Archive for April, 2016

Time is a myth. Our conscious mind oblivious to the rapid pace at which our lives and the world around us pass by. Survival demands we remain numb to the ticking clock counting down our mortality. Attempting to quantify this precious commodity by it’s most fractionalized parts ignores the aspect of it existing as merely a perception, while implying that we have the power to press pause and take inventory; desperately scrambling to accrue more as reserves run low.giphy
Such super powers don’t exist outside of the realm of Bayside High. Time is an unbiased, faceless entity–steamrolling along effortlessly, leaving a trail of still frames to narrate our reflective thoughts and illustrate the history books. We all receive a comparable allotment, existence being the most basic exchange; experiences the most lavish. In either regard, memories become priceless, intangible remnants of time spent in exchange for the life that defines legacies.

As I navigated through my teens, moving from instability and self-preservation into an environment of support and comfort, I soon developed a heightened sense of the here and now–something I’m sure is common amongst kids who get beyond the awkwardness of adolescence. Each day I was surrounded by the greatest friends I’d ever know. The girl of my dreams was my closest friend, just out of reach. And I had the opportunity to play baseball competitively at the highest level available to a high school athlete. My bubble suddenly contained the fragile framework of my ideal happily ever after. Keeping it intact long enough for the glue to dry, however, meant defying time–and with it change.

The winds of change began to gradually blow my junior year as Maria was spoken for leading up to prom. Surely time was on my side and I’d simply have to wait out another guy who wasn’t me. Besides, I was busy coming into my own on the field. Coach O retired replaced by my Legion coach, Coach Flemm. He respected my work ethic and knowledge of the game, but the kid I lost my job to the season prior was now a senior and coming off an excellent year at the plate. I busted my ass in the month of practicing leading up to the season opener and to my surprise was rewarded by being moved to the outfield, something Coach O would have never given me a shot at (justifiably so considering my prior antics). I wouldn’t fail again. I went on to lead the Valley in RBI’s and hit well over .400. I was also the first arm out of the pen. We earned the #2 seed in the Class A playoffs but ran into a buzz saw in Ft. Cherry, the eventual WPIAL Champions.

Senior year kicked off with a bang. Homecoming was a major event in our tiny town. Six senior girls were chosen to the court and they would then each choose an escort. For the month leading up the nominees and escorts would routinely miss class for photo ops throughout the school and town, culminating in an assembly on the day of the vote where each girl would give a speech followed by a slideshow of all the captured moments leading up. Maria, of course, chose me to accompany her. She gave an incredibly touching speech, leaving me beaming with pride over the closeness our group had developed through the years.

2016-04-21 15.18.57Later that same afternoon another tradition would take place. During the afternoon pep rally, six senior guys were selected to pair up with cheerleaders and do a mock court, where skits were performed as a role reversal. It stemmed from an early 50’s tradition where the male student body did their own take on Homecoming as a sort of protest. I paired with Gumby and Amber Carney, who were two of the only people I could have pulled this off with. Amber was easily the most sincere, thoughtful person I had encountered to that point of my life. She was that special kind of total package: beautiful, endearing and intelligent all with a genuine sincerity that made me realize she was fully unaware. To further illustrate my point she hesitantly trusted me to dress her up as a boy and perform our “Scuz Busters” routine –The premise being our crosstown rival, Apollo-Ridge, was affectionately referred to as Scuz because the town was formerly home to a nuclear plant which has since left problematic waste unattended.

Now I was painfully shy, public speaking was certainly atop my list of greatest fears, wedged between heights and having to work a 9-to-5. However, competition drives me, and a chance to make the crowd go wild suppressed my fear. So here I was, mic in hand, wearing my grandmother’s bra stuffed with fully inflated balloons, about to sing a song I wrote, No Scuz, spoofing TLC’s No Scrubs. Without a second thought, I begin to recite the lyrics in my best Barry White baritone, culminating with the line:

Want to fight with me with no front teeth? Oh no I don’t want noooooooo, Scuuuuuuuuz.

At just that moment Gumby, who was dressed as our latest capture, Apollo-Ridge’s starting running back, made a break for freedom. Amber and I ran him down and the crowd erupted. I began to help him up and gave him a smile, “You hear that? Those cheers are for us.” We won the Mr. LHS in a landslide.

IMG_20160421_182211Later that evening I’d be in the public eye again, this time simply as background as it was Maria’s stage. The votes were tallied and a winner would be announced at halftime. I was nervous to the brink of nausea taking the field. Something about the pressure of not messing up someone else’s shining moment creates a far more intense sensation of fear than any threat of self-sustaining embarrassment could ever pose. Finally, as the time came for her name to be called, I prepared for how to handle the congratulatory hug, never for a second entertaining the thought that she wouldn’t be crowned queen. The drum roll began and my heart was right there keeping time. “And the 2000 Leechburg Area High School Homecoming Queen is…”

As the months faded and spring drew near my angst began to grow. I hated the idea of leaving this place and the fact that my sport was late in the year I put off choosing a school in hopes I’d do well enough to earn scholarship opportunities or at least catch the eye of a small DI. One by one my friends made college commitments, Maria being the first to early commit to Allegheny College. I half-heartedly filled out applications. One by one they all came back a yes with full financial aid packages (easily the greatest gift I received from my mother’s poverty stricken lifestyle). I even got into my, “no chance in hell” school CMU, only to find out their baseball team was merely club. I promptly put them back into the no chance in hell pile for a completely different reason.

2016-09-07-14-43-49The season came and went in what felt like the blink of an eye. Gumby was expected to be our ace. He had been gunned a handful of times hitting the upper 80’s, having touched 90 mph a time or two. I was expected to step up both as our number 2 on the mound and as a middle of the order hitter. Funny thing about expectations, they stem from educated assumptions, which have a tendency to be quite flawed. I started the season as a force on the hill. As the season wore on my bat began to disappear, but my arm was alive and well. I suddenly found myself amongst the leaders in strikeouts and wins, outshining my far more talented best friend. I distinctly remember doing a phone interview mid-season after a 15 strikeout performance where I specifically told the reporter, “By season’s end Gumby will emerge as our clear # 1.” But he never did. To anyone watching it was clear he was the talent, but I was executing. However, I can’t help but feel a sense of sadness looking back at my stats. I was so undisciplined. My batting average fell from high .400s to mid .200s. I averaged 1 walk per inning pitched over my high school career while averaging 2.5 strikeouts per inning pitched. It’s no wonder I thought of myself as having enough talent to do great things while my coaches professed that I’d stood no chance of playing beyond high school if I didn’t learn how to pitch.

By the end of my senior year, I had yet to choose a school. A few places down south had shown interest in me as a first baseman, but they most likely hadn’t seen the stinker of a season I had at the plate as a senior. Coming from a small town in the infancy stages of the internet, it was on us to do all of our own recruiting. Likely why Gumby completely slipped through the cracks. 6’3, 225 lbs of pure athleticism and the ability to throw the ball 90 mph from the mound and he didn’t get so much as a sniff from scouts; mainly because there were none. We graduated with 53 students and were well off the map of any college recruiters. My passion drove me to reach out to as many schools as possible, my grades afforded me a lot of interested coaches. I ultimately chose Allegheny College, sight unseen gwhafter speaking to coach Ferris over the phone and hearing about their recent trip to the Division III College World Series. Really though, I had to go see about a girl.

While most of my life’s framework seemed to remain intact moving forward, I still clung to a sense of sadness over the thought that the group of friends I had spent my entire life with was no longer a hop, skip and jump away. Still, we shared a brotherhood, ultimately nothing would change–my heart couldn’t entertain any other outcome. Just as I had begun to accept the change I would face in three short months, my entire world came crashing down. It was a typical day, the same as hundreds before. I came home late after practice to find my Pap enjoying a few PBRs on the porch. Hardly concerning, it was as much a part of his spring routine as baseball was a part of mine. The long look on his face, however, made me pause for concern. “Everything alright?” I asked hesitantly, aware how loaded that question can be when asking with genuine concern. “You’re a smart kid, sit down, I need you to look over these (blood) test results with me…”


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