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."


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

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 MedellĂ­n, 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.


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.