All I want for Christmas is a Pete Rose baseball card

By the age of 10, my belief in Santa was waning. I still believed, but my 13 year older brother was, by then, a non-believer and pointing out the flaws in the existence of the man. Most notably, he pointed out that our chimney ended in a wood stove that was constantly in use. 

"He can't come through the flames," he said. "And....he's too fat." 

Skeptical though I was, I nonetheless sat on Santa’s lap at the annual Ebensburg Moose Christmas party and parlayed my request to ol’ Saint Nick. 

"I’d like a Pete Rose baseball card,” I said.

In the mid-1980’s Pete Rose was everything to me. Despite living in Western Pennsylvania and carrying a healthy allegiance to my home town Pittsburgh Pirates, it was Pete who was on my Wheaties' box and the poster on my wall. 

It was Pete I pretended to be when we played backyard baseball. 

In the days before my parents had cable television, I don't recall any fanfare when Pete passed Ty Cobb to become baseball’s All-Time Hit’s Leader. I knew because I read it on a Wheaties' box. And it was on the Pete Rose poster I sent in box tops to acquire. 

Pete Rose was more than the all-time hits leader when I was a kid growing up in the 80’s. He was the definition of the way you played the game. When you slid into home, you did a Pete Rose slide, which meant sacrificing your body to take out the catcher on the way into home plate. 

His nickname was Charlie Hustle. If you watch clips of Pete playing baseball, he was not the graceful athlete that Derek Jeter was or Mike Trout is. He lumbered when he ran, and hunched and poked out hits at the plate, offering more of a chop than the beautiful swing of a Ken Griffey Jr. He was an average looking guy who hustled and worked his way to being a super star. 

And so that’s what my Dad taught me to do.

When Pete was at the plate, he watched the ball into the catcher’s mitt on every pitch. 

Dad said I should do that too. 

So it should have come as no surprise that all I wanted for Christmas when I was 10 years old was a Pete Rose baseball card. 

When asked if I wanted anything else, anything at all, I said no. There was honestly nothing I could think of more than to add Pete Rose to my healthy and growing baseball card collection. I had Ricky Henderson and Roger Clemens and some guy named Cal Ripken Jr. 

I’m sure the request turned my parents sideways. Sports card shops had not yet blown up in our part of the country. In a few years you could walk into a store and pick out a Pete Rose rookie card or something else from his early years. But not in rural Western Pennsylvania in the mid 1980’s. 

So my parents did what they could do.

On Christmas morning, I woke up and shuffled through the presents under the tree. There were several packs of baseball cards - Topps and Donruss - and I ripped through them all - finding Nolan Ryan and Andy Van Slyke and other stars that I admired. 

But there was no Pete Rose. 

My dad called a friend whose son collected baseball cards to see if he fulfill my wish, and was assured that there was a card to be had for me.

I eventually did get myself a Pete Rose baseball card to go with the thousands of other cards that sit at my parents' house. 

Of course as you read this, you probably wonder why Pete Rose. These days he's almost kryptonite to the game of baseball, setting up his yearly protest in Cooperstown during the Hall of Fame inductions. And admittedly, he was the first hero to fall for me, when he was banned from baseball permanently for betting on his own team while managing the Reds. 

As I re-read this post, it sounds kind of sad, but I don't remember it that way. I think very fondly about the year I wanted that one simple thing because of what it represented. Pete Rose symbolized the most important thing in my little 10 year old world.

Baseball.

As I've gotten older, and life has gotten more complicated, I take great pleasure in having memories of Christmases past that I can look at with such fondness, even if the memories are likely tinted with rose colored glasses.

How lucky I am to have memories so dear.  

Wishing you and all of those in your life a very happy holiday.

 

Pat Summitt changed my life, even though we never met

There is an assumption, I think, that it’s only little boys who dream of growing up and playing for their hometown sports teams. 

My first hope after watching the 1984 Olympics, was that I would be Mary Lou Retton. As it turns out, I couldn’t do a cartwheel without throwing up. 

 I was 11 years old here. And I wasn't just wearing the Pittsburgh Pirates hat. I was sure I was going to play third base for them. 

I was 11 years old here. And I wasn't just wearing the Pittsburgh Pirates hat. I was sure I was going to play third base for them. 

My second hope was that I would play for the Pittsburgh Pirates. And the better I got at T-ball and Little League, the more I believed that I would be the first woman to play professional baseball. But in the summer of 1989 my Dad had that first heart-to-heart conversation with me. I wasn’t allowed to play Pony League. 

“The bases are further apart,” he said.

“So?”

“The mound is further away,” he said.

“And?”

“And you won’t be able to keep up,” he said. “Boys will get faster and bigger and stronger.” 

He wasn’t being cruel. He was being realistic. And it broke my heart. My talent would not be my limiting factor. It was my gender. And no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't out-work my gender. 

So it was all the more important when I tuned in to a Penn State v. Tennessee women’s basketball game one Saturday afternoon in January of 1990. That’s when I saw Coach Pat Summitt for the first time. That’s when I saw the crowd. 

That’s when it occurred to me, at the ripe old age of 13, that women’s sports mattered too. Up until that point I'd see the Steelers, the Pirates, the Penguins. Except for the Olympics, I never saw women compete in athletics on a national level.

I never met Pat Summitt. I never set foot on the University of Tennessee campus. And I never wanted to play for her. Really I wanted to play for my hometown Penn State Lady Lions. In the end I turned out to be an average basketball player.

But I was a good softball player. And because of women like Pat Summitt, I played four years on a traveling softball team. Because of women like Pat Summitt, I had the opportunity to play college athletics. I had the opportunity to coach college athletics. 

It’s amazing to me how much we can feel affected by the loss of someone we never met. But this morning when I woke up and saw the news, my heart broke a lot. I cried watching the tributes on SportsCenter. (And the fact that the news of Coach Summitt's death dominated SportsCenter says everything we need to know.)

Because I know and recognize now as an adult that the opportunities I have been granted as an athlete and a coach would never have existed if it wasn’t for fierce, strong, brave women like Coach Summitt who paved the way for the rest of us.

For any of us who coach, it is our distinct privilege to be in a position to impact the lives of others. It is both our gift and our burden to carry the responsibility of changing lives for the better. To understand that our words, our body language (the stare from Coach Pat), and our actions have ripple effects far beyond what we will ever know.

No, I didn’t get to grow up to be a Major League baseball player. But I grew up to be a coach. And that’s not an opportunity I would have without the likes of Coach Summitt and those who broke through the gender barriers. 

RIP Coach. We never met, but you changed my life. 

Remembering 9/11: A Reporter's Account

In September of 2001, I was a 24-year old reporter for a small weekly newspaper in Western Pennsylvania. This was job number five for me since graduating college, but by all accounts, my first “real” gig.

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There were five newspapers spread across the county, each with its own office in a different small town. Our first three pages were different, but after that, it was the same paper. My actual title was Bureau Chief.

I even had a business card.

 From my press pass, though it looks more like a college ID photo. Note the faux wood paneling in the background.

From my press pass, though it looks more like a college ID photo. Note the faux wood paneling in the background.

I worked at the Mainliner in Cresson, PA, the paper named for the railroad industry that was once booming but by 2001 felt more like ancient history. Trains still ran on the track across from my office and while the rumbling at first felt like a giant slice of good ol’ Americana, eventually the rattling knocked photos from the walls and spilled coffee on my rusty desk.  

I worked in a soon-to-be-condemned building with faux wood paneling warped from mildew, sharing the tiny space with Glenna, the office manager who took care of subscriptions and answered phones while I sat in the back room trying to make a stories out of town meetings where the main topics revolved around barking dogs and noisy roosters.

Most of my days were spent trying to find news in these sleepy Pennsylvania towns. Weekly papers make stories out of the local Boy Scout troops and school board meetings and of course, Friday night high school football.

People left home and subscribed to our newspaper for entertainment, not news.

Though the door to my back office closed, there was a windowless space above my desk and so I heard all of Glenna’s conversations and she heard mine. And together, before Spotify and Pandora, we listened to the radio. An actual radio with an antenna and a knob to turn the dial.

On September 11, 2001, the announcement that a plane had struck the World Trade Center came in between songs on Key 95, the local radio station that promised hits from yesterday and today. The announcement was made as both of us were working intently at our computers, old Macs that were clunky and far from the sexy big screens you see today.

Tuesdays were the days we put the paper to bed, so I was designing my front page and Glenna was looking for news and we were barely listening to the radio. 

As the DJ continued talking and the words began to register, I stood up from my desk to look at Glenna.  

“Did I hear that right?”

Neither of us knew what we’d heard exactly, and turned our attention back to work. The World Trade Center had been bombed less than 10 years earlier, and while it was news, it was news that happened a world away. 

Then the radio station broke into the middle of a song to announce that a second plane had hit the towers. There was no internet at our office, and certainly no smart phones. Glenna pulled out an old tv she kept in the office and hooked it up.

On a black and white screen, we turned on NBC news and watched in horror as people jumped from the burning building. Then we watched the towers fall. 

At our office, the police scanner was always on, as ambulance chasing was part of my job, one that I ignored at every opportunity. While we watched the news, the fire whistle for the town blew, and the local scanner mentioned a plane crash in Somerset County, less than 50 miles from our tiny Cresson office.

Our country was under attack. And it was not just in New York City. I called my parents in the next town, and my mom said their fire whistle was going off too. Every volunteer fire department from our county was headed to Shanksville.

It felt like the sky was falling.

Then the day snowballed. Schools closed early, businesses shut down and people chased down their loved ones. A plane hit the Pentagon. It seemed that every few minutes, another plane was crashing. I called the editor of the newspaper, who said we were still going to print the front page as it was. With lead stories, if you look at the photo below, that included a new tanker for the local fire company, clear water, and a playground.

 
 This is below the fold from September 11, 2001. 

This is below the fold from September 11, 2001. 

 

In a rare stand of conviction, I drove to the main office and went toe to toe with the editor. I wasn’t alone. None of the reporters or photographers understood exactly what was happening, but a big part of it was happening in our backyard. Publishing a newspaper that didn’t reflect the confusion, the fear, and the emotion of the day felt wrong.  

So we scrapped the stories and went out in to the community. We covered the news conference regarding what we later learned was Flight 93. Many volunteer firefighters and EMT’s and medics from our area took off to help with the unthinkable job of searching for survivors  in New York City.

 
 This is the only full newspaper I ever kept from my few years as a reporter. I keep it in part so that I too will never forget the panic, the fear, the pain, and the many lives that were lost that day.

This is the only full newspaper I ever kept from my few years as a reporter. I keep it in part so that I too will never forget the panic, the fear, the pain, and the many lives that were lost that day.

 

Later in the day, on my way to be with family, I drove over a bridge that crossed the main four lane highway and noticed a car pulled to the side of the road. I parked behind the minivan and found a mother standing there with her two small children, holding an American Flag over the bridge for all of the drivers to see. The cars below were honking their horns and waving. 

I had my camera with me, and probably should have taken a picture. Instead, I walked over to her, a woman I’d never met before and stood with her and her children.

“I didn’t know what else to do,” she said. I nodded.

None of us did.

 

I thought every day was National Dog Day

I guess yesterday was National Dog Day. And I didn't post anything on social media. Because in my world, everyday is national dog day. I mean, you've seen my logo, and possibly read the story behind it. On July 10, 2008, We brought home Rooney. This is one of my first pictures of him.

 Ears. Lots and lots of ears.

Ears. Lots and lots of ears.

Thanks to smart phones, I now have 35,000 selfies of the two of us. Possibly more.

He didn’t know it at the time, and he still doesn’t know it, but I waited my entire life for him. I literally waited until I was 31 years old before adopting the basset hound I always wanted.  And then he arrived and…

He pooped on the floor, often. 

We put a string of bells on the door, and taught him that if he rung the bells with his nose when he had to go to the bathroom, we would let him outside. Twice, he peed underneath the bells. 

He refused to walk more than ten steps before laying down on the sidewalk while we tried to coax him to the dog park at the end of the street. We got to know all over our neighbors in Boston, who faithfully cheered us on down the street every day.

"You got a little further today!" they'd shout, giving us a thumbs up. Rooney remained impassive, and often immobile. We considered investing in a red wagon.

We learned that many bassets don’t howl; they bay. Google it. It’s a disturbing noise. 

We took him to puppy training class where the instructor spent 20 minutes telling us the kind of dog he wasn’t.

“Rooney will never live to please you,” he said. “He loves you, but his loyalty is to his nose.” 

Meaning, as I would find out later, he loves me, but he also loves the pizza delivery dude and would happily go home with him. Because, you know, pizza. 

 Better than any anti-anxiety drug I can imagine. 

Better than any anti-anxiety drug I can imagine. 

We bought the book by the Buddhist monks about training German shepherds and realized very quickly that the key part of those training techniques was actually having a German shepherd.

For most of my life, I looked forward to running with a dog and the vet encouraged me to do so with Rooney, even though he was a basset hound. “It will be good for him,” she said.

And so I took him out running, along the bike bath in Jamaica Plain, and just as we settled in to a nice, slow rhythm, he dropped anchor to smell dog poop and I did a face plant in to the pavement. 

And every day, I've loved him a little bit more.

Because at the end of a bad day, I come home and pick him up, and he sits on my lap, and we breathe together. He breathes deeply, into his stomach in that relaxed, calming way that only dogs and babies can breathe. Mercifully, Rooney does not know stress. I hope he never knows stress.

When I meditate, he puts his head in my lap and we breathe and think things through together. Okay, mostly he drools. But he soothes me. When I play the guitar, he stays on my feet, and while I can't promise that he loves my sad renditions of James Taylor songs (and by sad, I mean out of tune), he will leave the comfort of his bed and come to sit at my feet when I play. 

And I love him just a little bit more.

He is my fur baby and I tell him, when no one is looking, that he is my sunshine. I tell him this every day, and I'm certain that what he hears is something like "smirna-smirna-smirna-schmorf-schmorf-schmorf-schmorf - cookie."

Because he knows the word cookie. Also breakfast, and dinner. 

 Meditation practice.

Meditation practice.

But he puts his head in my lap and looks at me with droopy, bloodshot eyes. Every day is national dog day, because I don't ever want to know a world without dogs. 

 

What’s with the hound?

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If you follow me on Twitter, or any other social media outlet, you know that my logo is based on Rooney, my adorable, loveable, seven-year old basset hound. He’s my logo because he’s my first dog and also, I'm a dog-person. So my phone is filled of selfies of me and the dog.

He’s also a very affable and approachable hound (and I’d like to think I have a little of that affability and approachability in me, but without the drool).

Oh, and I think he’s misjudged.

That’s right, I just said that my dog is misjudged. Ok, ok…maybe mis-perceived is a better term for it.

The point is, everyone thinks he’s lazy and that basset hounds are a lazy breed. Ridiculous, yes. Lazy? Absolutely not. In fact, he just got a bath today and is still racing around the house.

Every time he’s off to the dog park, people make the same comments.

“I didn’t know a basset hound could run!"

"I didn’t think they moved!”

And then he takes off, a little like Phoebe from Friends, front legs going one way, and his butt going another. He chases dogs and play-bows and barks and gets bowled over by faster, more athletic dogs. But here's the thing:

He doesn’t know what people are saying about him, so he runs like no one’s watching.

If Rooney was a person and could understand what people were saying about him, he might stop running, crooked, and tripping over his ears like the clumsy hound that he is. He is delightfully ignorant of what we say. In fact, he's delightfully ignorant about most things I say, but hey..he's no German Shepherd. Or rat, as I hear they're very smart..

But as humans, we can’t always tune out the noise the way Rooney can.

We’ve developed belief systems about ourselves, often based on the way we feel we’re perceived by others, and definitely based on our self-perception. If you felt as though you weren’t good at sports, or you were always picked last on the playground, or gym class was your worst night mare (I didn't like it either), then you might shy away from doing anything because you simply think you're not good enough. But you are. 

People make assumptions about us based on our appearance all of the time. And Rooney is an excellent reminder that we’re not all put together like a greyhound or a marathon runner, but by golly don’t put us in a box.

You might put Baby in a corner, but don’t put us in a box.

And double-bonus for the Patrick Swayze reference. Boom.