Sunday, July 24, 2011

Farewell, Harry, and the Generation You Impacted

Don't worry, if you intend to see the final installation of the Harry Potter saga, I won't divulge any plot surprises or storylines. So know that and also know I saw it as a capper to an outstanding weekend - one in which I went to the Maroon 5/Train concert with Lisa Lisa and Colleen McD; lunched with my college buddy JC, visiting while on Naval leave; and dinner with Slick, KRB, and Rossi at Casa Guadalajara, which then turned into an impromptu softball game on the sandlot next door.

Frankie had been asking to see this movie specifically, which he normally doesn't do, so even though my funds are a bit low, I had to do it. It's fitting that we went to Horton Plaza, because that's the mall where my sister had her first job and I've frequented it since I was 15, with high school buddies and adult dates. Further, Frank and I lunched at the Great Steak Escape (another longtime hangout) and on the TV was the sports documentary "The U". I mention that because in chronicling the rise and fall of the 1980s Miami Hurricanes, they also document some fierce battles with Notre Dame. I grew up on that rivalry. Such great memories.

And that, in essence, is what this final Potter chapter is about. Fantastic memories.

I could tell you about how once we slipped on our special-effects sunglasses, the visuals were astounding and Frankie was on the edge of his seat the entire time. Plus Hermione is even hotter in 3-D.

I could also note that the storyline tied up some loose ends while introducing some undiscovered "A-ha!" moments. A lot gets explained while there are still multiple twists and turns like an old stairwell at Hogwarts.

Conversely, one criticism I have is there are moments when they seemingly tried to rush through things. Instead of intense good vs. evil battles, or Harry and friends looking absolutely doomed - as in films past - it was almost like the creators just wanted to get through this. Like they were saying you know he's made it this far, there's no sense in fooling you into false despair.

But the way he gets out of things, and some of the end results, are worth your money. Between the 3-D, script dialogue, hotness of Hermione, and plot twists, I didn't want to remove my eyes from the screen to look into my popcorn. True story. As Ron Weasley says at one point, "Brilliant, absolutely brilliant!"

Now, this is what I've grown to love about Potter, including this final flick. I wasn't an instant reader of the books upon J.K. Rowling's debut release in 1997. In fact, it took me until 2009 to read them and catch up on the movies. But I quickly became riveted by two things: Rowling's writing and the way, quite literally in the cinematic productions, we were watching these kids grow. I love any movie, TV series, book, and sometimes even music groups that allow you to grow WITH a group of people.

For millions of people, Harry Potter spanned a generation as they grew from kids to young adults. This last movie captures that beautifully.

For me, I wasn't among that growth but I've enjoyed seeing it all around me. I love the character development and maturation and action and history of it all.

Potter and Hogwarts has always reminded me of Notre Dame and South Bend, Indiana. His struggles with his step-parents reminded me of some tough times my family had to work through too. And like I said, sentimentality was in full Swing for me this weekend because Maroon 5 has expressed my feelings in song through the 2000s; Jean-Claude has been a buddy since we were pre-freshmen at ND and I hadn't seen him since 2004; and of course I love my current MVPD crew.

And, you know, I love spending time with Frankie. It's not easy with a person who has Down Syndrome, struggles to walk long distances, and can be adamant about wanting more food. But I've come to realize how much he appreciates our movie days, and is genuinely grateful to me, and truly loves Potter. We got home to the aroma of fresh spaghetti wafting through the air, and I got ready for a workout walk, while Frankie immediately found a Potter movie marathon on ABC Family.

I'll always remember that. And I'll always be thankful to the Potter movies for many outings with Frankie. Today was a great day and this movie, in and of itself, was sensational.   

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Latinos in Baseball Speech - July 6, 2011

Here is a speech I delivered at Cal State San Bernardino yesterday to approximately 100 Latino retired baseball players and Latino baseball historians. There were some current, college-age players as well. The event was a reunion and reception for the "Latino Baseball History Project", an archive and book series founded at CSUSB:

Baseball in our Heritage
Thank you so much, Dr. Caballero and Santillan, and Cal State San Bernardino.  It is such a great blessing to be here.
In my career, I have the honor of working for the San Diego Padres. It is an honor because I am working for a Major League Baseball team, but also because I get to work with the Latino community. As Manager of Latino Affairs, I oversee the Padres’ Hispanic marketing and outreach efforts.
I get to share my love of the game with others. And I do love this game. It is beautiful, it is acrobatic, it is passionate, and it is what shaped my life as an American immigrant.
You see, I was born in Medellin, Colombia in South America. I was part of a generation that was impacted by the morning-sickness medicine called Thylidamide, which was found to cause birth defects. As a result, I was born missing both of my arms and my right leg.
When I was four I moved to the United States so I could receive the proper medical care, including two prosthetic arms and a prosthetic leg. I moved to San Diego, with relatives who had already moved there, and it was a strange, new world. In my first book, “Swinging for the Fences”, I describe how everything was new: the language, the bigger houses, the constant swirl of activity.
I felt like I was on another planet and I felt lost. So I did what every kid naturally does - in my new home I turned on the TV. The first thing I saw was this game being played, men in their majestic white uniforms, playing on lush green grass, whacking this white ball around. I was captivated. Then the next day, it was on TV again. And then the next day. And then the day after THAT. I thought, this is the best NOVELA around.
I started to recognize certain words, like Ball, Bat, Stadium, and Ozzie Smith. Watching baseball on TV is what taught me English.
But it gave me more than a new language. It gave me a purpose. I fell in love with the sport and saw that, although I couldn’t play it, I could still work in it and be a part of it. It gave me a purpose and a passion.
Years later, after completing my undergraduate work at Notre Dame, I took a job in PR and then a second part-time job as an usher for the San Diego Padres.  This allowed me to apply for a full-time job within the organization, which I didn’t get. But I Kept Swingin’.   I applied again and again, and kept getting turned down. But I Kept Swingin’ and Swingin’.   Until finally, on my fourth attempt, I got hired into the front office.
I mention all this because it parallels the Latino experience in baseball. Ours is a history of struggle, and determination, but ultimately success in the game we love. Our community has been downtrodden, and often rejected, yet we persevere. It’s in our blood. It’s in our DNA. From the farm workers in the Central Valley, to the factory workers in Chicago, to hard-working first-generation college students in Southern California. We struggle and we overcome. And baseball is a constant part of our history.
That is why I fell in love with the exhibit here. When I first read “Mexican-American Baseball in Los Angeles” I was amazed. Not surprised, but amazed. I was amazed that teams have been formed in barrios, and in times of war, and as a means of keeping communities together. But I was not surprised at our level of passion, and perseverance, and pride. It’s in our blood. It’s in our DNA.
It is not important to keep this history alive – it is crucial. Today’s youth need to know about the Chorizeros, and Naranjeros, and Chavez Ravine, and Fernandomania.  Those are the predecessors to A-Rod and Adrian; Pujols and Panda; Reyes and Ramirez.    And the more cities we do this in, Inland Empire and San Diego and Tijuana and beyond, the histories will come alive.
I urge ALL of you to do two things: always keep supporting projects like these; keep the history alive; and the legacy flowing. And use baseball as your inspiration, your catalyst, your fire. Embrace adversity. Embrace struggle. Dream large.  Overcome. And always, always Keep Swinging!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

I Hear A Clock Ticking

You live long enough, and really you only need to be in your 20's or 30's to experience this, and it's bound to happen. An old flame, be it an ex-girlfriend/boyfriend, crush, fling, whatever, gets engaged.

It might even be worse than seeing them get married because, as much finality as there is in a wedding, you normally have a year or so to prepare yourself. And, ideally, be happy for your former paramour. An engagement, though, even if expected, is sudden and swift and just hits you, however you may hear the news.

I heard about Kimmy getting engaged last night. I was on my way home from a barbeque at my sister and bro-in-law's when a text message hit my phone. I ignored it until I got inside, kicked off my shoes, flipped on ESPN, grabbed a Diet Coke, and was in full-on chill mode. Maybe God wanted it that way.

My phone screen flashed the words: "From Kimmy Whitlow - He asked me to marry him. :-) "

My first thought, and uttered response was: Wow.

I texted her back right away, already feeling bad that I had ignored the message for 10 or so minutes anyway until I'd gotten settled, and offered both my congratulations and admiration of Chris. He's a good man. I've always liked him in their two or three years of dating. Even went to Vegas once with her and him. My kudos were genuine.

But all day today I've felt a tinge of sadness and I think I know why. Kimmy was never a girlfriend, she was your classic situation where her and I both expressed feelings for each other, but it was when she had a boyfriend, and by the time she ended it with him, she then said she needed to be single for a while. I was hurt but I understood. After a few months she met Chris and I sensed, correctly as it turned out, this could be the one for her.

So it wasn't that this Fourth of July weekend proposal was altogether shocking, or that I was sad about forever losing Kim, because neither would be true. I figured he would pop the question before too long and, although I've always maintained feelings for her, they've never been strong enough to dislike her current relationship or prevent me from pursuing my own ones.

It's just that...that's it...that's another failed romance. Not failed as in screwed-up but failed as in unrequited. Every time a former love interest gets engaged it's like, well, "Another One Bites the Dust". And you look at your age and current relationship status - single - and you worry a little.

It's a wakeup call too because there are too many women out there who I like, or have dated, or both, who are in relationships. They say every life experience prepares you for future ones. Well, who's to say they don't get rings here pretty soon? Was Kimmy's text a practice run for that?

I don't know. I really am happy for her and reinforced that in another message to her today - Chris is a good and loyal man and he didn't take her for granted and hold out on proposing. He was the right man at the right time and they truly belong together. My happiness for them is legit.

But I look in the mirror and I just hear a clock ticking. I'm in no rush, per se, but I'm tired of looking around and seeing nothing but exes. Some of them become somebody's permanent one eventually.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Beat It, Kid

This morning I was still really tired so I slept on the bus on the way to work. It was a deep sleep and I awaken to a kid seated in front of me tugging on my arms. I almost socked him in the face.

Then I realized the next stop was mine. So I thanked him and then I got off the bus.