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.