Sunday, March 25, 2012

All Revved Up At My First NASCAR Race

Despite feeling under the weather - my fault for saying yes to every work-related and social invitation for literally the past two weeks - this weekend was great. I spoke to inner-city youths on Friday and Saturday, logged some extra office time, and went to dinner with J-Lo and Rocio for J-Lo's birthday at FOX Sports Grill.

Today was the topper, though. At the Latino Film Fest party last month, my NASCAR buddies Manny Poveda and Mario Cobián invited J-Squared and I to this weekend's race in Fontana. J digs cars and I dig J so I said why not. Especially when I'm always telling kids to try new things and expand their horizons and it's still within the realm of my biggest passion, sports.

So we drove two hours northeast to the Auto Club Speedway and it was a blast. I was impressed by the large crowds gathered for tailgating and immediately noticed quite a few Latino families. We were blessed with VIP treatment, including pit passes that put us right on the track for the pre-race ceremonies and official start. I recognize lots of NASCAR names but couldn't tell you who's who but I definitely recognize Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya (my uncle) and San Diegan Jimmy Johnson, the 5-time champ. Seeing them up close and snapping pictures of them was a thrill.

It was loud. It smelled of fuel. There was definitely a redneck, good ol' boy, East County element to it. And by mid-race the long-awaited rain finally came. But I loved the entire experience. It was more diverse than I expected and I see now that as blacks and Hispanics populate rural communities, they are exposed to and attracted by this sport as well. I think that's great.

I couldn't tell you who won and as soon as the skies opened up, Jessica and I high-tailed it back to SD. But it was a great atmosphere and adrenaline rush and I think I'm going to pay more attention to this sport. It was a fun, new experience.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

When You Think You've Seen It All: A Lesson in Living

Adventurers, as I celebrate my six-year anniversary in the Padres front office, I thought I had this blog all figured out. Last week I figured it'd be worth re-telling how on a Thursday night I waited for my friend Sandy outside Smashburger on Eighth & Market, who couldn't see me but saw several ambulances in the area, and called my cell - which had died - frantically wondering if I was ok. I was going to write about how she saw me at the last second, beathed a sigh of relief, and picked me up for a wonderful concert at the House of Blues performed by Tijuana sibling duo Jesse + Joy. I was then going to write about how I got home, slept like four hours, then got up and delivered an A-MOtivational Presentation.

Easy, right? Adventures galore.

Well, a funny thing happened on the way to blog writing.

I stepped onto the campus of Alliant University, enshrouded by trees on a gray, sunless morning, and listened to my host, Miguel Vasquez. The creator of his own foundation, Miguel told me about how I'd be speaking to 30 high school students competing in a business plan competition. Miguel funded this competition so that inner-city juniors and seniors could see their dreams flourish.

So I listened. I spoke. I told the kids they could overcome ANYTHING. I told them to embrace their adversity because it could make them stronger. I told them to live with PASSION. I told them they WILL succeed.

They were fired up. They stood; they clapped; and I prepared to leave. On to the next Adventure, right?

But Miguel tugged at my arm and said, "Hey, this may sound crazy, but while you spoke one of the students decided to write you a letter. She's very shy and wanted to write to you instead of approaching you personally."

I took the letter, folded up into a square like the notes I used to give girls in high school, and read it. In Spanish, the essence of it was:

'Dear Mr. Montoya,

My name is Linda Cifuentes and I want to thank you for inspiring us today. I am Colombian like you, and received a special entry into this conference because I am 14 and am a cancer patient. My dream is to create and sell jewelry and they allowed me to bring my sister too. In case I don't make it, I want her to learn how to write a business plan so that she may carry on our business. Thank you for reminding me to follow my passions, to not give up, and to do whatever it takes to make my dreams come true.'

Wow. I was blown away. Such courage. Such brilliance. Such wisdom.

I insisted on meeting her and her shyness went away pretty quickly. We chatted and I know Miguel hoped I'd further encourage Linda. What happened was Linda encouraged me.

I made a vow to continue our friendship and intend to abide by that. I also learned of a special fundraiser to support her, where you can win a week's vacation in Maui. Check it out:

All you have to do is buy an entry and you help her and other kids battling illness. But it ends March 31 so don't delay.

People ask what I love about my job and there are lots of things: great teammates, being in the sport of baseball, and being surrounded by fellow sports junkies. I have a wonderful boss who encourages me to try and do good things. But what I love the most is when the Padres support great causes and I get to meet incredible people.

Linda Cifuentes is incredible. And amazing. My adventures pale in comparison to hers and my heart or so-called courage does too. I took a lesson in living from HER.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

All I Do Is Win...and Work Hard

Well, Adventurers, I didn't think we could top last week, whereby I spoke twice and attended the Latino Film Fest kickoff and, uh, made new friends.

But this past week was pretty great too. On Tuesday I spoke at the Rotary Club of Escondido, per the invitation of my fellow Notre Dame alum Fred Baranowski.  With spring training having just begun, I talked about how this is still a new year and a chance for a fresh start at goal-setting. Having seen the incredible movie Act of Valor last weekend, I thanked the military veterans in the audience for defending this country. The great thing was I built rapport with them early on by engaging in some friendly smack with the six Trojans among the crowd of 180. But they were so comfortable that when I started my bit about the Power of Humor - and used some corny jokes and puns to exemplify that - they booed! As I told my friend Sandy Mas-Fernandez, who stopped by to watch, I usually tell four bad jokes! These guys stopped me in my tracks!

Oh well, it was a very fun luncheon and I was brought to and from it by Jim and Kelly Ponder. On our ride, we deduced that I've known the Ponders now for ten full years. I can honestly say meeting the Ponders, who have gotten both of my books produced, has changed my life.

The next day, the folks from PR group The Alarus Agency paid a visit to my work. They were about to announce what they had told me privately last week: that their client Access to Independence was giving me the incredible honor of being granted their "2012 Lead On" Award for community leadership. I was blown away, thrilled, and humbled by that. So they came to beautiful Petco Park and we did a photo shoot for the Gala in April where the award will be given. I'll upload some pics I took with Anna Allee, Roxanne Farmer, and a great crew from Univisión.

It was a busy couple days because I did a phone interview with Ricardo Gomez of Pláticame.TV ("Talk To Me.TV") and then capped the week by speaking at the Hermanos Unidos Brothers United - HUBU - conference at City College. This was to encourage African-American and Latino inner-city males to pursue higher education. I spoke candidly and emotionally about my story and essentially (and literally) asked, "If I can do it, why can't you?"   They responded terrifically. And, they did not boo.

It was such a long and busy week I needed a weekend of relaxation and sports-watching. And get this - all my teams won!

Irish men's basketball vs. Providence...WIN.
Lakers vs. Kings...WIN.
Padres give Cameron Maybin 5-year contract...WIN.
Aztecs vs. TCU...WIN.
Lady Irish Big East quarterfinal vs. DePaul...WIN.
Los Lakers vs. El Heat...WIN.

A great week capped by a successful sports weekend - the best ever. Here's to another blessed week, Adventurers.
Lady Irish vs. DePaul...WIN.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Long But Amazing Friday

I wanted to share with you guys, who are kind enough to follow this blog, about one of my most memorable days of public speaking engagements yet. I woke up yesterday - Friday, Feb. 24 - already a bit tired because the night before, Jessica Jiménez, aka J-Squared, and I went to the Latino Film Festival Media Kickoff Party. In addition to seeing peeps like Univision's sports anchor Beto Gurmilez and 933's Geena the Latina, J-Squared and I discovered an IHOP Express on 4th & G and grubbed there afterwards. Here is a picture of me at the event at Merk Restaurant (Fifth Ave.) with Jessica, Geena, and 933 DJ/Producer Sonic.

Well, the next morning I was tired but still pretty pumped because I was going to speak at the kickoff event for this year's Cesar E. Chavez Commemoration Series. A couple years ago I spoke at their Breakfast in front of 1,000 people and this time it was far different - a workshop of 20 people - but the work was still important. The goal of the workshop was helping young educators relay Cesar's stories and accomplishments in such a way that today's iPod wearing, Angry Bird playing, quite prosperous generation could relate. So I talked about the camp director in 1991 who wanted me banned as a "potential liability"; how I fought that discrimination; and how today's kids need to know those types of injustices exist and how to peacefully fight them.

I wasn't at my sharpest because I haven't spoken much lately and the Anytown story is not one I use often. But with some key pregnant pauses and raw emotion, I held their attention and it went great.

I spoke at 10am, the event ended at 11:30, and by noon I was headed to downtown San Diego. I had just a few minutes to check my e-mail, grab my sunglasses, and head to lunch. My lunch date on this warm and sun-splashed afternoon was another Jessica, Spinazzola. I get asked about her a lot but not by name. She's the girl that Peter Rowe describes in his Foreword in "Swinging for the Fences" as me asking him to 'hold my chicken', walking up to her in a restaurant, and within minutes extracting giggles and a phone number. People ask, "whatever happened with that girl??"  Well, J-Spinzz, as she is known, moved to Denver, had a daughter, and we've remained good friends. She was in town to check out schools because she wants to relocate her kid and boyfriend back to SD. I am so glad my moxy that day resulted in a good friendship. I'll post pictures soon that she took of us at Tin Fish.

After lunch, I hustled back to the office and it was straight to the car of my buddy Miguel Trejo. He was driving me to speak to his group, "Encuentros", which mentors teenage Latino boys at Fallbrook High. I fell asleep in his car almost right away but he said he understood. I woke up refreshed, still a little woozy though, and walked into a room full of boys and a homemade banner. I spoke on my overall life challenges and how they need to not let anyone tell them they can't succeed. I was afraid they might consider it a little hokey but when they asked if we could take pictures and wanted to share school experiences with me, I knew I'd made new friends. One kid, Jonah, was both mischievous and sincerely good-hearted and I saw a lot of myself in him. He's behind my left shoulder here.

Afterwards, Mr. Trejo took myself, his family, and a couple of the students out to dinner at Cocina del Charro in Escondido. His older sister came and she's pretty cute. By the time I got home I was wiped out. It was the most amazing Friday I've experienced in a long, long time.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Taking the Crazy Train to "Lob Angeles"

A (more or less) accurate chronology of a roadtrip with friends today.

6:07 am - I am arising at this ungodly hour on a Saturday because today a group of us are going to Los Angeles for the Spurs-Clippers game at Staples Center. The game is at 12:30 but we are catching the 8:40 MetroLink train, which means arriving to the station in Oceanside by 8:00, which means picking up LoLo and Jakey in La Jolla by 7:45, which means Shawn and Mark will be at my place at 7. Thus the 6am wake-up time. I am kind of hating life.

7:57 am - We pull into a La Jolla parking lot where Jacob and Logan are going to leave their cars. Randomly we see San Diego mayoral candidate Bob Filner getting out of a car. I am officially convinced the man never sleeps.

8:20 am - There is a long line at the MetroLink station in Oceanside and the portly ticketing guy tells us we can always get on the train and pay at a future stop. Half of our crew hasn't even arrived yet. I am nervous. But I'm also hungry. So I give Mark ten bucks for fries and a drink at the nearby Burger King kiosk.

8:35 am - Those of us taking the train - Marky, Dubois, LoLo, Rossi, Double J, Ark, Em, Rob, and J-Lo and myself - are present. So is the train. But we see no pathway to the door. Suddenly an older gentleman says, "You need to go down the ramp, across to the other side, underneath the station, and board there." Which means one thing: run!!!!!!!

8:37 am - We are running. Specifically, my friends are running and I am walking as fast as I can. I feel like LMFAO just Shuffling furiously but really going nowhere. Emily pierces the cool morning air by yelling, "What about A-Mooooooo?"

8:39 am - The crew has run down and underneath the station, as the old man instructed, and there are fries, french toast sticks, and splashes of soda everywhere. Joslin shouts from the platform, "I'm gonna hold the door but don't worry - if the train starts to leave, I'll just drive us up! Do NOT fall!"  He's a good man, that Double J, a kind soul.

8:40 am - With my heart beating like a Rihanna bass line, I jump aboard the train. We collectively scramble to find an empty car and locate one with two tables. We sit and exhale. We made it. It was like reaching The Finish Line - available on and bookstores this summer. Boom.

9:49 am - We are on the train, laughing, eating, cajoling, Checking In, relaxing, when a conductor barrels her way through. With great sass she barks, "Feet off of the seats, please, feet off of all seats!" Oh I'm sorry, I thought I paid to be on here.

11:00 am - Hello, Los Angeles. We depart the train, enter Union Station, and somehow took a maze of blue lines, red lines, frickin' yellow lines, and wind up at our destination - in the heart of L.A. Live, the bustling entertainment district across from Staples Center.

11:03 am - We are joined by one Phil Lorenzo, the man who's almost as famous in Miami as Pitbull, who drove from beautiful San Diego. I relay to Phil and Jake how the last time I was at Staples was when my homey Colleen McDonald surprised me with the incredible Christmas gift of tickets to the Jay-Z/Kanye concert. That ish cray.

11:47 am - We settle onto the outdoor patio of ESPN Zone, amid quite a few fans rocking Kawhi Leonard jerseys from San Antonio or San Diego State. I shout out, "Aw yeah, Kawhi Leonard, Aztecs, baby!  619!" I make new friends.

11:57 am - The remainder of our crew is now here, Golden, KRB, Sancheezy, Hazel, Hazel's friend that looks like the singer Adele, and J-Lo's friend Rocio (how YOU doin'?). I propose a toast: To great friends and great Lob Angeles.  Hollaaaaaaaaa!!! <Clank, clank, clank.>

12:10 pm - I realize I am a lifelong Lakers fan, who jumped on the Bulls bandwagon because of MJ when I was in school in the Midwest, and still like them but shifted back to the Lakers when I moved back to Cali, and I love the Fighting Irish and Aztecs...and none of them are playing here today. Dang.

12:27 pm - It's almost tip-off and some of our crew have begun drifting for the gates, so I challenge Rocio to a chugging contest. We both have straws. I lose.

12:30 pm - Rossi, Soltren, and I take a picture in front of the statue of one of my heroes, Magic Johnson. So cool.

12:35 pm - Metal detectors hate me.

12:40 pm - I am earnestly impressed how many rabid Clippers fans there are. There are jerseys here and there reppin' Lakers, or Spurs, or the hockey Kings but "Clipper Nation" is pretty strong. Lob City and The Poster Child are a sports marketer's dream.

12:48 pm - Mark, Jacob, and Nick are getting food on an outdoor food court so I yell, "Hey, is that Jeremy Lin?", and walk away.  Everybody turns around.

1:30 pm - There's a McDonald's here!

1:42 pm - Spotted: actor Rainn Wilson.

3:05 pm - I hear the Aztecs have lost 58-56 amid 16 turnovers at Air Force. I am really starting to worry about those boys.

3:17 pm - I notice Tim Duncan doesn't really run anymore. Which makes it funny when he raises his hand to signify I'M OPEN. Well, yeah.

3:20 pm - Blake Griffin has 22 points and 20 rebounds. He's just ridiculous.

3:27 pm - Clad in their retro ABA uni's, the Clippers lose a gut-wrenching game in overtime, 103-100. It was an amazing game.

3:59 pm - A t-shirt salesman on the street is hawking, um, unofficial Clippers gear. But My Man is also peddling Whitney Houston tees. Really? Come On, Man!!

4:40 pm - We are back on the MetroLink and I realize I always have fun in L.A.

4:57 pm - The sassy conductor is back. "I said, get your feet off the seats! And yes, I do work all day here. If people on Monday are wearing white pants, guess what happens when they reach the seat your feet are on?"  Jacob looks at me like Who wears white pants to work?

5:01 pm - I am asleep amid a pile of Lay's potato chips and crumbs from a Subway sandwich. Straight SLOB Angeles.

7:07 pm - Back in Oceanside, we all hug and mostly part ways. Man I love these friends.  

8:45 pm - I am back at my crib, watching the overtime frame of Notre Dame's 74-70 victory at Villanova, their eighth straight 'W'. I am yelling, kinda, 'cause as Nick noted as we left Staples, I totally lost my voice. That's how much fun we had. Taking the train was the right call. Seeing this NBA matchup was a great decision. Having these friends, this crew, is a tremendous blessing. I am pretty much loving life right now.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

She's Every Woman: A Farewell to Whitney Houston

Each generation has a list of singers who transcend music and are true icons. Etta James. Gladys Knight. Janis Joplin. Aretha Franklin. Diana Ross. All of these are iconic in the pantheon of female singers.

For my generation, three immediately come to mind: Madonna. Mary J. Blige. And Whitney Houston.

Women who have a string of memories and monumental moments to go along with a string of no. 1 hits.

The world lost a great one last night, a songbird who could make you feel whatever she was going through, and make it so that listening to her songs always reminded you of whatever you were going through too. It's easy to rhapsodize about her booming pipes, melodic voice, and mesmirizing shifts in tone. Many will do that and rightfully so.

But what stands out to me about Whitney - that's the first sign of a star, when only a first name suffices - is that she created a number of iconic moments that I experienced personally or as part of the American public.

Her first few hits, and they were heavyweight successes, are ingrained into '80s pop culture: You Gave Good Love; How Will I Know?; I Wanna Dance With Somebody. I didn't realize it at the time but it was rare, if not unheard of, for girls all across the country to get their style from an African-American woman. Whitney transcended race and culture during a time when, really, there weren't very many black pop singers.

Perhaps that was why our teacher forced our class to sing I Believe the Children Are Our Future at sixth-grade graduation. I say forced because my classmates at Lindbergh Elementary in San Diego's suburb of Clairemont thought the song was sappy; we thought we'd be laughed at. We weren't, of course, but what we didn't realize until years later was Mrs. Negus had chosen that song as a hallmark of diversity, education, and triumph. It would become a classic.

What was interesting is the youth of the 1980s and '90s eventually went through a cultural metamorphosis. As the glitz and economic success of the '80s grinded into the more challenging early '90s, a lot of families lost jobs and homes. Whitney herself found pop stardom, which came so easily from 1985 - 1988, came at a cost. She was criticized by other R&B singers for "not being black enough" and was booed at the 1990 Black Entertainment Television Awards.

Then came late 1990 and the emergence of Saddam Hussein and what eventually became Desert Storm. Our country had not engaged in international conflict since Vietnam and, needless to say, it was an unsettling time. With debate raging over war in Iraq and even the Super Bowl overshadowed by the gloom of families sending sons and daughters overseas, Whitney was tabbed to sing the National Anthem. What followed was the most beautiful rendition of The Star Spangled Banner I have still ever heard.

I can still remember players from the Bills and Giants - the Super Bowl champions in this year that Whitney has passed too - wiping tears from their eyes. The next day famed B.E.T. announcer Donnie Simpson recounted on air how, when the anthem ended, he picked up his phone, called his brother somewhere, and said, "Man, did you hear that?", while wiping tears from his eyes.

Personally I believe the Lord made it so that Whitney could sing that song, like only she could, before the biggest single-game sporting spectacle in the world, to comfort, encourage, and galvanize us that good would eventually defeat evil.

The next few years were as roller-coaster wild for Whitney as they were for our generation. She created the album I'm Your Baby Tonight, which finally gained her R&B acceptance; became a mega-star in music and movies; married my favorite male singer, Bobby Brown (an original member of New Edition); got caught up in a whirlwind of drugs, abuse, and money; became a reality-show trainwreck; survived and eased into her roles as mother and singing luminary.

Her role in Waiting to Exhale showed her acting chops and displayed the sass many didn't want to believe she had. Whitney wasn't the pop princess many in the public desired her to be. But she wasn't an all-out crazy diva either. She was many things in many different eras and I think another one-name queen of entertainment, Oprah, recognized that. Not every singer has a song like I'm Every Woman selected as the theme for the biggest talk show in television history.

Whitney Houston was every woman: brash, talented, romantic, mischievous, ambitious, sensitive, resourceful, tough, and always able to come back from defeat. Hearing her songs is like taking a trip through 25+ years of music history.

She is incredible. She is an icon. She is Whitney and, man, will she be missed.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

And the Envelope Please: Lessons Learned About the Marathon of Life

As you know, I've spent the month of January engaged in a fundraising campaign to cover publishing costs for my second book, The Finish Line. Just to type those words, "my second book", is surreal and I am as humbled as I am proud. In many ways this has been even more gratifying than achieving my lifelong goal of publishing Swinging for the Fences because so many people have been involved.

Jim and Kelly Ponder at Turnkey Strategic Relations negotiated the business contract with Tate Publishing and are making all this possible; Lidia Martinez donated two Southwest Airlines tickets for the pre-purchase prize raffle; and I've gotten amazing Facebook public endorsements by friends like Golden, Rossi, J-Lo, A.G., Wuller, Mancillas, and other generous people. Every day, envelopes reach my mailbox, with book pre-purchases coming from names like Madden, Papasedero, Lopez, Donohue, Whitlow, Basham, Holguin, Tarantino, Moreno, Anaya, Aguilar, Orozco, McDonald, Sandoval, Delgadillo. There are way too many name, although someday I will.

It's been a hard process - and I'm sure people are as weary of my campaigning and promoting as I have been in doing it - and we've still got a couple days and few hundred bucks to go. But what is most satisfying as these envelopes come in is not the checks enclosed, but the names on the envelopes. Seeing Quinn, Carter, Leisz, Guglielmo, Fox, Mundy and more is like seeing a tapestry of my life. From J-Rev to J-Lo to J-Wull to J-Bruin, it's like seeing my life history before my very eyes on a daily basis.  I am truly blessed.

Well, amid this daily campaigning and check-collecting, one envelope stopped me cold this week. It was from Lawrence Nuffer, son of David Nuffer, my deceased mentor and first boss. It wasn't a check. It wasn't cash. There was no mention of either of my books. Rather something more valuable was inside.

To paraphrase the note Larry enclosed: "Dear Alex: In going through Dad's old belongings I came across a Christmas card you sent him in 2003. I thought you might like to have it and a picture we found of you two."

Trembling a bit, with every hair on the back of my neck standing up, I opened the card with the shepard glancing at the Star of David. There was a Scripture inside about Christ's birth but my eyes darted to the handwriting - my loopy cursive - just below it. It read: "Dear Daveed, Wishing you and Mary a blessed Christmas, with utmost appreciation from me. You have always been a mentor to me and I appreciate you remaining so involved and influential in my life. Thank you for your mentorship, friendship, and love. Feliz Navidad, Montoya."

He always preferred that I call him Da-veed over David, and that he called me Montóya - emphasis on the "o"- over anything.

Enclosed was the picture Larry had found in Nuff's office. In this digital age it is so weird to hold an actual, glossy print in your hand. There we stood, at a networking event that I immediately could tell was in Old Town based on the margarita-filled surroundings, Daveed in his conservative black suit and shock of white hair, and me in my purple shirt with matching purple and tan floral tie. Hey, it was the late 1990s.

This card was sent in 2003, and the picture was taken sometime in the late 90's or early 2000's, and yet gruff, tough-on-the-outside Nuffer saved it in his personal belongings. It showed why he was such an incredible mentor, a mix of straightforward bluntness with constant compassion.

Man, it was emotional receiving that card.

As the week ended, more memories flooded as I had three separate visitors from the Midwest and East Coast. I guess 75-degree San Diego in January is a popular spot and old friends Billy Brewka, Chris "Stretch" Martin, and Ron Elizaga - all Golden Domers and all here on individual trips with none of them knowing each other - visited and asked if I'd grab a bite with them.

So on Friday, Rossi and I had dinner with Brewka at the Kilt (B Squad), and then I took Brewk to Bub's to meet Stretch and his wife and friends. The following night I met up with Ronnie and gave him a tour of my work, before we sauntered back over to Bub's - I'm a creature of habit, can you tell? - for our own meal and beverages.

During both meals we recounted our days at Notre Dame and marveled at shared experiences even though Bill, Stretch, Ron, and I all graduated in different years. With Ron and I, because we were in the same dorm for two years (he was two years ahead of me), and were close friends, the reminiscing was a lot more personal.

Besides the usual recounting of old memories that reunited friends will do, Ron and I philosophized a bit. As I was telling him about The Finish Line and why I tried the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon and wrote a second book, I also lamented about how it's so easy to lose touch with people. I feel guilty, I told him, that I don't keep in touch with as many friends as I'd like. Then Ronnie turned the tables on me. "Bro," he says, "you said it yourself: life is a marathon. And our friends are sometimes people that encourage us at certain points of the marathon. Some will run with you the whole way. But some are meant to be there for you at certain points."

I thought about this today as I saw friends like Colleen McD and Pad Squad Kristen posting about completing the Disney Half-Marathon, and as I did a few laps in my neighborhood amid a sparkling sunset. You know, when you do a race, most of the time you are alone. There are a bunch of runners and supporters at the beginning and the end, and people perhaps cheering you on at various points, but most of the time it's you, and your music, and your thoughts. And no doubt whenever you do see somebody rooting for you, the adrenaline soars and you are extremely grateful. But most of the time you need real determination because it's just you amid a desolate course.

And life is often that way. Whether you're married, or have a significant other, or are like me and are blessed with friends, unless you're a Siamese twin all you have is yourself. You're responsible for your own path, the decisions you make, the choice to move forward or not. But those friends are a huge help. Friends are what makes the race enjoyable and often times, amid our toughest moments and heartaches, friends are what carries us through.  

"You never know who'll be there to help you through the race," Ronnie continued, "but everybody plays a role. And you appreciate them and they know you appreciate them and you just try to thank them along the way The Finish Line."

We both laughed at that blatant use of the book's title but he was right. Every friend gets you through the race of life.

I've often admired friends who found ways to run races while taking pictures and posting updates along the way. They are truly living in the moment.

This week I'm just truly thankful for friends and envelopes received. Some contain checks for books. Others contain Christmas cards sent to old mentors. All of them confirm that life is a marathon and friends get us through.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Kids Say the Awesomest Things

One of the reasons I augment my career in baseball with book-writing and public speaking is I know kids enjoy hearing my story. Kids - whether they're eager grade-schoolers, feisty junior high teens, or impressionable high schoolers - are all sponges. They soak up information and they're not afraid, ever, to ask questions. I like that. I also like that they're generally not jaded or disillusioned yet and believe they can make a difference in this world. Even youngsters who endure family tragedies or rough upbringings can still usually be convinced that they, their thoughts, and their dreams matter.

I really enjoy when that proverbial light bulb turns on over their head and they're motivated to pursue an educational, athletic, or career goal. I probably get a kick out of seeing that happen because I was one of those kids who wasn't sure if he could be a college student, baseball industry professional, or author until someone said 'yes you can' and 'here's how'.

That's why I worked hard at writing and now continually promoting Swinging for the Fences. That's why I am presently relentlessly gathering pre-sale payments for the next book, The Finish Line. I truly want to see it go into production and am paying for the publishing, which is scheduled for the spring.

I'm reminded of this goal whenever I receive letters, usually collected from teachers who assigned 'Swinging' as classroom curriculum. Kids can be blunt. Kids can be funny. Kids will always, always be honest. Here is a sampling of notes I've received recently. I'll share them in snippets, followed by my thoughts - and/or responses - upon reading them:

Mr. Montoya: I thought your book was so cool. I loved all the stories. I had no idea you work for the Padres football team.

Thank you and me neither, kid. I think I may need to educate the community a little better on what we do.

Alex Montoya, this book was so good to read, I just may read it again. I really liked your quote about, "You never know what you can accomplish until you try it."

That is music to my ears - or eyes, I suppose. If I can get you to read more and try something maybe you didn't think was possible...psssht...I gotta say it was a good day.

After reading this book and telling my friends about it, they wanted to know, so 'what's the meaning of life?'  I told them I didn't know cause I'm only halfway through life. 

Fair enough.

Mr. Montoya, the beginning to the end of the book was amazing and inspiring. You've taught me to never give up in life, no matter what challenges may be thrown at me...I will make my dreams come true.

With an outlook and determined spirit like that, yes you will. Adversity will come, it always does, but you can do anything.

What I learned was that in order to follow your dreams you must keep pushing to reach them. I also learned that it is okay to be "different" from people.

Very true on both accounts. Just like I view my physical difference from most others as a strength, you must be different in striving to be a leader and problem-solver. And whatever goals you have, you're going to have to push and work hard.

I cried when your brother Frankie was jumping up and down when you got into Norte Dame. He seems like a big help to you and a very important person in your life.

Frankie is the light of my life.

I thought my favorite part was when you said you can shave with your left foot. I didn't think anybody could do that!

Truthfully, that was something I USED to do. My stomach and electric razors started changing that. But the point is when you have a need, get creative and focus on what you have, not on what you're missing.

I loved your book and your quotes and am glad I have all four of my limbs.

You should be. We all gotta use what God gave us.

It was so cool when you fought to get an elevator put in that building. At first I thought, who would say no to an elevator? But then I realized there are always challenges and whenever I face a challenge I'm going to believe in myself that I can overcome it.

Egg zactly. Some challenges will make sense. Others will surprise you. But you have what it takes to overcome them all.

I liked that you wrote about baseball. Last year, before the last game, a cousin of mine passed away. I was sad and in the last game, hit a ball over the centerfielder's head. I was shocked 'cause I never hit it that far, always singles, never doubles. Then I figured it was my cousin who gave me the strength to hit the ball....I think I might want to play baseball again this year.

I haven't gotten a chance to write back to this student yet. But when I do I'll express my condolences and support. It sounds like he/she is a courageous youth who now draws inspiration from the cousin's memory. Maybe the book, but for sure that at-bat, taught the most important lesson of all: Always Keep Swinging.