BASEBALL IS HERE: A Few Thoughts On The Game On Opening Day

This is what Dodger Stadium will look like today as the Los Angeles Dodgers open the baseball season against their longtime rival San Francisco Giants. Photo courtesy of truebluela.com

 

EXPRESSING MY AFFECTIONS FOR A NATIONAL PASTIME THAT I HAVE BEEN INVOLVED IN ONE FORM OR ANOTHER FOR FORTY YEARS

Today is a day that, next to Christmas and my birthday, is my favorite day of the year.

Indeed, as the former Boston Red Sox slugger and future Hall of Famer David Ortiz expressed, I strongly feel that Opening Day should be made a national holiday in this country.

Hey, it could replace Columbus Day, as we’d go from a day commemorating a guy who not only did NOT discover America, he set the reels in motion of exploitation and enslavement,

To a day where we celebrate a sport that in mine and millions of others’ hearts is STILL considered the significant pastime in America;

Especially when one considers the problems football (READ: Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) and basketball (READ: Bribery scandals in college hoops) are having that while they may not completely kill those sports, they may well lead folks to return to baseball as being the top game in their hearts.

I think – at the risk of sounding sappy, sentimental, pompous, or a combination of those three descriptions – Opening Day symbolizes renewal.

Everyone’s undefeated, and even if your team has the same chance of winning as a snowball’s chance of not melting in Saudi Arabia during the summer,

As the cliché goes, “Hope Springs Eternal” and even the fans of teams like the Oakland Athletics and the Miami Marlins (who are losing to the Chicago Cubs as we speak) are smiling today as Major League Baseball begins its 143rd season.

Which is 41 years older than the next major sports league in North America, hockey’s NHL.

 

ANAHEIM, CA – SEPTEMBER 08: Corey Seager #5 of the Los Angeles Dodgers slides home ahead of the throw to catcher Chris Iannetta #17 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to score a run on a fielder’s choice in the sixth inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 8, 2015 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

 

As For Me Personally…

I have expressed on this blog how I took to baseball as a kid, how the Dodgers playing in the 1977 World Series and the classic little league movie The Bad News Bears were the bugs that bit me and began my affection for the game.

Indeed, this June 18th (my birthday) it will be forty years ago to that day that I will have attended my very first Major League game at Dodger Stadium;

I’ll be describing and commemorating that day in detail in this blog on that day, which I’m confident you will enjoy.

I’ll also – in a syndication with my sports blog, SoCalSportsAnnals.com, be writing an article naming my all-time African-American baseball team, which I think is important not only due to the great Jackie Robinson, but to all the great baseball players of African descent who came before and since.

I’m also planning on expressing why I think there are relative so few African-Americans in the majors compared to the 1960s, 70s and even 80s on this blog and SoCal Sports Annals; I hope you’re looking forward to reading that, too.

But for now, as I sit here in my Dodgers jersey and cap, I’ll go on about my day with a happy mood that…

BASEBALL IS HERE!

And of course I’ll be watching the games on ESPN today, including my Dodgers as well as the other team calling the Los Angeles area home, the Angels.

Happy Opening Day to all those who love the game as much as I do!

 

Baseball’s essential tools – I particularly like this picture because of the glove; I’m a first baseman. Photo courtesy of itemlive.com

 

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WALKING ON EGGSHELLS: Excerpts from Chapter Ten of My Book Describing Having Asperger’s

Anyplace like this – open spaces, rolling meadows covered in bright green grass with mountains in the distance – is my happy place. Image courtesy of pngtree.com

 

Here are a few passages from my soon-to-be self-published book on my life having Asperger’s in the mainstream, “WALKING ON EGGSHELLS”.

These excerpts describe my experiences as a forty-something, approaching-middle-age adult on the high-functioning autism spectrum;

The chapter is called “Frustrations In My Forties, With A Helping Of Hope” – which I believe explains it all…

 

I would be anywhere – in my house, or out and about – doing my thing, when all of a sudden a flashback of something socially stupid that I did or said, or a memory of someone like Marlon* putting me through hell, even though it had happened decades before those horrible reminisces would suddenly pop into my head with such clarity, they might as well have occurred that day.

The trauma resulting from these flashbacks would be to the point where I would scream “NO!!” inside my head in order to try to get them out, Sometimes I’d scream “NO!!!” out loud because the flashback and trauma would be so overwhelming.

This PTSD, combined with the faux-pas I committed that was a part of trying to live, be accepted, and liked in the neurotypical world on my terms, all led to a level of frustration that was so pronounced that it got to a point of, well…

Remember the 1995 movie Leaving Las Vegas?

That’s the movie where Nicholas Cage won the Oscar for Best Actor playing a raging alcoholic who, when he loses his job and everything else due to his dependency on booze, moves to Las Vegas to drink himself to death and ultimately succeeds in that goal, but not before meeting and falling for the proverbial “Hooker with a Heart of Gold”, played by Elizabeth Shue (who got a Best Actress nomination for her efforts).

Well, for a long time that’s how I felt, dating back to when I quit my last job as an after school teacher in Inglewood.

Did I start hitting the Jack Daniels or hook up with a working girl of the evening?

Of course not, but whenever I saw Nicholas’ character imbibing on the Vegas Strip and the surrounding streets, I couldn’t help thinking that I could relate to how he felt; how he saw absolutely no way out.

What triggered these urges in me were the acute feelings of oppression; being yelled at (in my mind), told what to do or what not to do in a way that (again, in my mind) made me feel like the one doing the yelling and ordering about saw me as an inferior less-than-human being, as that seemed to be the only time he or she ever communicated with me in any way when all I was doing was something that society has always said one should do:

Be Myself.

For practically my entire life, the messages I had received time and time again was that the world would universally respect, accept, and embrace me if I was myself and didn’t try to emulate anyone else.

Incident after incident, not just during my forties but seemingly my whole life, told me in no uncertain terms that the notion of “be myself and I would get respect” was nothing but a boldface lie – at least as far as I was concerned as I would never intend to speak for anyone else.

How does my being on the autism spectrum tie into all of this, you may be asking.

While I have described different episodes that highlighted my anger and frustration over being rejected, condescended to and bullied for the crime of just being me and – very important – not conforming to what was considered “normal” and “acceptable” in whatever group or endeavor I was involved in,

By the time I approached my late thirties and it became clear that nothing ha changed, my frustrations over seemingly failing to be liked, accepted, and successful in the neurotypical world got to be so overwhelming that I began to voice the suicidal thoughts that – judging from that time I went to jump off the top of SMC’s football stadium after I punched that girl when she told me to shut up – had been inside me since my late teens.

A decent example of this was at one of the places where I had worked. I had mentioned it earlier, about how I was told by the supervisor that I was no longer welcome in that place of employment due to the way I interacted with my co-workers and others.

“Well, there’s nothing left to do but kill myself,” I remarked, the reality of losing yet another job sinking in.

“You don’t need to kill yourself,” my just-became former employer replied.

“Yes I do,” I thought, as the spirit of Nicholas Cage’s character in Leaving Las Vegas nestled inside me.

There were quite a few gnarly incidents like that over the next several years, when anytime somebody said something in a certain way that would make me feel picked on, put down, or like they didn’t see me as an equal human being those negative (in my mind) words would bring out the suicidal feelings; although I knew I shouldn’t take things like that personally – and was told such many times – I didn’t know how to take it any other way.

And, I must admit, still have a difficult time doing.

Of course the fact is I’m not dead (at least as of this writing as no one can predict the future and tomorrow’s never guaranteed to anyone), which along with never hitting the bottle or meeting and falling in love with a prostitute are the big differences between me and Ben Sanderson – Nicholas Cage’s Leaving Las Vegas character – as I couldn’t go through with the actual deed of taking my own life.

By blurting out my desires to take my life and not going through with it, I reckon there were a few people who saw me as the proverbial “Boy Who Cried Wolf”; it wouldn’t surprise me if that were the case.

The truth was, like every other person who has ever considered ending it all, I was in roughly forty years worth of mental and emotional pain as my blurting out my desire to end my life was akin to coffee spilling from a cup.

 

 

A VERY interesting photo of an Asperger’s brain compared with a neurotypical brain…

 

 

This next excerpt illustrates two personal traits of my Asperger’s – CONFUSION and ARRESTED MATURITY & EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT…

I was at the Culver City Library and had just finished with my online work on the public computers when this lady passed by me and suddenly, with this “Eureka!” look on her face, exclaimed “Derek!” like I was an old BFF.

I was thinking “Who the hell is this girl?” as I asked, “Do I know you?”

I won’t say her name in order to protect her privacy, but rest assured when she told me who she was – and old elementary school classmate who was in my 4th and 5th grade classes,  the memories came back.

And they were not good ones as she was, while not as bad as Marlon, was one of those who had bullied me, calling me an ape and a gorilla and not only picking a fight with me when I dared to stand up for myself, but punching me on the shoulder while I was trying to do the right thing and walk away.

The confusing part of all of this was that this girl didn’t always bully me. There were times when she treated me okay and I would think, “She’s my friend”, then for seemingly no reason she would turn on me, call me some nasty name, and I would get upset to the point of sometimes crying.

It was all a lifelong part of only being able to see things in black and white as in this case – and by my estimate several hundred other cases regarding my interactions with people – it was simply too hard for my brain to not see people as either a friend or an enemy, with no in between.

As far as I’m concerned, people either liked or hated me.

And I still struggle with that at times, because those shades of gray are too complicated for me to completely understand.

Fast forward roughly 35 years…

There we were in that library, me and my old classmate, and as the memories of her bullying me returned to my gray matter, rather than rejoicing over seeing her after all those years, my emotions were mixed as I voiced what she had done to me.

To her tremendous credit, her reaction was expressed by two words:

“I’m sorry.”

Even though I did forgive her, and even though we ended up having a nice little reunion that day, my mind still couldn’t avoid bursts of PTSD that stemmed from her bullying all those decades ago.

 

ARRESTED MATURITY AND EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT

This was and is the other personal aspect of having Asperger’s Syndrome that over time I realized was a part of the disorder that really had a grip on me – and in some ways still has.

Starting in high school, and for a long time afterward, it became quite clear that I was emotionally behind the other kids in my grade as even though they, like me, were born in 1967, it seemed like they were older than me somehow.

They had signed up for driver’s education and had gotten their permits and licenses and cars the moment they were able to while I had not only waited until senior year to take driver’s ed, ending up with a bunch of sophomores, well…if you’ve been reading this book you know how trying to get my license turned out for me.

Many if not most of them were going to wild parties and getting smashed, while with the reputation I had even the slightest thought of inviting me to those soirees was pooh-poohed.

I always found myself interacting with younger kids not only in those days, as among other things I hung around my old junior high school a bit too much during my first year at Samohi and ran back to hang out at Samo at least one a week for the first couple of years I was at college; I was even told by a couple of well-meaning guys one night at a football game that I shouldn’t “make a habit” of visiting too much.

I wasn’t that clueless; I knew deep down that my choices in who I hung with were unusual. I knew deep down that the lack of interactions with my fellow members of the class of 1985 and my preference of befriending members of latter classes was, for lack of a better term, “socially (so-called) retarded”.

Even during the class reunions I attended, although I had a nice time and interacted pretty well with my classmates, I still felt like they were somehow older than me despite the fact that we were the same age.

The thing was, not only was I not driving and not partying, which seemed to me was what roughly 90% of my peers were doing back in the day, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing that stuff even if I was welcomed to those shindigs.

I specifically remember during the fall of 1983 – my junior year – the Samohi marching band getting into HUGE trouble to the point of being pulled from all of our scheduled competition tournaments save one, because of the extreme partying that the majority of the band would do after games on Friday nights, some of them showing up to rehearsals the next morning hung over, and feeling left out and like I was seen as a loser because I had no knowledge of those parties, which meant I wasn’t invited.

Looking back, it would have been a Catch-22 if I had gone to them because all the drinking, drugging, and other madness would have been completely alien to me, like I was visiting from another planet with older folks as I still had that kid mentality of “Oooh, they’re drinking and smoking and having sex!”

They were going through the adolescent growing-up process and the wiring in my brain wasn’t allowing me to, which was frustrating, being mainstreamed into that neurotypical world, the level of frustration growing over the years to the point where suicidal feelings would manifest in me from time to time, for roughly thirty years after that.

Although I still sometimes continue to think that no one really needs me, that if I died people, at best, would mourn me for a bit and then move on as if I had never existed, their attitudes bordering on the “Good Riddance” variety, these desires to end my life eventually ended due to something that happened to me – and I’m still going through – back in 2012.

The root of all my social struggles stems from this:

HAVING ASPERGER’S SYNDROME IN A NEUROTYPICAL WORLD.

Allow me to make something crystal clear, however…

I am NOT, in any way, shape, or form whatsoever, speaking for everyone in the Asperger’s community. I know full well that there are plenty of people with this condition, including some big names like Dan Ackroyd, who are thriving in the NT community and have done so for many years with independence, lucrative careers, and the like.

I am strictly speaking for myself, for THIS aspie.

 

(* = Not his real name)

 

 

A good illustration of me during my formative years, I think.

 

 

 

My Personal Ratings System For Teachers, Coaches, & Leaders

Check out this little league coach showing this youngster how to grip a bat; now that’s teaching! Photo courtesy of westsidelittleleague.org

 

As many of you would probably know if you’ve been reading this blog or any of the stuff I’ve written on sites like Hub Pages, I worked with young people in some capacity – a physical education teacher, a sports coach (mostly baseball & softball), a tutor, and an after school leader – for roughly 25 years.

After those days were over and I had some time to reflect on it all, having noticed the styles of the various teachers and coaches that I worked with, worked for, and who taught and coached me during my formative years in school,

I developed a ratings system pertaining to the personality a teacher/coach; his or her philosophy and approach to working with and (particularly) interacting with children and young folks and how effective such would ultimately have.

My system is based on a 1-10 scale:

ONE –  a teacher/coach whose approach is that of a buddy or a best friend, which in my experience describes many youth sports coaches who coach beginners and kids who are single-digit age.

Teachers and coaches like this are often quite popular, and their charges usually have a fun experience, which is important.

However…

The problem with leaders like this is that the children who are learning whatever they are learning, usually end up not learning anything as the mindset of coaches like this is,

 

“We’re just here to have fun, it doesn’t really matter (if you get any better at whatever’s being taught)”

 

In essence, coaches like this run their team like a glorified recess.

Which is not good.

 

TEN – the opposite of a “ONE” coach.

Basically a Marine Corps drill sergeant in boot camp-type of leader.

These are the coaches/teachers who yell/scream at their students/athletes, belittling them, oftentimes calling them names, saying that they suck, giving harsh punishments, even throwing things at them.

A good illustration of this: My first high school marching band director (I had two during those days).

As a teacher, he fit all the above descriptions, his most often tirade being – at the top of his lungs of course, while looking like he was about to turn into the Incredible Hulk…

 

“You stink! You can’t march!! You can’t play!!! YOU STINK!!! I HATE YOU!!! Now go on and give me some push-ups!!! GO ON!!!!”

 

I also vividly recall him throwing his baton at a trumpet player during a rehearsal.

Essentially, teachers and coaches like him aren’t just intimidating, they are just plain mean – at least with their charges during practice or rehearsal.

 

 

I like the way the coach – one guess who it is by this pic – is interacting with his team here. Photo courtesy of happyhealthykids.com

 

And then there’s a…

FIVE – The rating that all leaders need to strive for.

These are the people who can get on you if needed, but in a good way so as to not make their students or players feel demeaned or humiliated.

More importantly, these are the leaders that show that they care about you not only in whatever they’re coaching or teaching,

But also as a human being.

For these coaches, it’s about positive reinforcement, self-esteem, and confidence building without being overly friendly or not holding their charges accountable.

In my experience and observation, there are only two people who are perfect fives in my book:

1. John Wooden, the former UCLA basketball coach widely regarded as the greatest coach in the history of sports not only due to his winning ten national championships in a twelve-year span – including seven in a row – but also due to his various quotes like “Be quick, but don’t hurry” and “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail”  and his renowned “Pyramid of Success”, that is a basic guide on how to succeed in life.

and…

2. Valorie Kondos Field, the dynamic coach of UCLA’s women’s gymnastics team who has won national championships, worked with All-Americans, members of the U.S. National Team (and other countries),  Olympians and Olympic gold medalists, and who like Wooden has been extremely effective in teaching her young ladies how to get along in life, which has shown in the success of all her gymnasts once their Bruin days were done.

 

As For Me and My Rating As A Coach And A Teacher…

I was more or less all over the place.

There were times where I was about an eight, particularly during my first few years working with kids as while I never, ever hit anyone, I was a bit of a yeller at times and a my-way-or-else type of leader, something saying things to certain kids that I regret, that I would apologize for if I ever encountered such kids today.

There were also times when I was about a three, in that I would interact with my students and athletes like I was trying to be their buddy, which ruined the sense of authority that I was trying to establish.

I’d never say that I was a perfect five, but I was always striving for it, and you know what?

If I ever got a chance to coach or teach again, I’m confident that I would be as close to a five – perhaps a four or a six – than I ever was.

I hope this rating system makes sense to those of you who teach or coach or have aspirations to do so.

It’s certainly something that will be kept in my mind if the opportunity to work with young people ever arises again for me, my attitude being…

NEVER SAY NEVER.

 

Another illustration of good instruction from a coach. Photo courtesy of chicagonow.com