Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Letter/Blog: Reflections on a #Winning Year

As some of you may recall from last year, a desire to save time, money, and environmental resources - not really on the last point but it sounds good - led me to turn my annual Christmas letter into a blog. It's an opportunity to wish you and your loved ones a great holiday season but also reflect on some things.

Every year begins with hopes, aspirations, and goals. Among the goals successfully pursued in 2011 which allowed me to often hit "Like" on Facebook:

- I was blessed to be invited to do more speaking engagements than ever before and am thankful that people are still interested in my life story and philosophies of Swinging for the Fences (yes, a shameless plug even in a Christmas letter).

- One of those invitations led to the fulfillment of another goal, which is travel somewhere fun. As readers of this blog know, in early December an invitation to speak at a fundraising luncheon for the Center for the Homeless in South Bend, Indiana allowed me to take Mama to see my undergraduate alma mater, the University of Notre Dame. It was a trip I'll treasure for the rest of my life.

- Baseball also allowed for some travels. Entering my sixth season as Manager of Latino Affairs for the San Diego Padres, February saw a visit to Major League Baseball's offices in Phoenix for some planning meetings. There a cool thing happened where by chance in the hotel I met Cincinnatti Reds manager Dusty Baker - all because he liked the "Padres Filipino Night" t-shirt I was wearing. I had some sent to him a few weeks later and his thank-you call was one of the coolest things I've experienced in sports. 

- Baseball also allowed for a trip to spring training in Arizona a month later with my closest friends Nick Golden, Shawn Rossi, and Katie Rose Barba. That same crew drove to Anaheim later that month to see an exhibition game between the Pads and Angels.

- I also set out to see some of my other favorite teams live, and this year granted the opportunity to watch the Lakers and Chargers record victories. I also went to Lake Elsinore for the first time to root on the minor-league Storm baseball squad. I have to say none of those matched, however, the wintertime thrill of catching several San Diego State Aztec basketball games amid their 34-3, Sweet Sixteen campaign - a first for their program.

- Another successful goal was completing three endurance walks: the Stephen Strasburg 5K in January with my Padres teammates and KRB; the Kidney Foundation 5K in May with my sister Ann and longtime friend Vanessa; the Mothers Against Drunk Driving 5K with co-workers in October; and being part of the Team MADness relay team with Karen (Madden) Kawachi for the San Diego Rock 'n' Roll Marathon in June.

- That June one reminds me of another aspiration reached: receiving an offer to publish The Finish Line, my second book which will be about competing in the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon last year and what it taught me about the marathon of life. I have to shamelessly plug again and tell you that we will be having a pre-sale in January 2012 and I'll need your support in order to cover printing costs. I'm a second-time but unknown author; that's just what I have to do at this point in my life.

Now, I could sit here and recount all the great things that happened to me in 2011, and probably paint a picture of a smooth and seamless life. But that's not reality for any of us. Quite frankly, my low point was probably the beginning of summer when there were changes at work and I just didn't know where I fit or what direction some things were headed. Add to that, and I'll be even more frank here, when you see friends leaving for other jobs, getting married, or moving away, it can be tough and I felt like that was all happening at once.

So what'd I do?

Well for one, I honed in on a blessing that came my way, which was a switch to a role that was more community-oriented. I'm still learning but enjoy helping the Padres be active partners in the community. And my boss is a great motivator and leader. I look forward to just trying to get better in this role.

But beyond that I learned the best moments are the simple ones. I learned to appreciate moments that may not be life-changing but can be the best memories of a lifetime.

A reunion get-together with my old Hispanic Chamber mates in early spring. Weekend nights at Bub's and Basic in the East Village or Miller's Field and Shore Club in Pacific Beach. My cousin Natalia and her husband and kids visiting San Diego for a fantastic week, which happened to also be during my birthday and family birthday dinner at Casa Guadalajara. All the get-togethers my family had, from holidays to birthdays to Charlie's high school graduation. The weddings of Sol & Anthony, Logan & Heather, Kat & Ben, Rudy & Carolina, and I hope I didn't forget others. (My apologies if I did.) Seeing concerts like Maroon 5 and Coldplay with my friend Lisa; Pitbull and Calle 13 with K-Mad; Ozomatli and Boyz II Men with Valerie; and Brian McKnight (and a slew of other 1990s stars) with my pal Colleen - who created one of the most amazing memories by kidnapping me on December 11 for the Kanye and Jay-Z show in L.A.

Friends like that are priceless. Friends with whom you can celebrate Mardi Gras, St. Patrick's Day, and - like him or not - Tebowing as you tailgate in the Qualcomm/Snapdragon Stadium parking lot. Friends who will convene some twenty-strong to welcome home other friends who have new jobs or cities. Friends who are nice enough to come see me speak - or in the case of Tom Larimer, drove me to San Bernardino in July so I could speak -, or see another friend who is in a band or beauty contest.

I've learned to appreciate trips to the movies with Frankie and days watching football with Mama. I relish barbeques at Ann and Dean's in Eastlake.

You know, one of my favorite nights was when a group of us gathered at Rossi's to watch the Comedy Central Celebrity Roast of 2011 newsmaker/bad boy Charlie Sheen. I was a bit hesitant to attend only because I knew it'd be a late Monday night amid a very long week. Well, we laughed so hard and so often I had tears streaming down my cheeks. I couldn't tell you what date that was or what time we left Casa de Rossi. But I can tell you it was one of the most enjoyable nights of the year, one we'll always remember. 

Of these memories are great years made. I am blessed with absolutely phenonemal family and friends. I thank them for the incredible memories generated this year. I pray that you will likewise take time to reflect on your circle of close ones and that this upcoming year is wonderful for you. "Like!"

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

We Are Now Watching the Throne

So this past Sunday I'm sitting at home enjoying what had been a remarkably relaxing weekend. The weather was cold and football was on TV so I was content. Suddenly my BlackBerry goes off.

Colleen McDonald is blowing up my phone with calls and texts. By the time I can get to my phone, she has typed an invitation / command: 'Come on a roadtrip with me. It's in the SoCal region. You won't be sorry.'

Now, as much as I love enjoying some Adventures Being Alex, I am unabashedly a creature of habit. I like routine. I like structure.

But sometimes you just gotta say f--- it and accept an opportunity for spontaneity. Three nights earlier, at our company Christmas party, I turned down the chance to jump in on a dance contest because I didn't think I had enough moves to really be entertaining or have a shot at winning. I felt it was the right decision but I still partially regretted it.

This time I said yes and within 20 minutes I was piling into Colleen's car. I threw out some guesses, none of which she would confirm or deny: Legoland? Disneyland's Main Street Electrical Parade? A basketball game played by UCLA or - gasp! - USC?

Two hours later we're in L.A., thereby negating any guesses south of Culver City, and traffic is so crazy we see one guy cut off another, scratch the car he passed up, and engage in a road-rage chase. It was insane.

Quite suddenly I realize we're in downtown...near Staples Center...where a concert is being held that night...OH MY GOSH, JAY-Z AND KANYE??? ARE WE GOING TO THE JAY-Z AND KANYE CONCERT?!? Colleen said yes and I shrieked, literally shrieked.

It was one of the happiest, most unbelievable moments of my life.

We parked, saw a couple argue until they split up - why all the drama in L.A.? - and then went to the nearby Yardhouse, where good friends Jonathan and Jonas awaited with "Watch the Throne" tickets. I couldn't believe it.

We all went inside the arena and Jono, who works for AEG's sales dept., had us strategically placed near a walkway. That allowed him to high-five freakin' Jay-Z and Kanye as they came out. And it provided good vantage points to watch entering celebs like Pharrell, Jermaine Dupri, and John Salley (who sat and cheered just like when he was a Laker).

The show was ridiculous. Best hip-hop concert I've ever witnessed.

The atmosphere was electric. The drive back was long and I couldn't fight my sleepiness. The next day was a grind. But it was all so worth it, three hours sleep was so worth it.

It was one of the best surprises of my entire life.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Golden Memories: Yes, You Can Go Home Again

I believe in second chances. I believe in redemption and I believe that God often allows opportunity to knock more than once.

Redemption, in the form of a second chance, was the emotion I felt this past summer. That's when a classmate of mine from undergrad, Paul Berrettini, told me he was on the Board of Directors for the South Bend Center for the Homeless. Would I, Pauly asked via e-mail, be interested in speaking at the Center's annual fundraiser - the "Holiday Miracle Luncheon" - on December 1st?

Would I?! Is the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana? Is it cold there in December? Yes and heck yes!

Actually the latter point made the prospect of visiting the Midwest a bit daunting but I still accepted the invitation without hesitation. You see, although there was no Irish football game attached to this junket, and the weather was sure to be bone-chilling, for me it offered a second chance.

In my collegiate years, my family in San Diego had some challenges. There were disagreements; there were strained relationships; there were financial hardships. I went to Notre Dame in the summer of 1992 knowing that my family just could not be the frequent visitors to campus like other families who were wealthier or lived a short drive away. There were just challenges, one of them being that my brother's wedding fell on the same date as my graduation.

Now, I felt a strong sense of gratification, as did Mama, when she and my nephew attended my graduation from the University of San Francisco Master's in Sport Management program in May 2008. My sister attended my undergraduate graduation and mom and Cory were there for my post-graduate one. (I'm interested in a doctorate, perhaps in something like literature or writing, but that would be in the future.)

But still I've felt an emptiness and a lack of fulfillment. As much as I love USF, Notre Dame is a place I care about deeply and my fervor for it is very much part of my personality. It remains one of my life's passions. Mama gets that and supports it - she has said "Go Irish!" on more than one occasion - but I've never felt she fully understands it. Because she's never been there.

This invitation from Paul, which came with the blessing of another classmate, Steve Camilleri, who now runs the Center, was a chance to accomplish many things at once: give me a speaking engagement and book sale outside of San Diego; bring along a caretaker whom I greatly trusted and needed; and show that caretaker a city and campus that is as much a part of me as dark hair and corny jokes.

In some ways, I was almost retracing my freshman year experience. Like I did right after my immigration-rights court case in '92, we flew to Chicago, trudged through cavernous O'Hare Airport, endured a nerve-wracking "puddle jumper" flight to South Bend, and landed as darkness was descending. Greeting us at the terminal, as he did for me nearly 20 years earlier, was the man who'd become my mentor and father figure, Bob Mundy.

We grabbed a bite at a sports bar called Between the Buns, which has a questionable name but great taste in decór - all vintage Fighting Irish athletics memorabilia. It really did feel like being a wide-eyed new student because this was a new restaurant for me. There was definitely a sense of reunion, though, because Mama marveled that Bob and I couldn't stop chatting and catching up.

Nostalgia did not immediately flood me because our hotel next door, though across the street from my old watering hole, the Linebacker Lounge, was a newly renovated inn called the Ivy Court. Everything in that vicinity was new, from the restaurants to gift shops, to oh, the street itself. Mama was amused that I said, "Wow. Notre Dame is all grown up and fancy now."

Actually, our primary concern in checking in to the Ivy was the room they assigned mistakenly had only one bed and had not been cleaned. The TV was on and the bed was unmade. I felt like Goldilocks discovering an invaded abode. Once again, Bob salvaged this situation, getting us a two-room suite with the requested two beds. What I loved too was it had all the modern amenities but everything from the paint to the furniture to the pictures of campus adorning the walls had a 1970s or '80's feel. It was modern yet old-school.

And that's what Notre Dame is. Old-school. Timeless.

We were reminded of that the next morning, when Paul picked us up on a cold, cloudless day for the luncheon. It was one of many intersections of past meets present. Here's Mama and I riding and checking out an old, brick-lined city, with my old friends Derrick Mayes and Pauly B. - both of whom are dads and we're in a minivan Paul has just picked up off the lot that day because he and wife Katie have a five-month old to go along with two other kids.

I'm not at that stage in my life yet. Where I am is very blessed that I can stride into the Century Center, a massive banquet facility in downtown South Bend, and get excited as I am whisked away to put on a lapel microphone. We meet the staff of the Center for the Homeless, plus my co-panelist, two-time cancer survivor Paqui Kelly, and Mama's mouth literally flies open. "I just heard how many people will be here today," she says after laying out copies of my book on a table in the foyer, "700 people! Are you kidding me?!"

I laugh. I am genuinely excited. Mom, who has certainly seen me speak before, is earnestly impressed. That makes me feel good.

The luncheon is a combination reunion with old ND friends and staff; networking with ND's former president Father Monk Malloy and current prez Fr. John Jenkins; bonding session with the very impressive Paqui (whose husband Brian is the Irish head football coach); and of course a presentation in a talk-show format that was part philosophizing, comedy, story-telling, and poignant thoughts.

I was nervous certainly but it was a nervous energy - meaning, I was making sure to enjoy it. Here I was, in the city of my alma mater, in front of 700 people who were stilled at the right moment and roaring with laughter on all the hoped-for cues, in front of Bob and his beautiful daughter Clare, and Jen Laiber, and Joe Russo, and people from the Kelly Cares charitable foundation, and Frs. Malloy and Jenkins, and my buds Pauly/Cammi/D-Mayes, and of course my amazed Mom...and I loved it. I absolutely loved it and, as Phil Jackson often advises Kobe and the Lakers, allowed myself to live in the moment. It was a day and moment of realization I'll regard as one of my life's best.

The next couple days were a whirlwind of vacation and entertainment and again of my past intersecting with my future. My pal Karen Madden had strongly suggested I take a pad of receipts for future book orders, lest we sell out, and K-Mad was right.  We absolutely did. We sold books. We exchanged stories with Paqui, who is awesome, and met Coach Kelly's (actually she coaches, too, volleyball) parents. We toured the Center with my new friend, the delightful staffer Taya Groover. We went to a ridiculously filling restaurant in Buchanon, Michigan, "Wheatberry's" with the Mundys. We went to Rocco's Pizza, a South Bend legendary joint since 1951, with my close friend Brian Uetz, his wife, Reneé, and their kids Lily and Owen. I went to an Irish bar called Fiddler's Hearth, with real live fiddlers and amber beer, with Clare, who is like ND's expanded campus - all grown up and sophisticated and just beautiful now.

Two very special occurrences for me were on Friday, the day after my speaking engagement. In our hotel room, we called Atlanta, current home of my birth mother and birth sister, Elizabeth. Both are ailing but seemed enlivened by our tales of our current visit. Maybe someday my mother can see campus, which will be interesting because she's sick and Mama - her sister - I've come to realize is physically breaking down too. My past intersecting with my present. But to have them talking by cell phone, and for me to simultaneously thank both of them for their sacrifices, was pretty incredible.

The other was simply when Mama and I finally got to tour campus. Bob, through his contacts in the MBA Admissions Office, hooked us up with a covered, triple-decker golf cart, and a tour guide who was unabashedly in love with Notre Dame. And God hooked us up with a third straight day (including our Wednesday evening arrival) of blue skies, gleaming sunshine, and a chilly but dry 40 to 45 degrees that was completely devoid of snow. Apparently it had snowed a mere 20 minutes away in Elkhart. But not in South Bend or its Golden Domed campus. I'll take that as a generous divine gift.

We scooted all around campus. I showed Mama my dorm, the Dome, the Grotto, the Basilica, the Touchdown Jesus mural, the Stadium, fat squirrels, and old friends who worked there like Gil, Iris, and Ramzi. We spent money at the Bookstore, of course. Dave, our charismatic tour guide/photographer, had Googled me (!) and was curious about my book so I bought him one. He was stoked.

Finally, finally my mom saw where I went to school. Some parts were unchanged. Timeless. Others certainly had continued the university's gargantuan rise in size and scope. But it was like a dream sequence, this whole crisp afternoon, at once surreal yet familiar as if I had been there all year.

I hadn't been to Notre Dame since 2008, when Jim Ponder and Rudy Lopez came with me for my very first book signing and the SDSU-ND football game. I'm glad they've been there. And Ann and another mentor, Bill Kuni, and now Mama.

Today as our flight left, she looked out the window and could see what we couldn't see on our descent in, three days prior: campus and the Golden Dome. "It's beautiful," she remarked, "I'm glad I got to see it."

Me too. It'll rank right up there with visiting Colombia in 2002.

It's nice to go home again.

Monday, November 28, 2011

McKnight in Shining Armor

I've been looking forward to my upcoming trip to South Bend for my speaking gig on Thursday because not only do I love that city, but I haven't had any extended time off of work since last Christmas. I can tell I need some time away because I've just been frustrated, not necessarily with work - that's been good - but with relationships, and some friendships, and a lot of women. That's when I know I need to get away and clear my head.

I thought today was going to be another exercise in frustration when my work line rings. I didn't recognize the number but picked it up anyway, and instantly heard the familiar voice of a community colleague, radio DJ Xavier "The X-Man" Hernandez of Magic 92.5-FM. The next two minutes were just surreal.

I had registered for a contest, at Karen Madden's urging, to win tickets to a private performance by Brian McKnight for 92 listeners. Then K-Mad said she couldn't go but that I should apply anyway because both myself and my pal Colleen McDonald are huge McKnight fans. Besides, she said, all it requires is a sappy essay on why you deserve the tickets, in 92 words or less. Right up my alley!

But since I'd submitted my essay nearly a month ago and hadn't heard anything, I figured my prose about Colleen's encouragement during the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon wasn't sappy enough. Maybe I should've written that I lost my limbs saving a Brian McKnight CD from a burning building?

So X-Man says, "You know why we're calling, right?"  In an instant I realized 'we' were on the air and my mind went blank and mouth turned dry.

"Um, no," I responded.

"Well let me read your letter then!"  And he did, citing word for word how doing the RnR in 2010 and 2011 changed my outlook on life.

"Alex, tell me about Colleen."

My response: "Well, she's a great friend...who's always provided me a lot of encouragement...and I just really value her...because she's just, um, uhhhh....really encouraging."

I then proceeded to bang the phone receiver against my forehead.

"That's...nice," says X-Man. "Alright, brotha, well you and your friend won TWO FREE PASSES to the exclusive Brian McKnight VIP show on December 15. Enjoy the show!"

I said WOO-HOO and thanked him and Magic and texted Coll, who was ecstatic. I sounded like a blathering idiot but what a shot in the arm amid a so-so day.

I'll leave the smoothness to McKnight. I just hope we can get a picture with him!

I really look forward to South Bend and, like I said, maybe just need to let some relationships and women go. This concert gives me something to look forward to in December.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

From Camp Corazon to Kim Kardashian: The Things For Which I Am Thankful

It's too bad the pilgrims and Native Americans didn't have today's social media. I could see it now:

- The pilgrims checked in to Plymouth Rock.
- Native Americans and Pilgrims are now Friends.
- Pilgrims created an event: Our First Big Meal. Native Americans are Attending.
- Tweet from @OGSettlers: This place is pretty dope and the religious freedom is off the chain. Natives cool too. #Colonies

Anyway, every year now in this Information Age you see a melding of the two. This holiday created by the unification of settlers with natives. And people expressing all for which they are grateful, for all the world to see, sometimes 140 characters at a time.

So that's not a bad idea. Gratitude, after all, is a timeless positive. Like a perfectly roasted turkey.

Thus, as 2011 nears its dessert stage, here are the things, people, and even realizations for which I give thanks. I am thankful for:

- My faith. The cornerstone of my life. It gives me purpose, understanding, and really a blueprint of how to treat others.

- Family, and the fact that I have it everywhere. It's amazing to correspond with relatives from Atlanta to Antioquia (nickname for Medellin) with the click of a mouse. We haven't tried the Skype thing yet but I'm thankful our communication has increased. Also, I think back to Charlie's high school graduation; Natalia and family's visit from South America this summer; Noah's fourth birthday party; gatherings at Luis & Silvia's or Ann & Dean's; and even days I go to the movies with Frankie. Good memories, good times, and this year we've been there for each other.

- My 42 (thus far) readers/followers of this blog. It validates that something I love doing - writing - is appreciated by others. My goal is to write shorter blogs that sometimes are seen by Followers only and not necessarily posted on Facebook or Twitter. Time is the biggest obstacle there.

- Sofia Vergara. Me gusta.

- My "MVPD" crew of Nick, Katie, and Shawn. I love Golden's brilliant humor; Katie's realness and sports knowledge; and Rossi's desire to make the world a better place.  We've had many adventures together in 2011 but spring training in Arizona, where we were joined by J-Lo and Monica, was the best.

- Public speaking. It was pretty big last year but really blew up this year. I've even gotten to try new things like live auctioneering and moderating a panel. So really I'm thankful God gave me a big mouth.

- The BlackBerry 9930 Bold. Magnificent.

- Friends 'till the end like the Navy Family, Patty, Monica, Kimmy, and many longtime bff's.

- My moral and career compasses, the Mundys and Ponders.

- A job that constantly evolved this year and since the early summer has been shaped more toward community outreach and charitable giving. I really, really, really love that.

- Heath Bell. He's just been awesome.

- Sports. What else would I talk about?

- The weddings of the Coughlins, Lopezes, Washburns, and Ybarras. Seriously, each one was incredible. I hope I didn't forget anyone.

- Two others very recently married, K-Mad and Kawachi. Just amazingly generous people.

- The fact that Team MADness still exists, if not as a relay team, then via the friendships with Karen, AG, and CoCo. And it spurred us to do another San Diego Rock 'n' Roll Marathon.

- Peanut.

- Pip.

- Pollo Loco.

- McRib.

- McDonald, as in Colleen.

- McDonald's, as in home of the McRib.

- McEniry, because she hosts really great Super Bowl parties.

- K-Mo.

- Big Wull.

- Scotty B.

- Scotty B. helping me to meet Drew Brees.

- Scotty D., rest in peace.

- Heavy D., rest in peace.

- Game day at Petco Park, no matter our record, and no matter our opponent.

- Double J. Good man.

- J-Squared, beautiful yet unattainable.

- Alexis del Chiaro, my local TV crush.

- Shana Wilson's baked goods.

- LEvans...suuuup.

- Working and playing in the East Village.

- C-Lan / E-Lo / Fist Pumping.

- Irish holidays.

- Irish athletics.

- Irish women.

- Ag and Joe Q.

- Discovering Camp Corazon, thanks to Heather Laird.

- Lolita's at the Park. I mean, when you only have a few bucks in your pocket, and you need a quick California burrito, it's RIGHT THERE.

- Brookie G. and her faithful texts at 11:11 a.m. and p.m.

- AM/PM.  7/11.

- The ability to fight past disappointment. Some people change. Some people have different intentions or behaviors than you expected. But the maturity to not let that drag you down.

- HB.

- PB.

- OB. Occasionally.

- Jessica Alba. Me gusta muchisimo.

- Friends in Texas who make me laugh. Plus Nicky in Texas and our great discussions.

- Kim Kardashian and Charlie Sheen. Endless material.

- Sleep and the need for it.

- Establishing Thursday nights and football Sundays as chill days.

- The realization that every day's a new opportunity and a blank canvas. And sure I'm not wealthy, or married yet, or even very thin. But I get to live in the greatest country in the world.

Doing what I love and am passionate about.

With a stream of friends and loved ones communicating to me.

And every day proving that anything is possible. For that I am grateful.

 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Remembering Scott Delgadillo: A Friend, A Hero, An Inspiration

Remembering Scotty – November 12, 2011

Thank you, Steve, Carmen, and friends. I always like to say that I’m blessed to be at an event but tonight it’s especially true. I am blessed. I am honored. I am touched.

It was ten years ago that we lost Scotty Delgadillo. Ten years goes by in the blink of an eye, doesn’t it? It’s been ten short, or long, years. But his impact will last a lifetime.

Tonight I'd like to tell you my story of knowing Scott.

Let me tell you how I met Scott and his family. In the late summer of 2000, I was not too far removed from my years at the University of Notre Dame, and I was working at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.  My phone rings and it’s the San Diego Make-A-Wish Foundation. They tell me that they grant wishes to kids battling illnesses and a young man named Scott Delgadillo had a special wish: to visit Notre Dame.

I had no clue how to put this together but I had a good friend that worked on Notre Dame’s campus, Jen Laiber, so I called her. Turns out Jen actually handled visits like those so she said, Sure, we can take care of him. I breathed a sigh of relief because, again, I had NO CLUE how to help grant this type of wish, or why out of alllll the alumni in San Diego, they called me. But God knew.

So I called back Make-A-Wish and they were ecstatic. And in mid-September 2000, with Jen Laiber’s help, they put Scotty on a plane to South Bend, Indiana.

Now, the weekend of his trip, Notre Dame’s football team, the Fighting Irish, were hosting the Purdue Boilermakers. The morning of the game, Scott’s mom, Carmen calls me, and says, “Alex, you’ll never believe this. We got here yesterday and toured the campus, and met the football team, and the head coach, Bob Davie, was so impressed by Scott, he asked him to speak.”

“To the team?” I asked.

“No,” said Carmen, “to the STUDENT BODY at the Pep Rally.”

I was stunned. There are 15,000 people at these rallies!  And Scotty brought down the house.

But Carmen had one more story. Apparently there was an Irish player from San Diego who met Scotty and promised him that, in his honor, he’d return an interception for a touchdown. That player was Shane Walton.

Midway through the game he broke on a pass, picked it off, and TOOK IT TO THE HOUSE. Notre Stadium went bananas!  I went bananas! Interception for a touchdown. The quarterback who threw it: Drew Brees.

I didn’t know Scott had such pull to where he could be an instant Notre Dame football legend like that. But God knew.

A few weeks later I finally had the opportunity to meet him. Unfortunately, not long after he returned to San Diego, he got sicker and had to return to Children’s Hospital. So I invited my buddy Adriana Holguin, who was also a Notre Dame graduate, to go with me.

On a crisp, fresh fall night, much like tonight, we walked into that hospital room and were so amazed. The Delgadillos – Carmen and Henry and Eric – were so welcoming. Scotty was too but that’s not what stood out to me. What stood out, first of all, was on his walls were letters and posters from Notre Dame students and alumni who had heard him speak at the September pep rally. Here he had given a completely unrehearsed speech and touched, LITERALLY, thousands of lives.

Second, there were pictures from girls everywhere! Lil’ Scotty was a pimp!

But what was interesting were the things he really DID NOT want to talk about. He didn’t wanna talk about his cancer or leukemia. He didn’t wanna talk about my prosthetics or that I obviously had some challenges. He wanted to talk football. He wanted to crack jokes. And because he was a pimp, he wanted to talk about girls.

That night was unforgettable and I quickly learned that THAT’S what Scotty was about. Did he want to recover from his illnesses? Sure. But he was more focused on visiting the rooms around him and making others happy. Lifting THEIR spirits. And telling people to always, always appreciate life.

A few months later, as you know, we lost Scotty.  <Long pause.>     It hurt. It still hurts.

But I’ve thought a lot about him in the ensuing years. And in 2008 when "Swinging for the Fences" was published, I dedicated a chapter to him because something he said stuck with me: Leave A Place Better Than How You Found It.

You see, Scotty knew there was a chance he may leave us early. But he didn’t whine and he didn’t pout. He was determined to raise awareness and get others to do good in this world. His friends continued that mission. His parents continued that mission with the Friends of Scott Foundation. DREW BREES even helps out now – amazing.

So I say to you tonight. As we remember Scotty, don’t be afraid to cry and definitely don’t be afraid to laugh. It is a night of remembrance. But I think about this every day as my employer, the San Diego Padres, strives to makes our city a better place.

Look for causes in which you can get involved! Look for lives you can touch. Look for how you can leave your community and school and church and relationships, better…than how you found it. 

Scott Delgadillo told the Notre Dame pep rally he’d return to campus one day to make an impact on it. I don’t think he knew he was making an impact right there and then!

But God knew.

And as sure as Scotty is watching us tonight…make him proud by making this world a better place. That is what Scotty wants.

God bless you; thank you.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

What Heavy D. Meant to Hip-Hop and to Me

At work I have a close friend, Karen Madden, with whom I've attended concerts, participated in endurance races, and shared many conversations about likes and dislikes. We know each other well. So when she walked over to my desk today, stopped, didn't say anything, and kind of looked at me like she wanted to say something but didn't want to say something, I knew it was not good news. She's only given me that look once before in the five years we've worked together, when she heard something within our job didn't go well and I'd be asked about it. So I instantaneously knew this wasn't a crisis. But I knew it wasn't good.

"TMZ just reported," she said, and then paused, "Heavy D. is dead."

Whaaat?

It was so random and sudden. I looked online and verified it and still couldn't believe it. What was crazy was just days earlier I'd seen a new or recent video of his and he'd lost a lot of weight! "He looks good but what do we call him now?" I'd asked K-Mad. "Vitamin D?"

I can't believe that one of the first rappers I genuinely followed is gone, just like that.

I first started really liking hip-hop late in junior high. Previously, I knew of Sugar Hill Gang, but they were like disco era; Grandmaster Flash, who was cool but he and his Furious Five were just that, a little too furious; and LL Cool J, who I respected but he embodied the gold-chain, sideways hat clique that just seemed kind of silly. So admittedly I gravitated more toward pop and R&B.

And I'm still more of an R&B guy. But then 1988 happened.

We all have a year or period we tend to romanticize and this is one of mine. The Fighting Irish won the national championship in football and I fell in love with them. The economy was great. My favorite group, New Edition, had a comeback album. Fades were fresh and high and clothes were colorful. And a new breed of rappers were emerging, primarily from the East Coast, whose lyricism was being heard all the way in my corner of the country, San Diego.

KRS-One. Dougie Fresh. Kool Moe Dee. Big Daddy Kane. MC Lyte. Public Enemy. Tribe Called Quest. Slick Rick.

And one Heavy D., who I'm ashamed to say I still don't know his real name without Googling it.

Now here was a rapper. Quick with a flip of the tongue and clever with a rhyme. He had a crew behind him - "The Boyz" - and they were DJ's, dancers, and singers. That was emblematic of his sound - smooth, catchy, something to which you could easily dance.

And dance he did. It stood out because Heavy D. was, well, heavy. He was a big man. It was as unavoidable as his thick, black goatee and everpresent darkened glasses.

Yet there he was, on "Yo! MTV Raps" or "Fade To Black", pirouetting, spinning, or - the iconic dance move of our generation - doing the Running Man. Hey, go ahead and laugh but when a dance move is done two decades later, if even mockingly, then it's stood the test of time. Heavy would do the Running Man and Cabbage Patch and then either rail against urban street crime or seduce women with his smoothness.

He was versatile. He would crack you up in 1988 with Girls, the girls they love me / 'Cause I'm the Overweight Lover Heavy D.  And then he would add punch and credibility to the 1989 ensemble Self-Destruction (for my money one of the best rap songs ever), a USA-for-Africaesque collection of artists pleading for fans to stop stupid violence.  And then in 1991 he bowled us over with Now That We Found Love and Is It Good To You, both songs a nod to the radio-friendly, New Jack Swing sound that was taking hip-hop from the underground to the mainstream.

He was dapper. He didn't wear the gold ropes or huge rings other rappers did, but they never begrudged his cardigan sweaters and silky slacks. Yet he was still very street and very respected. Then, in the mid-1990s, always ahead of the curve, Heavy D. was at the forefront of rappers transitioning to acting. Go back and look at his scenes with another pioneering rapper/actor, Queen Latifah, in the sitcom Living Single. It was pure gold and paved the way for Ice T, Ice Cube, and even LL and Will Smith to go from one-dimensional rappers to world-famous actors.

But what I appreciate most was this. Go back to 1988, that romanticized period in my life. I was a kid and as much as I enjoyed the times, I really didn't enjoy me. I had big glasses, thick hair, and three prosthetics. All kids and teens are self-conscious but I was especially so.

Then this big rapper appears on my TV screen and in my radio, proclaiming that he is The Overweight Lover. And you know what? "Girls, the girls they loved him." It was an epiphany. Instead of taking something the world considered a blemish or a blight - his weight - Heavy D. embraced it! He owned it, loved it, and made it a huge positive (not to mention lucrative).

So I started calling myself, that's right, The Handicapped Lover. Yep, even did freestyle rhymes about it at school and impressed many girls.

Now, eventually I grew to disdain that word and chose handi-capable and eventually the more socially acceptable "person with a disability". But this was 1990, man, I was young and I was not embarassed to use the word 'handicapped'. It was what I was physically and if I could accept that, and accept myself, then people could accept me - physically, emotionally, spiritually, unconditionally.

I learned all that from one rap artist.

Sadly, hip-hop has devolved and regressed. At the risk of sounding old (which I am) but even worse, stodgy, rap is not what it used to be. What used to be a beautiful collection of rhymes and storytelling is now an amalgm of bragging, sexual exploits, and violent grandstanding. Radio elevated hip-hop music and has now completely watered it down. It saddens me. Seriously.

Only once in a great while, maybe on a reunion tour or VH-1 special do you see the legends like KRS, Q-Tip, or Lyte. I saw Public Enemy a couple summers ago with my pal Colleen McD at the Street Scene Festival in San Diego, and though Chuck D. was a booming menace, Flavor Flav had degenerated into a reality-show joke. Much love to Flav but come on. Where has the royalty of rap's golden generation gone?

One is in heaven now and he can rest comfortably knowing that he impacted the music world. Heavy D. was a brilliant writer, poet, entertainer, actor, producer, and showman. And to one gawky young teen, he was an inspiration. A light like that never goes out of style.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Rotary Conference Speech: The Ethics of Doing More When the World Expects Less

Rotary District Conference Speech – November 4, 2011

Thank you, it is such a blessing to be here today.

I heard that the theme of this conference is ethics.

You know, when we talk about ethics, it has many definitions. Ethics involves morals, and values, and issues of right and wrong. But it can mean so much more.  The dictionary defines ethics as a

Noun:
1.    Moral principles that govern a person's or group's behavior. The moral correctness of specified conduct.


Ethics can also transcend how we conduct our lives. Not just, is it wrong to steal or cheat? We knooow THAT answer. In fact, as humans, we know what ARE the right things to do.  We simply choose not to.  We take an easier path.

So in other words, is it ok to do less if the world accepts less?

For those of you whom I haven’t met yet, my life story is a different one but still filled with ethical choices and moments. I was born in Colombia, South America and the medicine Thylidamide caused me to be born with birth defects - specifically missing my arms and right leg.

When I was two, the Shriners Hospitals flew me from my hometown of Medellín, to California, to receive my first pair of prosthetics. When I was four, my mother knew that, because these trips were expensive, and because I had family living in the United States, it would be better for me to move here permanently. You see, in Colombia at that time, if you were disabled you could not go to school, or hold a job, or have a life. It was a dead-end existence.

But this meant my mother had to make a huge sacrifice. She and my father had very little resources and had never lived anywhere but Colombia. They knew they couldn’t move.

So she had a decision to make: keep her youngest child – I was the youngest of three kids – at home with her? Or allow me to move to the U.S.? That meant she didn’t know when, if ever, she’d see me again. Ever.

How many of you are parents? Raise your hand. How many could give up seeing their child grow up?  My parents did. In order for me to have a better life and to follow moral correctness not only for them, but for me.

Since I was four years old I’ve grown up here in San Diego. My mother has tracked my progress, from childhood, to undergrad at the University of Notre Dame, to graduate school at the University of San Francisco. I have visited Colombia twice, and my parents have taken great pride in a career that has included media relations, being an author and speaker, and working for the San Diego Padres.
Which brings up another question of ethics.

There were many, many times when things weren’t easy. Being a triple amputee and prosthetics wearer is not easy. Quite frankly, it would have been easier for me to just give up and not try so hard at life.

<TELL STORY OF GETTING STUCK ON MONKEY BARS AT AGE SIX.>

I could have expected less from myself. I could have kept expectations low. After all, there were doctors who told my parents I shouldn’t expect to have a normal life. I could have lived off social help, I could have been untrue to my moral and ethical compass.

Well they were right. My life has not been normal. Nor has it been ordinary. It has been EXTRAordinary.

And this is why. I made a pledge many years ago that if my parents were going to sacrifice being able to watch me grow up, in order for ME to have a better life, I needed to honor that. I needed to think of the largest goals and largest ambitions I possibly could. I needed to be unafraid to dream. I needed to be unafraid to TRY.

A major reason for this mindset was when I attended RYLA as a high school junior. Raise your hand if you’ve been to RYLA, the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards camp. If not, I urge you to go next spring. It is one of the GREATEST things Rotary does.

RYLA teaches high school juniors to work together; to break past their fears and worries; to value service above self; to dream, and to change their world while practicing ethics in every aspect of their lives. When I first attended in 1991 it changed my life! So much so that I go back every year.

RYLA also taught me the importance of humor in overcoming adversity. Humor helps you to overcome anything. It strengthens you. A couple years later if people would ask me how much it cost to go to Notre Dame, I’d say, “It cost me an arm and a leg.” And I’d say you can always trust me, because I’ll never commit armed robbery.

Ok, ok, I’ll stop with my disarming humor. Sorry.

RYLA is a special place because Rotary is a special organization. An organization that values service above self. An organization that teaches us if we have, we must give. If we prosper, we must help others. If we have time, we must serve others. If we don’t have time, we must make time.

So I ask you today: are you making the most of your life and your Rotary membership? Are you learning more and expanding your mind? Are you setting goals for you, and your club, that are more than safe and are exceeding expectations? If not, are you really living to the highest work and moral ethics possible?

You know, I entitled my first book “Swinging for the Fences” because that was the perfect baseball metaphor. Swing for the fences, hit a home run. But I took on a new challenge last year unrelated to baseball.

 I tried my first series of endurance races, from 5K’s to the San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon. The 5K’s I did on my own and the marathons I was part of a relay team. Let me tell you, going through the grind and exhaustion of a marathon with a prosthetic leg is not easy.

But it’s not impossible. <Pause.>

It requires months of preparation. It takes prayer. It takes stamina. It takes the ability to push through, even when your body wants to just stop.

This is living to the highest possible standard. This is giving it your all, because you CAN.

In my job, I am blessed to work for an organization that believes in giving. The San Diego Padres make community giving part of our everyday corporate culture. My role is to specifically help the ballclub impact the Hispanic community. That’s a part of having strong ethical standards.

I often talk to my mother about it, and though she’s getting older and battling some things, she’s tough. She tells me the pride she feels in my accomplishments and how I’ve overcome. I tell her it’s what she instilled in me.

And what Rotary instills in YOU. A work ethic that is tireless and fierce. A moral ethic to do good in this world!

It is who Rotary is! It is who we are! It is who we ALWAYS will be!

God bless you. Thank you.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Disability Employment Awareness Month Speech (City of SD): Oct. 26, 2011

Celebrating National Disability Employment Awareness Month
Thank you, Susan, and City of San Diego. Thank you, Mayor Sanders, Bruce, and Louis for being here. I am so blessed to be here today. Today is really two things. It is a celebration of how far we’ve come in our struggle for equality. But also a reminder of how far we still need to go. It is a celebration and a call to employers to join us in this solution.
In my role with the Padres, I am granted many things. The opportunity to work with community organizations and see how the Padres can make their lives better. The opportunity to work with our players in taking their passion for various causes and turning that into charitable support. The opportunity to play a role in this game and city I love so much.
But what it grants me, above all, is opportunity itself. You see, I know that as a triple amputee with three prosthetics, working in a full-time job for a highly visible organization, is an anomaly, and a rarity. Normally, all too often, someone with a disability this “severe” – quote, unquote – and even less severe, never gets a chance. Too many employers still look at the disability rather than the ability.
For me, it all started with a chance. Myself and all of San Diego lost a great man this year when Mr. David Nuffer passed away. David was a great business leader and pioneer in the public relations field. He was also the ONLY person, after my graduation from college, who would even think of offering me…not even a job…but a job interview. Unlike so many others, who seemed nervous if I walked in their door or inquired about an opening, Dave had an opposite view. He would often GROWL when he talked so I’d hear Let me give you an interview…and then let me give you a writing test…and then finally let me give you a job. It is what we, like any job seekers, long to hear.
It was like getting a passport to a fantastic journey. Working for his PR firm led to working for The Access Center, now known as Access to Independence, and then the Hispanic Chamber, and the Padres. It’s been a journey of struggle and adversity, triumph and determination, accomplishment and dreams fulfilled.
In those Access Center days, my first full-time job, we did a study with Dave’s firm, in fact. We looked at the unemployment rate for persons with disabilities in 1997 and it was a whopping NINETY-ONE PERCENT. The reasons were many. But we also looked at statistics of businesses who hired at least one person with a disability and THOSE numbers were staggering. Satisfied employers: ninety-five percent. Employees who stayed at that company a long duration: eighty-nine percent. Companies who said they’d hire a disabled person again: 99%!
And yet here we are, in 2011, and the economy is slow. And disability unemployment rates are high. And what I’d like to convey to every employer out there is give this segment of the population what Dave Nuffer gave ME: a chance. To those that are seeking employment, I commend you. And I assure the Directors and Managers here, you can find some great employees among us. I urge you, when looking at how to fill your office with hard workers, with brand loyalty, and a tireless work ethic, to look our way.
We must look at WHY this gap exists.  Transportation is a major issue. So is the reality of people feeling it’s more beneficial to stay at home rather than haggle with Social Security and red tape.
Now, I recently was able to take two of our Padres players, Heath Bell and Ernesto Frieri, to Casa Familiar in San Ysidro for a ribbon-cutting and donation of a teen center to which the Padres made a contribution. And as I was there, right in the middle of Hispanic Heritage Month, it struck me that the best thing we were giving these kids is opportunity. Our players and broadcasters even told them that: what you are receiving today is opportunity. Just like we received as kids from working-class families. And I was only able to participate because the Padres gave me an opportunity.
To look past my challenges.  To move past my barriers. To get assistance when I need it. And to contribute to a team that contributes to society. If you are a person with a disability, never give up; as we say in baseball, always keep swinging. If you are an employer, grant that opportunity. Your business will be better for it, as will our city. We have much to celebrate but much, much more to do. Always keep working and always, always Keep Swinging.  

Monday, October 24, 2011

Commencement Speech to United States University

United States University is a small college in San Diego specializing in nursing, health sciences, and liberal arts degrees and certifications. Its curriculum and structure attracts many working adults and also immigrant communities. This is the speech I presented.

United States University Graduation – October 23, 2011
Thank you and I am so blessed to be here today. Today is a day for two things: celebration, and moving forward. Congratulations to the United States University class of 2011! You have come so far and overcome so much.
In fact, you have overcome more than your average graduate. With the program here emphasizing health sciences, and nursing, and management, and liberal arts, it is a rigorous program. It is also designed to reach OUT to the Latino and Asian communities, including those new to the United States.
That is why I love the name of this school, United States University, because that is what the United States does: reaches out, grants opportunity, and empowers you to make the world a better place.
In order to graduate, you needed intelligence, and smarts, and hard work. But you needed one more thing, all of you: you needed the ability to overcome adversity. You needed the ability to push forward if times got rough or it looked like you couldn’t make it.
I can relate. I face a certain level of adversity every day. You see, when I was born I had a birth defect. I was born in the era where a medicine called Thylidamide led many babies to be born with birth defects. I was born missing both of my arms and my right leg.
When I was four I moved from my native Medellín, Colómbia to the United States. I moved to California and received free prosthetics and physical therapy from the Shriners Hospitals. I’ve endured multiple surgeries and would not have made it without the help of caring, informed nurses and health professionals.
Let me show you how my prosthetics work. <Demonstrate>  Just as these arms Stay Connected, you too must Stay Connected. To your faculty and classmates; to the lessons learned here in classrooms and labs; and to your families who have supported you Every Little Step of the way. How about a round of applause for your family and loved ones?
But as you celebrate, you also move forward. Stay Connected to the spirit that helped you overcome sleepless night and tough tests. It’s a PART of you, it’s in your makeup, it’s in your DNA. It’s who we are as a people. We know struggle. We know adversity. Our heritage is a HISTORY of rising above challenges and succeeding in the United States. Carry that with you and become the next great American leader.
Now, I know that wherever I go publicly people may stare because they’re not used to seeing prosthetic arms or a prosthetic leg. That’s ok. You know why? Because it’s good to Stand Out. You should Dare To Be Different. While most people are out having a good time, or complaining about society, you’re working. You’re educating your MIND. You’re becoming a LEADER.  YOU’RE the one people are going to look to for help or when times get tough. Dare To Be Different – help solve society’s problems and be a leader in your world.
And finally, don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t. As an infant, the doctors told my family I can’t live a normal life. I moved to America. As a boy I was told I could not participate in a sport I love, baseball. I got a job as an usher with the San Diego Padres and worked my way up to Manager of Latino Affairs. I was told society is too cynical and doesn’t like feel-good stories anymore. I wrote a book called Swinging for the Fences and in three years we have sold over 1,000 copies.
I say all this not to impress you but to impress UPON you that you can do anything. One more thing. In my job I am so blessed because the Padres care about the community and look for community causes to support. It’s my job to look for those groups and organizations within the Latino community. What we find is while there is a great need, there are also many opportunities.
 Opportunities to serve and make an impact. You will all be successful.  Take those same traits – Staying Connected and Daring To Be Different – and use them in giving back. Find an organization or even a person who can benefit from your knowledge and talents. Make it your mission to help make their lives better.
Today we celebrate and we also move forward. It’s the end of one chapter and the beginning of another. You can do anything at all. Never let them tell you ‘no’ and ALWAYS, Always Keep Swinging. God bless you and thank you.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

USC vs. Notre Dame: Watching with the Enemy

For tonight's big match between USC and Notre Dame, I didn't go to our alumni club gamewatch because many of my friends were in South Bend for the game. Plus my buddy Joe Quiroz was downtown for an afternoon wedding so we agreed to meet up somewhere and watch the game.

The only place guaranteeing they would have the sound on was my beloved Tilted Kilt. Problem was, that's where the Trojan Club of San Diego holds their gamewatches. We definitely wanted to hear, as well as see, the game so Joey Q. and I decided to muster our courage and go behind enemy lines.

I arrived an hour before the 4:30 kickoff to secure a good seat and saw that every table had cardinal and gold pom-poms. Long banners proclaiming Trojan loyalty were stretched out and hung on opposite sides of the room. Gulp.

Then I heard, "Alex!" and it wasn't a long-lost Kilt waitress. (Hey, I haven't been there since Friday lunch.) It was Mark McCord, the USC alumni club president, who I know through my co-worker Scotty Baird. Mark is a terrific guy and he greeted me warmly.

Not every fan who started arriving was happy to see a guy with an IRISH t-shirt in their midst. An older lady with dangling 'SC earrings said, "Ugh! You probably like that little troll on ESPN, Lou Holtz." I was ready to break a chair over her head for insulting Dr. Lou like that. Then a man seated next to her replied, "Ah, she's always giving us a hard time." He obviously knew her and was an ND fan.

I soon enough had some back-up as Quiroz and our friend Vernetti rolled in. Then I got a text from my boys Pablo and Andres, who are SDSU guys but like ND. They wanted to come support and arrived shortly thereafter. On the opposite end of the rooting interest, but still a welcome guest, was my friend Cheryl and her friend Melissa, both of whom are big 'SC fans. So we had a full table and Cheryl took this picture:


As I gazed lovingly at the Kilt servers, the game began. It was the first home night game at Notre Dame Stadium in 21 years (because of the NBC contract) and Rockne's House was, well, rockin'. Mark says to me, "I think tonight you guys are gonna give it to us pretty good." He offers up a lunch bet, though, and I agree to it.

The Irish start horribly and as 'SC piles up a 17-0 lead, the cheers from their fans are squeals of surprise. I've heard squeals like that before, I've made squeals like that. No one talks any smack, however, except Cheryl looks at me smugly because her and I have a lunch wager too.

I see my man Chuck Fox walk in. Chuck handles PR for the Kilt, along with his wife Sheila, and was an offensive lineman for USC in, I believe, the 1960s or '70s. He's told me before that as an Irishman, Notre Dame is his second-favorite team. At their table is a lady who's apparently a devout ND fan because when George Atkinson III returns a kickoff to the house to make it 17-7, she dang near punches Joe and me with excitement.

The Kilt has their A-Team here tonight. In particular I really like Lisa, a Hawaiian-Hispanic-I-think, really pretty girl.

One older gentleman comes up and says, "I've heard you speak before. Thanks for joining us, Eric!" Uhhhh...

Cheryl now has her pom-pom in her hair and when ND fumbles at the goal line after clawing back to within 17-10, I have my heart in my throat. So pissed. On that fumble, which was returned 98 yards, every Trojan fan naturally jumps up and down and screams and goes ballistic. The place is bedlam, 100 or so Southern Cal fans losing their mind. Never have I felt so mad amid such surrounding joy.

Lisa walks by and smiles. I feel better.

There is one Trojan fan, seated with three others, who I notice claps on every play. Loudly. USC goes up 24-10, he claps. We respond with a TD, he claps. The Irish stuff a running play and the Trojans lose three yards, he claps!  This guy is insane!

ND makes it 24-17 and Joe and I are hollering and high-fiving the other, few like-minded supporters. One blonde chick seated up front turns around and gives a dirty look. Otherwise no one boos or shouts anything.



Lisa walks by. 'Sup, girl?  The guy claps.

Matt Barkley, who had a perfect night until Melissa jinxed him, caps a sensational night with his third score and we are done. Of course, the guy claps.

I notice one 'SC fan has shorts that are way too short. Dude.

The game winds down and it is obvious USC will win it 31-17 so their fans assembled here get a free victory shot on the house. Our table is just watching the clapping guy because every play, good or bad, he stands and claps. We start clapping for him too and his friend laughs.

Time expires and Trojan alums file past our glum table (glum except for the two girls) and offer up: "Good game" and "you made a nice comeback" and "good luck the rest of the way".

This was college athletics at its finest, just knowlegable fans enjoying a good game, and being cool toward each other. Often times, fans love to villify the 'other' but we're all the same. When 'SC scored, their fans were delighted. When they screwed up, their fans threw their arms up and shook their heads.

Most interesting to me was when NBC flashed a graphic of the athletic program's ongoing sanctions (thanks, Reggie Bush), they just quietly sat there. Not a word. And like all sports fans do, when the ref made a call against USC, someone would yell, "South Bend home cooking!"  And when the call went against the Irish, a Notre Dame fan would yell, "Pac-12 refs!"

It was fun and was exactly what all sports, especially college, should be. The Trojan Club of San Diego members didn't make us feel unwelcome or ostracized and, in fact, were friendly and classy throughout.

I'm just ticked that I owe several lunches now. I was sad at how my team's four-game win streak ended but it was enjoyable watching "behind enemy lines". 

Bye, Lisa. Call me.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Of Malcolm, Magic, & John and a Visit to a Community Garden

Last night I checked my work e-mail before I went to bed and I drowsily stumbled upon a message sent by my friend Malcolm in L.A.   Malcolm and I lived in the same dorm at Notre Dame, where he was a couple years behind me and a member of the football team. He is now a banking vice-president with his wife, who he met at ND, and two kids.

His e-mail was completely out of the blue in that it wasn't about our Irish's big matchup this Saturday vs. USC or anything about sports, except to say that his son really likes baseball and therefore was intrigued by my job.

The gist, though, was this: apparently on a quiet night in his household, Malcolm and his children, both under ten years of age, were clicking through his friends' various Facebook pages. When for whatever reason they reached mine - probably because I post more than Mark Zuckerberg himself - the kids started asking questions. I presume about my arms, though Malc didn't say that. They then told him that I "probably have a lot of friends".

Malcolm said, yeah, even in college he had lots of friends. But then he asked them, how can you tell Alex has lots of friends?

According to the e-mail, his son said something to the effect of, 'because he is smiling and in his pictures all his friends are smiling with him. That makes people want to be around him.'

For Malcolm, this was liberating. He actually called it "one of my proudest moments of parenting." I am guessing he has tried to tell his kids that how they treat others will be how others treat them. And boys, instinctively, kind of go the other way in that they try to be big and bad. When his children saw that I try to treat people well and am indeed blessed with many friends, something registered.

Well, I wrote him back the next morning, thanking him for sharing all that with me. But there were two things I wanted to elaborate upon as well. The first was that my happiness, my joy, my peace, stems from my faith. My relationship with God helps me to appreciate the good times and endure the bad. I can't take credit for being joyful unless someone knows why I'm that way.

The second is on my desk sits a picture of me with Hall of Fame basketball player Earvin "Magic" Johnson. I keep it on there not because he's a legendary Laker. But because when I was a kid I wanted to be tough like Malcolm's son's peers probably do. There's nothing wrong with being tough and standing up for yourself. But in everyday life, Magic was unafraid to just be happy, smiling, carefree, and good to others. It was refreshing in a world of spoiled and surly athletes. So I took a cue from that growing up because I felt like my nature was closer to Magic Man's rather than cocky Larry Bird or even - as much as I love him - trash-talking Michael Jordan. People responded when Magic smiled and laughed so I figured I'd try the same. Somehow they listened to me too.

So THAT, I told Malcolm, is why I'm known as a pretty happy person who loves people and is blessed to have people give love back.

I say all this because it underscores a cool experience I had today. My friend Pedro and I toured the Olivewood Garden and Learning Center in National City, where they have a self-sustaining garden for community kids to keep and preserve. It was really cool and the centerpiece of this plot of land is a Victorian-style mansion formerly owned by the Waltons of Walmart fame.

Two of the Walton offspring wanted their young son to live in a normal neighborhood, not a secluded and ritzy one, so they lived here for many years. The house is now a museum and community center and the garden is a community entity and is next to the International Community Foundation, which funds many causes on both sides of the border.



I bring all this up because Sam Walton wanted to make a difference in this world and that influenced his son John. That influenced John and his wife Christy into buying this house, smack dab in National City, for their son Lucas. The Waltons, in many ways, have positively impacted this country.







It's all about knowing who you are and not being afraid to make a difference. Magic did it with a smile, a basketball, and later a spirit to help inner-city entrepreneurs. The Waltons did it with an old house and a plot of land. People can make an impact simply by showing their true spirit.

Know who you are and don't be afraid to show it. That is the first step in really making a difference in this world.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

I Love Sports. Obvi.

I love sports. That's about as obvious a statement as I love El Pollo Loco.

It's my passion, my entertainment, and my profession. This weekend illustrated how sports really has impacted my life in myriad ways.

Friday night began with a happy hour at McCormick & Schmick's at the Omni across from beautiful PETCO Park. They have this great deal with cheeseburgers - for me, hold the cheese, please - for $2.50 and select beers half off. I went with Rossi and boy Joslin and as we watched the Brewers-Cardinals postseason game, we ruminated on work, relationships, and life. I love and respect these guys.

From there Shawny and I went to Horton Plaza, where we met up with D-Hanse, and saw Moneyball. I remember when my buddy Candy gave me the book in 2004 when I was desperately trying to break into the baseball biz on a full-time basis. She thought this may help me learn more about the industry. In a sense it did because it introduced me to Sandy Alderson and Paul DePodesta, who at the time were with the Oakland Athletics, and two years later all three of us were working in the Padres front office. The movie is not as statistical as the book but it is marvelous. In watching Brad Pitt (who was terrific) depict A's GM Billy Beane and Jonah Hill (equally sensational) play a character based on DePo, it reminded me how much I love and miss baseball season. It reminded me that I am blessed to work in this field, in this sport, in this cradle of memories and dreams fulfilled.

Shawn and I finished the evening with a nightcap at the new Tilted Kilt in Mission Valley, which neither of us had visited yet. It's cool, very spacious, and more sports bar-oriented than the downtown one. The chill of fall began to cloak the October air and Shawn and I took more time catching up.

I got home and eagerly looked forward to sleeping in. Let me be real. When you're younger, you want to hurry up and go out. As you get older, you want to hurry up and go out so you can return home and go to sleep. Mmmm, sleep.

The next day, with my Irish having a bye week, I really had no plans except to get a Fresh Fade. So at home we fired up a monstrous breakfast of eggs, sausage, toast, and fruit and watched the close Michigan-Michigan State game. It took me back to days as a kid when I'd wake up and you'd smell bacon wafting and football blaring. As a kid I'd also devour the sports page and on Saturday I was doing the exact same thing, reading every article while checking on other college games on the tube. This may not be a thrilling or unusual story, but I loved it.

Now, after going to get my fade, I passed a Hispanic grocery store in National City and instantly my mind flooded back to 2008. It was at this store parking lot, on a gray early August day, on East 8th Avenue that we took Adrian Gonzalez for an autograph session. 1,500 people showed up - screaming, cheering, even crying if they couldn't get his autograph (and only about 500 could because of time constraints) and the dawn of Adrian as an MLB rock star began. It was weird to remember all that as soon as we passed by the now-tranquil parking lot.

Later yesterday evening I hopped on a bus, trolley, and bus to Pacific Beach for Colleen McDonald's birthday party. It was a wonderful night at Bub's Dive Bar, full of laughs, beer, college football on TV, and snapping pictures. I really appreciate McD because we've been friends since our Sport Management grad school program, where we met in 2006. Back then, I recall, we'd chat about her grandfather being a huge Notre Dame fan and how she and I had a mutual desire (as all the students in that program did) to have long careers in sports. Now our conversations are about marathons we've participated in (and she's worked), cohort mates getting married, and life's unpredictable journey. Just like Rossi with the Pads, I'm grateful athletics has given me this good friend.

After the night of fun I retreated to Garnett Avenue and walked a few blocks just to enjoy the revelry. Before flagging down my ride I did some posting on Facebook, plus Colleen was texting me saying to inform her that I got home safely. As I did all this on my beloved BlackBerry, kids were walking past, then stopping, to watch me text. 

One girl OMG'd. Another guy in a blue flannel shirt said to his friend in a red flannel shirt, "Bro, that guy with hooks is texting. No way, huh?"   Two more guys walked past and one said, "Yo, dog, check out his arms." 

Finally, a bare-chested kid with a tattooed necklace and a blue SD cap was walking with a group of guys and girls. The chicks giggled and the inked-up guy stopped and told me, "Excuse me but we noticed you texting with your, um, things. I just want to say, that is sick, bro. Can I ask what happened?"  So I told him and it was all good. We fist-bumped. I love PB.

Today was the ideal lazy Sunday. We just sat and chilled and watched NFL football while I simultaneously read the sports page, Blue & Gold Illustrated, and Sports Business Journal. When the Niners and Lions coaches had a postgame tussle, I was tempted to blast Jim Harbaugh online because I really don't like him. But I thought back to just Friday, when my ripping of the Occupy Wall Street / Occupy San Diego movements caused such rancor - Slick Nick was pissed off and other people chimed in angrily on both sides - and I realized I didn't like causing such negativity. I stand by my comments, and I'm an opinionated guy, but I need to deliver them in better fashion to where it doesn't cause such friction. So I abstained from posting about Harbaugh, which is ok because every other sports commentator has opined all day.

The weekend ended smoothly. I read, I napped, I lifted, and followed all my fantasy and pick 'em point totals. More important we just relaxed and watched football, along with the Cardinals advancing to the World Series. At night we scarfed a pizza and watched the Bears rout the Vikings. It may not sound much to you but all this meant a lot to me. It was a good weekend. I have sports to thank.

Friday, October 14, 2011

No Purple

Today reminded me to expect anything. Sometimes you have your day planned in a certain way and things just veer differently from what you had in mind.

I was hoping Marky would want his birthday lunch to be at a burger or pizza joint. But he asked us, his boys, if we could go to a Thai restaurant. Ok, chicken and cashews for me it is. No problem.

I was thinking the lady friend and I were making good progress. Apparently her definition of dating is not the same as mine. Not happy about that.

I had to go to a work event at the Chula Vista Nature Center and hoped to network with civic leaders and split within an hour. Two hours later I'm still there among reptiles, owls, and snakes. And that was just the politicians.

Actually, this is where it gets interesting.

One of the reasons I stayed so long is Rudy just announced on Facebook that's he's engaged. <Sighs, rubs eyes.>

Ok, man, so how far out is the wedding?

Oh, a month from this Saturday, at 2pm? Alright, brother, I'll be there. Who else do you want me to invite?

Meanwhile, as we're talking, people are coming up to say hello, which is great but this is a heavy conversation, man. My boy's getting married!

The surprises kept coming. One friend tells me he got a divorce. Another tells me she was laid off. In brighter news, another one got a new job. But I had to chuckle when he didn't recognize me until he looked at my arms. Rudy loved that moment.

Finally I left and I told my buddy Pedro, "Hey, man, if you give me a lift home, I'll treat you to some Pollo Loco."  Pedro enthusiastically obliged.

UNsurprisingly, that was when I was the happiest. Sitting in my favorite chair, watching USC rock Cal, SDSU thump Air Force, the Brewers win Game 4 of the NLCS, the NBC Thursday night lineup, and Jersey Shore (which is kind of boring me in season 4).

Interestingly, ESPN interviewed Brian Kelly, my Irish's head coach and he poked a little fun at himself, saying, "No purple, that's my goal!"   Meaning, I can't get frustrated and blow up like I did in September when cameras caught me reacting so angrily to player mistakes that I turned purple.

Wouldn't you know it, as I'm watching this halftime interview and checking my texts and e-mails, my BlackBerry freezes. It was so freakin' slow tonight! But, hey, no purple. So I went and lifted on my Bowflex.

Some days things just go differently. It doesn't mean it's a bad day. But today it took everything within me to remind myself: no purple.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Meeting Marshall and Floating Away

Now that baseball season is over, I hope to write more frequently. What I'll do today is take some recent experiences I've had and describe to you some realizations that have occurred within them.

As you know I think a lot about life and who I am and where I'm going and for what purpose. One thing that has struck me lately is that life is a journey - we've all heard that analogy before - but often times it is different types of journies. Sometimes you choose where that journey is headed. Other times it's best to sit back and, quite frankly, let the journey take you.

For example, it was tough recently saying goodbye to a spate of co-workers, each of whom continued their professional journies elsewhere for a variety of reasons. Peanut (see last blog), Big Wull, Joycey, Gerry, K-Mo, LEvans, CoCo - I will miss seeing each one every day. Especially for a guy like me who treasures relationships and is resistant to change, it's - like Boyz II Men sings - So Hard To Say Goodbye.

But when life gets frustrating and sad sometimes you need to just stop and let whatever happens happens. This dawned upon me when our staff was treated last week to a three-hour cruise <insert Gilligan music> on the San Diego Bay. It was cold. It was drizzling. It was really quite miserable weather. But you know what? We were relaxing, there was a cash bar and some munchies, and it was a chill day to just sit and laugh and talk with your close friends or people to whom you don't get to talk to much. We had two choices: keep looking at your BlackBerry at e-mails rolling in or just live in the moment and enjoy an afternoon off from the bustle. I chose the latter. It felt great.



Then sometimes you need to just start anew and clear your mind and life. For me that was best represented by teaming up with K-Mad and tearing down the monstrosity known as my cubicle. I'm a hoarder and a pack rat. So I finally had to either give away memorabilia or take it home, clean out files, and reorganize my work space. It took two evenings and one almost full work day but we did it. And it feels like a brand new start.



And yet, finally, there are times you gotta just be aggressive, b-e aggressive. Over the summer you may recall I blogged about meeting Marshall Faulk at Drew Brees' charity event and asking him for a picture. Mr. Faulk's response was that he'd "be right back to do it."  He left to handle some biz and did indeed come back to my area. But he didn't say anything so neither did I - I have my pride. Well, this past week my buddy Adam Kinowski invited me to a fundraiser Marshall was holding. I could've easily said no way am I asking him twice. But he is a Hall of Famer and I do like that my job affords me the opportunity to interact with athletes, many of whom I grew up watching. So I didn't want to let pride become foolish pride.

I went to the event. And on a glistening October evening at the SDSU Alumni Center, I watched Marshall make his opening remarks and then planted myself to where he'd be departing the stage. I asked for a pic, he granted it, he looked away, and when I raised my hook to shake his hand, he looked at me like, "Oh wow. This is different." I said God bless and went on my way. It was a cool moment for me and hopefully a bit of an eye-opener for him. I don't have the picture on this blog but do on my Facebook.

One more story. The day after that awesome event I did a 5K with K-Mad, Suebie, Katie, Jackie, A.T., Kawachi, and his brother Kyle. Pad Squad and Friar came to support too. Represent! It was at the old Naval Training Center in Point Loma, which has many zig-zagged pathways. On this warm morning, my teammates broke away but my friends Michao and Andres were there so we walked together. Well, somehow we either made a wrong turn, or went too far on the second leg, because we completely went off course. We went around the NTC and by the time we were back on the path, the finish line was on the horizon. I missed probably a good mile out of the 3.1. Of course, my walk teammates and work teammates have ribbed me ever since. I'm a cheat, I'm a liar, I'm a shortcut-taker. All I can do is laugh. And wonder where in the heck my internal GPS failed me.

Sometimes you have to be alert to stay on the right path. Sometimes you need extra aggressiveness. Sometimes you overhaul and clean as a means of moving forward. And sometimes you just float and let life and God guide you. The key is to learn which one applies at which time. That, I think, is the secret to happiness.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Farewell to the Peanut Gallery

Look, I know that when a co-worker gets a job somewhere else, I'm not necessarily losing a friend. A friend is a friend no matter where they are and the best ones are those with whom you can reconnect after months, or even years, and it feels like no time has passed.

But at 5:01 pm on Thursday, September 15, I will be losing a truly great friend and teammate. Not losing as in death, Lord forbid, but losing out on the chance to see her every day. That's the worst part when a colleague to whom you are close gets a new job; it's just not the same when communication is mostly limited to e-mails and texts. That's why I'm thrilled that Nina Tarantino has a new job but just sad that I won't be seeing her every day.

I first met Nina when I was still an usher with the Padres and I remember that the two people who would always say hi to me were she and her Compadres Club partner, Harrison Boyd. As someone aspiring to move from the gameday staff to the front office, I just appreciated that they would always take time from their busy duties to chat with me and other ushers.

When I was promoted into the office in 2006, I couldn't believe my good fortune that those two friendly people, Nina and Harrison, were in offices next to mine. It made the often intimidating transition much easier. I came to learn that Neen had joined the Padres as a high schooler, and stayed through college at SDSU, and that with her brother JoJo as a bat boy, Padres Baseball was truly a family affair.

Now, people often ask, "Why the heck do you and Nina always call each other 'Peanut'?"  Oh, thank you for asking <tilts head slightly>.

In those first few months in the spring of 2006, Nina and I would habitually hear each other's conversations, jokes, and such - the hallway was super-narrow - and blurt out our own thoughts and responses. Sure it was eavesdropping but it was funny and good-natured. One day I was teasing her about something, I don't know what, and she says, "That's enough out of you, Peanut Gallery!"  So henceforward we just called each other Peanut.

(One day I even found a Snickers wrapper that proclaimed we are all residents of "Peanutopolis". I left it on her desk and when she returned, could hear her famous, "Enh!! Oh boy.")

Well, in every workplace, there are some people who remain as strictly colleagues, others become good friends, and others become like a sibling to you. Peanut became like a sister to me.

She yelled at me when I spent too much money on girls I liked. She would schedule her workouts so she could help me with my prosthetics and weight machines in the weight room. When I walked into the lunchroom, she was the first one to stand up to help me heat up my meal. She encouraged me to join her in trying the San Diego Rock 'n' Roll Marathon.

And just like a sister, she was uber-protective. I know that whenever I'm in public, people might naturally stare at my arms. I'm cool with it. Not Peanut. I've seen her, after our crew once left Woodstock Pizza, walk back in and go up to two grown men and say, "What, you've never seen a guy with two hooks before? Do I need to punch each of you in the face?"  True story <raises palm>.

I just knew wherever our crew would go, Nina would have my back.

And at the Padres, where your friends become your family, she was the glue, she was the anchor. From 2006 - 2011, she helped keep us all together, through good times and bad.

When I was blessed to accomplish my dream of publishing my first book - Swinging for the Fences, available on http://www.tatepublishing.com/; that's Swinging for the Fences, available on http://www.tatepublishing.com/ - Peanut was the first person to go online and buy a copy. She then told all her contacts about it and propped up my book on her desk so visitors would ask about it. For three years!

We've had incredible memories together. Swigging champagne in a party limo in Vegas. Spraying bottles of bubbly on the sidewalks of Little Italy on New Year's Eve. Jumping up and down on rickety bleachers at Aztecs basketball games. Clinking beer bottles at Shore Club. Throwing combined Gemini birthday parties at Club Altitude. Laughing when she came to Karen Madden's annual famous Halloween party dressed as a bumble bee and crying out, in her high-pitched voice, "Why can't I get a buzz?!  Ha!! A buzz!"  Ok, maybe you had to be there.

But you can appreciate how we would reference LaDanian Tomlinson's way of saying "strength" as "screnf".

Or how we lamented when the Pads lost the division by one game in 2007 and 2010.

Or how we've been there for each other through personal adversity.

Or how we cried together at our teammate Denny Russell's funeral.

Forgive me if this is blatantly corny. Like I said, I know our friendship's not ending, and it never will. But when someone leaves your workplace, you don't see them every day and it's different. And I am really going to miss seeing Nina "Peanut" Tarantino - and her mom Jaye Bird and father Tanktop Tiny - as much as I do now.

She is a sister and a true friend.

What's the matter with you, you've never seen a man get mushy before? Do I need to punch you in the face?