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.