enough. Unfortunately, you can't take pictures inside, so I have none to show you.

Around downtown, there are ceramic "guitars" everywhere, similar to the "Peanuts" statues that have dotted St. Paul in recent years, and cows in Chicago.

This is an 'alligator' guitar outside the Hall of Fame.

Here's one Patrick liked dedicated to the computer.

And I like this one so much -- kind of a BMX/skateboard theme -- that I decided to try to "play" it (you'll have to click for the larger image)

Cleveland's waterfront is looking pretty fine these days.

There was a very enlightening comment at the museum I heard in one of the presentations. Rock n' roll reminds you that life is fun. So many people are caught up worrying about how to pay the rent or putting up with a crummy job, and then some kid comes by listening to some music, sloshing through puddles and you remember that life is fun.

I'll have to try to remember that thought when the punk with the big bass in the car drives by at midnight.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Merry Christmas from Cleveland

I've heard it said that there's nothing quite so thrilling as to be traveling in a foreign country and hear the Star Spangled Banner.

I grew up a Cleveland Indians fan in Massachusetts and many years later I became a Cleveland Indians fan in Minnesota. Let me just suggest that when you talk about a lonely existence, a Cleveland Indians fan in the '60s in Massachusetts qualifies. Heck, at that time it was a lonely existence being a Cleveland Indians fan in Cleveland.

So when you find yourself suddenly surrounded by 41,000 similarly-minded folks, well, it's thrilling; thrilling to have it reaffirmed that you are not walking this planet alone in this particular endeavor.

My youngest, son, Patrick, also became a Cleveland fan. We haven't been to Jacobs Field since 2000. For Christmas this year, my wife and I gave him a brick, which is only slightly better than a lump of coal.

My oldest son got a high-definition TV, and so even though he neve actually said it, I could feel Patrick wondering, "hey, Sean, got an HDTV and I got a brick. What's up with that?"

Except this is a commemorative brick placed in the new Heritage Park inside Jacob's Field -- the home of the Indians. With it went a trip to Cleveland to see Patrick's brick.

Today, Patrick and I flew to Cleveland, to see the brick, and attend games tonight, tomorrow and Sunday against the Detroit Tigers -- a rivalry not unlike the Red Sox and Yankees -- what with Detroit being so close an all.

I'll tell this story chronologically, but suffice it to say, it qualifies for one of the best days I've ever had.

Patrick and I tried to pick the series we'd come to before the season started. We thought about the White Sox on Labor Day, but figured that the Indians might be out of the pennant race by then. So we settled on Detroit since they won the division last year, and yesterday was my birthday and Sunday is his.

I put the trip together and found a hotel, across the street from the Jake. We arrived at 5, changed and headed to the game. This is a picture of the two of us, only I didn't aim the camera right. (Click on any picture for a big copy)

The first stop was the team shop to buy a jersey -- a Grady Sizemore jersey -- for Patrick. Then we found heritage park, which -- like the similar park at Yankee Stadium -- is out in centerfield. Patrick's brick is in the Nap Lajoie section.

I found the brick, but Patrick wouldn't get on the ground next to it and let me take his picture. So I did.

The brick commemorates Patrick's long-standing optimism. He did not get it from my side of the family. But back in 2001 -- or sometime around then, click on the picture to see the exact date -- the Indians were playing Seattle on national TV and were down 12-0 when Carolie and I gave up and went to bed. Patrick stayed up because he had faith in his team. The Indians rallied over the last three innings and as they got closer, he kept running into the bedroom shouting, "Now they're only down 6! Now they're only done 5!" etc. They eventually won 15-14. It was the greatest comeback in the history of Major League Baseball. Now, I don't know how optimistic the most optimistic person in the world is, but I'm going to suggest that thinking your team is about to make the biggest comeback in the history of Major League Baseball is right up there. Remember that because in a minute I'm going to tell you a story about tonight.

A nice woman offered to take our picture, as we told her the story of our trip from Minnesota today. So she took our picture of our feet on Patrick's brick.

And then she took a picture of us.

Everywhere we looked there were Indians fans. Just like us. Cool.

We headed for our seats.

The Indians are in first place -- the latest into the season we've been in first place since 2001. But things got off to a rocky start for our heroes. The Tigers scored two in the first and 1 in the 4th to take a 3-0 lead. All-Star catcher Victor Martinez homered in the 4th to make it 3-1. It's fun to cheer for the Indians and not have people turn around and look at you.

The Detroit-Cleveland rivarly is great fun and there were, as you might suspect, a lot of Tiger fans there. They started chanting "Let's go Tigers..." (same tired old chant like the Red Sox and Yankee fans use). And everyone else would "boo."

Detroit came back with 2 more in the 6th to make it 5-1 and I thought our two game Jacob's Field winning streak would end (Carolie and I brought the kids to a game on the way to Massachusetts in 1994...and Patrick and I came once years ago).

Without much to cheer about, I started playing with my camera and wondering how a picture of the exteemed Mr. Sizemore in centerfield would look if I put the camera up to the new binoculars Carolie bought me for my birthday.

Not too bad.

Anyway, in the bottom of the 6th, the Indians got 4 runs. Jacob's Field was rocking, and the Indians fans turned to the Detroit fans who earlier had earlier been chanting "Let's go Tigers," and started chanting "Cleveland Rocks," after the Drew Carey Show theme.

However, because our bullpen is almost as inept as our manager (he had nobody warming up while Tom Mastny was giving up 3 hits and two walks and every single run of the 4 the Indians had scored moments earlier. It was 9-5 now. But in the bottom of the 8th, Cleveland scored two more to make it 9-7.

Hey, we're still in this thing. Except that our bullpen is almost as inept as our manager and it immediately gave the two runs back. 11-7.

But remember: Patrick is Mr. Lucky.

In the bottom of the 9th. We're down 4, and Grady Sizemore grounds out to cap an awful 0-5 night for the first out.

Casey Blake singles. Then Travis Hafner walks. Victor Martinez hits a ball to left that is going...going...and goes over the wall for a three-run homer (his second homer of the night). We're down now 11-10 and the Jake is rockin'. So is Patrick.

But now there's nobody on, until Jhonny Peralta doubles, bringing Ryan Garko the plate. He whiffs and there are two down.

Detroit closer Todd Jones walks Trot Nixon intentionally and up comes Josh Barfield, a fairly anemic hitter so far. But he hits a line drive to Magglio Ordonez in right. From the upper deck, it looks catchable, but Ordonez doesn't catch it and -- unbelievably -- this game is tied 11-11. Un - freakin' - believable.

David Dellucci takes a called strike, two balls and then singles to centerfield. Trot Nixon scores, the Indians win 12-11, the ballpark explodes, and I'm screaming "I can't believe this." Storybook. Absolutely storybook.

Ten minutes later, everyone is still screaming. And the good part? The show ain't over. In addition to being dollar-hot-dog night, it's also fireworks night, and so they turned off the lights...

And we get a 15-minute fireworks show set to '70s music (It's '70s disco weekend here). (I'll put up a video shortly)

Here's the video (sorry about the view, turn your monitor on its side, I guess)

Tomorrow, we hit the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame and then another night game across the street.

After tonight's game, I rubbed Patrick's head and reminded him he's our lucky charm, because he's the luckiest person I know.

After today, I'm #2.