Tuesday, June 29, 2010

This Dad Gives Readers Two Choices

I woke this morning and walked into my little buddy Dakota's room to see him sleep. He had just returned home after a week long bout with pneumonia and though it wasn't life threatening, he truly battled for about a week and worried his Mom and me.

Just to make me feel a little bit worse, he got sick while Mom and I were taking some R and R in Jamaica. We returned home to find that my Mom, who was baby sitting, had shielded some truths from us so we wouldn't come home early, as Dakota's cold became a flu became pneumonia.

Long story short, the little trooper is home and was still breathing when I poked my head in a few minutes ago.

I looked at him breathe as he slept in his awkward yet trademark position, (butt up in the air like the way he slept as an infant) and breathed my own little sigh of relief. Crisis averted.

To the computer, where Dad had sent me the following email. I'm sentimental today, so though I want to believe the story is fact not fiction, who knows. It's an email that I'm supposed to forward so I am.

I know Bleacher Report is not the platform to forward emails. If it was you'd be getting a whole bunch about male enhancement and Mr. Chin finding $2,000,000 in a Hong Kong bank and needing to spread the wealth.

But this one, at least in this sentimental Dad's mind is worth the read. I encourage you to sit back, read it and then go hug your kid.

Writers Note: No Pick of the Day Votes. I didn't write it. Simply Paying it Forward. Comments are welcome, however.

Two Choices

What would you do?....you make the choice. Don't look for a punch line, there isn't one. Read it anyway. My question is: Would you have made the same choice?

At a fundraising dinner for a school that serves children with learning disabilities, the father of one of the students delivered a speech that would never be forgotten by all who attended. After extolling the school and its dedicated staff, he offered a question:

'When not interfered with by outside influences, everything nature does, is done with perfection. Yet my son, Shay, cannot learn things as other children do. He cannot understand things as other children do.

Where is the natural order of things in my son?'

The audience was stilled by the query.

The father continued.

'I believe that when a child like Shay,who was mentally and physically disabled comes into the world, an opportunity to realize true human nature presents itself, and it comes in the way other people treat that child.'

Then he told the following story:

Shay and I had walked past a park where some boys Shay knew were playing baseball. Shay asked, 'Do you think they'll let me play?'

I knew that most of the boys would not want someone like Shay on their team, but as a father I also understood that if my son were allowed to play, it would give him a
much-needed sense of belonging and some confidence to be accepted by others in spite of his handicaps.

I approached one of the boys on the field and asked (not expecting much) if Shay could play. The boy looked around for guidance and said, 'We're losing by six runs and the game is in the eighth inning. I guess he can be on our team and we'll try to put him in to bat in the ninth inning.'

Shay struggled over to the team's bench and, with a broad smile, put on a team shirt. I watched with a small tear in my eye and warmth in my heart. The boys saw my joy at my son being accepted.

In the bottom of the eighth inning, Shay's team scored a few runs but was still behind by three.

In the top of the ninth inning, Shay put on a glove and played in the right field. Even though no hits came his way, he was obviously ecstatic just to be in the game and on the field, grinning from ear to ear as I waved to him from the stands.

In the bottom of the ninth inning, Shay's team scored again.

Now, with two outs and the bases loaded, the potential winning run was on base and Shay was scheduled to be next at bat. At this juncture, do they let Shay bat and give away their chance to win the game?

Surprisingly, Shay was given the bat. Everyone knew that a hit was all but
impossible because Shay didn't even know how to hold the bat properly, much less connect with the ball.

However, as Shay stepped up to the plate, the pitcher, recognizing that the other team was putting winning aside for this moment in Shay's life, moved in a few steps to lob the ball in softly so Shay could at least make contact.

The first pitch came and Shay swung clumsily and missed.

The pitcher again took a few steps forward to toss the ball softly towards Shay.

As the pitch came in, Shay swung at the ball and hit a slow ground ball right back to the pitcher.

The game would now be over.

The pitcher picked up the soft grounder and could have easily thrown the ball to the first baseman.

Shay would have been out and that would have been the end of the game.

Instead, the pitcher threw the ball right over the first baseman's head, out of reach of all team mates.

Everyone from the stands and both teams started yelling, 'Shay, run to first! Run to first!'

Never in his life had Shay ever run that far, but he made it to first base.

He scampered down the baseline, wide-eyed and startled.

Everyone yelled, 'Run to second, run to second!'

Catching his breath, Shay awkwardly ran towards second, gleaming and struggling to make it to the base.

By the time Shay rounded towards second base, the right fielder had the ball. The smallest guy on their team who now had his first chance to be the hero for his team.

He could have thrown the ball to the second-baseman for the tag, but he
understood the pitcher's intentions so he, too, intentionally threw the ball
high and far over the third-baseman's head.

Shay ran toward third base deliriously as the runners ahead of him circled
the bases toward home.

All were screaming, 'Shay, Shay, Shay, all the Way Shay'

Shay reached third base because the opposing shortstop ran to help him by
turning him in the direction of third base, and shouted, 'Run to third! Shay, run to third!'

As Shay rounded third, the boys from both teams, and the spectators, were on their feet screaming, 'Shay, run home! Run home!'

Shay ran to home, stepped on the plate, and was cheered as the hero who hit the grand slam and won the game for his team

'That day', said the father softly with tears now rolling down his face, 'the boys from both teams helped bring a piece of true love and humanity into this world'.

Shay didn't make it to another summer.

He died that winter, having never forgotten being the hero and making me so happy,and coming home and seeing his Mother tearfully embrace her little hero of the day!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

For Daddies Everywhere: Why Every Day is Father's Day

You're grown up now, guys. I'd heard the old expression so many times, "They grow up so fast." Who'd have ever thought though that they were talking to me? I ignored the warning and feel like I missed so much.

And now look at you.

Corey, you just graduated college and have the whole world in your grasp. Still unsure what you'll be, but I know what you'll become. A success at anything you decide to do. And unlike many, you have a good enough grasp on life to define your success in hearts touched as opposed to dollars earned. Guess you were actually listening at times.

Erika, you're a young woman ready to enter the world of teaching and molding young minds. After playing surrogate Mom to your younger sisters, this should come as no surprise. Sometimes maturity and self confidence take time to develop. Yours became apparent when you were four years old.

And Julia, my little butterfly dancer. Jules. Juice Box. Ready to enter college with your plan so in place. I wasn't there to help you formulate it, only to coach you, but like everything you do, you do it with abandon. No "I" left undotted and "T" left uncrossed.

Never forget the time you cartwheeled down Mtn. Wachusett. All 4.3 miles on the dirt road. Hands bleeding. Rocks embedded. Why did you do it? Because you said you could.

Gotta forgive me for getting sentimental. It's Father's Day on Sunday and I get like this every darn year. Wondered if I could have done more to be a good father. I think I was, but sometimes you wish you could have done things differently. And so I critique.

I remember each of your births so vividly; every detail etched in my mind forever. The look fo joy on your Mother's face. The sound of the doctor's voice announcing "It's a boy, Mr. and Mrs. Civin" followed three years later by "It's a girl, Mr. and Mrs. Civin, then three years again by "It's another girl, Dawn and Todd."

I remember late night feedings and diaper rash and holding you tight while I rocked you to sleep. The way you grasped my finger tightly as you nodded off to dreamland. Testing the temperature of the water prior to your baths.

I can still smell the sweet scent of clean baby after you got out of your tub. Dripping your bottle on my forearm to make sure I didn't scald your tiny little tongues and tasting those God awful creamed peas in an effort to trick you into thinking they actually tasted good. First sounds...first words..first steps...first everythings.

We survived the terrible twos and the almost equally torrential threes. First day of school. First dance lesson. First base hit, first error and even your first and only unassisted triple play. I cheered for every home run and tried to console every swing and a miss.

I clapped feverishly at every arabesque and screamed "BRAVO" at each curtain call. I tried to catch you when you'd fall and watched proudly when you'd brush yourself off and tell me you "didn't need my help" on those times that I didn't arrive in time to make the catch.

I remember every birthday at Chuck E. Cheese, our trips to Disney and our vacations in the "cooooold" water in Maine. I loved when you'd bury me up to my neck at Hampton Beach and then sit back and watch the other families laugh.

I loved feeding the animals at Friendly Farm. I cherished every ice cream cone shared, every shoulder ride given and every Happy Meal enjoyed.

Teaching you to ride a two-wheeler.. hearing you sound out words...listening to you actually read. I'll never forget how my chest swelled with pride as I heard you spell word after word correctly at the spelling bee and the look of horror on Mom and my face as you spelled peninsula. P-E-N-I-S-U-L-A. Peninsula.

"What are you eating, Erika?" "Muffin dough"...you'd say in that little angelic voice. Art projects made out of macaroni...hand prints pressed into wet ceramic...and a shirt and tie made out of construction paper. How I wish I still had them.

I remember how my eyes welled up with tears as you marched with the Little Leaguers in the Memorial Day Parade and with your karate group at Labor Day. I remember you graduating from Daisy Girl Scouts and when you graduated from readiness to first grade. I will forever remember the feeling of pride as each of your teachers told Mom and I "what a pleasure" you were to teach and how eager you were to learn.

I remember every night I tucked you into bed, each prayer you recited and every butterfly kiss, Eskimo kiss, Grandma kiss and regular kiss you'd give to me before you'd nod off to sleep.

Mom and I split up, but you guys never stopped including me in your lives. Every Wednesday and every other weekend I learned about first dates...first kisses...first broken heart..Junior Prom...high school sweethearts..

The future promises to bring college graduations...First job...First promotion and trips down the aisle.

Oh how I wish you had stayed little forever.

What I guess I'm saying kiddos, is that although we'll get together on Sunday for a barbecue and some hugs, I want you to know that every day has been Father's Day with three awesome "kids" like you.

Love you, Daddy

Todd Civin is a freelance writer. Feel free to email him at toddcivin1@aim.com with comments or to request permission to use his stories for content. He is also a supporter of "A Glove of Their Own" the award winning book that teaches us all the importance of Paying it Forward. Visit the site at www.agloveoftheirown.com and purchase the book under today's donor code JNF636 Joe Niekro Foundation.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Through The Eyes Of...Bill Artz, The Bullpen Catcher

The following is part of a weekly series called "Through the Eyes of..." In each segment, I share interviews with or stories about those who I view to be the "Good Guys." The men and women who participate in and are the very fiber that make up the great game of baseball.

"Through the Eyes of..." is a part of my personal crusade to present baseball in all its beauty, splendor, and goodness, instead of through hashing and rehashing all that is broken with our national treasure. TC

There is hardly a soul who has ever picked up a leather glove and a hardball, who hasn't also dreamed of making the journey to the the big leagues. The two travel nearly hand in hand once the sound of rawhide against hardwood is experienced.

And for nearly every child who dreams the dream of playing major league baseball, so too goes the subtle disappointment that comes with the realization that the dream is just that: a dream. They are few and far between, those with the gift, the willingness to work and the dedication necessary to succeed that make it all the way to the Show.

But then there are the nearly chosen few, who don't make it to the big leagues, but by luck or by circumstance still get to pull up the stirrups next to the big boys.

For 486 consecutive games from Opening Day of 1998 to the call of "wait til next year" in 2000, Bill Artz was privileged enough to put on the uniform of the present World Champion Philadelphia Phillies and catch the likes of Curt Schilling, Randy Wolf, and Mark Portugal in his role as the Bull Pen catcher.

Though not a glamorous position on the hierarchy of the baseball org chart, there is nary a one of us, that wouldn't give up doing what we are doing today to experience a cup of coffee or two and maybe a mid game catch with Paul Byrd, Mark Leiter or Vicente Padilla.

Today, Artz owns and operate Big League Floors, a Philadelphia based company that provides residential and commercial floorings services for an eight county area in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

But, for three glorious seasons after graduating from the Lasalle University School of Business Administration, Artz was in part responsible for the fortune, both good and bad, of the Phillies pitching staff and is the subject of this week's segment of "Through the Eyes of....The Bull Pen Catcher."

Civ: You played your college ball at LaSalle in 90-92, were you a catcher?

Bill: Yes, I was a catcher at LaSalle University in Philadelphia. I started every game from the time I was a freshmen.

Civ: Did you have any aspirations of playing pro ball?

Bill: Absolutely, from the time I was four years old and up, I lived and died the game. Every move I made was directed toward the goal of some day being in the big leagues.

Civ: After college what did you do?

Bill: After college I floundered around really not knowing what to do with my after baseball life. I continued to play in the Pen-Del league in Philly. As far as vocation went, I worked many odd jobs after graduation as well as coaching at LaSalle for one year.

Civ: You had a teammate at LaSalle with the last name DiMaggio, any relation to Joe, Dom?

Bill: Wow, how did you find that one??? No, Ross DiMaggio was no relation to the famous DiMaggio’s, although we had a professor at LaSalle who called him "Joltin' Joe". Ross was the catcher before I arrived and was a pretty good left-handed hitter.

Civ: Did you play with or against any MLB players during your career?

Bill: Yes, I played against quite a few future and former big leaguers along the way. Those include Doug Glanville, Sal Fassano, Chris Michalik and I played with Bobby Higginson in the summer league in Philly. There were others as well.

Civ: You graduated college in 92 and became BP catcher six years later, had you played any ball in between?

Bill: As stated before, yes, I continued to play in the Pen-Del league in Philadelphia.

Civ: How did you get the job with the Phillies?

Bill: One of my teammates in the Pen-Del was former pitcher Dickie Noles. Dickie was remembered most for knocking down George Brett in the 1980 World Series. Some claim this was the turning point of that series. Anyway, I was at home one night watching the game and he had called to see if I was interested in the job, of course, I was ecstatic. Even at the age of 27 I never lost hope of being in the Majors, even when it looked like there was no hope.

Civ: You caught Curt Schilling all three seasons, what was that like?

Bill: Obviously an honor. Just to have him think enough of me as a receiver was a tribute because if I was sub-standard, he would not have me catch him. The guy was a perfectionist. I also helped him with his rehab in spring training in 2000, long tossing with him everyday.

Civ: Is he the most notable player you caught?

Bill: By far, some say he will be a Hall of Famer and I would not argue this. I just wish I had warmed up to him a little more because I think we could have been pretty good friends...

Civ: Schilling had three rather mediocre seasons while you were there and then had his best years in AZ and Boston, why do you suppose that happened?

Bill: I would not say they were mediocre seasons on his part. That team was less than mediocre. The guy thrived in the big moments and there were more of them in AZ. and Boston. He did get shut down in 1999 with an injury and of course his record does not reflect the games that the bullpen blew or the offense did not support him. He will always be loved in this town for his energy and talent on the field as well as off of it.

Civ: Does the BP catcher get to hang with the team? Did you ever spend any time with Abreu or any of the name players?

Bill: I did towards the end and became pretty good friends with Pat Burrell and Randy Wolf. I was a little standoffish at first just because I thought I should be seen and not heard but I took it a little too far. But I would have to say that my most cherished relationship was with legendary announcer Harry Kalas, not a day goes by that I don’t think of him.

Civ: How rough were the fans in Philly? Did they ever heckle the bull pen catcher?

Bill: The Phillies fans can be rough at any time but even more so then, that is, the ones that showed up. Personally I thought the San Francisco Giants fans were the most obnoxious. I got heckled at times, yes.

Civ: Who warms pitchers up before a game, the starting catcher or the BP catcher?

Bill: Sometimes I would start warming up the starting pitcher before games but the starting catcher would always finish him up. He needs to see what they have on that particular day.

Civ: The 2000 Phillies went through 27 pitchers, was that challenging for you?

Bill: Somewhat, in those three years I was there, they used about 55-60 different relievers. It seemed like a revolving door at times..

Civ: Were you involved in the pregame planning or coaching or is that left up to the BP coach or pitching coach?

Bill: No, I was subjected to the scouting reports and pitcher vs. batter stats. They were very interesting. Look up what Marquis Grissom hit off Schilling sometime. (Civ-An impressive 31 for 94 or .330. He had more hits off of Schill than against any other pitcher)

Civ: Do you get to take batting practice or strictly the bull pen catcher?

Bill: Rarely did I take BP, but I would have loved to. I should have been more assertive.

Civ: What did you do on off days?

Bill: On the road I would try to see the sites of the city. At home, spend time with my family. Nights were always the same, go out and party…

Civ: The bullpen is usually a pretty close knit group, were you a part of the fraternity?

Bill: I would not consider myself part of the fraternity. I took the game a little too serious to be involved with any foolishness.

Civ: Do you go on the road with the team?

Bill: I did travel only after they discovered that I threw BP. They also needed a guy in the bullpen when the back-up catcher had to go in the game and they need to get two pitchers up. They found this out the hard way in Pittsburgh when they had to delay the game to get the back-up in from the bullpen to pinch hit.

Civ: What is the best away city?

Bill: I always loved NYC. My sister lives there and at the time worked for the NY Daily News. She is now Mayor Bloomberg’s photographer. San Francisco was second, then Pittsburgh, a much underrated town with very nice hard-working people. Toronto is good, as well.

Civ: Are there any funny stories that you recall?

Bill: Off the top of my head I remember playing a weekday game at old Veterans Stadium and a vagrant women just walked into the bullpen off the street. She had no clue where she was but we joked that if she could throw strikes we might have to suit her up!!! TC

Todd Civin is a freelance writer for the Bleacher Report, Seamheads and Sports, Then and Now. He is available for comment or hire at toddcivin1@aim.com. He is also a supporter of A Glove of Their Own, the award winning children's story that teaches pay it forward through baseball. Visit the site and purchase the book under today's donor code JNF636 Joe Niekro Foundation as $3.00 from each purchase will go to that wonderful cause.