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Hired To Be Fired

I’ll never forget when I knew Trey Hillman was about to be fired. I was sitting next to him on the dais in the media interview room in the bowels of Kauffman Stadium.  In my role as the Kansas City Royals reporter for their flagship radio station, I got to ask Hillman, the Royals manager, the first three questions during his post-game press conference before heading upstairs to host my Royals post-game call-in show. The Royals had lost another game in which they struggled to score runs and their bullpen imploded and I asked Hillman what could be done to fix the struggling offense.

“You start to think about squeezing in the first inning,” Hillman said.

Things had gotten so bad, the Royals manager was talking about bunting in a run in the early innings, which almost never happens; even the most offensively-challenged or small ball-oriented teams don’t squeeze bunt that early. And, bunting early won’t get a team out of its offensive doldrums; if your team has the talent to score runs, it eventually will; if it doesn’t, it won’t. There isn’t a managerial strategy that can alter how many runs an offense scores to a significant degree. This is a man, I thought to myself, who has run out of ideas. It wasn’t long before Hillman was fired.

When you’ve covered sports long enough, it’s not hard to figure out when a manager or head coach is on the verge of resigning or being let go. Sometimes, the giveaway is the badmouthing of the leader by his players. Other times, it’s the lack of respect or attention the coach/manager gets from his superiors. But, the surest sign is public statements like Hillman’s, when it’s clear the coach or manager has no idea how to get his team out of their morass. I saw something similar over the last few months, when Kansas City Chiefs head coach Romeo Crennel was clearly a dead man walking. In his press conferences after games and during the week, Crennel didn’t seem to have many answers as to why the Chiefs, picked by many to contend in the AFC West, were on their way to a 2-14 season and the first overall pick in the NFL Draft. Crennel tried to shake things up by firing himself as defensive coordinator, by indicating that players who turned the ball over would sit out for at least a handful of plays and by making a quarterback change. None of those moves worked, mainly because the Chiefs’ problems were so embedded, they weren’t going to be fixed with a few in-season changes. The day after the season ended, the Chiefs announced that Crennel was given his walking papers.

The unfortunate thing for managers and head coaches is that, generally, they’re pawns and the problems with their roster are often out of their control. There wasn’t much Hillman could do with a roster filled with young players who weren’t ready to contribute and/or didn’t belong in the Majors, over-the-hill players and dead-end veterans. At the time, we knew the Royals were a year or two away from having talented young players from their farm system ready to help, but it seemed Hillman had already lost his way and wasn’t worth keeping around for the impending youth movement. In Crennel’s case, what was seen as a talented roster wasn’t as talented as initially thought and there was little depth. Also, Crennel had a very young team that had little-to-no experience with winning at the professional level and terrible quarterback play in a league dominated by teams with excellent quarterback play. Most Chiefs fans knew Crennel was hamstrung and, as a result, directed the majority of their ire toward general manager Scott Pioli, with whom the Chiefs also parted ways.

When a team is struggling or not playing as well as some expected, fans and media are always looking for signs that a manager or head coach is on his way out. Fans often focus on in-game coaching decisions, but rarely do those indicate anything about a manager’s fate either way. Sure, some managers or coaches are more aggressive when they think they’re on the hot seat, but some will become more conservative, playing it close to the vest in an effort to avoid making waves. And, in my experience, players don’t react to game-to-game coaching decisions in the same way fans do; when players don’t win, they’re more likely to put the blame on themselves. Of course, players will notice egregious mistakes or miscalculations in strategy but, even then, they’re more likely to blame the poor results on their poor execution. That’s especially true in baseball, where there are games every day and relatively little time is spent dissecting each an every maneuver.

Media often focus on what’s going on in the locker room or clubhouse as a way of taking the temperature of a team. But, many times, that approach bears little fruit. Off-the-record comments from players and assistant coaches are the most revealing but, on the record, there usually is very little that indicates a team’s dissatisfaction with their boss. And, even if a team doesn’t like their manager or head coach, it doesn’t always mean a manager or head coach is in trouble. Likewise, a coach or manager who is liked by the players isn’t always safe. When he led the Royals, players often chafed at Hillman’s managerial style. There seemed to be a feeling that Hillman – who had never played, coached or managed in the Major Leagues before the Royals hired him – was out to prove he knew more about baseball than anyone else. One player even told me – off the record, of course – that Hillman’s first name was Trey because he thought he was three times smarter than everyone else. A strong argument could be made that Hillman never had control of the clubhouse or the respect of the players. On the other hand, the Chiefs players seemed to love Crennel; he had an avuncular way about him and was a hard guy to dislike. Even when the Chiefs were at their worst and Crennel was at his wits end with the media or with his players, it was hard not to feel sorry for Crennel. On the flipside, I don’t ever remember media feeling sorry for Hillman, even though he was dealt a bad hand. Crennel never had success as an NFL head coach and he clearly was out of ideas when it came to trying to fix what was wrong with the Chiefs, but most of his players seemed to like and respect him.

So, how are those who cover a team – and even some media who don’t cover a team – able to figure out when a coach or manager’s time is almost up? Some of it is simply intuition and an understanding of history. But, much of it is parsing what the coach/manager is saying, or not saying, to the media. Coaches who seem to be out of ideas and/or look or act defeated on a regular basis are usually taken out of their misery sooner rather than later.

I go through stages where I only listen to a specific music genre or musical artist for a few days. During this particular period, I was listening to a lot of old-school rap from the late 1980s and early 1990s. One of my favorite groups from that era is A Tribe Called Quest, a trio of rappers from Queens, New York who were adept at combining sounds unique to rap with superb wordplay. At the moment, “Can I Kick It?”, a Tribe song held in place by guitar chords borrowed from Lou Reed’s classic rock hit “Walk on the Wild Side”, was playing. In the song’s chorus, Tribe asks “Can I kick it?”, with the audience responding “Yes you can!” over and over again.

Then it hit me. I can use that.

I was in the middle of my first – and, as it turned out, only – season as the radio voice of The College of St. Rose men’s and women’s basketball teams. St. Rose’s women’s team had a two-guard whose primary job was to come off the bench and fire three-point shots. Like most long-range shooters, it was apparent within one or two shot attempts whether she was hot or cold. And, when she was hot, even the rare threes that missed looked like they were going in. One night, she came in and hit her first two threes and I knew she was on. So, when her next three went up, I saw my opportunity.

“Can she hit it?” I asked my listeners and the basketball floated through the air.

“Yes she can!” I exclaimed as the ball snapped through the bottom of the net with ruthless precision.

And, just like that, I’d come up with another way to describe a three-point shot.

Catchphrases in broadcasting can be a dangerous thing. Often, for something to truly become a catchphrase, a broadcaster has to use it over and over again in the same situation, which can become paralyzing and a threat to a broadcaster’s creativity. I see “Can he/she hit it…Yes he/she can!” more as an option than a catchphrase because I don’t use it on every three-point shot attempt; I don’t think I’ve ever used it more than once in a game broadcast and I’ll often go several games without using it at all. I feel that something like “Can he/she hit it…Yes he/she can!” has to be used sparingly, if at all. And, it works well only if the shot goes in; “Can he/she hit it…Nope” doesn’t have the same ring to it.

When I got my first play-by-play job, calling minor league baseball, I had six months to prepare before I called my first game. A good portion of that six months was spent trying to come up with a catchphrase for home runs. Every baseball broadcaster has a home run catchphrase, I thought, so I should too. I finally settled on “Forget it!”; I can emphasize the “r” even more on bigger home runs, I thought to myself. I spent countless hours going over that home run call in my head and aloud.

Then, the season started. And, I barely used the home run catchphrase I’d spent months perfecting. There were two main reasons for that. For one, I was overwhelmed, particularly at the start of the season, and I focused more energy on getting the nuts and bolts of baseball play-by-play correct and less on catchphrases. And, I realized my best calls – of home runs or of anything else – came when I just reacted and described what I saw. Play-by-play is hard enough, I reasoned, and I don’t need to make it even harder by trying to force specific catchphrases or expressions into my vernacular.

Even though I don’t focus on catchphrases in my play-by-play, I still spend a lot of time trying to come up with different words and phrases I can use on the air, but I do that as a way of preventing my play-by-play description from becoming stale. For example, last month I realized I was using “puts up” too often when describing an outside shot attempt (e.g. “Phillips puts up a three”). So, I focused on using other words to describe the act of shooting a jumper, paying close attention to the words used by other broadcasters when they described similar plays. It didn’t take me long to reduce my penchant for “puts up”.

However, some words and phrases work well, even if they’re repeated over and over. Perhaps the best example of that is NBA broadcaster Marv Albert’s “Yes!” call after made jump shots. Albert says “Yes!” after a healthy portion of successful outside shots in almost every game he’s done for at least the last four decades. However, it works for Albert because it’s simple and he varies the “Yes!” based on the importance and/or difficulty of the shot; Albert’s “Yes!” is more emphatic after a game-winner than it is after a first-quarter make. And, it never sounds like Albert is forcing “Yes!” into his call. Albert says he came up with “Yes!” as a youngster, when he heard a referee say “Yes, and it counts!” after a player made a basket despite being fouled and he and his friends started using “Yes!” in their own pickup basketball games. A broadcaster never knows when inspiration will strike.

Whenever an inexperienced or aspiring play-by-play broadcaster asks me about catchphrases and signature calls, I always tell him or her not to worry about coming up with any; let it happen organically. Instead, the focus should be on economy of words and on being able to describe the same plays in myriad ways. As broadcasters get more experience, their personality will emerge, and so will their style and any pet phrases; trying to force a style or catchphrases into play-by-play usually sounds contrived and inauthentic. I also tell broadcasters you never know when or where your favorite words or phrases will emerge. Maybe you’ll have some old-school rappers to thank.

Protection

The moment a child is born, his or her parents learn the importance of being careful and the importance of protection. A newborn can’t hold its head up, so you must pay close attention to that head the first few months. You’re not supposed to put an infant to sleep on its stomach, we’re told, or death is more likely. In New York State, when my daughter was born, my now-wife and I were required to watch a 20-minute video warning of the dangers of Shaken Baby Syndrome, a video so sad and so graphic that I’m amazed I still have the wherewithal to shake a carton of orange juice.

Before I became a father, I used to hear parents say they look at tragedies involving children differently once they had kids. After learning about the shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday, I understand what those parents meant. I was literally sick to my stomach as I found out the details and, when President Barack Obama spoke about the shooting that afternoon while trying to stay composed, a tear rolled down my right cheek. Friday’s shootings brought out a lot of emotions in me and in many others. More than anything, we wanted to know what we could do to better protect our children. Not surprisingly, many focused on gun control and whether the incident in Newtown would finally lead to meaningful changes in our gun laws that would restrict ownership of certain firearms. I tend to be in favor of more gun control than we have now, but Friday’s shootings helped remind me how helpless I feel sometimes as a parent, a feeling that wouldn’t go away even if every gun on this earth were destroyed. Despite my best efforts to protect my daughter, there’s still a chance she could be harmed.

I think back to my own childhood and Mom’s insistence that I know my address, in case I got lost and/or needed to deal with the police. I was part of the first generation of children to be comprehensively educated about the dangers of drugs and the dangers of adults who may look to inflict irreparable damage on us mentally and physically. Mom loves to tell the story of she and Dad intentionally hiding from me in a busy part of Lincoln Center in New York City when I was a toddler, whereupon I freaked out because I thought I’d lost my parents forever. After that incident, I never strayed too far from her or Dad again, Mom says, which was their goal. My parents weren’t much different from most other parents, working hard to prevent me from being victimized by those who don’t have my best interests at heart. Thanks to my parents, I had a happy and healthy childhood free of serious trauma. I was able to be a kid.

Isn’t that what we ultimately want for our children, the chance for them to be kids without facing the stress or the difficulties adults face? Some of my fondest days with my 2 ½-year-old daughter are when she’s amused by the simplest pleasures, like building “skyscrapers” with her Legos or role-playing with her stuffed animals. It cracks me up whenever she gets excited at the prospect of eating Chicken McNuggets, her favorite, jumping up and down and yelling “Chicken Nuggets!” to the amusement of other McDonald’s patrons. My face lights up when I see my daughter bouncing in her car seat because I’ve pulled up at her favorite playground and she can’t wait to be unbuckled so she can go down the slide and soar in the swing.

Those kids who were at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown during the shooting may still continue to enjoy many of their favorite activities, but a part of their innocence is gone, their childhood changed forever. They now know what it’s like when a fire drill isn’t just a fire drill. Many of them now know what real gunfire sounds like, and some of them will always associate that sound with death. Those kids will grow up knowing that kids in their school were killed for no reason whatsoever and that, if things had turned out differently, they could’ve been killed too. Heck, I grew up in the big and bad Bronx and I didn’t know of any kids who were shot and killed when I was their age. Those kids will have a new principal soon, and they’ll know it wasn’t because their old principal retired or left for another school. They won’t, like most kids, automatically assume their school is safe or assume that every adult who enters their school can be trusted. The parents of the kids who survived will hug their kids tighter and be more protective than usual, at least for a little while, and the kids won’t understand why. Other than taking their life, the worst thing you can do to children is take away their innocence.

My daughter usually doesn’t mind holding my hand but, sometimes, she wants to break free and run or walk on her own. Sometimes, I allow her to let go but, most of the time, I wind up scolding her, because she wants to run free in a parking lot or on a busy street. You never let go of Daddy’s hand when cars are around, I explain to her. I’m not sure she understands. I will hold her hand until she knows to look both ways when crossing the street, until she knows to always follow traffic signals, until she knows to always be on the lookout for cars in parking lots and on narrow streets without sidewalks. And, even then, that may not be enough.

Writing Well

Most of my memories of first grade are a blur of sour milk, writing in black and white composition books – at some point we switched from writing on two lines to writing on one line – and going up and down the stairs. However, there are two days in first grade that I remember vividly. One is the day of the Challenger space shuttle disaster; we were watching that live on the brown television that was wheeled into our classroom whenever there was a shuttle launch. The other day I remember was when we learned the difference between the words they’re, their and there. Mrs. Hines went over the rules for when to use each word on the green chalkboard. She then gave us examples of sentences with the proper usage of each word before assigning homework that required us to come up with our own sentences using their, they’re and there. I eagerly did my homework that night and was pleased when, the next day, I learned that I’d gotten every sentence correct.

In the 26 years since I learned the difference between they’re, their and there, I can count the number of times I confused one for another on one hand, and still have several fingers remaining. I’m still not sure why that lesson resonated with me as much as it did. I do know that I get frustrated with people who use the wrong one. The English language has so many complicated and seemingly nonsensical spelling and grammar rules that are easy to screw up, but the rules governing when to use there, their or they’re are very simple; how can anyone mess that up on a regular basis?

Growing up, I had no choice but to pay attention to such details. Mom has a master’s degree in education and she specialized in teaching elementary school-aged children how to read and write properly. As her son, I was Mom’s pet project. In the days before the widespread popularity of personal computers, I spent many late nights writing and rewriting my elementary-school essays and papers by hand, until they were pitch perfect in Mom’s eyes. Just when I’d thought I’d fixed one mistake, Mom would find more mistakes. Every word had to be spelled properly, every sentence had to make sense, every statement had to be followed with details and corroborating evidence. Anything less, and I was sent back to my room, forced to do another rewrite, the cramping and soreness in my right hand be damned. I was a good student and Mom rarely helped me with my homework. But, she would always ask about my assignments. Any mention of an essay would be followed by “let me see it” and I knew I was in for a long night.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but Mom was molding me into a conscientious writer, but not just with the constant rewrites. Mom was a voracious reader and she helped make me into one, too. Mom didn’t always have a lot of money but, if I expressed interest in a certain type of book or in a specific author, Mom would provide those books for me; I easily had two to three times as many books as I did toys. Reading a lot of books, especially quality books, showed me what good writing should look like.

Growing up, I always assumed everyone saw and understood writing, spelling and grammar the same way I did. Of course, my classmates and I rarely shared each other’s writing and most of the writing I saw was written by professionals and/or professionally edited. However, the explosion of the Internet in the mid and late 1990s showed me – and the rest of the world – how bad many of us are at writing. In the days before it was easy to upload and consume video and audio online, writing was the primary means of communication on the Internet. In college, I regularly communicated with friends and total strangers through chat programs like AOL Instant Messenger and ICQ and was amazed how little some valued spelling and grammar. Of course, because you’re writing quickly and in short bursts, some rules are going to be ignored, intentionally or unintentionally. But, it was hard for me to take people seriously who regularly spelled words incorrectly or wrote emails with poor sentence structure. Mom always preached the importance of proofreading your writing, but that never mattered to me until I started communicating regularly on the Internet. The extra few seconds it takes to proofread a tweet or review an email before sending can be the difference between looking like a smart, thoughtful person and looking like an unintelligent buffoon.

There’s been a lot written about the decline in American writing due to the proliferation of things like Twitter, Facebook and text messaging. And, while I believe American writing seems poorer since the advent of such services, I think the real issue is greater exposure; if you couldn’t write before, few people would know. But, now, if you don’t know the basic rules of grammar or you spell like someone who’s never heard of a dictionary, your foibles are out there for the whole world to see. Literally. I never understood people who, when their poor spelling or grammar is pointed out to them, brush it off as not a big deal or unimportant (e.g. “Hey, it’s only Twitter. So what if I spell some words wrong?”). No one’s spelling and grammar is perfect all of the time, but we should strive to make our spelling and grammar as perfect as possible as often as possible.

The funny thing is, there are more tools than ever before to help us write well. Schoolchildren no longer have to do endless, time-consuming rewrites on composition notebook paper, like I did; instead, they can delete and backspace and cut and paste. If I spell a word incorrectly, it’s noted with a red, squiggly underline and the correct spelling is a click of the mouse away; I don’t have to flip through a thick dictionary or hope that I or someone else catches the misspelling during a subsequent edit. Of course, spell check doesn’t account for words that are spelled correctly, but used out of context; I probably see less outright misspellings on the Internet and more incorrect context mistakes. If I had a nickel for every time I saw people use fair when they mean fare, effect when it should be affect, your when they mean you’re or too instead of to, I’d be a wealthy man.

I wish everyone could get the education in proper writing, spelling and grammar that I got from Mom. But, what it comes down to more than anything is taking pride in what you write and in how you express yourself. Writing gives people a window into your personality, your intelligence and your attention to detail. Even if that writing is a simple tweet or a Facebook post and/or contains several abbreviations and colloquialisms, it’s important to get it right. Take pride in whatever you write.

There are always going to be some mistakes, but when people with poor writing skills aren’t challenged to improve, they’re being done a disservice. How else is their communication going to get better?

Yep. Still got it.

Is The Game On?

I had to squeeze my way through the crowd amassed near the front entrance of the Applebee’s, slipping past the harried hostess and toward the bar which, thankfully, had a handful of empty seats. I chose a chair positioned in front of an empty 22-ounce beer glass and a signed receipt. The bartender cleared the detritus and asked me what I wanted. After procuring a 22-ounce Fat Tire and a menu, I let the bartender know why I was at a bar in Brookings, South Dakota by myself on a Friday night.

“Could you turn one of these televisions to ESPN?” I said, motioning to the two televisions closest to me.

The bartender obliged, flipping the smaller of the two screens from the MAC Championship football game between Northern Illinois and Kent State on ESPN2 (who the heck would want to watch that? No one here cares about either one of those teams, I thought) to ESPN. Now, I had a half-hour to have dinner and call my wife until I could watch my beloved Syracuse Orange basketball team take on Arkansas. Like me, Syracuse was on the road.

South Dakota is the 40th state I’ve visited and, in at least a third of them, I’ve found myself at a bar or a restaurant watching one of my favorite teams. Most of those instances were like Friday’s, where I wanted to have dinner and a beer or two while watching the game. Nebraska Omaha basketball is what brought me to South Dakota; I would call their game at South Dakota State the following night and the Applebee’s was across the parking lot from our hotel. In 2004, I was in Naperville, Illinois to call early-season Division III basketball when the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers engaged in their infamous brawl that spilled into the stands. However, I never saw the melee live because I was focused on the sole television showing Syracuse pick up a key non-conference win over Memphis at Madison Square Garden. I was on pins and needles at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport one afternoon in 2007, where I watched the New York Giants lose a nip-and-tuck game to the Dallas Cowboys.

There is something comforting about watching one of my favorite teams far from my home base. My 2 ½-year-old daughter can probably relate; she brings her favorite blanket with her whenever she travels far from home. Seeing one of my teams on television while I’m on the road is like having my own favorite blanket in my possession. Most of the time, I’m the only one with a rooting interest, which is preferable to being in enemy territory. In 2009, I was at a bar in downtown Hartford, Connecticut when Syracuse beat Connecticut in six overtimes. Fortunately, the Connecticut fans weren’t too hostile when they noticed I wasn’t cheering for their team and we were all in awe as the game dragged on without a resolution. I was once at a bar in Kalamazoo, Michigan for a Giants-New England Patriots tilt when I spotted a guy in a Tom Brady jersey a few seats away. We didn’t acknowledge each other the entire game, but we tried to outdo each other with our cheers. Only after the Giants lost did we turn to each other and briefly discuss the game.

I think the bartender saw my subdued fist pump when Syracuse scored their first basket in Arkansas. Because, after that, he asked me who I was rooting for. My fist pumps continued as Syracuse continued to efficiently carve through the Arkansas press, leading to several easy baskets. I leaned back in my chair when James Southerland, Syracuse’s best shooter from long range, unleashed a three pointer from about 24 feet, not sure if it was a good shot. However, Southerland’s jumper found the bottom of the net, leading to my most emphatic fist pump of the evening. Southerland’s shooting exhibition continued, as he connected on seven three pointers in the first half. Each three seemed to be deeper than the next and the last one led to both a quiet cheer as well as a fist pump. Arkansas went on a run late in the half, trimming Syracuse’s 15-point lead to five at the intermission as I ordered my second Fat Tire.

After a bathroom break, I was back in my seat in time to see Southerland nail two more deep three pointers in the opening minutes of the second half; each three was preceded by a lean back and followed by an emphatic fist pump. I let out a “Yes!” when Syracuse point guard Michael Carter-Williams stole the ball and took it in for a layup. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see people giggling at the table to my right, but I was unconcerned. I’m happy that my team was playing well and I didn’t care if all of Brookings knew it (It certainly seemed like all of Brookings was at that Applebee’s. There were people crowded around the hostess podium all evening). Syracuse stretched their lead to 15 points once more, never trailing in the second half in a nine-point win. I paid my bill during the last television timeout, finishing my third beer as Syracuse was putting the finishing touches on their victory at the free-throw line. Of course, watching your team win is always better than watching them lose but this is even truer when you go out of your way to watch them miles from your – and their – home.

Tonight, I’ll be out of my comfort zone again, because I’ll be in Madison, Wisconsin when the Giants take the field in an important divisional game against the Washington Redskins. Since it’s a Monday Night Football game, I doubt I’ll have to coax a bartender to turn a television to it, but there’s a good chance I’ll be the only person in Madison rooting for the Giants. But, that’s okay. Especially if the Giants win.

140 Characters Or Fewer

I’d heard about Twitter for months but it took me awhile to grasp the concept. You send out short messages called tweets? Who reads them? Why would anyone care? How is this any different from status updates on Facebook? Eventually, I joined Twitter reluctantly; I kept hearing about links to interesting articles that were showing up in people’s tweets, so I decided to see what all the fuss was about. I had no preconceived notions about how much, or how little, I would tweet.

I started by following people I knew and following people who covered baseball; the former for obvious reasons and the latter because I’m always up for reading something about the game I love and cover for a living. The baseball season was in full swing when I joined, so I started tweeting my observations about the Kansas City Royals games I was watching every night in my role as the Royals pre- and post-game show host on their flagship radio station. At first, my followers were all people I knew. After a while, more and more people I didn’t know started following me; those people were mostly Royals fans who wanted more information about their team. I figured I’d wind up with no more than 1,000 followers. There can’t be that many people interested in what I have to say, I thought.

It didn’t take long for Twitter to become addictive. If I was away from the computer or my phone for a few hours, I’d spend 20 minutes scrolling through all the tweets on my timeline that appeared during my hiatus. I’d wake up in the morning and check every tweet that was sent while I was sleeping. It wasn’t until my now-wife and I visited her family in rural Puerto Rico – where internet access and reliable cell phone service weren’t easy to come by – that I broke myself of my obsessive-compulsive Twitter behavior. I still check Twitter regularly, but I no longer fret over the tweets I might be missing.

It also didn’t take long for me to realize there were a lot more people interested in what I tweeted than I ever imagined. I currently have nearly 4,200 followers, more than four times my original estimate. I’m conscious of how many people follow me – and that most of them follow because I tweet quite a bit about the Royals and other Kansas City-area teams and happenings – but I don’t want to become completely beholden to my followers. Most people on Twitter are relatively anonymous, but I’m not; I’m on the radio regularly and easy to track down if one so chooses. And, because of my lack of anonymity, I have to be conscious about what I tweet. Many in my position choose to play it close to the vest and to only tweet about a specific subject or subjects, keeping the tweets relatively benign and unlikely to stir the pot. However, I couldn’t play it close to the vest if I tried; that doesn’t mean I tweet recklessly, but I don’t place limits on what I tweet about. Most of my tweets will relate to baseball or another sport and I try to be honest in my assessments, making critical statements when I deem criticism to be necessary. However, I tweet about lots of other topics: parenthood, politics, pet peeves, observations, news that may only interest me, etc. Like everything else I do, I want my Twitter account to be a reflection of me; I consider myself to be a sports fanatic who has a variety of other interests and concerns and I want my tweets to show that.

I enjoy answering questions and discussing a variety of topics with my Twitter followers; they learn a little more about me and I learn a little more about them, too. The majority of my interactions on Twitter have been positive, even my interactions with those whom I disagree. More often than not, I enjoy the back-and-forth with my followers and many have told me they appreciate that I’ll actually respond to them, whereas many others won’t. I will even respond to the handful of people who are harsh or unnecessarily negative toward me; I usually respond by retweeting those comments or responding to them in a way that allows all of my followers to view my response. I have yet to block someone for tweeting negative things or unsubstantiated criticism to me; often, such haters are so surprised you’d respond to them, they back off. Twitter has also allowed me to connect with others who cover baseball; I’ve arranged several radio interviews and developed a few contacts thanks to Twitter. Through Twitter, I’ve also gotten restaurant recommendations, reconnected with acquaintances I haven’t heard from in years and been offered free legal and medical advice from apparent experts in those fields (I’ve declined those offers).

Sometimes, I have to remind some of my followers about the free and voluntary nature of Twitter. I’m amused by the “no one cares” responses I occasionally get regarding my tweets from some. It cracks me up when I’m told to “stick to sports” or “stick to the Royals” when I tweet about non-sports or non-Royals topics. One of the great things about Twitter is it can be whatever you want to be; I will never understand those on Twitter who don’t get that concept. Besides, Twitter would bore me if I, and everyone else, only tweeted about work and/or followed the same boilerplate. By the same token, it amuses me when I see articles and blog posts about how to use Twitter. There are no hard-and-fast Twitter rules; tweet about what you want and follow, or don’t follow, whomever you want. Don’t want to reveal much about yourself? Fine. Want to use Twitter as your personal confessional? That’s fine, too. Want to follow only a handful of people who only tweet about a specific topic? Go for it. Want to follow thousands of people from a variety of disciplines? Make it happen. I think the universal and adaptable nature of Twitter is why its popularity continues to grow.

Okay, time for me to post this blog, so that I can tweet a link to it. Even if no one cares.

The Perfect Ponytail

The first time I tried to comb my daughter’s hair was a disaster. She was less than a year old and, while she had a lot of hair, it was still patchy and hadn’t completely filled in. My combing led to her hair becoming even poofier than it already was, exposing all of her patchy spots. I got better at combing my daughter’s hair as she got older, in part because her hair filled in and in part because I gained more experience. But, it was tough to master the ponytail; whenever I tried to make one, I would either get the hair tie tangled in her hair or leave too many loose hairs uncombed, making her hair look frizzy.

If I had a son, things would be easier. I understand boys. After all, I was a boy. I know how to comb a boy’s hair. I can take him to the barber shop, like my dad took me when I was a boy. Dealing with my daughter’s hair is just one of many things I never even gave a second thought before I fathered a girl.

Two things I did think about while my then-girlfriend, now-wife was expecting were pink and princesses. I have no problem with my daughter wearing pink, but I don’t want her to wear pink all the time or to have an inordinate amount of pink-colored items; just because she’s a girl doesn’t mean everything has to be pink, just like boys don’t have to be festooned in blue. I refuse to get her any pink sports apparel. As a sports fan, it’s hard to take women wearing pink jerseys and pink logoed stuff seriously; a woman can be a sports fan and still be feminine without resorting to donning pink.

When I was single, I was always wary of women who called themselves princesses and/or were into princess imagery; in my experience, women obsessed with being a princess were usually high maintenance. My daughter doesn’t need to think of herself as a princess in order to have high standards for herself and for how others treat her. Also, I refused to get her anything that said “Daddy’s Little Princess”, “Daddy’s Little Girl” or any variation thereof. While it’s important to me that I’m a good role model for my daughter, I don’t want her growing up and thinking that I am the only man who will ever make her happy or that she will always be a little girl. Perhaps I’m paranoid about the princess and little girl stuff, but I don’t want my daughter’s self image and self worth to be defined by unrealistic and idealistic expectations. I’m raising my daughter to be a young lady, not a little girl.

As she gets older, my daughter is starting to scream more, and not just when she’s upset. She screams when she’s excited or happy. Once, my daughter let loose with one of her high-pitched screams right by my ear; I thought my eardrum was going to burst. It’s hard to tell my daughter’s excited/happy scream from her frightened/life is being threatened scream. Boys only seem to scream when they’re in trouble, but girls apparently scream all the time; I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to that.

There are certain things regarding my daughter that I leave to my wife; I stay away from picking out headbands, bows or barrettes, for example. But, I don’t want to leave everything to my wife just because she and our child are the same gender. I’ve never been a big fan of shopping – for myself, or for others – but, for some reason, I’ve enjoyed shopping for my daughter. I often buy my daughter clothes and I like choosing outfits for her to wear.  I never paid attention to children’s clothes, let alone girls’ clothes, before I became a father. However, shopping for my daughter is fun. Before fatherhood, I never thought I would use the words “shopping” and “fun” in the same sentence.

A few weeks ago, I combed my daughter’s hair and she didn’t cry, like she usually does. Instead, my daughter held a corner of her white blanket up to her nose as I sprayed apple-scented detangler onto her curls and carefully ran the black comb through her brown hair. After removing all of the tangles, I transferred the black hair tie from the four fingers on my left hand and into my right palm. I grabbed at the loose strands of her hair, combing them into my cupped left hand. I expanded the hair tie by using all five fingers and put it over the hair I was holding in left hand, studiously twisting and wrapping the tie around the sliver of hair twice. I moved my hands out of the way to inspect my handiwork. I’d finally put my daughter’s hair into a decent-looking ponytail! It wasn’t as good as the ponytails my wife makes, but it was pretty darn close.

I might be cut out to raise a daughter after all.